Fire and Ice

Timeframe: Written February 2012, right after Arnav and Khuhi return to his house as a married couple. Wasn’t sure where they would go with it, just a few thoughts and I feel the poem matches them well.

*******

 

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Part One

 

‘Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire,

I hold with those who favor fire…’

                                         

– Robert Frost

 

Arnav walked into his room feeling battered and bruised and he wished someone would knock him unconscious. He’d do anything just to feel nothing right now – to be completely numb.

His whole world had come crashing down around him in a matter of minutes, the foundations of his life crumbling before his eyes and from that point on, things had only gotten steadily worse. He didn’t know how everything could have gone so horribly wrong in such a short span of time. Earlier in the evening his worst problem had been trying to find a way to talk to Khushi alone and now the thought of facing her again made his stomach turn and his heart ache.

He had so many unanswered questions. How could she? How could he have got her so wrong? Had everything he’d felt been based on a lie? How could she have done that to his sister who had only ever tried to help and support her? His heart burned at the thought and he remembered Anjali’s tears, the hurt on her face and her repeated question – why had he married Khushi in that manner, without telling anyone? But how could he tell her the truth knowing what it would do to her and knowing that he had barely even thought it through himself. He hadn’t been able to answer her but he would need to soon, he couldn’t put it off forever.

For now it seemed like the families were in shock but he didn’t care; they would just have to accept it. And after 6 months they could have their precious daughter back and she could do as she pleased… with whom she pleased. He gritted his teeth as he pulled out a towel and some grey low rise jeans from his wardrobe. Why should he care where she went after 6 months? As long as his Di was ok, he’d be ok – he didn’t need her…

He pulled off his jacket, tie and waistcoat in quick succession and as he walked into the bathroom, he paused for a moment with the door still open; suddenly remembering the resounding slap Khushi had received earlier, only because of him.

He hated that it still mattered – the pain in her eyes, her tear streaked face; even now his blood boiled when he remembered it and he had to force himself to breath normally as he slammed the bathroom door shut and removed the rest of his clothes before stepping into the shower. He stood under the scalding hot jet of water, wishing it could burn away the bitterness of his soul and melt away the pain he felt digging into him with every breath but it did nothing.

As he closed his eyes against the pouring water, he saw her crying face once again, pleading with him not to ruin her sister’s life. He wanted to hate her – he did hate her. For first making him break every single rule he’d set himself by falling for her and then for ripping it all away from him in a heartbeat. One heart-breaking instant and it was all lost. And as if to pour flames onto his already raw heart, she also happened to be playing a part in ruining the life of the one person he loved most in the world.

He opened his eyes and stared straight ahead, blinking away water and tears unseeingly. Yes he hated her, he was sure of it… But underneath all his unanswered questions and conflicted thoughts, there was one thing that hammered away at his heart, not letting him feel any satisfaction, making him feel guilty for what he’d done to her. One thing that despite everything she’d done, made him hate himself more than he hated her. Because even after everything, somehow somewhere deep inside him, there was a cold and broken place where her pain and her tears still felt like his own.

***

He didn’t notice anything odd as he strode out of the bathroom; he’d forgotten to take in a top so he went straight to the wardrobe, still towelling his hair. Suddenly he froze with the wardrobe door half open and felt a twisted sense of deja vu hit him… He slid the door shut and turned around slowly, and stared in complete disbelief. Because there sitting on the bed with her face covered by a red dupatta, sat his newly-wedded wife.

After the initial shock wore off, Arnav saw red. He stalked over to the edge of the bed, ‘What the HELL do you think you’re doing?!’

He waited with gritted teeth, trying to ignore the way her hands were clutching nervously at the material by her knees. ‘Khushi… main tumse kuch pooch raha hoon – answer me!’ Her only response was to wrap her arms around her knees tighter and Arnav felt his wafer thin patience snap. He reached out and flicked the dupatta off her head in one quick movement, letting it fall to the bed and then watched as she stared up him in shock.

Her eyes were red but she stared up at him almost defiantly, her gaze only wavering slightly when it ran over his shirtless form but he didn’t care if she was uncomfortable – he was in no mood for babying anyone, least of all her. He threw the towel he was still holding onto the bed and folded his arms, speaking in an ice cold voice which did nothing to hide his fury, ‘What exactly do you think you’re doing?’

He watched, feeling his eyebrows rise as she visibly gulped and then took a breath, ‘Yahi chahte the na aap?!’ Her voice trembled and gestured down at her herself while she spoke and Arnav was lost for words at what she’d just implied.

‘What?! You think… are you completely crazy?!’ Arnav was so surprised he completely blanked for a second till his brain kicked into gear again – what would make her think he would go anywhere near her? It was well past midnight now and he hadn’t seen her since the families had questioned them a couple of hours ago – hadn’t lover-boy told her that he knew everything in the time since? Was this some sort of plan of theirs too?

Amidst all the confusion, a thought struck him and Arnav took a step back as his brain began to process what she was offering and despite everything, he couldn’t help the sudden thrill he felt when he realised that she was his wife… Khushi looked up at him again but this time confusion had clouded her eyes and he wondered if she really wasn’t aware that he knew anything. She licked her lips nervously and he felt his resolve waver for a crazy second before he shook his head, disgusted at himself; what the hell was wrong with him?!

He watched as Khushi bit her lip nervously at his continued silence; she looked lost now, her earlier anger and defiance gone and he wondered if she really was this innocent that she had no idea how inviting she looked, with her open hair falling perfectly around her… Or maybe she was just that smart that she knew how to use the innocence to her advantage; what other kind of person would be interested in a piece of trash like Shyam?

He shook his head again, feeling suddenly exhausted and sickened; no, he decided, he wasn’t going to fall for it a second time. He went forward, intending to pull her off the bed and to tell her to stay the hell away from him in future but when he leaned towards her, she shrank into herself, her eyes tightly shut, lips trembling as she held onto to her ghagra tightly. Seeing her reaction, he froze for a second, re-thinking his next move because he didn’t want to let her off so easily…

 

Part Two

Khushi was shaking with fear and confusion; she had no idea what she was doing here, what had happened, how her whole life had been turned inside out by the man standing in front of her; her husband. The thought suddenly made her want to laugh hysterically; surely this was some cruel joke being played on her?! But when he moved towards her, his once beloved face set in lines of anger and disgust, she knew it was no joke but her own twisted fate.

She closed her eyes and prayed to Devi Maiyya as she waited for some sort of reaction from him; fully expecting him to drag her off the bed and humiliate her, or worse… to accept the offer she’d made in a moment of blind anger, determined to find out why he was doing this to her.

Her heart felt like it would explode out of her chest any second and she bit her lip to stop herself from crying out in fear when he leaned towards her on the bed. She wished she could take it all back; everything from whatever it was that had changed him from the man who’d looked at her so lovingly this morning to the man in front of her now – his eyes blazing with an ice cold fury and vengeance she couldn’t begin to understand.

Nothing happened for a few seconds so she opened her eyes and was startled to find his face just inches from hers, his arms either side of her on the bed, supporting his weight as he leaned closer to her.

He was close enough that she could see the drops of water still clinging to strands of hair that were falling into his eyes; close enough that she could smell his musky scent over whatever products he’d used in the shower. She closed her eyes briefly, painfully aware how out of her depth she was with this half naked man she now realised she barely knew; who looked like he wanted to rip her to shreds and she knew could easily do so without batting an eyelid.

But she wanted answers – she needed answers for why he’d done it and for why she’d hurt her family so badly she couldn’t look any of them in the eye. After Anjali had told her quietly to go and rest in ‘her’ room, she’d looked at her in shock and then someone had brought her here and she’d walked in, relieved to find he wasn’t there, scared as she waited. And sitting there she’d reached the only conclusion she could think of as to why he’d married her.

Now she said a prayer and opened her eyes, looking directly at him as she spoke, trying not to flinch in the face of the chips of molten bronze that were glaring straight at her and wishing her voice wasn’t so shaky, ‘Issi liye aap ne humse shaadi ki thi naa… 6 mahine ke liye?’

Anger and hurt eclipsed her fear and spurred her to add the last part scathingly; as if it wasn’t humiliating enough for her, he’d added the 6 months to further ruin her and pour salt on her already crushed heart. She glared at him, letting him see the pain he’d caused her and was still causing her and was surprised when she saw something flare in his eyes other than anger before he lowered his gaze and looked away, hiding himself from her.

When he next looked at her she felt a jolt of fear and something else run down her spine at his fierce expression. She gasped as he brought his lips to her ear and murmured softly, ‘Kyu? 6 mahine kaafi nahi hai tumhare liye..?’ Her eyes widened at his deliberately mocking tone and she hated the thrill that ran through her when his lips brushed her ear.

She hated him for what he was doing to her… but right now she hated herself more because despite the position she was in – the position he had put her in – something inside her was telling her to turn her face ever so slightly and brush her lips against the pulse she could see beating furiously at the base of his neck…

Khushi blinked and felt her face flush at her own wildly out of place thoughts but he seemed to mistake her reaction because she felt an arm go round her as he pulled her close and leaned into her, his face now in her hair. She closed her eyes, feeling lightheaded, surrounded by him and somehow despite everything she knew, it still felt like he was the only anchor in the storm that was her life. She gave in for a second, resting her face in the curve of his neck; needing a moment of comfort because even though her heart was broken, the pieces still loved him pointlessly.

The moment didn’t last and a few seconds later she felt his body tense as he took in a sharp breath and pulled away slightly, looking down at her with eyes now darkened and glittering, like chips of burning coal.

He moved the arm that had been around her and brought it up to run his fingers down the side of her face but this time she felt an icy chill along with the fire his fingers left behind because his words left her shaken; the silkiness of his voice doing nothing to mask the threat in them. ‘Don’t worry; yeh 6 mahine tumhare liye 6 saal se kam nahi lagenge…I promise you that.’

He gave her one last look, taking in her frightened eyes and open mouth before pulling his other arm back and she saw with a jolt of surprise and shame that he’d been leaning around her to get a pillow the whole time; while she’d been expecting him to use the moment to his advantage. She blinked in confusion, wondering why it still hurt as she watched him move away and pull on a grey top and then stalk over to the recliner without so much as glancing at her.

Khushi knew she should be relieved and part of her was; but something inside her was still broken and she somehow felt worse than she’d had when she’d walked into the room. She’d thought she’d known what he wanted, why else would he have married her for 6 months? But she’d been wrong. Nothing made any sense, her life was a mess and she felt like she was being punished for something she had no clue about… She’d got no answers, only more questions and the overwhelming feeling that she was in way over her head and all alone.

***

Arnav couldn’t sleep even though he was utterly drained; there were too many emotions running through him, driving him slowly insane. The recliner was uncomfortable and he could sense her behind him all the time even in fits of sleep, breathing un-evenly, lost in troubled sleep somewhere in the darkness.

He turned around and looked over to where he could see her slumped form near the edge of the bed. She’d switched off the lamps a little while after he’d left her there and he’d had to turn away from the sound of her tears while he waited for sleep that never really came.

Instead all that had come were the memories; moments they’d shared together and he’d unknowingly held close, each precious moment now tainted and left meaningless by the repulsive sight he’d witnessed and the words which fell like poison from that creep’s mouth. He opened his eyes and sat up quickly, pushing the memories away and feeling like he needed to escape his own skin.

He stood up, feeling restless and wanting just a moment of peace, intending to walk out and tend to his plants as a last resort; but as he stood up, something made him stop in his tracks.

It was her; and before he knew it, he was standing at the foot of the bed, where she’d fallen asleep awkwardly. Without thinking he covered her with a blanket and watched, almost fascinated, as she curled her fingers around its edge and buried her nose into it, seeming to relax from her earlier position as her breathing evened out.

Why did he care that she now looked peaceful? Why did his fingers still want to touch her face? He hated himself for not being able to get rid of those feelings, or the flickers of fire that still burned between them. He’d come so close to losing himself earlier when he’d got near enough to feel her heartbeat; the feeling of her warm breath on his neck had almost undone him.

Now he gritted his teeth and reminded himself of what he’d seen as he forced his feet to walk away from her, out into the garden which had once been his haven but now was filled with more memories of her. He ignored those memories and let the cold anger fill his veins like ice and vowed never to let anything she did melt through his defences again.

 

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