It was early Sunday morning and Khushi was nearly done with her daily run around the subdivision. There was a slight nip in the air and it was filled with urgent sounding chirps of birds at springtime. Immersed in thoughts, Khushi was oblivious to the much awaited colors- daffodils, young leaves, blossoming trees that she encountered along the way.
The only thing she felt was a gentle flutter of happiness. It somehow succeeded in piercing the frozen case her overwrought heart was ensconced in these days. Arnav was returning from NJ today after a three week break. That they needed to sit down and talk- they’d already agreed upon. The last time they’d talked to each other, she’d heard a searing longing in his voice. It was tempered with impatience he’d made no attempt to hide. She had broken down and cried after hanging up. After a long time, perhaps for the first time since Manya had come charging with her arsenal, filling her heart with uncertainty and doubts and since she’d walked in on Arnav’s and Lavanya’s conversation and felt like a thief. Taking care of her father, being strong for their family, contending with her mother’s uncharacteristic harshness- had left her with no time or energy to indulge in that luxury until now.
Last night, while talking to Arnav, she was reminded of her dreams- simple, uncomplicated dreams of what their life after his freedom would be like. That had finally breached her dam of tears. Reality was anything but simple and uncomplicated.
Nearing her home, she ran into her elderly neighbor and his dog, a beautiful golden retriever with a silken coat that glittered under the sun. Buster came to sniff her outstretched fist excitedly and she paused politely, scratching his ears and chatting with his owner.
“Your daffodils are looking marvelous, Khushi”, Mr. Davis twinkled his startling blue eyes at her, “while we’re still waiting for ours”.
“They bloom early”, she smiled back, “but never last as long as yours do”.
“How’s Navin feeling now?
“His Carotid angiography showed 70% blockage”, Khushi replied,”He has an appointment next week to be evaluated for possible surgery”.
“I will come over to see him soon. Give my regards to him and tell him I said ‘welcome to the blocked arteries’ club“, he said with a wink before heeding to Buster, who was tugging at the leash.
Sitting on the porch steps, she called Arnav. “He must be at the airport now”, she thought, a smile lighting up her peaked face that bore every sign of a long, brutal month.
They talked in they way they had been for the past month. Forced lightheartedness and unacknowledged strain. Lots of right words. No gaps and silences. No room for words left unsaid. No room for the lingering ghosts.
“Hey”, his smiling voice flowed to her ears, “You’re up this early on a Sunday”.
“I was running”, she smiled, “It’s good for my diabetes”.
“How have your blood sugars been?
“Not too good, I’m afraid. But I’m trying to get them in control”.
“Khushi, while taking care of everyone else, don’t forget to take care of yourself”.
“I am, Arnav. Are you at the airport?.
“Yes, waiting for boarding to start. I’ll be in Cleveland around 9:30”.
The ensuing silence crackled with the energy of unspoken words straining against their restraints. Both spoke at the same time, their words colliding and crumbling into silence once more.
Then, his face hardened with a determination to end their status quo. It was beginning to drive him crazy. He said, “I was thinking of coming over to your place this afternoon”.
Khushi for quiet for a while, unaware of the effect her silence was having on Arnav. She thought about her parents’ emotional state and their current feelings about Arnav in particular. Lavanya’s suicide note and Manya’s visit had done damage in more ways than they were probably intended for. Khushi wasn’t sure of Arnav’s welcome so with her heart aching, she said, “Can we meet somewhere else?
The silence at the other end continued long enough for Khushi to check if he was still there.
“It’s just that”, she said hesitantly, “After all that has happened, my parents…are…emotionally disturbed”.
Without commenting on her explanation, Arnav agreed to meet at a mutually agreed place. His barely suppressed impatience reached her in palpable waves.
The morning sun rays filtered through the window pane to lighten up the dark paneled library. Navin sat behind the desktop as usual. He stared blankly at the manuscript on the screen, too physically and mentally exhausted to continue.
His right arm felt numb again and he waited for it to pass, like it always did. He wondered if he should tell Khushi about it, like he was directed to by both Khushi and Aman. He decided to wait, no wanting to unnecessarily worry Khushi. She already had a lot on her plate and he was tired of the spate of appointments, lab studies and tests that had followed his overnight hospital admission, a month ago.
He was diagnosed with TIA by the Neurology consultant. It stood for ‘transient ischemic attack’, he was told, also known as mini stroke, something that should be taken with utmost gravity because of it often being a warning sign for an impending full blown stroke. And now with this latest study, Carotid Angiogram, he was told they’d found a reason for it, a blockage of one of the arteries that supplied the brain.
Being diagnosed with an illness in midlife can be life altering. It forces one to muse upon the transience of human existence, ponder on the possibility of death and it’s effects on loved ones one would be leaving behind. His mind lingered, in turns, upon the three people his world revolved around.
Sujata, Anita…and Khushi.
His forehead wrinkled as his thoughts centered around her after a while. He was seriously worried for her. She had withdrawn into a shell since Lavanya’s suicide bid and the events that had followed it.
He clenched his eyes in deep anguish as he replayed the shock of Manya’s visit. He had been convinced Lavanya was going to die and his heart had twisted at the effect her death would have on Khushi’s sensitive heart and her entire life. He was furious at Manya but even more, he was furious at his own child for perhaps putting them all in a position that could’ve been avoided.
He had wanted to intervene, to put a stop to the venom that was being spouted on his baby but he had felt paralyzed. He had been unable to do or say anything and this was one regret, he knew for sure, that he would take to his grave.
He felt a failure as a father. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so accommodating of Arnav and their relationship. Maybe he should have listened to Sujata and expressed his disapproval of their relationship in more lucid terms. Anything that could have prevented the ugliness that Khushi was subjected to. But the damage was already done. Khushi’s face, her body language, her eyes, her silence- everything spoke of a badly broken spirit.
From his limited viewpoint, he felt a fresh surge of anger at Arnav. He should have stayed away from Khushi, right from the very beginning. He should have thought twice, acted with more responsibility, waited for his failed marriage to come to it’s natural conclusion, before even showing interest in another woman- let alone entwining her life with his.
He cringed recalling Sujata’s words from a few weeks ago- that the reason behind Arnav and Lavanya’s marriage was an unwanted pregnancy. It had done nothing to elevate his already sinking opinion of him.
“Can he be trusted to keep Khushi happy after I’m gone?, was the recurring question that kept him awake at nights.
He didn’t notice when Khushi entered the library with two mugs of chai and a smile he knew was a facade for his benefit.
Placing the mug on the table, Khushi began telling him about her earlier conversation with their neighbor when Navin interrupted her in mid sentence.
“Khushi, any news about Arnav…and Lavanya?, he asked. The last he’d heard about her from Khushi was that she was discharged from the hospital. Her name was never mentioned in their house after that.
“Lavanya signed the divorce papers after her discharge”, she said, looking at the swirls of steam riding from her mug.
Navin looked at her downturned face, heard her curiously flat voice and asked, “And why is this bothering you?
“That’s not true”, she murmured without looking up.
“Khushi, you know you can’t ever lie to me or anyone else for that matter”, her father added in a gentle voice.
“It’s nothing, Dad”, she said with her voice quivering ever so slightly, “Don’t worry about it…”.
Even as her voice trailed off, Navin said, “I will worry if you hide things from me”.
She rose her head then to look at him. Her eyes were surrounded with shadows, appearing larger than normal on her thin face. The raw pain they revealed to him made him catch his breath.
Besides pain there was guilt and self flagellation swirling in abundance as she said, almost whispered, “No one, no one, can be absolutely sure that the breakdown of a marriage is irretrievable, that there is no chance for reconciliation, until those papers are signed… Isn’t this what you’d tried to tell me on the plane that day, Dad?
Pushing the swivel chair back, Navin rose and walked around the desk to her. Pulling her into an embrace, he consoled her, his heart dilating with protective love like only a father’s heart can, not hesitating in even contradicting himself, going against his grain, to comfort her, “It was unreasonable of Lavanya to expect a reconciliation when Arnav had never loved her, when their marriage had been a compromise all along. That note was malicious and untruthful. Don’t believe a word of it. Arnav, I’m sure, never loved her”.
“But I’m sure he did”, she said softly to herself, her mind dwelling on the conversation she’d witnessed in his apartment, “Maybe a lesser love, maybe a love born out of compromise, maybe a weak love that couldn’t survive the future storm, but it was there. So maybe, it wasn’t that unreasonable of Lavanya to want a chance for reconciliation, and maybe, it was naive and unreasonable of me to not consider that. How can anyone ever be sure?
With his heart wrenching unbearably with her pain, it was easy, way too easy, to direct all his ire at Arnav, “Khushi, I really feel that you need to step back from the situation, wait for the dust to settle, do some serious thinking. I don’t want you to take any decision you end up regretting for the rest of your life”.
Getting the import of his words, Khushi blinked and stepped away from him, “There is only one thing I’m sure of even with all this dust around. That I love Arnav”.
And she meant every word of it. All that restlessness in her heart, she knew, was not about him, or Lavanya even, anymore. The papers were already signed, there was no point in that. It’s about her…and her psychological readiness for building a life with Arnav. It was about her coming to terms with the knowledge that she might have taken something that didn’t fully belong to her, that she might have pushed a person to suicide.
Before starting a new life with Arnav, she needed to make peace with herself.
Standing on the wood floor of the turret shaped, latticed gazebo, Khushi gazed at the small lake in front of her. It’s placid surface reflected the deep blue of the skies, rippling with each gust of wind. A riot of colorful foliage, lilac, yellow, ivory and pink, shimmered along the edges of it’s grassy slopes.
The weather was beautiful and the small park filled with couples, joggers and children at play.
Dressed in a floral sundress and a cardigan, she waited for him and her heart refused to settle into a normal rhythm. They had decided to meet in this particular park, because it was not too far from Khushi’s house and Arnav had a lunch meeting at a nearby hotel too.
Since the gazebo stood a little apart from the rest of the park and offered relative privacy, Khushi, a frequent visitor, had chosen it for their rendezvous. Earlier on, she had texted Arnav about it’s location.
Now, all she had to do was wait for him and keep her heart calm.
Immersed in thoughts, she didn’t hear his footsteps, jumping when she was caught in pair of strong arms from behind.
“Finally”, he murmured, resting his head against hers. Even as he joined her in gazing at the view, he said, “I missed you so much”.
Enveloped in his quintessential smell, coffee and lightly worn Bleu de Chanel, Khushi felt herself relaxing, her eyes smarting with sudden tears.
“I missed you too”, she replied and hearing her voice choke, Arnav turned her around to face him.
Dressed in suit pants and a blue shirt and tie, his face was somber as he studied her face.
Seeing a tear trying to escape from the corner of one eye, he stopped it with a finger and smiled a little.
“I miss you. You miss me. Isn’t eliminating all distance between us the next logical step, Dr. Gupta”.