Life has a way of surprising you with moments, when everything you believe in starts showing cracks, the foundation you balance on starts shaking; compelling you to look deep inside and question if you really know yourself…
Lying on her side, Khushi looked at the little boat, it’s warm walnut body a stunning foil for the whiteness of the bedsheet. Tracing the boat’s contour with a delicate finger, she thought of his words again, trying hard to contain the warmth, hope and joy, mere memory of his words brought to her. They forced her mind to push boundaries. They forced her to think.
Closing her eyes, she lay still, rebuking herself for indulging in a dream, which could only be built on a broken marriage, a severed relationship, a shattered dream.
A million questions jostled one other in her mind, making the last trace of sleep to flee from her eyes. A series of cynical, despondent, speculative, inconclusive thoughts occupied her mind for the better part of the night.
What kind of relationship did they have?
Did Arnav ever love her?
Does Lavanya still love him?
Did their love die?
Can love die?
One in two so called love-marriages end in divorce.
Perfect courstship. Perfect wedding. Happily never after?
Is the pursuit of love even worthwhile?
I should’ve asked for his side of story. Anything is better than this freaking torture.
Towards the end of the night, one thought slowly crept out through the clouds of confusion, shocking her and filling her heart with outrage, guilt and shame, “I wish she’s a selfish b*****, totally undeserving of Arnav.
As the first rays of sunshine bounced off the rippling waves , she realized just how much she wanted his love. All of it.
“But wanting is never enough”, she told herself with a silent sob.
For a weak minute, just a minute, Khushi was willing to be selfish…uncaring of who she hurt as long as she could feel his arms around her again, as long as she could hear him laugh like that again.
When Khushi went downstairs the next morning, her face bore every sign of a rough night. As she sat down for breakfast, she was grateful for Asha cheerful small talk.
Breaking a piece of a warm paratha, Khushi sneaked a glance at her face, wondering if she would ever open up to her? If she would ever ask her about Arnav and her?
As she murmured a response to a work related question, Khushi watched her face and realized the amount of effort she was putting in making her comfortable again, in carrying out her responsibility as her local guardian. She decided to make her task easier by helping her with keeping up appearances, with sweeping awkward topics under the rug and keep moving forward.
“That sounds like a wonderful plan”, she replied brightly to Astha’s suggestion that they watch a movie that afternoon “I haven’t watched a Hindi movie in theater since forever. Which ones are on?
They returned late in the evening and even though the movie wasn’t bad, neither were able to enjoy it. They were too immersed in unraveling of tangled thoughts, unable to be distracted or soothed by the flickering screen and darkened hall.
Wonder what their married life was like? Surely just a failed marriage can’t make a person’s eyes to look like that…
And what kind of person is Lavanya?
To answer the latter question, her mind had begun to conjure a shadowy image of a person-shallow and superficial, unfriendly and mean, cold and unaffectionate; until apalled by her small mindedness, she had angrily shaken her head and the image had disappeared.
Now, she sat on the chair by the fireplace, not in the least comforted by it’s warmth and wishing she were back home. Astha, who had been struggling with a headache since morning, had gone to bed right after dinner and Khushi had decided to kill time in the drawing room first before going to bed. The TV was on but other than absentmindedly glancing at it, she paid no attention to it.
After a while, she got out of the chair and stretched. She was about to head towards the door, when her gaze halted on a photo album kept on the mantle. She stared at it, transfixed, her heart racing in a kind of foreshadowing.
She licked her suddenly dry lips and stepped forward to pick up the photoalbum. She sat down again.
The first few picture were black and white and just by looking at them, Khushi figured that the album had belonged to Arnav’ grandparents.
Rain drummed against roof as Khushi flicked pages after pages, cursorily glancing at various pictures, taken at different times, different places, of a family of three.
“Arnav’s grandparents and his father”, she guessed correctly.
Then Astha came into picture. Literally. Color pictures of a young Astha in bridal attire sitting next to a man who looked uncannily like Arnav.
She was unable to keep back a delighted smile as a chubby baby, almost unbearably cute, made an appearance. A whole bunch of baby pictures followed and a particular picture, showing Armav as a toddler, skinny dipping in an inflatable pool in the backyard, made her grin widely.
It was surreal when that baby grew into a small, mischievous boy with scraped knees and an unruly mop for hair. Exactly like she had imagined. She felt a shiver down her back.
Still smiling, she turned the page again to discover that the remaining pages were blank. Half disappointed and half relieved, she stood up to place the album back on the mantle. She looked down in surprise when a large envelope slipped out of the album to fall on floor, few pictures haphazardly jutting out from it’s mouth.
Kneeling on the carpet, she took the pictures out and her fingers stilled.
Lavanya was nothing like the image her mind had conjured. It was a wedding portrait, and, wearing bridal finery and a dimpled smile, Lavanya Raizada made a stunning bride.
A tsunami of emotions stunned her and her eyes refused to shift sideways, to look at the person sitting next to her.
From her vision’s periphery, she could just about make his outlines out, a fine figure in traditional bridegroom attire. With her heartbeats loud in her ear, she placed the picture on the carpet to reveal the next one.
Her face blanched. She was suddenly so still, she could’ve been a statue.
It was a picture of Arnav carrying a little boy, no older than 2 or three, with both grinning happily at the camera. They wore matching Cleveland Browns T-shirts, and his dimpled smile left no doubt in Khushi’s mind as to who he was.
Her fingers were unsteady as she picked the pictures up and stacked them. She struggled for a while tryingvto slide them back in the envelope.
At around the same time,
Rocky River, an affluent western suburb of Cleveland, gets it’s name from the river that courses along it’s Eastern border. Right now, this river was a riot of earth toned colors as the sun slowly crept out from behind the horizon and signaled the advent of a Sunday morning.
Lavanya woke up to the high pitched sound of alarm clock and slammed it shut, like she did every morning. Every evening, she resolved to get out of bed early in the morning, and go for a jog before breakfast, like she’d been advised to by her therapist, and every morning, she woke up with neither the energy nor the inclination to get out of bed.
Today, she was unable to go back to sleep, and getting up after a few minutes, she padded barefoot to the large window and pushed the pale beige, cordless blinds up. The luxurious master suite, one of the many stellar features of this million dollar custom built property offered a panoramic view of the river.
Her face was expressionless, her eyes steely as she went over the email Arnav had sent her last week in her mind..
“I’m hoping for this whole process to be as amicable as possible. More for your own sake than anything else. You know why. And frankly, I don’t think talking is going to be of any use at this point. You need to accept that as soon as possible”.
Filled with rage, she strode over to the adjoining study and pulled a chair out. Sitting at the desk weighed down by envelopes, bills and papers and files, she took a thick sheaf of papers out of an envelope and bent to feed them to the paper shredder.
Her fingers pounded hard on the keyboard as she typed another email to Arnav.
“I’m not signing the divorce papers. I need time to think”.
Clicking send, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. When she reopened them, the first object they fell on was a small picture frame. It was from last Halloween, almost a year ago.
Little Aarav dressed as a bright orange pumpkin in Arnav’s arms. Something snapped. Her shoulders slumped, her face crumbled and dissolved into sobs.
“I want you back”, she said softly to herself, “I want another chance. You will have to give me another chance. Come back home, Arnav”.
Late in the night, Khushi was still sitting up in bed, aimlessly netsurfing, trying to find something that would distract her, save her mind from thoughts that were driving her insane.
“He didn’t even notice me when we first met. Even forgot about it. I was the one attracted to him from the very beginning. Like a hormonal teenager”.
“Maybe I made him. Maybe I forced him to notice me..”. Warm color of humiliation stained her cheeks..
“Does he love me? How can he be so sure? So soon? What does he even know about me?
Her fingers typed in the google search box, ‘How to tell…?
Several suggestions showed up in the drop-down menu ranging from ‘that you’re gay?’ to ‘that you’re a psychopath?’, and soon she had clicked on what she was searching for.
‘How to tell that you’re a rebound girl?
Judging by the sheer number of hits, it seemed to be a popular search, she surmised wryly. She clicked on the most credible looking source she could find, ignoring a disdainful voice that sneered at her.
After a while, disgusted at giving undeserved credence to agony aunts , she slammed the laptop shut to lie down and drift to an uneasy slumber.
Next morning, she received a text message from Arnav.
It was sent late in the night and concise in a way Khushi now thought of as characteristically Arnav.
“Hey..how are you? Hope all is well”.
It was only the middle of October, yet the shop windows were already being decorated in preparation of Halloween, with pumpkins and cobwebs, witches’ brooms and grotesque masks, jars of candies and sheaves of corn. With the store lights falling on his profile, Arnav strolled along a sidewalk in Downtown Lakewood. He was on the way to his fifteenth floor lake front apartment. He wore jeans and a thin, coffee colored sweater against the nip in the air.
Entering through the revolving glass doors after distractedly nodding in response to the doorman’s cheerful greeting, he hoped that the over-friendlly concierge wouldn’t try to draw him into a conversation.
He was in the elevator when his cell phone beeped to announce a new text. Sliding it out from his jeans pocket, he saw who it was from, and a tiny smile slowly curved his lips.