Blood roared in Khushi’s head and she felt as if her heart would explode, all at once she felt faint. “Nahi nahi,” she mumbled indistinctly desperately clinging on to her belief and faith in him, in them.
Khushi moved towards Arnav, seeking comfort, reassurance that it was all a joke, a misunderstanding but he stepped back and held up his hand, “Let’s drop the theatrics Khushi,” his tone cold and harsh, “And let’s face facts; I was drunk and do not remember anything clearly, it is possible that the allegation is true,” he spoke dispassionately in a detached cool clinical manner without looking at either of them, “Naam badalne se kya hoga? Perhaps I am more like my father than I thought,” he finally looked at Khushi, his eyes ravaged and desolated, “I just hope you are not like Ma.”
Khushi’s eyes were wide with shock and disbelief, she shook her head defiantly, “Hume vishwas nahi ho raha, aap aisa kabhi bhi nahi kar sakte,” she clung desperately to her faith.
Arnav’s lips curled, “Vishwas toh karna padega Khushi,” he sneered, “I have been over the evening in my head a zillion times and there is no doubt, the allegation could be right,” suddenly his shoulders drooped, he broke off and turned away.
Khushi shuddered at the bleak lost look in his eyes, she had never seen him like this; she didn’t know what to trust – her bharosa or his words. She clenched her fists and trembled like a leaf in a storm while Di sobbed on the couch behind her. Khushi closed her eyes trying to sort out her thoughts but she couldn’t think straight. She couldn’t believe it, she wouldn’t believe it and wait a minute what had he just said? The allegation could be right hope flared in her breast what did he mean? On one hand he said there was no doubt and then in the same breath he said, could be right?
Cold determination filled Khushi and stepped in his way, “Nahi aap aise nahi ja sakte, aapko batana padega kya hua, haq hai humara.”
Arnav nodded tiredly and sank down on the sofa.
Anjali looked from one to the other and sniffed unhappily, “Hum bachcho ko dekh kar aatein hain,” she went off to find solace in the soft breath of their deep slumber and giving the beleaguered couple some much needed privacy.
Khushi sank down beside Arnav, but he instantly stood up rejecting her; he walked a bit of a distance away and thrust his hands into his pockets and said tonelessly, “We were celebrating the success of the fashion show, I got drunk and I lured this girl to my room in order to molest her,” he stated rather crudely.
Khushi flinched but held her ground and asked evenly, “Who is this girl?”
The thin veneer of self control snapped and he hit his fist against the pillar, “I don’t know dammit! I have been over and over that night in my mind and I don’t know! But something did happen I remember that much,” he raised agonized tortured eyes towards Khushi, “I remember calling out to you, I thought it was you in my arms,” he said in a ragged whisper.
Tears sprang to Khushi’s eyes, Arnav’s lips thinned, “Yeah I know a pathetic excuse,” he turned away and again hit the pillar, “Dammit to hell I should have never bought Sheeshmahal! That house is cursed, it is what messed up my life earlier and now again; first Dad, then I met you,” he turned to glare at her with bloodshot eyes, “All your fault, if only you hadn’t come to Sheeshmahal that night, If only you hadn’t fallen into my arms,” he paced the floor angrily, “Oh damn damn and triple damn, who am I fooling,” he gave a bitter hollow laugh, “Your Devi Maiyya just let you down Khushi, she dealt you a rotten apple,” he stiffened and coldly advised her, “better talk to Mr Roy, our lawyer, he will settle everything,” his voice faltered and broke, “Just….just don’t leave the kids, they need you, don’t don’t even…think about it, I am not worth it,” his voice almost pleading, “they don’t deserve this, at least you should understand this…”
But Khushi sat stunned, unresponsive, her face pale and drawn; finally she spoke through stiff lips her voice hoarse and faint, “This happened at Sheeshmahal, at Lucknow?”
Arnav dully nodded his head, “I sat through the fashion show at Sheeshmahal, my mind on a different day a different year, recollecting the way you had fallen into my arms,” his lips twisted, “I wasn’t even supposed to go to Lucknow dammit, something cropped up and I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet you and the kids, thought I would give you all a surprise but instead,” he grabbed the glass of water lying on the table and threw it on to the floor in a fit of impotent fury and anguish.
It lay shattered into a thousand pieces, just like their lives.
Khushi started and stood up in a hurry, “Arnav!” she held out a hand as if to stop him from doing further damage, but he thrust her away, “Stay away from me Khushi, I am not safe,” he strode off.
“Arnav! Humari baat abhi khatam nahi hui hai,” Khushi called out to him.
He walked off unheeding, but then he stopped and came back to Khushi and clasped her arms and said fiercely, “Promise me that you won’t,” he faltered, glared at her with tortured eyes, “that you won’t do what Ma did, promise me dammit,” he shook her like a rag doll.
Khushi stared at him through tear filled eyes, “Sheeshmahal! Aap…”
“Promise me dammit!” he yelled, Di came to the landing and hurried down the steps.
Khushi stiffened and thrust away from his painful grip, “Only if you promise not to do what your father did,” she looked at him her eyes blazing as she grimly held on to her sanity and faith in DM – woh humare saath kuch galat nahi hone dengi.
“Chotte! Khushi!” Di was upon them, looking anxiously from the other; Arnav nodded his head, “Theek hai, I promise not kill myself, no matter how much I may want to, shayad this is the right punishment for me,” said Arnav, a lost tormented man, a pale shadow of his former self.
Haggard and drawn, he looked ready to collapse.
Di put her arm around him, “Chotte! Stop torturing yourself like this, I cannot believe you did something like this, humne kaha na, it is a saazish, Mr Roy is working on it; somebody must have spiked your drink,” she clutched on to that theory like a drowning man clutches at a straw.
“Yeah Di, of course, I already said I was drunk, but then it is also true, something did happen that night,” Arnav was determined not to seek any sort of solace or whitewash the ugly truth – he had no doubts – betrayal ran in his blood; he was his father’s son.
“Chotte! We have been over this, she has no proof,” Di tried to rally him around.
“Proof!” Arnav sneered, “Even I don’t have any proof, so now it is my word against hers,” Arnav closed his eyes and whispered raggedly as he agonized over and over again, “And I do not even believe myself.”
Khushi tried to speak again, “Arnav humari baat toh sun…”
“Mujhe kuch nahi sunna!” he yelled and smashed another glass, both women flinched at the violence, “I am going, dum ghut raha hai yahan par mera…”
Anjali looked at him in alarm, “Par Chotte kahan ja rahe ho?”
“Won’t you meet the children Arnav?” Tears sprang to Arnav’s eyes, he turned away, “I am going,” he bit out stiff and cold, harsh and unyielding – it was either that or breakdown right there. Anjali held on to his arm and said sternly, “Nahi Chotte I won’t let you go alone like this,” she put a hand to her head and moaned, “I am not feeling well Chotte, take me home, my head is splitting, maybe it is jetlag, I couldn’t get a direct flight at such a short notice, come and stay with me, I don’t want to stay alone,” she pleaded.
“Di, why don’t you stay here?” Khushi said, but Arnav had already walked out, Di hurriedly squeezed Khushi’s hand and turned to catch him before he left on his own.
Khushi sank down on the sofa as her legs gave way, she felt numb, as if all her senses had shut down, shielding her, not allowing her to think or feel. She had no idea how long she sat there, slowly she got her bearings, her head throbbed, a thousand questions jostled for answers, drowning away, thrusting away the emotions which also threatened to overwhelm her – she couldn’t think straight, yet what was the need to think? It was all so crystal clear; Arnav himself had related the cold hard facts, but no maybe he was mistaken, he did say he was dizzy and confused; maybe he had been set up, maybe his drink had been spiked, he didn’t know what he was doing – but could she forgive him that?
What was wrong with her! Why was she even considering that? It was she who confused, she thought dully, her mind was playing tricks on her; she couldn’t afford that, she needed her wits about her. If only Arnav had been reasonable, if only he had stayed and talked to her – but again what was there to talk? He had thrown his indefensible position at her and left her to pick up the pieces as best as she could, once again. He rejected her before she could reject him. At least he maintained his standards, he hadn’t listened to her when he had tried and found her guilty and even now he had tried himself and found his own self guilty.
But who knew better – She or him? She put her hands to her head and pressed her temple as if physically forcing her jumbled mass of thoughts into some sort of order; she tried to recollect what Arnav had said, what had exactly happened that night.
Sheeshmahal, Sheeshmahal the chant rose up within her till it was almost a war cry, she clutched her head and attempted to calm down – she didn’t have the luxury of breaking down, she had her family to think of, too many people depended on her.
Khushi stiffened, so be it – following Arnav’s suggestion – she called up Mr Roy the lawyer, she talked to him for over an hour. Restless and agitated, she cleaned up the mess in the lobby to give herself something mundane and normal to do, even though HP offered to do it, but she waved him away. The thought of making jalebis did cross her mind but she felt nauseous even at the idea of it – speaking volumes for the state of her mind. She went upstairs and sent Poo off to sleep. Both the kids slept on their bed, she sank down beside them soaking in their innocent and restful peace; finally the damn broke, she buried her face in her hands and cried her heart out – for a long time.
Spent, she wiped her tears and took Mr Roy’s advice; she picked up a notepad and began writing. She made three drafts before she was satisfied with it; she then diligently typed it out and mailed it to Mr Roy; she dithered a bit about sending a copy to Arnav, but then decided against it; let Mr Roy vet it first. Besides Arnav wouldn’t be checking his mail anytime soon as Di had texted her that she had given him a sleeping pill and he was now fast asleep.
She looked over to her two angelic children on the bed as she sat on the recliner; her eyes fell on his sweatshirt hanging sloppily from the chair. Her lips stiffened, her eyes hardened and became cold – itna bada dhoka – itni aasani se nahi chhodoongi main, she swore to herself.
Click here for Chapter 270