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Catharsis was never a pretty sight; for ordinary folks that is. In case of Khushi however it was like lingering ocean on a clear night. A visible detachment shrouded her and kept people at bay. Even Lavanya withdrew her tongue and claws and allowed Khushi to steam in her own personal misery.
The day after she met Mr Bournvita Eyes, Khushi had truly felt she could be herself without any pretence of adapted or imbibed with other personalities. She was genuinely happy for the first time in her adult life and it showed.
And when the tide of disappointment hit her shore, she did everything possible to hide it inside abyss. Saturday had come and gone but Arnav hadn't shown up.
Mr Bournvita Eyes was suddenly a distant dream dying on the horizon of reality. She had waited in the bookstore for four hours with a book for him as a present in her bag and adoration dancing in her eyes. Every time she heard thumping footsteps descending on stairs, her hopes rose a little and a moment later fell a little deeper. She refrained from releasing the tears behind her eyes and stonily stared ahead when the sun set and moon rose.
She hadn't even for a single moment assumed the probability of him leaving her hanging. But now she wasn't sure anymore. She didn't know if the previous Saturday was real or if it was just another illusion created by her lonely mind. No one had seen her leave the bookstore so she couldn't rule out the possibility of her imagining the whole thing with him. Given the near perfection of the evening she was more and more inclined to believe that she had probably imagined Mr Bournvita Eyes to drive her away from prying eyes to this very bookstore and spend a nice evening with her.
Believing in the alternate was too heart wrenching so she embraced the possibility of an elaborate illusion. It eased her heart a little.
She had come home with a heavy heart and a loneliness of immeasurable magnitude. Payal and Lavanya weren't at home which allowed her to sit in dark cold silence and listen to the world falling asleep. She sat in balcony throughout the night with blank look in her eyes and mind lulled into a harsh whisper. She had requested Payal and Lavanya to leave her alone and they did. They had seen the defeated look in her eyes – not the wild one they were accustomed to when she broke up with a guy but the one which was simply tired of life itself.
"He stood you up last week Khushi. Maybe there was an emergency. You guys didn't exchanged numbers so he wasn't able to contact you," Lavanya tried to reason one day. She nodded her head with a small smile then.
"Are you going to the same place again this Saturday?" Payal asked.
She nodded her head. "I think so too La. If there was really an emergency and he had to go then he would try to contact me again, right?" She asked hopefully. Payal and Lavanya had assured her that was definitely the case and she should give him some time.
But when he stood her up for second consecutive Saturday, they weren't sure anymore.
She refused to think about the man who had stolen her heart while he innocently pointed to the sunset. Every thought of him hammered in her chest and the pain increased with every passing day. She went home to get some sleep and fresh clothes ignoring the worried looks of her flatmates. They didn't understand why she was so hung up on a guy after her very first date.
But she knew why and she hated herself for feeling that way. She had stripped herself of all the unnecessary embellishments and bared her naked personality to him. She removed the shield around her heart and had let her guard down. That evening she had sincerely believed that she was completely wrong to assume that truth was overrated.
However the lesson had come with a harsh price. She had wished to see him just once and make him as a pleasant memory for future. But now he had left his finger print in the fabric of her being making it impossible to consider him as a memory.
For the first time in her life, she was truly and honestly in love.
Not the kind she felt with Rajeev which was really a sense of security. Not the kind she felt with Manish which was really adoration and belonging.
This was different. There was no complexity in its feeling. It was just…there.
She loved Arnav and he had managed to dump her even before they began.
She never felt this lonely before.
"What's the problem?" Arnav asked seeing Shyam's grim face.
"There is a fire in our factory and…" Shyam trailed. Arnav stood up along with Anjali, traces of humour wiped out from his face.
"How bad is it?" Arnav asked thinking about mitigating.
"It's not good Arnav. Will you be able to…?"
"I am the company's head Shyam and it is my responsibility to take care of it. Can you arrange a chopper for me please? I can get there faster," Arnav said walking towards his room.
Anjali and Shyam looked at Arnav's retreating figure. "He looked so happy moments ago," Anjali said resting her head on her husband's shoulders. She felt Shyam nod.
"Will you be okay alone Anjali? I don't want to go there alone and deal with both company and people," he said looking at his wife. She smiled and shook her head.
She was one of those lucky women in the world where the two important men in her life got along really well and were friends.
Arnav had concentrated on the people who were victims of the fire and Shyam was dealing with finances and other administrative issues. Arnav was also dealing with local authorities which took major part of his time. They had worked for three weeks non-stop before they could sit down for more than twenty minutes and not think of a pending issue.
Shyam handed Arnav a glass of scotch as the two men sat in dingy lit control room in their factory.
"It's four in the afternoon Shyam," Arnav said taking the glass without any other protest.
"You haven't had a chance to unwind or sleep or eat for last three weeks Arnav. There is still a lot to be done here but I think you should take a break for few days." Shyam said.
"I know that Shyam. I don't care much for the loss of equipment but there are people who are gravely injured and some cannot work in the factory anymore. I have to plan for their future Shyam. They are me who took pride in their job and now being unable to do so would shatter their confidence. I cannot allow that," Arnav said.
"Is that the reason why you are trying to acquire local companies which are high on desk jobs?" Shyam asked. Arnav nodded sombrely.
It was the first time Shyam had seen capability of Arnav and had realized that he was the true leader and owner of this organization. He wouldn't hesitate to say it in public that the younger man was much better than him and he would probably say it with a kilogram of pride.
"Oh…it's Saturday." Arnav said his eyes falling on the calendar on the desk. "I had a date two weeks ago." He said to himself.
"Was it with that girl?" Shyam asked and sipped the drink. Arnav nodded.
"You know, I promised her coffee last and offered her to buy few books."
"Why didn't you call her?" Shyam asked.
"In the excitement, I totally forgot to ask for it and so did she." Arnav said watching the liquid swish and swirl inside the glass.
"I am sorry Arnav," Shyam said genuinely feeling sorry for the younger man.
"There is nothing we can do…You know, I forgot to take my purse that day and she ended up buying the books I had chosen for me. She did that to a complete stranger." Arnav said and emptied the glass.
"You are in love with her." Shyam declared watching Arnav's contorted face. He was simply guessing but felt momentarily shocked when Arnav didn't refuse. "You are?" He asked again.
"I don't know…I guess. I never felt that way with anyone before." He said smiling. He felt the tension between his eyebrows reduce and his face relaxed. His muscles on shoulders visibly drooped as the thought of her eased every fibre in his body.
"I think she is simply amazing girl. I can hear her talk and laugh and argue with me about sub-textual connotations for the rest of my life," Arnav said closing his eyes.
"Then you should go and meet her." Shyam said.
"What? Now?" Arnav asked sitting up and opening his eyes immediately. Shyam nodded.
"It's only early evening. If you take the chopper now you should be able to go home, take a shower and meet her all clean and fresh." Shyam suggested.
"I can?" Arnav asked widening his eyes.
"You are the bloody CEO Arnav. Of course you can." Shyam said grinning. "But take a commercial flight while coming back, will you?" He said watching Arnav leave the room. "And make that economy seat," he shouted as Arnav closed the door behind him.
Shyam sat alone in the factory control room and poured himself another shot of scotch.
"I am so awesome that they should give me my own zip code." He muttered and emptied the glass.
"Let it go Khushi," Payal said watching her friend walk out of their apartment.
Khushi stopped on the threshold and tapped the doorjamb. Without turning around she said, "I am unable to believe that he stood me up for no reason Payal. I know how reality is looking like but each and every instinct of mine is screaming at me to not let go. I am truly in love for the first time Payal, how can I let it go just after three weeks of first encounter?" She walked out without waiting for a response.
She walked briskly towards the bookstore and climbed down with a heavy heart. There was a civil war raging inside of her between her mind and heart. Her mind told her that she was never going to meet him again while her heart blatantly refused.
She smiled softly at the man behind the counter who was the only employee of the bookstore. He pointed her to a huge carton of books which he had received that day and her smile grew a little. She sat on floor and started going through the carton of books and was easily lost in yellowed pages, dust and smell of old books.
"I am sorry," she heard the guy say. She looked up to see the store owner standing couple of feet away from her. "It is closing time," he said smiling sheepishly. The store closed early on Saturdays in lieu of the owner wanting his own share of social life. She didn't blame him for that and was glad that at least he was open till eight.
"Isn't it a bit early for a Saturday?" She asked rounding up the books she wanted to buy.
"I have a date…sort of," he said smiling. She smiled softly at his shyness. "All of this?" He asked pointing to the stack of seven books she placed on table.
"Yes please." She said.
"You are waiting for him, aren't you?" He asked. She just nodded but didn't reply. He handed her the receipt and packed her books.
Khushi searched her bag for her wallet which was missing. Lavanya had dropped her one kilometre away from the bookstore and she had walked the rest of the way. Only now she had bothered to open her purse and take out her wallet.
"Is everything alright?" He asked noting her discomfort and struggle.
"I have forgotten my wallet, my cellphone…damn," she cursed but continued to search her bag vigorously. Noting impatience on the man, she stopped.
"Hold these books for me, will you? I will take them next week." She said.
"Use this credit card." She heard his voice next to her, close to her.
She wondered if she was imagining the whole thing. But the man behind counter shrugged and picked up the card to swipe. Khushi watched the entire transaction in mute silence and allowed her to be led away by the man who had turned her life upside down in matter of three short weeks.
"You left me," she said when her heart started to slow down. They were sitting on the pier for thirty minutes and neither had spoken anything. She knew she was being unnaturally clingy but she didn't care. She had to let it all out of her chest to be able to breathe normal again.
"I did. I am sorry. One of our factories was on fire and I had to take care of that." Arnav said.
"Was anybody hurt?" Khushi whirled around and looked at him all the apathy she felt for him dissolving in her concern for strangers.
He smiled at her then. The affection he felt for her in that moment overrode every attraction he had felt for any other woman in his life. Her concern warmed his heart and he explained everything that was happening around him for three weeks. She listened to him closely and when he was finished, she took his hand in hers and squeezed it softly.
"Are you okay?" She asked softly.
"I am, of course." He said. Khushi withdrew her hand and peered at him.
He shook his head. "I did what I had to do as a CEO Khushi. After a week everyone was asking me how come I was still there at the factory and doing groundwork. Didn't I have an organization, Raizada & Co, to run or something? Questions like that."
"Why did you then?" She asked.
"I felt morally responsible for those people you know? Sixty people are injured Khushi. I couldn't look in the eyes of the family members and tell them that their loved ones were going to be okay. It would sound too…disingenuous." Arnav said exhaustion creeping into his voice.
They sat in silence for several minutes. "You look…older," Khushi said sitting sideways and watching him intently.
"I feel I have aged hundred years already. I remembered today that I missed our date two weeks ago and…"
"And you came to meet me," she finished for him. He shrugged.
"I am not sorry that I didn't remember to meet you in past two weeks Khushi." Arnav said looking at her unreadable expression. Her face cleared and she smiled. She fell in love with him for the second time at that moment. He had put his responsibility towards his people before him and she felt that that's what made him what he was. "I had few hours of time today and I couldn't just not see you. The thought was so overwhelming, mind numbing and consuming that when Shyam suggested there was free time I jumped at the opportunity. So I came." He said finishing lamely, or so he thought.
"It was presumptuous of you to believe that I would be hanging around that bookstore after two weeks of being stood up," she said scooting next to him. He automatically wrapped an arm around her and she settled her head on his shoulder.
"I wasn't being presumptuous. I knew you were going to be there." He said confidently.
"And…how is that?" She asked relaxing into him.
"Because you love me and I love you," he said simply as if he was talking about why he put three sugars in his coffee.
She coloured at his words but didn't argue.
"Hang on…did you say Raizada & Co?" She asked scooting away from him. He looked at her confused and nodded.
"So that makes you Arnav Raizada, right?" She asked.
He nodded. "Where are you going with this?"
"Are you by chance related to Akash Raizada?" She asked praying that this was all a freakish coincidence and Akash and Arnav simply happened to have same surname.
"He is my cousin, why?" Arnav asked surprised.
"Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!" Khushi stood up at paced in front of the bench. Arnav looked at her blankly not understanding what was going on.
"Do you remember going to Akash's friend's house – Payal's house for dinner because her lunatic roommate cooked way too much of food?" She asked.
"Don't tell me…" He looked at her grinning.
"This is soooo humiliating," she said turning away from him and looking at ocean.
Laughing, he hugged her from behind and kissed her cheek. She immediately melted into him and sighed.
"Khushi, may I ask you something?" Arnav whispered in her ears. Her voice took a vacation as his whisper havoc her veins as blood pumped in high speed. She managed to nod her head and say, "Hmmm?"
He turned her around and caressed her cheeks. "Give me your damn cell phone number, will you?"
She burst into laughter and Arnav joined her a heartbeat later.
They started to walk back bickering about something totally inane, the ocean next to them calm and serene.
She had finally lived her last twenty minutes she fantasized about, after all.The End.
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Arhi os:HILARIOUS CONVO BETWEEN ARHI.
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