Timeframe: Written mid November 2011.
Arnav & Khushi decide not to talk to each other and Arnav misses a tele-con because Khushi’s hand-written message doesn’t get to him in time…
‘Khushi Kumari Gupta…!’ Arnav looked at the scribbled note in his hand unseeingly as he cut the phone and muttered her name murderously under his breath, the red mist having fully taken hold. She was the bane of his existence. She drove him crazy with her silly antics and now this latest one made him want to find her and shake the stupid pom poms right off her clothes!
He ignored the tiny voice in his head that tried to speak in her defence and crushed the note in his hand as he turned away from it angrily… only to find her standing right in front of him.
Why on earth had she agreed to bring the tray out to him?!! Khushi gulped and felt her heartbeat pick up as she saw the murderous look in his eyes… what had she done now?! She hadn’t spoken but she’d gotten him the message right..? Suddenly he threw something at her feet and her heart sank as she saw it was the crumpled up note, ‘Yeh kya hai?!’ He spoke through gritted teeth and clenched fists in a semblance of calm but Khushi could tell he was ready to blow any second.
He waited a beat… then two… but she didn’t answer, ‘Suna nahi maine kya kaha?!! Why won’t you answer me? Yeh message mujhe abhi kyu mil raha hai?!’ He waited, feeling his anger rise with every passing second and then watched incredulously as she calmly placed the tray on the low table and actually turned to leave!!
‘Khushi!!’ He exploded forward and grabbed her arm below the elbow and turned her around, speaking in a low voice that did nothing to hide his fury, ‘Main tum se baat kar raha hoon Khushi Kumari Gupta – answer me!’ How dare she ignore him and turn away from him… and then have the nerve to look at him accusingly whilst still remaining silent.
Khushi felt Arnav grab her arm and as he turned her around to face him her plan to not talk to him went out the window and anger rapidly took its place. ‘Jab aap chahe toh hum koi baat na kare aur phir jab aap chahe toh jawab de?! Sab kuch aap ke kehne pe kyu hota hai? Aap hote kaun ho?!!’ She glared up at him defiantly and saw something like satisfaction flare in his eyes… damn him she thought: he’d got her to break her resolve to not speak and now he was happy about it?!
‘Chod ye humme!’ Khushi pulled uselessly at her arm; he wasn’t holding it tight enough to hurt but his fingers were still vice-like in their grip. ‘Pehle mere sawaal ka jawab do – answer my question!’ There was cold fury in his voice now; ‘he doesn’t like his god-like status being questioned’ she thought feeling a fresh bout of annoyance.
‘Humme kisi ko koi answer nahi de na!’ She used her other hand to try and pry his fingers off her arm while he gave an angry growl as he stepped towards her. She didn’t even think; she pushed him instinctively and somehow he lost his footing, letting go of her arm and in almost slow motion she could see what was about to happen.
‘Khushi..!’ Arnav felt himself lose his footing and in that instant he knew he was about to fall. As he saw her eyes widen in horror he narrowed his dangerously and made a split second decision; there was no way in hell he was going down alone! He reached out and grabbed the arm he’d just let go, just as he completely lost his balance and they both went careening into the pool making an almighty splash!
They both floundered in the pool for a few minutes trying to re-gain their footing and Arnav recovered first, managing to stand in the shallow end of the pool where the water only came up to his hips. For a few seconds he felt nothing but pure shock; she’d pushed him into the pool – him! As the shock wore off, he blinked water out of his eyes turned to give her a scathing piece of his mind… and then froze as he watched her come spluttering to her feet, spitting mad and showering more water all over him.
All he could do was stare as she glared up at him, the water reaching just above her waist so the hands on her hips were covered. She shook her head and droplets of water hit his face sharply but did nothing to take him out of the trance he was in.
She was like some sort of vision; a sea nymph that had risen out of the water and was now standing there with her clothes stuck to her and his fingers suddenly itched to move those wet strands of hair off her face. He tried to remind himself he was angry, he searched around his muddled brain for the anger, like a child searching for his comfort blanket but it had deserted him and instead he was transfixed by the jewel like drops of water that clung to her long eyelashes.
Khushi had just managed to straighten up and was shaking the water out of her eyes angrily when she noticed him staring. The look in his eyes left her speechless and the words she was about to say got stuck in the back of her throat.
She tried not to notice the way water was still pouring off him, why did she care if his clothes were stuck to him… why did it make her heart skip… and why were his wet eyelashes so damned long?! She blinked at the random thought and focused on the situation at hand as she looked down at herself – he’d pulled her into the pool and she was soaked to the skin!!
‘Yeh aap ne kya kiya?!!’ Arnav blinked as her words sunk in and cut through whatever haze he’d been in. ‘What? Maine?!’ Was she really blaming him?! He felt some of his anger return as he pointed a finger at her, ‘TUMNE mujhe dhakka maara – and now you’re asking me what I did?! You’re unbelievable!’
He ran his fingers through his hair and had the sudden insane urge to laugh at their ridiculous situation. But she was carrying on her tirade and thoughts of laughter were forgotten, ‘Nahi! Aap ne humme kich ke paani mein giraya!’ She folded her arms in front of her and pouted and he suddenly remembered why they were in this situation to begin with.
A strange calm settled over him and he gave her a dangerous smile as he took slow steps towards her in the water while Khushi looked around in alarm. She held out her hands, ‘Dekhiye aap, yeh aap kya… aap aise nahi kar sakte… ‘ she swallowed nervously and stepped back, swaying a little as she tried to keep her balance in the rippling water.
‘Kyu? Kya kar raha hoon main?’ he raised an eyebrow challengingly, ‘aur kya kar lo gi tum?!’ He continued to move forward, pushing her back further, into the deeper end of the pool till they reached the edge and there was nowhere else for her to go. ‘Now Khushi Kumari Gupta..’ he slowly placed his hands on the poolside floor either side of her and leaned in, ‘Ab tum mere sawaalo ka jawaab do gi…’
Khushi was caught and there was nowhere left to go, nowhere to look but him; she was surrounded by him. He was so close and suddenly she was very aware that her clothes were sticking to her in all the wrong places and the water barely reached her chest.
She managed to bring her hands up between them in the water and pushed uselessly at the solid wall of his chest a couple of times, finally leaving them there as a barrier when she failed to move him even an inch. She tried not to feel the way his heart beat so strongly under her fingers or how heat seemed to pour off him even though he was just as wet as she was. He leaned even closer and she forgot to breathe.
She didn’t meet his eyes as she tried to focus on his words, ‘Jawaab?’ She’d lost all sense of reason and sanity and it was only when she looked away to her right and she saw the note on the poolside floor when she realised what he meant.
She couldn’t believe what an idiot she’d been, why hadn’t she just told him to begin with? In the back of her mind she realised with some horror that her stubborn streak was just as bad as his! ‘Woh… hum aap se kehna chahte the lekin aap ne kaha ke baat mat karo toh iss liye… aur humne Hari Prakashji ke saath lik kar diya tha naa…?’ Her voice faded away and she finally looked up into those eyes which were now looking at her in exasperation.
‘Khushi tum…’ Arnav closed his eyes for a second while the voice in his head said ‘See?! It’s your own fault!’ He opened his eyes against that voice and frowned at her, trying not to feel the way her hands were burning through his chest or see the way her wet lips were trembling.
‘Toh? Maine kaha tha ke kuch bhi ho jaaye baat mat karo? Agar tumhe… I mean… kissi ko kuch ho jaata toh bhi tum baat nahi kar thi?!’ Her eyes had widened at the slip of his tongue and he quickly covered it up by saying angrily, ‘Pehle bhi keh chuka hoon Khushi – use some common sense for god’s sake!’
His words set her off again and he let her push him back a few steps into the water as she reacted spectacularly and he stood transfixed. ‘Haan! Nahi hai common sense, koi sense nahi hai! Varna hum yahaan roz kyu aate pagalo ki tarah, baar baar?!’ He was thrown by her angry and self-mocking words, and by the sparks that flew out of her eyes.
Incredibly it looked like she was about to step forward and he was watching her with fascination as she reached out to push him again when they both heard a noise behind them. Anjali was standing there with Nani and Lavanya; each of them had identical looks of having entered the twilight zone.
‘Chotte… Khushiji, yeh aap dono pool mein kya…?!’ They both looked at each other and Khushi stepped back quickly while Arnav wondered how ridiculous they must look. ‘Di Khushi was…’ he started at the same time as Khushi said ‘Anjaliji, woh Arnavji…’ They both stopped and looked at each other a little helplessly and all three women suddenly burst out laughing.
‘Accha hai Chotte,’ Anjali managed to say between fits of laughter, ‘tumhara gussa toh toda tanda hua naa?!’ They laughed even harder and he saw that even though Khushi had gone bright red, she was hiding a smile too. ‘Di…’ He wanted to yell and curse and throw his hands up in the air but he felt that insane bubble of laughter inside him again and as he looked into Khushi’s smiling eyes he couldn’t help the tiny smile that worked its way past his iron clad defences.
Later, as Khushi walked past his room with the towel Anjali had given her to dry herself, she felt something pull her back… she felt bad. She remembered the incredibly sweet smile on his face while everyone laughed and she knew he was still in there somewhere behind the angry mask. That man who had laughed, so open-hearted and child-like at seeing runny mixture covering her face. The man who had taken care of her during their doomed trip to Nainital and had fought for her without reason or hesitation.
The man who’d been her only source of comfort as her father lay ill in hospital – the only one with whom for some unknown reason she’d been able to share her fears and insecurities with. She wondered why he tried so hard to fight that part of himself when it was possibly the brightest thing she’d ever seen. She blinked away her thoughts and went to knock on his open door.
‘Yeah?’ Arnav was unbuttoning his still wet shirt when he turned around and saw Khushi standing there, shifting on her feet uncertainly. He didn’t know where things stood between them anymore, everything was up in the air and unsettled – but wasn’t that always the case where she was concerned?
He gestured for her to come in as he closed a few of the buttons back up and she walked in tentatively holding out a towel, ‘Aap ke liye…’ He took it wordlessly and waited while she worked up the courage to say something more. ‘Humme pata hai ke aap ko humse koi baat nahi karni, lekin humme phir bhi kehna hai…’
‘Kya?’ There was no anger in his voice, only curiosity as he waited and watched her gather her thoughts. ‘Sorry. Humme aap ko dhakka nahi deni thi… aur aap ke meeting ke liye bhi…’ Her honestly rattled him and he felt his throat close as she turned to go. ‘Khushi!’ she’d got to the door when he called her back and she turned around to face him, a mixture of emotions on her face that he couldn’t begin to understand.
He went to his bed and picked up the unused towel he’d taken out a little earlier and went back to her holding it out. ‘You need one too…’ He didn’t know what he was doing and for once he didn’t care; he just knew he couldn’t let her go without saying something.
Khushi took the towel in surprise and as she turned to go he said something so softly that it stopped her in her tracks, ‘I’m… really sorry Khushi.’ She looked at him in shock and she suddenly realised that this wasn’t just about the pool or the meeting, his eyes told her he was saying sorry for much more. They were like windows to his soul, the beautiful soul of the man she’d seen precious few glimpses of in all the time she’d known him.
Tears of regret filled her eyes and she felt inexplicably sad as she wondered if she would ever see that person fully or if he would always hide himself behind the harsh exterior he’d created. Suddenly she realised she didn’t care, even if he never showed her another moments care, she knew somehow that whatever happened she would never be able to forget those precious few glimpses of his soul – she would keep them with her.
Arnav turned away, unable to face her all seeing eyes – eyes that seemed to look right into his damaged soul and understand more than he could ever tell her in words. He clenched his jaw and swallowed hard as he walked away from her into the bathroom, wondering why he always made it harder for himself to stay away. Right now though, he couldn’t bring himself to care; all he wanted to keep with him was the way her eyes had shone at his pathetic attempt at saying sorry for the countless wrongs he’d done her.