Joined: 04 April 2007
The wind whistled
shrilly, lambasting every leaf that dared throwing itself in the path of its
fury. Khushi walked herself to the edge of the sidewalk giving berth to scurrying pedestrians who were dashing back
home or for shelter against the impending rain. She needed to get home too.
Buaji and Amma would be worried.
Tucking the brown paper package containing samosas in the crook of her arm, she quickened her pace. The first drops of rain fell lightly, the softest of warnings. Khushi arranged her dupatta over her head, wrapping it securely to protect her hair.
She usually liked rains. They were about liveliness, about cheer, about exuberance.
But, today wasn't usual. No, it hadn't been "usual" for the past one week.
Thunder roared it's arrival, hooting for the self-indulgent lightening to come and join the party. Rain-crisp scents of mud assaulted her senses. Another day, another time, she'd have lingered back amidst this chaos.
Someone bumped into her from behind, stepping onto her slipper and snapping it. Without a backward glance, the ill mannered man hurried on. Khushi stood still watching her ruined footwear as water collected into a puddle around her feet. She couldn't repair that. She bent down the retrieve the pieces. Stepping out of her other slipper, she held the pair in her free hand.
She tried to move forward, willing her feet to carry her on. It was pretty simple actually- Left leg forward, right leg forward and the left one again. Yet, she stood rooted to the spot, her mind numb and her eyes blinded even to the ferocious downpour.
"I miss him," she whispered.
The words, said aloud, didn't allay the ache that plagued her heart. If anything, it magnified it.
The funny thing was, it wasn't Shyam ji whom she missed. No, she didn't miss that lump of dirt on legs. She missed going to the Raizada house. She missed...
Arresting her straying thoughts, she made another attempt to walk. And succeeded.
A week had passed since she'd chanced upon the real face of Shyam ji. She was yet to come to terms with his twisted trickery and poison tipped lies. How he'd managed to hoodwink them all, she'd couldn't conceive. But now when she looked back, she could spot all those discrepancies in his routine.
She didn't have to face him anymore. With Lavanya ji gone, her work at the Raizada Mansion had also ended. The next time she'd be there would be for her Jiji's marriage. And then, never again.
"Excuse me Miss, your dupatta is trailing" a rich baritone cautioned her.
Her pulse skyrocketed. It couldn't be. She spun around to face an equally shocked Arnav.
He was dressed in a black shirt, neatly tucked into beige pants. The material clung to his lean torso after having being soaked through. A hint of stubble shadowed his jaw. His hair was plastered to his damp forehead courtesy the rain. She'd never known anyone to look more sinfully handsome than Arnav Singh Raizada.
"Khushi," his voice sounded strained, "Your dupatta."
Khushi caught the dragging end and wound it round her hand. She hadn't noticed that it had come undone from her head. She rocked back and forth on her heels, acutely aware that she was barefoot while he stood there towering over her. A tense silence cocooned them. Against the backdrop of thunder she could still hear his breath. There was a strange restlessness haunting his wintry gray eyes. Something was shifting between them and it scared her.
"I should get going," she sputtered, turning her back to him.
Her eyes slid back to him of their own accord. He was standing there, all steady and unruffled by the ongoing rainstorm. His hands were buried deep in his pockets, his eyes consumed in sifting through the muddied waters at their feet. He looked a little lost. Vulnerable even.
"Stay," he whispered.
A crackle of questions burst through her head, howling through the meshwork of her new found numbness. Every one of them starting with a blaring 'Why' and yet she found herself muting it all out. She could walk away from here, from him, pretending that she hadn't heard him. She didn't need to deal with more than she was already being handed out.
Forcing a deep breath in, she retraced her steps to stand before him. Patiently, she waited for him to tear his eyes away from the ground and meet hers. "Chai?" she asked, slanting her head in the direction of the nearest tea stall.
Arnav watched as she
carefully set her broken slippers near the phone booth adjoining the tea stall.
In an unconsciously graceful move, she rubbed her arms trying to chase away the
chill. His eyes were latched onto her eyes, they looked sad. The twinkling
light that shined forth, usually mirroring her happiness was
She passed him a tea glass and turned back to thank the stall owner. Taking another glass of piping hot tea off the slab, she perched herself comfortably on the wooden bench. His fingers burned against the glass making him hiss under his breath.
"Is it hot?" she asked, concern fleetingly crossing her features.
He nodded. He didn't trust his voice. He didn't know what he was doing here. With her. All he knew was that he'd missed her. Missed their bickering, missed her silly pranks. He'd long ago established that her constant presence at his home annoyed him. It was slowly dawning upon him that annoying or not, her presence mattered to him.
"Here, use this to wrap it around the glass," she squeezed out the water from her dupatta end before offering it to him, "You'll be able to hold it better."
He took it, swathing it round the container and settling down beside her.
"Do you miss him?" he asked her, sipping at his tea. He avoided looking at her. He didn't want to see raw longing nestling in her eyes.
"I don't" she replied rather flatly. He liked that about her. There were no mulberry bushes he had to burn while with her. No pretense.
A kid dressed in khaki half pants and a white shirt bounded into the stall, his school bag slung low on his back and an irrepressible smile on his face. He skipped behind the counter, pulling at the owner's shirt sleeve, "Baba, paperboat bana do na..."
Digging through his bag, he produced a half filled notebook and neatly tore out a page from it. "Banao na, Baba," he whined trying to snag his father's attention. The man was busy washing the used glasses and wiping them dry. "Beta, aaj nahi. Kabhi aur." The boy's face fell as he looked yearningly at the rain-made ponds outside.
He stuffed the book back into his bag and was in the process of crumpling the paper when Khushi's clear voice rang out, "Yahaan aao. Main bana doongi."
The switch was electric. His eyes lit up like orbs of radiance. He came running around, thrust the paper into Khushi's hand and stood there with his arms crossed. Arnav couldn't help it, he smiled.
Khushi neatly folded the paper, pressing along the edges. Her mouth was bunched to a side in concentration as she squinted at her work. "This isn't right," she mumbled under her breath, re-opening some of the folds and trying again. He could see the frustration creeping around her eyes as she opened it up again a third time.
"Let me?" he offered, extending his hand for the paper. He set his empty glass down on the bench and twisted around to face Khushi. She gave it to him apprehensively. "Don't tear it," she muttered under her breath. A laugh trapped at the back of his throat as he took the abused sheet from her.
Skilfully, he made the required folding and pulled at the square from its side shaping it into a boat. The kid clapped his hands together, snatching it from his hands. He generously dropped a peck on Khushi's cheek and then his before running out into the rain.
"You know to make paperboats?" Khushi looked at him disbelievingly.
"I wasn't born with a stubble, you know" he carelessly shrugged, taking her empty glass and placing it in the crate. He turned around to catch her staring at him. Colouring vividly, she looked away. He felt a feeble growl of approval echo through his heart. Masking his grin, he paid for the tea.
"It's getting dark," she worried her lower lip, peering into the gathering darkness, "Amma will be worried."
"I'll drop you home," he quietly agreed, gauging the intensity of the rain.
"Let me get my car here." With that he sprinted out, a subtle elation sparking off his spirits.
There had been no uneasy questions like - What exactly had he been doing in this area when his house and workplace were both located in the other extreme of the city? He had no answer to that one. And the only answer creeping up his soul wasn't something he wanted to look at closely. Not now. Maybe someday...
The tyres screeched
to a halt, puncturing the moment that had meandered into a smoke of magic.
There had always been silence in his life, the cutting-distancing types. That
silence could bond, it could heal, it could breathe...he'd never known. He knew
She unlocked the door, pushing it open and stepping out. Bending inside, she picked up her slippers and the brown package that she'd left on the dashboard.
"Khushi," he began, his fingers tapping to some unknown beat on the wheel, "Thanks." His eyes met hers and coalesced into an understanding that simmered between them. She smiled, closing the door and heading towards the house.
He reversed the car, heading back to the tea stall. Alighting from his seat, he let the fading drizzle caress him. He could see the clear portions on the misted glass of the phone booth, where she'd traced her name while waiting for him to get the car.
A tiny smile tugged at his lips and exploded in his heart as he brought his finger to the fogged surface, writing his name beside hers.
She was the same. He was the same. She, bright vibrant hues. He, the dull ones. And yet they were clicking into place. Into a pattern that bespoke consummate beauty. Much like in a kaleidoscope.
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