He sat at the dining table, drinking the fresh orange juice, which was the only breakfast he had been able to stomach in the last two months. Sitting next to him, Nani carried on an animated conversation with his wife, discussing everything and nothing. He wondered whether he was the only one who could see through Khushi’s mask, see that her eyes were dead. It certainly seemed to be the case, but then maybe he was the only one who knew what he was looking for. He knew exactly what someone’s eyes looked like when they were dead inside; after all, it was that dead look which stared back at him whenever he saw his reflection in the mirror.
There was a lull in the conversation, giving him a chance to break in.
“Khushi, is Di not coming down for breakfast?” he asked, his voice as neutral as he could make it.
“Bas aarahi hongi, Jijaji ka phone aaya tha.” “She’s just on the phone to Jijaji, she’ll be right down” She replied, her lilting voice a parody of the way she had once spoken. He could see his grandmother smile at the sight of Khushi’s blushing cheeks; how was she to know that the blush wasn’t one of shyness, but one of shame.
“Theek hai. Zara dekhlena ke woh kuch khalein. I’ll be back late tonight, mera intezaar mat karna.” “Fine. Make sure she eats something. I’ll be back late tonight, don’t wait for me” He smiled generally in the direction of the others seated at the table, before getting up to go.
Making his way to the bedroom, he was aware of the conversation continuing behind him, his aunt and uncle discussing when their son and daughter-in-law would return from
, whilst Nani occasionally breaking in to talk about the grand dinner party she wanted to throw to celebrate their return. America
“Suniye” “Can I bother you?”
As he gathered his briefcase from the bedroom, Arnav heard her voice behind him. He didn’t turn towards her, but stopped what he was doing, allowing her to speak.
“Agar aap bura na maanein, to kya main Amma se mil aaoon?” “If you don’t mind, can I go and visit my mother?”
tumhein kabhi mana kiya hai jaane se? Nahin. Tum jaana chaho, chali jaao. Just remember, you’re my wife, not just their daughter. Wahan iss ghar ki koi baat karne se pehle ye sochlena ke tumhari Raizada parivaar ki taraf kya zimmedariyaan hain” “Have I ever stopped you from going? No. If you want to go, then go. Just remember, you’re my wife, not just their daughter. Before talking about anything that goes on in this house, remember the responsibilities you have towards the Raizada family” Maine
For a moment, the air between them was filled with electricity; he could almost hear the retort on her lips before she stopped herself.
“Aap ke aane tak main aajaaoongi.” “I’ll be back before you get home”
“Mujhe koi farq nahin padta, tum kab aati ho, kab jaati ho. Bas meri baat yaad rakhna” “It makes no difference to me, when you come and when you go. Just remember what I said to you”
With those words, he turned and stalked past her, their shoulders brushing as he passed. As he settled into his car, for once letting the driver take the wheel, Arnav could feel the pressure where their shoulders had touched, the sensation enough to reawaken the craving for her touch that he fought so hard to control.
He pulled a file from his briefcase, trying to settle himself with some work; within a minute, the sound of a siren broke through the silence and he looked up to see an ambulance speed past the car with blue lights flashing. His eyes followed the ambulance as it drove into the distance, memories rising to the surface no matter how hard he tried to suppress them
That night, he had realised how much he needed her. It had happened in an instant, when he realised that he couldn’t remember what life was like without her in it.
He remembered standing in the dark, watching the lights of the ambulance pull further and further away from him, only one thought reverberating through his mind - that he couldn’t remember what his life had been like without her in it.
He couldn’t imagine what life would be like without her in it.
He remembered standing in the dark, watching as the ambulance carried her further and further away from him; he remembered that all he could think in that moment was that he didn’t want to imagine what his life would be like without her in it.
It had been that moment that had led him to make so many strange decisions, led him back into the world of pain and hurt that he had always associated with love.
For a few moments, he had been paralysed; indecision was an emotion he had little experience of but at that moment only one thought had gone round and round in his mind, leaving no space for any coherence. “khushikhushikhushi” he couldn’t think couldn’t breathe “khushikhushikhshi Ican’tlivewithouther khushikhushikhushi needherneedherneedher”. All that had been in his mind was her.
As the memories washed over him, he let himself remember that moment, felt himself back in that mire of worry and terror and need.
She was injured, they were taking her away from him and he didn’t know what to do.
He took a deep breath, and forced his mind to calm. One thing at a time, he’d deal with one thing at a time. First he’d find her, then he’d do whatever it took to make her better and then he’d deal with whatever else needed to be done to keep her in his life. But first he needed to find her. He needed to find her so that he could keep her, keep her in his life where she belonged.
He turned and starting running; he needed to follow that ambulance, and no matter how much some part of him wanted to chase run after it, to keep running till he caught up, the tiny part of his brain that still had coherent thought realised that he could only catch up to her in his car.
Reaching the white four-wheel drive, he pulled open the door and threw himself into the driver’s seat. As he drew the seat-belt around his waist, he heard her voice, bargaining with some street vendor. For a moment, he was convinced he was imagining it, his need to see her alive and well so strong that he was deceiving himself into hearing her. He held his breath, looking around before his gaze fell on the rear-view mirror. There she stood, alive and well. He blinked, then looked again; when it finally sunk in that it really was Khushi standing there, that it really was Khushi’s voice that he could hear, he let out a shuddering breath, the strength flooding from his body. As the realisation sank in that he hadn’t lost her, his head leaned forward, resting on the steering wheel, the breaths continuing to shudder through him as he tried to get a grip on his out-of-control emotions.
After a moment, all the myriad sensations crystallised into one overpowering feeling- anger. How dare she put him through this, how dare she? Didn’t she realise that she was his, his? She had no right to do this to him, no right to come into his life and throw it into turmoil and then send him into a tailspin with the threat of removing herself from his life.
He threw himself out of the car and stalked towards her, unaware of what he was saying, uncaring of what his anger revealed. It was only when she directly asked him why she mattered to him that his mind woke up again, stopping him from declaring himself before he was fully sure of exactly what it was he wanted to tell her.
The car drew to a halt at some traffic lights, the sound of the hawkers on the street bringing him out of his memories. A wry smile crossed his face; what a fool he had been, to believe that she was worthy of love. How wrong he had been.
And if it took every bit of his strength to suppress the love he couldn’t erase from his heart and mind, he would never admit that, even to himself.