Chapter – 4
It was Payal with grandmother following her at a slow pace, helped by Lalita.
“What is wrong? Why do you look so pale Khushi? Have you been crying?” Payal’s concerned voice broke through her muddled thoughts. Bravely Khushi tried to calm herself and reply back. Her voice was but a hoarse whisper when she tried to speak. She coughed as she tried to get her vocal cords working.
“Uh.. I wasn’t. I wasn’t crying. I was just- I was watching Comedy Central and laughing, is all. I wasn’t– I’ll be right back!”
Giving this incoherent explanation, Khushi moved away from Payal and her grandmother. Those two saw too much most of the times. She didn’t want anyone’s sympathy. She didn’t want anyone to know what she had gone through. As she was climbing the stairs, the phone rang again. This time it was Payal who picked it up. Khushi stood still as she heard Payal talking.
“Hello? Oh! uh..hello Arnavji. Uh ah.” And then she listened to whatever was being said before saying, “I don’t think it’s a good idea Arnavji. But I’ll ask my grandmother and find out if it’s possible.” Some more listening and then, “Fine. If you really want to do that, I can’t stop you.” Payal nodded her head and concluded, “Okay then, I shall talk to you later. Bye bye.”
Khushi watched her sister closing her eyes, take a deep breath, wipe her brow and calm herself. Fear was a tangent thing lodged in her throat as Khushi made her way downstairs again. Feigning nonchalance, she asked, “Whom were you talking to Payal?”
Payal started as she saw Khushi next to her and went pale. “Uhh..Khushi. That was -that was – no one in particular. We should go in for dinner now. Grandmother will be waiting. I’ll be right back after changing my clothes.” She gave Khushi a distracted albeit loving smile as she walked away.
If Payal didn’t think whatever Arnav said was worth it, if Payal didn’t think it concerned her– that meant, he was not there because he knew she was here. An acute sense of relief showed upon her face that was replaced immediately with disappointment that filled her heart, knowing he didn’t care enough. So what if she had been scared at the thought of meeting him. Her heart still- ENOUGH! Didn’t she already know what he thought of her? Had the humiliation not been enough? Why did her stupid heart keep hoping he would see sense, that he would have finally unearthed the truth?
Khushi shook her head to chase Arnav’s thoughts away and went into the dining room. Grandmother sat alone, deep in thought.
“What are you thinking about grandma? What’s for dinner?”
Her Grandmother, Naina Gupta looked up frowning, annoyed at her thoughts being interrupted. A smile broke out her face when she looked at Khushi. “Aahh my dear! There you are. Were you in your room all this while?”
“Yes grandma. I and Sophie took a long walk and then were exhausted. Where did you guys go off to?”
Her grandmother, normally a person not to avoid eyes was now avoiding Khushi’s eyes. Khushi was well aware that something was being hidden from her as Mrs. Gupta said, “I had to meet someone important for the estate’s welfare. I must ensure that it is passed on to you in pristine order when I die. Who knows what may happen next?”
So, it’s all about this estate and she doesn’t want me to know anything about it yet. Maybe she met the family lawyer today, thought Khushi as she admonished her grandmother, “Oh shush! I do not want to listen to this! I don’t need the estate. You’re not dying tomorrow and in fact you’re going to be around for a long time.”
Mrs. Gupta smiled at her eldest daughter’s only child. Though Garima; her younger daughter and her husband had adopted Khushi when she was a few weeks old, she sometimes showed the same streak that was her mother’s trademark. Khushi of course had no idea that she was not Garima’s real daughter. There had been no need to tell her after all. It was better that the past that involved her mother never come out in the open.
The dinner commenced when Payal came down, smiling. She conveyed Akash’s regards to grandmother and looked at Khushi uneasily. At Khushi’s raised eyebrows, she hesitantly put forward, “I hate hiding things from Akash. Since you’ve asked me to tell no one about you, it feels like I am lying to him.”
“Why would you feel that especially when Jeejaji would not ask about me? He- never mind all that now. Let’s commence with dinner.”
As dinner went on, Mrs. Gupta chatted now and then with Payal while Khushi remained quiet. They exchanged a look and at a nod from Payal, Mrs. Gupta addressed Khushi, “By the way, Mallika is home and had been here to see you this afternoon when you were away. They’ve finally set the date for engagement.”
“Oh wow.” A genuine smile covered Khushi’s face, all her previous sadness forgotten. “Mallika and NK will be finally together. Poor NK has been calling regularly from Sydney asking me to coax her parents to set the date soon. I’m so happy for her! When and where is the engagement?”
Payal looked straight at Khushi and said, “It is the day after tomorrow and she’s invited us to the Mehandi tomorrow morning.”
“Lovely! It will be such fun! I am so happy for them.” Chortled Khushi.
Night time saw Khushi roaming about in the house garden with Sophie, a shawl on her shoulders. Troubled looks furrowed her brow and she kept on biting her lips and mumbling to herself. She couldn’t get past the feeling that it had been Arnav in the market. Why had he called Payal here if he didn’t know of her whereabouts? He’d never bothered She’d know his voice; she’d feel his presence anywhere in the world. She still remembered the first encounter which had set them against each other.
He held out his hand, “ Arnav Singh Raizada, main wahi hoon jiske bare main tum abhi baat kar rahi thi.”
At this gesture, Khushi who had been standing with her head low and blushing looked up with a glint of battle in her eyes. “I’m Khushi Kumari Gupta. And if the cap fits……”
“Looks like it doesn’t. Bina jaane, bina pehchaane kisi ke liye kuch bhi bolna nadano ki aadat hoti hain. Lagta hain tumhare gharwale yeh seekhana bhool gaye hain.”
While Payal and Akash gasped at this attack, Khushi was enraged, “Humare gharwale chaahe jo seekhana bhool gaye ho, tehzeeb toh bilkul nahi bhule. Lagta hain aapke Angrezi ghar main koi hain nahi tehzeeb kise kehte hain ye batane wala. Jaane se pehle humse se seekh ke jaana.”
It didn’t look like Arnav was used to anyone back answering him nor did he look impressed at her comeback retort. Khushi’s reply only seemed to anger him more. He was about to speak when Akash and Payal intervened almost at the same time.
“WHAT?” Arnav and Khushi turned around to look at Payal and Akash, both equally irritated at being disturbed. This was a battle damnit! Where do you get off disturbing someone who’s fighting!
Khushi glared at Payal and Akash and then looked back at Arnav to find similar expression of annoyance on his face. It was a second before she realized they were standing close together- too close. She could almost feel his breath flowing atop her head. Sudden uneasiness grabbed her at this closeness and she moved away a bit, the battle light still not completely extinguished from her eyes. She could see that he shared her sentiments. Good then!
Arnav looked at Khushi as if she annoyed him beyond reason for a second. Those amber eyes that could drown you in its deep pools seem to be spitting fire. In another second however, an indifferent smile replaced this look and he said, “Looks like you’ve been saved. Go home little girl and next time, before you open your mouth to talk about me, think before you speak.”
Saying this, he was about to turn away from her and leave when he caught her, “Get lost scoundrel. As if I’d want to speak with you or about you ever again!” He turned around so swiftly and came to her; she gasped and took a step back. Fatal move since the grass was a bit slippery as it had been recently watered. She slipped. The next she knew she was lying flat on her back on the grass and Arnav was standing above her with no expression on his face.
“Khushi! Are you alright?” Payal came rushing towards her and helped her stand up.
“I’m fine Jiji. You’d have thought people from England would have the decency to help a lady who’s about to fall but then- decency is an etiquette that is hard pressed to come by from a- a – cad.”
Arnav raised an eyebrow and pondered on her statement with interest.
“A cad? I must admit I haven’t heard word that since my sister stopped reading stupid romance books. Understand this Miss Khushi Kumari Gupta. When ladies fall, gentlemen help. With your bitchy manners, you’re most certainly no lady. I’ve heard about how Indian girls are always on a lookout to ensnare an NRI in their clutches. Keep your dirty paws away from me.”
Saying this with an expression of distaste on his face, he looked at her once more as if challenging her to reply back. Khushi was too shocked to say anything for a moment. Who was this guy think he was! His ego was astounding!
Arnav walked off, ignoring the outpourings that began from Khushi as he started moving while Payal tried to shush her and open-mouthed stare from Akash who’d never seen his Bhai so rude ever before. Just before he entered the house, he looked back and Khushi and winked, making her jaw drop open.
“Why you.. !!! ” Khushi went and then burst into peals of laughter. Akash and Payal looked at her as if she’d gone crazy. Maybe she had ‘cos that had been the beginning of a fight-argue–make up-laugh-hate-love relationship.
“Khushi! Andar aa jaao! It’s too late in the night and you have to be up early tomorrow to go to Mallika’s mehandi function!”
Khushi was brought back from her memories of Arnav by Payal. Who knew at the time that the guy who had said those words would one day come close to her, use her, break her heart and prove how diligently he believed in what he had said that first time. Khushi went upstairs, holding tears in her eyes that would be shed as usual on her pillow in the night.
Payal saw Khushi going up to her room and sighed. Tomorrow was a big day. Little did Khushi know what or rather who awaited her at Mallika’s Mehandi function…. Payal sent a prayer up to Devi Maiyaa who had been Khushi’s best friend and confidante right from her birth, “Devi Maiyaa, stay with Khushi tomorrow so that she may be able to face what awaits her.”