Anita had trouble believing it was four months into the new year, 2016, already, just as she never could wrap her mind around the fact that Khushi no longer lived with them, hadn’t actually lived with them since she left for Srinagar one September afternoon in 2013, almost three years ago – for although she did return three months later, she seemed to have lived a lifetime there – a lifetime without her. She was, in some ways, big and small, a changed person, different from the one she’d grown up with. Anita knew it was all a part of growing up, of evolving, of life itself, but it felt sad all the same when she had time to think about it, which thanks to college wasn’t much. Di, of course, missed her too and even though she’d been constantly asking her to visit them again, she couldn’t afford to. Not until the end of the current semester anyway. Even though she wanted to – so fucking badly. Especially now that Isha and Vivek were there too, and that too within easily commutable distance.
Earlier in the day, they’d called on the way to a girls’ day out – just the two of them, Khushi Di and Isha Di – and almost turned her green with jealously, especially because she’d just started working on a particularly dull paper at the time – as usual beginning only when the deadline loomed large, leaving her with no leeway to put it off yet again.
“I hate both of you”, she’d wailed, “Here I’m working my butt off on a Sunday morning and you two had to call to rub salt on my wounds”. They’d only laughed their annoying, know it all, big sister laugh – telling her that they’d ‘been there, done that’ and moreover, if she thought college was bad, wait until she joined the workforce, that was a million times worse. In essence, stop whining, which, incidentally, was one of the most irritating thing one can say to a college person working on a dull paper due in a day’s time.
“And anyway”, Khushi Di had added affectionately, “You’re spending the summer with us, right? Arnav and I and – now Isha and Vivek as well – have a lot of plans”.
“I don’t know, Di”, she’d said, staring through an open window at a wet faded spring day. That was the truth, she’d instantly thought, latching on to her own words. That was the crux of the matter, was it not?, she asked herself. She didn’t know herself. At her age, Di not only had known what her goals in life were but was also able to focus her energies, all the juices of her being, on them – just as everyone her age in their immediate circle of acquaintances could. She had known what she wanted from life, what life wanted from her and was able to strike a balance – a compromise – between the two; while she, on the other hand, was already in pieces, unfocused, scattered all over, clueless about where she stood in life and where she wanted to be. Career wise and all other wise.
A word had dragged her attention back to the phone call, to her sister’s voice once again.
“What did you just say?, she’d said, her eyes opening wide with a little shiver of interest, “Did I just hear the word pregnant?”.
Khushi had laughed amusedly before confirming that she’d heard right, conveniently mistaking her confirmatory question for rhetorical. “Yes, you did. As I was saying Isha just found out she’s pregnant so I’m sure she and Vivek will need to revise their summer plans now. Here, I’m sure you want to talk to her”.
“Oh my, Isha Di”, she had pulled Isha Di’s leg for a bit. Even though her heart wasn’t fully in it and even with her current ongoing disrhythm and blues, it was too good an opportunity to not avail of. Old habits and all that. “You and Jeeju don’t believe in wasting time, do you? When are you due? Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?
“It’s too early to find out”, Isha said with a chuckle, “And if everything goes well, I’m due end of October. Just before Diwali”.
“And you all are celebrating Diwali with us this year”, Khushi spoke in the background, bossily, emphatically, “I’ve already told Mom and Dad and I’m telling you and Isha now. No excuses. No questions”.
“Gosh Di”, Anita laughed, ignoring a sudden memory, a strange stirring in her heart.
“There’s only two of us and I love her to death. You would too if you ever met her. She is like that…
“I would love to. Maybe next time you’re here?
A breath of a breeze had wafted in – so gentle it might have gone unnoticed if not for the faintest movement of new hair on forehead. Doggedly, she had continued with the banter, “For the first time in life, I feel sorry for Arnav bhai. And I never imagined I’d live to see this day. Is this what marriage does to you or were you this high handed always?
“I will convey your sympathies to your Arnav bhai”, Khushi had said by way of response, “And by the way, Isha here has a question for you. Why do you call Vivek, Jiju and Arnav, Arnav bhai?
“Good question. Tell her it’s complicated”, Anita had grinned in reply, not really sure if she knew or understood the answer or if there even was an answer. He just was – Arnav bhai. It suited him.
After ending the call, it had taken Anita some time to gather herself together and get back with the waiting keyboard. An awareness of steadily trotting time, trickling sand, lengthening shadows, made itself felt as a tingle in fingertips. She needed to get back to work. ASAP. Shaking her head, she went downstairs to scaffold herself with caffeine – one of the few habits she shared with Khushi, that too one, she was sure, that her sister considered a vice.
Her mother was setting the table for lunch but finding herself without appetite she said she’d eat later and climbed upstairs slowly, her phone clutched in one hand, mug in other. She was halfway through when her phone beeped and she checked who the text was from soon after she was seated.
Good luck with your assignment 🙂 I can totally understand your need to focus on your studies right now. You are at that crucial juncture of life I remember quite well! So please don’t ever apologize for being unable to go out with me. I shouldn’t and I don’t expect you to fall in with my plans every time I ask you out! Never hesitate – for not even a second – in refusing me. You have every right, okay?
PS: I’m texting because I didn’t want to disturb you but you can call me anytime you want.
Anita bit her lip and looked away from the screen, specifically from the four lettered word, she secretly had been faulting Aman for withholding – both in verbal expression and actions. His simple considerate words – expressed in such a genuine, matter of fact fashion – seemed to lash out at her, filling her with self loathing, convincing her of her triteness and shallowness. What do you want? She asked herself contemptuously. Grand declarations. Grand passion. Cheesy over the top romantic gestures. Her eyes stung and her heart felt full to the point where every beat was painful and every breath deliberate. She felt deeply ashamed of the vague restlessness – discontentment – she’d been experiencing every now and then since the new year started. She was a thankless brat. A ball of fluff. That’s what she was.
“Dear Amat”, she typed, even as a tear rolled down a cheek, “Thank you for being so considerate”. She paused and looked out the window, grasping for words, her eyes absently trained on the maple tree outside, on it’s young leaves ruffling in the breeze. “I don’t know what to say except that I’m lucky to have you in my life 🙂
It had been a month since they seriously starting looking at homes with the end goal of moving in that summer in sight. It just made more sense, they’d both agreed. With a stable, decent income job each, it made considerable more sense to invest in a house rather than continue paying out apartment rent, month after month. It was end of April now and the countless showings they’d walked through so far had only left them tired and confused…and in Arnav’s case, bored and in reconsideration of the pros of apartment living. Khushi would have none of it.
“I love our apartment. I really do”, she said seriously as they drove to view a relatively new oceanfront house, “But now that you – yes, you – have started me and my thoughts on this path, it will be hard to apply brakes now – just because you suddenly think it makes better sense to stay put in our apartment another couple years”. Heck, she thought, her imagination already was all over the place, she was already picking out wall colors, thinking about dull things like cabinets and counters and…inviting their whole family to celebrate Diwali at their imaginary home this year.
“What I mean to say is that you can’t keep changing your mind like this”, she finished with a sigh, “It’s a waste of time”.
Arnav turned and glanced at her, his warm sun kissed eyes flitting across her face before returning to the road again. “I’m not changing my mind, love. it was just a thought”.
He grinned at the gleaming asphalt ahead, “I bet you’ve been writing a million of your little lists already”.
“So?, she smiled back sassily, flushing guiltily at the same time, “I like planning and being organized. Is that a crime?
It wasn’t long before they stood at curbside looking up at a pretty house which already was making her have warm homey feelings about it. Even as she shaded her eyes and peered at the facade, she found herself being unceremoniously hauled and thoroughly kissed, possibly in full view of the real estate agent who waited inside the house for them.
She laughed and pushed him away and when she gestured toward the opening front door at the agent who stood there now to welcome them.
“So?, he mimicked her tone, “I like kissing my wife. Is that a crime?
As they walked down the curved path to the door, she said, “You are so childish, Dr. Raizada”
“Yeah”, he said with a wry nod, “Says the one who thinks sticking a tongue out is an acceptable way to resolve arguments”.
She pursed her lips. “You’re sleeping in the living room tonight”, she muttered before putting on a smile to meet the agent. She could hear Arnav chuckle behind her before following suit, allowing the agent to lead them on a meticulously detailed tour and commentary around the house. It was followed by coffee and conversation at the dining table and afterwards, sensing their interest, she left them alone, encouraging them to wander around, to get a feel of the house.
Their hands found each other as they climbed upstairs, opening and shutting closet doors, peeking inside bathrooms, walking in and out of empty bedrooms. She felt drawn toward a certain room again and gently tugged him toward it.
“As you can guess, this room was being used as a nursery by the previous owners”, the agent had said with a knowing smile that unsuccessfully attempted to encompass both of them. Arnav had walked up to the window instead, standing with his back to them, an almost imperceptible tenseness of his shoulder blades not unnoticed by Khushi.
With the conversational bait left unpicked by either of them, the agent had hastily moved on to other topics, yet, she, Khushi, had been unable to stop thinking…
Which was why, she was here again, tugging Arnav back inside that room with her…
It was a bright room, pink walled and airy , shadows of sea waves dancing on walls, sunlight bursting in by armloads – and unbidden, unexpected, scattered images and thoughts rushed into her mind like a high tide. A little white chair in that corner there. A tiny quilt. A long forgotten rhyme. She turned to look at him. He was by the window again, his profile mired in thoughts of his own. Thoughts far removed from hers, she was sure, in mood and character.
Soundlessly, she went to him, standing beside him and hugging his arm, thinking of ways to best express what swirled in her mind. Until she saw what Arnav was looking at – what he seemed unable to tear his eyes away from. A swimming pool.
She swallowed hard, overcoming the familiar onslaught of emotion, harnessing the just as familiar coping and survival mechanisms.
“I like the house we saw last week better”,
Few guys his age would feel trapped by a near perfect score on an aptitude test like he did. Just as few musically inclined individuals – future rockstars in their own minds – could cite a LSAT score of 170 – unexpected as fuck, incidentally – as the final nail in their band’s coffin. Not that their band wasn’t already gasping for breath. Not that he hadn’t already made up his mind to break away and try his luck as a solo artist.
Standing before the hotel bathroom mirror, Arian yawned and absently surveying his tattoo – a rather dramatic one comprising of intricate Celtic knots and dragons – who appeared more like they were fucking – courtesy of the shitty tattoo artist who must’ve been stoned at the time – than dueling like they were supposed to. It covered his entire left shoulder and upper arm and for the first time, he was thankful for having resisted the urge to get an even more extensive one like he’d originally planned. It would have been harder for a suit – rather a shirt collar – to keep it concealed.
Much as he felt claustrophobic at the thought of spending a life time stuffed in suits, just the expression on old motherfucker’s face – disturbing how perversely accurate the insult actually was – when told about his score and the law schools he’d received acceptance letters and interview calls from had been worth it.
He grinned at his reflection – what Regina used to refer to as his deceptively friendly pirate grin – remembering his dead pan reply when Karen had asked him – with forced interest – what kind of lawyer he saw himself as in ten years. “An ambulance chasing one”.
An hour later, he stepped out into the pale spring sunshine, adjusting his laptop bag strap across the chest. His hair and stubble were suitably tamed, and a tie shoved in a pocket. The air felt refreshing as he strode toward his rental car and he paused for a second, breathing it in slowly. He was in the same latitude as Anita. Out of the blue, the thought crossed his mind. That’s how the sky must look like to her, that’s how the air must feel.
As he drove to the interview, he turned the radio on, half listening to music and half going down a list of commonly asked questions, mentally rehearsing the answers at the same time. Heading from the fringes of the city to it’s center, his car crossed what appeared to be a small farmer’s market. A rough hand written sign caught his eye.
“Fresh Parsley And Sage”.
His mind went back to a recent conversation he’d had with her. They were discussing Simon And Garfunkel and the songs that were considered to be it’s best versus their own personal favorites. At one point, Anita had brought up, “Have you been to Scarborough Fair? , eventually unleashing a long discussion wholly centered around the song. He realized that day that her considerable stash of generally useless trivia matched his own.
“It’s a modern version of a medieval folk song that has been around for centuries”, she’d said, “It’s about a dude pining for true love and the herbs mentioned represent virtues it’s supposed to be comprised of. Parsley- Comfort, Sage – Strength, Rosemary – Love, Thyme – Courage. And I read somewhere that these four herbs together were also used to treat plague – Black Death – at the time. Also, I think the dude is a total jerk for testing his girlfriend like that. “Sew me a seamless cambric shirt to prove your love” Are you kidding me?
“I’m sure his girl friend told him to fuck off soon after the song ended”, he’d reassured her with a grin, walking out of the noisy dive bar he was at to hear her better.
“But you know what despite all of that it still is a favorite song of mine. I love the voice, the melody, the crazy lyrics, the mystical vibes, the history. Everything. I can listen to it again and again and not get tired. I know it doesn’t make sense but I’m sure we all have problematic favorites…
“Absolutely yes”, he’d said continuing walking down a crowded Friday night street. He walked and walked and when she hung up, he blinked at the neons and realized that he had come a long way and that he didn’t have the slightest inclination to go back again.
Braking the car to a halt at a traffic signal, he snapped out of his reverie. He slid down the windows and leaned back, waiting for the light to turn green and humming the song under his breath.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
A/N: Thanks for reading! Next update, Thursday, Feb 8th, Noon USEST, Late Evening, IST.