Time and consciousness stilled and silenced as Khushi turned within his arms to rest her aching head on his chest. With a relieved smile, Arnav wrapped his arms around her in a fiercely possessive embrace. Words were superfluous as they stood in silence, listening to the wind in the nearby willow trees, their heartbeats reaffirming their love for each other.
“Arnav”, she said softly after a while, “I understand your impatience, I really do”.
“And I understand what you must be going through after the fast and furious events of the past month”, replied Arnav, his irises warm in the sunlight.
Even as Khushi’s eyes moistened at the gentleness in his voice, he continued,
“But, I won’t let you to create barriers between us any more. We got into this together and together, in every sense of the word, we’ll navigate our way out too”.
Khushi’s eyes were torn as she rose her head to look up at him.
“Arnav, I didn’t mean to create barriers”, she said hesitantly, “I just needed…I just need space and time to recover from all that has happened, to find myself again. I want to come to terms with myself…my choices…the hurt I have…I might have…caused…”.
Arnav surveyed the turbulence in her eyes, the hesitation in her voice, his eyes intent in their attempt to gauge her thoughts. They flickered almost imperceptively, an unacknowledged fear skimming it’s surface with shadowy fingers.
“If you mean Lavanya, You didn’t hurt her”, he said angrily, “Neither did I. She is responsible for her own actions irrespective of the vitriol she might have poured on that piece of paper”.
“Not just Lavanya”, she said slowly, biting her lip in trepidation at his anger, “My parents as well….”. She hesitated for a moment. With her heart quickening in anticipation of his response, Khushi held his gaze and traversed the distance from the cryptic to the clear,
“My parents, especially my mother, don’t even want to talk about us being together right now. Not even to Astha Aunty “, she said haltingly, her eyes swirling with myriad conflicts.
A spasm of irritation crossed over his features.
“Khushi, I thought we were only supposed to wait until the divorce was finalized. What is their problem now?
As Khushi groped for a suitable reply, Arnav smiled darkly and said, “They’re not overenthusiastic about having me as their son-in-law, are they?”
“It’s the events of last few weeks, that has affected them so much”, she said slowly, “Lavanya’s suicide bid, Manya’s visit, Dad’s health scare. We’re still in shock I think. Everything happened so suddenly and all at once. They need time too I think before we can talk to them again”.
Arnav removed his arms and led her towards the wooden bench that encircled the gazebo. They took seat and picking a hand from her lap, Arnav rested it on his knee, their fingers weaved together tightly.
The wind picked pace and the distant notes of a wind-chime wafted over to them.
“Khushi”, he said, “What if they are never able to understand? What if they never approve of me? Don’t you feel that as adults, our relationship, our mutual decisions, do not require validation from anyone? While I agree that we owe a lot to our parents and that they are deserving of our love and respect, don’t you think that sometimes, it’s necessary to draw lines, to set limits? Our respect for them should not come at the cost of our personal aspirations, our happiness”.
“I really don’t believe it will ever come to that. I’m sure I’ll be able to convince them…soon”.
Pausing, Khushi turned to look at him. His face was averted and his sharply etched profile lit by a shaft of sunlight entering through the latticed wood screen.
“What do you want?, he asked quietly without turning his head, his eyes absently watching a scarlet kite dancing convulsively in the sky.
Tightening her grip on his hand, Khushi said with difficulty, her throat choking, “I love you, nothing or nobody can change that”.
“But”, he prompted, turning his head and locking his gaze with her. His soft voice was contradicted by his eyes suffusing with fiery ice.
“I don’t agree with my parents”, she continued, biting her suddenly parched lower lip, “but I don’t think it would be a good idea to try to force their hand at this point”.
“I see”, he said and pursed his lips, his face a hard mask, “And if they never approve of me?
“Then, of course, I won’t listen to them. I will move out. It’s just that with everything else happening at our home, I don’t think this is the right time to argue about this”.
His eyes pierced through hers as he said, “Do you think that life pauses and presents you with a perfect moment to do what you got to do? No, it never does that. You have to solve problems, fix issues, as you go. I think we should both go and talk to your parents now”.
“Arnav, you are forgetting about my dad’s health issues”, she complained, her forehead furrowing in trepidation.
“And together, we’ll be able to take care of them better”, he retorted, his voice emphatic, his eyes unrelenting.
“Arnav, you don’t understand. I…”, she cried, halting in mid sentence even as Arnav disengaged his hand from hers and rose from his seat in a sudden flash of anger.
His face was livid as he towered over her.
“No, you don’t understand. You don’t understand how much you’re hurting me by not giving our love the respect it deserves. By not standing up for it when you need to”.
“You are being unfair, Arnav”, Khushi cried, her eyes flickering with hurt, “how could you even think that I don’t respect our love enough. Believe it or not, what I’m doing is for the ultimate good of our relationship, keeping my own nature and the bigger picture in mind”.
Arnav was far from placated by her words, his angry heart pumping insecurity, doubt and fear of loss with each forceful beat.
“So this is something you want to do”, he spoke grimly, “Not what you’re being made to do. At least have the honesty to quit hiding your own intentions behind those of your parents. Behind your dad’s illness”.
Khushi’s head buzzed with an upsurge of answering anger. Rising up too, she faced him, her fingernails impaled into the flesh of her palms.
“Yes, waiting for a few weeks, for just a few freaking weeks is what I want to do too. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not worried about my father’s health too. I’m not trying to hide my intentions behind his illness or behind anyone else’s intentions”.
Bridging the distance between them, Arnav caught her lightly by her upper arms.
“Okay, Khushi”, he asked, a vein leaping up on his left temple, “then tell me why can’t we go and talk to your parents right now?
With her anger threatening to melt into tears, Khushi looked deep into his blazing eyes, her moist gaze direct and imploring.
“You should already know, Arnav. I’d tried explaining it to you at the hospital and ever since. I need to come to terms with Lavanya’s suicide attempt and everything else that followed. I need to be able to wrap my mind around the fact that I could’ve been responsible, even partially, for it. It’s a big deal for me, Arnav. To be blamed for for someone’s decision to end their life is a huge deal for me. To be blamed for snatching a wife’s last chance of reconciliation is a huge deal for me. I can’t sleep at night. These thoughts haunt me day and night without a minute’s reprieve. While I realize nothing that can be done about it, while I know that it might sound unreasonable to you, I can’t help it. I just can’t purge these thoughts out of my mind and that’s definitely not from a lack of trying”.
Through jagged cuts of hurt and anger, human emotions bled and flowed unrestrainedly.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about this imaginary last chance of reconciliation. A wife’s last chance of reconciliation’,said Arnav in frustration, “First of all, right from the time of our legal separation, Lavanya stopped being my wife. Secondly, as far as I was concerned, our separation was final. There was never any chance of reconciliation after that. Just because Lavanya thought there was one, just because she clung hard to her delusions, just because she imagined there was something worth saving in our marriage, it doesn’t turn her delusions into a reality”.
A strange shadow crept into her eyes as she said, “I’m unable to dismiss her entire viewpoint, her perspective, as a delusion now. Not any more. And that is the whole problem”.
There was an unknown quality, an indescribable significance in her words that made his eyes flicker and still.
“What do you mean?
Biting her lower lip in anticipation of his vehement denial, Khushi decided to vent the complicated jumble of thoughts and emotions that had been allowed to fester for far too long in a closed space.
“I didn’t know, although I’ve asked you”, she said and paused, her heart quickenng in fear, her lips subconsciously paraphrasing his words “that there were times when you’d loved Lavanya. There were times when you’d told her that you loved her. When you’d made an honest attempt to hold onto this love. Maybe it was this love that Lavanya had striven to repossess, maybe it was this love that she had tried so desperately to rekindle. She hadn’t imagined this love, it was a reality not a delusion”.
Arnav’s eyes narrowed as realization seeped in. Slowly, his hands dropped to his sides and his eyes bore into her hazel orbs with an intense speculation.
“So you were in my apartment that night”.
“Yes, I’d come to your apartment after deciding to…”.
Arnav interrupted her, his voice frigid with sarcasm. “And it’s quite clear, judging by your subsequent behavior, that you attached a great deal of significance to whatever you heard there, which, let me guess, wasn’t a lot, was it?
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, Arnav, but before I could get over my surprise and get my legs to move, I heard you say that there were times when you’d loved her”, she blurted out, her eyes dark with worry as she groped for the right words to make him understand that a childish petulance at his having loved Lavanya once was most definitely not the root cause of her mental conflict.
How could a person who hadn’t yet been able to make complete sense of her own internal turmoil explain it to another? It was precisely this fear of being misunderstood, she realized with rising panic, of not being completely understood, that had kept her lips sealed until now.
“And…yes, I’ll be honest, I was upset by what I heard but not because… you had once felt love for your wife, for the mother of your son. It wasn’t that, Arnav. It wasn’t that at all”.
“It’s so hard to put it in words”, she continued, her eyes imploring him to understand what she struggled to express her innermost thoughts, “It was the realization that if had the slightest inkling about…this love, I might have stepped back to allow Lavanya a fair chance of reviving it. You and I didn’t believe in the existence of this chance but she did. We should have let her have the satisfaction of not being denied of it. Maybe that could’ve prevented her suicide attempt. Maybe that could’ve prevented all the ugliness that followed. That’s what her note said too, that I had snatched away this chance from her, that this is what angered her and pushed her to suicide”.
She didn’t have to wait long for Arnav’s response. The explosion of expressions in his eyes told her everything.
“That’s just bullcrap”, he bit out defensively, “Time and again, right from the very beginning of our relationship, I’ve repeated that there was no chance in hell of the two of us getting back together. Why do you keep on harping on the same thing over and over again?
She was quiet for a moment before her own anger spiraled and she retorted, “When I’d asked you in Tampa if you’d ever loved her during your marriage, why didnt you tell me the truth? Why did you say that your marriage was a compromise from beginning to end? How does one reconcile your statement in Tampa with what I heard in your apartment”.
Arnav’s eyes were unfathomable as they held her gaze in silence. Uncomfortable moments of silence stretched interminably, punctuated by geese honking on verdant sloping banks.
“I see”, he spoke after a painfully long time in a voice laced with bitterness, “So let me get this straight. According to you, I had loved Lavanya once but not only kept this fact deliberately concealed from you but also lied about it in Tampa. You didn’t mention the reason but let me connect the dots and guess. To lull you into a false sense of right ? To convince you into having an extramarital affair with me?”.
“You are getting it all wrong”, she cried, flushing to the roots of her hair, aghast at being so grossly misunderstood.
“That is not what I meant, Arnav, of course, I didn’t. I never doubted your intention, your love for me. I just wish there was a way we could’ve avoided whatever has happened in the last month. I wish…”.
“You wish you’d never met me”, Arnav finished in his head with an unbearable onslaught of pain and hurt. With an indecipherable, impatient sound, Arnav caught her upper arms to tug her closer.
Khushi winced, partly due to the roughness of his grip and partly due to the unadulterated fury shining in his eyes.
“You want time? You want distance?”,he spoke with clenched teeth, his fingers digging painfully in her arms. “Sure, go ahead, you can have it for as long as you want. I have no problem any more. You want to know why?”, he finished, rasing his voice in the end, “Because all these convoluted reasons you’ve been giving me are just excuses. Sometimes it’s a concern for your dad’s health, sometimes it’s a need to force out an approval of our relationship from your parents, sometimes it’s the wisdom, the compulsive need, to look at the bigger picture, and sometimes it’s just you wanting to vanquish your misplaced guilt before taking our relationship forward. I think, just like your parents, you are no longer sure about us, our relationship. You’re having doubts and that is the real reason why you’re resisting commitment. That is the reason why you won’t let me talk to your parents”.
“That’s not true, Arnav”, she cried, wincing with pain both within and without, her eyes spilling over with warm tears, “I love you…how can you doubt my love for you?
But emcompassed in the red haze of anger, Arnav barely heard her words.
“After our highly enlightening conversation today”, he said, suddenly releasing her arms, “you know what I’m wondering right now?”
His eyes were unrelenting as he surveyed her face.”I’m wondering if I really know you at all. We’ve been together for how long? Four months- five months. That’s nothing, right? For all we know, just as your parents think that you’re making a grave mistake in getting involved with me, even I might’ve been too hasty in jumping into another relationship. But unlike you..”, he paused significantly and added, “I’m not going to address this issue by creating walls and confusions, by vacillating and procrastinating and leaving the other person hanging”.
“Let’s break up”, he said suddenly, his eyes fixed on her face, carefully gauging every flicker of expression, of every little reaction to his words, “Let’s break up to know our minds. Maybe dating other people will help us realize what we really want”.
With her arms aching, Khushi held his smoldering gaze for a few moments before her own eyes ignited into an answering flame.
“Fine“, she said, her voice shaking with hurt, “if that’s what you want, it’s fine with me too”.
His eyes registered a mixture of hurt and disappointment before getting flooded with renewed rage. Snaking his arm around her waist, he pulled her roughly against him.
With his hand cupping her neck, he used his thumb to tilt her face up.
Two pairs of stormy eyes clashed before he said in an unnatural, stilted voice, “I suppose we’ve known each other well enough to warrant a goodbye kiss”.
Before she could say a word, he had swooped down to slam his lips on her slightly parted ones. His kiss was sensual yet rough in it’s almost desperate yearning. And it lasted for a just a moment, ending abruptly soon after it began.
With a suddenness that made her stumble, he raised his head and removed his arms. Without another word, he turned and walked out of the gazebo.
Khushi stayed in the gazebo for a long time, standing exactly where Arnav had left her, lifeless as a statue. The sun arced across the azure dome and had soon neared it’s nightly abode in the western hemisphere.
The golden haze of twilight descended upon freshly awakened earth when Khushi stepped out of the gazebo. Silhouetted against the colorful palette of the horizon at dusk, Khushi cut a lonely figure as she walked amidst a symphony of birds returning to their nests.
Oblivious to the hearbreaks and tragedies befalling it’s inhabitants, the earth continued with it’s journey around the sun. The verdant shrouding the ground had soon given way to the emerald of summer, while the multihued blossoms shrivelled and blew away with the changing winds. Pure azure transformed into metallic blue while the mellow gold of a spring day metamorphosed into the shimmering haze of summer.
Over two months passed….