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VI – Arnav-Khushi Talk
"What are you both talking about?"
Arnav and NK jumped at the sound of Khushi's voice, and both looked guiltily around. A very pale Khushi was standing at the door of NK's room, her left arm in a sling and swathed with bandages. She leaned against the door, her other arm held firmly by a white-clad nervous looking nurse, whose face looked even more scared at the sight of Arnav's scowl.
Arnav jumped up and went to Khushi quickly.
"What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be out of bed! Where is Payal? I gave strict instructions that Payal or Naniji should be with you all the time. Nurse?! Where are …?"
"I don't need a nurse, Arnavji," interrupted Khushi, and the nurse marveled at her patient's courage, that she dared to interrupt Arnav Singh Raizada mid-sentence. She waited for the explosion … but it never came. Khushi went on, her voice firm, although her hand clung to the door, betraying her weakness. "I am perfectly all right. I don't need a watchdog all the time. I just sent Jiji to her room to rest, and I came to find you. What are you doing with NK?"
Arnav took her arm, and felt her sag against him. Swiftly he lifted his obstinate wife into his arms.
"Yes, of course you are perfectly all right. Anyone would be perfectly all right after being shot near the heart and getting concussed into the bargain. Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada, do you never stop to think? Why are you walking around the house like this? Do you want to fall down and hurt yourself again …"
"I am all right," Khushi insisted, a little less strongly, as she settled into Arnav's arms. He looked at her, and the watching nurse felt her knees almost buckle as the stern handsome face gentled almost miraculously into the softest of smiles.
"Do you ever admit that you're not all right? Wait, I remember that you did … just once …"
"When?" asked Khushi, distracted slightly from her questions by the sight of that smile, and Arnav's smile disappeared.
"You don't remember?" he asked as he strode with her into their bedroom. He nodded to the nurse, and she obediently stayed outside the room, as he kicked the door shut and gently put his precious burden down on the bed.
Khushi shook her head wordlessly, still mesmerized by the softness she could see on his face. He took one hand in his, and gently laced his fingers through hers.
"You don't remember?" he asked again, and this time, there was more than softness in his face. There was remembered pain, hurt … and was that guilt? He lifted their interlaced hands up between them and stared into her eyes, as though willing her to remember.
"A grill, Khushi. A ventilator grill. We held hands through the grill. You found me, when no one even knew I was missing. You found me, and refused to let go. I had to break the grill to get across to you. Then that man came and tried to touch you … and I …"
"You beat him …?" she asked softly, and he looked at her
"Yes! Do you remember, Khushi?"
She loved the way his face lit up at her words, and hated it
when the next moment, his face fell at her tiny head shake.
"I guessed. It's the kind of thing you would do …"
For anyone, she wanted to say. He would have done that for anyone. It wasn't especially for her. She was nobody to him. He hated her for what he thought she had done to Di and her marriage. This softness, this gentleness she was enjoying, it was only because she was hurt. When she was all right, he would go back to hating her again. It didn't mean a thing.
She pulled her hand free.
"I guessed. You did beat him, didn't you?"
Arnav looked at her hand, now lying quietly on the coverlet. When he looked back at her, his face was still, expressionless again, the molten brown eyes clouded.
"I did. I beat him till you had to stop me, or I might have killed him. Then I asked you if you were all right. And you said No. You weren't all right. And then you …"
He stopped, his voice thickening.
You ran into my arms and you hugged me tight. You hugged me as though you loved me as much as I love you. And I held you back, and I felt as though I was finally home.
He swallowed. Had she ever told him she loved him? Had she ever actually said the words?
And would she ever say them? Did she love him? Could she ever love him, seeing the brute he had been to her?
He looked at her again, his face impassive, trying to hide the fear into his heart.
"You don't remember, Khushi?"
Khushi looked at him doubtfully. It seemed that he was asking her to remember something more significant than what he was merely saying in words. But what was she supposed to remember? What was it that seemed to be so important to him?
She shook her head nervously. Then something he had said, struck her and she looked at him in puzzlement.
"You went missing? When did you go missing? When did I find you? Arnavji, what are you talking about?"
Arnav swallowed, and held her hand again. The doctor had said that Khushi's memory might return slowly, but there was no harm in trying to help it along.
"The day I was supposed to go to London," he said slowly, holding her eyes with his own. "Do you remember that, Khushi? The day after we came back from your Buaji's house … when you tried to jump off the … when I told you that …"
"That you knew about Shyamji," she interrupted him, her face pale. She took her hand out of his clasp, and stared at her fingers dumbly. Then she looked back at him, her face smooth and blank.
"Yes, I remember," she said evenly, her voice toneless. "You said that I had been having an affair with Shyamji, and that was why you married me, to save your Di's marriage. You married me, even though you hated me. And you didn't believe me when I told you that Shyam had fooled not only Di, but my family and me too. That none of us had known he was married. You didn't believe any of that. I remember all that, Arnavji. That's why I asked Shyamji to come to the airport yesterday to tell you the truth himself. But he reached the airport too late. You didn't wait."
Cold fingers of dread curled around his heart. Khushi didn't remember what he had said to her on the phone, that tortured confession forced out of him at gunpoint, when he had been so scared that he might die without seeing her again, without ever telling her what he felt. He had said those three words, and it had been the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life. And she had cried, he had heard her silent sobs on the phone. And she had come to look for him.
But now, she didn't remember any of that. She still thought he hated her. She thought he didn't believe her about Shyam. Was that why she was so cool, so distant? Did she hate him back for that?
Arnav took a deep breath. He had done wronged her too many times, but this was one wrong he could put right, and he was going to do so, starting now. He had to tell her he believed her about Shyam. That he had believed her even before he heard the truth from NK. Long hours spent tied up in a dark rat-infested warehouse, gave you plenty of time to think, and he had done just that, finally put many things together. NK's account had just confirmed what his heart had already told him. And he had to tell Khushi that.
"It wasn't yesterday, Khushi."
She looked confused. "It wasn't?" Then her face cleared. "No, of course, it wasn't. I forgot. I was in hospital four-five days, wasn't I? It was what … five days ago? Six?"
He looked into her eyes, holding her gaze.
"It was almost three weeks ago, Khushi."
At her incredulous look, he went on. "You asked me if I never went to London, if I came back for you. I didn't go to London, Khushi. But not because I came back. I was kidnapped from the airport. Some men came to me in the airport, and told me that the person you wanted me to meet had arrived, and you were waiting with him outside. I had already decided to come back … so I came out with them. They forced me into a car before I knew what was happening, and kidnapped me. I was tied up in an empty warehouse for days. Then something happened at home … later NK told me that you made a huge fuss about knowing that I was missing, so the kidnappers gave me a phone to call home and reassure the family. They didn't want anyone to know I was missing. I called and spoke to everyone, and somehow you sensed that I was in danger, and you came to find me."
Khushi looked at him blankly, her mind churning over what he
had said and trying to process the words. Arnav had gone missing? Kidnapped? No
one had known? She had found him? He had called and said something that made
her think something was wrong? And she had forgotten all that, because of her injury?
"Didn't Di or anyone else figure out you were missing?" she asked slowly, still trying to put things together. Some faint images stirred in her brain … she looked at him, trying desperately to remember, to hold on to those vague images and fit them together …
'SMS," she said slowly, and Arnav looked at her hopefully again.
"There was an SMS," she said, even more slowly. She looked at him puzzled again. "But why do I remember that? You never send me an SMS. You only call. And when … did you send it when you were … kidnapped …?"
"Nani said you woke up the entire house because you were worried. That you couldn't get through to me on the phone. And then you got the SMS."
"And that made me suspicious?" she asked wonderingly. "Why?"
He shook his head.
"No, that didn't. It calmed you down. But later, you got a call from Aman that I hadn't reached London, and that was when you got worried again. And you told Nani, Mami told Di, and the whole house … they were going to call the police, so right then, the kidnappers gave me the phone so I could call you."
"But how could that be? How did the kidnappers know that we were worried? That too, so soon that they could immediately get you to call, the moment we were worried? Is that what got me suspicious?"
Arnav looked at her, impressed. Khushi's mind had skipped all the non-essential details, and caught the essential question, the one which seemed to confirm that the kidnappers, or one of them at least, was an integral part of the family. Another piece of evidence that Shyam was involved in the kidnapping ... evidence that he had to put together slowly and carefully, piece by piece, to convince Di.
"No, Khushi, that wasn't what got you suspicious. But they knew you were worried because, Khushi, there was someone in the house who was a part of the kidnapping. Not just a part, probably the mastermind."
"Shyam" said Khushi, instantly, almost before he got the words out.
"It can be no one else," he said.
Khushi looked puzzled again.
"But why would he do this? For money? He already has money, doesn't he? All of Di's money … why does he want more?"
Arnav shook his head.
"He wants Di's money … but he doesn't want Di. He wants you. And while I am alive, he knows he can have only one or the other, he can't have both. If he got rid of me, then he would get his hands on all my property and wealth, and he could discard Di … and take you. And that's what he tried to do. Somehow, he got me to sign a will leaving him as sole executor of my entire property."
Sign a will … Shyam got Arnavji to sign a will …
Khushi went pale. Were those the papers Shyam had asked her to get Arnav's signature on as a condition for telling Arnav the truth?
She looked around frantically.
"My phone! Where is my phone?! I need it … I need to see something on it now!"
Arnav caught her flailing hands in his and tried to calm her, but Khushi was going hysterical with fear. She pushed his hands away with her good arm and looked around the bed frantically.
"Where is my phone? What did I … I need to see those papers now!!! Arnavji, please …"
"Khushi, what's the problem?! What are you going so hysterical about?! Khushi!!!" He held her by her hands forcefully, and stared into her face. "Khushi, listen to me! Stop … calm down. Tell me what the matter is."
She stared at him with wide, frightened eyes.
"I asked you to sign some papers before you left, papers that Akash had given me," she whispered fearfully. "Those papers … among them … there were some papers … that Shyam had given me. He asked me to get you to sign them for him, it was some deal he was working on … he said if I got you to sign them, then he would tell you the truth about his staying at our house, and everything. The papers you signed from Akash … well, I … I … mixed the papers Shyam had given me among them."
Arnav was silent. Khushi looked at him despairingly, her eyes damp.
"I know it was wrong of me, but I was desperate. You wouldn't listen to me at all … I waited the whole day in office for you to talk to, but you didn't talk to me even once. You left me and drove off. You didn't listen at home. You didn't believe me when I told you about Shyam staying as PG in our house. Shyam said you would listen to him if he told you the truth. He said you would believe him, that you always believe him. And he promised he would tell you the truth if I got you to sign those papers. But I read the papers, Arnavji … they were about some deal. They weren't the will. Still I never gave them to Shyam … I took a picture once you had signed them, and then showed him the picture. I told him he would get the papers only when he told you the truth. I didn't trust him an inch. But when I looked at the papers in my phone again … he had changed them … they weren't the ones I had read. I don't even know when he changed them … but I'm sure he did … I would never have made you sign them if I knew it was a will … you have to believe me … I would never …"
She was sobbing half-hysterically, her mind in panic. Why had she believed Shyam? Why had she trusted that he would tell Arnav anything near the truth? What had she done? She had caused Arnav to be kidnapped, she had put his life in danger …
"I put you in danger … you almost got killed because of me … my stupidity … I wanted to clear my name … I wanted to prove to you that I would never do such a thing … and instead … I almost got you killed …"
"Shh … Khushi, shh …" Arnav felt sick again. If only he had believed Khushi when she had tried to tell him about Shyam … She had tried again and again, she had sat waiting the entire day in his office and he had refused to even see her. He had driven her into doing this, and now she was blaming herself.
He held her hands to stop them thrashing around and hurting herself, and looked at her firmly.
"Khushi, look at me... Don't blame yourself. It was not your fault. If I hadn't been such a pig-headed fool, if I had listened to you, to what you wanted to say, if I hadn't refused to trust you … this would never have happened. You told me about Shyam staying with you, I never believed you. You begged me to stay back … but I didn't listen to you. And most of all … I trusted Shyam over you. That was my biggest mistake. It wasn't your fault I got kidnapped. It was my own. My fault, and Shyam's rottenness."
She calmed slightly at his words and the gentle tone, and stopped struggling. And as her mind came out of its panic and started to work again, she looked at him doubtfully. Relieved that he seemed to believe her, but still doubt niggled at her inside. Why had he suddenly changed? What had happened during the kidnapping?
"You really don't blame me for that?"
He shook his head, his eyes gentle.
"No. No, Khushi, I don't."
She looked away from the gentleness in his eyes. It wasn't real, it was only temporary.
"So Shyam kidnapped you? And I found you? But why is Di not talking to me then? Is she very upset? No … silly question … of course she must be. And Mamiji? Jijaji? Is that why they are upset? They haven't even come to see me … is Shyamji in jail? And how did I get hurt … and why have I forgotten all of that … what happened …?"
"Can you stop asking questions for long enough for me to answer them?" broke in Arnav exasperatedly. "Yes, we think Shyam kidnapped me, but we don't have proof. No one saw him at the warehouse where you found me. NK thinks he heard his voice on the phone when you were talking to him … You got hurt when you got in the way of a bullet meant for me. Mamiji and Akash are not talking to you because they are upset with you for keeping this all a secret from them. They are upset with me for the same reason, actually … Mamiji is also upset because she overheard you asking Shyam to give Di a divorce …"
"I asked Shyamji to give Di a divorce?! Arnavji, I would never do that … why would I ask him to do that? All along I've been quiet only to save Di's marriage …"
"Yes, so have I … and I'm wondering whether that was such a good idea after all" remarked Arnav, his face grim. He looked at Khushi. "Khushi, you asked Shyam to divorce Di, so that he would sign the divorce papers. And you played his own trick back on him … among the papers, there was an affidavit, reverting all my property back in Di's name from his. In case Shyam did manage to bump me off …"
Khushi put her fingers on his lips to stop him saying any more. And then withdrew them hurriedly. He gave her a small crooked grin, relieved beyond measure to see the old awareness flare between them. And saw with satisfaction, the blush that stained her cheeks. She spoke again, hurriedly, to cover the awkwardness of that moment.
"He is angry more with Payal than with you, actually. He feels Payal should have told him about Shyam. And so do I. Khushi, when I didn't believe you, why didn't you ask Buaji or your Amma to tell me the truth?"
"Would you have believed them?" asked Khushi quietly. She looked at him evenly. "I told you the truth on the bridge that day. Did you believe me? Would you have believed them?"
He fell silent. No, he wouldn't have believed her. He hadn't believed her. Even though everything she said added up. They all knew that the Guptas had a PG staying with them, that his name was Shyam, and that he had been Khushi's fianc. And Arnav also knew that Khushi had never been happy with the engagement. Yet, when she had told him the truth, he hadn't stopped to put two and two together, but had viciously refused to believe a word that she said. He had preferred instead to believe Shyam.
What price his famed 'dimaag' then?
And now he knew the circumstances in which Khushi had asked Shyam to divorce Di, courtesy NK. What if there had been similar circumstances for that declaration of 'love' he had witnessed on the terrace?
"I never stopped to listen to you then," he said, holding
Khushi's gaze. "But now I am. Will you tell me the truth? Everything that
happened … you and Shyam …"
"There is no me and Shyam!" she exclaimed hotly, and he saw the disgust and hatred in her eyes. "There never was. I hate that man .."
"All right, all right," said Arnav reassuringly. "Tell me what happened from the beginning. How did you first meet Shyam … what do you remember …"
"You know most of it," she said listlessly. "I met him in Lucknow. He saved me from some goons. Amma Babuji were there too, but they were helpless. Shyamji saved us. After that, we met in Delhi. He helped me get a job at AR, and then he told Buaji he was alone in Delhi, without any family. Buaji kept him as paying guest. Then Babuji and Amma came, Babuji had a stroke, and somehow Shyamji persuaded everyone that Babuji wanted me to marry Shyam. I told Shyamji that I didn't want to marry him, but circumstances happened such that I had to agree."
Khushi pushed her blanket off, and swung herself off the bed, ignoring Arnav's restraining hand.
"The day of the pooja in your house," she began with difficulty, not looking at him. "The pooja before Akash Payal's engagement. That was the day I saw Shyam on the terrace of Shantivan for the first time. And realized that my fiance, our paying guest, Shyam and Di's husband were the same man. I had started getting suspicious earlier, but he had been avoiding me in Shantivan always."
Shyam's sudden allergy attack at Diwali. He had stayed in bed the entire evening, and emerged only after Khushi had left.
"But that day," Khushi continued, "I saw him. I confronted him on the terrace, and threw his ring back at him. I was upset … I didn't know what to do. I rushed home … I bumped into you on the way out … at the poolside …"
'Khushi? What happened? Why are you upset? Who did this to you? Khushi, was it your fiance? Did he hurt you? Khushi, tell me!'
'My fiance … he … he …'
And she hadn't said any more. She had rushed away in tears, and disappeared for the rest of the day, and he had spent half the day frantically calling her, trying to reach her …
"I went home," Khushi continued. "Shyam had already reached home and told everyone the truth. He had no choice, of course. Buaji threw him out of the house then and there. We decided that Di had to be told. The next day I came to tell her. But her mangal sutra had broken and she was so upset that she almost fainted. She immediately started worrying about her husband, her marriage … she almost went hysterical. I could not bring myself to tell her anything. I went back home, and we decided to stay quiet for Di's sake. After all, Shyam had left our house, and after Jiji's marriage was over, I would have no reason to come to Shantivan. He would not come near Buaji's house. Di's marriage would be safe."
She looked at Arnav.
"You asked me on the bridge why I kept quiet and didn't tell anyone about Shyam. We all kept quiet for the same reason. If I had told you, I thought you would get so angry that you would throw Shyam out. Or you would tell Di. Di would be devastated, and that would break you. But I never thought for a moment that you would ever believe that I … that I …"
She stopped, and turned her back on Arnav again. He saw her shoulders shake slightly, saw her hand go up to her face as she swiped at her tears.
"After you … married me, I wanted to tell you about Shyam. He was still harassing me at every step. But you were always so angry with me. I never knew why you had married me, why you had suddenly started hating me so much … I was scared that if I told you this, you would be even angrier. And you might then carry out your threat and break Jiji's marriage. And I thought that as long as you were there, with me, even hating me, Shyamji could not do anything. Di's marriage was still safe, even more than before, because now I was married too. I never dreamed that you had married me for that very reason. Only when you told me that … but I thought if I asked Shyamji to tell you the truth, he would. But he asked me to get your signature on those papers in return … before he would agree to tell you. I did … but he still didn't … he tricked me."
She stopped and her shoulders suddenly slumped. Her voice changed, defeated helplessness entering it.
"I shouldn't have bothered, should I? You were never going to change your opinion about me anyway. And it was just a question of six months. I put your life in danger, and for nothing. Just to clear my name. So if I got hurt trying to find you, I'm glad. At least I made up for my mistake."
She turned to face him, and he felt his heart start to sink
at the look on her face. A mixture of resignation and determination shone in
the soft hazel eyes, and her lips trembled as she spoke, though her voice was
firm. And even before she started speaking, he knew what she was going to say.
"Will you tell Naniji, Mamiji and Akash jijaji the truth?" she asked. "They will hate me even more after they know what I did. I think I should go away from here. Once Shyamji sees that everyone knows the truth, he will stay with Di and behave. You married me only to save Di's marriage, because you thought I was a threat to it. Now you know that I'm not. There is no reason for me to stay here anymore."
Arnav felt as though the bottom had just dropped out of his
world. This was the one thing he had most feared would happen.
How on earth was he going to stop her?
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