It was just for a split second before Arnav’s eyes steeled over and he abruptly rose from his chair. Her eyes unsettled him, beckoning him to places he had long forsaken. He should have trusted his instincts, he thought frustratedly. It was clear that a wide, insuperable gorge separated them in terms of their individual expectations from this upcoming meeting. Why don’t you understand that it’s over, he yelled inside his head, where the fuck is your pride, your self respect?! Why are you hellbent on making it so damned difficult for both of us”.
“I got to go now”, he said, glancing at her with his jaw tautened while a vein leapt agitatedly on his high forehead, close to the hairline. Reining in his mounting anger with superhuman effort, he added with cold deliberation, “And I don’t really care where we go”.
Lavanya rose from the couch too, her pensive eyes murky with hurt and extinguished embers of defeated anger.
“Just text me the place and time”, she said, bending down to pick her handbag from the sofa.
Looking at her downcast face, sudden remorse smote Arnav’s heart. When his heart was shrouded in grief, bitterness and misery, it had found it easy to hate. But now, with the cleansing rays of hope and happiness dispelling that shroud, it was difficult…
Perhaps it is true that at the root of all negative emotions…hatred, jealousy, envy or anger…lies acute misery or insecurity.
“Can I get you something, Lavanya? Coffee?, his voice was softer, kinder.
“No thanks”, she replied in passing, walking up to the door, “See you in the evening”, she added at the door. A tiny curve of her lips indicated her acknowledgment of a veiled apology that was so quintessentially his.
Arnav’s eyes were thoughtful as he shrugged his blazer off and hung it at the back of his chair. Walking up to a small closet in a corner, he took a freshly dry cleaned white coat out from it’s hanger and put it on.
On the way to the outpatient clinic, his mind inadvertently wandered into the realms of kaleidoscopic memories. Some born out of the destiny rolling out the dice. Some out of the moves, prudent or foolish, he’d made in response to it.
There were a lot of things in his past, he decided regretfully, he would’ve done differently if given another chance.
Ann Arbor, MI.
Arnav S. Raizada and Lavanya Kashyap were approaching the completion of their four year ophthalmology residency at Kellog’s Eye Institute, U of M. Most of their batch mates had already graduated in June and only a handful remained including them.
These were the ones who’d taken some time off during residency for overseas charitable volunteering activities.
Arnav and Lavanya’s friendship was well known in their program, and considering how compatible they were in terms of interests, hobbies, background, beliefs and passion for ophthalmology among other things, it wasn’t surprising at all. The fact that they both came from the same neck of the woods in NJ had helped start their friendship in the orientation week of first year. Their parents, though not particularly close, were long standing acquaintances and much to their amusement, they even remembered meeting as children once at a Diwali party.
They got along so well that a lot of their common friends seriously wondered why they’d never developed any romantic inclinations towards each other.
“That just goes to show”, they had mused, “What an enigma this four worded emotion called love was”.
Over the course of their training, they’d briefly dated other people on and off but both professed a similar disinclination to get embroiled in a serious relationship at that crucial juncture of their lives. They agreed upon the importance of channelizing all of their energies in the pursuit of knowledge and surgical skills and in the setting up of a solid base for their careers.
While that was indeed the case as far as Arnav was concerned, Lavanya harbored a closely guarded secret in her heart. A hidden, unexpressed, unrequited emotion that grew steadily with the passage of time… Nourished by an unlikely concoction of pain and hope and watered by foolish, unwarranted dreams.
The more she tried to thwart this emotion, the more it grew. She was well cognizant of his lack of romantic interest in her, and time and again, she resolved to try and get over him …
And time and again, her resolutions failed..
It only took a molten brown gaze, a lopsided smile, an innocent touch to cause her lofty resolutions to come crashing down…
Time went by and keeping this tumultuous love contained within the confines of her heart became an increasingly uphill task. It began to suffocate her…to the point where she thought she couldn’t breathe.
It was on a rainy evening in October that the floodgates burst open and her secret came barging out..
Arnav’s friends including Lavanya had invited themselves to his apartment to watch Sunday Night Football…and if his neighbor’s angry raps on the wall and the number of beer cans opened were any indication, they were having a really good time too. Notwithstanding the lameness of the game.
Sitting on the floor, his back resting against a recliner, his denim clad legs stretched in front, Arnav looked relaxed and uncharacteristically tolerant of the havoc that was being unleashed upon his usually impeccable apartment.
Looking at him, nobody could’ve guessed that he and his girl friend of a few months had mutually broken off just a day ago.
He looked almost relieved, his friends had ribbed, like a school kid at the start of summer vacation.
Being the gentleman he always was, Arnav had just given them a lazy grin in response but neither confirmed nor denied the fact.
His friends had gone on to suggest, utilizing their collective experience, the best ways to get over a breakup. Each subsequent suggestion was crasser that the previous one and purportedly doled out to raise his spirits.
Nobody noticed that Lavanya was unusually quiet. Her mind was preoccupied by thoughts that had relentlessly haunted her for the past few weeks. The thought of their impending separation, the fact that they were graduating in just a few months.
Her heart was seized by a strange disquietude, that she found increasingly impossible to shake off with every passing moment.
It was towards the end of the party, when she’d noticed one of her friends pouncing on Arnav’s single status and openly flirting with him, that she’d finally arrived at a decision.
The relief was immediate. She took a deep breath, allowing sweet calmness to permeate through her veins and senses.
The processes of arriving at this decision was definitely more cumbersome than the decision itself, she had mused, contemptuously gazing at her friend Chloe who’d joined Arnav on the floor now. As Chloe, an attractive blonde, rested a hand on his thigh and whispered something in his ear, Lavanya was slightly taken aback by the vehemence of feelings that suddenly overtook her senses.
She smiled as Arnav calmly removed her hand from his thigh without halting their friendly conversation for even a second. Getting the hint, Chloe brought about an immediate shift in her demeanor and body language, suavely accepting his disinterest and good-naturedly taking it in her stride.
An hour later, when the last guest had left, Lavanya lingered on with an offer to help tidy up the apartment as an excuse. An offer which Arnav accepted with much alacrity.
It wasn’t long before an uncharacteristic jitteriness and tension about her bearing caught his attention.
“What’s wrong?, he asked even as he dried and shelved the glasses that Lavanya has just washed.
Lavanya’s heart pounded as she took a deep breath and went to stand in front of Arnav.
Arnav’s eyes held frank puzzlement as he stared at the intent, serious expression in her velvety-black eyes.
“Arnav, I’ve fallen in love with you”, she declared huskily..
Arnav face was a picture of bewilderment as he surveyed her somber face, a part of him fishing for a sign that it was just a joke.
After a while, realizing that Lavanya meant every word of her declaration, Arnav had sighed and pulled her into an embrace.
“Lavanya,”, he spoke in an embarrassed voice that tore at her heart, “You are a dear friend…the best kind of friend one could ask for…and…you know that I never gave you reason to believe…any different…”.
“I know you didn’t”, she assented after a few crackling tensed moments, resting her aching head on his shoulder, feeling her heart accelerate at his proximity.
Raising her head after a while, she inhaled deeply and flashed her trademark dimpled smile at him.
“Never mind, I’ll try to get over it”, she said even as the ache in her heart crescendoed into a pain that made breathing an arduous task.
“Perhaps she’d really meant what she said that night, Arnav mused, “Unlike that other evening”
A life-altering evening when a woman’s dishonestly and a man’s bad choice had thrown their entire lives off course.
Arnav was approaching his destination when his phone’s insistent vibrating summoned him from the dark, serpentine alleys of past, where he’d been aimlessly wandering, into present.
Khushi’s picture from Caladesi Island flashed onto his screen. Making no attempt to receive the call, his eyes and soul hungrily feasted on her image. Taking in her gleaming windswept hair, the clear hazel pools that reflected the sun, the simple curve of lips that magically conjured up the most beautiful smile in the world, Arnav felt serenity rain upon him out of a cloudless sky. He felt like a time traveller who’d finally arrived at his destination after eons of unsuccessful searches..
“Miss you so fucking much that it’s not even funny“, his thumbs jabbed the message feelingly, “I’m just walking into clinic right now, will call you back”.
A sunset painted the western horizon in spectacular colors and rendered the already chilly air with a sepia mellowness. With the artificial lights turning on to compensate for the dwindling natural one, people steadily gravitated around the World Showcase Lagoon. They aimed to bag good vantage spots for Epcot’s fireworks show, Illuminations, which was due to commence in thirty minutes.
Arriving early, Khushi and family were lucky enough to find seats in an outdoor waterfront French cafeteria that overlooked the lagoon.
As everyone relaxed with coffee and fresh baked chocolate almond croissants, the melancholy flowing in Khushi’s heart began to reflect on her peaked face. It was the end of the day and she felt too tired to attempt hiding it with smiles and forced conversations.
Miles away in Cleveland, her overwrought heart dwelt upon Arnav’s meeting with Lavanya with what, she tried to placate herself, was unwarranted trepidation.
Ever since Arnav had called her in the afternoon and shared the news of Lavanya’s unexpected arrival, she hadn’t been able to wrench her mind away from undesirable thoughts.
“I love you. That’s all you need to remember”.
Innumerable times she halted these thoughts in their tracks and silently chanted Arnav’s words to dispel them.
The fact that her mother seemed to have completely shut her off only added to her melancholic state of mind.
She snapped out of her musings hearing Navin asking them to rise from their chairs for yet another picture. Their father, unfortunately, belonged to that category of vacationers who felt a compulsive need to capture moments every few minutes or so.
“No”, Anita protested, “Seriously, Daddy. You took a picture like five minutes ago”.
Their protests were swiftly overruled and soon the two of them found themselves posing with their backs against the lagoon and the sublime horizon beyond.
Much to their consternation, their father took an inordinately long time in getting the ‘angle’ right. And at long last when the ‘angle’ was finally perfected, he hesitated yet again and asked his wife to join them too. Exchanging disbelieving glances, both sisters heaved synchronized long suffering sighs and morosely resigned themselves to their father’s annoying quirks.
They made space between them for their mother and as Anita slipped an arm around Sujata and rested her head against her, Khushi was suddenly hit by a strong wave of emotions. Struggling to contain her tears, she curved her lips into a smile with great difficulty.
Later as they watched the mesmerizing fireworks show in awed silence, Anita’s phone rang. She was in the restroom so Khushi turned it off with a quick glance at it’s screen.
After a while when Anita returned and flopped back in her chair, Khushi mentioned casually, “Somebody called Anderson Cooper called you while you were gone”.
No sooner had these words escaped the lips that Khushi jerked her head towards Anita, her eyes narrowed in almost comical suspicion.
Her suspicions sky rocketed watching Anita dissolve into helpless giggles.
“What have you been up to, Chutki?, Khushi asked in her best big sister voice, using her childhood nickname.
“Not telling you”, Anita teased, winking at her.
“Mr. Cooper is going to remain a secret for at-least as long as Mr. Stewart did”, she added with an impishly smug smile.
Little did Anita know that somewhere in Cleveland Mr. Aman Agarwal had just edited his contacts list too. An entry named Khushi’s Younger Sister had been duly changed to ‘Ms. Anita Gupta’.
Spiaggia Restaurant and Bar,
Lavanya arrived early at the restaurant, her heels clicking on the tiled marble floor as their hostess led her to their reserved table.
Unbuttoning and shrugging her stylish red wool coat off, she settled in her chair and casually glanced around her. It was an elegant place and chosen by Arnav for it’s convenient proximity to the hospital.
Taking a cue from it’s name which meant beach in Italian, both it’s decor and food were inspired by the coast.
“Arnav always loved seafood”, she thought with a little smile, her aching heart temporarily assuaged by the handful of good memories she always kept close to her heart.
Resting her left hand on the table, she glanced down at it, the rock sized solitaire still adorning her ring finger winking as it caught the shaded light of the pendant lamp above.
Arnav’s gift on their first anniversary, to make up for the engagement ring she’d never had. Arnav might not want to remember that night, Lavanya mused, but it was permanently etched in her heart. In some ways, it had been her wedding night, their first mutual step towards a normal married life.
Rocky River, OH.
Glancing at her reflection one last time, Lavanya sprayed some Allure Sensuelle on the pulse-points at her neck and wrists. She wore a black satin and lace negligee and confidence, and her intention was rather straightforward. To seduce her husband. Of course if the hooded glances he’d cast in her directions at the restaurant were any indication, Lavanya thought with a smile, he wouldn’t need much persuasion either.
They’d just returned from a dinner at Muse and recalling their conversation, Lavanya felt mixed emotions in her heart. If on one hand, she was excited to take this first step towards a real marriage, on the other, one word, that had been rendered conspicuous by it’s absence in their conversation, constantly niggled her heart.
Arnav had waxed eloquent about making the best of the situation, about compromising and moving ahead for Aarav’s sake, about their responsibility to provide him a healthy home environment…but never once had he mentioned the word love…
He hadn’t mentioned the word sex either but his eyes had frankly conveyed that he desired her. And that he was waiting for her to make the first move.
The sight of him walking down the aisle looking as incredibly attractive as ever in a dinner jacket and tie brought her back to present and she sighed listening to the racing beats of her foolish heart.
Yes, somethings can never change.