Part One- Khushi
The strained silence in the room is broken by a deep sigh, and I look up into his tortured gaze.
¨Khushi…can’t you see what’s happening here, right before your eyes? We’ve never really had a fight before. But once you bring these messy emotions into the picture, this is what happens. We develop unrealistic expectations, and when they don’t translate into reality, we lash out at the other person. This is precisely why I never wanted to go there…not with you. Our relationship was well-defined and those boundaries made sure that we knew what the other was capable of giving us, and that left no room for wrong assumptions. And I thought that you knew this, Khushi. I thought that you were a woman who understood the deal and…¨
¨Yes, I was that woman. I came into this relationship exactly as you’ve just described. But things change, Arnav. How can you not see that? I have changed, and so has my view of this shaadi. And for a few, blissful weeks, you had changed as well. So how is it wrong that I want that man back? Why are you being so blind about this?¨
¨Change? Yes, there was change. But it was the destructive kind, and only a fool would continue down that path. And no matter what, Arnav Singh Raizada will not continue to be foolish!¨
¨Foolishness is what you’re doing now, Arnav. For an astute businessman, you are being remarkably obtuse!¨
The tears spill unchecked down my cheeks now, and I cannot bear to be in the same room with him any longer.
Whirling on my heel, I throw open the study-door and walk out of the room before running up the stairs, the moisture in my eyes impeding every step.
Even as I enter our room, I realize that he has followed me there.
His husky, low tone stops me in my tracks.
¨Khushi…don’t do this. Don’t do this to me…and please, don’t do this to yourself. We don’t need to live like this. We can go back to the way we were, and…¨
A sudden haze of rage jolts me from my grief-stricken state.
¨Do you even realize just how crazy that sounds?! I am not some tape that you can rewind and play back, Arnav! We can’t erase those weeks, or the distance we have traveled, just because you are having an attack of cowardice!¨
¨What the hell…¨
Disregarding his look of furious disbelief, I dash the tears from my eyes and walk up to him.
¨Yes, you are a coward. You, Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada, are afraid! You are afraid of what you have begun to feel, for the first time in your life. And you are afraid to face the fact that just like hundreds of other businessmen, you are having some bad days at A.R that are completely unrelated to this marriage! And forgetting your family is your fault, not mine! Tell me, Arnav, do you really think that you are the only man on the planet who has to balance a work-life with an emotionally fulfilling family life? There are millions who do just that, and they do it well! And even if they don’t…even if one aspect of their lives suffers at times, they fight back and try to come out unscathed. They do not blame their spouse, nor do they suggest something as ridiculous as forgetting the attachments that have already been formed! ¨
¨Well if that’s the case, then you should have married one of them!¨
The very air vibrates with tension as we glare at each other, and the tears start up again as his words sink in.
He swipes one hand across his eyes, then walks up to me with one hand outstretched.
¨Damn it all to hell, I did not mean that! Khushi, please…you know that you are important to me…you know how hard I fought to have you in my life! I can’t even bear to think of you with anyone else…I don’t know why I said that….¨
He takes my trembling hands in his and pulls me close.
¨Khushi…I want you. I have always wanted you…like I have never wanted anyone before. And yet, I knew that I am probably going to make some mistakes or do something that you wouldn’t like…something that might drive you away. And I didn’t want that to happen, Khushi…but it looks like that’s exactly what has happened here. You wanted the truth…and I gave it to you. But it’s unacceptable to you…while I can see no other alternative. I’m lost here, Khushi. I really don’t know what I am supposed to do or where we should go from here…¨
I draw my hands away slowly, then raise one shaking finger to point at the contract that he has brought into the room with him.
¨I can tell you where we should not go, Arnav. We don’t need to go down the legal route again, there’s no need for another contract!¨
¨Are we back to that now? I told you, Khushi, it’s just a formality! Did you even read what it…¨
¨I don’t need to! It’s perfectly clear that you intend to make this marriage all about the legalities again, and reduce it to contractual mumbo-jumbo that has nothing to do with what really lies between us now!¨
¨That isn’t why I had it drawn up, Khushi. If only you would…¨
Suddenly , I’ve had enough.
¨You know what? I can’t do this right now. It’s evident that you don’t want to listen…and I’m not in a position to convince you anymore. Maybe I’ll talk to you again when you’re being a bit more receptive…and rational.¨
Before he can come up with a rejoinder, I turn around and rush into the restroom, locking the door behind me even as the storm of tears continues unabated.
I drop down to my knees beside the sink, my mind whirling as I try to process all that has happened in the past hour.
A long while later, I raise myself to my feet, then look up at the mirror to find a tear-ravaged face staring back at me.
In that instant, anger at myself takes hold.
I cannot give up so easily.
I cannot allow my distress to cloud the real issue here.
My main objective is to fight for what I want, and I will not let myself weaken at any cost.
Gaining strength from that thought, I quickly run some cold water over my wrists and splash some on my face before reaching for a towel.
As I step out into the dressing room and head for the drawer that contains my nightclothes, I find myself wondering if my husband has found another bed for the night. After all, the house is empty except for the two of us, and it would be no hardship for him to sleep in one of the guest-rooms.
But as I pull the silk nightgown over my head, I catch a glimpse of our darkened bedroom, now only lit by the glow of a single nightlamp.
And my husband is there, with his penetrating gaze trained on me.
I run a brush through my hair and try to calm myself further by smoothing some body lotion onto my hands just like I do everyday, but my heart is pounding as I approach the bed, not knowing what to expect.
I try not to catch his gaze as I slide into bed, but the awareness thrums between us anyway.
But for the first time since we have started sharing a bed, there is a new sensation that puts me on edge.
A discomforting feeling spreads through me…unease makes me tremble all over again as I pull the comforter over my body.
I hear his sigh, and then there is darkness as he turns off the light.
¨Khushi…it doesn’t have to be this way…¨
A gossamer light touch lands on my neck, and I close my eyes as conflicting sensations take hold.
On the one hand, my body is attuned to his every move, and I find myself responding…almost against my will.
But the other , far more rational part of me is wary…and slightly appalled by the ease with which he is able to overcome my barriers.
This part grows more dominant as it reminds me of what has just occurred between us, and that this is the man who has just told me repeatedly that he will not allow his emotions to get involved while we are together.
And for me, intimacy without that involvement now seems meaningless…and vaguely distasteful.
Before I can say anything, I feel his touch on my hair, his fingers sliding through the thick mass as he moves closer.
¨Whatever else may change between us…we’ll always have this, Khushi.¨
And that is exactly what I am afraid of.
All my fears coalesce into a certainty as I realize that if I allow this to happen…if I give in, again, then we will truly be back to square one.
I also realize that Arnav is using intimacy as a shield…as an excuse to sweep everything else under the carpet and pretend that all is well between us.
And I cannot allow that to happen.
In one swift move, I slide out of his embrace, and lean against the nightstand as I fight to regain control of my own treacherous body.
He turns on the light and climbs out too, and I realize that anger is simmering in his gaze.
¨So is this your way of righting things, then? By withholding your body from me?¨
Insulted by that accusation, I glare back at him, everything else forgotten as an answering rage spirals through me.
¨If you can think of it like that, then you clearly know nothing about me!¨
He takes a deep breath and looks away.
¨Look, I didn’t meant to say that, Khushi. This night…after all that has passed between us, I clearly have no control over what slips out of my mouth here. But damn it all, why the hell did you just do that? You have never pulled away from me, not even when we first…¨
¨I did not pull away from you, Arnav. I pulled away from what you were trying to do! Despite all the angry words and accusations and excuses, you obviously still believe that sex is the answer…that sex will make everything alright, don’t you? That is what I am escaping from!¨
¨I’ve told you before, Khushi…sex isn’t all that lies between us. So don’t try and…¨
¨Wait right there, Arnav. If sex isn’t all there is between us, and you don’t want to bring your emotions into play…then what else are you talking about? Do you even realize how foolish that sounds now? You aren’t even making sense!¨
His eyes widen as my outburst hits home, but then he stuns me by choosing to escape as well.
Unlike me, however, he doesn’t just move out of reach.
His swift strides take him out of the room and a moment later, I am standing by myself in a cold, solitary bedroom that has no source of warmth or comfort for me anymore.
Knowing that it is useless to try and reason with him tonight, I walk over to the armchair by the window and sit down listlessly.
My gaze falls upon the file tossed onto the sidetable, and I stare at it for a moment, wondering about it’s contents.
What new terms has he decided to bind us with?
I grab hold of it before I can change my mind, and turn quickly to the first page.
I scan through the legalese and skip the parts where we are named as the parties bound by this contract, and flip through a few more pages before finally finding the part that lists the terms and conditions.
And then I sit up straight, my mind reeling in astonishment.
This cannot be possible.
This contract is clearly the work of a lunatic, because it clearly states that when this is signed by the concerned parties, Khushi Arnav Raizada becomes the sole owner of half the assets of A.R.Corp.
And that’s not all.
The contract goes on to state that all date restrictions have been removed from this marriage, and termination of the legal Hindu marriage is possible only when one of us files for divorce.
And if there is a divorce, then Khushi Arnav Raizada gains all of A.R.
I read it twice, then close it slowly before standing up and moving towards the window.
As I gaze out at the moon, a distant part of me wonders if I should be insulted that he thinks that I can be bought off with his wealth.
But then the other part stills in disbelief, as I remember just what A.R means to him.
A.R.Corp isn’t just a business for Arnav.
It is the product of years of hard work and sacrifice , and I know that it is an integral part of his life that he can never live without.
I also know that part of A.R is his legacy to his family, since he has told me about the trust funds he has set up for Di and Nani.
And yet, he has pledged it to me.
If I sign this, he has agreed to give me what he prizes above all else.
And if I ever leave him, he wants me to walk away with it all…leaving him with nothing.
The tears start to flow again, but this time, I smile through them as I realize the truth.
In his own convoluted, crazy way, this man is telling me that he is committed to me for life.
Because there isn’t any other explanation for this insane, over-the-top contract.
I look down at the file, and my resolve hardens.
I need to show that man what is painfully obvious to me now. He is committed to this marriage just as much as I am…and all of him is involved.
He just doesn’t know it yet.
I need to show him the light.
The game is on, Mr.Raizada.
Two weeks later, though, I find my resolve being sorely tested.
For the past fifteen days, I have tried my best to break through his stubborn insistence on maintaining an emotional distance…all to no avail.
I have tried hard to be my normal self, while balancing the ever-increasing demands of my course-work. I had even taken one day off to go up to his office in San Francisco with a home-made lunch, something that I had hoped might remind him of those early days of our marriage.
While that lunch had started out well, it quickly became evident that he was impatient to get back to work. And when I had confronted him about it, the whole thing had deteriorated into yet another argument.
I haven’t stopped trying to persuade him to give up on this foolishness…and he hasn’t stopped trying to convince me to sign that damned contract.
And through it all, the distances between us have grown by leaps and bounds.
As I retire to bed after yet another awkward dinner , I find myself craving those days when an easy camaraderie and sparkling intimacy defined my days and nights.
The tensions and uncertainties are beginning to wear me down, and I know that I am close to breaking point.
And the trigger arrives the very next day.
During breakfast, Manorama casually asks me if I am accompanying Arnav when he leaves for the airport, and I look up at her blankly.
¨Yes…he’s supposed to be flying to Canada, isn’t he?¨
I fight to keep the shock from my face, and quickly excuse myself before running upstairs where Arnav has just stepped out of the shower.
At one point in time, the sight of his glistening, muscled body would have made my hormones run wild, but rage paralyzes me now.
I walk up to him, my body trembling with the force of my anger.
¨Do you have a trip scheduled for today?¨
¨Yes. I’m flying to Canada, to meet with some new clients. Didn’t I tell you earlier?¨
¨No, you didn’t! How could you do this, Arnav? I had to learn about this from Manorama!¨
¨Calm down, Khushi. I must have forgotten to mention it. It’s not a big deal, really. I’ll only be gone for a few days.¨
He shrugs into his shirt before turning towards me again.
¨And let’s face it…with all that’s been going on between you and me, it’s probably better to give each other some space, don’t you think?¨
More than his words, it is the detachment in his voice and expression that brings everything crashing down on me.
I stand there silently as he gets dressed, and barely respond when he kisses me goodbye before leaving the room.
Once he is gone, I slump down on the bed, realizing one very important thing at once.
All my efforts have failed.
Arnav Singh Raizada is set on his course, and is intent on molding this marriage to his liking.
And there’s nothing I can do to change that.
Throughout the course of that long, endless day and equally painful night, I come to terms with this truth.
I hear his parting words in my mind again and again…and then I realize something else.
Arnav has no idea about the effect his new attitude is having on me.
He seems to think that all is well…just because he has willed it to be so.
And with that realization, the path ahead is clear.
I don’t quite know whether this will have any effect on him or not…but it is time to give him a taste of his own medicine.
The Stanford library feels like it is closing in on me and I lean back tiredly, closing my eyes as the stress of the past five days catches up with me.
The decision I had made then had seemed rational at the time, but now that the moment has finally arrived, I find that I am no longer so sure of myself.
Today is the day of his return.
And I have resolved to stay away from the house when he finally enters it.
I do not want him to find me there, waiting for him like I have always done before. This small step is one of many, designed to accomplish my goal.
This is going to be the moment of truth, one wherein he will realize that I am treading the same terrible path that he is…one of detachment and indifference.
I plan to make sure that he understands that I am giving back what I receive and no more. It is the only way that I can think of to make him see what he is doing to me…and to our relationship.
And yet, my heart is weighed with sadness at the thought of what he has reduced this to.
I open my eyes, looking down at my watch as I realize that his jet would have landed an hour ago at San Francisco.
Was he home already?
And if he was, had he already seen the changes I had made there?
I have no way of gauging his reaction. Whenever he has called me over the past few days, the conversation had been stilted and restricted to a few meaningless pleasantries…and always, the chasm between us had prevented us from talking about anything remotely meaningful.
Even his last call this morning had only lasted for all of two minutes, just long enough to inform me that his jet was scheduled to land this evening.
And immediately, I had made plans to stay back in the Library until it was late enough to go home when he might already be asleep.
My glance at the watch reminds me that Lavanya is waiting outside, as she always does. Feeling a pang of remorse for making her stay back this late, I stand up quickly, intending to go outside and tell her that she could take some time off for dinner if she wanted to.
But when I turn towards the entrance, an unexpected sight meets my eyes.
Standing in the doorway, dressed in a dark blue shirt and black trousers is my husband, Arnav Singh Raizada.
Immediately, my mind takes me back to another moment just like this one…when he had surprised me in this very library.
But the very next moment, the look in his eyes bursts my bubble and the contrast between the two instances strikes me full force.
He looks angry, frustrated…and exhausted, all at once.
My heart starts pounding in my chest, but I ignore it’s startled beats, instead choosing to focus all my energies on making my gait steady and confident as I walk towards him.
I stop when I am within touching distance…and wait for him to say something.
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he stares at me for a long moment, and then his eyes shift to the table behind me.
¨Get your things. We’re leaving.¨
The harsh order takes me by surprise, and I bristle.
¨I’m still not done here.¨
He looks around, and I know that he has noticed the lack of an audience at this very late hour.
¨Yes, you are. You shouldn’t even be here at this time. Now come with me…or I’ll make you.¨
That raises my hackles, and I take one step back.
¨I’d like to see you try.¨
With one last glance, I turn around and walk back to my table, my heart racing now.
But even as I sit down , I can feel his presence beside me.
I steel myself against the insidious pull that compels me to look up even now, and focus on the books before me.
There is complete silence for a few moments, and then I hear a deep sigh.
¨Khushi…this is not what I wanted to come home to.¨
I look up then, and immediately wish I hadn’t when I catch the tortured look in those brown eyes.
¨This isn’t my choice, Arnav.¨
He looks away, rubbing his hand against his eyes in a gesture of frustration that is familiar to me now.
¨Look…I don’t want to do this here. Can’t we just go home?¨
I want to refuse, but right then, I catch a glimpse of the librarian who is now staring at us.
¨Fine. Give me a moment to place all these in my bag.¨
In stony silence, I zip up my bag and start walking towards the entrance without waiting to see if he is following me. I cross the bridge that leads to the next wing and start down the flight of stairs that will take me to the ground floor.
When I finally reach the parking slot where the Audi had been parked earlier, I find the Limo there instead.
¨I sent Lavanya home. We don’t need two cars, do we?¨
I refuse to answer. Placing my bag on the passenger seat, I slide inside, then wait with bated breath as he steps over to the other side.
As Dhruv pulls out of the slot, I can feel Arnav’s gaze on me.
I rush into speech, trying to combat the conflicting emotions that are tearing me apart.
¨So who was it this time? Manorama? Or Lavanya?¨
¨Who informed you that I was here, Arnav?¨
¨What does it matter?¨
¨I called home to let you know that I had landed in SFO. Manorama told me that she hasn’t heard from you since this afternoon…and I was concerned. So I called Lavanya, and she told me that she was waiting outside the library for you.¨
¨And you decided to stop by on your way home and play caveman in a public place?¨
¨I wouldn’t have had to, if you hadn’t decided to play these foolish tricks with me. There was no real need to stay here tonight, was there?¨
¨That’s none of your business.¨
Another deep sigh.
¨I have told you over and over, everything about you is my business.¨
¨Really? That doesn’t sound like your new policy of detachment, does it?¨
¨Khushi…please. This is getting us nowhere.¨
¨I wasn’t aware that we needed to go somewhere with this.¨
A frosty silence descends over the spacious interior, and I stare out at the passing buildings, fighting against the sting of tears as I realize that this war of words is hammering the final nails into the coffin that is our relationship now.
He says nothing either…not until we are just five minutes away from home.
¨Manorama told me something else that has me worried.¨
¨Really? I can’t imagine what that would be.¨
¨She said she hadn’t heard from you all day…not since you left for your doctors’ appointment.¨
I cannot stop the bitter laugh as I realize just where this panic is stemming from.
¨It was nothing. You don’t need to worry about it.¨
¨Damn it, Khushi! I…¨
His words stumble to a halt as we both realize that the limo has drawn to a halt, and Dhruv is now hurrying over to open the passenger doors.
I step out immediately, slinging my bag over my shoulder as I walk towards the front door.
My rapid pace takes me towards the stairs before he is even at the door, but he manages to catch up when I step onto the landing.
Holding my wrist in a firm grasp, he pulls me to a stop.
¨Let me go!¨
¨Not until you tell me why you were at the doctors’!¨
¨Why do you want to know? I thought that details such as those were forbidden under your new rules!¨
I manage to free my wrist , but he crowds me against the wall, then cradles my face in his warm hands.
¨Please…just tell me.¨
I don’t know if it is the desire to escape…or the urge to give in to his plea that finally wins, but I find myself reluctantly answering him.
¨I went for an eye check up because I kept having these headaches. And the doctor gave me a prescription for glasses, that’s all. Now will you let me go?¨
He stares down into my eyes, his own questioning and doubtful as he holds me in place.
¨Is that…really what it was?¨
Incredulous, I push back against him. ¨What else could it possibly be? And why would I lie to you?¨
After another strained moment, he lets me go before closing his eyes and stepping away.
¨I just…you aren’t…pregnant, are you?¨
¨What? No! How can I be, given that we haven’t even…what’s wrong with you, Arnav?!¨
I whirl around and walk over to the hallway that leads to the bedrooms, not stopping before I reach my own.
But he’s there before my hand even reaches the doorknob, and I know that yet another argument is on it’s way.
¨Why are you going there?¨
I open the door defiantly, stepping inside and turning the light on before facing him again.
¨I’ve been sleeping here since the past few nights.¨
The attached second bedroom has become my refuge…my haven where I can escape from memories of his touch and presence.
But I don’t tell him that.
¨Well, you can just move right back now that I have returned.¨
¨I’m not going to do that, Arnav.¨
His eyes bore into mine for a long, long moment, and I finally see the knowledge that dawns in his gaze.
¨Khushi…this isn’t going to work.¨
¨What are you talking about?¨
¨I see what you are trying to do here. All this…this is you, taking a step back, right? Fleeing to the library when I am due to return…moving out of our bedroom…everything is designed to mimic what you think I have done to you. Am I right?¨
¨Maybe you are. And even if that is true, it changes nothing. Separate rooms…separate lives. Does that ring a bell, Mr.Raizada?¨
¨Damn it, I never meant for that to happen! And it doesn’t need to be this way, Khushi! Why don’t you understand? You don’t have to change!¨
¨Why not? So that you can keep taking all that I have to give while rationing your own self? I don’t think so, Arnav. If you need your distance…then so do I. It’s the only way I can function.¨
He takes one step forward and pulls both my hands into his. ¨Khushi…you are perfect, just the way you are. I have known that since the very beginning . There’s nothing that I would change about you. You have proved that you can do it all…you can be completely immersed in this shaadi, even while you excel in your coursework. And that makes you a stronger person than I am…because I have discovered that I cannot achieve that balance. I have explained this before, Khushi…I need to back off, if I intend to make sense of the rest of my life.¨
I step away at once, my hands still tingling from his touch.
¨Fine. You can do just that, Mr.Raizada. But you are wrong about one thing. Your changed attitude has begun to affect my work at the University. But unlike you, I did not make the decision to change my relationship in order to remedy that. At least, not at first. But now since you seem determined to make this marriage into a true marriage of convenience, then I have no other choice. I will have to do the same.¨
¨You can’t, Khushi… it just isn’t the type of person you are.¨
¨People change, Mr. Raizada. You’ve proved that quite conclusively, I should think.¨
¨So that’s your last word on this? Separate lives? What exactly do you think that will accomplish?¨
¨I think that it’s you who should be asking yourself that question. And you will, after you’ve seen the light. And when you do…we’ll try and talk things out if you can be rational about it.¨
¨I don’t want this, Khushi…and I know that you don’t , either.¨
The tears that I have been battling for so long are now flooding my eyes, and I swipe angrily at the moisture.
¨No, I don’t. But there is no other way.¨
In the simmering silence, I see an answering pain in his eyes.
And then he is gone, leaving behind an agonizing emptiness that threatens to destroy me completely.
The weeks that follow are some of the darkest of my life.
I throw myself into my work, trying to make up for lost time. When I return home each night, I collapse into bed, exhausted…and too tired to think about the empty spot beside me.
But I never manage to get a full nights rest. Nightmarish visions jolt me out of slumber with sickening regularity, and I have to stop myself from running next door and demanding him to take me into his arms.
Of course, the room beside mine isn’t even occupied all the time. Ever since his return from Canada, Arnav has started staying nights at the penthouse in San Francisco. He still comes home sometimes, and the meals we share are similar to those shared between complete , utter strangers.
There are a few instances where he attempts to speak to me, but I do not allow him to.
My own vulnerability holds me captive, and I am apprehensive about the fact that I will allow myself to give in if I listen to him again.
I even ignore the bouquets that appear before my door sometimes, a fact that earns me Manorama’s censure.
I try very hard to keep this from my mother, despite my guilt when I remember how I had promised to tell her if things went wrong between us.
But what am I supposed to tell her?
How am I ever going to explain the complicated situation between us?
I chose the coward’s way out and say nothing, even when she repeatedly asks me about the reason why I always sound so tired on the phone.
Hiding the true state of affairs from Anjali and Shyam requires another level of deception altogether.
Driving back in the Porsche with Arnav after dinner with them one night, I find myself wondering if Di has picked up on the tension between us.
Another, unwelcome emotion rears it’s head as well.
Seeing them in their own home with that easy intimacy that comes from being together for years, only places our own broken relationship into stark contrast.
As we approach our house, I feel the tears coming on again and try to hold myself together for a few more minutes, not wanting to break down before him.
How has it come down to this?
What has happened to the beautiful bond we once shared?
His voice interrupts my tortured thoughts, and I avert my gaze even as he addresses me.
¨I’m going back to the penthouse tonight.¨
Nodding swiftly and ignoring the ache in my chest, I grab my purse and step out quickly, then walk towards the door with my head bowed in despair.
The chiffon saree slows me down as I climb the stairs, and my steps lead me to a room that I haven’t stepped into for a month.
As I open the door, the memories come back thick and fast, and I find myself crying as I recall those treasured moments of passion and laughter and joy…something that seems so far from where we are now.
Why was it given to me, and then snatched back?
The sheer magnitude of my loss hits me at that moment, and I fall to my knees, unable to come to terms with the shards of my dreams.
Unable to recognize myself anymore…
The tears fall in earnest now, and I clutch the sheets before me, sobbing harder as the harsh reality of my situation dawns upon me .
I don’t quite know how long I lie there with the tears falling unchecked before I finally realize that I am not alone in the room.
Even through all the turmoil, it suddenly strikes me that I haven’t yet heard the roar of the Porsche’s engine as it pulls away from the driveway.
That thought makes me raise my head, but it takes my tear-filled eyes a few seconds before they are finally able to focus on him.
His eyes hold me captive at once.
Or rather, the naked agony in them does.
He says nothing, and neither do I.
But the next moment, I am in his arms…and I still don’t know who took the first step.
He wraps his arms tightly around me as the storm of grief continues, and I weep against his chest, wondering why he isn’t able to see what he’s doing to me.
But in the very next instant, he proves me wrong.
¨Khushi…I can’t bear to see you like this…please stop crying…¨
His voice breaks on the last few words, and I look up to see that the agony in his eyes has now increased tenfold.
He stares at me for a long, long moment, and then gently wipes the tears from my eyes.
I need to say so much…but I can’t.
And then, the time for words is past.
He leads me to the bed and lays me down gently, and I find myself unable to look away from his eyes.
He undresses me slowly, unraveling the saree as if I am something precious…a gift.
And I do nothing to stop him.
He lies down beside me, gently smoothing his fingers down my face…erasing the tear tracks and leaving trails of fire in his wake.
His mouth is gentle when he takes mine in a soft kiss, and so are his hands as he caresses my body until it comes alive under his touch.
At that moment, I find myself giving in…realizing that right and wrong don’t matter anymore.
Or if they do, I will deal with them in the aftermath of this beautiful moment that is giving me unprecedented joy after weeks of sheer agony…
When he finally covers my body with his and sinks inside slowly, I wrap my arms and legs around him, trying to hold him close.
The climax surges upon me like the swell of an ocean wave, and I hold him closer still…even as he throws his head back with a groan.
This time, he doesn’t let me go…even after our breathing has steadied .
Holding me against his chest, he strokes my hair over and over until I find myself giving in to my bone-deep exhaustion.
But even through the fast approaching blankness of sleep, I realize that something dangerous has occurred tonight.
I have allowed myself to harbor a small tendril of hope…
After all, a man cannot be so loving and generous at night without being the same when he wakes up…can he?
The bright light of morning crushes that hope with brutal force.
As I wake up in a lonely bed, I scan the sheets for a note…but there is nothing there.
A search of the shower and dressing room reveal that he has left already, and when I go downstairs, Manorama tells me that Arnav has left at five a.m for Sacramento.
Stunned, I can only stare as I process this.
And then I find myself berating myself for my stupidity and hopes.
When will I learn that some things aren’t going to change, no matter what?
Arnav is determined to do this on his terms…and fighting him on this has left me shattered like never before.
I had thought that paying him back in his own coin will make him see sense, but it has backfired on me spectacularly.
He hasn’t changed at all…but I have.
In forcing myself to behave as he has, I have lost the part of me that made me who I was.
I can barely recognize myself in the pathetic, desperate creature that I have become..or the cold, indifferent one that I have been pretending to be for the past few weeks.
It is as if Khushi doesn’t exist anymore.
In that instant, fear grips me hard as I realize that I have to hold on to those parts of me that have survived this shattering experience.
And so I make my decision.
Two days later, when Arnav comes home, I am waiting for him at the front door.
And it only takes him one look at the objects beside me before his face pales and he reaches out for my hand…but I elude his touch.
¨Khushi…what’s all this?¨
I looks down at the suitcases beside me, knowing that I have to steel myself to do what needs to be done.
¨I’ve been waiting for you to get back, Arnav. To let you know that…I’ll be moving back into my student accommodation.¨
¨What?! Khushi, this is just…you can’t just leave! Look, I’ll be the first to admit that things have been bad between us but…this isn’t the solution, damn it!¨
¨On the other hand, it’s the only thing that I can think of, at the moment. I can’t do this anymore, Arnav. I can’t stay here like a stranger while my husband jets in and out without a care. I can’t take these constant fights and arguments anymore. I can’t fight back. I tried to…you know that. But in the process, I lost something precious. I lost me, Arnav. I couldn’t even recognize the person staring back at me from the mirror anymore.¨
He pulls me into his arms, his eyes beseeching now. ¨It doesn’t have to be this way, Khushi. If only you could…¨
¨That’s just it, Arnav…I can’t. Not anymore. And if you…if you ever felt anything for me…if you have cared at all, please let me go.¨
I step back and away before answering him.
¨For however long it takes. I need some time apart to think things through…and so do you. You were right when you left for Canada, Arnav. We both need the space.¨
A look of relief crosses his face. ¨So you aren’t just…leaving me?¨
I stare up at him, knowing that he isn’t going to like my answer.
¨I…don’t know. That’s something I need to think about. And I can’t do that while you are here…¨
¨So I’ll move out. I’ll go to the penthouse, and you can stay right here. Please, Khushi…¨
I shake my head immediately. ¨I can’t…there’s just too much pain…too many memories here.¨
He stares at me, unsettled by my resolve.
And then his eyes take on a calculating gleam.
¨Think about your mother…and Di. Do you intend to tell them about this?¨
I hadn’t, and that’s something that has been bothering me from the past few days.
¨That’s a low blow, Arnav. You can’t make me stay!¨
¨I realize that. But I can ask you to. And I’m asking you, Khushi. Please stay here in this house where I can know that you are safe. Stay here for as long as you want…and I’ll move out at once. That is what you want, right?¨
I want distance, but I am not sure about this.
But the image of my mother makes me pause, and I realize that if I do stay here, she won’t have to know until it’s absolutely necessary to tell her the truth.
¨¨I…fine. But just so you know, this might only be temporary.¨
¨I know. And thank you…¨
He pulls me close, and places a kiss on my hair.
His next words make my eyes blur with unshed tears, but I manage to blink them away.
¨Stay with me, Khushi…don’t leave me alone…¨
I close my eyes tightly to block out the plea in his, and shake my head once, my heart breaking with my own refusal.
He holds me tight, then presses a brief kiss against my lips before stepping away.
¨Whatever you want, Mrs. Raizada. You have only to ask.¨
And with those last words, he steps out and closes the door behind him.
I lean my forehead against the door as the tears start flowing down my cheeks, and an avalanche of grief threatens to overwhelm me.
What have I done?
Even as I ask myself that question, I hear the limo start up again.
My heart calls out to him…even as my mind urges me to let him go.
And neither knows that it will be weeks before I see him again.
I think I love you.
Just five words…uttered all those months ago.
And yet, they have the power to make me burn…in agony and despair as I realize just what I have been doing .
If I am honest with myself, I have been on the run ever since I read those words for the very first time.
I made myself travel halfway across the world to Brisbane then, and I haven’t really stopped running since .
Yes, there was a period of time when I thought that I could have it all…when I blindly believed that I could have her love, that we could work together and eliminate the ‘think’. I thought that I was capable of learning how to return her sentiments, and I had allowed myself to give in, to let down the barriers and feel…for the first time in my life.
But that did not last for too long.
Those precious few weeks ended far too soon when I realized what I was giving up in order to make this work.
In a blinding flash, I saw the damage to A.R…the neglect that my family was being subjected to…and once again, I chose to escape.
Except this time, it was much, much harder.
Because by now, I had seen what it would be like to have Khushi Arnav Raizada’s complete and utter surrender.
It was an intoxicating feeling, and one that was almost impossible to give up.
And yet, I did.
Because at that point, I realized that my life was being reshaped by a force greater than anything I had known so far. Control over any aspect had long since escaped me, and that was something that scared me beyond belief.
Terror made me run then…sheer, blinding panic that I would soon lose all that I had worked for…all that I had yet to achieve.
She fought back, of course.
With words and tears at first, and later, with a coldness that astounded me.
She refused to sign the one piece of paper that could give me the peace of mind I had lost at that point, and it was then that I knew that I had no semblance of control over anything anymore.
This marriage wasn’t bound by any parameters that I knew and recognized.
It had taken a giant leap into the unknown, and I couldn’t handle that anymore.
I decided to take back the reins, no matter what else I had to sacrifice in return.
Burying myself in my work, I told myself that this was best for us both. All I was doing was bringing back this shaadi to the framework it had started out on, and this was clearly the ideal thing to do at this point. It was best that Khushi learned not to expect more from me…especially when the very idea of giving in made me break out into a cold sweat.
Was I coward, as she had once called me?
Maybe I was, but even that realization wasn’t going to stop me.
I would have continued down that path indefinitely…if it hadn’t been for one, agonizing night.
I still remember the night when we returned from Anjali Di’s house, and how I had been unable to drive away as I watched her defeated form walk slowly inside the house that wasn’t even a home anymore.
I remember how I followed her in…the utter devastation I felt when I saw her naked agony in the room that had once been our own.
Up until that point, I had closed my mind to the reality of what I was doing to her.
I had forced myself to concentrate on my life to the exclusion of all else, and although a small part of me knew that she was suffering, I tried very hard to block that out…while fervently wishing that everything would miraculously go back to the way it used to be.
But now it all came crashing down on me as I realized how I had broken her.
This shattered, tormented woman was so far from the person I had married…so far from the Khushi I had come to care for…
Something snapped in me that night.
I could no longer stop myself from giving her what she needed…at least for that moment.
Words of comfort wouldn’t come easily, and so I had chosen the best way I knew how. I had allowed my body to say what I never could…and to my relief and joy, she had accepted what I had to give that night.
But as I lay beside her the next morning, self-loathing hit me full force as my eyes focused on the tear tracks still visible on her pale cheeks . I realized that no matter what I said or did at the moment, nothing could erase the damage I had wrought so far.
No longer able to stay there with the proof of my cowardice before my eyes, I grabbed at the first excuse I could think of and fled to Sacramento at once.
The two days I spent there were the worst of my life.
Every inch of me pulled me back towards her…but one question stopped me from going back.
What did I have to offer her even now?
Was I ready to give her everything she wanted?
Or was there more suffering in store for her when I returned?
At the end of the forty-eight hours, I had almost managed to convince myself that when I returned, I would offer to set her free. This relationship was poisonous to her…and that seemed to be the only viable option.
Steeling myself against the agony awaiting me when I allowed myself to think about my life if she left me, I had gone back home…only to discover a startling sight.
She was leaving me.
The sight of her luggage by the door hit me with the force of a sledgehammer, and I realized that I had been deluding myself from the past few days.
There was no longer any option for me…not anymore.
It was in that instant that I finally realized that I could never let her go.
I needed this woman .
But at that moment, she wouldn’t have listened to anything I might have had to say.
And so I had done the only thing I could, by pleading with her to stay on in our home while I moved away.
To my relief, she had agreed.
But the next four weeks had been torture…torment of a kind that I had never experienced before.
I had called her every single day, only to be told that she needed more time…more time apart.
I had even asked to meet her several times, only to be told the same.
I am no longer under any illusions, of course.
I know exactly how much I have hurt this woman…the one woman I wanted to protect above all else.
I know that I have been responsible for changing her…morphing her into an insecure, fragile woman who is nowhere near the person I married.
And now, I am dying for a chance to change that…to make things right.
The only problem is, I still don’t quite know how.
My insane need for control is no longer the issue, of course.
In the past four weeks, A.R has stabilized to a certain degree. Things aren’t so bad as they seemed to be a few weeks ago, and I am grateful for that.
And yet, I have had to face a painful truth.
A.R’s recovery has had practically nothing to do with me.
It has mostly been helmed by my efficient team-members, and only the most crucial decisions have come from my office.
To a large extent, I have been useless around the office for the past one month.
All my thoughts have been focused solely on one woman…one woman whom I have wronged very badly.
I haven’t been able to turn back to my family either.
Di and Shyam have been approaching various adoption agencies, and I have found myself unable to help them or support them in any way.
It’s just too painful.
The very thought of a child…of making a family with another person brings back memories of the woman who gave me so much…
I haven’t been to Di’s house in four weeks for just this reason.
And now, as I sit here in my car, thinking about the past four weeks and the effect they’ve had on me…I come to a startling realization.
My plan has failed…spectacularly.
Detaching myself from an emotional commitment hasn’t helped my work in any way.
Nor has it helped my family.
Khushi was right, after all.
Because the only thing I feel now is a gaping void….an emptiness that governs my every breath.
I cannot live like this anymore.
My life is spiraling out of control once again…but this time, I intend to take the right step.
The one that leads to her…not from her.
I start the car, pulling out of the parking garage below my office before I can harbor second thoughts.
I don’t allow myself to think about the reception I am likely to receive when I reach Menlo Park.
All I know…all I can feel is this need…the need to be where she is right now.
I find myself going faster and faster as I near my destination, my foot is almost glued to the accelerator of the Porsche convertible while somewhere in the depths of my crazed mind, I know that I am being careless in disregarding the need for safety on these roads.
In the end, I slow down a little, but only when I can see my target up ahead.
Pulling the car to a screeching halt, I barely wait until the engine has stopped running before throwing open the door and stepping outside, my eyes going straight to the door.
I have to see her.
I need to see her.
And I need to do more.
I need to touch, to have, to hold…and not just in a sexual sense this time.
The compulsion is making me mindless with a craving that has been unfulfilled for far too long, and I am now a creature of instinct, blindly following my senses towards the one thing that can bring them solace.
I pause for a moment, closing my eyes in a vain attempt to regain control.
This is not how I want to meet her.
We need to talk, and I need to be in control when I do so.
Somehow, that word seems bitter on my tongue now.
Shaking my head against the torturous thoughts that await on the other side, I choose instead to focus on what awaits me behind that door.
But even as I walk towards it with renewed eagerness, I hear voices on my left, and freeze in place.
¨I…just don’t see why you’re here…¨
It is Khushi’s voice, and for an instant, I wonder if she is addressing me.
But then I turn around and realize that she hasn’t even seen me yet.
She is standing beside a palm tree, the slender trunk is blocking me from her view.
For a moment, I just stand there and let the sight wash over me, reveling in the beauty of the woman before me.
She is wearing white today, a color that I’ve hardly seen on her before. Her hair is up in a knot and I am suddenly assailed by the need to pull it down until it lies across her shoulders in dark , smooth waves.
Clenching my hands against the need, I take one step towards her, only to pause again when I hear a second, unexpected voice.
¨I’m leaving the city, Khushi. And I wanted to talk to you before I do so.¨
What the hell is he doing here?
A red mist obscures my vision, and I move forward again before restraining myself with great difficulty.
My brain finally kicks into gear, and I realize that I need to hear this conversation, far more than I need to slam my fist into N.K’s face.
¨Yes, I…I heard that you quit your job at A.R. But what does that…I mean, why…¨
Her soft, hesitant tones make me want to reach out and draw her close, and I force myself to stay back as the scene before me plays out.
¨I know this must seem sudden and unexpected, Khushi…but I couldn’t go before I…well, let’s just say that I wanted to see you before I leave. To see how you’re doing, and whether I…but no, my question has been answered before I could ask.¨
¨I have no idea what you’re talking about.¨
She might not, but I have a pretty good idea by this point, and sheer astonishment keeps me still as I listen to NK’s next words.
¨It’s simple, Khushi. Now that I am here, I can clearly see that you…you are still committed to him, even though I’ve heard that…¨
¨You shouldn’t believe all that you hear. And anyway, what does any of this have to do with you?¨
¨It doesn’t. Not now, at any rate. But there was a time…especially when I first met you, that I had hoped for something…something more that might have materialized after your contract marriage came to an end.¨
Khushi’s gasp makes me look up sharply, but my presence isn’t the cause.
She still hasn’t seen me, and her astonishment is solely due to her sudden comprehension of N.Ks motives.
¨You thought that I and…and you?¨
¨It was merely a dream, nothing more. I thought that you were bound by a sheet of paper and nothing else, and you deserved so much more…the two of you didn’t even have anything in common, did you? But despite all the odds, there seems to be something between you both now. Although I still don’t see why you are…¨
¨It doesn’t matter. I’m still his wife, that’s all you need to know.¨
Hearing those words from her lips makes my heart slam hard against my chest, and I take a deep breath.
N.K’s voice interrupts, and I open my eyes again.
¨Yes, I see that now. Despite all evidence to the contrary, it’s clear that you are still devoted to him. And that means that I have no choice but to leave.¨
¨I…I don’t know what to say…¨
¨You don’t have to say anything, Khushi. There’s no need. I’ve said what I wanted to, and now you…you know.¨
I look up sharply as he takes a step towards her, and I cannot keep myself away any longer.
¨Goodbye, Khushi..and good luck with…¨
¨She’s Mrs.Raizada to you, N.K. Now and always.¨
My words make Khushi look up in shock, and N.K stumbles back a step, his face paling as he takes in my presence.
And yet, he stands his ground.
¨I’m not your employee anymore, ASR. Your rules don’t apply , do they?¨
The rage rises yet again, but it is Khushi’s face that holds my attention now.
Instead of looking angry, or shocked…or any of the other emotions I had expected, her expression is one of sadness.
A heavy, profound grief that is almost tangible…
It draws me towards her and I raise my hand, intending to touch her…reassure her that everything is going to be alright.
Her gaze snaps back towards N.K, reminding me that we have an unwelcome audience.
But N.K isn’t even looking at me anymore. Instead, his gaze is fixed on Khushi…and yet, the expression on his face makes it impossible for me to rage at him anymore.
It’s clear that he is saying goodbye.
Apparently, Khushi realizes this too.
¨N.K, I…good luck with your new position. And I…I’m sorry that…¨
¨There’s no need for apologies, Khushi. I needed to get that off my chest, that’s all. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, though…¨
He stares at her for one long moment, then turns to me.
¨I’m glad I met you here, ASR. I didn’t have the chance to say this when we last met…but I cannot leave without thanking you for giving me the chance to work with you. Not many people would have done that for someone who hadn’t even completed his degree at that point. And I’ll never forget that.¨
Anger over his words to Khushi still simmer beneath the surface, but I try and look beyond that.
Years of working together deserve an acknowledgement, and I might not have this chance later…
¨Good luck with your new job in Jersey, N.K. I…it’s been a pleasure to work with you all these years.¨
He hesitates a moment, and then holds out his hand.
A brief handshake…and then he’s gone.
Both our eyes follow him until he gets into his car, and then we turn back to the other at the exact same moment.
I allow my eyes to feast once more on her slim , beautiful form…and to my surprise, I find that she is clearly doing the same.
And then I notice the tears shimmering in her eyes, and I take a step towards her.
Her voice stops me in my tracks, thick with unshed tears.
¨So that’s what it takes for your facade to crack? One glimpse of another man near me?¨
¨I’m amazed, Arnav. Here I…I have been…but you never…and now, when you heard what N.K just said, that’s what it took for you to show some reaction?¨
¨He had no business saying what he just did.¨
¨At least he was honest, Arnav! He didn’t try to hide what he really felt and I…¨
¨Honest?! You want honest?¨
Unable to keep myself away any longer, I walk up to her and take her hands in mine, grasping them hard enough to ensure that her eyes stay on mine.
¨The honest truth is that I can’t take this anymore! I cannot stay away, and you know that! I’ve wanted to meet you for weeks now, but you are the one who…¨
¨Yes, I stopped you, Arnav! Because I…I didn’t know what we would do when we met again. I was afraid that we’d only end up arguing with no solution in sight…and it looks like that’s just what has happened!¨
I stare down at her, unable to believe that I am yelling at her when all I want to do is draw her close and keep her there for a long, long while.
I take a deep breath, knowing that this is getting us nowhere.
¨I didn’t come here to argue, Khushi. I came here to tell you the truth.¨
¨Yes. And the truth is that you were right. I was a coward. I ran away from what you were beginning to make me feel…and I’m not proud of that at the moment. And yes, you were right about the office too. Moving away from you hasn’t helped me there…not even one tiny bit. That was a stupid, irrational reason, just like you said.¨
¨So you’ve finally seen the light? And now you’re back, and you expect me to…do what, exactly?¨
She draws her hands away, and I look on helplessly as her eyes flash with a mixture of anger and distress.
¨Do you expect me to forget everything that’s happened over the past few months?Forget all that I have been through and just get back with you like everything is back to normal now?¨
¨That isn’t what I expect at all, Khushi. I just…I came here for one last chance. One last attempt at making this relationship work…because that is what I want, more than anything.¨
¨Really? Until when, Arnav? Until the next time that A.R runs into difficulties? Or the next time you feel that you are neglecting your family? When that happens, will you walk out again? How do I believe that you won’t?¨
I grasp her shoulders and pull her close.
¨I won’t ever do that again, Khushi. Because I’ve seen what lies on the other side. I don’t want that emptiness…I want you. I am committed to do this…I always have been. Please, never doubt that again.¨
¨And what happens if I do give you that chance? Are you ready to take all the risks that go with it?¨
¨Am I ready to declare my love for you? That’s what you really want to know, right?¨
¨Yes, maybe I do! Because that is exactly what I have given you…there’s nothing wrong in expecting the same thing in return!¨
¨No…there isn’t. But I won’t lie, Khushi. I can tell you the words right now…but I still don’t know if I grasp what they mean. I still don’t know if I can open myself up to that and give up control entirely. What I do know is that I want to try…with you. I want to give it my best shot…I’ll give it everything I’ve got and more. Please, can’t you just accept that for now?¨
¨I want to, Arnav…you know I do. If I had given up on you, I won’t still be here , would I? But it’s hard for me to completely forget and move on …it’s hard for me to trust again.¨
Her eyes are filled with that unfathomable sadness again, and I curse myself again for putting it there.
¨I know it is, Khushi. And I have only myself to blame for that. But…please let’s give this one more chance. Let’s try and move past the hurt…because in the end, it will be worth it. I want what we had once, Khushi…do you remember?¨
Her hazel gaze looks up at mine , filled with memories…and regret.
¨I want to try, Arnav…but…there’s just so much that’s happened…how do you begin to move past that?¨
I realize that she is right.
Everything around here serves as a reminder of what could have been…but wasn’t.
In that instant, I come to a decision.
¨I know what might work, Khushi. This place…this house and the city…everything is steeped in painful memories. We can never move forward…not while we are here.¨
¨What…what are you saying?¨
¨I’m saying that we should go away. To a place where everything is new…and begin afresh. We can work through this….just the two of us.¨
Her eyes are doubtful, and I step away before continuing.
“You don’t have to answer right away. I understand if you need some time to think this through , and I’ll…wait . For as long as it takes, because I really believe that this will give us what we need, Khushi.”
She says nothing, but a single tear makes it’s way down her cheek and I turn away, knowing that I have pushed her too far.
I am disgusted with myself for bringing her to this…and yet, I find that I cannot bring myself to walk away.
Not this time.
I turn to face her again, only to find that she is wiping her tears away with the edge of her white dupatta.
Her surprised gaze meets mine a moment later, and I realize that she expected me to walk away…just like I had done before.
¨I can’t do this, Khushi. I can’t walk away…not even temporarily. You…don’t have to let me into the house. I’ll just sleep here in the car or the garage…somewhere that I can be close.¨
An incredulous look enters her eyes, and then she is smiling through her tears.
¨You’re a fool, Arnav Singh Raizada. A stupid, irrational fool who cannot see what’s right in front of him.¨
I deserve everything she is throwing at me and more, but that’s not what snags my attention.
¨In front of me? What do you mean?¨
¨It means that I have made my decision.¨
¨Yes, about going away with you. But before I tell you, I need to know if you are okay with a few ground rules.¨
¨Rules?What do you mean?¨
¨If I go away with you, I want you to know that it doesn’t mean that I have forgotten all that has occurred. Nor does it mean that everything will go back to the way it used to be. because I won’t…won’t be sharing a room with you.¨
A surge of relief makes me lightheaded.
¨I have no problem with any of that. I know the stakes here, Khushi. And I’m not willing to jeopardize any of that…for anything.¨
She stares at me for a long moment, and I hope that she can see the sincerity in my eyes.
But when she finally speaks, she surprises me yet again.
¨I just need to know one more thing….where exactly would we be going?¨
I smile, knowing that I have the perfect place in mind.
Her eyes widen, and then she turns away, just a little.
¨Khushi? I’m waiting for your answer.¨
Part Four- Arnav
The sun beats down on the white walled, blue domed houses that seem to tumble down the cliff-side towards the Aegean sea, and I notice that Khushi’s eyes widen at the sight, even though it is apparent that this is just an illusion.
The settlement of private and vacation homes on the Caldera cliffs situated in the Greek island of Santorini are stable enough , and provide the most spectacular views of the sunset for which this island is famous. As we step out of the car that brought us up here to the small village of Oia Santorini, my glance falls on the view of Ammoudi port, and I remember the first time that I had come here on the invitation of my friend Nikos. We had come here via cruise-liner then, but this time, I did not want to take the extra time for that since we were scheduled to be here for just five days. And so we have flown down to Athens today, before taking a car to the three bedroom villa belonging to Nikos.
I look over at Khushi, and notice that she is pulling her wrap around her as the cold December air blows around the cliff. I realize that this isn’t the best time to come here to Greece, but we had been left with no choice.
It has been two weeks since that confrontation after N.K’s visit, and we have spent that time in preparing for this getaway. It hasn’t been easy, since Khushi wasn’t able to leave until her Christmas vacation began, and I needed to wrap up things at A.R and assure myself that my new executive assistant could handle things during my absence.
The intervening two weeks have been hard, to say the least. I had moved back into our mansion, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to sleep in our old bedroom, even though it was unoccupied at the moment. We had ended up sleeping in two different guest-rooms throughout, and there had been very little opportunity for actual conversation as we both rushed through our commitments before leaving for Greece.
The long flight on my jet was an exercise in patience on my part. Although every fiber of my being longed to take her in my arms and soothe away her visible exhaustion, I had to content myself with watching her sleep in the lounge chair for most of the flight.
But now that we are finally here, I tell myself that this trip will accomplish what we have set out to do…rekindle the relationship that has been tarnished by fears , insecurities and separation.
As we walk towards the narrow, arched doorway that leads into the traditional low-lying, whitewashed house built in the Cycladic style, I keep my eyes on Khushi, hoping that she likes this house as much as I did when I first came here.
Although Oia is a popular tourist destination, this particular villa is slightly off the beaten path and is located in an area mostly frequented by locals. It’s most attractive feature is the spectacular view of the Calderra, which is the water-filled remnant of the repeated volcanic eruptions that created these cliffs. The sunset from this vantage point is the reason why tourists throng this island during the summer months, but I find myself hoping that the off-season will ensure privacy and allow us to take in the natural beauty of this place that mesmerized me on my first visit here.
Khushi takes it all in, and her gaze keeps going back to the indigo waters of the sea behind us…at least, until we enter the door.
As the driver moves past us to place our bags by the side table, I smile at Khushi’s look of open astonishment at the sight that meets her eyes. Despite it’s deceptively traditional appearance from the outside, the extensive renovation on the interior has made this house into a contemporary, luxurious space that rivals the best hotels in the vicinity. The warm pastel tones and blue and white furniture offset a fabulous view through the white-shuttered windows that now lie open, offering us a panoramic view of the Aegean beyond.
I wait until I have tipped the driver and closed the door behind him before turning back to Khushi.
¨So…what do you think?¨
¨It’s…breathtaking. Are you sure your friend wants to place this on the market?¨
¨Nikos has no use for it anymore. He has a house in San Francisco and almost never comes back here, so the upkeep of something like this becomes a liability…¨
¨That’s a shame. No one should have to give up this beautiful glimpse of paradise…¨
I have plans for this place, but now isn’t the time to share them with her.
Instead, I gesture towards the mosaic tiled hallway that leads to the home’s only bathroom.
¨Sunset will arrive soon enough, and you shouldn’t miss that. I’ll wait out here if you want to shower first…¨
With one last glimpse through the window, she nods and walks down the hallway, my hungry eyes following her every step of the way.
Taking a deep breath, I throw myself down on the couch, wondering when and how I can break this barrier that exists between us…one of my own making, no less.
I still have no answer to that question one hour later, when we have both showered and changed before seating ourselves at the rustic wooden breakfast table where the housekeeper has laid out some Greek delicacies prior to our arrival.
For the next few minutes, I tell Khushi about the famous spanakopita, the traditional pastry pie filled with spinach and feta cheese, followed by the sweet cheese melitinia cookies that are a specialty of these islands.
She samples them all, but I notice that her appetite is a shadow of what it used to be. I also note that her glance keeps moving past me to the window, and I wonder if she wants to see the famous Santorini sunset from another vantage point.
¨Khushi, if we leave now, we can still catch the sunset from one of the walkways in the old town. I know a cafe there that serves the best Greek Frappe coffee, we could walk over after it’s dark and…¨
My words trail off as I watch the expression on her face, a combination of sadness and determination that I have seen there once before.
¨Arnav…as tempting as that sounds, that isn’t what I came here for.¨
Before I can reply, she stands up and moves away towards the window.
¨All this…it’s beautiful, Arnav. But we need to focus on the issues that have brought us here. We only have five days before we are due to return…¨
Taking a deep breath, I stand up too.
¨We’ve only just landed, Khushi. I thought that you and I could…¨
She whirls around, her eyes blazing with anger.
¨…could what? Play tourist? Or pretend that this was a honeymoon? I’m sorry, Arnav…that just isn’t possible. I went along with this idea because I couldn’t think of a better way at the time, but if you think that for one moment I have actually forgotten what I have been going through over the past few weeks, then you are sadly mistaken. It’s all I can think about…saving this shaadi is the only thing on my mind!¨
¨And do you think that it isn’t my priority? Resolving our issues is all that I want as well, Khushi!¨
The anger dims, and she leans back against the wall as the sky outside the window turns blood-red with the setting sun.
¨Where do we even begin, Arnav? We always seem to end up arguing…¨
¨No one said it was going to be easy, Khushi. But we need to get through this…together. I will do anything to prevent the events of the past few weeks from being repeated ever again. It was hell, for you and for me, and I never want that to happen.¨
Abruptly, her hazel eyes fill with tears.
¨Why, Arnav? Why did you go away? And I’m not just talking about the physical separation here…although that was terrible in it’s own way, what hurt me more was the way you distanced yourself from me when we were still living together. Do you even realize what it feels like when your partner gives you a night of tenderness and then walks out the next morning without a word? When you realize that your house-staff know more about his whereabouts than you do? Do you know how it feels when you have discovered heaven in someone’s arms, only to have it snatched away on a whim? Let me tell you, Arnav. It feels like the very air has been sucked out of your existence. And I don’t want to feel that way again!¨
I walk up close, then take one trembling hand in mine, even as her tears torture me with the grief that is evident now.
¨And I don’t want you to. When will you believe that?¨
She pulls her hand away, then swipes it across her streaming eyes.
¨I cannot even begin to trust you…not until you explain why you did that, and what is going to prevent this from happening again. Please, Arnav…make me understand…¨
Her plea is my undoing, and I close my eyes as I try to gather my thoughts, knowing that this might be my only chance.
When I look over at her again, she is staring at me with those moist, tormented eyes that threaten to ruin what’s left of my composure.
¨Khushi…what I did…it was the last stand of a man who was running scared…just like you said. I was terrified of what you were beginning to make me feel, the loss of control made me long to escape before it destroyed me completely. I wasn’t really in control of myself then, Khushi. I just perceived that things were spiraling out of control..and I just reacted without giving any thought to what this would do to you. I thought that…that once I explained my stance, you would understand, because you are a practical woman, someone who can identify with what I was feeling then. But I was wrong…so very, very wrong about you…and me. You aren’t that person anymore, and neither am I. You were right then, Khushi…things between us have changed. This marriage is now real, much more than I had ever imagined it could be.¨
¨And now that you have come to this realization, are you ready to embrace this new phase wholeheartedly? Because that’s what worries me the most, Arnav…that you will start out on this new path, but when you realize just what it entails, you will rush to retrace your steps just like you did once before. How can I allow myself to get close to you again, when the shadow of that cold, withdrawn stranger looms in the background? ¨
Before I can even begin to respond, she walks up to me and this time, it is she who takes my hand in hers.
¨Look at me, Arnav! Look at me, and understand just what my presence here is telling you! Despite everything, I am here with you in a foreign country, giving us one last chance to get things right. If you had asked me a few months ago, I would never have even dreamed that I would be doing this for you, a man whom I had married in a contract marriage. Everything has changed since then..and I have welcomed it and adapted to it. And I haven’t given up hope yet…but give me something to hold on to. Convince me that you are ready to move ahead in these new circumstances…make me believe, Arnav.¨
The near desperation in her eyes jolts me out of my paralyzed state, and I grasp her hand in mine, knowing that I have to tell her everything that is in my heart and mind…she needs to know it all. I have to lay it all on the line, there is just no other way.
The small part of me that is still holding on to the control that has defined my entire life , is still vocal in the background, but the larger part of me knows and recognizes what I need to fight for now.
¨There’s just one simple truth you need to know before all else, Khushi.¨
She stares up at me, her eyes damp and anxious…and I know that it is time for her to know the truth, the one truth that I cannot deny any longer.
¨Arnav Singh Raizada cannot live without his Khushi. And that’s the truth.¨
For a moment, there is no reaction…none at all.
And then the tears start streaming down her face, and she is my arms, weeping on my shoulder as the shivers rack across her slender frame.
I draw her close, unwilling to let her part from me even as I know that I haven’t completed what I nee to say.
From the very beginning, this marriage has been based on honesty above all else, and I will not change that now.
Slowly, very slowly, I pull back until I can look into her eyes.
Wiping the tears away, I push her hair back from her face as she finally speaks.
¨If…if that’s the truth, then is that…is all that happened really a thing of the past? Because if someone becomes essential to your existence, you cannot really distance yourself from them, can you?¨
¨No…you can’t. And that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you…that’s what I have realized over the past few weeks, Khushi. My behavior was inexcusable, and will never be repeated. I cannot do that again…to either of us. It’s just not in me…not anymore. I need to be with you, in every possible way. Do you understand? I need you, Khushi.¨
¨And I am still in love with you, Mr. Raizada. Nothing has changed there…because I’ve discovered that it isn’t really a matter of choice now. It just is, that’s all…¨
For a moment, the ghost a smile flits across her lips as she continues.
¨…and I just eliminated the ‘think’, didn’t I?¨
I draw her close again.
¨And so you did. It was…easy for you, wasn’t it?¨
She sighs once before leaning her head against my chest.
¨And it isn’t easy at all for you, is it?¨
This truth needs to be told as well, but I find myself apprehensive about her reaction as I begin to speak.
¨Love? No, it isn’t. ¨
She looks up at me again.
¨Why not, Arnav? This is what I cannot begin to comprehend. Why is this so difficult for you, when it’s obvious to me that you…¨
¨Obvious? Nothing is obvious here, not to me, at any rate. I can deal with everything else. I can compromise on my need for control…I can adapt myself to make this marriage as real as it can get. I’ll do it for you…for us, because I want to. I want to have that life with you, Khushi. It’s what I want above all else, I can see that now. But as for love…can you just try and see this from my perspective? Can you see how a man is trying very hard to view things in a different light, but there’s one thing that stumps him every time?¨
¨And that thing is…love?¨
¨ Yes…because for me, it’s new. Think of it like this…what if it’s something completely new, something that you haven’t ever considered for all the years of your existence? Something that isn’t part of your reality at all? And then you find that the one who is an integral part of your life now wants you to accept this new thought…one that is contrary to all you’ve ever believed in. It’s the person who matters to you the most, and so you try…without much success, because you aren’t really sure about what you are doing in the first place. But you still do it, because it’s what the other wants. Even if it’s against all the beliefs and convictions and choices you’ve made so far…tell me, Khushi, would you be able to do that? All your life, you have known what it is to love…even if you haven’t been in love yet. It is an intrinsic part of you, all you’ve ever known. Would you change that overnight, just because someone you care about asked you to? If they asked you to stop loving and forget all about love, would you make that drastic change for them? Would you be able to make that critical transformation in word and thought and deed?¨
¨That isn’t a fair comparison, Arnav. It’s like the difference between darkness and light. You cannot recognize the brightness because you haven’t ever anticipated it…and I can understand that completely. But how can you compare that to asking me to willingly give up the sun that illuminated my world, and embrace the shadows of the night? Is that what you really want from me? Do you want me to stop loving you, because you aren’t able to see it yet?¨
¨No! That isn’t what I’m saying…I’ve told you this before, Khushi…there’s nothing about you that I would change…including the way you feel about me. I’ve been thinking about that constantly over the past few weeks and believe me, it’s the only thing that’s kept me going sometimes…¨
¨So in some ways, you believe that such an emotion actually exists? You aren’t completely denying it’s existence if you want me to acknowledge it…¨
¨I cannot ever deny that we have very strong feelings for each other, Khushi. That has been evident for a while now…what I have a problem with is the fact that we need to label this. Do we need to give it a name? Do you need me to tell you that I…¨
¨No, I don’t. Because I can see it…well, I can see it most of the time, when you aren’t being an arrogant jerk. But tell me, does it make you feel better if we don’t use that word? Would it stifle your urge to escape?¨
¨I don’t want to escape anymore, Khushi. Not even from love, if that is what this is. All I’m trying to say is that I do not quite understand it yet. At the end of the day, I am just a businessman, Khushi. I deal with cold , hard facts and figures…and this doesn’t fall into either category. I just find it hard to comprehend…and I don’t want to say it out loud as just some words, without really knowing what it means.¨
¨When have I ever asked you to?¨
¨You said it to me, didn’t you? Well you wrote it, anyway. And you even told me that you were tired of giving without expecting anything in return, and so I assumed that…¨
¨…that I wanted those three little words in return? Then your assumption was wrong, Arnav. Because what I want from you is something quite different. ¨
¨What do you mean?¨
¨I don’t want a grand declaration, Arnav. All I want is my husband, the one who made me fall in love with him all those weeks ago. I want that warm, caring man who respected me as a person in my own right, not the one who ignores me and disrespects me by flitting in and out of the house whenever he wants. I want the man who sets me on fire with his passion…and does not leave me alone the morning after. I want the man who made me want to tear up the contract and give him my all, Arnav. That is what I want…not an ‘I love you’ that is merely a few words.¨
¨And you have him, Khushi. I will be that man again, if only you can give me that chance. I am here to stay…my commitment is genuine and I will prove it to you. Just let me do it…and be patient while I learn, that’s all I ask from you.¨
¨I’m learning too, Arnav. And I can do it faster if you share things with me , instead of keeping it all bottled up inside where it festers. I will make mistakes too…we both will. The question is, do we want to fight this together? I know that I do…¨
¨…and so do I. ¨
As we look into each other’s eyes, the light in the room changes dramatically, and I realize that the famed Santorini sunset has just occurred beyond the window.
And yet, neither turns towards the window, because something more beautiful has just happened in this very room.
It beats the biggest displays of spectacular natural beauty, hands down.
The next day at breakfast, I look over to find that Khushi appears well-rested for the first time in days.Respecting her wishes, I have spent the night in one of the guest-suites, although sleep has eluded me last night. My mind is occupied by what needs to be done, and I have realized that there’s still a long way to go before I gain her complete acceptance and trust. But a start has been made, and I intend to capitalize on that.
I wait until we have both eaten before following her out onto the balcony where the view of the village stretches out below us. The blue and white buildings set against the backdrop of the shimmering sea is picture-perfect, and yet I sense that Khushi isn’t really taking it in yet.
She turns to me with a glimmer in her eye that had been entirely absent before.
¨Do you remember Tahoe?¨
I smile at once, the memory of that time never fails to do that to me…at least, until I allow myself to think of the last day.But that isn’t something I want to bring up now.
¨We had a great time, didn’t we?¨
¨Yes…and I was thinking that…you were right yesterday when you suggested that we could look around the island while we were here. Could we do that today?¨
¨Of course. Your wish is my command, Mrs. Raizada.¨
She rolls her eyes.
¨Spouting cliches now, are we?¨
¨That’s insulting. Arnav Singh Raizada is anything but cliched.¨
¨Really? You’re a millionaire on vacation with his wife on a Greek island , and you arrived here on your own jet. That sounds like something out of a cliched romance novel!¨
¨You’re wrong, Khushi. If this was a novel, we wouldn’t have been sleeping apart last night.¨
Her eyes meet mine, then drop to the floor.
¨I can’t…I can’t change that yet, Arnav. Don’t ask me to.¨
I walk up to her swiftly, then raise he chin so she can meet my gaze.
¨I won’t ever ask you to do something you don’t want to, Khushi. But I won’t lie, either. There’s nothing I want more than to have you back in my arms where you belong…but I am willing to wait until you trust me enough to come there of your own volition.¨
She gives me a tentative smile after a moment, and my heart soars in relief.
¨So where are we going first?¨
I take her first to the old town of Oia, and we explore the narrow lanes and small cafes that dot the village. Over the next two days, we hike up to the capital of Fira, and then on to the Skaros rock. Khushi enjoys our visits to Amoudi Bay and the museum of Prehistoric thera , and we finally see the ruins of Thera , an 11th century settlement.On the third day, Khushi asks me if we could go over to the Skaros rock again, to view the famed sunset from that perspective.
We set off after lunch, and soon find ourselves hiking up the rock while pausing frequently to feast our eyes on the village of Imerovigli behind us, and the Santorinian coastline in the distance.We come upon a small church that is almost hidden behind the rock , and it seems to fascinate Khushi, who spends some time there, taking in the white building set against the backdrop of the rock.
When we finally reach the viewing area, the time for the sunset is almost upon us. We walk around and still in amazement at the vista before us, an endless expanse of sun and sky and sea that makes Khushi gasp in wonderment.
And then I still for an entirely different reason.Khushi has just placed her hand in mine, and I realize that this is the first time in days that she has done so.
I grasp her hand tightly, but say nothing as we watch the sun go down into the Aegean. The shy is awash in the bold hues that are characteristic of the Santorini sunsets,and we watch in silence as nature’s splendor surrounds us on all sides.
I look over at her, knowing that her beauty surpasses anything I can see out here. Inside and out, she is the most exquisite of all creation, and I find myself hoping that she isn’t ever taken from me…because I cannot imagine an existence without her.
The past few days have been good for us, as we have taken those first few tentative steps towards establishing a new understanding…the foundation for a relationship that will stand the test of time.I know that we still have things to accomplish, but I am now confident that we will be able to deal with this…together.
As darkness descends around us, the sun goes down in a blazing red flame, and the sky is streaked with crimson.Once again, I am reminded of that first time when I saw her in a red saree on the day we were married…and it also reminds me of the gift I am carrying in my pocket.
As she turns to me now, I pull it out , then hold it out to her.
As her eyes widen, I find myself wondering if she will like it at all. Unlike my previous gifts, this one isn’t very expensive or even unique. The antique Hellenic gold and garnet necklace has another intrinsic value…one that is recognized by every Greek man and woman out here.
¨Arnav? What is this?¨
I turn her around gently, fastening the slender strand around her neck just as the sun finally sets in a red blaze of glory.
She looks down at the necklace, fingering the intricate knot at it’s center before looking up at me again.
¨This is very…different.¨
¨I know. It is an ancient Greek knot called the Heracles knot…more commonly known as the ‘marriage knot’.¨
She looks down at the filigreed necklace again, and when she looks back up, her eyes are moist with unshed tears.
¨Sshh…I didn’t mean to make you cry, Khushi. This was supposed to be a gift…and a promise.¨
¨Yes. A promise and a commitment that for me, this marriage is as real as it gets. And it is forever.¨
She stares at me for a long moment, and then her eyes take on that look of determination that is becoming familiar to me now.
¨What if I don’t want any promises, Arnav?¨
She takes a deep breath.
¨I’ve been giving it some thought over the past few days…and I have come to realize that no matter what, one or both of us will end up compromising on more than they really want to. We are just too different…and so are our expectations. We might be okay with it for a few days…but sooner or later, we might be stifled by all this. ¨
She is giving voice to my unconscious fears, and this realization keeps me silent as she continues.
¨What if we did not follow the rules, Arnav? What if we decided to make our own?¨
¨What do you mean?¨
¨It’s simple, really. We have both agreed that we need time to learn how to handle this relationship and meet the other persons’ expectations. But how will we do that if we find ourselves constrained by all the promises and declarations and compromises that we feel compelled to make? Wouldn’t it be better if we redefined the rules? If we placed no constraints and stopped reminding ourselves of this marriage and all this entails, wouldn’t that give us the freedom to discover what makes us work as a couple?¨
¨What you are basically suggesting is a live-in relationship of sorts…¨
¨Exactly! Except, we are already legally married, aren’t we? To the rest of the world, we can present that image. But between you and me…we won’t ever do what we don’t want to. We will not follow the so called rules of a normal shaadi. If you can’t admit to your love, then I won’t ever force you to. And if you think I’m crossing some line that makes you want to run in the opposite direction, then all you have to do is ask. Without ever wondering about reactions or fearing the repercussions…do you see the advantages now? A marriage that began as one that is bound by a contract…will now continue as one that is bound by virtually nothing except our need for the other.¨
¨But will this make you happy, Khushi? Don’t you want a traditional marriage like anyone else?¨
¨Like my sisters’ , you mean? That’s a disaster waiting to happen. No, Arnav…a marriage with all it’s rituals and boundaries and traditions isn’t guaranteed to give me what I want. And what I want is a life with you…one that I know will give me all the happiness I desire.¨
¨So no expectations? No promises…none at all?¨
¨No…well, just one. One that we can both agree on…¨
¨And what would that be?¨
¨The promise that we will do this together.¨
I smile , knowing that this is an easy promise to make.
And I have to admit that deep down, her solution makes me feel lighter than I did in days, as if a weight has been lifted from my soul. Although I know fully well that I am committed to this relationship, the fear of disappointing her and having her walk out on me is now gone, and I know that I can give her what she wants and needs with a freedom that I have never had before.
This marriage will be real…without ever being a marriage at all.
I pull her into my arms, and place a gentle kiss on her lips.
¨Together, Mrs. Raizada. ¨
The dying rays of the sun touch her one last time, and the red gemstones catch the light, sparkling at her neck with a hidden fire.
Because it’s what I have always wanted…with her.
A journey that began in January has reached it’s conclusion today. It was a bittersweet experience for me as I typed the ending I had envisioned for this Arnav and Khushi all those months ago, but I cheered myself up with the thought that their story isn’t quite over yet.
The epilogues will come next, and there will be two, one from Khushi’s and the other from Arnav’s perspective. Both will be posted within this week, and before we bid farewell to this Arnav and Khushi, I’d like to thank you all so very much for staying with me through all this time, and bearing with the delays with patience and understanding. You truly are the best readers ever!
When I post the last epilogue, I will also reveal the name of the person who challenged me to write this story. I can’t wait for her assessment, and would love to know what you think as well!
If you wish to comment here on the blog, please leave your IF name so that I can recognize you.
If you wish to comment on the forum, here is the link to the latest Baaraatis CC:
PMs for this update will be sent out tomorrow.
Khushi’s epilogue, which features a time leap, will be posted on late Friday night, US time. I do hope to see you then!