Sunday, November 4, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 47

The manager showed Ratan and the rest into the elevator. Two of them waited below in case Shyam decided to show up. The phone’s signal had been moving so maybe Shyam was out.

It was a long ride to the floor below the penthouse for Arnav, although a few of the guys were shaking their heads, trying to pop the pressure locks in their ears.

As they got out of the elevators, Luke spoke in Ratan’s ears again. He held up his hand, listening intently.

‘The signal has vanished. Right in front of where you are. Now when you come in through the fire exit, you have to go past a long corridor. The door in front of you opens to the foyer. The bedrooms are upstairs as is the office and what looks like other multi-purpose rooms.’

‘Great, thanks, Luke. Keep a watch on that signal, see if you can pick it up,’ he said quietly. He relayed the rest of the information to the others. They walked to the end of the corridor where the fire escape doors were.

The manager opened it for them and they walked onto the landing. His eyes widened as he saw everybody pull out guns. Ratan saw Arnav take out his gun, expertly check it and put his hand on it.

Arnav looked up, eyebrow raised in question.

‘Not today, Arnav. This is our operation. Stay behind all of us. Please don’t shoot, not unless there’s no other option. I’d prefer it if you didn’t shoot at all,’ he added as an afterthought.

Arnav looked at him, debating whether to argue, before sliding the gun back. Arguments waste precious time. He just nodded and started taking the stairs two at a time.

The reached the penthouse floor and the manager slowly unlocked the door. ‘Go back down,’ Ratan told him in a low voice. He nodded and left.

Ratan pushed the door open with one hand, and mentally thanked the caretakers that they kept the door so well oiled. Not a sound came from it, as it swung open. They stepped carefully into the corridor, guns held in their hands. Illumination came from the modern recessed lighting above. They didn’t need any other. They met nobody as they opened the door into the foyer. They looked around taking in the ultra-modern decor. The swing rails on the stairs, leading to the loft area. The modern, sleek furniture in white and chrome. The white shag carpet under a stark black piano. Red sconces on the walls provided abrupt patches of color. A gas fireplace was embedded inside a wall in the center of the room, accented by stone and mosaic in brilliant jewel colors. The fireplace was visible from every side. The long windows opened out to a Delhi skyline. It was a beautiful room.

Arnav headed towards the stairs when suddenly, a door above crashed open and two people tumbled out into the loft. He started running towards them, even as he heard Pat and the rest following him. The two women were screaming, hands, hair, legs flying in all directions, rolling on the floor, kicking, scratching, clawing at each other.

At the same time, another man came running out of a room downstairs, only to stop at the sight of a Browning aimed straight at his heart.

‘Turn around,’ the operative said. ‘Put your hands above your head.’ The trembling man complied.

Meanwhile, Arnav came to a skidding stop on the upper floor when he realized what he was seeing! The term - cat-fight! - floated illogically into his head. He grabbed Khushi and pulled her off a swearing and completely disheveled Gauri Virdi. With satisfaction, he noted the latter’s nose was bleeding as she came running at him, only to be hauled back by Pat, who grabbed her in a choke hold.

Khushi was still struggling in his arms, trying to get to Gauri, screaming, ‘you think you’ll take away four years of my life and live, you -’ he clamped a hand over her mouth before the expletive left it.

‘Shhh... Shhhh...’ he hushed her, ‘I’ve got you now,’ he wrapped his arms around her. ‘You’re safe. You’re safe.’

She calmed down then. ‘Arnav?’ she sniffed, looking up at him. He smiled, more than relieved to find her safe. Her clothes were torn, there was blood on her lips and a scratch on her neck, her hair was a tangled mess, and she looked so beautiful! Her fingers clutched his lapels.

‘Are you hurt?’ he asked her tenderly.

She shook her head and winced, before setting her head against his broad chest and bursting into tears. Loud sobs, as she let out the anger and fright in her soul. He let her cry, hugging her, letting her feel his love in the soft kiss he placed on her head.

The agents watched with a smile. Ratan clamped a pair of handcuffs on Gauri Virdi and read her, her rights, before Pat hauled her away by her collar. She was really enjoying this! The woman was a menace to the name of womanhood, and she belonged behind bars - for the rest of her life. She hoped the Indian justice system would do Khushi and all those women justice, she thought.

They came out of the building in a little crowd. Gauri Virdi had her face covered with Pat’s jacket as she was placed in the back of one of the other cars.

Arnav carried Khushi in his arms, against her protestations that she could walk. His jacket was around her, and he couldn’t care less what people thought of him. He put her in the car, strapped her in and said, ‘Stay here. Don’t even think about moving.’

Ratan and Pat came over to them. He was talking to Luke as they walked. ‘We didn’t find Shyam. He wasn’t in the apartment, which means he had to have been nearby,’ he said. He listened for a moment and then frowned and nodded. Then he hung up. ‘The cellphone was turned off right in this location. So Shyam was here and probably saw you, Mr. Raizada, and took off. He also turned off the cellphone, clever bastard.’ He looked away, his eyes scanning the road, not really seeing anything. The glint of a piece of metal across the street caught his eye. It was a tiny glint, but ... he walked across the road and looked down at it. A SIM card. Heart pounding, he picked it up and walked back to the rest of them.

‘Mr. Raizada, can you and Ms. Gupta come in now for her statement?’ he asked.

Arnav shook his head. The adrenaline of the past few hours was dying down. Right now, he was a simmering pot of anger. ‘We’ll be in tomorrow,’ he said. ‘I want to get her checked out and get some rest.’

Ratan opened his mouth to ask again, thought the better of it, and instead he said, ‘in that case, we can come by tomorrow and take her statement.’

‘Yes, that would be better,’ he agreed, mentally trying to work out how he would unentangle all this with the family. He’d figure it out later. First, Ms. Khushi Kumari Gupta was going to get a royal dressing down from him!

***

Shyam watched them from the relative anonymity of the bus stop. So. They had Rani Sahiba and they got Khushi back too. Well now, time to show what Shyam Manohar Jha was really all about. He would get back Rani Sahiba and he would give her Khushi back to her on a platter, he vowed. Folding the paper neatly, he jumped on the bus as it pulled into a stop. Once more he melted into the crowds of Delhi.

***

Akash and Payal were sitting in their room. Payal’s eyes were red and puffy from crying. She’d come back home with Di and told everybody that Khushi was out for lunch with Arnav. Di had headed straight to her room, and so had she. Her husband followed her in, something in her attitude telling him all was not well. He found her crying and held her close, while she narrated the whole story to him. Though he remembered what Arnav had told him before the wedding, he was still shocked at the turn of events.

He’d taken charge then. He asked Dilip - whom Anjali had already confided in - to take the older people away for a Satsang or Pooja somewhere and keep them there till evening. At least until his brother got home. For the time being, he needed to keep them away from his wife’s tearful face and it would buy him time to think, and Bhai to come up with something. Right now, only three of them were in the house - Payal, Di and him.

His cell rang and he picked it up. Arnav. Thank God. The waiting was getting to him, too. Di walked in as he said, ‘Hello, bro?’

‘We found her, Akash. I’m bringing her back home. Can you get the doctor there? and tell Payal to meet me at the door.’

‘Done, Bhai. Just call when you reach. Is she okay?’

‘Yeah, just a bit banged up.’

‘Okay, Bhai,’ he hung up and turned to Anjali and Payal, and smiled at their hopeful faces. ‘Bhai found her. He’s bringing her back,’ he said before opening his arms wide for his wife and sister.

Arnav hung up and looked at Khushi. She was leaning back against the seat, eyes closed. Her lip had swollen a little bit now, and a bruise was starting to show up high on her cheek. He couldn’t stay mad at her, she was worn out, he knew. He’d be mad later, he decided, reaching out a thumb and lightly rubbing it over her poor bruised cheek.

She opened her eyes and gazed into his. They were big pools of pain. She moved her head away from his touch, and he frowned. What was the matter?

‘Khushi?’

She turned away and looked out of the window.

He was puzzled, but he didn’t want to push it. She’d gotten kidnapped and rescued all in the space of hours. How had she managed to get her hands on Gauri Virdi? he wondered. He’d never thought she had such a hell-cat inside her. The memory of her rolling with Gauri on the floor brought a reluctant smile to his face. She was back now, where she belonged, next to him. His Di was right. Love had guided him today. He just didn’t know what she felt. Sometimes she was such an enigma. He glanced over.

She was still sitting in that pale, dazed state, looking out of the window.

They drew up at Raizada Mansion and he was glad to see that none of the other cars were in the driveway. He got out of the car, and went around to her side, opening the door, and leaning in to undo the seat-belt. Her lethargic state was beginning to worry him just a little. She was gazing at him again, with those big pools of pain in her eyes. He leaned in to kiss her and she turned away. For a moment, he felt a burst of anger, but then, he thought, maybe it’s just not the right time.

He stepped away and called Akash to let him know they were at the door. Leaning in, he picked her up in his arms. She made a weak protest but let him carry her towards the front door. It opened just then and his brother and sister-in-law ran out to him. He could see his sister standing behind them at the door.

‘Khushi? Are you okay?’ Payal was almost in tears.

‘Yes, Jiji. I am fine,’ she answered in a small, tired voice.

Arnav looked down at her. Something was very wrong.

‘The doctor will be here soon,’ Akash said. ‘I called him before I came down.’

Arnav nodded. ‘Where’s everybody?’

‘We sent them out to Satsang,’ Anjali answered, as they had just reached the door. ‘They’ll be here later.’

He carried her to the guest room which by now in his mind was HER room, and gently lay her down on the bed. She let go the collar she had been clutching and sat up.

‘I need a shower,’ she said, still in that frail voice.

‘Payal, stay with her,’ Akash instructed his wife, who was already fussing over her little sister.

Arnav looked at Khushi, but she wouldn’t meet his eyes. With a frustrated look at her, he left the room followed by Akash and Di. The three of them went to the lounge, quietly discussing how much they should disclose to the rest. Arnav asked Hari to get some tea.

Khushi meanwhile, took off all her clothes, and leaving only her underclothes on, walked towards the bathroom. She turned to her sister at the door and said, ‘the jacket is Arnav’s. Can you please return it to him? And burn the rest, please?’, before entering and locking the bathroom door, leaving a stunned Payal behind her.

Payal picked up the clothes, seeing the rips and tears in them and shuddered, wondering what exactly had happened. She bundled them up and put them in a bag, before asking Hari to throw them away. She decided to take Arnav’s jacket to him later on. That reminded her. Her brother-in-law had a gun?! Wow! She didn’t even know about that.

Khushi stood examining herself in the mirror in the bathroom. Visions of Gauri kissing her and her kissing back were sending disgusted shudders through her frame. She wanted to throw up. She’d been wanting to throw up for the longest time, holding it down. She reached for her toothbrush, but suddenly the vomit came up her throat, and then she was leaning over the toilet, spewing what little she had left of breakfast, out of her mouth in a steady stream that she couldn’t stop.

Dimly she could hear Payal banging on the bathroom door. ‘Khushi! Open the door. Khushi!! Khushi!!? I can hear you. Khushi??!! Please, unlock the door. Khushi?!!’

The dry retches came after. There was nothing left, but her guts still heaved. She couldn’t stop, tears were streaming down her face. Her throat was burning, as was her nose. The cut on her lip was dripping blood again, but she couldn’t seem to stop heaving. Deep wracking sobs were going through her body, as she heaved again.

Arnav, Akash and Anjali heard Payal screaming Khushi’s name and the three of them rushed to her room, Arnav leading the charge.

Khushi staggered to the door, unlocking it, and rushing back to the toilet, sinking on the floor in front of it. Retching and gasping and sobbing and retching again. Payal flung open the door and saw her sitting there. She’d just made it back to the bedside table, when the door was flung open and Arnav rushed in followed by Akash and Anjali.

He rushed into the bathroom and gathered up in his arms, sitting with her on the floor. Payal handed him the glass of water. Akash stepped away noticing what Khushi had on, but Anjali made her way in. Both Payal and Anjali crouched next to Arnav, as he rocked her in his strong arms, allowing her to cry to her heart’s content. Anjali stroked her hair, till she stopped sobbing and only hiccuped once in a while. Arnav held the water to her lips, making her sip a little at a time. She calmed down finally, and then realized where she was, a blush staining her cheeks.

She was sitting on the bathroom floor, in Arnav’s arms, with Payal and Anjali next to them, clad in nothing but her lingerie. She was mortified. He took one look at her face and said, ‘towel’ to Payal. She handed him one and he wrapped Khushi in it, before helping her up.

‘Feel better?’ he asked. She nodded, eyes downcast. He led her out of the room, while Payal cleaned up as best she could.

‘Take a shower, Khushi,’ Anjali said, her eyes dewy with the pain in the younger girl’s eyes. ‘The doctor will be here soon. Okay?’

She nodded and walked off to the bathroom.

Payal looked after her worriedly and called, ‘and leave the bathroom door unlocked this time. Please.’ she added for good measure.

Half an hour later, a freshly showered Khushi had been examined by the doctor, and prescribed sedatives and pain killers. She lay down tiredly in bed and closed her eyes, while Payal sat beside her, the two sisters quietly talking. Arnav and Anjali accompanied the doctor out. Arnav wanted to ask one question, but he didn’t quite know how to frame it. Akash had already left to get the medicines for Khushi, when Anjali asked what was uppermost in his mind.

‘Doctor, is she truly okay? I mean she wasn’t abused or anything, was she?’ Anjali said.

‘No. She is fine. There was no sexual abuse, if that’s what you’re asking about.’ Silently, Arnav heaved a sigh of relief. ‘She did take a bit of physical abuse, but I am assuming that is from the fight you said she was in. She should be fine in a day or two. Let her get some rest tomorrow. Make sure she takes the sedatives tonight after some food. If anything happens, call me anytime. Although I think Ms. Gupta seems like a very resilient girl. So I would not worry.’

They saw the doctor out. Anjali said she’d give Hari instructions about food for Khushi. Soup and toast.

‘Jalebis,’ said Arnav.

‘What?’

‘She loves Jalebis. Tell Hari to get some for her,’ he smiled at his sister.

Anjali smiled slowly at him. ‘So you know what her favorite foods are, hmm?’ He gave a rueful nod. The relief from the emotional and physical stress of the last few hours, was making them all light hearted now. She patted his shoulder, ‘Arnav bitwa, go shower and change, and I’ll send Hari with dinner for both of you - in her room. With Jalebis. Although you might not be able to eat them,’ she grinned.

He hugged his sister. ‘Di, you’re the best.’

‘I know,’ she preened. ‘Now go shower, you’re kind of stinky with all that sweating you’ve done today.’

****

Thursday was a quiet day at Raizada Mansion.

The rest of the household had been told that Khushi had fallen rather badly the previous day, hence the cuts and scratches, but the doctor had taken a look and she was okay.

Ratan and Amar had come by to take her statement and then they too, had left.

She spent the better part of the day packing up. Her stay in India was almost over. Two more days. The tears came to her eyes as she thought about leaving here, leaving HIM. He had gone to work early that day, and had explicitly told her not to go anywhere, that too at breakfast, in front of everybody. Like he was reprimanding her! She was saddened by that, more than anything. The barfing, crying jag she had had yesterday, plus the sedatives made her feel rather lethargic, she couldn’t even begin to feel angry with him. Although she knew he was still annoyed about yesterday.

She was more than glad when her parents arrived after lunch to spend the afternoon with them. Her mother helped her pack, complaining about the amount of stuff she’d gathered in the course of her stay. Of course, Anna had gently probed her about Arnav, but seeing the gloomy look on her daughter’s face, had backed away from that topic. So it was still wide open, was it?

Arnav arrived from work around five in the evening and invited Shashi into his study. What was said in there between the two men, would only be revealed to Anna later that night.

Dinner time was a quiet affair as well, although everybody was still talking and laughing, there was a hint of melancholy in the air, like knowing something is coming to an end soon. They retired to the lounge for tea and desserts and some chit-chat. Anjali and Payal were discussing what to do the next day, when Arnav said, ‘Khushi, I know you couldn’t finish your shopping yesterday. So I can take you tomorrow to the stores and complete your shopping.’

She opened her mouth ready to answer, when Anjali piped up, ‘oh yes! Chotey, that would be very good. But!’ she stopped abruptly, seeing the furious glare in his eyes as he looked at her. ‘But, Payal and I have already planned something, so we won’t be able to join you, will we, Payal?’

One look at her sister-in-law’s face, and Payal knew where she was going and promptly said, ‘Yes, Arnav, we won’t be able to join you. So I guess it’ll just have to be you and Khushi.’ She smiled sweetly at him.

What the fuck just happened? he thought. Did I just get played by my sister and my sister-in-law? His sister, she already knew, but Payal, too? How? He looked around and almost everybody was avoiding looking at him and Khushi.

He got up abruptly, said, ‘I’ll be in the study if you guys need me,’ and just as abruptly walked away, pulling his phone out as he did so.

Khushi had also noticed the exact same thing as he had, but she didn’t quite know how to beat a quick retreat like he did. So when her phone buzzed she was rather relieved till she looked at it. Arnav. ‘Go 2 ur rm. Call me when there.’ She licked her lips, got up and said, ‘Ah! I’m feeling very tired. I think I’ll go and rest.’ Turning around and walking away as fast as her legs could carry her.

She could hear the laughter behind her as she fled to her room and shut the door, before dialing his number.

****

6 comments:

  1. Mads NIce chapter .. loved the caring side of Arnav .. really well written .. well i guess i am sounding like a broken record now .. so will suffice to say .. Superb ..

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  2. Yet again brilliant Mads.... Second Ruby here... loved the caring side of Arnie boy !!!

    I am so happy to see Akash as not just a piece of furniture... Loved his taking charge attitude... and the family finally teasing the two out in the open... Very cute scene... could totally visualize it !!!

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  3. Madhu I ll 3rd Ruby here.....Absolutetly loved A!!!!

    Hmmm.....Shyamz still around....Kz got just 1 day left.....

    Phonecall to A.....this shud be fun!!!

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  4. Can I 4th Ruby here ;).... loving it just loving it :D

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  5. aww he was busy with his phone, texting her? shoo shweet!
    and i absoluteely adored the way di told him to wash off all the stinky sweating he did all day... that subtle wink at his morning activities was very welcome :)

    did i tell you that i love the way you write?

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  6. OMG, the scene where the four of them rush to Khushi, and Arnav gathers her up in his arms and lets her cry, my heart went out to him and her. Thankfully Akaash stepped away otherwise she would never be able to look him in the eye...maybe not she does swim.
    So did Arnav tell Shashi about the kidnap, probably, did he ask for her hand probably not.. he had better ask her first. But the aftermath scene really well written, both with Khushi and with Di. Di taking the lead when she knew her brother wanted to know.

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