Joined: 13 November 2011
Sixteen years ago, late summer
She watches the flowing traffic four floors down from the balcony. She is waiting for her husband to come back from work. She is wearing the sari that he had told her to wear, along with the accessories he had especially chosen for her the previous night. He likes to dress her up in the way he things she sees her best and she lets him. Payal says it's very romantic. Two years ago Khushi when she was newly married, she had assumed the same and blushed whenever Payal insinuated that. Now, it's nothing more than a habit for her. Her husband, whose name is so long that he introduces to everyone as Teddy, has told her several times that she lacks the talent to choose the right accessories for the saris that she wears or choosing the right sari for the right occasions. Since she never cared for such things in the past, she believes him readily. Besides, everyone including her own sister find her better dressed these days. It's a win-win, she thinks idly. She carefully adjusts the pleats on her sari as she shifts around and leans on the railing. Her perfume is a delicate smell that cocoons her in its aura. She smiles at the memory when Teddy first sniffed it on her neck and he broke into a wide grin. The perfume was a present from Payal for her birthday. It was a pricey gift for Payal to give since the watch business wasn't doing so well. After their parents' death the shop barely managed to sail through.
She jumps when she hears the bill ring. Teddy is home.
They don't exchange of pleasantries.
"You look very nice Khushi," he says, unbuttoning his shirt. She waits patiently by the bed to take the shirt from him and hang it to air. His actions are methodical and mechanical. There is precision in his actions, his well-built physique singing like perfectly functioning machinery. Her cheeks warm at the thought of his arms enveloping her and hopes he would pull her into his arms soon. Three weeks had started to seem like a very long time to go without an intimate gesture. Her hands hang limp next to her as she watches him change to fresh clothes.
"Do you need something?" She asks.
He shakes his head. He stops when he passes around her to pick up car keys.
"Which perfume is this?" He asks, knitting his eyebrows.
She smiles sensing his pleasure. "Oh, it's the new one Payal gave it to me on my birthday. It smells divine, isn't it?"
He looks at her thoughtfully and offers a tiny smile. "It smells wonderful love. But its killing the entire ensemble, you know?"
The smile on Khushi's face fell a little. Was perfume that important to complete a look? She had no idea about such things. "Really?" She asks, voice small.
He smiles gently. "Of course love. Look, when you are striking up a conversation with someone you sometimes end up standing less than a foot away from them, correct?"
She nods, taking his theory in.
"We humans have the ability to see, smell and taste - all the same time and derive a conclusion. In your case when the brain is building up your profile, the vision and the smell will clash horribly. The person you are talking to won't even realize why they feel like moving away from you but their brain would have made their decision for them." Teddy explains gently.
Khushi flushes in mild embarrassment. He chuckles at the redness that has now covered her neck and upper chest. "Why don't you take a quick bath? I will wait." Before she can react, he adds: "Also, let's not use that perfume for a while, okay? Your current wardrobe sits in a higher plan than that of this perfume. It doesn't suit you anymore, actually." He pauses when Khushi's eyes widen as his words fully sinks in. "Tell you what. We will see this weekend if we can fit this perfume to any of your clothes. It sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?"
She lets out a huge breath that relaxes her slowly tensing muscles as she nods. He adds, "We will be late but I will apologize to our hosts. I am sure they can understand your last moment wardrobe malfunction." He winks at her.
She bites her lips and rushes out of the room but stops when he calls her out.
"Let's visit your aunt on our way back, yeah?" He says casually.
She is excessively grateful for this kind gesture. They go to her aunt's place once in a month and spend exactly an hour with the older woman. They meet Payal twice a month; once at Payal's living area above the shop and a fortnight later Payal visits them for lunch on a Sunday. Teddy has made sure this schedule is kept and maintained for two years.
"Thank you Teddy," she says, eyes bright with unshed tears.
"Of course love," he says easily. "You have spoken to her more often in last one week than previous two weeks, right?" He watches her while she removes her sari.
"She has been a bit lonely when I spoke to her last week. So made a couple more calls to her this week." She stops after dropping her petticoat. "Should I have not done that?" She asks, worrying her lower lip between her teeth.
He laughs and shakes his head. "Don't be silly love. If you want to talk to her, then ask me. I will take you to her to see instead of talking over phone for twenty odd minutes about god knows what." She ignored the hardening of his tone in the end and latches on to his initial offer.
Her smile is grateful. "Looks like my new diet is working," he says watching her step into the bathroom. "Your thighs now have a spectacular shape and you look taller since you have gotten a little slender."
"Have I really?" She asks, turning around.
He nods. "Of course you are not still in perfect shape, but we will get there, won't we?" He asks giving her front a critiquing look.
Her answer is quick and urgent. "Definitely Teddy. I will follow your regimen exactly how you want me to."
He smiles and blows her a kiss. Warmth settles in her stomach. "I will be quick." She says and disappears in the bathroom. She misses the way Teddy's face crushes realizing that they will be an hour late to the party and it's all Khushi's fault.
"Penny for your thoughts."
She whips around and stumbles when words are thrown at her seemingly from nowhere. Arnav is looking at her with mild amusement tinted with a smidgen of sorrow.
"A bit heavy on your perfume today, aren't you? Did you take a dip in a vat of perfume this morning?" He asks, laughter in his eyes. She rolls her eyes.
"I was reaching for a spare part in my shelf and one of my old perfumes fell on me." She waves her hand around her torso.
"It smells pretty great." He says drooping on her workbench. "Suits you." He adds after taking a fresh whiff. He doesn't speak when he realizes Khushi's silence is screaming.
"Payal gave it to me on my twentieth birthday. It was unaffordable in the way her business was running. She pulled few strings, gave up what little luxuries she had to buy me this. It was official ending of my teenage years and she did it extravagantly." Khushi didn't smile, didn't choke on the stifling smell of sweet aroma. The smell had surfaced a memory that she had tried very hard to come to terms with.
"Payal is..." Arnav asks, not knowing the conflict that Khushi's head is currently spinning.
"Payal is the one who has summoned you today. My boss. My employer. My sister." Khushi explains.
Arnav's slightly baffled look is replaced by the one with respect. She isn't able to discern the change but she isn't ready to question her own power of recognizing minor changes in his facial expression.
"Am I in trouble?" He blurts.
Khushi is startled that draws out a laughter from her. Arnav smiles dolefully.
"I generally don't find myself in situations like these. Its frankly unnerving. It's like I am being called to principal's office. Weird, isn't it?" Arnav chuckles.
Khushi lets out a burst of sharp laughter at the sight of this ridiculously successful man turned into a twelve-year-old boy because her sister had demanded to meet him at once.
"Your project is going to cost a lot of money. Money that we cannot invest blindly. I think she wants to talk about that." Khushi explains patiently. Her lips don't stop twitching.
"Oh." He says, going back to drooping on her workstation.
"Why? What were you thinking?" She asks, curious.
"None of your business." He replies in what is tried as a haughty tone but is completely missed because he is desperately trying to smoothen his laugh. "Your headband is over sparkly and extra pink today." He adds unnecessarily.
"Whatever weirdo." She says. Arnav looks at her, surprised at casual way Khushi treats him. Its only third time they are meeting and the boundaries between them has already turned a shade lighter. Seeing her surprised face, he is glad that she has arrived at the same conclusion as him.
Payal's footsteps draw quiet between them and Khushi squashes the "principal" theory vehemently. Not that it goes away completely.
"Payal Gupta," Payal says, extending her hand. Arnav stands tall and still, offer his hand in return. He is impressed by the strength Payal puts in the handshake. He is impressed by the way Payal has carried herself in these few seconds. His personal wardrobe probably cost more than the entire worth of the items the shop carried but in Payal's presence, he felt sufficiently humbled. She demanded respect in the way she had carried the conversation with him earlier in the day and he didn't fight his instincts to treat her as if they were carrying out a deal that involved millions. Her admired that. He adored that.
"I want to know where you are going with this." She asked directly.
"I promised a unique grandfather clock to my friend. Khushi is building me one based on an idea I found on the internet." Arnav replies.
"What is your involvement in this project?" She continues ignoring the way Khushi's face goes blank with this question.
"I am there every step of the way Ms. Gupta. I am choosing the clock. I will see the design progress, definitely won't bother Khushi when she is assembling and will be here as often as possible during testing." Arnav puts his foot down. Aman deserves the best and Arnav isn't going to let this big sister ruin what would make go Aman over the moon.
Payal holds his gaze for several moments and then nods. "You pay half upfront." She decides.
"Payal!" Khushi gives her sister an admonishing look.
"Okay. Draw up invoice for the hours you are expecting Khushi to put in along with necessary hardware and software and I will pay half of it up front. I will choose grandfather clock along with Khushi and pay for separately." Arnav negotiates. He probably would have given everything and more but that would be insulting to Payal.
"I will draw some paper work. Let me know when you want to take Khushi out for shopping." Payal waves at the two and leaves them alone.
"That went well." Arnav says brightly.
Khushi gives him a "Are you kidding me?" look.
"What?" He asks.
She smiles and shakes her head. "Nothing. Call a day before you want to go clock hunting, alright? And bring ideas." She says moving to her workstation.
"You got it," he says.
He lingers for a moment more than necessary at the door. His break up with Lavanya is now three weeks old. The cathartic reaction that followed the break up has dissolved some of the oldest aches in his bones. Blood thrums in his veins without moaning in deep rooted misery. There is a lightness in his spine that he believed was lost to his youth and the tragedy that followed.
He has thrown himself to work, to molding his friendship with Lavanya and adoring the f**k out of Aman who tolerated his miserable sorry ass for a week without stop.
For now, he had a company to run, grandfather clock to build and sparkly pink headbands to ignore.
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Joined: 26 August 2012
Ok so no amount of bloodshed would draw the kind of visceral response as the first half did. Teddy.. the name will now make me shudder and then shiver with hatred. It's worse than the Dementor's kiss Rowling speaks of. To suck the life, soul and individuality out of a person piece by piece, stripping that woman of everything that makes her a human being. She becomes his canvas to paint on and his corpse to f**k or dissect, whatever and whenever he pleases. It terrifies me to think of what this would do to a human being - and like Payal said in an earlier update, the fact Khushi is still able to function like a normal human being is a miracle. Or a testament to her strength.
Loki and I were discussing just how much worse this control would be when he exercises it in their sexual relationship. She will not have a shred of self confidence left in her and her brain will turn into a painful knot. Jesus. Terrifying.
So let me try and focus on the second half. I admire Payal for the way she conducts herself, and Arnav even more for appreciating and respecting that. He could have both patronizing or high handed if he wanted to and yet he was humble. It has a lot to do with the way Payal carries herself but it takes an honorable man to recognize that virtue in another person.
I wish them all the best - I want the sun to shine on their lives and cocoon them in its brightness and warmth.
Terrific writing, RB.
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