‘Did Meera leave?’ Arnav asked NK bluntly, thereby forcing him remove his attention from Khushi.
‘Nannav. Good morning.’ He greeted cheerfully in his Austrailian accent.
‘Not really.’ Arnav muttered under his breath. ‘So have you finally driven Meera off?’ Arnav asked again, taking a seat purposefully between him and Khushi, much to NK and Khushi’s confusion.
‘Wha-? No. Of course not. Why would you think so?’ NK asked, trying to understand Arnav’s sudden interest in his housekeeper.
‘So then she must be ill?’
‘No. She’s absolutely fine.’ NK replied.
‘Really? Then why are you here? I mean if she hasn’t left you and is not ill, then why on earth are you here?!’ he asked rather annoyedly.
‘Hunh…wha- oh….hahaha….Nannav you and your weird sense of humour.’ NK scoffed, managing to chalk Arnav’s inqisitveness to only that.
‘Hmph….’ Was all Arnav offered in return. He had wanted to say more but caught Anjali’s eye at that moment, which clearly showed disapproval towards his unwelcoming behavior and therefore he settled with a disgruntled sigh.
‘So anyway, as I was saying Khushi, I really think you should consider it…it would really help me.’ NK petitioned Khushi as he drew her back into the conversation they had been having before Arnav had interrupted them.
‘Wha- Oh…no, no. Nanhe ji I couldn’t and really your hindi isn’t that bad.’ Khushi replied, amused but totally not prepared to take on the proposition he was offering.
‘Not bad, it’s atrocious, weren’t you the one who was just laughing so heartily at my baal and khaal screw up…’ he reminded her, making her laugh again.
‘Ok, may be it is, but really Nanhe ji, I’m the last person to teach a language, I’m very impatient, Bua ji-‘ she was forced to stop by Arnav’s sputtering, before she could have delved into one of her childhood stories. She quickly patted his back concerndly and then removed her hand abruptly away from him when he turned to look at her with his molten chocolate eyes that lately made her insides squirm in a whole new way. They had always intimidated her, but now they left a hitter feeling inside of her too, as though millions of butterflies had taken refuge inside her stomach. It was ever since he had caressed her hair, that she had started feeling this way, or may be it was from before, who knew? All she knew was that it deeply discomfited her.
‘Chotay, are you ok?’ Anjali’s voice came from behind Khushi, breaking their eye lock.
‘Yeah. Fine.’ He replied gruffly, as he recalled his present company. ‘Are we going to have any breakfast today, or are we doomed to listen to NK’s grammar lessons?’
‘Chotay….’ Anjali stressed. ‘Come along, breakfast is on the table.’ She said, as she guided them to the table, deciding there was no point in trying to get Arnav to behave for he wouldn’t. He never did when NK was around, although he had become worse in his presence recently, ever since Khushi had moved in. This thought began turning wheels in her mind and all through breakfast she kept a close eye on Arnav, Khushi and NK. NK and Khushi were having an animated conversation about she knew not what, for her full concentration was on Arnav as he stared sulkily at them over his toast.
‘Khushi, let’s go.’ Arnav stood up, abruptly after finishing his breakfast.
‘Excuse me?’ Khushi and the whole table looked at him, taken aback.
‘What?! Do you plan on spending the whole day having breakfast or actually coming into LaANK for work? The fashion show is just around the corner. Weren’t you the one stressing over it yesterday?’ he asked bluntly.
‘I….uh…yes.’ she said getting up too, ‘but wait…you…you want me to come with you…as in, in your car?’ Khushi asked astonished, while both Nani and Anjali leaned in closer to watch his reaction and response. Not wanting to miss any chance of catching any trace of evidence Arnav may betray regarding his feeling towards Khushi.
‘Well yes. We both live in the same place and are going to the same place so I don’t see why it should come as a shock to you that I would offer.’ He stated haughtily.
‘True. But I mean, you never have before, so…’ her voice trailed off, trying to understand whether she was imagining the situation. Her past was filled with evidence of how she often hallucinated things quite vividly, one of the many thing Madhumathi would point out in complaint about her.
‘Khushi are you coming or not? I figured we could discuss your amendments to your design on the way, you know the one where the button wasn’t right…’ he reasoned, although that was the last reason for which he had offered her. It had been solely to stop her from spending more time with NK.
‘Oh. Umm yeah. Ok. Yes that is problem. Yes let’s go.’ She said, gathering up her things and making her way around the table towards him. He sighed in relief. She had taken the bait and was coming with him, finally he had managed to wrench her away from NK. Happily he began walking with her towards the door, only to find himself being called back by NK.
‘Hey wait up, guys I’ll come with you too.’ He said jogging up behind them. ‘I should know about these amendments too.’ He joined them, not wanting to waste his trip this morning of coming down here. He had come with the sole purpose of driving with Khushi into work, knowing full and well that Arnav never offered her, only for some reason he had decided to today.
‘No.’ Arnav spat out before he could stop himself, causing both Khushi and NK to stare at him. ‘I mean, you have a car NK. It’s not going to drive itself to LaANK. Don’t worry I’ll bring you up to speed on the alterations to the dress before our meeting with the sponsors this morning.’ He amended and then before NK could suggest anything else he was out of the house with Khushi and had deliberately shut the door behind him so as to stall him while he and Khushi got into the car and jetted out before NK could join them.
After NK left, Nani and Anjali turned to each other with the same excitement on their faces’ and the same question on their lips. ‘Did you just see what I saw?’ They asked together.
‘Chotay was jealous.’ They replied in unison.
‘EEEEEE!!! NANI!! I think we have the key to getting Chotay to confess.’ Anjali squealed excitedly.
‘NK!!’ both stated together, as Anjali bounded into hug, unable to contain her excitement at finally figuring out how to get Arnav to fess up to his feelings.
‘Khushi. What is going on with you, today? Is something the matter?’ NK finally asked her, after she absentmindedly forced her model to wear her dress the wrong way round.
‘Hunh? Yes. Yes. Fine. What would be wrong with me?’ she said shaking her head instead of nodding it in affirmation.
NK smiled at her modesty. Then grabbing hold of her arm he walked her over to the cafeteria and sat her down. ‘Now, tell me what’s bothering my brilliant friend this evening. Is it the fashion show? Are you worried about that?’ he asked, kindness in his eyes.
‘HUNH?!! Oh my goodness, I haven’t even been thinking about that. Oh, why do I always do this, always put too many things on my plate, which then ends up upsetting my stomach!! Oh what am I going to do?!!’ Khushi fretted nervously, as she grabbed hold of her duppatta and started strangling it.
‘Hunh? You’ve got an upset stomach?’ NK asked, as he worriedly took a step away from, fearing her bowels may loose control and relieve themselves on his shoes at that precise moment.
‘What? No. Just butterflies.’ Khushi explained horrified by what he thought she had meant.
‘Ok. Calm down. Breathe.’ He said calmly, making her do exactly as he told her. ‘Now tell me one thing at a time. I’m here to listen.’ NK instructed her, once she was somewhat relaxed.
‘Fffff….ok so I have arranged a puja for Bau ji’s well-being tomorrow morning, I talked to Jiji and she said all of them will be coming, as in Amma, Bua ji and of course Bauji as it’s for him. But I’m meeting them all for the first time after the whole episode at NHC took place, so I don’t know how it’s going to go. Will they forgive me? Will they let me sit in the puja with them? I mean what will happen, I’m so scared!! Nanhe ji, Amma and Bua ji are still so very angry with me and Bau ji too, him because I have not yet gone to meet him, for when I went that day in NHC he was asleep and before he awoke I…I had left.’ She evaded over how she was made to leave, but NK didn’t pester her about it. He knew she wasn’t comfortable talking about what had occurred that day, it had been a miracle that she had even mentioned it to him, considering how she always avoided sharing her problems, instead only listened and tried to solve those of the people around her. He had gotten the details of the incident by Anjali, after Khushi passingly mentioned that she wasn’t going to visit her father, that too she only conveyed to him because he had asked her whether she wanted a lift to NHC after work on one of the days.
‘Oh I don’t know what to do? Should I even go? Will they even want me there? I mean they made it very clear they didn’t before so why would tomorrow be any different? I mean I could always just use the fashion show as an excuse, say that I need to be here in the morning, to check the arrangements or something….yeah I think-‘
‘Stop, Khushi! You’re going to go! You can and you must face them! The Khushi I know is not a coward, she does not run away from battles but instead stands and fights no matter how outnumbered she may be, and she wins. Because battles are never won by sentiment, they are won by will power and that is something I know you happen to have in abundance. So no need to get scared. Come on, tum kitne bhuddu ho.’ He smiled encouragingly.
‘Bhuddu?’ she asked confused.
‘Yeah. You know- brave.’ He shrugged sweetly.
‘Brave? Oh….you mean Bahadur….oh Nanhe ji.’ She scoffed at his error.
‘Oh. Yes right, right. Bahadur.’ He laughed too. ‘I really think you should reconsider teaching me Khushi.’
‘Haha… no way. Like I said I can correct you on the off occasion but I cannot teach. I am too impatient when it comes to that, will probably bite your head-off.’ She laughed.
‘Ok. Ok. But one of these days I will convince you.’
‘We’ll see.’ She beamed. ‘But you’re right.’
‘About convincing you?’ he quirked his eyebrows playfully.
‘Heh. No. About me facing the music tomorrow: I can and I should.’ She said determinedly.
‘Yes, that you definitely should. And always remember if they’re angry it’s because they love you and when someone loves you they will forgive you.’ He said encouragingly.
‘That’s a sweet saying.’ She complimented as it washed over her, infusing a sense of strength in her.
‘Yeah…it is.’ He replied after a moment with a sad smile. Then changed the subject to the fashion show the next day, much to Khushi’s confusion, but she didn’t question it. This was the first time NK had been evasive about something and while that intrigued her she chose to respect his privacy just the way he had always done thus let him change the subject.
Later that evening Khushi sat quietly, deep in thought in the passenger seat of Arnav’s car on the drive home; a feat she did everyday since the morning Arnav had first offered her and then sort of forced her into his car. She had been uncertain that morning whether it was a one-off occassion or something that would become regular but that evening when Arnav had packed up his work early and come to stand next to her table in the D-Squat before she had packed up her things she came to realize he meant to do it everyday, although how long that would last she was still unsure of.
She journeyed with him everyday under the pretence that he wished to discuss work with her, which as it turned out he rarely did for he was generally on his handsfree with Aman discussing some project or the other that AR was working on. And when he wasn’t then Khushi filled the silence with her mindless chatter, for she was never one to be content in silence and add to that her nervousness at being seated next to him in such a close space, where she could breathe in his oceany scent, made her babble about everything under the sun just to distract her from the proximity she shared with. This meant that she was never quiet when he was not on the phone. Although, lately she found, he didn’t seem to mind her nonsense as much as he used to and once she could have sworn she thought she saw him smile at one of her stories, although she still wasn’t sure as it had disappeared as soon as it had appeared.
Thus this being her daily routine, filling the car with her voice, made this evening stand out from the rest causing Arnav to turn around and ask her, unable to take her silence any longer. ‘Khushi, are you ok? You’re awfully quiet today.’
‘Hmm…yeah. I’m fine.’ Was all she said in reply, anxieties about the next morning had once again occupied her mind, resulting in her mute status this evening.
‘Sure?’ he tried again, but she didn’t reply, for she was deep into her worries. As the approaching light turned red, he turned to look at her in order to be able to decipher what may be bothering her. ‘Khushi…tomorrow morning I want you come with me to the auditorium, to check out the place and go through the programme.’ He stated, after coming to the conclusion that the fashion show must be what had gotten her nerves worked up tonight. ‘Khushi…did you hear what I said?’ he asked, when she didn’t respond.
‘Hunh? What? Oh yes, yes all the models were female, sorry I doubted you. But you can’t blame me last time you had half nude male models standing in my dressing room moments before the show.’ Khushi defended herself.
‘What?!’ Arnav asked her bewildered. What was she on about? Then he remembered how she had berated him in the car this morning about there better not being any male models in her dressing room when she went to do the final fitting for her models later that morning, clearly not having forgotten the episode from her internship days. ‘Khushi, I was telling you to come with me in the morning to the auditorium at Crown-Plaza to go over the arrangements…’ he re-iterated.
‘What? Oh. Ok.’ She said absentmindedly, then, ‘NO!!’ she shouted causing him to break roughly at hearing her sudden exclamation.
‘What the-? Khushi!’ he too raised his voice, annoyed at her for distressing him like that.
‘I can’t come with you tomorrow morning.’ She said a tone lower, but with the same urgency.
‘And why is that?’ he inquired peeved.
‘Because I have Bau ji’s puja to go to in the morning.’ She explained.
‘What? Khushi the show is tomorrow. How can you have arranged for the puja on the same day?’ he asked getting aggravated.
‘Because that was the first available time the pandit ji gave me. But don’t worry, the puja is in the morning and will last about an hour or so. I will be with you at the auditorium latest by eleven.’
‘Hmm….ok.’ he said, not liking it, her not going to the Plaza with him, but understanding her need to be at the puja. It was her chance to make amends and he would never stand in the way of that.
‘Or… if Amma and Bua ji see otherwise I may even be there before you.’ She added in an undertone, which he managed to hear making him finally understand the root cause of her silence.
‘Khushi…’ he said, when he reached another red light. ‘Don’t worry. It will all work out.’
‘How do you know that?’ she asked skeptically.
‘Because… I know you. You won’t rest until it doesn’t.’ he said, with a soft smile, much to her surprise. ‘Besides…you know the only reason they are angry with you is because they love you and when someone loves you they will forgive you.’ He added after a while.
‘What the-?’ Khushi voiced in astonishment, not realizing when his reaction had become hers’.
‘What?’ Arnav asked, confused.
‘What you just said…’
‘What about it?’ Arnav turned a little in his seat trying to look at her, in order to understand her confusion as well as trying to keep his eyes on the road.
‘It’s just that…that I never would have thought I would receive the same advice from you and Nanhe ji.’
‘You won’t. He is drastically different from me.’ Arnav pointed out, impatiently. Annoyed that NK had somehow become a part of their conversation and worse was being compared with him.
‘Exactly. You both are so different and yet you both said the exact same thing to me.’ Khushi related, completely astonished by the occurrence.
‘Which is what exactly?’ Arnav asked, not believing that he and NK could ever manage to string the same words in he same order to convey the same meaning.
‘That if someone’s angry with you it’s because they love you and when someone loves you they will forgive you.’ She declared triumphantly.
‘Oh.’ Was all Arnav managed, as his grip on the steering-wheel tightened an infinitismal amount and his stance became a more rigid.
‘You Ok, Arnav ji?’ Khushi asked tentatively, noticing his sudden coldness.
‘Fine.’ Was his curt response.
Khushi opened her mouth to say something, but then shut it again, unsure of what to say. Instead she gripped the corner of her dupatta and began mutilating it, upset for having upset him somehow.
‘We didn’t give you the same advice.’ He said after a while, when his eyes landed on her dupatta that was begging for mercy.
‘Hunh?’ she looked up.
‘The advice, it isn’t ours. It was Lavanya’s. She used to say it often. So technically we didn’t say the same thing, we repeated a statement spoken by someone very dear to us.’ He elaborated and thereby finally bringing her dupatta some peace.
It was her turn to say, ‘Oh.’ Now it made sense why NK had become a little subdued after he had mentioned it and why Arnav had gone rigid. For those beautiful words were associated with a dear person that was no longer in their lives, whose mark was embossed upon them forever. That brought a tear to her eye. A tear for the loss they both must feel for not having her with them anymore, it was clear how much she meant to both of them. But there was something more to that tear, which had nothing to do with the fact that Lavanya was dead. It had to do with how Arnav had reacted to her memory. For some reason it affected her more, that he still grieved over her. She didn’t like to see him in pain. But it wasn’t just that; something else gnawed at her. If he was hurt by her memory that meant that he still loved her. Which should be fine with Khushi: only it wasn’t. It upset her for some reason. She didn’t like to think about how he may still be in love with her. Which was weird, for why should it bother her? But it did. What did it mean, her being bothered by it?
She was mulling over these thoughts when Arnav parked the car and opened his door, causing a gush of air to enter and jolt her out of her thoughts. Coming to her bearings she too got out of the car and silently followed Arnav towards the house. They had reached the door, when Khushi’s voice stopped him.
‘You don’t talk about her much.’ She stated in a soft voice.
He turned to look at her. ‘What’s there to talk about? My best friend died, no amount of words will change that.’ He replied flatly.
‘True. But they will help heal your grieving heart. When someone near to us leaves us forever, we need to let our hearts heal, instead of locking it up, away from anyone’s reach. You’re heart cannot heal if you isolate it.’ She held his gaze, making sure he heard her.
He stared at her long, than simply stated, ‘I’m not a talker.’
‘That’s fine. The heart doesn’t need words to heal it needs support. And support can be given in many forms, with the simplest of gestures, such as: a person sharing silence with you, someone giving their shoulder for you to lean on or something as small as a hand resting on your head telling you that you’re not alone.’ It was her turn to stare at him poingnantly, while he looked back trying to understand whether this was her way of thanking him for what he had done back in the dressing room two weeks ago or was it an offer of support from her. ‘All I’m saying is that it’s ok to grieve. Its’ ok to take someone’s support, it doesn’t make you vulnerable, instead it makes you stronger, for it heals your heart making it whole again.’ With each word she closed the gap between them, until she was standing right next to his heart, her caramel eyes holding his coffee brown ones, spreading warmth through them with her radiance. Then she was gone and he was alone on the porch, and yet he wasn’t. He no longer felt alone.
Arnav stared after her; trying to decipher what had taken place outside the house. But try as he may he coul not understand. All he knew was somehow, in that conversation she had lifted a huge weight off of him, leaving him feeling much lighter than he had ever felt. It was like she had healed him, his grieving heart without even trying to. Her few chosen words and earnest stare had given him the support that he had refused for so long. Without even asking, she had come in and given it; just the way she had come into his life and made a place for herself in his heart.