his eyes opened in the middle of the night. he’d been fast asleep after a long tiring day. sleep still clung to his eyes and his vision was not quite clear, focused. he realised he wasn’t lying on his back as was his wont. instead he slept on his right side, facing her. her face was half covered by the light blanket she’d snuggled into. she was curled up in it, comfortable, lost to the world, a calm all around her. her eyes closed, her forehead unlined, a childlike sweetness to her cheek.
even as his vision cleared, he started to smile… such an innocent, this lovely girl lying beside him. she would turn any minute now and let her arms and legs fly the way they wished. taekwondo queen she.
he reached out as he’d done so many times in the past three odd years since he’d known her, and went to push that carefree tendril of hair on her forehead. when his fingers touched the silken strand, he felt that thrill he always did, strange how certain sensations don’t disappear even after so long. he swallowed as he remembered the very first time he’d let this impulse take over.
it was the night he’d known she was trapped in a building that might collapse any minute. he closed his eyes at the thought, a shiver rushing through him.
“khushi!” he whispered raggedly. seems some sensations really stay intact in us. he’d never forget that fear, the fragmenting of his mind, his desperation that night. nor the desire he’d had to caress the innocent curve of her cheek, tuck that tendril back, as she lay there unconscious in his arms, at last the fight dissipated and tiredness taking over. “khushi!” he’d called her by her name the very first time that terrifying night.
he stroked her cheek as thoughts went through him and drew her close, into his arms. he wanted her so… he couldn’t imagine being without her ever.
“mmm?” she murmured in her sleep as he pulled her to him, she didn’t wake up though, instead she sighed and buried deeper into him, her breath fell regular and warm on his neck.
he swallowed hard again.
“never leave me,” the thought went through his head, and he rested against her, ready to go back to sleep.
and yet he couldn’t sleep.
for as he was about to, his eyes strayed to the pool and his little deck outside, and there he saw her lying on the cold hard floor. so beautiful in her red lehenga, her face wan and pale and the streak of sindoor bright against her hair.
khushi was lying on the cold stone floor by the pool because he had banished her there.
his breath caught in his throat. how could he have done such a thing.
how could he have let her sleep there night after night. how could he let his anger get the better of him to this extent.
maybe what really hurts we don’t look at till we can and not disintegrate the moment we do. or maybe tonight she looked just as she had those nights that he’d constantly woken up eyes desperately seeking her, checking to see if she was alright but his heart too hardened to let go. or maybe tonight at long last the complete cruelty of his action had finally dawned on him.
whatever it was, arnav singh raizada felt a wretchedness he’d never be able to explain away.
he knew she would find some lovely way of forgiving him, she might even claim it was fun sleeping under the stars or some silly story just to make him feel better.
he hugged her tight. “i am so sorry, khushi,” he heard another thought in his head.
he struggled to bring back sleep knowing what he had done was unforgivable.
“uthiye, uthiye, arnav ji… nau baj rahe hain… aapka koi meeting nahin hai aaj? der ho jaygi… good morning!”
(wake up, wake up, arnav ji, it’s going to be nine soon, don’t you have any meetings today? you’ll be late… good morning!)
she was chirpy and bright as she flung open the curtains wide with a swift pull. the noise of the hooks on the rail grated on his taut nerves.
“khushi! stop it! what’s wrong with you? can’t you see i’m sleeping!!” he was brusque, eyes squeezed shut tight refusing to allow any light in. his eyes hurt.
“kya! aap soye nahin kya?” khushi laughed back, “kya baat hai… bahut sundar sapne dekh rahe hain kya?”
(what, you didn’t sleep? what’s the matter… seeing a beautiful dream, are you?)
he groaned, “khushi, i couldn’t get sleep…” he was about to say that when he realised this would unleash a storm of interrogation and till a valid explanation was given she wouldn’t give up.
he had tossed and turned the whole night and slept off exhausted after dawn broke. somehow the night would not let him forget.
“come ‘ere” eyes still closed he held out his arms.
just as he’d expected, in seconds she’d rushed into them and put her arms around his neck. after a second’s complete stillness, she rubbed her jaw on the stubble on his cheek and yelled, “ow! arnav ji, aap hume kitna chot pahuchate hain, dekhiye!”
(ouch, arnav ji, see how much you hurt me!)
she was kidding of course, and playing, even flirting a bit… she could never come near him and not feel her breath go funny, her heartbeat race… even after all this time, some sensations remain untouched, pristine.
he heard “chot” and felt terrible. he grabbed her to him and just stayed still.
he sensed he’d better walk away from this feeling if he didn’t want her asking him all sorts of things right now.
he got up suddenly looked out at the poolside, away from her, and with a nonchalant air said, “good morning, sweetheart, got to run, loads of work, tum theek ho na?”
(good morning, sweetheart, got to run, loads of work, are you ok?)
before she could answer he’d disappeared into the walk in wardrobe leading to the bathroom.
“oh well, no good morning kiss for you, missy… you see your arnav ji is very busy, samjhi tum!” she told herself with a grimace and went off to fix breakfast.
(… you see your arnav ji is very busy, d’you understand!)
he was sitting quietly by the pool staring at the water when she saw him. she would have switched on the light and called out, but something made her stop. despite the falling light, she could see the bleak expression on his face. he looked terrible. his lips were drawn in a thin straight line, his jaw had hardened, his eyes had a flat glassy gaze. his shoulders seemed to stoop.
he was in a position to make her do that. so he did. simple. classic brute power. the strong abusing the weak.
what was the matter? she hoped nothing had gone awry at work.
she walked up to him without making any noise, somehow feeling a need to be near him, as if she knew he could not be left alone, not like this.
he stayed as he was, staring unblinking… a light evening breeze lifted the water in feathery ripples, undulations on the surface created patterns and dissolved and were born again. she stood right next to him, just inches away, yet he didn’t turn, didn’t acknowledge her presence.
she waited patiently. if he had something to say, he would eventually. he hated being overwhelmed with unsought attention. he liked his, how did he say it? yes, his space.
he could feel her standing next to him, waiting. he knew she didn’t want to rush him. he had no idea how to tell her what he needed to. he had no idea how to say it even. what do you say to someone you’ve treated so unfairly? and if he said it even, how lame would it sound? i am sorry i made you sleep on the cold stone floor. is that what he should say? as though that is all it was, a matter of discomfort, of inconvenience? he knew it was much more than that. it was heartless, it was uncaring, but most of all, it was a game of power.
he was in a position to make her do that. so he did. simple. classic brute power. the strong abusing the weak.
how could he let his anger get so out of control. he turned to get up and leave and saw her face. she was looking at him, that unbearable innocence on her face. he closed his eyes and without thinking held her hands and pressed them to his lids. his breathing had grown uneven, he sat still just feeling her touch. soft yet firm hands… long, lovely fingers. when these palms had held his face in the gazebo on that day of holi, he’d felt life return to him. life that seemed to have been wrenched from him and hurled into the dark unforgiving night, when he’d seen her in another’s arms.
she didn’t move for a while, letting him be, then slowly she extricated one palm and laid it on his head, stroking his hair quietly. ”arnav ji!” she whispered.
at the sound of her voice, the dam broke.
arnav ji was throwing her out of the room. minutes ago she was sitting on a bed decorated with fresh flowers, streamers of white and red blooms, petals strewn on the silken sheets, a strange trepidation in her. what did this man who had forced her to marry him expect of her tonight, once the rituals of his family had been carried out and their union accepted?
he gripped her in his arms and buried his face against her. ”khushi! how could i do that to you?” he murmured against her.
“do what to me, arnav ji? what have you done?” she sounded perplexed but gentle and soothing nevertheless.
“i made you sleep here… how could i?” once the words were out, he began to get a hold of his emotions. he hated melodrama. just not his thing.
he left her and got up abruptly, turning away.
she looked at his back, stunned. she hadn’t expected this. not at all. and so she was taken unawares, completely unprepared for the moment. before she could even think anything, a terrible crushing miserable pain burst forth somewhere near her abdomen, or was it her throat? she felt stinging tears and that helplessness from all those months ago. arnav ji was throwing her out of the room. minutes ago she was sitting on a bed decorated with fresh flowers, streamers of white and red blooms, petals strewn on the silken sheets, a strange trepidation in her. what did this man who had forced her to marry him expect of her tonight, once the rituals of his family had been carried out and their union accepted?
and then suddenly, she was out in the cold, a sliding door was shutting before her, a man with icy eyes watched her as though she were a piece of filth…
she closed her eyes shuddering, tears welled up and fell in cascades down her cheeks. she stood there and wept.
he turned swiftly at the sound of her sobs. he ran to her and side, then he reached out and pulled her into his arms.
she tried to fight him off but he held on. he couldn’t bear to hear the tearing ripping sobs. he couldn’t bear to think he had caused them.
they lay in each other’s arms on the deck chair. the night spread quiet and starry around them. her eyes were red and puffy, her nose still a little swollen and red and her lips all tender and dark. he kissed her cheek and exhaled long and slow as he felt her even breathing. ”arnav ji,” her voice was small. he hugged her tighter and murmured, “hmmm?”
“why were you feeling so bad about that today?”
he kept quiet.
“i mean you did force me to marry you, didn’t you?… you… you really hurt me then too…”
“but, darling, i did that because i loved you…” his words shot out, he hadn’t even thought about them. only after he said them it hit him… that was why he had married her… yes, because of di, because of her child, but really because… ”you did?” she snuggled into him more. she began to laugh, “hum kitney ajeeb hain na? do people who love each other marry the way we did?”
(we’re strange aren’t we? do people who love each other marry the way we did?)
“each other?” he held her shoulders and made her sit up so he could look at her… “you loved me then?” his voice was urgent, a bit incredulous… but there was a funny sort of hope in it.
“and if i didn’t?” she teased looking at his earnest face. ”stop it, khushi! stop playing with me!” she was laughing openly at him now. then she made a face and said, “shall i tell you a secret? you know when you slept on the floor that night, by the pool… and had that crick in your neck… remember?” he watched her as she smiled a satisfied smile, “i didn’t feel sorry for you at all… theek hua, maine socha, hume sataane aaye the…” she giggled delightedly. then did that “haww!” of hers he’d grown accustomed to and even missed once in a way.
(serves him right, i thought, he’d come to bother me…)
he knew she was lying. she never liked to see him feeling down, she would do anything to make him feel better. he also knew what he did was not right, and that’s all there was to it. yet the thought that they had both loved each other that night, somehow that mattered more right now; they may have known it, but neither had said it in all this time. he remembered how badly he had wanted her even as shyam held her in his arms, how strange this feeling was… really, just about anything it could overcome. maybe some day she’d really forgive him.
“khushi, i love you,” he said looking into her sparkling hazel eyes.
they are beautiful, asr and khushi… moments of their life tumble in the mind, make me want to write.