Sunday, September 9, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 30

Arnav looked at himself in the bathroom mirror as he slapped some Givenchy Pi onto his cheeks. His eyes looked bleary from the late night that he had had. Actually, it wasn’t even a late night. He hadn’t slept all night. There were dark circles under his eyes. The imp looked at him and said, Since when did you look at your dark circles? air quotes!

He shook his head. At least the shower had cleared his head up. He stepped out of the bathroom. He hadn’t seen how clenched his jaws were, or the vein throbbing at his temple. He dragged on his clothes and headed out the door.

Downstairs all was quiet. The house had an empty feel to it.

‘Hari!’ he called.

The servant came running from the kitchen. ‘Yes, Arnav Bhaiyya?’ he asked.

‘Hari, where’s everybody?’

‘All have gone to the temple,’ he said.

‘Did Khushi go with them?’

‘She left early this morning for the hotel, sir,’ was the reply.

Dammit! He thought. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Please get my breakfast ready.’

He swallowed his morning dose of medicine washing it down with a drink of water while he waited for Hari to get his breakfast. Memories of the night before brought a slow thumping headache to his temple. He’d not been able to enjoy the evening as much as he’d expected. Jaime’s words had rung in his ears. He’d avoided Khushi after that. At some point, he’d noticed that she’d been absent from the room, for a very long time. He’d started to get worried when he’d seen her come back with Payal. From the other side of the room, he could see the look in her eyes as she’d mingled with everyone else. She was laughing and talking, but every once in a while, he’d caught the look she’d sent his way. Somewhere in his chest, he felt a stab when he met her eyes. They looked almost accusingly at him.

Hari interrupted his thoughts, placing his breakfast before him. Soon, the rest of the family arrived back from the temple, and the house started to fill with the noise of people all getting ready for the day.

‘Chotey,’ his Di was standing in front of him. ‘You know that today is haldi, right? I need you to do something for me.’

‘Tell me,’ he said. He could never refuse her anything.

‘Once the haldi is over, you have to take the haldi water over to the hotel. You and your jijaji will have to go.’

‘Why me, di? I can get the driver to drop jijaji at the hotel!’ he protested.

‘Chotey, you are Akash’s brother. These are rituals that the brother has to do,’ she scolded.

‘Fine,’ he said. He didn’t feel like arguing with his sister. As it is, the headache was pounding again. He really needed to take something for it. ‘Just let me know. I’ll be in my room.’

She smiled at him, knowing he would never deny her anything. She often took advantage of it, but in the nicest way possible. However, she’d been a bit surprised at his lack of enthusiasm for going to the hotel. After all, Khushi was there, so it was a little worrying. What was going on in her Chotey’s mind? She’d been too busy last night to notice anything.

Arnav sat in his room staring at his laptop not really seeing anything. Soon, he pulled himself together. This was not going to do. AR Group wasn’t going to run itself. He popped another pill for the headache and focused back on the tasks at hand. Very soon he was successful in banishing a pair of grey-green eyes from his mind.

****

Khushi had woken up early to come to the hotel. She’d told Naniji and Hari where she was going. The haldi (Turmeric ceremony) was to be at the hotel itself, a ritual that took place in both the bride’s and groom’s house. Now she was with her sister and her mother in the living room of her parent’s suite greeting the guests who had arrived. It had been transformed overnight into a hall with white sheets covering the flooring for the ceremony. The Guptas had connected with their old friends and family and many were coming for the wedding. The doorbell rang again, and she went to open it.

To her immense surprise, it was Debs and Annie, along with their mothers!

With squeals of pleasure the three girls hugged.

‘Oh, my God!’ Khushi was delighted. ‘What on earth? How did you guys know?’

‘Khushi,’ pouted Debs, ‘you didn’t tell us you were in India, but we got to know. Plus you’re parents invited us. They thought you’d be glad to see us.’

‘Oh, I’m so glad you came,’ she said, tearing up.

‘Besides,’ added Annie, ‘we’re invited from the groom’s side as well, you know.’ She smiled mischievously.

She looked at Annie inquiringly.

‘Arnav invited us. After all Rajeev and he are good friends.’

She couldn’t help the faint blush that crept up her cheeks. He remembered, she thought. ‘Come on in,’ she said to cover up her flustered feelings. ‘Mom,’ she called Anna. ‘Do you mind if I take Debs and Annie to our room? We wanna catch up,’ she explained.

‘Sure,’ said Anna. ‘We’ll call you when we’re ready to start.

‘Come on, guys. Let’s go to my room,’ she grabbed her friends’ hands and led them out the door.

Settling down in the other suite, she excused herself for a minute and went into the bedroom. She looked at the phone in her hand. No missed calls. She thought for a second, before she dialed his number. The phone rang. And rang. And rang. And went to voicemail. ‘Hi. This is Arnav Singh Raizada...’, she hit the disconnect button. Maybe he wasn’t near his phone, she thought, before going out to join the other girls.

******* 

He’s seen the caller id flash her name. He picked up the phone, and then decided to let it go to voice mail. He closed his eyes wondering what the hell was going on with him. But before he could start figuring it out, he heard a knock on the door. Hari had come to inform him that his di wanted him downstairs. He shut down his laptop and headed downstairs. His brother-in-law stood there smiling at something his sister had just said. ‘Yes, di?’ he asked.

‘Chotey,’ she handed him a small metal vessel. ‘This needs to go to the hotel. Your jijaji has the rest of the stuff.’

‘Sure,’ he said as they headed out the door.

They knocked on the suite door, and it was opened by Anna. ‘Ah! come in, come in,’ she exclaimed, smiling at them.

Arnav’s eyes searched the room, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. Payal chose just that moment to join them and his attention was diverted. She invited them in as well.

They sat for about fifteen minutes, while Arnav’s hands itched to get to his phone. Where was she? She wasn’t in the room, this much he was sure of. Finally, Dilip and he said their goodbyes and left. Irritated now, are we? said the imp, raising an eyebrow at him. He just snorted.

**** 

The girls were still exchanging notes when the phone rang. Khushi picked it up. ‘Come to our room, Khushi,’ it was her mother. ‘The haldi-water has arrived and we’re starting now.’

‘Sure, Mom,’ she said, before hanging up. ‘Come on, girls. The haldi is starting. We need to go to the other room.’

Back in the room, the ladies were settling down for the ceremony.

‘There you are!’ said her mother. ‘You just missed Arnav and Dilip. They’d come with the haldi water.’

‘Oh,’ she said. She was stumped. He hadn’t returned her calls. He had come to the hotel and left without even speaking to her! What was going on? ‘Be right back, Mom. I need to use the bathroom.’

She went into the bathroom and locked the door. Looking at the phone in her hand, she checked and saw that she had no new calls. Again. She called him.

Dilip looked at the phone buzzing in on the dashboard. ‘Arnav, you have a call.’

Arnav picked it up with his left hand and saw Khushi’s name on it. He set it down and said, ‘It’s not important. I’ll call back later, or they can leave a vm,’ he said as nonchalantly as he could.

Khushi hung up as soon as she heard the outgoing message again. She wasn’t going to leave a message. He could call her when he wanted to! Two red flags were painted on her cheeks. She threw her phone on the counter top and marched out of the bathroom. Debs and Annie looked at her cheeks and their eyebrows raised in question. She just shook her head at them and walked over to her sister.

****

The haldi was over, and almost everyone had gone home except Debs, Annie and their mothers.

Payal was in the bedroom talking to Akash on the phone, and the three girls settled down for some more chatting in the living room of Payal’s suite. Debs had recently got engaged and they wanted to know more about her fiance. Right in the middle of some juicy gossip, Khushi’s phone rang.

‘Gimme a sec,’ she said, moving over to the window. Arnav. Now he calls, she thought. She hit Answer.

‘You called?’ he said without preamble - typical.

‘Yes.’

‘Did you need something?’

She looked at the phone wondering what the heck had happened to him.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I just...Do you have a minute?’

‘I’m really busy right now, Khushi,’ he said. ‘Can I call you back later?’

‘Sure,’ she said and hung up.

He hung up the phone, and thought, this was for the best. The imp gave him a disgusted look and walked away.

Why call me if you are busy? she thought.

It wasn’t until later, much later, that she realized he hadn’t called her back. Payal was still in her parent’s suite. She sat alone in the living room of their suite, curled up on the sofa, wondering if she should call him. Maybe he really was busy, she thought. After all, a wedding is a lot of work, and every family member had to pitch in. It didn’t matter if you had an army of servants to do the job. Someone had to manage them.

He had been sitting by the pool wondering if he should call. He’d avoided her all day and the restlessness inside was eating him up. He’d realized she wouldn’t be coming home at dinner time, when Anjali had casually mentioned it. Why couldn’t she have told him that? His jaws clenched as his anger grew in him. He picked up his phone and dialed.

Her phone vibrated in her hands and she smiled. Arnav. ‘Hi,’ she said, much more huskily than she had intended, the smile evident in her voice.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t coming home tonight?’ he said, his senses stirring at the sound of her voice.

She was baffled. ‘I, well, I thought you knew. I mean, Di did.’

He breathed in deeply, controlling himself. ‘It’s okay. I just wanted to make sure you’re fine staying at the hotel tonight.’

‘I am, Arnav.’

Pause.

‘Why didn’t you call me when you came here today?’

‘I .. Jijaji was with me, so ...’

Pause. She frowned. Since when did it matter to him what people thought?

‘What are you doing?’

Pause.

‘Just busy with some work.’

‘You need to relax a bit,’ she said.

‘Company doesn’t run itself, you know,’ he said.

This conversation was getting more and more awkward. He couldn’t bring himself to say what he wanted to.

‘I should be going,’ he finally said, at the same time as she said, ‘I missed you.’

He closed his eyes. ‘Good night, Khushi’.

‘Good night,’ she said. She hung up the phone, and went over the conversation in her head. What was wrong with him? Something was wrong. He was treating her differently. It was almost like he didn’t want to talk to her. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over.

He lay looking up at the stars. Somewhere inside him, he felt a pain. A sharp, indescribable pain. She was hurting. He knew that. But it was for the best. Better now than later. But the pain wouldn’t go away.
****

6 comments:

  1. Beautiful Madhu, has been eagerly waiting. Thnks for the pm.

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  2. I loved this chapter ,,,,, length was great.
    arnav helpless emotionally,,, bang on,,

    Jhalak

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  3. superb one madhu . loved it like all the chapters .. but this one resonated & touched the soul .. loved the poignancy & struggle of new love .. the woman opening her heart .. & the mans last ditch attempt to not surrender to the torrent of emotions .. beautiful . .. bookmarking this as one of my fav chapters ..

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  4. what? he does not want to be in love with her?
    arnie, bitwa.. you really need to wake up and smell the D&G.. its too late already!!

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  5. yup i am still around its 4.30 in the morning and i can't seem to put this down.

    Just when i was starting to fall in love with this arnav he does this.............
    Use that shatir brain of yours.... u love this girl u dumb ass...

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  6. Oh Arnav , I'd like to give you a slap right now...

    Madhu, you really write well, this is ASR, I think Arnav walked out with the imp, running scared but he is hurting her.

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