Arshi FF : Without You

without you: chapter 33

tyger! tyger! burning bright
in the forests of the night,
what immortal hand or eye
dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
~~~ william blake ~~~

the room was dark when khushi woke up suddenly. she was thirsty she realised, but the darkness all around made her a little dizzy. it frightened her. where was she? why were there no lights? had amma switched off the little lamp she left on every night in the corner of the room?

khushi’s breathing started to get laboured. where was she? amma… babu ji… a drowsiness persisted befuddling her mind. a fear began to raise its head in the pit of her stomach.

she was about to scream when she heard it.

it was a slow, regular, insistent sound. it came from somewhere close by. dull yet beautiful. flat yet like pure music. just a sound that said nothing yet it said everything she wanted to hear.

fear began to release her limbs and a gentle reassurance came and covered her from head to toe. khushi relaxed and listened.

heart beats.

they were arnav ji’s heart beats.

she could hear arnav ji’s heart beats in the thick black dark, just beside her, in fact right by her ear, below her head; she was lying with her head on his chest. a dozy smile flitted across her face.

sleep clutched her mind and clung to her mouth and eyes and nose and everything still, but a happy feeling was making its way in, pushing the swarm of sleep aside. she was in london, not lucknow she noted, she had been utterly disoriented when she awoke.

arnav ji lay right next to her. they were in each others arms on their large soft creamy white bed with large fluffy pillows and smooth silky covers, in their little home… arnav ji’s own place… only she and he were here right now. the dark… it did not matter.

she listened to his heart beats, his thudding heart, the most beautiful sound in the world right now. then she added in her mind, hamesha. forever, for all eternity, yes, always. she pushed her head closer to him, feeling the hair on his chest bristle against her cheek. he was lying there naked. they had made love for hours before they slept off just as night was about to come in.

khushi remembered how she had quivered at his touch, how as always he had taught her things about herself, about him… and she smiled again, now a spark of desire running through it, making her shiver and tauten. “hum kitne besharam ho gaye hain,” she thought with a loopy languid feeling, “i don’t even feel shy thinking of… of… you know… it’s all your fault, arnav ji!”

(i have become so shameless…)

khushi hugged him and turned her face to press her lips against his chest where she could feel his heart beating. there was no demand in her lips, no call to be served in any way. it was a touch of gratitude and the simplest most giving love. though it had been more than three years now since they’d met, though for a while now they had been together without the tension and tear of misunderstandings, though it was true that almost every one of those days, even when he was in that coma – khushi shuddered at the thought – even then she knew he was with her, near her, as she was with him.  yet… yet… at moments it all overwhelmed her still.

it filled her with such intense emotion. she had always believed she would meet a good man some day and they would be married. they would be happy together and have children, make a good home… but had she ever thought a man like her arnav ji would come into her life? or that she would fall in love with such an ill tempered arrogant khadoos laad governor?

khushi let her lips linger… she had, she knew, never been able to deny him in her heart. from that very first time, when she had felt strong arms hold her, hard fingers grip her in the water, haul her up… and when she had looked up and seen a piercing gaze in the bright sun… in the dark room she started as the memory of that light dazzled her. that gaze… it was locked in her somewhere, she would never lose it. dark shimmering chocolate eyes, angry, perturbed, and  smouldering. she had never seen eyes like that. so dark and concentrated and brusquely fearless. and no man had ever held her like that before.

she remembered his cold scathing remarks that morning when she fell into the pool, and later their meeting at the temple steps where he had been so unbelievably rude, insulting really… and yet, the way he had called her name, “khushi!”, it still rang in her heart.

she remembered how nasty he had been at the bhoolbhulaiya and so so many times later. really, arnav ji was not a pleasant easy man to know. “why could i never hate you, arnav ji, as i should have?” she asked the rhetorical question in her head. was there any need for an answer? could one understand everything in life, in love, in belief? when it came to the really important things, she had grown to understand as she gazed at her stars, it was never a matter of examined rational truth or otherwise, only one of faith. of trust. of knowing without having to understand.

if the dil felt the truth, the dimag would find a way to it she believed, but of course he would laugh at her if she said it… yet she knew when he let himself love her in captivity, that is what he had done… so much love her arnav ji had to give, he kept talking about his dimag, but did anyone in this world have a heart like his? khushi could feel her heart wanting to burst, she wanted to cry. khushi swallowed hard.

“i know you love me, even when you shout!” she said to him silently.

amma had said to her and jiji once, you never know how and when you will meet your jeevan saathi, your life partner, and the most important thing really was not what was on the outside but what was deep within this human being. he should to be a good man, that was all that was needed. nothing else really mattered. living together, going through the days, doing what needs to be done, in that life is made, your course of life fulfilled.

khushi snuggled closer against asr and mused, she had found this man out of nowhere. a man who felt like he was the shaitan… the devil himself… yet no rajkumar had ever been more righteous, pure or good.

khushi felt her eyelashes brush against his skin, “or so handsome,” she whispered in her mind adding to her thoughts.

she wanted to tell him so many things… maybe this kiss of hers would do the trick?

she realised though it was pitch dark, she felt no fear. she rubbed her face tenderly against him and began to get up… she was thirsty and she had to get some water, she would turn on the lights and go change as well. then she almost jumped aghast. there was not a stitch of clothing on her!

not just her husband, she was naked as well. she dived back into bed and tried to stay still. she didn’t want to wake him up. arnav ji had been working very hard she knew and he was trying to make as much time as he could for her. she had tried to tell him that she was fine, that just being with him, in their home, was enough, there was no need to take her out all the time, every day… she wanted to be by him, bas… but he had insisted. it was her first visit to a new city… moreover a city he obviously loved, he wanted to take her everywhere, make her see things, watch her have a good time. and so he had hardly had any rest ever since they got here.

there was a dinner the next evening with an important buyer, he had said they would go shopping in the morning, he’d go to his office after that and she’d have to meet him there later. khushi was a little scared but excited, she’d be alone in london for the first time. hopefully these people who spoke english with their strange accent would understand what she was saying. what was the need, khushi muttered in her head, to speak with so much force and all the letters jumbling up… and couldn’t “p” be just “p” and not “pppheee”?

really, these english… such a difficult language and then they go and make it impossible by the way they pronounce it! a thought struck khushi out of nowhere as it often did… maybe it was to run away from this english of theirs that the angrez sailed off to far away places. oh, they must have been so happy to land in india which has such lovely shuddh good pure and not difficult to pronounce languages. maybe the laad governors really wanted to get to know some hindi…

pleased with her thought, khushi listened to his even breathing now and was relieved she hadn’t woken him up. she settled back against his chest and tried to forget her thirst, her hand unconsciously wondering across his body, touching his smooth taut skin, the contours, the crisp hair, her hand moved downward. suddenly her wrist was caught in a vice like grip.

as she drew her breath in sharply, it registered arnav ji was awake! he brought her hand up to his lips and kissed her on her palm, on her fingers. ever so gently he rolled her over on top of him and she felt his torso pressing against hers, his breath upon her face, warm and slightly ticklish… a beautiful feeling engulfed her and she knew all she wanted to do was make love to her laad governor, tell him how much she did love him.

***

“why don’t you leave anjali ji, then!” khushi was yelling as she put her hands on shyam’s shoulder and tried to extricate herself from his hold. she was obviously angry… livid, in fact.

asr felt a deafening wind blow through him dragging with it all that was in him… an emptiness pounded in the shell of his bare naked bones. where was earth ground sky air… where was breath.

a storm rose on treacherous hands touching what was not their’s to touch, and it grew to a tornado on wantonly flung words…”leave her! why don’t you!” khushi shrieked… her voice an ugly pitch, her long hair open and blowing in the wind.

“no, khushi!” his emptiness ached, trying stop that heartless rant. khushi, not you… how can it be you saying this… not you.

his world tumbled and spun and when it was rock steady again, the picture hadn’t changed. she was in shyam’s illicit grasp still. his sister’s husband and the girl who made his hear tbeat race… who was perhaps his very heart beat, the girl who had entered his being and made him feel what he had sworn never to, the girl who made a difference, no dammit, made all the difference… khushi.

she was in shyam’s arms.

he had come up to the terrace on eagre steps a, a lightness and expectancy in his heart, wanting to tell her why, why she made a difference. he wanted to tell her…

a spasm seized him. it was she in a clinch with another man.

she telling his sister’s beloved husband to throw his sister out of his life and he was telling her he couldn’t live without her.

arnav singh raizada could feel calamity crashing down from some hell below… he had held his world steady through the worst storm of his life he had thought.

but no.

there was more in store for him.

it took him just a few seconds to resolve his thoughts, he had learned young how to face demons and darkness. clarity of thought, swift action, both had to be brought into being.

he would overcome, he would prevail. he would not give in. not ever.

he took a step in the direction of chaos… he would not turn away. through the noise and mayhem of worlds collapsing, of whirling dreams racing toward death, through a night so dark, prometheus seemed never to have found fire, he walked toward his nightmare…

home breaker, whore, gold digger or beautiful innocent girl who loves jalebi, whose eyes shine with the purest light, whom immorality has never stained, whoever you are… whoever you would be… you are mine.

he would not let her go… for he couldn’t. he loved her and no matter what she said or did, he knew she did love him.

shyam sensed his approach in the dark, he turned his head toward his brother in law, a sneer beginning to form. asr ignored him completely and gripped tight khushi’s wrist as it began to drop from shyam’s shoulder. he began to drag her away from the unholy scene.

her skin was soft and innocent, it woke him up.

he had been dreaming he realised. and she was right here, lying beside him, resting against his body, her hand roaming over him…

a dream… he had been dreaming of her… his heart was still thudding a regular beat. for even in the darkness and the deceit, all that had mattered was his belief.

that he loved her.

shyam, lies, treachery, di, the past, sahi, galat… nothing counted…

if anything had any meaning it was just that.

he loved her. khushi kumari gupta, i love you. you are mine.

asr pulled her over him and felt her soft innocent skin settle trusting and free against his. “make love to me, khushi,” he thought.

seemed like she heard him.

***

he was late for school. there as a major exam today, he had not been able to prepare as well as he’d have liked to. he frowned as he drank the juice in huge gulps, dadi was telling him to drink slowly, he’d choke otherwise.

he wished she’d stop saying the same thing over and over again. where was rahim chacha? he really needed to leave right now and where was maa? he wanted to say bye to her before leaving, he was very worried about the test. last evening they had suddenly had guests and pita ji had insisted that he sit with them for a while, some important royal family or something they belonged to.

but what about my physics exams, arnav had wanted to yell… however, he’d kept quiet, by now, in his thirteenth year, he was fairly used to the ways of his home. his father couldn’t care less about his studies… as long as he didn’t fail for no one should say a malik failed.

what others said mattered more than what you were or did or could do, that seemed to be the way his father and his dadi looked at things.

but where was maa?

he looked around and suddenly he saw her coming from the direction of the temple.

“maa!” he got up and ran to her.

ratna saw the look on her son’s face and said, “chhotey? what’s the matter? are you worried about your physics test?”

arnav returned her gaze but said nothing, he hated talking about this sort of thing. but he was fretting.

“beta, come here,” ratna stroked her son’s head as she spoke, “don’t worry, i know my son… you have studied everything and though it feels as if you don’t know enough, trust yourself, you do… humey aap pe poora vishwaas hai, you will do very well, you’ll see.”

(i have complete faith in you…)

arnav knew that she was saying this to soothe him, allay his fears… and maybe he did not know everything, yet her hand on his head, her calm voice and all those things that his mother was which made him feel whole and secure, they reached him and he began to relax.

“bye, maa!” he said abruptly and turned and left.

later that day, during the test, he was surprised to find that he indeed knew more than he thought he did.

***

“this one,” asr said without a hint of doubt in his voice.

khushi blushed. they were at selfridge’s, a huge department store he had brought her to, and she was trying on dresses. khushi had not worn a dress since she was in school, and now after this long a gap, it made her feel awkward. really awkward… all that bare arms legs and neckline… khushi squirmed and almost lost her nerve, but she held on to her decision.

no, tonight she’d wear a nice… beautiful… dress. for arnav ji. he was meeting an important man for dinner, she would look the way he perhaps wanted her to. and even if he didn’t, she felt it would be appropriate to dress like she belonged to his world. she knew what he’d say to that… by now she knew a bit about her laad governor. he’d say that whatever she was she belonged to him and there was no need to change.

she squirmed again, this time remembering how he’d looked into her eyes and held her hand and pulled her just a little bit toward him the first time he’d said that. “don’t change, change nothing about yourself, khushi kumari gupta!” his voice was smooth and low, purring almost. she could still feel her heart flip as she remembered how he’d thrust his face really close to hers after that, in front of a restaurant full of people. he of course didn’t realise she wasn’t exactly comfortable doing that in public. hoonh!… don’t change, you silly laad governor, she giggled to herself.

also, she was not changing. not really. to take care of her husband’s interest she had always believed was the duty of a wife. plus, she admitted to herself though a trifle shyly, even reluctantly, she wanted to see how he reacted when he saw her in a dress. he used to like lavanya ji in her tiny little clothes. khushi made a face. okay, she was not angry or jealous or anything… not really… but she wanted to wear a dress and show him. of course not a very tiny one or…

“khushi, stop blushing, this is the one,” he walked up to her from behind in the corner she had stepped out to, to show him the clothes she was trying on.

as she looked at his reflection in the full length mirror on the wall before her, he came close and then bent and kissed her bare left shoulder.

khushi almost collapsed at that sudden intimacy in the middle of a shop. he had just chosen the red dress the shop assistant had coaxed her to try. it was an entrancing red chiffon affair, form hugging up to the waist, then flaring out into a short but full skirt… the edges swirled and floated. a delicate scatter of sequins and beads gleamed at the waist. a very pretty creation, khushi had to admit.

but there was a problem. no, two really.

it was really short, coming just halfway down her thighs, dangerously far away from her knees.

and… it had no sleeves, no shoulders.

her body rose ivory white, smooth and gleaming, from the red neckline which was rather low. a hint of cleavage, then the swell of her upper chest, long neck, collarbones, clavicle, back, shoulders… everything was uncovered. khushi felt her ears go hot.

how would she wear such a thing? and what if the whole dress slipped down. what about her bra? how’d she wear that?

he turned her around and pulled her close, his arms slung around her waist, his eyes went over her face, down her neck, right up to where her neckline began, “what if we just went back home now and forgot about office, dinner…” he said huskily…

khushi looked up startled. his eyes were glittering. was the man laughing at her? did he think she couldn’t handle this dress? the nerve of him. hey devi maiyya, raksha karna, he was testing her… she’d show him.

“no, arnav ji,” she said sweetly, “let me find out from the lady a little more about this dress, then after we have bought it… we shall have lunch and you can go to work.”

with that she stalked off for a chat with the shop assistant.

when they were done, he said he’d like to get her something to go with the dress and rushed her first to a huge shop not too far away called salvatore ferragamo. khushi stood staring at the incredibly lovely shoes and bags that were arranged tastefully on the shelves and counters.

he said to her softly, “don’t look at the price tags, promise, khushi?… i swear we can afford this and i will not overdo things…”

she gazed at him eyes widening. on her birthday once he had bought an expensive bag and she had been not too nice to him about it. but that was because she was angry with him for something else… yet, these had to be very pricey too…

“par mere paas bahut sundar lal rang ke sandals hain…” she started.

(but i have very pretty red sandals…)

then she saw the look on his face, he wanted to buy her something himself she realised…

“okay, arnav ji, maybe that is not nice with a dress…” she gave in.

he chose for her a pair of barely there red sandals with mottled gold heels. then he steered her to the bags area and together with her decided on a smart dull red purse with a neat clasp.

after that, he said, “come for a walk with me, khushi,” and started strolling down the pavement, slipping an arm through hers. by now they had quite a few bags between them, he carried his shopping and she clutched all her three new buys in one hand. the breeze this morning was sharp and cold, khushi wondered why he was making them walk in this.

a sudden gust of wind came and lifted her orange chiffon dupatta and made it blow right out, then it seemed to change its mind and came fluttering back and in one graceful sweep went and wrapped around asr’s face and head.

khushi lunged to catch her errant dupatta but asr had already stopped by then and was peeling it slowly off his face.

khushi watched transfixed… a memory playing in her head… this had happened before a long long time ago… even then her heart had fluttered.

some things don’t change.

his eyes were mesmerising brown above the orange. there was a stir in them. khushi exhaled slowly and smiled tremulously at him.

he let her dupatta go and without a word held out his arm to her.

***

the necklace was made of diamonds and more diamonds. it was about an inch and a half wide and it sat in a close fit around the neck, just below the collar bones. it had weight, it had presence, and it sparkled.

khushi thought of a millions stars as she looked at it in the mirror. she had spoken to stars so often, she knew their every twinkle, every shard of light, she felt that at least…

they had feelings, they had meaning, they were her parents, his parents, loved ones… and now so many of them were right here, glittering.

her lips quivered and a little sob escaped her unknowingly.

“khushi!” he whispered, peering at her. he had been standing quietly looking at her as she tried on the necklace at his insistence.

she had not wanted him to indulge her like this. she did not need this, she knew how much he loved her and nothing really was more precious than that.

yet when she looked at the spread of beaming laughing twinkling diamonds… they drew out a galaxy of stars before her.

amma, babu ji…

she had been think of them just last night.

“tum theek ho?” he asked her gently.

(are you alright?)

she nodded not saying anything. he gave her a tight smile and pushed a tendril off her forehead tucking it behind her ears. his fingers were rough against her skin, rough with melting tenderness.

***

“no, aunty mary, don’t worry, i won’t be late… i must prepare a few things for arnav ji’s breakfast tomorrow, then i’ll get ready…” khushi was charging around the kitchenette soaking kidney beans and chana, making ginger and garlic paste and hanging up yogurt to add to her jalebi batter. today she had been given too many causes to make jalebis and since she had no time now, she decided to do it the traditional way… make the batter, then let it rest a while before she fried the crunchy khasta jalebis the next morning. maybe arnav ji could have some with his morning coffee.

then she shook her head… no, laad governor liked his bitter coffee all on its own at that hour. she would ply him with her little miracles later.

mrs higgs helped her put away the huge bags of groceries she had returned with.

khushi ran into the bedroom and came back holding the little red dress on its hanger.

“look, look, aunty mary, arnav ji bought me this… isn’t it too short?” khushi was feeling quite flustered about her dress even now.

“short, luv?” mrs higgs smiled, warming to her fey, slightly touched in the head but really innocent young employer, “no, never you mind about the length of a dress, it’s what’s in it… you, that’s what… that does matter. and i know mr raizada will be one happy man when he sees you looking aw so fetchin’ in it… luvley dress, must cost a pile, but i say, worth every bit too…”

she held the dress against khushi, checked how it draped and flowed, clucked her immense approval and said, “let me make you a cuppa to calm you down, luv… you go get yourself a warm bath and change and look pretty for your man, then…”

khushi blushed and remembered how she had lain in the tub just a couple of days ago and fantasized about wearing a dress and getting kissed on the shoulder by arnav ji.

haw… and he had kissed her right on the shoulder today!

her bare shoulder… at least her dream dress had cut away sleeves and something to cover the shoulder… now to wear this…

khushi rushed to her phone then and called the one person she could turn to for help in such matters.

“halow, lavanya ji?” she called out urgently the moment the phone was answered.

“no,” said a male voice, “who’s that?”

khushi was stumped. was this the wrong number…

“hello, is that khushi ji?” it was nk and he sounded elated.

“how nice to hear your voice… aap kaise hain? how’s london? we miss you and nannav, aapke liye hum yahan besharmi se intezaar kar rahen hain…”

(how nice to hear your voice, how are you? how’s london? we miss you and arnav, we are waiting shamelessly for you here…)

“besharmi?” khushi almost choked. so even nanhe ji knew she was being shameless.

“offho! nk you twit, not besharmi, besabri…” lavanya’s voice floated through the airwaves… “hi khushi, how are you? what’s up? hope you are doing everything i told you to…”

(oh, nk you twit, not shamelessly, impatiently…)

what was nanhe ji doing with lavanya ji’s phone? but now was not the time to wonder about that…

“lavanya ji…” and khushi told her about the problem. how was she to wear something without anything that held it up… no shoulders, no strings, nothing. what if it slipped down and there was an…accident! what then!

“oh, my my… i bet i know who chose that dress,” la giggled, “okay khushi… now stop feeling you can’t do it, okay? you have made me wear gota embroidered churidar kurta! listen to me, darling, you can do anything… if you want to… now just be confident. walk with your head held high, body relaxed… don’t even think about anything bad happening and trust me, it won’t…” lavanya was laughing but she was serious about every word she said.

“khushi, just remember asr will love seeing you in it… that is all you need to focus on. and what about shoes, bag, jewellery, make up… all in place?” lavanya knew a thing or two about getting all dressed up.

“ha..an…everything…” khushi mumbled.

“then that’s it… and remember, hair is very important… very very important… but that i think i don’t need to tell you.. have fun, khushi… give my love to asr… oh and nk says he knows you are the best and will look smashing… he used the wrong hindi word again… khajoor instead of khubsoorat,” la laughed as she rung off.

(date instead of beautiful.)

***

asr had ordered a cab to pick her up. she put on her long coat over the dress and carried her dark carmine pashmina.

when she reached ar, she felt suddenly terribly shy. asr walked out of the office just at that moment and found her dithering at the entrance. he put an arm on her elbow and took her inside.

it was a large smart office in the usual ar reds, greys and black, there was also a lot of glass everywhere… and the lines were simple. it was almost six in the evening, most people had gone home.

when they reached his office he held his hands out to take her coat. she braced herself for the moment and let him.

involuntarily her eyes shut tight.

arnav singh raizada had seen many beautiful women in his life… his business was all about making women feel gorgeous. short dresses and off the shoulders were not really new to him, nor were perfectly proportioned women in revealing clothes… in fact, after a point everything started looking so alike he had to work hard to create a perception of uniqueness.

when he had seen her at selfridge’s in the red dress, he’d known this was the one; as much with a businessman’s eye as with a lover’s.

but he really was not prepared for this.

her hair was shining and it fell straight all the way down her back. glossy and thick, streaked with shades of auburn, her natural highlights. the ends swayed a little.

the lightest covering of shimmery make up was on her face… pearly eye shadow, pale beige brown lipstick, a swish of reddish hue on her cheeks. mascara lengthened her already long lashes.

she was wearing single solitaire diamond studs on her ears, that gleamed only when her hair moved and light dashed against them.

below this her lucid skin beckoned, she had dusted the finest pearlescent powder on her shoulders, her skin sloped down and escaped under brilliant red just where her breasts met and dipped in a delicate cleavage, the red floated down hugging her slim torso then swaying and sashaying around her hips, it danced even when all was still.

pure red chiffon. he remembered her wrapped in its exotic swathe another night, many months ago, when they had barely met. it had been raining that evening. and as he had got out of his car at the porch of the taj mansingh hotel he’d seen her, in a delicate yet fiery red chiffon saree… he had halted in his tracks, unable to look away. she had almost slipped and fallen but he had been there, catching her without perhaps even knowing he was doing so…

he had felt a song rise somewhere near them that night… another night, so long ago, yet not.

her pallu had swung out and billowed, touching and caressing his face, the memory came from a corner of his mind and sent a feeling of pleasure through him.

he let his eyes travel down talking all of her in.

flowing endless legs, slipped into perfect little sandals, neither too alluring, nor restrained… a confidence in the cut of it and the colour.

she clutched her purse nervously in one hand.

but the most beautiful thing of all was the way she closed her eyes and just stood there.

shy yet completely trusting.

he took a step toward her and then backed away, letting her be.

she could feel her palm beginning to sweat. where was he? why was he not saying anything? but then she began to feel calm completely turning the feeling around.

he was here and she was happy to let him just see her as much as he wanted to. what had la and aunty mary both said… he would love to see her like this, he had chosen the dress. today she wanted to watch him feel happy, deeply… knowing it was only for him she’d dressed like this.

his fingers touched the nape of her neck and then she felt the necklace go around her throat and settle down. he had brought it back with him, not wanting her to travel on her own wearing something so obviously expensive.

the room was silent. she could only hear his breath over the low hum of the airconditioning.

at last she opened her eyes. he was sitting on the edge of his desk, just looking at her, with that lopsided smile and brown irises glinting.

“the most stunning pair of legs, mrs raizada…” he said with an eyebrow shooting up, “i pity the men out there tonight.”

what! this laad governor… he had to get her every time. khushi felt her knees go weak and warm, were they buckling? no!

she needn’t have worried, he was with her in no time, holding her in his arms, lifting her up, carrying her to the sofa…

she wondered if the important man would be made to wait tonight.

***

he was tall, almost six feet four inches or maybe more, definitely taller then any man she had ever met, he had the most brilliant pair of sky blue eyes, his hair was golden and close cropped, he had a fine straight nose, a beautiful square cut jawline, his bearing was straight and proud, when he smiled there were crinkles at the corner of his eyes that made the blue even more shiny. and he was not at all as old as she thought an “important man” would be. he was perhaps a couple of years older than arnav ji.

yosel sassoon was a remarkably handsome man. when he grasped her hand in a firm handshake and smiled saying, “i am delighted to meet you, mrs raizada!” khushi felt definitely tongue tied and awestruck.

what was she supposed to say in reply? she struggled a bit and smiled back without saying anything. she felt arnav ji turn and look at her, but she was too confused to do anything about it.

“yosel, great to see you,” asr said easily, “i am so glad you had time to meet this trip…”

“arnav, always good to see you… and may i say it’s a pleasure to meet your absolutely beautiful wife.”

yosel sassoon certainly stressed the word “beautiful”, khushi didn’t imagine it. she looked away, flustered, completely out of her depth here, no idea how to manage such compliments from a perfect stranger, that too a man. and she had noticed he was extremely good looking.

they were at one of the most fancy restaurants in town khushi could tell. there was a quiet elegant air about the room. plush carpets, chandeliers, the slightest tinkling sounds from silverware, a lot of goblets and glasses on the tables and hardly any noise, there was an air of formality everywhere… svelte, low piano notes could be heard once in a while, someone played at the grand piano on one side of a slightly raised dance floor which was practically empty.

a man had appeared magically and was showing them to a private alcove at one end of the restaurant. they sat in a lounge like area, on a semicircular plush sofa covered in burgundy swede.

khushi stretched her legs out a little crossing them at the knee feeling strange about showing her ankles, her shin, her knees. she looked at arnav ji furtively. he seemed not to notice a thing, he was speaking to mr sassoon. she could feel mr sassoon’s eyes casually sweep over her legs once… or twice.

she glanced at arnav ji again, but he was obviously in a deep discussion about work. she let it be.

they went upstairs to their apartment. khushi could sense a cold descending all around.

“would you care for some wine, mrs raizada?” they had moved to a table set with fine crockery and tableware, yosel sassoon was the perfect host, he gestured to the sommelier to fetch a nice pink champagne for the lady.

khushi was about to refuse, when she thought it might help her relax a little.

she sipped her champagne as the evening went by.

the food was again not her favourite sort, but yosel… he had insisted she call him that… was so charming and asked her several questions about her likes and dislikes before ordering a foreign sounding vegetable stew for her that she didn’t have the heart to grumble.

the champagne did help her unwind though… soon she was giggling and enjoying the conversation, but still, every time she felt yosel’s eyes on her she was nervous.

it was strange, but after a while she noticed, arnav ji was not looking at her at all. if he spoke to her, he looked in her direction but not at her.

the champagne, she decided, had got to her and she was imagining things already.

“khushi, it was wonderful meeting you, i do hope to see you with arnav when i am in india in a couple of months… you must show me what it is that you do enjoy eating there,” yosel beamed at her, his eyes twinkling a bright blue, as he held her hand in his when the evening ended, “and yes, i will bring along some pink champagne…”

khushi said, “thank you, yosel… i look forward to seeing you,” in a nice proper way. then she folded her hands and in the way she felt most comfortable greeting people, she said,”namaste!”

“namaaste!” yosel replied with another stunning smile.

asr said nothing. khushi felt his hand at her elbow. the touch felt different.

in the car, it became clear to khushi, she had not been imagining things.

arnav ji was absolutely silent. he didn’t look at her even once.

the drive was not too long as the hotel was near belgravia.

they went upstairs to their apartment. khushi could sense a cold descending all around. there was a feeling of turbulence. the champagne had made her tipsy. she decided she would woo arnav ji out of this bad mood. it must be something to do with work.

he had walked in and sat down without a word on the sofa in the sitting room.

khushi threw off her coat. then sashayed up to asr as she had seen the models doing on the ramp and struck a pose in front of him, hands jauntily on hips, legs slightly apart, chin thrust out.

“what’s the matter, arnav ji…did yosel bother you, didn’t give you what you wanted?” she smiled at him coquettishly, again a model like little gesture. he didn’t look at her. he was staring blankly at the floor. his lips tightened. his nostrils flared, the corner of his lips had a whiteness about them.

but she was too high to notice…

“don’t worry, i will make yosel give you whatever you want… theek hai?”

she slurred on the “whatever”, he flashed a look at her. his eyes were bitter and scathing.

khushi almost fell back at the derision in them.

“what is the matter, arnav ji…” she asked dazed.

“leave me alone, khushi!” he said, his teeth clenched, his lips hardly moving, his voice low and guttural

“kyun? why leave you? no no, i want to sit…” khushi flung her arms around his neck.

he got up abruptly throwing her off balance, and said, “i said, leave me alone, dammit!”

a forbidding darkness had gripped him. visions and thoughts tumbled and clogged him up. everywhere, in every pore of him, the most disturbing thoughts. his father with another woman… or maybe there were many women. isn’t that what his uncle had said? well bred, man of the world, his father… girls couldn’t resist him. who could say no to a rich handsome man who knew exactly what to say when, who was smooth and suave… filth. it was all filth. his thoughts swirled in a terrible cacophony of images seen and unseen… and his anger rose keeping stride with the storm passing through him.

“nahin leaving, mr laad governor!” she was standing before him, tottering a bit.

he felt his hand itch to rip the little red dress off her. just grab the neck and tear the dress right down the front and fling it away.

it was a violent absolute feeling. even more vicious than what he’d felt the day he had ripped the dori of her dress. he could still hear the pearls scatter on the poolside tiles. ratta-tat-tat tat tat.

that’s when he knew he had to get away from here.

now.

he turned sharply on his heel and left their apartment. the door slammed after him.

 

INDEX

without you chapter 34

 

 

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