“What are you trying to tell me?” asked a horrified Khushi. Her mind seemed to have seized up to understand the implications of his statement. Surely he didn’t mean what she thought he meant?
“You heard me well Khushi Singh Raizada. I’m not going to divorce you. What’s more, I want you where I can see you, with my sons.” Arnav walked towards her, his stride determined.
Khushi was almost hysterical. She thought, this is the same old cat and mouse game; he moves ahead and I behave like a scared mouse, moving back. Indeed, she had already started taking a step back with each of his advancing steps. She looked up and saw mockery in his eyes.
“When will you stop stepping back the moment I step forward? I’m not going to eat you Khushi… at least not yet. I do remember how much you like it when I – eat you.” That last bit came out in a husky voice, desire clouding his eyes as if he remembered the taste of her.
Khushi’s eyes widened at this passionate onslaught of words on her senses. She gasped as her back felt the wall against her. With nowhere else to go, she stood rooted to the spot, her eyes following Arnav as he moved towards her. Soon he was close, very close. She gasped as he lifted his hand and trailed his finger across her lips, his eyes intense with passion.
“S-stop.” Khushi whispered, but her throat closed up as he bent and she felt his breath on her face.
“Make me.” Arnav whispered back before taking her lips with his own. Khushi’s moan died on her lips as his mouth captured hers, demanding passion. Unable to control her bodily reactions, Khushi responded back, giving kiss for a kiss.
Arnav deepened the kiss and groaned her name. It had been so long since he had tasted her mouth and yet it felt as if no time had passed at all. Their bodies moulded to each other like they had never parted. Somewhere in Arnav’s mind this truth rang a bell. It was true after all- not a single moment had gone by in all these years when he hadn’t missed her, when he hadn’t wanted her. He silently vowed to never let her go away from him again. Whatever her reasons, once she told him about it, he would find a solution to their problems and forever be with her and their sons.
Slowly he lifted his lips from hers, gazing at her closed eyes. She looked so much at peace in his arms; he saw smugly. She would be, he thought- that’s where she belongs. She opened her eyes and he smiled at her.
Khushi opened her eyes slowly, still caught in the web of passion. Arnav was the only man in this Universe who could make her forget everything and everyone. Nothing had changed between them physically at least. She still adored the way he kissed her, she wanted him to continue until they were both one once again and he filled her with is seed.
His seed- her sons!! Khushi’s eyes grew wide in dismay this time as she remembered them, too late. She looked up at Arnav, disgust for herself and her lack of control apparent in her eyes. Arnav’s smile slipped from his face, leaving it cold as he saw the revulsion on her face. He mistook it for disgust at him and yet, he couldn’t let her go.
“Let me go, please Arnav.” Khushi pleaded quietly and Arnav immediately let her go this time. His heart ached at the pain he saw in her eyes. He wanted to shout out that he had never betrayed her, had never wanted anyone else but her, but he kept quiet. Time enough for all that. Right now, his main object was to get her back with him and take her home with their children; take her where it was her right to belong.
“How could you?” Khushi asked, her heart broken. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him or his kisses. Indeed, nothing would make her more happy than to spend her life with him. But how could she forget that there were more people involved in this case than just him and her? How could she forget the other woman and her son that was Arnav’s son as well? How could HE forget that? Jealousy tore her heart apart; did he kiss that woman too the way he kissed her, with so much passion?
“It is very simple.” Arnav said, his tone amused. “I put my lips on yours and we kiss. You enjoyed it too Khushi and you’re my wife. Who else would I kiss if not you?”
“Not me. I don’t want you to ever touch me again. Go and get your lust sated by someone who enjoys your attention. As far as I remember, you had no problems forgetting that I was your wife before.” Khushi said angrily, moving away from him. Trust him to turn the knife where it hurt the most. Who else indeed?
“Khushi—“ Arnav turned her around and took her arm firmly in his grip. She struggled but he held her firm. He tipped her chin up and she met his eyes. They were cold and dark, as the night in summer, gleaming with some emotion Khushi couldn’t define.
“Just go away Arnav and leave us alone. We were much happier without you and we will be again when you leave us. Get out of my house and never come back again.” Khushi met his eyes and quailed at the look in them.
He inched closer and growled, “Get this firmly in your mind wife. I’m not letting you and my sons get away from me. And you had better get yourself used to me around.”
He let her go abruptly, moving away from her and looking interestedly around the room, “It has been a long day for me. I travelled from Lucknow for a meeting here. I need to take a shower and sleep. I’m guessing- but I think the bed room is upstairs, with a view of the garden ?”
Khushi gaped at him. Then shaking her head as if to bring sense back, she gritted her teeth, “You have no room in my house. If you want to sleep, go somewhere else. There must be a decent hotel who’ll take you in.”
Arnav turned to her, amusement gleaming in his eyes. His tone was silky as he asked, “Where else should I go and why? I am your husband and I will sleep with you.”
Saying this, he quickly moved to the stairs before Khushi could get words out of her mouth and disappeared along the corridor and rightly, into her room.
“I’m waiting for an explanation Khushi. You left me with a bread and water note and no explanations. You’d better have a good excuse- for leaving me and keeping the identity of my sons from me.”
Khushi flinched as she faced Arnav sitting on the long worn sofa in her modest house. She supposed she could be thankful that he had not raised the subject sooner- in the presence of the boys. She reflected upon the evening that had been spent together with the boys.
Arnav had behaved impeccably in front of boys so that they had started melting towards him little by little. She had also realized by the end of the evening that no matter how hard they wanted to believe they didn’t like their father, it wasn’t true. She had seen it in the way they had looked at him when they were talking amongst themselves about some car they had seen the previous day and wondered which brand and model it must have been. They normally didn’t involve Khushi or asked her questions on this particular topic since she was quite ignorant of such things. They despaired that for their mother all cars were the same- simply cars. The only distinction she granted them was–all cars were either big cars or small cars, wide cars or narrow cars.
Arnav had quietly listened to the boys talking about the car amongst themselves and stated the right model and brand apparently when they described it to him. The boys had looked at him with new found interest and smiled together. Khushi realized belatedly that the boys had already known the make and model of the car but were testing him. Apprently Arnav had passed the test and they had hesitantly but firmly started a conversation on cars. That had been the beginning of the non-stop talk about cars between Arnav Singh Raizada and his sons.
She had felt envy at the ease with which Arnav and their sons had bonded and had felt guilty for feeling so. It was only fair that she gave all of them their due. After not knowing their father for so long, the kids would be naturally curious to know more about him. As for Arnav, she could see him bewitched with her-their sons and smiling at them. For Khushi, he had no smiles.
The atmosphere had been strained between them at the dinner table until as usual, the boys had started acting up. It was always a bit of a tussle between her and boys when it came to food.
“But Mommy I don’t like this subzi! Can I not have some stuffed paranthas? Or why can’t I simply eat chocolate for dinner? “
“Ayush, chocolate is for after dinner, not for dinner and you know it very well. If you want to grow tall and look handsome, you’d have to eat healthy.” Khushi had tried explaining and then after a look at Arnav said, “Look at your father. Ask him if he likes this subzi and he’ll tell you it helped him grow tall and handsome.”
Both the kids had looked at him and Arnav had nearly choked on his food, while Khushi had almost smiled. She knew that if he was honest he could tell them that he hated French Beans too and would definitely prefer Paranthas. However to her surprise, he had meekly agreed and given his positive voice to her opinion.
After that episode, Aarush had stayed quiet throughout dinner; eating what was put in front of him and looking at Arnav as if he couldn’t stop himself. Khushi could read doubt and anger both in her son’s eyes but she knew he would be unable voice them out loud so soon. Khushi prayed Arnav would be on his way; away from them all soon and she would sit down to explain everything to the boys.
The boys had quickly followed the daily regime and gone off to sleep, but not before Ayush had caught hold of Khushi’s hand and asked her, “Is he going to stay Mommy?”
Before Khushi could have replied back, she heard her elder son say, “Why is he here Mommy? He looked angry every time you spoke to us or to him. Is he going to take you away from us?”
Khushi had held both her sons in her arms and assured them that no one and nothing could take her away from them. She could see that they weren’t fully assured but they took her reply as the final word for now. They had taken longer than usual to sleep and Khushi herself had felt exhausted after reading two bedtime stories.
And yet she sat there, opposite him while he demanded an explanation. And just like that, Khushi became angry.
“You want me to give you a reason for keeping my sons away from you? How dare you Arnav ! You should be thankful that I left you when I did and let you sort your life out. What do you care why I left you and kept my sons away from you?”
“Our sons Khushi. They are mine too.” Arnav replied, keeping a tight rein on his temper.
“And if I remember correctly, you also have one more son. I should have thought you would be happy enough to let things be. In fact I more than welcome the idea of our divorce. I’m sure your ex-girlfriend would want to become your present wife as much as I want to become your ex-wife.”
Khushi’s reply cut Arnav to the bone but he kept quiet on this front. There was a lot more to that story than Khushi knew and he didn’t really want to get into it all right now. It touched a painful cord in his heart and his anger abated for a few moments. From her perspective, he could see reasons- reasons due to which she may have decided to leave him. Khushi had always been foolhardy. She’d believe anything and do anything for the happiness of others- even if she had to sacrifice her own happiness.
While he knew where she came from, a part of him still couldn’t forgive her for the fact that she had had their sons all by herself and kept them from him. His anger returned and so did his determination.
All of his attention was on his sons; his flesh and blood. At the same time he couldn’t deny that a part of him was also very attentive towards Khushi. Right from the first moment when he’d seen her on the road, his body had leaped with want. He’d ignored that as foolishness then. But when she’d looked at his sons lovingly, he’d felt a pang of envy. He wanted her to look at him the way she used to- with want, with love.
He found to his shock that all these years had had no effect on how much he desired her. When their eyes had met on the dinner table, he had seen the reflection of his want in her eyes and burned with it. It had made him angry enough to not look at her again. Even now, he found it difficult to keep his eyes away from her fidgeting form. If he gave way to his primal instincts, Khushi would be on her back right now with him plunging deep into her.
He moved to hide the signs of arousal, annoyed with himself and with her. His gaze, when it met hers, pierced her; his voice cold, as he advanced towards her, “You may wish for anything but the fact remains that you are my wife and will remain so. I’m not divorcing you Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. Not now, not ever.”
Khushi oblivious to the forthcoming upheaval in her life was enjoying the day with her sons. They had gone to the elephant park; a place which was closest to the zoo that she could find for her sons to visit in Allahabad. Of course there was big Zoo in Lucknow, where she had grown up. She so much wished to take her sons there, but that was not possible so they made to with Elephant park out here. It was sort of petting zoo where one could pet and play with rabbits and horses or climb on to the stone elephant’s tail and slide down its trunk.
It gave her heart great pleasure to see her sons laugh and cheer each other when sliding down. She sat down on a bench and watched them. How quickly had they grown up and she didn’t mean only in age. Aarush was showing signs of understanding and maturity at such a small age and Ayush didn’t take long to pick up on the vibes in the room. If Khushi was ever sad or upset, he’d know it immediately and both the kids would try to find out the reason and make her happy.
They never asked about their father after that one time about six months back when she told them, she hadn’t told their father about them. They had asked her the reason and she had to simply tell them that it was for everone’s happiness that she had not told him. Khushi knew that at the moment they were contented with her and didn’t really want a father but soon—her heart thumped faster at the glimpse of a couple of years ahead when they’d start playing sports and would definitely wish for a father to cheer them up. Khushi herself was not much of a sportsperson but both her sons showed distinct signs of liking sports. Aarush was into football while Ayush really liked basketball.
Khushi was roused from her thoughts by a loud greeting from her neighbor and her daughter who had just arrived at the park. The daughter made a beeline to play with Khushi’s sons who stopped sliding down the elephant trunk themselves and first of, helped her do it. Khushi smiled warmly at their gesture.
“It’s good to see you sitting quietly like this Khushi. Every time I see you, you’re always busy with something or the other.” Her neighbor, Sarita saw the picnic basket and grinned, “A picnic ?”
Khushi nodded happily, “It’d been so long since I took the boys out for a picnic. Thought I’d do it today. I’ve been very busy with the shop, that’s true. What with Navratre, Durga Puja time, Dussehra and then Diwali, I’ve been overloaded with orders for sweets. Tum toh jaanti he ho na, kitna kaam hota hain.”
Sarita patted her on the shoulder, “Yes dear, I know. The old lady must be so happy to see you running her shop successfully from heaven. People swear by your sweets. “ She looked at Khushi’s kids playing with her daughter and added, “Your sons behave beautifully Khushi. Sometimes I wonder how you get the time to raise them, teach them good manners and keep up with running your shop.”
“All is the grace of God I say Sarita. It is not easy to raise them but I love them to bits. I would never want my life to be any different.”
“But-“Sarita hesitated then ploughed on, “what about their father Khushi? After some time they will definitely need a father. What will you do then?”
Khushi stiffened at her words. “Why would they need a father? Hum hain na. Hum sab sambhaal lenge. I know I can do it.”
Sarita shook her head sadly, “You may say that Khushi but sons always need fathers after a certain age. You can’t do the things your sons would be able to do with their fathers. Sab kaam tum akele nahi kar sakti ho Khushi.”
“At last! Someone who agrees with me.” A drawl that broke Khushi’s skin into goose bumps came right from behind them. She shook her head as if to clear her ear and looked at Sarita, “You said something?”
Sarita was looking at a point behind Khushi. Khushi turned her back, her senses prickling but she not giving in to them. No, it was not possible! She had been careful all along. It couldn’t be.
Arnav stood behind her, a lazy smile upon his face as he looked at Sarita. Khushi heard her friend gasp in shock and surprise as she exclaimed, “You are Khushi’s husband!”
Arnav nodded his head in acquiesce and came forward. “The very same. How did you know?”
Sarita gave him a huge smile and looked back at Aarush and Ayush playing with her daughter, “Your sons look exactly like you; that’s how I knew.”
Arnav gave her a tight smile, “You say so? I hope their sensibilities also resemble mine. If they are like Khushi when it comes to life; I’ll have a lot of work ahead. ”
Sarita looked at Khushi and her brow furrowed in concern. “Khushi, are you okay?”
Khushi looked at Sarita, shock and hysteria evident in her eyes. She wanted to scream and laugh hysterically at her while shouting, “Do I look okay to you?” but she sat rigid, her body still in shock. It was a good thing she was sitting or else she’d have fainted dead away. As it was, she sat still, her heart thundering in her ears, oblivious to her surroundings. Arnav was standing next to her and though her body tried to tell her it was really him a part of her mind refused to believe that he could even be present here. She closed her eyes and muttered, “If I don’t look at it, it will go away.”
“What will?” Sarita’s bewildered tone reached her ears but she didn’t open her eyes.
“I will. She thinks I’m an image projection of her night mare and if she doesn’t look at me, I will disappear. Still very much into childish antics I see Khushi.”
Arnav’s scorn made Khushi’s eyes open. She quailed at the anger directed towards her. He sounded ready to murder her. For the first time since his voice had penetrated her senses, Khushi looked up at him and immediately wish she hadn’t. He looked exactly as she remembered him although there was a hardness about him that reminded her of the first time they’d ever met. He had grown leaner than before too, a part of her noticed. Maybe he was working too hard, maybe he had gotten back to his old ways. Dressed as usual in a suit, he looked the epitome of handsomeness and somehow it smote her heart to think of him as not hers any more. His eyes-her heart nearly gave up at the look on his face. She looked away. She could not meet his eyes that held a variety of emotions; uppermost being anger and hurt.
Her attention was diverted before Arnav could say anything as their sons came running forward. “Mommy!!!”
Khushi heard Arnav’s breath hitch in his throat as he looked at his sons. Aarush and Ayush looked at him with curious eyes and then Ayush, being the shy one hid himself in Khushi’s dupatta. Aarush stood still as he looked at the man standing before them and then slowly moved close to Khushi and held her hand. This movement was not lost on Arnav who was visibly moved.
Sarita looked from the children to Arnav and then at Khushi. She knew when to opt out in case of danger, yet her friendship with Khushi was strong, she moved closer to Khushi and whispered, “Should I stay?”
Khushi could barely speak. She simply shook her head. No point in dragging Sarita into the mess that was hers and hers alone. She braved up to smile at Sarita and say, “You go ahead home. I-I must sort this out. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay.”
Arnav’s mouth tightened as he heard her last statement. Yeah sure, she’d be okay from him-until they got away from prying eyes and overhearing ears of their children. To think that he had two sons and Khushi had dared to leave him without ever telling him—he controlled his rage with some difficulty and nodded his good bye at Savita.
Once Sarita was gone, Khushi looked at him and said, “It’s best we’re off too. Soon it will be dinner time for Aarush and Ayush.”
“Aarush and Aayush.” Arnav replayed the names in his mind and almost sat down on the bench. She had named them as per the mutual decision that had been taken a long time ago, while they were only just thinking about how life would be like as parents. How many dreams had he dreamed with her? A big family; at least four children- two girls and two boys if possible; with girls being elder to boys. He and Khushi mostly fought about who’d come first, girl or boy and here he stood; a winner not just once but twice over with two sons.
Arnav looked at his sons and then at Khushi, a determined glint in his eyes, “By all means, guide to your house and we’ll talk there.”
“Mommy—“ Aarush began but Khushi cut him short by holding his hand tightly and saying, “Let’s get home Aarush and I’ll –I’ll try to explain who-“
“I know who he is. He’s our dad, isn’t he?” Ayush piped up before Khushi could say anything more and heard Arnav’s sharp intake of breath. She looked at him and saw him gazing at Ayush, an expression on his face that Khushi knew well. He was going through a wave of emotions and he was trying to hide it, unsuccessfully.
She took a deep breath and with another hand, held Ayush’s hand, still looking at Arnav and with a calm she didn’t feel she said, “Yes. Yes Ayush he is your dad.”