‘What? What do you mean you thought this might happen? And if so, did you not think it fit to warn me about the chance of a sudden one-eighty degree turn around!’ Arnav yelled, unable to contain his grief.
‘Chotay. Chotay, calm down.’ Anjali said soothingly from the pool chair she sat on, while Arnav paced next to the pool in front of her. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t say earlier. But in my defense you didn’t give me the chance, because you never told me about your feelings towards Khushi, I had to wrangle it out of you. I was hoping to get you to tell me in confidence and then along with my consent and unimaginable happiness I could warn you against this reaction. But yesterday, when you finally confessed, it was in front of her and at that moment I was so happy, we all were that, one, I didn’t even realize when Khushi left and two in my excitement I’m afraid I didn’t really see what her reaction was, that’s why I sent you after her without any warning.
‘And about her messaging me last night, well I did get it but did not see it until this morning after you had left, besides I didn’t realize she had not come home for I had gone to bed before you came back, after you had gone after her. I didn’t expect either of you to be back soon, for I hoped you would have a nice long chat, discussing each others feelings and things…’ Anjali explained.
‘Ugh that’s’ all fine Di. But tell me now. Tell me why she is behaving this way. Why is she angry at me for loving her? Shouldn’t she be happy? I thought girls generally went completely gaga when they learned about a lover. That’s what you always said anyway.’ He accused her, assured now that his reactions to her “love talks”, were right: they were as exaggerated and over-rated as he had always believed them to be, that is why Khushi had not reacted in the way she claimed women did.
‘Generally, women are. And I bet Khushi was too,’ she held up her hand to silence him as he opened his mouth to rebuke, signaling she wasn’t finished with what she wanted to say, ‘she must have swooned too, the first time a man confessed his feelings to her.’ She eyed him poignantly.
He was about to retaliate again, when her words sunk in: the first time. Of course, he wasn’t the only man to have ever declared his love for her. Granted he was the only one who truly meant it, but how was she to believe that? She deeply mistrusted any man who said those three words, as the last man who said them had horribly betrayed her. How had he not even thought of that? Of course she was angry, it made sense. His declaration of love was like a betrayal on his part, for he had let her build her trust in him, made her feel safe and then had turned around and said the very thing that man, and he used that term loosely now, had said to her. He had uttered the very words that broke her trust in any man.
‘Sh*t.’ he voiced aloud.
‘Chotay.’ Anjali scolded him.
‘Oh sorry Di. But I…oh my god it all makes sense now. I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. But her words: love is a fake notion conjured up by men who wish to dupe women into believing that such a thing exists in order to get them to do their bidding…makes sense now. She doesn’t trust love and anyone who claims to possess such a feeling. For she doesn’t believe it exists. Her past experience has taught her to mistrust it profusely.’
‘Exactly, Chotay.’ She sighed, happy that he understood Khushi’s state of mind but sad that Khushi felt this way, despite Payal and her efforts to make Khushi see differently.
‘Ugh, I hate that man. Even more if that’s even possible. I hate him Di. I want to completely ruin him for scarring Khushi like this.’ Arnav fumed, as he dropped down next to her on the pool-chair. The load of Khushi’s words and the realization of what they said about her state of mind weighing him down. ‘How I wish to get my hands on that rascal…if I ever get the chance, I will finish him Di. I swear I will finish him for hurting my Khushi like that, for using her so, for ruining her innocence so violently; killing her dreams and her beliefs. I swear Di, just one chance and that’s all I need….’ He flexed his arms and jaws dangerously, as murderous thoughts entered his mind.
‘Chotay…’ Anjali rested her hand anxiously on his, as much as she was happy to hear his concern and love for Khushi, his murderous thoughts unsettled her. She wasn’t Shyam’s biggest fan either, she who didn’t know how to hate was very close to feeling that emotion when it came to that man, but still that didn’t mean she wanted her brother to turn into a murderer.
‘Di… I’m not going to do anything. Besides I don’t even know the whereabouts of this guy.’ Arnav relaxed his muscles under her anxious stare. Although, mentally, he made a note of changing that, he would find out that scoundrel’s whereabouts the first chance he got. Mr P.I. (Private Investigator) would be getting another call from him soon. ‘Anyways right now my major concern is Khushi, not that sorry excuse of a man. What will I do Di? How will I convince her that I do love her? That love does exist, I mean if a non-believer like me can fall in love surely then it must exist, right Di?’
‘Yes.’ She said admiringly at her brother. ‘Yes it does. And like you said, when you, who were convinced it does not exist, has fallen head over heels in love then we will convince Khushi too. But it will take time and a lot of patience. Are you ready for that, to be patient with her? Ready to give her time and space? To make her see that you are here, are loyal and won’t leave her. Are you ready to tread this rocky road that leads to her heart?’ She asked.
‘Yes Di. For her, anything.’ Arnav replied without even a moment of hesitation.
‘In that case, in the eternal words of the ever romantic Raj, tho phir tho bus doli utne ki dair hai…’ Anjali laughed, as she quoted from a movie, a thing Arnav hated. But this time Arnav loved her for saying it, as she had given him the key to winning Khushi’s heart.
‘That’s it Di!!’ He jumped up.
‘What?’ She looked up with a start.
‘Doli! I will ask Khushi to marry me! That will convince her! That I truly wish to be with her, that I do love her and its’ not some con on my part. This is for life, which it is.’ He claimed excitedly.
‘Yes. Of course. Oh my god, you are right. We will officialy ask for her hand from her family, then she will have to believe that it’s the truth.’ Anjali exclaimed, jumping up too now.
‘Yup!’ Arnav said triumphantly.
‘Chotay…’ Anjali squealed, tears in her eyes.
‘Di? What’s wrong…why are you crying? Do you think something’s wrong with the plan?’ Arnav asked, the surety of its’ success washing away with her tears.
‘Wha- oh no…I just,’ she brushed away her tears, making way for new ones. ‘I just….my Chotay is going to be married….to Khushi….I’m so happy Chotay…these are happy tears….’ She smiled.
‘Gawd, Di you scared me there for a sec.’ Arnav said, as he opened his arms to envelop Anjali into hug. He smiled into her hair, as the thought sent jitters into the pit of his stomach. He was going to marry Khushi. He was going to marry her. He would spend the rest of his life with her. She with him. And just like that Khushi was a cause of a new sensation inside of him. For the first time in his life he felt elated: a light fluttering feeling generated from his abdominable region bringing him such joy he never knew existed. The thought of getting your one true love and getting to live every moment of everyday with them was an indescribable feeling. One had to experience it to understand it. Anjali had been right. All of Anjali’s talks about love and how a person felt when they were in love came back to him with sharp clarity, all of them making every bit of sense today. She had said it then, when he had mocked her, that the day he finally fell in love he would understand. She was right, he understood today.
‘JALEBI!!!’ she exclaimed excitedly, grabbing the plate and biting into one of the mouth-watering, syrup-coated rings, causing her eyes to daze over with the sweet taste of her favourite dessert.
‘And, warm milk.’ Added Payal as she brought round her other hand to show the mug of warm milk.
‘Eeee!’ Khushi bounced, as she took the mug and dipped her half-eaten Jalebi into the milk and took another bite, the milk enhancing the taste ten-fold. ‘Izz eet Diffalli Jiji and somefun forgot to tellll mee?’ Khushi asked with her mouthful.
‘Haha. No, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate just like that.’ Payal said adoringly, as she wiped a drop a milk that was meandering down from the corner of Khushi’s mouth.
‘Where did these come from?’ Khushi asked, gesturing towards the plate.
‘Shanti Aunty… from across the hall. Her daughter passed her exams with really good grades so she distributed them this afternoon to everyone in the building.’ Replied Payal, as she took her seat in front of Khushi, in her terrace, where Khushi had been sitting for quite some time now.
‘Oh. Nice. Here have some.’ Khushi offered, as she took another jalebi from the plate.
‘Thanks, but you enjoy them, we had a few in the afternoon, I saved these for you.’ Payal related, as she watched her sister enjoying the plate. Every time she saw Khushi with a plate of jalebi’s she was reminded of just how young and innocent she was. How she found happiness in such a simple thing, jalebi and milk. When eating it she still looked like she had done at her first birthday, when instead of going after her delicious doll cake, she had attacked the plate of jalebis and nibbled at them and then drunk her milk, from her bottle to swallow it down. She even made a mess of her face in the same way while eating them.
A nostalgic smile played across Payal’s face, while Khushi scarfed down her share of the jalebis, but as she watched the smile soon transformed into a sad sigh. One could easily be fooled by the happiness now displayed on Khushi’s face to think she was happy, but Payal knew that behind that sweet, juvenile smile was something very painful that Khushi was battling with. Something she had been battling with this whole week; the reason why she had been over everyday of the week. She had some new trouble at her door and like always, she had come home for solace but had shut out her family, to not trouble them and taken to her haunt on the terrace under the starry sky where she desparately searched for an answer.
‘Hmmm….so Amma and Bua ji have gone to sleep. Aakash as you know will not be back till tomorrow from Lucknow. So we are all alone, no one will disturb us, will you tell me now, what is it that you are hiding from me? What is it that is bothering my dear sister?’ Payal penetrated the subject herself knowing Khushi would not until prodded.
‘Hunh? Jiji I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Khushi evaded the subject, not meeting Payal’s eye.
‘Really? So you’re here, have been here all week, just because you love us so much?’ Payal asked sarcastically.
‘Exactly!’ Khushi chirped, although her eyes still did not meet Payals’.
‘Really? Khushi are we going to do this dance, you know I will get it out of you.’ Payal gave her sister a meaninful look.
‘Oh…Dance! Yes lets’ dance Jiji, I haven’t danced with you in the longest time.’ Khushi said getting up and changing the subject yet again.
‘No. Not until you tell me, what is up? Why are you here?’ Payal said adamantly, from her seat on the terrace.
‘Why? Aren’t you happy that I’m here Jiji? You’re the one who always complains I never come to stay over, so why are you complaining now?’
‘Khushi, I have no issues with you staying here. If I did then I wouldn’t be still arguing about you, Amma, Bua ji and Bauji moving out after he gets discharged. I love having you around. Only you are not around Khushi. This is not my sister…’ she said pointing towards her, ‘this is someone who looks very much like her, but it is not her. Because my sister is a happy person, always bringing happiness in her wake, and you are not happy. You are sad, something has happened, its’ eating you inside and like always you are pushing me away. Why?
‘So yes, I am not happy that you are here like this. I’m glad that you came home, that you still feel like this is home to you, that’s why you came here when grieving but I am not happy that you are treating me like this, why are you not telling me? How much more must I guilt-trip you Khushi for you to relent and finally bring some peace to my mind by telling me what is wrong?’ Payal stared at her, annoyance and hurt in her face.
‘Oho Jiji. Don’t get so senti…. Stop making me feel worse than I already do…I will tell, if I don’t tell you then who else will I tell?’ Khushi said coming back to her seat and muncing at another jalebi, while she thought it through, of where and how to begin. She herself didn’t understand it properly yet. She just felt hurt and betrayed that’s all she knew.
‘Jiji…’ she began after a while. ‘Its’ not that I’m pushing you away…its’ just there is nothing really to tell. Because its’ nothing, it means nothing. They are all lies and I have finally come to realize that, but that realization came to me when I least expected it, that’s why it has unhinged me.’
Payal stared at her sister not at all following her. ‘Khushi…what are you talking about? What lies? What realization? What is going on? Please explain it to me Khushi…’
Khushi gave her sister a long, hard look, how was she supposed to explain it? She herself was still trying to wrap her head around it: around the most brutal betrayal by Arnav Singh Raizada. ‘Jiji, he claims to love me.’ Khushi voiced after a long pause, with immense disgust on her face.
‘Who?’ Payal asked, shocked. ‘Not Shyam. After all this time? After everything he did? Does he really think he can say those three words and expect you to believe him, take him back? That….that…’ Payal ranted on, before Khushi could correct her.
‘No, not Shyam, Jiji.’
‘Hunh? Not him, then who?’ She asked, now with renewed interest.
‘Arnav ji.’ Khushi replied, sadly.
‘HUNH!!! ARNAV JI LOVES YOU!!!’ Payal exclaimed, excitedly.
‘Sshh Jiji.’ Khushi, hushed her, before her cry bought Garima or Madhumathi to the terrace.
‘Oh… but Khushi. Oh my god…Arnav ji loves you…’ she voiced in excited whispers. ‘Oh this such wonderful news.’ Payal clapped her hands together, her eyes glazing over as she happily envisioned her baby sister in the bridal red lehenga and Arnav in a crisp white shirvani, on their wedding day.
‘No its’ not!’ Khushi snapped, angrily; jolting Payal harshly out of her sweet vision.
‘Why not?’ She in turn asked Khushi.
‘Because its’ a lie. He does not love me.’
‘Hunh? Why do you say that? Do you have reason to believe he is leading you on? Has he done something that suggests such a thing?’ She asked, trying to see Arnav as a disloyal person, but not managing too. Granted she had only had a few encounters with the man, but in those few meetings she had deciphered enough about him to know he was an honest person.
‘Yes…he said he loved me. What more evidence do you need to know he is an evil person?’
‘Khushi have you lost your mind, you don’t believe him because he said ‘I Love You’. How does that make any sense? And evil? How do those three words deem him evil? Evil is a strong word Khushi, to use on anyone, let alone someone who opens their heart to you.’
‘I have reason to call him evil Jiji. Because he is. Only someone pure evil would do what he has stooped down and done to me.’
‘And what exactly is that? Tell you that he loves you?’ Payal asked sarcastically. Only to feel gobsmacked by Khushi’s answer.
‘Khushi…are you for real? You’re mad at him because he loves you? You’ve been staying here because of that? You think him evil, for it?’ Payal asked each question slowly, leaning in towards Khushi to make sure what she was reading in her sister’s stance was correct. That she was hurt and upset because Arnav had told her he loved her. Khushi’s nod to each question enforced what her whole body and lips had been saying.
‘Why?’ Payal now asked, unable to comprehend any of it.
‘Because Jiji. He turned out to be exactly like him. Like Shyam. I thought he was a friend and he was not. I trusted him and he broke that trust. He knew about my past, he knows how I feel and yet he still said those three words just to hurt me. Just to confirm, what I already know. His evil declaration brought back everything that happened five months ago. Making me feel as worthless as that night Shyam made me feel.’ Khushi explained, however, Payal did not follow.
‘What? How can you even compare the two Khushi. Arnav ji is not Shyam. Why would you think that? If he says he loves you, then he truly must. Why are you being so negative?’
‘He is exactly like him Jiji. If he wasn’t than why would he say such a horrible thing to me and hurt me so profusely?’
‘Khushi….Why do you think he doesn’t love you and is only saying it?’
‘Because Jiji, I know what men are like now. What they want out of me? I know they don’t love me. They never have or will.’
‘Khushi not every man is like Shyam. Love does exist and men do love. If it didn’t then what would you say exists between me and Aakash? Do you think he does not love me but only lusts after me?’
‘No. Never. Don’t insult Jeeju like that Jiji. He is not like other men. He is good. He truly does love you.’
‘So you agree, that he loves me?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Then why is it so hard to believe that Arnav ji loves you. Your Jeeju cannot be the sole man in this world who knows how to truly love, there must be more men out there, Arnav ji being one of them.’ Payal tried to reason.
‘Ugh Jiji, I never said that men don’t love….or may be I did…but that’s not what I meant…let me clarify, men don’t love women like me. Arnav ji may be capable of love but I know he does not love me and never will. For no man will ever love me Jiji. I have finally come to terms with that…that I am not the woman men love, I’m the one they lust after.’
‘Khushi! How can you even think that?’ Payal asked aghasted.
‘I don’t have to think, Shyam and now Arnav ji have both made it pretty obvious to me. Do you really think that if I was the kind of woman men wished to make their wives then Shyam would have done what he did? No. But I wasn’t that’s why he used me and then discarded me. I have made peace with it and that’s why I’m angry at Arnav ji. Just because he thinks I have come to terms with this truth he thinks he can use it to his advantage, it is dispecable! That is why I say he is evil.’
‘Khushi…’ Payal voiced in hushed voice, but did not elaborate. For she didn’t know how to. What would she say? What could she say? How could she make her sister see, that what Shyam did, did not define her but rather defined him and how he lacked any sort of definition. A new sort of pain entered Payal’s heart, as she sat across from her sister; that demeaning man had completely soiled her, not just her body but her thoughts too, about herself. She hated him more, if that was even possible. He had killed a vital part of her sister, no wonder Khushi was reacting this way to what she would have once regarded as the most beautiful thing. Her sister, who had grown up watching romance movies, reading romantic novels and dreaming only and only of love and happily-ever-afters’ had lost her faith in the whole notion. She didn’t believe it existed, not for her anyway. Oh how she wanted to turn back time and save her dear sister from the evil that was Shyam. How she wished that she had never introduced them, when Khushi had moved in with them after her parents’ death.
Not knowing what to say or do, she took Khushi into her arms, as she silently wet her hair with her tears. Crying at the loss of her dear sister: for she was lost in a sense, while there was still innocence and mischief inside of her sister, a major part of her had died after she had witnessed Shyam’s betrayal. The part that had weaved such elaborate, yet sweet and simple dreams of love and marriage. Dreams which Arnav was knocking at her door with, but she refused to open it, for she did not believe in them anymore. It ripped her heart, that her sister was finally at the brink of achieving everything she ever wanted, everything she deserved to get, but because of that evil man she was walking away from it. No not walking rather running as far as possible from it. Oh what was she to do? How was she supposed to make Khushi see that Arnav was not Shyam, that he would never break her heart, or her dreams instead would make sure each and everyone of them were fulfilled? But alas, Khushi was far from seeing reason at the moment, thus all Payal did was rock her sister in her cradle as she came to a decision about how to proceed. This was dangerous territory and she would have to tread very carefully, plan each step before taking it in order to open her sister’s heart to love again. To make her believe init, get her to give it a chance to embrace her life instead of keeping it at arms length.