“I see you have changed your taste in clothes. Blue most certainly suits you though. Good morning Khushi.” Arnav said as soon as he saw Khushi parking her scooter at the Barista parking. He was wearing a green vest with Khakhi coat and same coloured baggy pants today.
He looked mouth wateringly sexy, thought Khushi as she gave him her first glance this morning. She parked her scooter carefully and slipped the keys in her purse. Then she looked up at him, avoided his question on her choice of clothes for the time being and gave him a sombre smile, “Good morning to you too. All ready for the day out as a common man with 500 rupees in your pocket?”
Arnav showed his wallet that held five notes of hundred each and at her nod, put the wallet back in his back pocket. Her looked like a man ought to look, oozing manliness and with a smirk that could capture any woman’s heart on his face.
“So what’s the first place in the list of places to visit?” Arnav asked, leaning against the car he’d parked.
“I plan to take you to the places that are an integral part of this town. Today I’m going to take you to the famous Naini Lake, thandi road, the ropeway and to Kilbury in the end. I wanted you to visit the Naina devi temple as well since the view from there is amazing but .. I’ll leave that on how the day goes. We will watch the sun set in Kilbury and come back as that is a sight not to be missed. But first-“
“Sounds like I’ll be moving into your magical land of nature, beauty and tranquility today. Khushi-“
Arnav broke in and a look of discomfort passed his face as Khushi looked on. He continued, “Khushi, are you sure we don’t need more money?”
Arnav kept on thinking of ways to woo Khushi. What if she liked something while they were looking and wanted to buy it but didn’t have enough money on her? If he didn’t have any, he won’ be able to buy anything for her too! This thought made him uncomfortable. He’d never faced lack of cash since the day he turned successful.
“Arnav, I am absolutely sure you won’t need more money. However, if you want to shop for Anjali Di or Dean any time, you may of course do it later when you’re by yourself. I’m sure you’ll remember the way with your photographic memory.” Khushi smiled a little too brightly.
She could have bitten her tongue when the information about photographic memory slipped out. She remembered very well the last time it had come into picture and she didn’t want to think of that time. A rosy hue covered her cheeks.
“Ah yes- my photographic memory.” Judging by the way his eyes became unfocused, Khushi could see he remembered the same moment in time when she had last used the word and what had been the result of it.
Khushi could have groaned out aloud in frustration at her gaffe. She didn’t want him to remember anything today that was associated with their past. How in the world were they going to move ahead in the present if they kept on thinking about the past?
She looked away from his piercing gaze and into the distance for a second to gather her thoughts. Then as if she was done with the task, she spoke briskly, “Alright then. First on the list is Bhimtal. It is about 25 kilometers away from here and famous for water sports. I need to meet someone there as well so that’ll be my one task done.”
Arnav was curious, “Whom do you plan to meet out there? Isn’t that a very small place?”
“Yes it is, but I have a contact there that works with local small businesses. I have to speak to him.”
“You promote local products? What kind of products?” Arnav was not surprised that Khushi was working to promote local small business. But he was surprised with the knowledge that despite being so out of spirits and terribly hurt when she had come to Nainital, she put her miseries behind to help others. She had been immersed in good work for others while he only ever thought about himself. A wave of regret washed him as he looked at Khushi with new eyes that adored her even more. Maybe this was why he had adored her and not known it. Arnav tapped on his inherent nature of hiding pain when he felt it and looked at her with question in his eyes.
Khushi blushed as she saw admiration in his eyes. She stammered, “I-It’s—nothing really. It’s just that I’m helping some people with their tour guide business; you know, for campers who come to visit the town and don’t wish to live in big hotels but in vicinity of nature during their entire stay. It’s nothing really.”
“I’m sure whatever it is that you’re helping them with, it is doing great things for their business.” Arnav said confidently, making Khushi’s face break into a smile. She liked this Arnav- he had great confidence in her abilities as opposed to the one who mocked her efforts in the past. The memory of how he had once humiliated her in the office by mocking her while praising her wiped the smile of her face. She turned abruptly to her purse and started hunting for keys to her scooter inside. She found them and handed it to him.
“Here you go. You’re going to drive my scooter for today.”
A look of horror passed on Arnav’s face as he looked at the keys and the scooter she had just parked. He closed his eyes visibly hesitant about her plans and his ability to ride what looked like a vehicle made for girls. Khushi giggled inwardly. His Highness is not going to forget this trip so easily after what he’ll have to go through. She taunted softly, “Scared Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada?”
“Arnav Singh Raizada is not scared of anyone and most certainly not of your tin pot scooter ride Khushi Kumari Gupta. I’m just meditating on something from work.” Arnav’s offended and outraged reply, with his eyes still closed came pat back.
Khushi giggled loud this time. “Meditate my foot! Don’t be chicken Arnav. This scooter is quite safe. You wanted to spend the day with me and this is how I spend my day when I roam about.” She moved on towards her Scooty Pep and said, “What are we waiting for?”
Arnav opened his eyes, a calm stealing over him. He can do this. If driving that small scooter, he gulped, was going to make Khushi happy, he will do it. He took the keys from her hand and asked her about how it operated. She instructed him on what to do to start the scooter and things he should be careful about while driving the scooter in the town and then on the outskirts of the town.
Arnav wore his helmet while Khushi put on hers. He sat on the scooter feeling ridiculous and Khushi sat behind him. Arnav started and then smiled. Maybe this scooter riding was not such a bad idea after all since Khushi was going to sit very close to him. He felt zinging electricity run through him when she actually put her hands around his waist.
“What the—“his voice didn’t resemble his own at the moment to his ears. It sounded shocked and strangled. He tried again, “What are you doing Khushi?”
Khushi spoke to his back, “I need to make sure I don’t fall off. Now drive along kind Sir and I shall guide you on the way.”
With a huge grin on his face, Arnav rode off. They moved away from the town soon and were on the outskirts. Khushi didn’t speak much, simply pointed out various places they may visit on the way or places that were worth watching. Arnav loved the feel of her hands around his waist and would have loved to spend an eternity riding the scooter. Unfortunately for him, they reached Bhimtal too soon. He now wished he had not speeded. He kicked himself mentally for not driving at the minimum speed. No matter, he had this whole day with Khushi holding on to him on the scooter. Just the thought of it brought out radiating happiness in his eyes.
Not that Khushi could see his eyes since he was wearing his Aviator glasses. But she could feel that he was happy. She felt a smile reach her lips at the knowledge that he was happy but she fought it back. Her hands made to leave his waist but he was driving fast and she really was scared that she’d fall off so she let them be. What she had thought would be a prank to make him uncomfortable was turning against her. She could feel the heat of his body and shivered with the contact every time her chest hit his back when he braked. Physical attraction had a lot of answer for, making a person mad with desire like that. She muttered a few choice curses against her own body and tried to keep a distance. It was impossible of course since the scooter had only so much sitting space. She heaved a sigh of relief when they reached Bhimtal. A guy was walking towards them. Probably her contact, thought Arnav. The guy came up and after bowing to a Namaste said, “Ki haal hariyaan?”
Khushi answered with a namaste and “Main theek choon. Tum kas chou Anand? Ghar pan sab kas chan? Mein lag oonuk dekh ber khushi holi. Mein itvaar din oonake koshish karounl. “
The guy nodded vigorouly, „Sab theek chan didi. Sab tumuko(n) bahut din baad dekhi ber khush haie jaala.”
Khushi smiled as she walked off with him, leaving a stunned Arnav. She spoke Kumaoni? Bitterness welled up inside him. How shallow he had been when he’d been with her in the past? He’d never once asked her what she liked, what she could do, what were her interests, who all were associated with her life that didn’t revolve around him. Hell, he’d never even known who her best friends were. How selfish he had been, talking only about what he wanted, who he was and how he was! He swore again that he’d make up to her for all the time he didn’t pay attention to her; the real Khushi inside that dynamite body.
He watched Khushi as she walked up to the guys standing in the group outside a building in Bhimtal. Khushi had asked him to wait by the scooter while she finished her talk. She didn’t want to include him yet in what she was doing. The thought hurt Arnav a bit but he braved it. After all, it would take time to earn back the same level of friendliness and trust where they could talk about anything they wanted.
He looked on as Khushi smiled and talked. She was explaining something and everyone around her was paying attention. At times, their faces were wreathed with smiles and at times laughter. It fascinated Arnav how a small smile on their faces made Khushi’s eyes glow and her animation increase. She used her hands to make gestures, a lot! Finally, they seemed to have concluded the talk and Khushi said Namaste to them and walked back to Arnav.
“Work done?” Arnav asked with a smile. Her reply was a reciprocating smile and nod. She sat behind him once again and said, “Quite satisfactorily in fact. Thanks for asking.”
“Where to next Ms. Guide?” Arnav looked back at her. The smile tugging the corners of her mouth was very tempting. Her luscious, plump, pink, lips with sheen of wetness on them were too inviting. Arnav felt like kissing her but stopped his impulsiveness on time. There were others present here; others who respected Khushi, her morals, her ideals and her work. He wouldn’t do anything that will bring her down in their eyes.
“Next, we go back into town and to Naini Lake.” Khushi quipped, rubbing her lips as if she could feel his thoughts. Arnav looked forward again and started the scooter. Soon they were back in Nainital and moving towards Naini Lake.
The view around was calm and beautiful. It was still early morning so there were very few people around. Apparently tourists crowded the area at about noon. Khushi wanted to know if Arnav would like to do some boating.
“Paddle boats?” asked Arnav.
“No, I mean boating, with a boat man who would row the boat while you sit and enjoy the nature around you in peace.”
“I’m in. Let me go buy the tickets.”, said Arnav. Khushi stopped him.
“Do buy some popcorn for me please while you’re getting the tickets. I already have a bottle of water for us and a picnic basket for later. I always eat popcorn when I’m in the boat.”
Arnav looked at her with amused eyes and she blushed. He definitely didn’t need to know that! Damn her stupid mouth. Khushi lowered her eyes and immediately looked back up when Arnav’s hand came to grasp her chin.
“Look up Khushi. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ll get your popcorn.”
The look in his eyes was enough to make Khushi want to sit down. It held tenderness and understanding that he had never displayed before. She liked this Arnav, a lot actually! Arnav made quick work of it and came back holding a popcorn bag and tickets. He motioned with his eyes towards the boat and Khushi followed him.
When the boat ride ended, Arnav got out of the boat and held out his hand for Khushi to grasp and come out. One look at his face and Khushi couldn’t help but give her hand to him. This boat ride had brought as much revelation to her about her own self as well as Arnav. She let her thoughts flow for a moment thinking about the boat ride.
Arnav Singh Raizada who always believed in the being at the helm of any boat, captaining it had allowed the boatman to row while he sat, contented and happy. His face held an aura of joy as he looked around, absorbing the quiet, listening to the chirping of the birds, sound of the oars dipping and coming out of the water, in fact Khushi felt as if he had actually become one with nature. Khushi had brought red, juicy apples with her to eat during the boat ride; a breakfast of sorts. She offered one to Arnav and ate one herself along with her popcorn. Arnav was happy to munch on the apple alone and smiled his thanks. While he behaved like that, Khushi had thawed a little in her attitude towards him.
Here was the man she had dreamed of, the one she had fallen in love with and could easily fall in love with again. Here was the man who was confident that he could do whatever he wanted to but for the moment, he was ready to let someone else take the lead and stay content. The only thing that had broken the calm waters of her happiness was the thought that he was also the same man who had accused her of infidelity and lack of character. It was so hard to keep track of all the bitterness when she saw this side of him.
Perhaps her bitterness had shone through for Arnav had looked at her, his eyebrows raised in question. She had shaken her head and smiled as if to convey all was well and she was happy that he was enjoying.
Arnav looked at Khushi and said, “Thank you for bringing me here. I enjoyed the boat ride and the view but most of all, I enjoyed our companionable silence. I have never shared that with anyone before.”
Such a simple admission but it worked wonders. Khushi’s face took on a smile as she told him, “Glad you liked the boat ride. Now we move to Nainadevi Temple? Or do you wish to skip it? We could opt for the ropeway. Walking on thandi sadak is something that should be done later on.”
“Khushi this is the day you planned. I wanted to see Nainital with your eyes. If you think the temple is the next place to go to, by all means- let us go. I have nothing against the gods these days. I am thankful to them for many things, one of which is you.”
Khushi looked away from him as tears gathered in her eyes and a lump formed in her throat. Oh he was the devil to say things like that! Didn’t he know how those words affected her? His next words surprised her completely.
“I’m sorry Khushi. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want you to feel that I’m simply mouthing words to please you or trying to get you back by sweet talking. I mean it but you don’t need to hear it right now I guess.”
“It is all right Arnav. Let us move on.” Khushi said and simply moved away. She was not sure how to respond to his shocking statement.
They visited the temple, enjoyed the view of Mall road from the temple. Khushi told him that coming here always had a calming effect on her. She found the place serene and gorgeous and could sit for hours on end. Arnav quietly agreed that the place was indeed gorgeous but also mentioned that he was somehow happier with nature rather than sitting in vicinity of the temple. His God was nature. Khushi looked at him, trying to gauge how serious he was about his declaration. This- from Arnav, who had once absolutely rejected the idea of talking about his feelings, when it came to religion and God!
They went to the ropeway the next which was quite uneventful. Soon it was lunch time. They sat down by the park close to the ropeway and picnicked there. Khushi had brought a picnic basket which had been stored inside her Scooty Pep storage box along with a red rug to sit on. The fare was simple. Sandwiches- vegetable and cheese since Khushi knew Arnav liked them and some salad. For dessert, she had packed some ripe peaches. They ate their lunch while sitting completely at ease with each other, talking about non-related topics like politics and finance.
While she packed the empty plates back and the rug, Arnav cleared the area of any debris and threw the waste into the garbage can close by.
It was one of the best days of his life, Arnav decided while they were walking along the thandi sadak. Not only had Khushi been relaxed and spoken to him as if they’d never fought, she had also opened up to physical contact. She didn’t flinch so much when he accidentally brushed against her or touch her. She had held him by the waist all day whenever they sat on her scooter. Of course, the sexual current was vibrant every time that happened but she ignored it and he tried to ignore it. He loved this day because it brought Khushi closer to him. He was wondering if he could plan out his next step soon.
Thandi Sadak had pine trees, deodar trees and oak trees lined up along its sides, and was in actuality a cool road to walk on. The green hills that surrounded the town and the lake were a balm to his soul. The singing of the birds made for a lovely song that he could hear. He knew Khushi shared this song because he could see the same smile on her face too when she looked up to hear the birds chirping.
It was time for the Sun to set before they reached Kilbury. Khushi went on to talk about it as Arnav looked on at the view laid in front of him.
“You can see the Himalayas on that side and here, on the other side you see “Tarai” area, fields divided into terraces and village houses. The forest around is made up of lush oak, pine and rhododendron. There are many people who come here for a picnic or simply to sit and watch the clouds hover about. I love coming here with my book when I don’t have anything else on my mind.”
Arnav grinned at her, “I like your idea of coming here with a book; no distractions and pure quiet; something that is missing in Delhi big time. Is there a place to stay out here?”
Khushi pointed to a guest house up ahead, “That’s the forest bungalow where you can stay if you wish to come here. But then, you’ve got a cottage in the countryside in England. Why’d you wish to come here?”
Arnav shrugged his shoulders, “It’s a good place and that’s probably why. Plus you like it here, don’t you?”
Khushi looked away from him and said, “Yes, I like it here.”
Arnav put his hand under her chin and made her look up, “Khushi, I will come here because I know you like it here. If you are here, where else can I be?”
“Arnav-“ Khushi tried to speak but stopped with a gasp as Arnav came closer to her. She took a step back and tried to move away but he held her by the shoulders, gently.
“Stop running away from me Khushi. It hurts me when you do that. I am not about to do anything that you wouldn’t allow me to or want me to.” Arnav told her gently, not wanting to spoil the last hour with her. “I want to watch the sun set with you out here Khushi. I want to watch it while your hand rests in mine. Can we do that? Please?”
Khushi couldn’t deny him, not after his request. She quietly nodded and they sat down by the ledge, waiting for the sun to go down, hand in hand.