Part 38: A Hero
and A Victim
"What the hell happened???" Payal bellowed.
looked at the screen confusedly. As far
as he could tell, their video chat connection was fine. What on earth was she screaming about?
"How did you get hurt?"
"f*ck!" Arnav muttered under his breath. He'd forgotten about that damned bandage on
his head. He'd gotten so used to the
thing in the past couple of days that it barely seemed alien anymore.
"You didn't start..."
Payal trailed off, leaving the question unasked.
"No." Arnav smiled
at her. "I promised you I won't do that
again...I don't intend on breaking any more promises. I think I've broken enough to last me a
"Then how'd you get hurt?" Payal was in her maternal mode
right now and Arnav knew that she wasn't about to stop anytime
soon...unless...but should he? It was a
dirty trick. He decided to go ahead with
"Akash said that he may have found...her."
Arnav spoke tentatively. Speaking
of Khushi would take Payal's mind off of anything.
Payal thought for a few seconds and shook her head. "Just the name and the position in her
company match...she's not Khushi."
Arnav tried to keep a straight face and nodded slightly. He'd been on this video chat for an hour
now. Khushi was gone to drop the kids
off at school and there was no better opportunity. After an angry call from the little devil,
Sahil, Arnav couldn't refuse this request of his.
"Stop changing the topic...how'd you get hurt?"
Arnav groaned. "Okay...promise
me you won't freak out."
Payal narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm doing no such thing. Now shut up and tell me...besides...you're
kind of screwed...Akash is listening in on this conversation...I can bet you
almost anything that he will bombard you with phone calls if you don't tell us
Arnav's eyes widened.
What the hell?? He thought this
was a private conversation. Seeing the
disbelief on his face, Payal took the laptop and swivelled it a bit so that
Akash was in the frame of view as well.
Arnav glared at Payal accusingly.
He heard the main door open and a sudden panic started to
fill him. What if Khushi walked in and
said something this moment?
He sighed defeatedly.
"It was a little accident...but I'm okay...just the stitches and a small
wound on my arm...everything else is fine."
"Does Aman know about this little accident',
Arnav?" Akash asked with a frown.
"Well yeah...but don't you go screaming to him...I told
him not to tell you guys anything."
Arnav's voice got louder towards the end of his sentence, when he saw
Akash get up and storm away"undoubtedly to make a call to Aman.
"You should have told us, Arnav." Payal spoke quietly.
"I just didn't want you to worry..." Arnav tried to reason.
"But we do! We do
worry! Even though Akash doesn't show
it, he worries. Even though Mamiji and
Mamaji seem distant, they worry. Even
though Nani doesn't talk to you, she still worries. Even your five year old nephew worries,
Arnav. Even though you tell us all that
you're okay...we still worry because we can see that you're not. You haven't been okay in the past five
years." Payal pursed her lips and her
expression was tinged with pity. It
instantly irked him.
"See! This is why
I spend more time at the office. Stop
looking at me like that. Stop looking at
me so damn pitifully. I hate it. I hate seeing that expression on your
faces. Why should you pity me, anyway?" Arnav was about to retort further when he
recalled his promise to Khushi.
No. He wasn't
going to do this again.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to compose
himself. He looked at Payal
meaningfully. "Look, I'm sorry okay...I
didn't mean to snap at you. But I just
figured that you guys have enough to worry about than having this small
accident added to the list...and trust me when I say this. I am fine."
Payal looked at him for a few long seconds, contemplating
his response. She sighed. "You know...I have noticed that you seem
better ever since you've gone to India...spending time at the orphanage seems
to be helping you in some odd way."
How could he explain that it wasn't just spending time at the
orphanage? It was all Khushi and the
Twins. They were the real reason behind
the change in him. He was yearning to
tell them that he had found her. That he
was a father of two beautiful children already.
That he and Khushi were working towards, perhaps, finding a happy future
together. He knew he couldn't disclose any of
that. Not when Akash was looking for her
the way he was. One seedling of doubt
that Khushi was here and he would fly here first thing and try to convince her,
probably even emotionally blackmail her, into going back with him.
"Arnav?" The sweet
voice rang from the doorway.
His head snapped in its direction and he momentarily
forgot his video conversation, where Payal's eyes had widened upon hearing some
"Yeah?" He smiled
"Did you take your medicine?" She waited for his response. When he nodded affirmatively, she smiled and
went on. "I'm sitting out in the
yard...let me know if you need something."
No sooner than Anjali had left, Payal's voice brought him
back to the conversation.
"Who was that?"
"Anjali...she works at the orphanage."
Yes, but what is
she doing in your house??? Was the question that Payal didn't ask. Could this be the reason behind the delay in
his return?? Had he found someone that
he was attracted to? Was he giving
himself another chance with another woman??
If that was the case, and if that was the reason behind
his obvious happiness lately, then Payal wasn't going to interfere. She let the matter drop for now but she would
bring it up again at a better time.
"I guess I'll leave you with your company. I'm going to make sure my husband hasn't
murdered Aman through the phone line and it's time for Nani's medications,
anyway." Payal smiled. "Take care of yourself...and Anjali."
Before Arnav could even process the comment and say his
what the', Payal had disconnected the line.
Great. One more thing to clear
out with his sister-in-law. Just bloody
Sighing, he jumped off his bed and walked out into the
yard, not quite remembering that Anjali will be there. He didn't even notice her sitting on the
grass in the middle of the yard, with Ishan sleeping in a small rocking
cradle. Arnav was too busy thinking
about his conversation with Payal.
He knew that his family was unhappy with him and rightly
so. He hadn't done anything to change
the fact. He felt...normal...that they
hated him after what he had done. Sure
he had been grateful when Payal had forgiven him after Sahil was born. He was glad to finally have a shoulder to cry
on, someone to vent his pain to but with the other family members, he justified
He, himself, had been angry at himself all these
years. He knew that they worried about
him, he could see it every time they looked at him but he had always told
himself that he wasn't worthy of that emotion from them. They shouldn't be worried about a heartless
man who hurt his wife and broke her heart so ruthlessly. Yet, they were worried about him. Just like Khushi worried about him.
Khushi. Amber. Aditya.
Three words that summed up his world. Aditya, the sun; the one who had flooded
Arnav's life with his bright smiles and warmth.
Amber, the sky; the one who had provided an endless blanket of peace and
serenity to his agonized soul. And
Khushi, the one who had brought Aditya and Amber to life, the one who had
brought the literal meaning of her name, in immeasurable measures, into his
life. His happiness had indeed left him
the day she left. And the day he ran
into her at the Dargah, was the day when that happiness slowly started seeping
back into his life.
This morning, he had woken up feeling the presence of all
three. Peace, Warmth, and
Happiness. For the second time in all
these years, he had woken up without screaming.
He had opened his eyes to find himself in the middle of another
tug-o-war between the twins. And just
like yesterday, Khushi had walked into his room for another round of a harmless
banter before the twins left for school and Khushi for work. What had he ever done to deserve these three
people in his life?
"Shouldn't you be looking ecstatic instead of
worried?" Anjali teased as she took a
seat next to Arnav on the small landing leading into the backyard, bringing him
back to earth from his cloud of thoughts.
"I am happy...there's just some things that have been on
my mind." Arnav muttered in dazed state.
"Maybe you're over thinking things."
Arnav's head snapped around to look at her. To say he was surprised would be an
"What?" she asked innocently. "I have found out this much about you in the
little time that I've known you...you over think things. A lot.
She has given you a chance and I've seen you doubt whether or not you
Arnav smiled sadly as he looked away into a patch of
lilies. "I know...I know I shouldn't but
sometimes I can't help it."
Anjali nodded solemnly.
"It's easier said than done. I
know. But it shouldn't be hard for
you...considering you're super buddy."
She chuckled and Arnav couldn't help but smile as he
recalled the excitement Amber and Aditya expressed with this invention of
"Yeah...all of a sudden I'm some kind of hero..." Arnav said sarcastically.
A long minute later, he turned to look at her when she
didn't respond. She was looking at him
with raised eyebrows and an incredulous expression on her face.
"I meant it when I said you're someone's hero. You are no less than a hero for Priya." Anjali looked away from his face and stared
into the patch of lilies he'd been looking at earlier. "You are to Priya what Khushi is to me. A saviour.
An angel sent to us in our darkest times." Anjali whispered painfully.
When she looked back at him, the pain was reflected on
her face, in her eyes. He wanted to look
away from the familiarity of that expression but he couldn't.
"If it weren't for her...I'd be long dead along with
Ishan..." Anjali paused when she saw a
frown appear on his face.
"How come you encouraged Khushi to give me this
chance? I know I shouldn't have but I
accidentally overheard your conversation the other day...why let her give me a
chance when you wouldn't and she wouldn't let you give a chance to Shyam?"
Anjali's face darkened and the glint left her eyes, a
sort of rage replacing it. He remembered
this is what Khushi looked like every time Shyam's name was brought up.
"You're nothing like him.
Don't ever compare yourself to him."
Anjali spoke slowly but strongly.
Arnav blinked. That is exactly
what Khushi had said.
"What he did makes your mistake negligible." Anjali turned away to look at her son. "You made that mistake when you were
drunk...and just once. Shyam put me
through that hell repeatedly, in his full senses. He knew what he was doing...in fact, he
Arnav's breaths started shortening instantly. He felt an odd sense of rage rush through his
veins. A sudden feel of protectiveness
towards Anjali coursed through him.
"I was engaged to him for eight months and everything was
fine...it was all sunshine and rainbows.
Then one day he decided that he wanted to cross his limits. It was the first time he forced himself on
me. When I woke up, he apologized and
for some ungodly reason...I forgave him.
Just like that. Maybe if I
hadn't...he wouldn't have done it a second time." Anjali's voice was dripping with pain as she
started into nothingness and spoke as if on auto-play.
"Every time he would rape me and would apologize and
every damn time, I forgave him out of love.
How could I not when he said that the only reason why he lost control
every time is because he loved me so much.
Because he couldn't have me close enough. I let it go on like that for over a month. I was truly blind in love to the point where
I didn't see right from wrong." She
paused to wipe away a lone tear that had escaped her eyes. "Then one day, he came up to me and told me
to go sleep with one of his friends."
She paused to look at Arnav when a gasp escaped him.
He wasn't looking at her, though. He was still focused on the patch of flowers;
his jaw clenched tightly, his hands balled into tight fists, his knuckles
"Apparently his friend had offered to pay him...in
exchange for a night in bed with me. I
was angry and heartbroken that he would sell me off to someone. I was an orphan but that didn't give him the
right to treat me like a prostitute.
That night I realized that I meant nothing to him. I was, perhaps, only a way for him to make
money. Before I could escape...he
managed to pin me down...that was the last time I let him take advantage of
me. When he left to bring his friend, I
somehow managed to find the strength to escape.
Of course I had no idea where I was headed, but I stuck to the shadows,
trying to get as far away from my house as possible. And that's how Khushi found me...out on the
streets, wounded, and hurt. I nearly got
into an accident with her car."
A small smile crept up on Anjali's face at the mention of
meeting Khushi. "She seemed no less than
an angel to me at that moment. All she
said was if you let me, I can help you.'
And I remember breaking down into sobs in her arms. The next memory I have is waking up to find
Amber and Aditya staring at me curiously.
When Khushi talked to me next, she asked me what had happened with
me. I was too ashamed to answer her
question. I was afraid that if I told
her, she would kick me out...raped women are stigmatized in this country and I
was too afraid of being alone so I chose not to answer. But she knew what had happened of course."
"She didn't ask me the question again but she told me her
story in a nutshell. It was her way of
letting me know that she has gone through a horrible incident too and that I
could share with her, my pain and tears.
And that's what I did."
Anjali fell silent for a long minute, trying to compose
herself. Arnav was trembling slightly
due to the anger he felt. For a second,
he wondered whether that's where she'd end her story but she proved him wrong
by speaking up.
"A couple months later, I found out that I was pregnant
with his child and it was then that she promised to protect me and my baby from
Shyam. She gave me enough strength and
support to become like her. To be able
to get a job and get ready to lead the life of a single mother. She got me a job at the orphanage and kept my
secret. No one knew what had happened
with me apart from her. Within her,
Amber, Aditya, Angad, Kripa and their kids...I found a family that I had
yearned as an orphan myself. With their
support, I found the courage to go and file a report against him...when he
found out what I had done, he sought me out.
He found me at the orphanage."
Anjali turned to look at Arnav once again but found no
change in his expression or stance. She
could feel the ripples of anger
rolling off of his body, the tremors in shoulders and arm, a proof of his rage.
"It happened a couple months before you showed up. He found me alone in the building...it was
fairly quiet...most kids off to school and what not. He dragged me out from my very desk...he did
everything to make sure I didn't scream...I knew in that moment that I was
going to die. I saw it on his face...he
was going to kill me and my baby...but Amber, Aditya, and Prateek had seen
us...of course they ran off to Khushi and told her what they saw. I have never seen her that angry. She was murderous. I can never forget the way she stepped out
into that hallway, holding a baseball bat.
All I could do was stand rooted in one spot while she
attacked him like a tigress. Hearing him
screaming and yelling in pain, the security guard came too. But one look at Khushi and even he just stood
in his place. Khushi was known for her
temper, of course, but no one had ever seen her like that and it was quite obvious. No one broke away from the crowd to stop her. She was uncontrollable. If Angad and Kripa hadn't gotten there in
time, I'm sure she would have killed him there and then. She even punched Angad in the face when he
tried to stop her."
Despite the seriousness of the story, a chuckle escaped
her at that particular memory. "It took
three men to get her off of him, that's how angry she was. Police was called and he was taken away
immediately, owing to the huge number of witnesses. The first thing she did once they had taken
him away was look at me...before I knew it, I was holding on to her and crying
my eyes out...the world was a dark place and she was my only ray of hope. I clung to her like a lifeline...she promised
me again that she will make sure he never gets out. She had to involve Angad and Kripa into the
issue at this point and they were supportive too. He's sentenced a lifetime in prison for
repeated rape, trafficking, and attempted murder."
A long silence dragged out following her story where
Anjali tried to close away the painful memories while Arnav tried to control
the blinding rage that had him seeing red.
Rage that was directed at Shyam.
Rage so powerful that the little inkling of pride he felt towards Khushi
was barely visible. He was unaware of
his trembling hands that itched to hit something in order to let out the storm
brewing in him. It felt like hours,
though in reality it was just a few minutes, before anyone spoke.
"She doesn't know what she means to me...but only the
lucky few of us who have these saviours in our life know the value of
them...and that's why I said that you,
Arnav, are someone's hero. I meant every
word from the bottom of my heart."
Silence befell them again. Arnav was torn apart because of the one thing
he'd done, that too in an intoxicated state.
How people could put others through hell over and over again so brutally
and not feel any regret was beyond him. Don't you ever compare yourself to Shyam. Khushi and Anjali both had said that to
him. Now everything made more
sense...the attachment Anjali had to Khushi, the relationship the two women
shared, Anjali's obvious hesitancy at trying to give Aman a chance.
Maybe this was the reason why Khushi had been able to
forgive him. Because she'd seen someone
else go through worse. Because she had
seen someone who was more beastly than him.
She'd seen Shyam for the beast that he truly was whereas she had seen
the repentance, regret, and pain in Arnav.
Arnav was, in many ways, more human compared to Shyam. He had saved Priya and he could see now why Khushi
thanked him for doing so. In that
moment, that simple act of getting out of the car to help the girl out truly
registered in his brain with the weight that it deserved.
"I'm glad she found you."
His voice was so distorted by rage and pain, that even he didn't
recognize it. "I'm proud of both her and
you for getting through dark times and emerge as strong women...and I promise
you...Khushi isn't the only one who's protecting you anymore. I will make sure you get all the happiness
that you deserve. I don't have a sister,
Anjali, but if I had one, I would do the same for her."
Anjali smiled at him slowly. "Thank you...but...There's one thing I hate
Arnav looked at her worriedly.
"I hate you because you're going to take her away from
me...her, Adi, Amby..." Anjali said
teasingly. Arnav was surprised that he
could smile after the heavy conversation.
"That's not for sure.
She may refuse to come back, you know."
Anjali gave a short laugh. "Please...it's only a matter of time...you
make her happy...that much is obvious."
Another short pause appeared in the conversation. Arnav decided to say what was on his
mind. He felt that he owed his friend
"He'll make you happy, too, you know. He won't care about what your past is. He said so himself." Arnav suggested.
Anjali looked away, knowing very well who he was talking
about. "it took Khushi five years to
give you one more chance...I went through all this in just the past year...it
will be hard for me trust another man..."
"Good things in life don't often come easy. Trust me.
I know. But this time...you have
two people protecting you instead of one.
Always remember that." Arnav
A tearful Anjali leaned in to give him a hug. Suddenly, Arnav felt overwhelmed with the
trust she had shown in him. He knew it
couldn't have been easy for her to share her story, especially with someone she
only met a few months ago. But for some
reason, she had placed that trust in him.
She was showing her affection through the light hug right now. What he didn't realize was that a simple
promise from him had filled in the empty spot of a brother in her life.
As they pulled apart, something shiny caught Arnav's eye
at the corner. He turned in time to see
Khushi wipe away a tear from her lower eyelid.
When had she got there, how long she'd been standing there, how much of
the conversation she'd heard...they had no idea.
Seeing her there suddenly doubled the size of Arnav's
heart to house the increased love, pride, and respect for the woman who was his
wife, the mother to his children. Before
another rational thought could cross his brain, he had stood up, closed the
distance, and gathered her in a bone crushing embrace. Anjali stood up too, smiling at the
Her job was done.
She needed him to know how important he was to someone and she needed
him to understand that though what he did was horrendous, there are worse
people out there. She also needed him to
know how strong Khushi had become over the years, not that she doubted he
didn't know that.
A knock at the door interrupted the perfect moment and
Anjali hastily excused herself to get it.
"I have never been this proud of anyone before. You are the strongest and the bravest woman I
know." Arnav whispered to Khushi, making
her smile dazzlingly.
He pulled apart slightly to smile down at her before
pressing his lips to her forehead in a gesture of pure admiration. Khushi's eyes flew to his lips when his face
was that close and she tried to turn her eyes away. Only...she couldn't. She recalled her dream from this
morning. It was the same dream she'd had
before, about their kiss on the bench in front of the rose bush, under a
moonlit sky. For a fleeting moment, she
was tempted, very tempted to just go
on her tip toes and press her lips to his but she relented. One step at a time, she reminded herself.
When he pulled away again, she forced her eyes to travel
up to his only to be captivated by them.
In all these days, for the first time she saw no tinge of guilt in those
brown pools of warmth.
To ruin the moment further, a panting Aman burst into the
living room, looking haggard. He looked like
he had just sprinted a mile and a half.
It was one of the very few times Arnav had seen Aman looking
so...freaked out. The man was usually
well composed but at this moment, composure was far from him.
"We have a problem."
He declared making the three other occupants frown in confusion. Arnav and Khushi broke their embrace
completely to give him their full attention.
He looked straight at Arnav and directed the next sentence at him, his
pause signifying the importance. "Akash
Sir is coming to India."