It was late Sunday evening and with Arnav away for an Academy seminar, Khushi had settled herself in a corner of the living room couch, whiling away time on her phone – music and YouTube – as she waited for him. His flight from Atlanta was due to land in a little over two hours. He been away for five days and despite being in almost constant touch via texts and face times, she’d been surprised at how forlorn their apartment seemed, and how strange their new city of residence appeared without him.
After watching five episodes of an inexplicably addictive Indian serial back to back, she unbent her cramped legs and stretched them in front of her. Through the glass wall before her, she could see the busy road and the waterway beyond, scores of light orbs piecing through the falling haze of dusk.
Her stomach rumbled with hunger and she stretched and rose, heading toward the kitchen for a snack and turning on the lamps on the way. As she poured herself a glass of juice, liquid splashing against glass, she noted how every single noise – be it the the rumbling of the fridge’s innards or the air blasting off of vents – sounded so much louder in his absence. She were just one step away from checking for the boogeyman under her bed. She smiled amusedly, finishing off the juice and rinsing the glass.
Her phone’s musical ringtone pierced the silence of the apartment. She glanced at the screen and smiled, her heart warming at Astha’s name flashing on the screen. She was in Srinagar at the moment for her annual sojourn, and called them regularly every few days, just as they did.
“How I wish I were there right now”, Khushi said wistfully after Astha had described her day to her, “I just need to close my eyes to teleport myself next to you. It’s all so fresh in my mind still. The rippling waves. The mountain air. The rustling of chinar leaves outside my window. Everything”.
“Well”, said Astha in her pleasant, common sense seeped voice, “Why don’t you and Arnav come over too? I’m going to be here until August”.
“I wish, Ma”, said Khushi, “We both wanted to but Arnav is neck deep in work right now. I’m sure when he took up this position, he hadn’t realized just how demanding being program director of a brand new residency program could be. And the fresh recruits aren’t even here yet. Only God knows how things will pan out after July 1st. We’re hoping things will ease off – for everyone concerned – after these growing pains have been dealt with”.
“I hope so too”, Astha said, “And I’m glad you’ve made friends there and have your own work to keep you busy…
Khushi sighed and agreed with her. Although she would have definitely preferred to see a lot more of her husband, and although she most definitely grumbled about it at times, she was more and less content with her lot. To Khushi, it was totally in character for him to be as passionate about his work as he was about just about anything – not that there were too many of those – that caught his interest in life.That was who he was and that was, she would often remind herself, one of the many characteristics that had made her love him like she had and…did. And she were glad she were the kind of woman who’d always believed in the importance of preserving within a marriage, one’s ever evolving personal identity and it’s various by products – pursuits, beliefs, interests, hobbies, goals. In accepting and preserving this distinctiveness of the two intertwined strands of consciousness, Khushi had slowly discovered, was still discovering, a form of liberation – a relative non dependence on it’s mate for maintaining it’s ultimate state of being…
“And I’m – we’re both – still waiting for you to come stay with us. You promised”, Khushi complained..
“I will”, laughed Astha, “Soon. But with you and Arnav busy with your jobs, what am I going to do all day?”.
“Oh, come on, Ma. I’m sure you’ll find ways to keep yourself busy. We’ll help you find ways”.
“I can think of a very very beautiful way to keep me busy”.
Khushi chuckled at the teasing lilt in her mother in law’s voice, recognizing the direction their conversation was headed. Even as faint rose spread across her cheeks, she realized this was the first time since their marriage that anyone had even indirectly alluded to this particular topic. Arnav avoided talking about it, she had often felt, and somehow it had translated into her own discomfort – undefined and formless – with the topic in general. Perhaps it was much too soon; perhaps it was a deep fear of her words scratching those scabs again…
She decided to tease her back by deliberately misunderstanding her. “You mean a garden, right?”, she said, tongue in cheek, “Arnav often mentions your love for gardening and that is one of the reasons why we’re already searching for a house”.
“You know exactly what I meant”, she said and her laughter, a warm, lovely sound, reached Khushi from the other end, warming her heart.
After she’d hung up, she couldn’t stop her mind from wandering toward their future. While she was in no hurry to start a family, she’d always liked children and it was easy to conjure up a little girl in her heart. A pretty little girl with Arnav’s eyes and smile and maybe a dimple or too. She could imagine her kneeling by the waves in a red sundress, trying to build a sand castle with small clumsy hands. She saw her pout as it kept crumbling down and heard her voice as she yelled for her daddy. Why did she feel she was already there somewhere? What would they name her…?
Khushi walked to the door with her heart fluttering like a fall leaf. Go away Boogeyman, Dr. Raizada is back. Smiling at her own thought, she opened the door, sighing in contentment as Arnav walked in with a smile, his eyes conveying every thought and pleasantry the situation warranted without expending a word. After his bag was pulled in and the door shut against the world, she went into his arms, taking a deep breath to draw in a lungful of his scent – him. She rested her cheek against his chest, near his heart, and hooked her arms around his shoulders while he tightened his arms to draw her close.
“I’m tired and hungry”, she heard him say after a while, his warm breath caressing her ear and side of neck, “And horny. And not necessarily in that order of urgency”.
“I would have never guessed it”, she murmured wryly against his black polo shirt, feeling that tell tale movement against her belly – and her body’s own quick response to his arousal. She pressed her torso closer and rubbed against him, while he inhaled sharply, cupped her neck with both hands and leaned in for a kiss. Blood turned sluggish, eyelids heavy and tongues dueled and mated with unabashed abandon. She bit his lip as his hand somehow made space between bodies pressed together to reach her breast, molding, teasing and kneading it through the thin tank top and brassiere.
It was after a little while, when their living room clock chimed nine, that they disengaged and smiled at each other. Their eyes were hazy with a mixture of desire and humor.
“Much as I want to keep doing what we’re doing, let’s get done with dinner first”, Khushi said, “I don’t want to warm it all over again”.
“And as much as I want to take you to the nearest flat surface”, Arnav grinned, releasing her, “I will have to agree with you for once. I really need to freshen up first”.
While setting the table and waiting for Arnav, her mind returned to her conversation with Astha again. Maybe she would try bringing it up later in the night. Maybe she would bring it up just to test the waters, to see what his reaction would be like.
Dinner was a shrimp, vegetables and rice dish her husband had unexpectedly – and conveniently – fallen in love the first time she cooked it few months ago. It was her own invention – a lazy one at that – created one evening after work when she was too tired to think, too tired to go out and too tired to cook anything requiring more than one pot and half a brain. It had turned out surprisingly good, even she’d admitted to that with widened eyes, and Arnav, firmly established now as the designated dishwasher of the household, had had to scrub a completely empty pot that night.
While they ate, they talked easily about this and that, never having to think too much, never running out of topics: his seminar, it’s workshops, an interesting case Khushi saw last week, the book club she’d recently joined and Anita’s upcoming visit. Khushi spoke about Astha’s phone call too but for some reason just stopped short of what she’d wanted to talk about the most…
Later, as she lay waiting for him, she told herself it was too early to be worrying about parenthood anyway. And considering…perhaps it would be better to wait for him to approach this topic, she reflected quietly, her heart swelling with an upsurge in emotion. Wherever he felt the time was right. Whenever he felt he was ready for it…
She turned on her side, watching as Arnav got out of the bathroom, bare-chested, and feeling the mattress dip as he flipped the covers to slip next to her. Resting his weight on an elbow, he looked down at her, his eyes aglow in the warm yellow light as he stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers slowly. It was a familiar gesture, simple and tender and uniquely his; it ranked high among her favorite ways to be touched by him.
“I missed you”, he said, pecking her lips and even as she repeated the sentiment, he kissed her again…and again until their kiss deepened and changed in quality. Impatient and ferociously hungry; frankly intent on taking care of business left unfinished. He moved over her, his body stretched and taut, a knee placed between her legs.
Her hands took delight in touching him as they kissed, stroking his skin, tracing the hard contours of his muscles, burrowing in the softness of his hair. They were decidedly bolder and naughtier after months of almost daily action.
They touched him in the most intimate way possible and Arnav groaned, his fingers circling around her wrist urgently. He tugged at her tank top, removing it and the black lacy brassiere that lay beneath in one smooth movement, before giving her breasts the kind of attention he knew she liked.
With her wrists pinned on each side, he switched from one to the other, almost making her splinter even before their bodies were fully joined, her warm sheath drawing him in, his flesh and his force, again and again, until they spiraled up together toward the rippling summit and the fall.
It was still relatively early, just a few minutes after half past ten and hearing her phone ring in the living room, she sneaked out of the bed slowly, talking care not to wake Arnav up. It was Anita, calling her for packing advise. As she alternated between speaking quietly into the phone and listening to her excited voice, she wondered about their brief conversation last month, the one where Anita had surprised her by revealing she’d gone out with Aman. Aman Aggarwal.
And judging by subsequent conversations, it hadn’t been a one time thing either, followed as it was by several similar outings. Outings? Dates? She had no idea what was going on; this unexpected turn in her sister’s life had taken her completely by surprise. Although she’d felt Anita’s heartbreak last year and guessed – without knowing any of the details – that it was Aman who was in some way responsible for it, she had also witnessed her resilience, her healing – her picking herself up, brushing dust off and moving ahead in life. And despite thinking highly of Aman as a person and a friend, she’d been happy, proud and incredibly moved to see that. She’d often admitted to herself that not only was she unsure if Aman would be the right person for her, she considered Anita to be too young still.
She was still thinking worriedly when she finally went to bed. Arnav was always a light sleeper and sensing her presence, he drew her close, her back nestling securely against his chest, her head tucked under his chin. Her body relaxed and her eyelids grew heavier. She was glad Anita was coming to her next week. Not only did she need to get to the bottom of this, it promised to be a particularly delicate operation.
Khushi took off from work the day Anita arrived. It was late morning on a weekday and the traffic light as she drove back to their apartment from airport. There was just enough time for Anita to breathe as she talked non stop. There was much to catch up on and they were still chattering like two birds when they entered the apartment. Khushi showed her around and in between Khushi’s beaming love and Anita’s funny comments about everything and anything, the two sisters paused and hugged each other hard, realizing exactly how much they’d missed each other. After Anita had freshened up, unpacked and settled in the second bedroom – Arnav’s study that he had graciously and temporarily vacated for Anita – they went out for a short stroll through downtown.
It was unbearably hot and humid and after eating lunch at a nearby Mexican joint, they decided to relax and catch up over frozen yogurt.
The topic they’d both avoided until now never quite left them alone and Anita made Khushi’s life easier by bringing it up herself.
Lena-dena nahi duniya se mera
Bas tujh se kaam hai
Teri ankhiyon ke sheher me
Yaara sab intezaam hai
Khushiyon ka ek tukda mile
Ya mile gham ki khurchane
Yaara tere mere kharche me
Dono ka hi ek daam hai
Sorry for this delay, my little one was down with a mild cold but she’s doing well now. I wasn’t able to reach the teaser part but it will be included in the next part.
Thanks for your feedback, it will always be welcomed by me 🙂