“In the end only three things matter, how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you”~ Jack Kornfield.
When Anita entered college, she was undecided about what she wanted to major in or what she wanted to do with life after college in terms of career choices. While that indecisiveness in itself was not unusual at all, it was Star Plus level drama, or so she had termed it in hindsight, occurring in and around her life last year that made focussing on life-essentials like exploration of interests and options and conception of future plans difficult.
Although ending her freshman year with a GPA nowhere close to satisfactory, her level of satisfactory, was a loud and definite wake-up call, it didn’t seem to have done it’s job well enough. It was January…she was a sophomore now…she was still undecided.
“Poor lovesick puppy”, she was unable to fight back an impulse to taunt her reflection, her fingers stilling on her hairbrush handle, her face contorting in derision.
“I want to see where this crush will take me, Aarti”, she said in an exaggerated mimicry of her last-year self, “Idiot”.
It was a juvenile thing to do, she realized that without a doubt, but well, she also told herself, firstly, nobody was looking and secondly, she badly needed to vent some of that stress and self directed anger out before she did something stupid like raiding the vending machine again. It had been brewing for quite some time now and there were valid reasons backing it too. Three long undergrad years stretched in front of her, with the prospect of working her butt off to undo damage caused by freshman GPA hovering like a death eater, ready to suck her soul out. And she had no choice.That was the only way to manage graduating with a decent cumulative score. She’d been such a high achieving student in high-school that she couldn’t believe she’d allowed this to happen.
All because she had been too foolishly optimistic, delusional even, for a plain- no point in shirking the truth- girl like her.
All because she’d allowed herself to neglect pursuit of education in favor of ridiculous, impractical and, in all likelihood, false notions of love and romance.
All because she’d allowed herself to act as if life took regular inspiration from self-fulfilling fan-fictions, incidentally her guilty pleasure, and their done to death tropes. Not that she was going to stop reading them any time soon.
And now she had landed in a fine soup – that was the best way to put it- and if she didn’t watch out and get her act together, that soup showed every promise of getting hotter with her probably ending up at a fast food drive through window, handing out fries and ketchup to strong successful women in fancy cars- sensible women who hadn’t wasted precious college years on wishful ishqbaazi. Of course, like her Di would have corrected her if present, there was nothing wrong in any kind of honest work…but still, given a choice, who in their right mind would choose to permanently be on that side of the window?
Talking about Di, she mused with pride, now, she never wasted time hunting for romance in undergrad, medical school and residency years- choosing instead to spend most of it on books, assignments, deadlines and geeking on obscure things, the last of which, of course, hadn’t been wholly necessary in her opinion.
Becoming a doctor ain’t easy, Anita shuddered in remembrance of Khushi’s general state of being in those days, a never ending cycle of slogging, anxiety and panic punctuated with very, very tiny wisps of post exam euphoria. While this challenging lifestyle was worthwhile in the end for some people, there was no way she was going to let Mom bully her into trying to become one too. Like she strongly suspected she was going to any time soon.
On an unrelated or perhaps not so unrelated note, after all those years of slogging and not actively hunting for romance, Di found Arnav Bhai. And while their romance might’ve been far from ideal and their journey ridden with horrific drama and pain, it was the destination that made it worthwhile, her incorrigibly romantic heart whispered with a touch of wistfulness, one had to just look at them now to understand that.They were puppies and rainbows and raindrops on roses rolled in one. So cute that it actually hurt to look at them sometimes, making her pine for dreams that were unlikely, if not impossible, to come true in her case. She was just beginning to realize that.
“It’s quite simple actually. Di is beautiful. Unlike me”, she thought with in purposely matter of fact, no nonsense voice, “And it must be super-easy for someone to be drawn to her, to want to know her, to ultimately love her for who she is”.
She glared at her reflection again, firmly squashing a familiar list of ‘things she didn’t like about her looks’ before it went on to gain form and force in all it’s crybaby glory. She had a lot on her plate already and she’d be damned if whining voices, futile whining voices in her head, became one of them.
Her slightly up-slanted eyes gleamed with steel as she tossed back her shining mane of recently cut and styled hair, slung her handbag on her shoulder and hurried out of the dorm room. She was already running late for her academic advisor appointment.
“The next three years are going to be tough”, she thought with a sigh, her boots crunching on the pebbles and ice on sidewalk, “But I think I’ll be ok”.
“It sure helps”, she added with a wry smile, “When not being okay is not even a viable choice”.
“I don’t want to think about marriage right now”, said Aman patiently but firmly, seeing through her mother’s convoluted explanation of why his presence at a dinner party next Saturday was an absolutely necessity.
Her mother gazed at him from across the dining table, her eyes a mix of trepidation and hate, “You’re still not over…that girl. I regret the day I introduced you to her. And I’m glad it didn’t work out because she is most certainly not worthy of you. I never expected her to be so…so selfish and double faced. The way she led all of us on…
“Stop Ma”, Aman frowned, a wave of irritation spasming across his customary equanimity, “It didn’t work out because it wasn’t meant to be and that should be the end of it. And to get back to what we were talking about, I can’t…I won’t come. I’m sorry if this offends you but I’m done with setups like these”.
As his mother’s eyes flickered with hurt at this unexpected, uncharacteristic directness, he sighed with remorse and said, “Listen Ma, whenever my marriage has to happen, whenever it is destined to happen, it will happen. I think it’s about time you stopped worrying about it”.
An undefined expression lingered in his eyes as he hesitated for a long moment before adding, “Not for the next 3-4 years at-least”.
As he scraped his chair back to rise, her mother, who was never the one to give matters up easily, asked again, “So you really won’t come?
“I can’t come. I’m going to a game with Irfan”, he said standing up, irritation he’d earlier buried with difficulty, erupting in his eyes again. For some reason, it had become a regular occurrence these days. Maybe he needed to go on a vacation. Maybe he needed time to take stock of himself and his life, to find where he stood and where he wanted to go. Sometimes it seemed like he didn’t know himself anymore and he had no idea why.
Khushi’s eyes were perplexed as they stepped out of yet another lease office in the historic downtown of West Palm Beach. Although it was almost five, the sun blazed amidst clear blue skies, routine for southern Florida’s tropical rainforest climate, and Khushi, who’d forgotten her sunglasses, squinted at Arnav. Her puzzlement was visible even through the protective slits her eyes were against the sun. They’d spent the whole of last week in a vigorous hunt for a place to live and so far the only apartment they’d both liked was too far from Arnav’s work to be seriously considered.
Khushi had also loved the first apartment they’d seen that day but for some reason he was clearly being mealy- mouthed about he was reluctant to take it in consideration. Khushi couldn’t find any fault in it and that was the reason behind her puzzlement. It was a two bedroom apartment, open, spacious and contemporary with a well-fitted kitchen and a balcony with a view of an inter-coastal water way, boats and the urban skyline.
“Arnav, think we should just go with the one on Madison Avenue”, she said shooting a sideways glance at her husband’s inscrutable as ever profile because, well, like they say, some things can never change, “Even you agreed it meets most of our requirements. Besides, it’s location is fantastic”.
Arnav’s eyes were indecipherable even behind the aviators as they walked toward the parking lot, “There’re still a couple more left on our list. Why don’t we look at them too before deciding? What do you say?
Shrugging her shoulders, Khushi slid inside the furnace like car interior and when it was on the road again, waiting at a crossing for the pedestrians to pass, she decided to assert herself more. Although she generally tried to keep the greater scheme of all things in mind, neither according undue importance to minor details of life, nor to an egoistic clamoring to always be the one to decide them, she was well aware of their personality differences, her yin to his yang, and didn’t want their relationship, which was still a baby, to grow up lopsided in terms of decision making…possibly leading to that discontent and resentment her married friends often ranted about later on in their life.
“But I really like that apartment. You did too. Tell me one thing you didn’t like about it”, she crossed her arms and initiated a dialogue, her eyes watching his profile as he drove, “You know which one I’m talking about? The one on Madison Avenue”.
She noted something undefined shift in his vibe. It was almost imperceptible yet tangible to Khushi. Her eyes flared with curiosity before stilling in the light of a slowly dawning realization. What the…
“Madison…Grove Apartments”, she repeated in a flat voice, throwing it as a bait to better gauge his reaction.
This time she almost felt him cringe.
Silence reigned for barely a mile before Khushi could hold it no longer longer.The car filled with her irrepressible giggles, which even an indignant glare in her direction was unable to thwart. But with effort, she had soon composed herself, taking a deep breath, sitting up straight with a demeanor in keeping with his grave mood and countenance.
“Sorry”, she said, biting her lip.
All she got in response was injured silence, which not only failed to subdue a sudden effervescence in her spirit, but also caused it escape through her lips, filling the car with an infectious sound her husband seemed to be completely impervious to today. By the time, he’d pulled in front of their hotel and handed keys to the valet, he was positively grim, striding ahead through the entrance door and across the lobby toward the elevator.
“Don’t walk so fast”, said Khushi, hurrying to stay abreast with him, her eyes twinkling irrepressibly, “Don’t forget, your legs are longer than mine”.
They reached the elevators and Khushi saw that Arnav’s feathers were thoroughly ruffled. She felt a belated niggle of remorse and once they were gliding up to the twelfth floor where their room was, Khushi eliminated their intervening distance, gazing up at his face, smiling both at his reluctance to meet her eyes and the irrelevant thought that he looked absolutely edible.
“Achha baba, sorry”, she said softly, hooking her index fingers through his jeans’ belt loops with innocent eyes. Arnav turned his head and inhaled, his body visibly relaxing, his eyes melding with hers in a silent truce.The elevator shuddered to a halt and the door displaying the various comforts of their hotel slid open for them. And Arnav was glad because her wife’s slender fingers hooked onto his belt loops did…things in their local vicinity he did not much care for in public spaces.
Their room was just a few steps away from the elevator and even as it’s door swung shut behind them and Khushi flung her hand bag on a nearby table, Arnav hauled her in his arms with a predatory zeal she’d come to expect and love.
“We have a dinner reservation”, she said incoherently in between lusty kisses even as their hands roamed wantonly, tugging at and removing every stitch of clothing that separated their aching bodies.
Their hearts beat loudly in her ear as they crashed onto the bed more roughly than they’d intended, their skin warm with beads of perspiration, their blood singing an erotic tune together.
Mindful of the ticking clock, they kept it short and sweet, with Arnav impaling her thrumming core with a single thrust, her legs wrapped around his waist, their pelvises joined in a primeval rhythm that threw them off the edge in their quickest time so far.
As their blood settled, and Khushi lay drenched in his sweat, breath and passion, Arnav raised himself to press a lingering kiss on her forehead. It was a religiously followed ritual, a simple gesture that never failed to feed her heart and all that her soul was made of.
“We can look at more apartments tomorrow, if you like”, she said with a smile.
“Nope. We’ll go with the one you liked, we both liked”, he said before adding with a grimace, “Madison Avenue”. His grimace transitioned into a rueful grin and Khushi grinned back at him, their hearts dilating and letting go of residues of past – some what ifs, a handful of if onlys, some jagged pieces of pain, some rusty strands of guilt and regret, some half buried wishes for perfection.
Evening saw them strolling through the bustle of Clematis street toward a waterfront bar and sea food restaurant. With a balmy breeze in their hair and drinks in their palms, they relaxed on it’s prized deck, just soaking in the moment with all it parts.
The sun going down over the inter coastal waterway. The skyline glittering in the background. The encompassing buzz of humanity and their grasp on that elusive sense of calm….
Since it was Friday, The Green Martini, described on it’s website as dim, hip and fashionable, bustled with professionals and tourists. It’s weekly live entertainment appeared to be a hit with locals too since the introductory guitar riff of a popular soft rock number~ it was Top Forty Night~led to scraped back chairs and feet heading indoors.
A silken mix of supple instrumentation and soulful croon weaved it’s way around them even as Khushi gazed at the liquid colors of dusk in front of her, “I love this song. It’s one of the most beautiful break-up songs ever. It does so much more than just spill sounds into silence”.
Admitting that he liked the song too, Arnav turned sideways with a smile, “You have a thing for melancholic songs, don’t you? I wonder what makes melancholy in music, and all art forms for that matter, evoke an aesthetic – almost pleasurable~ emotion in our brains? How does it differentiate it from say…sorrow or sadness?
“I’m sure those sneaky neurotransmitters are at play somewhere”, replied Khushi with a twinkle before her profile sobered with contemplation, “It’s hard to express but I think what makes melancholy aesthetic and different from those emotions is it’s indescribable mix of complexity…and subtlety. It resonates deep despite not providing an easy, clear cut answer. It makes us look inward and reflect..”.
“Subconsciously approach a sense of perspective maybe?, murmured Arnav before his eyes flickered back into their moment again.
Rising from his chair, he held out a hand for her, “Let’s go inside. We’ll be able to hear better”.
With their fingers weaved they entered the blue hued space, Arnav in dark jeans and black button down shirt and Khushi in a navy floral flare skirt and a basic black sleeveless top.They paused at the doorway for a moment, before spotting an empty booth close to the stage and heading toward it.
The stage was elevated behind the bar, against a grid of blue lit cubby holes with pale light streams spilling from above. The singer sat in it’s center, perched on a chair, his left hand moving on frets in a slow, measured dance, his right cajoling the strings over the sound hole. His eyes closed even as his lips moved, weaving together the riff and the rhythm with words and soul…
From walking home and talking loads
To seeing shows in evening clothes with you
From nervous touch and getting drunk
To staying up and waking up with you
But now we’re sleeping at the edge
Holding something we don’t need
All this delusion in our heads
Is gonna bring us to our knees
So come on let it go
Just let it be
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me
Everything’s that’s broke
Leave it to the breeze
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me?
I’ll be me…
The audience was captivated, their eyes fixed on the deep melancholy on the young singer’s stubbled face and it was when a friend in the audience teasingly called out his name that he opened his eyes, deep set gray, and glanced toward the voice, his answering wink transforming his face, his song and chord unaffected by his grin.
“Doesn’t he remind you of Chris Evans?”, Khushi whispered to Arnav, “A more rugged version Chris Evans?
“Not at all”, replied Arnav shortly with a raised eyebrow and a fleeting expression that caused Khushi to suppress an amused smile. Men are such babies sometimes, she mused, resting her tired head against him.
With his arm around her shoulders, his fingers drew patterns on her bare shoulder absently, “I’m sick of staying in a hotel. I can’t wait to move into our apartment tomorrow”.
“Our home”, she corrected looking up, their eyes meeting and smiling at each other.