Never the time and the place and the loved one all together.Arnav's headache was back with a vengeance after being temporarily and partially alleviated by the pain medication that his mother had given him at the very commencement of the party. Loosening his black silk tie a little, he picked up a champagne flute from the tray of a passing server and tilted his head back to toss it down in a single gulp. Breaking his resolve to not glance in their direction, he turned his head towards them and saw them from across the large ballroom.
Cutting a striking figure in a peach sari resplendent with crystals, Lavanya laughed merrily causing her diamond earrings to sway and sparkle, catching silver fire from the light of the opulent crystal chandelier above her. Her fiance gazed at her with his eyes filled with pride and love.
Her fiance and his older brother, Aarav Singh Raizada.
Arnav picked up his fourth champagne and gazed out of the french windows with one hand in pocket. The horizon was a medley of delicate orange, pink and blue as the Sun slowly sank in the rippling and now darkening waves of the ocean. As the palm trees swayed gently in the evening breeze, Arnav's heart became increasingly heavy with despondency, that even champagne had ceased to lighten up.
"Me and you...forever.."
Lavanya's voice from not so distant past came to him and almost involuntarily, he strained his ears to hear it better, to savor it's sweetness once again. Traveling back in time, he silently stood in the darkening shadows and gazed at himself and Lavanya with a longing that almost felt like a physical pain. Side by side, they sat on the golden sand with their hair glistening in the twilight. A diamond glinted on her ring finger as she traced two interlocked hearts on the sand with a stick.
He came out of his melancholic reverie as with a sudden burst of sound and motion, several seagulls simultaneously dived towards the sky to be silhouetted against the nature's canvas. Opening the glass window, he slid out of the ballroom and sped down the marble foot steps that led to the sprawling grounds of Hotel Savoy.
Through the open windows, the sounds of the party mercilessly followed him like demons while he walked down the turfed ground with quick and determined steps...
A song wafted out too as if to taunt him..
"Tonight...I'll celebrate my love for you...".
Only when the sounds ceased to reach his ears, did he finally relax and slow down. Sighting a bench under a jacarandas tree, he almost staggered and sat down in it, after exhaling in relief.
A soft breeze ruffled his hair and a few purple-blue blossoms fell from the branches above him. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back, quite oblivious to the gentle caress of the silken flowers falling on his face from time to time.
The sky above him lost all it's colors to become inky black as he sat there for a long time and perhaps drifted off to a restless slumber too.
A scent of fresh-cut lilies invading his senses woke him up and as he stretched his arms and yawned, he was surprised to see a girl sitting next to him...
A breathtakingly beautiful girl dressed in a red dress and smiling at him, with her hazel eyes gleaming in the soft glow of the garden lamps.
"As beautiful as happiness", he was surprised to have these words cross his mind as he gazed at her questioningly..
"Arnav? Right?", the beautiful stranger said in a voice that was as soft as spring's first drizzle.
"Yes?, said Arnav with his eyes narrowed.
"I'm Khushi. I don't know if you remember me or not, but we used to be neighbors in Pune...almost fifteen years ago..".
Almost as slowly and as gently as the flowers being showered from the tree above, memories from his childhood in India floated to him.
Their house in Pune. That verandah with a white painted trellis, almost smothered by blooming clematis flowers. That wooden bench swing by the fence weighed down by sweet peas. The call of the rain birds and the herald of the monsoons with all it's passion and drama. Those halcyon days of carefree childhood. And Khushi...
"Khushi? Gupta Uncle's daughter? Our next door neighbor?
"Yes.", She said happily at being finally remembered.
"Wow...you have changed", said Arnav staring at her. All he remembered was his grimy playmate who would sneak out of her house in the sweltering heat of an Indian summer to play with him in his garden.
"Well, 'fifteen years' is a long time and it's not as if you're the same eight year old boy in shorts and Tshirt and perpetually scraped knees that I remember", she said with a tinkling, melodious laughter.
As more memories drifted back to him, he thought with slight shock, "How could I have forgotten her? For the first eight years of our lives, we were pretty much inseparable, wanting to spend every free minute of our lives playing with each other".
"Do you remember me now?, she asked in a painfully anxious tone.
"Yes..", Arnav smiled at her.
"And I also remember how much you had cried on the day I was leaving for US with my family", Arnav said looking at her with amusement mixed with tenderness.
"And you had said that you would come back to meet me as soon as you were big enough to buy a plane ticket", said Khushi with a laugh even as her eyes flickered with something else.
"Then you had said that you would wait for me forever...", whispered Arnav with his eyes suddenly serious.
A lone tear glittering like a pearl escaped her eye to rest on her ivory cheek as the plaintive and soulful cry of a nightingale resonated in the garden.
"Did you?, he asked softly.
"Yes..", she said with her long lashes cast down..
There was so much innocence, so much pathos, so much pain in that single word that Arnav felt his eyes getting moist too.
"I'm sorry I didn't keep my promise", Arnav said.
Raising her gaze, Khushi smiled at him and said, "That's okay. I had firm belief that we would meet one day".
As Arnav smiled back at her, he felt an indescribable, unexplained joy and warmth in his heart.
He almost had a surreal sense of homecoming.
"When did you come to US?, he asked.
"I guess you can say that", she said with a small smile.
"You're staying in Savoy too?
As Khushi nodded, Arnav said on an impulse, "Will you have coffee with me tomorrow?
With an endearing smile, she said, "I don't drink coffee, but I can spend tomorrow with you".
"And I promise I won't keep you waiting this time".
"I know", she said shivering. The evening breeze was beginning to get chilly and little wisps of mist were beginning to swirl at the bases of trees.
"Here you can take my coat...", said Arnav seeing her shiver.
Ignoring her protests, he said teasingly, "That's just my way of making sure that I won't get stood up tomorrow".
Later, a contented smile played on his lips as Arnav walked up the marble stairs to go back to the grand ballroom.
To the party that was just another party now.
The late morning Sun shone brightly on Arnav as he went down the marble stairs with his steps light and joyous. Striding across the garden, he had soon reached the bench under the jacarandas tree, where he and Khushi had agreed to meet.
He was surprised to just find his coat there, partly covered with purple-blue blossoms.
As he picked up his coat and sat down slowly on the bench, a sudden wave of intoxication swept over him as he smelled the heady smell of fresh cut lilies again.
A cool refreshing breeze cooled his brow and he almost heard her mournful voice say,"I have waited too long...too long...".
"Too long for what, dear?, Arnav murmured with his eyes closed.
"For you, my love. Don't you realize we were two bodies but one soul...? We were created to be one. When you are troubled, how can I rest in peace? I've come to bring you peace...to be one with you".
"I'm ready...", said Arnav with a smile and inhaled deeply to drown in the scent of lilies...
Mrs. Raizada picked a framed picture from the top of the piano and gazed at it with tear filled eyes. Arnav's caramel eyes smiled back at her in response.
Her husband walking in the room, looked at her with suddenly moist eyes and said, "Amita, you know that day...that day..Arnav had told you that he was going to meet Khushi, his childhood friend.".
"Yes?, said his wife looking up at him with little interest.
"Well there wasn't anyone by her name staying at the hotel".
As Amita frowned in puzzlement, her husband said after hesitating for a brief moment, "I called Mr. Gupta in India. He said his daughter had passed away due to typhoid when she was only sixteen".
Never the time and the place
And the loved one all together!
This path--how soft to pace!
This May -- what magic weather!
Where is the loved one's face?
In a dream that loved one's face meets mine,
But the house is narrow, the place is bleak