Joined: 01 December 2013
Nikhil leaned his head against the cold, stone wall of the jail cell, smiling sardonically. He could hear the footsteps and voices of everyone else outside, the chaos seeming like a faint echo in the distance as they ricocheted against the walls.
He cracked his knuckles, staring blankly at the bricks in front of him, the jagged edges of the stone set hastily. He had grown immune to the goosebumps perpetually crawling up his arms, the permanent shivers that shook him.
The loneliness was oppressive, lying before him like long stretches of endless road that snaked through the desert. His curls had grown unruly, hanging in loose waves halfway down his neck, darkening the circles around his eyes. He could feel the scruff on his cheeks, his clothes perpetually stiff from the dampness that touched it, drying, and then wetting it again.
He had finally grown to understand the circular nature of time, having had entirely too much of it. He had lost track of all beginnings and endings, lost in an endless cycle of kal aaj aur kal.
He licked his parched lips, glancing at the sliver of a window, the barred lines interrupting the neat square of light that streamed in. He had counted ten sunsets, and assumed he had been in solitary confinement for a little over a week.
He heard the approaching of footsteps, and his brow furrowed in confusion. He wasn't supposed to see anyone until lunchtime, and it was far too bright outside for that.
He turned his head just as the door clicked, the light masked by a tall, lean figure. Warm, brown eyes met his, arms crossed across his chest. NK could see the glimmer of his wedding band on his long fingers that rested against the crisp white kurta.
"Quite a nice place you have here."
NK flashed him a grin, his face brighter than it had been in days. He glanced to the side, distinctly aware of the jailer's stiff back pressed against the bars, knowing he was listening carefully.
"Thank you, Aman. How is Bhabhi?"
"Since when is she Bhabhi and not Anju?"
NK couldn't restrain a faint chuckle that immediately dissolved into a cough, shaking his head.
"Since she married you. God only knows why she would do that."
There was an aching familiarity in the banter as it tapered away, leaving the two friends staring at each other in silence. The distance between them seemed larger than ever, but for the first time in months, it felt like their hands were reaching across the gaping hole, just barely touching.
NK looked away from Aman's piercing gaze, tracing the crack beside him that he had traced thousands of times. The air was heavy with regrets and broken promises, the weight of what was to come.
"I'm going to die, aren't I."
NK said softly. It wasn't so much a question as a statement of acceptance, the hollowness sounding strangely full. Aman didn't say a word, only looking at the haggard man sitting on the floor. He was struck by the dignity that remained in his posture, his back ramrod straight and his eyes as sharp as they had always even.
"You don't have to."
He finally said, a quiet plea behind his words. NK made a faint noise, a melancholic smile on his face.
"How is Dadi?"
Aman hesitated, taking a deep breath.
"She's broken, NK. But she's a strong woman."
NK nodded curtly, wistfulness in his eyes. He longed to place his head in her lap one last time, feel her aged, wrinkled fingers comb through his hair as she told him stories.
"Your dad is an asshole."
NK laughed, a wry grin curving his lips.
"You're telling me."
"It's all bluster, you know. He's just as broken as you are. He lost his wife, and now he's losing his son."
"I was never really his son to begin with."
Aman shook his head, watching the resentment in NK's eyes.
"He does love you. Sometimes... people just forget how to show it."
He could see the sheen of tears in NK's eyes, the way his lashes clumped together as he blinked rapidly. There was a long silence as the two friends let the moments of the past linger between them.
"And how is she?"
His voice was quiet, pained as it caught on the last word. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing as the image of her hurt, betrayed eyes came into view, shining with unshed tears. The guilt stung just as sharply as it had that day, the dull, constant ache never fading as it pinched at his heart.
Aman stared at his friend, the pain lacing his words impossible to miss. For a moment, he couldn't help but compare how both Arnav and NK spoke of Khushi in the same way, the same glimmer in their eyes.
He paused, struggling to find the words. He knew NK was waiting for a response, but didn't know whether...
"She got married."
He finally got out, unsure of whether he had said the right thing. NK didn't flinch, an almost satisfied smile tugging at the edge of his lips, pain clouding the depths of his eyes.
"She loves him, doesn't she?"
Aman paused, contemplating his next words.
"Don't, Aman. I know. I guess I always have, in a way."
He mused, an ache in his words. Aman merely listened, his heart squeezing at the anguish and regret. NK turned dark eyes up to him, a desperation in his voice.
"Does he love her?"
Aman didn't even have to think before the word slipped out.
He saw NK relax, a faint smile shadowing his lips. The man leaned against the wall, his face lightening as if a heavy weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.
"Don't do this, Nikki."
The endearment startled him, and NK's gaze shot up to his friend as Aman dropped to his knees by his side. He hadn't used that nickname in years, an urgent desperation echoing against the walls.
"You know I hate that nickname."
Aman ignored the attempt at humor, grasping his friend's hands. NK looked away, unable to handle the pain in his eyes.
"Nikhil, you don't have to do this. Don't martyr yourself. We need you. Hell, I need you. I need your voice, the passion you bring, the way you get everyone excited. I can't do that Nikki, not without you."
NK gently extricated his hands, shaking his head. The tears had long since spilled down his cheeks, wetting the scruff of his beard.
"Yes you can, Aman. I know you can."
Aman shook his head, begging the man in front of him to reconsider.
"I don't give a damn. You're my friend. Our disagreements don't change that, NK, you- you're a part of me, a part of us."
NK didn't respond, staring off into the distance. He hated the plea in Aman's voice, knowing that he wouldn't be able to take it away.
It was ironic, how friendships that seemed lost were never that difficult to find again. NK shook his head, turning to Aman.
"No, Aman. I have to do this-"
Aman moved to interrupt but NK silenced him with a smile tinged with pain and acceptance.
"I want to do this. This is what I was meant to do."
There was a new determination that seeped in, and Aman couldn't help but admire him in that moment. He could see the pride in NK's eyes, the feeling of accomplishment. NK fixed him with a sad smile, grasping his hands between his own.
"Tell Dadi I love her, Aman. Tell her that I-"
NK's voice broke, his heart cracking as he spoke, ploughing forward.
"Tell her that I'll always be with her, just like she was always with me."
He paused, falling back against the wall, the tears streaming down unchecked as he continued unsteadily, his voice trembling.
"Tell Khushi that I'm sorry, I'm sorry I couldn't be who she needed. Tell her that I hope she's always happy, that I lo-"
He broke off, shaking his head at the familiar stab of pain that seared through him. He had lost that right to tell her that, he couldn't say that.
"Tell her she inspires me, Aman."
NK's grip loosened on his hands as NK leaned his head against the wall, silent sobs wracking his body. Aman struggled to hold it together, fisting his hand tightly as he stepped back, taking deep breaths that refused to ease the tight knots in his stomach.
He tried to speak, but words failed him, his mouth forming the shapes, the sounds refusing to slip into the air. NK opened watery, red eyes, smiling at him with a shrug.
Aman gave him a brief nod, knowing that any words would dissolve into grief as he turned on his heel. He stopped at the door, holding the bars for support as he took a long breath, the tears sliding down his cheeks.
He heard NK's voice, quavering but certain, calling after him. He didn't turn around, silently acknowledging it.
"Tell Papa that I love him too."
Aman shattered, the glue just barely holding him together as he strode out of the cell, unable to look back at the dark brown eyes that followed him. He heard the click of the jail cell shutting, his strides growing longer and longer until he was jogging into the waiting room.
He saw the figure of his wife, waiting for him with a haunted expression as he walked towards her, pulling her into him. He didn't care that there were people watching, desperately needing the comfort of her touch, of her fingers holding him to herself.
He knew the tears were wetting her sari as his chest heaved, the salty tears mingling with hers.
Behind them, a man stood in a jail cell, his chin jutted out proudly as the jailer clasped the handcuffs around his wrists, taking him away. As he stepped into the blistering sunlight, he smiled up at the blue sky. He stepped towards the man in the dark figure, eclipsed by the bright light streaming down.
For the first time in years, he felt free.
Note: And that's where I'll leave you for today! I hope you liked it- please let me know what you thought through a like or a comment. It's like a little piece of chocolate to reward me after the update! (can you tell I'm hungry right now...?)
As always, please follow @ipkchotidesi or PM me your email for update notifications.
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Waiting to see ki kaise chhod paayega woh haath jo usne thaama hain tightly ...
Khushi's hesitant yearning to hear Anjali say the words aloud was moving to see. It was like it would soothe her inner turmoil. But what followed was one of the most beautiful pieces of vulnerability exposed and feelings understood I have read. It was so so so well written. Reminded me of these lines "Jisko jee jaan se chahte hain, jab usse nazron ke samne pate hain tab aankhen bolti hain zuban nahi"
And then you gave us NK. Oh my God, that was stunningly written. His every thought, every emotion, every belief so evocatively brought out. The conviction of the martyr, the child's need to be nurtured, the camaraderie of a friend, and then Khushi ... the wistfulness, the selfless desire of a lover to see his beloved happy, the pain of not being the one to give her that happiness, that triste feeling laid bare. When he says, "Tell Papa that I love him too", I too had tears running down my face. He's making peace with himself, ready to face death not fearful of it, not having any regrets. Petty inconsequential things seen for what they are at the moment of truth. As you said, "he felt free".
Choti, my love, each update surpasses the previous in depth. Each sentence beautifully crafted. Words weaved together superlatively. I'm a total pankhi
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It is very interesting to realize that your story uses so many words to convey Arshi's silence and your Arshi use so much silence to convey what many words cannot say. Silence or words, your story and your characters are just equally amazing. And you my dear, deserve all the praise for making it happen in every week, in every twist and every turn.
First of all, it was a most gratifying read for me. Yes, a tender kiss, faint rustle, the fingers slide and a small smile is all it took for me. But, these gestures this time, are of a totally different kind. Maybe because they come from a sense of understanding and a commitment. And that for me, is when a wedding ends and a marriage begins.
Arnav - If ever there is something called a right mix of caring and not caring, then what he did comes very close. For me, other than his England ambition, it's hard not to admire every move he made so far. Right from getting married to displaying his emotions to taking care of Khushi. He did what was needed for Arshi.
Khushi - The mind is still at war but heart is slowly winning the battles. I am hoping the smile at the end is the beginning of a new journey. She should have realized by now that she is the most important rose in his garden. She will soon realize that, the proof of that is not in how beautiful the bloom is, but it is in the time that gardener spent in nurturing it.
NK - The love for his country cannot be any more pure than this, knowing what he has readily put on the line for the sake of that. We love you too and are wishing for some happy miracle. Have to respect his commitment and offer salute to his guts.
Some stories grow on you so much that sometimes when you are commenting, you kind of get the feeling if you could even do half justice to really what you want to convey. But I guess, that simple feeling already proves how much this story matters to me and a million thanks to you Choti for making that possible.
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