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A Lover Lost
"Forgetting to love is the most difficult. For that one needs to crush the heart to such an extent that there's truly nothing but blood left in it."
Payal forced a smile at Om Prakash, the servant, as she stepped back into Shantivan. In a hurry to get out of the house she had forgotten to collect a few vital documents. "Payal!" Akash rushed up to her while Payal stepped back immediately.
She turned a blind eye to what her mother in law said because at the end of the day, this was her younger sister's marital house as well. Payal couldn't risk Khushi's blissful life for her own troubles. "I just need to collect a few things Akash."
Akash followed Payal till their bedroom and shut the door. Unflinchingly, Payal continued to collect the files when Akash grabbed them from her hand and threw them on the floor. "Akash!"
"You won't even bother to give me a second Payal!" Akash growled, desperation and fear making its way. Blinking slightly, Payal swallowed and whispered "You couldn't even last a day of what I've been facing for four months now." Akash staggered, his mouth dropping to say something but he found himself lost.
"This is not a revenge game Akash, I'm just tired. And you know what... I wouldn't have had problems with you if," Payal paused, watching Akash turn aside. "If you simply hadn't promised anything."
"FINE, I am wrong. I am the worst man and the truth is I never did anything for you." Payal closed her eyes and shook her head at his words.
"Akash, I am not asking you to victimize..."
"It's the truth Payal." He cut her off, looking at Payal's confused face. She barely believed him to accept his flaws this early. Akash smiled a little at his wife's lack to resolve the matter. Of course, it was Payal who would either go to her family's or keep shut.
"I don't do anything Payal. Nothing." He concluded, confusion clouding in her eyes.
Letting out a soft chuckle, he picked up the fallen files and handed them to a startled Payal's hands.
"I never did anything because you never said anything."
"Are you fine?" Khushi's eyes flew open at the question. Her vision blurred from having slept too long. Blinking a few times, she abruptly got up on her elbows and hissed as pain seared through her palms.
"Careful Khushi!" Arnav admonished and grabbed her hands into his, blowing at her wounds. That's when Khushi realised that her palms had been dressed and she had been wearing a different set of clothes. Her cheeks stung as well. Antiseptic, she concluded as she sniffed slightly.
She retreated her hand from his, ignoring his questioning gaze as memories fluttered back. Closing her eyes briefly, she sensed him coming closer.
"Leave me alone."
Arnav looked at her, startled at her sweet yet lifeless tone. "Khushi, I..." Khushi shirked away from his touch and stood up on her wobbly knees. As Arnav walked closer, Khushi backed away and folded her palms in mercy before him.
"Please, for Devi Maiyya's sake, just leave me alone! I don't want to be with you... in fact," Khushi stopped abruptly, her hand still gesturing Arnav to back off. Beyond his ego and intimidation, Arnav would have realised that this time when Khushi wanted to be alone - she meant it.
Hence when Khushi turned around, she found herself grabbed towards her husband with the ever present fury in his eyes. Unable to take his dominance any longer, Khushi pushed at her chest and immediately regretted it as her palms screamed from wounds.
"What the fu..."
"When I need you, you leave me alone. When I don't need you, you don't leave me alone. Why?" Khushi screamed and huddled into a ball, crying her heart out. Arnav crouched before her and took her into his arms as she struggled and then relented into his embrace.
"Please, I need to leave Arnavji. I need to breathe." She sniffled against his shirt while he wordlessly patted her head. Breaking off the hug, Khushi stood up and took out a duffel bag. First guilt, then confusion and finally rage settled in him as he stood between her and the cupboard.
"Where. Are. You. Going?" He punctuated every word with a step closer to a hassled Khushi. "Home... my home." Khushi whispered and walked around him to get a few clothes. Every fibre in Arnav wanted to blast at her but looking at her weak state, his anger dissolved to pain. Grabbing her face he rest his head against hers, waiting for her to look at him.
"You're upset and hurting. What I've done is... unforgivable but please don't leave. I know right now you're angry so you're not thinking with a clear mind." Khushi looked up into his eyes and stepped back.
Was she being rash?
Arnav gently tugged the bag out of her hand and paused to caress her delicate wrist. There were so many words, so many things left to do. He had to put his sister out of misery, and then he would make his wife happy once again... if only Khushi could wait for a few more days.
"Leave me for five minutes, please."
Anjali closed her eyes and kept her hand on her stomach, feeling her little baby. The man who loved her beyond anything... how could he be such a bast*rd? What had happened? Their family, only if...
"Di?" Anjali looked up to find a hesitant Arnav on the door. Her heart broke at the guilt in his eyes. There had to be some sort of a misunderstanding! Shyam was the best man one could ever have. How would they understand the guilt she bore of having her husband live in their house? Over that... the way they would stare at her child - either pity or disgust.
Both, would tear her apart.
Having calmed down, she beckoned her brother in and broke into a cry as he ran into her hug. "Di I'm so sorry. I swear Khush... would I ever hurt you Di? Try to understand, please Di!"
"Chote, just give me one answer." Anjali wiped her brother's tears and looked into his earnest wife. "Would you believe me if I would say that Khushi was the third wheel in my marriage..."
"Let me complete!" Anjali sat up and cleared her throat. "Would you believe me? Irrespective of the evidences before you?" Arnav got up and gulped "Never. She couldn't ever do..." Arnav stopped as Anjali cupped his cheek and passed a watery smile to him.
"Chote it's not about what's right or wrong. It's only about being with the one you love." She whispered and patted his back while Arnav remained silent. "But Di..." Anjali cut him off by raising her hand, silencing him.
"I am not blind Chote, your and Khushi's marriage has bordered to being abusive. We all have heard you yelling at her, brutally. These walls aren't as strong as you thought. From a gold digger to classless..." Arnav paled as Anjali chuckled softly.
"On the other hand, Shyam has kept me in the happiness Khushi pretends to be in." Anjali flicked a tear away and held the edge of her bed for support.
"The world never revolved from your perspective Arnav, so please leave." Anjali gently pushed Arnav out of her room while the latter simply walked along. There was nothing for his defence as Anjali closed the door on his face.
For the first time in years, Arnav felt the sourness of defeat in his mouth.
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"How could I not come when you called me personally Rani Sahiba?" Shyam licked his lips and crouched beside a lost Anjali. Hoping fervently for that foolish woman to believe in him, Shyam sugarcoated his words and presented a flower he had earlier picked up from the Raizada garden.
"Today I am on a complete fast for the protection of our princess dear Rani Sahiba. Do you know that this flower I got from the temple..."
"Forget the Gods Shyam." Shyam stilled, his sickeningly sweet smile dropped.
"Rani Sahiba, don't believe them! Dear saale sahab has lost his fine sense of judgement and that Khushi... after all isn't that woman a little kid in herself?" Shyam quickly wiped his brow and held Anjali's hand to bring her to believe him.
"Forget Rani Sahiba, saale sahab and even our rajkumari for this moment." Anjali turned towards Shyam and looked at their hands. Grasping his own, Anjali looked into his eyes "Just for your Anjali and daughter... have you done anything close to what they said."
"Of course not Ra..."
Anjali closed her eyes "Forget it." Shyam gulped but quickly looked in confusion as she laid his hand on her bare stomach, his fingers immediately revolting as he remembered the svelte tiny waist Khushi has.
"This little swell that you're seeing, our baby is there. A life form. Something that has a part of you and me in it but it will be tiny, with small fingers, hands and legs." Anjali continued while Shyam reluctantly stretched his fingers across the swell.
As his eyes went to her prominent pregnancy, Shyam jumped back as he felt a soft kick against his palm. Anjali laughed slightly and dropped the edge of her saree, bringing his hand back to the kick.
"Our baby kicked."
"But isn't it tiny?" Shyam blurted out, making out the impression of a baby's knee against her stomach. Shyam looked up in annoyance as Anjali laughed again, "It's a complete baby now, just two more months Shyam. The little eyes, nose, mouth... everything is already there."
Perplexed by the creation, Shyam felt a weird feeling rise up his chest as the baby retreated its leg, making Anjali's stomach round once again. "It's special, isn't it?" She asked, resting her forehead against his while a quiet Shyam put up a smile before her.
"You put the baby in my womb Shyam." She continued, her fingers tracing the stubble in his cheek while Shyam let out a sigh of suffocation. All this... felt different.
"But you wouldn't mind ruining it all for some money and a prettier girl?" Shyam snapped up, looking at Anjali's red rimmed eyes. "An... njali."
For a split second Anjali saw the naked fear in his eyes and that was more than what every evidence the world could have shown against him. Shyam backed out gently, his facade slipping back effortlessly.
"Don't even try. I always knew." Anjali looked into his surprised eyes, tears pooling in her own.
Keeping her tears at bay, Anjali got up to her feet while a silent Shyam watched the heavily pregnant woman wobble onto her feet. "In fact I should be scared, right? You might push me into a pool with live wires or send me off in a car with no breaks. Or maybe... sprinkle some more ether on my saree? You see, it wasn't luck that saved me all the time." Shyam's eyes darted right as he sought to find a way to escape, fearing Anjali would call the cops.
"I didn't call the cops nor did I tell my brother." Anjali walked towards him and took his large hand in her small one. "And the saddest part is, I still love you." Without another word two bodyguards stood by Shyam, holding an arm each.
"My child better grow up the way you did, fatherless, than have a father like you."
As Anjali limped her way to her room, Shyam alternated looks between her retreating back and the broken mangalsutra in his hand.
My child better grow up the way you did, fatherless, than have a father like you.
The words swirled in his head, forcing bitter memories of his own past to block his Satanic mind from doing anything. He simply stood outside, staring at the house, wondering why felt something he never thought he would.
Anjali looked at the lost Shyam and drew the curtains, her own heart thudding in fear and agony as she had kept it to luck for Shyam to either throttle her to death or listen to her patiently.
Shyam's blank face when Anjali was supposed to have died if she fell in the pool.
His adamance on her attending the prayers in spite of her dress drenched in ether, where she knew that ether perfume could have set her ablaze in a minute. For Anjali had been allergic to ether and she had been too embarrassed to tell anyone about that, hence the irritable sneezes and blotchy red patches on her skin after the perfume confused her.
The smile on his face even when she was teary, not to forget... the strange remnants of car soot on his hands. Didn't her car breaks fail the same day?
Anjali let out a soft cry as she realized that none had told her the truth she feared of learning. Everyone simply forgot the she was handicapped, not blind.
"Once upon a time there was a wonderful prin..."
"Jiji! Can't there ever be a love story of a normal girl and a guy instead of a prince and princess!" Thirteen year old Khushi scowled at Payal who rolled her eyes and pulled Khushi's nose. "You mean to say, Jiji! Can't you ever tell me how mine and my future lover's story be?" Payal mimicked Khushi's voice while the latter shyly slapped Payal.
"You see Khushi. Kumari. Gupta," Payal punctuated every word with a tug on Khushi's braid "If I were to tell you your love story, your poor lover will have nothing to surprise you with!" Khushi pouted and got off the bed, wrapping a red shawl around her bony shoulders.
"You see Payal. Kumari. Gupta," Khushi punctuated every word with a little jiggle of her hips "The great Khushi Kumari Gupta knows her love story beforehand. Not everyone can be a mystic like me." Payal nodded and giggled at her sister's dramatic wink, pulling the little one by her side.
"So how will the story be?"
"It will be a novel love story! One that simply can't be told in a few words. There will be a handsome man and the soft, beautiful Khushi. Their love will have everything for the world to see. After all, it's the one and only love story she will have, why not make it dramatic?" Khushi wiggled her eyebrows while Payal slapped her forehead "Did you just swallow Laila Majnu?"
"Arrey Jiji, what's a story without a mushkil prem kahani'?"
"Aye Sanka Devi, be careful what you wish for!"
"Khushi?" Khushi jumped out of her thoughts, the last dress still folded on her hands. "Aa... Arnavji?" Looking at his haggard face, she knew that he must have come from his sister's room.
"Are you fine?"
Arnav avoided her and pointed at the duffel bag on their bed. "What's that?" Khushi bit her lip and looked at him, thinking if they truly shared any relationship. Walking aside to place the dress in her bag, she zipped it up and answered "I am leaving bec..."
"HOW DARE YOU!" Khushi gasped in fright as Arnav grabbed her arms, his eyes wild in primal fury. "I SAID I DIDN'T MEAN WHAT I SAID!" Khushi winced, staring at him in fear while Arnav cursed himself and loosened his grip.
"Please Khushi, we can sort this out. What has happened that you have to leave?"
Khushi placed the strap of her bag on her shoulder, barely meeting his eyes. "This is not any revenge, I'm not even angry on you... it's just that I can't stay here Arnavji."
"WHY NOT! Aisa kya ho gaya damn it!" He half snarled, half begged at his broken wife.
"Why not?" Khushi asked in sheer disbelief. "Every inch of this house screams of a nightmare I have lived! The door where you left me alone and my family shunned me for our marriage. The kitchen where I burnt my hand but my sister didn't even see it!" Pausing to wipe a tear, she continued "The temple where I stopped talking to Devi Maiyya. And even the bathroom where... where that Shyam used to take bath and hh... harass me. Do you know how scary it was? Shyam used to wear your clothes, move around as if he's my husband..."
Arnav engulfed Khushi into a tight hug, his own body trembling in rage. "How dar... I'll not spare that man!"
"He roamed around like my husband because he believed you never were..."
Arnav stabled a shaking Khushi while she nodded her head vehemently "And the worst part is... he was true. And how could I forget the poolside, the place where you confess buying me gifts and confess your hatred. The place where I had my first kiss and also my first night. The pl,"
"Shush, please. Khushi... do you not remember what happened when you saved me? Was it that easy to forget?" Arnav almost pled at his shattered wife.
"Just as easy it was for you."
"F&ck! I didn't mean it Khushi... do you hear me?" He brought himself frighteningly close to her. "But I did." She replied, taking her bag and heading to the door. "Have you thought what will happen to me if you leave?" He cried out, holding on to her hand while Khushi bit back her tears.
"You have lived without me for twenty eight years." She concluded, releasing her wrist from his grasp. "Please..." She cried, softly, and walked towards the door to find him blocking her way.
Was there still some hope... would he...
Arnav shut his eyes as the words formed in his mind, and he knew that even a thousand deaths would be painless compared to guilt in his heart.
"You seem to have forgotten the contract Khushi Kumari Gupta." The bag dropped from her hand as she swiftly turned, her body quaking in betrayal.
Hardening himself to not break down before the anguish on her face, he continued "You can't leave me before six months, remember?" Khushi staggered against the door, black spots dancing before her eyes as the force of his betrayal slapped her.
Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she stuck out a hand, preventing him from coming any closer "Khushi..." Arnav started, not anticipating her to hurt this much. "What if I do... WHAT IF I DO?" She half screamed at him.
Arnav turned around and clenched his fist.
I am so sorry Akash, Payal... I don't mean any of this.
"I'll break Akash and Payal's marr..." Arnav swiveled in shock as he heard a soft thud. Khushi fell to her knees, her palm covering her mouth. Throwing caution to the winds, Arnav crouched next to her "Khushi? K..."
"And I... I... I had fall-len in l... love with YOU!" Khushi howled, holding her forehead at her bitter fate.
Arnav's hands fell limp beside him.
Joy and guilt gnawed him.
What had he done?
Rushing to hold a hyperventilating Khushi, Arnav said "Please, I didn't m..."
"You'll destroy my sister's life? And I... I fell in love with you?" Khushi cried, pushing Arnav aside. Arnav nodded his head negatively and tried to hold her.
He had to tell her that he loved her... didn't she realise that he could do anything to keep her bound to him?
"Khush... pl," A pin drop silence fell.
Without a word, Khushi slapped Arnav.
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