Timeframe: Written and set a few days after the night of Diwali 2011.
What the hell was he doing?! He didn’t know anymore and it was driving him insane! He’d set out for the office feeling exhausted even though it was so early; he’d even got part of the way there but then he’d stopped at a light and seen a pink scarf fluttering from the corner of his eye. His head had jerked around and he was instantly alert but he needn’t have bothered because it wasn’t Khushi… what would she be doing so close to his house this early in the morning; she didn’t work there anymore.
The thought had cut through his brain like mush and he’d ignored all the horns beeping as he did an illegal u-turn and began driving aimlessly with thoughts of her going round and round in his head. Now he was here, sitting, waiting… waiting for what?! The girl who’d all but driven him insane. ‘Khushi,’ his voice whispered it into the empty car and he rested his forehead on the steering wheel for a second as he wondered again what he was doing here.
And all because of a scarf… damn her and stupid scarf, he thought angrily as he looked up. He was the one who’d left her crying at her door; he’d painstakingly crushed any last shred of hope that may have still been in her heart… and for what? What had he gotten out of it… nothing but more agony.
There’s no point feeling bad about it now, he told himself roughly but he couldn’t get rid of the guilt churning up his stomach. And those tears burned away at him; they’d burnt away his peace, his sleep, his sanity. He wanted to drive away but he couldn’t move, so still he waited…
His phone rang a few minutes later and he ignored it till it went off another couple of times. ‘What?!’ He barked into it and waited while the other person gathered their wits. ‘Dammit Aman! Can’t you handle one meeting on your own?! Tumhe kaam pe kis liye rakha hai?!!’ He knew he was being overly harsh but he didn’t care and after the next question he flipped out. ‘Because you don’t know the answer yourself do you..?’ he gritted his teeth and ignored the voice in his head as he answered Aman in a scathing voice, ‘You don’t need to know what I’m doing! Lavanya has copies of all the files, tell her to bring them over and deal with it!’
Arnav cut the phone and swore under his breath as he threw it onto the seat next to him with a flick of his wrist. There was no point being angry at Aman; he wasn’t the one acting like an idiot, he wasn’t the one sitting in a car waiting for… he let out an angry breath and started the car – he was done waiting.
‘Di I’m fine, bas mujhe akela chod do, I have work!’ It was late afternoon now and he was home trying to focus but Anjali insisted he looked tired and had brought him a glass of juice. At least they’ve given up on talk of wedding dates he thought, feeling queasy as he tried to get her to leave.
She ignored his efforts and held the glass of juice under his nose… it smelt like mango juice and he felt his stomach knot up painfully as the memories came flooding in and he jerked his head back. Anjali made a face and out of desperation he took the glass and looked for somewhere to put it, away from him, wishing he could put the memories away with it.
‘Chotte yeh parde kyu band hai?! Tum bhi naa…’ Arnav was jolted out of his thoughts as Anjali flung open the drapes and opened one of the glass doors to the still glittering pool. He couldn’t bear to look at it and only went out to water the plants but yet he couldn’t bring himself to take down the lights she’d put up either so he’d just hidden it from sight.
Anjali was still speaking while he was lost in the view through the glass and in the memory of an almost perfect moment, ‘…Khushiji ki khush khabri sun kar!’ His treacherous heart jumped at the sound of her name although he had missed the rest of the sentence.
He swallowed and tried to feign uninterest even though his breath felt stuck. He focused on the cold glass still in his hand, willing his heart to slow down, ‘Kya Di…kya kaha aapne… uss ki baare mein?’ He waited for what seemed like a lifetime and then wished he hadn’t asked as she answered and everything came crashing down around him.
‘Khushiji ki shaadi teh ho chuki hai Chotte!! Unhone Lavanya ko aaj phone pe bataya!!’
Everything had gone black and there was static in his ears, it was like he couldn’t see or hear anything and the pain was unbearable, it felt like something inside him was splintering into tiny pieces and those pieces were tearing him up inside. He could almost hear his insides shatter as he stood frozen and tried to draw in a breath. ‘Chotte?!! Yeh kya kiya tumne!! Hai Bagwaan!’
Arnav blinked through the black haze only as Anjali shook his shoulder and grabbed his hand and he looked at her blankly as he saw the tears in her eyes. Why was she crying? Could she tell what was happening inside him…?
He swallowed painfully as he tried to pull himself together for the moment. ‘Kya Di? Kuch bhi toh nahi hua…’ his dead voice broke and he couldn’t carry on but Anjali hadn’t noticed and was still crying… and now she was yelling, ‘Chotte!! Yeh kuch nahi hai?! Kya hogaya hai tumhe?!! Tum yahi ruko, hum abhi aaye!’
She let go of his hand and he looked down blankly as she almost ran out of the room and was surprised to see blood and glass everywhere. He opened his hand and all he could see was blood and his brain told him in a detached way that he’d shattered the glass he’d been holding but he felt nothing from it.
He pulled out a thin piece of glass from his palm and finally a dull ache shot up his arm but it was still nothing compared to the pain that was still eating him up inside. It had only been a few days since he’d seen her… was she really getting married? It felt like his world had shifted on its axis and there was an odd panic in the pit of his stomach. He tried to push it away and poked at the cut on his hand, hoping the pain would jolt him out of his state but it was useless and everything felt dead and hopeless.
He was back to waiting again… except this mornings confusion seemed a mere shadow of what he was feeling now. Even the stitches he’d had on his hand weren’t painful enough to dull what he was going through. It was eating away at him; they said the engagement would be soon and the wedding too… ‘you have to do something!’ the voice in his head was tortured and for once he wanted to listen to it but what could he do…
He’d pushed her away – no, he’d practically thrown her away. He’d crushed the light in those hope filled eyes as he stood at her door and now he wanted to do something?! No, he would only make it worse and she didn’t deserve that…or someone like him… the voice was still insisting but he ignored it and told himself she was better off, she had agreed to the marriage after all.
He focused on the doors a little way ahead of him trying not to remember her shattered face and tear-filled eyes the last time he was here. He knew his white SUV would be visible in the evening light if someone were to look for it but he couldn’t bring himself to care, he just needed something, a glimpse, to see she was ok – there’s nothing wrong with that he told himself.
The doors opened and his heart leapt stupidly but it was only her sister, who took some clothes and went back inside. The disappointment crushed him and mocked him in equal measures; he didn’t recognise the person he was becoming.
The questions were racing in his mind, why had she decided to get married, was she happy… who was the guy… his teeth ground together and his hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as he felt a white hot stab of something deep in his stomach; there was no way he could rationalise it but he hated the guy – he didn’t care how good he might be, how decent, he would never be good enough and if he ever laid eyes on him… he felt his palm sting dully and he forced his jaw to relax as he loosened his grip and held his hand up to the overhead light.
There was some blood on the bandage and he made a face at it; he was just wondering dispassionately if he’d ripped his stitches when he felt it.
There was an imperceptible change in the air that he only ever felt when she was near and he froze with his hand mid air as he looked up and saw her and lost his breath. She was dressed in simple yellow and her hair was open, floating around her in the breeze with her scarf. She stood holding the porch railings and was looking up the stars.
Arnav remembered her talking about her parents and wondered if that was why she looked so sad. She closed her eyes and his eyes closed too and he couldn’t help the whispered word which escaped his lips, ‘Khushi…’
There was no way she could have heard him, he was much further down the street and his windows were up but he opened his eyes to find her turned towards him with one hand still on the railing, looking at him in shocked disbelief. He thought he saw hope flare for a second in her eyes and she took a step forward but then her face lost its colour and her eyes lost that light.
She looked even more wafer thin than usual and her shadowed eyes burned into his. Arnav blinked and tried to find happiness on her face but there was none that he could see; was this what he’d done to her. There was something inside him trying to claw its way out and he moved forward in his seat as he said her name painfully again but this time she stepped back, even though he was nowhere near her.
That one step cut him like a knife and he wanted to go to her but he was frozen where he sat, paralysed by the sadness in her eyes. As she turned to leave her eyes fell on his hand which was still in front of him and he saw something flash across her face, was it concern?
She met his eyes again for a second and he saw his pain reflected in them. ‘Khushi…’ he said her name for the third time and her eyes filled with tears as she watched him mouth the word. A second later she blinked them away and she seemed to gather herself before giving him one last look and disappearing back into the house.
He sat back in his seat as if released from some spell and closed his eyes as he remembered every detail of her face. He opened his eyes and started the car mechanically and drove home on auto, his mind still lost to him. He knew he shouldn’t have gone, he knew her eyes would haunt him night and day but the shattered pieces inside him needed to see her and those few precious seconds had been the only peace he’d had in the past few days.
He gripped the steering wheel painfully again, feeling angry at himself for needing her but he knew it was still better than the overwhelming panic that had been threatening to take over him since this afternoon. As he got home, he turned off the car and sat in the dark, remembering the tiny moment when hope had flared in those eyes…