She protested weakly as he marched towards their bedroom, carrying her effortlessly in his arms, “It took me an hour to cook all that breakfast, I don’t want it to get cold”.
“I’ve been wanting to do this all week, love. I can’t wait”, he grinned ruefully, lowering her on the bed and stretching his body clad in white shirt and dress pants above her.
With her senses assailed by the his familiar scent and insanely attactive grin, Khushi didn’t need any more persuasion and soon her impatient finger were fumbling with his shirt buttons, trying to unfasten them.
Her efforts were thwarted when he leaned in, balanced on one hand on each side of her, and hungrily clasped his lips with his. Her fingers curving around handfuls of his shirt material, she pulled him closer and kissed him back. Their tongues dueled as they drank deep trying to quench a thirst that seemed unquenchable.
His hand crept under her Tshirt, tracing the curve of her soft waist, caressing the silken smoothness of her flat belly, exploring the depression of her navel with his thumb.
Even as her body tingled all over in anticipation, she arched it cooperatively when his hand slipped behind her back to to unclasp her brassiere hook.
With his breathing ragged, he helped her take her Tshirt off and then his head descended to take a rosy peak into his mouth, doing things to it that made her squirm in ecstasy. Khushi breathed his name like a chant and wrapped her legs around him.
After a long time, he raised his head and got off of the bed to divest himself of his clothes, instructing her to do the same with the ones that remained on her.
When their bodies rejoined on the bed, Arnav nuzzled her neck slowly in a deliberate attempt to delay their union, reveling in the sweet torture of waiting. He inhaled her lilac scent deeply, his breaths washing over her sensitized skin and momentarily stalling the fingers that caressed his back in long, repetitive movements.
“I love your smell”, he murmured, “It reminds me of spring and a lilac shrub that blooms outside our family room window every year”.
With her fingers caressing the back of his neck, she smiled at the way his words had an uncharacteristically whimsical, almost poetical quality to them. “I love you”, she said softly even as he lifted his head to take her lips again.
It wasn’t long before he had positioned himself above her, lifted her closer with both hands and entered her.
Khushi dug her nails into the muscles of his back as she felt herself stretch. Arching her body, she moved it in perfect rhythm with his powerful thrusts, both allowing their passions to soar until the highest peaks…and crescendo into a synchronous finale.
“I can never get enough of you”, he whispered, collapsing onto her, spent,.
Nestled into her warm softness, his travel weary body relaxed and his mind began drifting towards somnolence. He was however rudely awakened by a stinging smack on the skin of his bare back.
He raised his head at once and glanced at her in comical surprise.
“Don’t you dare go to sleep without eating my breakfast first”, she replied, her eyes flashing with genuine trepidation.
“It wasn’t actually an academic conference”, said Arnav, taking a sip of orange juice, “It was an advocacy seminar to prepare members for our upcoming appointment on Capitol Hill”.
“Training for effective lobbying, you mean”, said Khushi, watching him work his way through the breakfast with a warm glow of satisfaction.
That morning was permanently etched in Khushi’s mind. It was one of those moments where every single, insignificant detail is duly recorded and filed away. The pale sunshine streaming in through the vertical blinds and splashing across the breakfast table. The crimson carnations. The smell of maple syrup and vanilla, the sound of his voice wrapped around her in a comforting embrace.
When Khushi got up to make coffee, Arnav extended his hand to catch hers and pulled her onto his lap.
“The cook deserves a kiss”, he whispered in a serious voice belied by his characteristic glint.
The cook had no objection to being thus thanked and soon minutes ticked away as they kissed like they hadn’t seen each other for ages.
“You’ll make me miss my flight”, she said breathlessly, finally able to break apart from him.
“I really have to go, Arnav”, she said, her eyes warm, her palm lightly touching his stubble. After a little while, just as she was about to get off of his lap, a paperback book lying on the table next to his cellphone caught her attention.
Picking it up, her eyes shone a smile at him. Memories of their first meeting flooded her heart with nostalgia. “Were you reading it inflight?
As he nodded in response, Khushi surveyed the cover, a wide angled photograph of snow capped mountains, with her eyes wistful.
“That reminds me of Kashmir…”, she said, “How was the book ? I’d loved his first two”.
“It was a good read”, replied Arnav, picking up the book and distractedly flipping through it, “He is a brilliant storyteller, there’s no doubt, but it’s not his best work”.
“The title is so intriguing”.
“It’s about the choices one makes in life and it’s aftereffects, it’s consequences that ripple three dimensionally across time, places..generations. The echoes”.
She took it from him, flipping it to survey it’s back cover.
“Take it”, Arnav offered, “You can read it on the way to Tampa”
Moments later, while Khushi slid her coat on, Arnav stood by the kitchen counter, pen in hand, a tiny smile lifting the corner of his mouth.
“For my Khushi, Love, Arnav“, he scribbled on the first page of the book in his nearly illegible handwriting.
Time ran three hours behind in California and it’s slumbering landscape was still enshrouded in darkness. Soon, dawn cracked across the horizon and sent it’s first rose-pink rays inside a small, three bedroom townhouse in a quiet, affluent neighborhood of San Jose.
Lavanya stood at the window and purportedly gazed at the horizon while her large dark eyes appeared to be focused on something much further than the horizon. Tall and slender, she cut a striking figure with her raven black hair and earthy complexion
Her mind replayed the conversaton she’d had with her father not so long ago…and with the same result. The news that her house in Rocky River had found a good buyer had deeply unsettled her. She couldn’t bear the thought of strangers living in her house…their home. It was intolerable to her but she had given up on her protestations in face of her father’s gentle but firm insistence.
“Time to let go, Lavanya“.
Her heart wrenched painfully as she recalled the last few moments spent in that house. They were crystal clear and vivid like a movie playing in her mind.
She saw herself climbing down the curved staircase with dark oak rail and ornate metal bannisters. Standing in the family room, she had paused and looked around her. Stripped clean of all furniture and wall decorations, the house had looked almost unrecognizable.
Desolate and melancholic.
She remembered the streams of sun-rays that had filtered in from the tall windows and splashed on the bare wood floor in bright patches. Wood floor that had been littered with scores of cardboard boxes, neatly packed and sealed with duct tape.
Quite clearly, she saw that open, unsealed box that had caught her attention and once again she was kneeling beside it and lifting a cardboard flap to peek inside.
Bright sunlight had revealed it’s contents and the mere memory caused a powerful wave of emotions to rise from her gut. Aarav’s baby clothes, including the tiny coverall he’d come home in from the hospital.
“Daddy’s boy”, it had declared in bold red letters.
She remembered her breakdown and the comforting sound of Manya’s voice. It had gradually soothed her and pierced the haze of hopelessness that surrounded her.
“Aarav doesn’t want to see you like this, Lavanya. Think only of the beautiful moments you got to spend with him. Seeing you happy, seeing you at peace will make him happy too. He still loves you, Lavanya. Loves you from where he is right now. It’s a beautiful place…a happier place”.
Sighing, Lavanya blinked her moist eyes and focussed on the mellow splendor of a new dawn. “Memories”, she softly whispered to herself and opened a window to her past. Their past.
His voice with it’s characteristic timbre and familiar intonation floated to her in a slideshow of unforgettable images.
“Wait here. Let me take the carrier…Aarav… up to the nursery first, then I’ll carry you upstairs. It’s better to be careful about those sutures”.
Effortlessly, he had ascended the curved staircase with her held in his arms, bridal style. Somewhere along the way their eyes had locked and with her pulses quickening, she had tried to decipher a certain new quality that she thought she could see in their caramel depths. But in a flash, it had disappeared leaving his eyes distant and shuttered once again. Like they had been for the past eight months of their marriage.
Khushi adjusted the small pillow in the curve of her back and settled back with a sigh. She glanced at Anita across the aisle. With the earplugs in, her eyes were fixated on the TV screen in front. She had always been amongst those who watch TV nonstop on flights to while away the time. Her mom, sitting next to her, had her eyes closed. Her features looked uncharacteristically relaxed. Maybe, Khushi mused with her heart warming with affection, she was enjoying the luxury of idleness, which air-travel allows you to indulge in, absolutely guilt-free.
Their family hadn’t taken a vacation together in almost two years and Khushi looked forward to it. After the wedding in Tampa, they’d decided on traveling to Orlando and spending three additional days there.
A smile played on her lips as she finally opened her book…his book. If only he were coming to the wedding too, she thought wistfully turning a page.
Bringing the book close to her nose, she closed her eyes and imagined she could smell his charactetististic scent. Real and strong. Shaking her head at her olfactory hallucination, she glanced sideways at his father, who was nicely settled in his window seat, reading glasses perched on nose, a paperback held in hands.
“What are you reading, Khushi?, he asked without looking up from his book.
“And The Mountains Echoed- by Khaled Hosseini”, Khushi replied, “The one that came out this summer. Have you read it?
“Yes, I did”, Navin said, “Tell me what you think of it after you’re done reading it. I personally thought that although it’s a good read, it didn’t quite match up to his earlier two works. Which I know is an unfair thing to say”.
An involuntary smile lit her features even as she spoke without thinking, “That’s exactly what A…”.
Pausing in mid sentence, Khushi’s eyes swirled and flickered for a few indecisive moments before a sudden impulse got the better of her.
Taking a deep breath she started, her hazel orbs soft and somber, “Dad, there is something I have to tell you…ask you”.
Navin’s eyes flashed with sudden humor as he glanced at his daughter’s earnest face, “Alright, where is MSF calling you this time? Timbuktu?
“Daddy”, exclaimed Khushi with slight exasperation, “It’s not about MSF. And where is this Timbuktu, anyway? Like I said, it’s not about MSF at all”.
As she nervously tucked a strand of hair beneath her ear, Navin surveyed her anxious face and intuitively realized the gravity of the matter, her daughter was struggling to share with him.
“What is it, Khushu?, he asked gently.
“There is…someone in my life. Someone I like…”, she replied, resolutely meeting his curious gaze, wisely realizing the futility of beating about the bush at that point.
Noticing the guilty quivering of her eyelashes, Navin sighed and zeroed in on the conclusion that is considered by some as an immigrant desi parent’s worst nightmare.
“He’s not Hindu, not Indian?, he asked, surveying her anxious face.
“No…he is”, replied Khushi, with her features relaxing a little, “His family is from Kashmir. Srinagar”.
“What does he do?
“He’s a physician”.
“You think we won’t like his family?
“You already do”, replied Khushi quietly, her heart quickening as they approached within breathable distance of the revelation that was all but inevitable now.
Navin took his glasses off and gazed at her daughter’s distraught face, his eyes flickering with frank puzzlement.
“Toh problem kya hai, Khushi”, he said in an understanding voice that formed a painful lump in Khushi’s throat.
“What’s the catch?, he repeated, his voice more wary this time, “I’m sure there is one, right?
“You know him..”, Khushi said, pausing to bite her lower lip before taking a headlong plunge, “It’s Arnav. Arnav Raizada. Astha Aunty’s son”.
At first, Navin didn’t quite take in the implication of her confession and continued to gaze at her in an absentminded fashion.
“Yes, yes…I remember. He’s a nice boy. Nice family too”.
Much to Khushi’s discomfiture, it took another few painful seconds for the realization to dawn, for the crux of the matter to sink into the forefront of his mind.
His lined face gradually assumed a bewildered expression which caused Khushi’s heart to constrict with almost unbearable pain.
“Isn’t he married?