Khushi and Anjali looked at each other in consternation, “Yeh Chotte phone kyon nahi uttha raha,” Di fussed worriedly.
“Don’t worry Anjali,” said Khsitij bracingly, “must be sleeping or something.”
Anjali bit her lip and shook her head, exchanging worried glances with Khushi; she continued to call up Arnav until finally he answered the phone, “Lo,” he mumbled sleepily.
“Chotte!” attacked Anjali instantly, “Aise koi karta hai kya? Kab se phone try kar rahee hoon aur bataya bhi nahi London jaa rahe ho?”
“Haan Di woh sab kuch achchanak ho gaya that I didn’t have time…” Arnav’s voice trailed off.
Anjali looked at Khushi, who wore a tensed pinched look; Di reached out and squeezed her hands which were clasping and unclasping, “Chotte give me the name of your hotel, I want to call you up through the landline,” Di wasn’t taking any chances this time, “And why are you sleeping at this hour, it must be around 4 or 5 pm right now?”
“Come on Di, relax ok? I went straight to a meeting, I just came back and dozed off,” Arnav protested but Di was adamant and wouldn’t give up until she was connected to him through the hotel telephone exchange, “Achca now come on Facetime, I have some great news that I want to share with you, aahh there you are! Pata hai Chotte,” she bubbled happily her fears laid to rest, “Grand Mamu banne wale ho! Anya is expecting and that too twins!”
Arnav made the appropriate noises and then had to talk to Kshitij, Nani and of course Chotti who also insisted upon airing her grievances and sharing her joy with her beloved Daddy, “Yes sweetheart I will be back soon,” promised Arnav as he disconnected the visual link, “You…you take care of…of everyone,” he trailed off.
“Of course Daddy, here talk to Mamma,” she thrust the phone into Khushi’s hand and rushed off busily towards Nani who was talking to Anya.
Khushi took the phone in a sort of a daze; she turned away and slowly walked towards the half open French windows. Unable to say a word, she clasped the phone and held on for dear life, a light breeze blew in ruffling her bangs just as a strangled whisper of “Khushiii,” caressed her wounded heart.
The damn broke and tears slid down her cheeks, she bit her lips and her shoulders shook with the effort of holding in her emotions yet they overflowed, “Tum theek ho?” Arnav’s gruff voice pierced through her silent sobs.
Sudden anger coursed through her numb veins and stiffened her spine. “Haan,” she found her voice, “Hum theek hain, aur aap?” her voice, laced with sarcasm, was stiff and cold.
There was silence for a bit, then, “Khushi main…woh…”
Suddenly Khushi couldn’t bear to talk to him – not this formal stilted conversation after two decades of sharing their lives, “Take care,” she mumbled and disconnected the phone. Unable to contain her emotions any longer, she rushed upstairs and locked herself in the washroom – huge gusts of sobs shook her and a keening sound escaped her lips, she felt as if her heart had been slashed to ribbons, she doubled up in agony, stuffing her duppata into her mouth dimly aware that Chotti would certainly come looking for her and that too soon. She had no choice but to control herself, it would never do to go downstairs with those puffy red eyes, Di would surely notice and besides this was a big day for her, indeed all of us aur abhi toh she hadn’t even talked to Anya, “Mamma!” Chotti banged on the door.
“Haan Gudiya, I am just coming, you carry on,” she called.
“You sound funny Mamma,” Chotti immediately latched on.
“Arre nahi Chotti,” she opened the door, “I was wiping my face so my voice was muffled,” she smiled.
“Why are you washing your face now?” Chotti asked keenly.
“Oho kuch nahi Chotti,” Khushi walked out and beckoned her, “Something went into my eye so I splashed some water.” Satisfied, Chotti walked out with her mum.
Khushi had no recollection of how she got through the evening or how she escaped the eagle eyes of Anjali, “Kya hua Khushi?” she asked concerned “Sab theek hai na?”
“Haan Di,” Khushi forced a smile and nodded her head, “Just tired and the touch of a headache, went to take a tablet,” she fibbed.
Di nodded but continued to look at her searchingly, “Chotte…”
“Di!” Khushi interrupted brightly, “Anya se toh baat kari hi nahi,” she hurriedly called up Anya before she lost all semblance of self-control.
Khushi laughed and chatted with Anya and Sherry while a part of her stood desolate and battered – it was as if she were caught up in a malevolent storm while life carried on as usual around her. There was no respite in the privacy of her bedroom either, if anything it was worse – everything everywhere just reminded her of Arnav – and his betrayal.
Why Arnav? Why? She screamed silently over and over again. What did you mean? Do you want to end the relationship? What about the children? Or am I expected to carry on as if nothing had happened? But there was no answer.
The days crawled by somehow but it was the nights which were most agonizing, she couldn’t sleep and when she did doze off she was tormented by dreams – ASR saying in a cold and implacable tone, ‘You are not worthy of my love’ and watching with a superior smirk on his face as she fell from the terrace screaming silently; they were at a party where Arnav took the center stage and announced on the mike ‘I would like you all to meet my fiance’ and he held out his hand to someone else – every time she would wake up sweating and breathing hard, only to realize her nightmare was far from over.
“Daddy’s home,” announced Chotti a few days later when Khushi called up in the afternoon to take their attendance, “But he didn’t get me anything, not even chocolates,” she complained.
Khushi froze, “Must have been very busy, don’t harass him, sweetie, there are loads of chocolates in the fridge,” she managed to utter.
The rest of the day Khushi was in an agony of nervous agitation – she couldn’t wait to see him, yet dread filled her heart. She would ignore him with sophisticated disdain she decided. No! Aise kaise? Screamed the voice in her head, how can he just disappear like this after dropping the bombshell? After twenty years of marriage he owed her an explanation and she would it get it even if it killed her, she resolved.
Arnav wasn’t home when she reached home; her trepidation and dread only increased further when Nani said, “Chotte ki tabiyat theek naahi hai ka? He was looking so tired and haggard, he barely pecked at his food and just rushed off to the office,” she reported.
“Must be jet lag,” mumbled Khushi consolingly; yet she couldn’t help wondering – was there something else that was wrong?
It was late when Arnav came back to RM; Khushi continued to sit in front of the TV playing with the remote even as her hands became cold and nerveless, acutely aware of his movements behind her back. Instead of his usual brisk stride all she heard was a defeated tired shuffle, dread filled her – must be tired, she thought worriedly.
“Arnav bhaiyya khana laga doon?” HP asked obsequiously.
Khushi strained to hear but she failed to catch his mumbled reply but through the corner of her eye, she saw him begin to climb the stairs. Khushi went to the kitchen and said peremptorily, “Khana jaldi laga do.”
“Par Arnav bhaiyya refused, he said bhook nahi hai,” HP objected.
An irrational rage filled Khushi, how dare he behave like this! He dropped his bombshell on me and now he is not eating? Yeh kaunsa naya tareeka hai torture ka, she fumed, “Khana lagao aur poolside par le jaiye, jaldi,” she said curtly.
Khushi waited till HP delivered Arnav’s dinner before entering their room, she didn’t trust herself not to get into an altercation with Arnav in front of HP. And in any case that was the last thing he needed right now, she told herself sternly, he has been travelling and didn’t have lunch either, maybe he is hypoglycemic she couldn’t help but worry.
Arnav came out of the shower and Khushi stole a look at him – tears clogged her throat – Nani was right! He looked pale and thin, all her gila shikwa flew out of the window and concern replaced her anger and anguish, “Kya hua!” she asked unable to help herself