It was with a heavy heart that Khushi locked the door of the house she had spent her last five years in. Tears had gathered in the corner of her eyes; tears she wouldn’t allow herself to shed. Even when Savita came to wish her good bye, Khushi smiled cheerfully, assuring her that she will be back from time to time. She behaved as if her heart was not full of misgivings at going away from this place- her sanctuary when she needed it the most.
She looked back once as she reached the car where Arnav and her sons were waiting for her. Two tears made their way out of her eyes, onto her cheeks as she mentally thanked the house and the much loved previous house owner for giving them a happy place to live. She sat in the car and looked straight ahead. Aarush and Ayush, she knew were happy to be where ever she was, where ever they thought their father could live with them.
They had, as kids do, accepted the facts quickly, without shedding any tears over it. They had been sad the previous evening when they had been told of their departure from Allahabad and arrival into busy city called New Delhi. Arnav had spent time with them, patiently explaining the situation, as Khushi sat next to him, her hand in his. The flight to Delhi from Allahabad had been full of chatter, with boys wanting to know everything, as they incessantly questioned their father. Aarush, Ayush and Arnav sat together while Khushi preferred to sit on the other side of the aisle, by the window.
Arnav knew she wanted space and time to gather her thoughts and he had given it. For that Khushi was thankful. As they landed in Delhi and stepped out of the airport, Khushi’s heart quickened. Their driver waited outside in the parking lot, to take them home.
The journey home was completed in silence from Khushi while the kids chattered on. Arnav patiently replied to all their questions and from time to time, kept his eyes on Khushi. He fully appreciated how difficult this time was for Khushi and how much she needed this time alone to herself. Soon they reached Shantivan.
Trembling inside with anxiety, Khushi stepped out of the car. Arnav held her other hand and squeezed it tight to reassure her. Aarush and Ayush both exclaimed with awe when they had their first glimpse of Shantivan. They all held hands. Arnav held on to Aarush’s hand while Ayush was holding Khushi’s. She looked up at Arnav, seeking reassurance again. Arnav smiled, bent and kissed her forehead, saying, “ Everyone is waiting for you my darling. Welcome home.”
Khushi smiled a ghost of a smile, still anxious. Her heart eased a little though when Arnav held on to her as the door opened.
Khushi saw a sea of faces- all too familiar faces and tears gathered in her eyes. Payal stood inside the door, holding the Kalash while Anjali stood beside her, holding the puja thali. Khushi held on tight to
For Khushi, it was a bittersweet homecoming. Everything that had happened to her in Raizada house ran in front of her eyes, as if it was a film that was being rewinded. She remembered her first entry into Shantivan, Anjali’s loving care, Naniji’s sweetness and understanding, Akash & her own sister Payal’s love and consequently their wedding. She also remembered all the happenings during the wedding, how her own had occurred quite accidentally and forcefully, how things had changed, how Arnav had changed. But most of all, she remembered her re-marriage and her entrance into this house that had become the home of her heart and the events that followed it.
Every nook and corner of this house reminded her of the love shared by herself and Arnav and then, the intense sorrow of leaving it all behind, for his good. Two tears slipped from her eyes and flowed over on to her cheeks, as her lips smiled with joy of seeing Shantivan again. This place was her haven of happiness and she had to leave it behind. How had she borne it then? How will she ever bear to live here again, now that it must have been tainted by new memories of Arnav and his ex-girlfriend?
“Khushiji.” Anjali’s wobbling voice reached across her ears and Khushi turned around. The whole family stood in front of her, still waiting in the hall. Everyone had tears in their eyes, including Mamaji and Akash and their faces were alight with joy. Naniji was sobbing in her handkerchief. Buaji stood beside her; her face a picture of unbearable happiness, her hands joined to thank NandKishore. Beside Buaji stood her mother & father.
“Khushi, meri bacchii.” Garima sobbed out a whisper.
“Amma” Khushi whispered at first and then cried out loud, running towards her mother. As she reached within inches of her mother, she stopped and stared at her mother’s face. Tears ran down her cheeks as she gazed lovingly at her mother, who couldn’t seem to control her shaking or crying. In the next second, Khushi was in her mother’s arms who hugged her fiercely.
“Amma.. I’m so sorry Amma. Please Amma, don’t cry. I’m very sorry to have hurt you. Please forgive me Amma, please!” Khushi said brokenly, pleading for forgiveness again and again as she held on tightly to her mother.
“Nahi Bitiya, nahi.. rote nahi. I’m so happy that you have finally come back. Don’t cry my daughter. I love you. I am not angry, there is nothing to forgive. Oh my child, how you must have suffered all alone!” Garima; Khushi’s mother said, consoling her, kissing her forehead and then hugging her again.
The storm of sorrow and guilt subsided a little in Khushi’s heart as she met everyone one by one. Everyone had truly welcomed her back home, but her eyes kept on looking for traces of Vishal and his mother. Their sons had been introduced and made much of, by all the elders of the house. Anjali had gone completely overboard when she hugged them and told them she was their father’s sister; their aunt. Arnav had been glad to see that they had liked her immediately, though they did become a little wary of her, as she kept on hugging them and not letting them go. All in all, they had been kissed and hugged and welcomed in true Raizada style. Both of them seemed anxious and wary as they met everyone, though they did lap up all the affection. Once they’d been introduced to all, they had come back to hold on to Arnav’s hand as their mother still seemed busy with others.
Arnav had been standing quietly until now. He had watched the union of his family with Khushi; his eyes hiding a well of emotions. Khushi had broken down when she’d first hugged her mother and father. It had almost made Arnav want to hug her himself and console her, to tell her everything. But he held on to his control. As she met with everyone, he saw Khushi’s eyes straying anxiously, looking everywhere. Arnav knew what she was searching for.
He looked up and signaled to the teenage boy standing in the balcony. At his signal, the boy slowly came down the stairs, as if afraid of his reception by the party downstairs. He looked at Arnav for confidence, at Arnav’s nodding smile, continued downstairs. His feet encasings were new and still stiff. A quick step forward almost made him slip. He held on to the banister with a gasp, a mutter and steadied himself. And he immediately caught Khushi’s attention.