“Yaaayyyy,” the boys were thrilled and of course if they were happy so was Chotti, her voice was the loudest, though it is doubtful if she really understood what Arnav proposed.
“N…Nahi,” Khushi squeaked in alarm, “Humne saari pehni hai.”
“Toh kya hua?” Arnav shrugged, “Abhi toh khel rahi thee na?” he pointed out, the kids too were excited at the prospect and pushed Khushi. They ran to sit on the bench to get a ring side view of the game and even helped Chotti up on the bench.
“You boxed me into this,” Khushi hissed once the kids were out of earshot.
Arnav looked innocently at her, “Zabardasti? Come on Khushi don’t exaggerate so much! Theek hai if you don’t want to play,” he made to move away, the children’s heartfelt moan tore at her; she glared at him while he smirked.
She tucked her pallu securely and for safety sake even pulled up her pleats, she circled the ball aggressively as Ankit blew the whistle.
And they were off!
Arnav let Khushi run off with the ball, easily following closely behind; exhilarated with her success Khushi prepared to shoot her first goal unmindful of Arnav who was grinning broadly just out of her vision. With perfect timing Arnav neatly flicked the ball away from her and her swinging foot hit empty air, he flashed her a wicked grin and kicked the ball towards her side. She glared at him and charged after the ball; he again let her reach the ball and stole the ball away from her as she huffed and puffed, her face all red and hair flying. As she fell into his arms a third time with as many goals – by him (amidst loud cheering from the stands), it hit her, she was playing with the football, while he was playing with her! What the! She hurriedly straightened, her breath coming in short gasps and her heart going dhak dhak (from all the running – why what did you think?) and snapped, “Hum khoob samajhte hain aapki chaal!”
“Chaal?” Arnav was hurt, “Kaunsa chaal Khushi?”
“Zyaada baniye mat,” she accused him hotly, “Aaapka ‘game’ hum samajh gaye, hume nahi banna aapka ‘game’ hum ja rahein hain,” she declared and turned to walk away; his hand snaked out but caught her pleats which fell down in a cascade released from their prison by her waist, bas phir kya tha, she (s)tripped right there in the middle of the field and would have fallen flat on her face but for Arnav’s lightning reflexes. They both fell down with Khushi on top of him; he grinned triumphantly up at her and she barely had time to respond with a smile of her own before the children gave a whoop of delight and descended on them, much like a victory huddle. Instead of playing their usual role of party poopers they became facilitators and in their excitement as they landed on top of the couple, their lips met and clung for a few precious moments before Khushi recollected herself and pulled away – a couple of millimeters away only to drown in his eyes.
“Arre yeh kya ho raha hai yahan?” it was Anjali.
“Maami!” squealed Chotti and extricated herself from top of the heap to throw her arms around Anjali. She laughed happily and sat down on the bench with a thump hugging the little girl. Embarrassed, Khushi too stood up, “Arre Di, aap kab aayee?” she said flustered.
Anjali crinkled her nose and winked, “Just in time Khushi, just in time,” she laughed delightedly and clapped her hands with Chotti’s hands in between hers.
Khushi flushed even more, “Nahi Di, woh bachche…”
“Haan haan pata hai pata hai,” she teased as Khushi blushed, Arnav came up behind brushing his clothes, “Hi Di, found the fabrics you were looking for?”
“Haan Chotte, par bahut doondhna padha, dekho kitna late ho gaya! Chalo Ankit chalo bye karo,” Anjali stood up, Chotti began wailing in earnest while Ankit dug his heels in; he clung to Arnav and Khushi’s hand, “I don’t want to go! I want to stay here!” Devansh too lent his voice to the heartfelt plea – it was quite a racket and nobody could be heard above the din.
Poo appeared from nowhere and her experienced glance took in the scene, “Chotti,” she called, “Dekho Maami kya laaee hai tumhare liye!” and of course Chotti was instantly distracted; she brightened and followed Poo holding her hand chattering away. Devansh was torn, his hero was in trouble and he needed his support and voice, but…but a gift for Chotti! From Bua what about me dammit – better go and check if there is anything for me as well, nahi toh it might be too late to file an application; decision taken, he took off behind Poo and Chotti.
Ankit too made to follow but Anjali caught hold of him, “Aap kahan ja rahe hain? Chalo ghar chalo,” she ordered peremptorily.
Ankit protested but it fell on deaf ears; but woh bhi kuch kam nahi tha he kept moaning and groaning till Anjali was quite out of patience (bechari she too had had a long day and besides his taunt in the morning that she was never home, that too in front of everybody still rankled) with him and in fact lost her temper with him. She listed out his shortcomings and wrongdoings, digging out fossilized crimes of yesteryears as evidence of his ziddiness and waywardness not to mention rudeness and disobedience.
Ankit listened in stiff silence to his mother’s rant and finally when she had just begun to touch upon what he had done 3 years ago, he spoke up, his voice wobbling and eyes sparkling with unshed tears, “And then you will say I did so and so thing before I was born also.”
There was pin drop silence as each struggled to digest and control their varied emotions; Arnav and Khushi chiefly wanted to burst out laughing and give Ankit a huge hug but Anjali’s expression was a study as she warred between laughing and risk losing all control on her son or hold on to her dignity, she of course chose the latter, with great difficulty of course, “Dekha zabaan bhi kenchi ki tarah chalne laga hai, chalo ghar main batati hoon,” she threatened direly trying to control the laughter that bubbled up.
Losing all bravado, Ankit’s face crumpled and he burst into tears, “R…rehna dijiye na Di, ek hi din ki toh baat hai, day after tomorrow is in any case Saturday, or if you could send his stuff we could drop him to school tomorrow?” Khushi’s heart melted for the little boy.
A cornered and frazzled Anjali snapped, “Ek din ki baat nahi hai Khushi, it is a matter of principle, he just can’t throw tantrums like this and get away with it,” she was quite short with Khushi and then spoke sternly to Ankit, “Come along quietly otherwise I am calling your Dad,” Ankit looked piteously at Khushi, unable to resist his pleading look, Khushi opened her mouth to protest again but Arnav shook his head at her, she reluctantly backed down. Shooting one last pleading glance at Arnav’s impassive face and finding no support, Ankit slowly shuffled away.
Khushi’s was heartbroken and almost in tears; she knew why he didn’t want to go home – the little boy was plain lonely. When she had returned home at her usual time around 4 pm he had been overjoyed to see her, despite the fact that he was well entertained and had substantial company, “Cool Mami, you are home so early, pata hai Mamma always comes back so late and I have to do my homework with Daddy,” he shrugged, “Daddy is fine I guess, but I like doing stuff with Di the most or Mamma, but they are both so busy,” Khushi swallowed and smiled brightly, “But you are big boy now, surely you can do your homework on your own?”
Ankit looked at her wistfully, “Of course I can, but I like to do my homework and look up to see Mamma’s smiling face,” confidences at an end, he had run off soon afterwards to play with his cousins (and tease Chotti). Khushi had stared after him, her heart breaking for the lonely little boy – all he wanted was for his Mum to be home – surely not an unreasonable demand?
Yet Khushi held back (with great difficulty) from saying anything to Arnav, pata nahi how he would take it and ek aur jhagda hoga, he will get angry that I am criticizing his Di and pass a cutting remark which will rankle (and provoke a hue and cry in the comment section – ah those were the days) for years in my bosom, better to drop it…but bechara Ankit! How could she drop it? Hum Laad Governor se darte hain kya?
‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ the voice in her head mocked her, she took a deep breath and said in a noncommittal tone, “Arnav lagta hai Ankit is very lonely, perhaps he could come over to our place after school and Di could pick him on the way back?” She faltered a bit at the way Arnav turned to glare at her, “N…Nahi it was just a suggestion, why don’t you talk to Di?” she pleaded, “Di could take him back in the evenings?”
“Aren’t you forgetting something Khushi?” Arnav said, “Kshitij is at home in the afternoons and goes along with him for tennis and football coaching most days of the week. It is the evenings which are problematic as both Khsitij and Di are busy as of course is Anya,” Arnav shook his head.
“Haaw… bechara Ankit,” Khushi felt keenly for him; she wished she could do something to soothe his pain, she made wild plans and devised improbably ideas, but thankfully all in her head and wisely held her tongue. They started walking towards the house, Khushi stole a glance at Arnav’s profile, was he upset, was he annoyed about something?
“Maybe Nani could go over to GM and stay there?” Khushi’s heart sank even as she said it – RM without Nani! How would she manage, how would the kids react? But she was immediately ashamed of herself; Ankit was all alone while at least here they had each other.
“Khushi,” Arnav was irritated, “Kitni baar kaha hai, tum sab kuch theek nahi kar sakti? And why do you keep poking your nose in stuff which is not your business?”
Click here for Chapter 282