Kiss, Show and Tell
‘What the hell is going on, Khushi?’
Khushi jumped at the sudden outburst. The dim glow of the dashboard and the backwash from the headlights provided the only means of illumination as she looked at the hard planes on his face, the shadows on his cheeks darker than usual, the furious glitter in his brown eyes turning them to pebbles. The light and dark rendering an almost menacing look to his face. His hair flopped over his forehead as he slammed his open palm against the steering wheel.
She flinched. She hated this avatar of his - the Rakshas avatar. Devi Mayya, protect me, she mumbled, refusing to meet his angry gaze.
Raking his fingers through his hair, he struggled for control, breathing deep and counting to ten. He looked at her. She looked terrified, her eyes closed, her lips moving in what was obviously a prayer to her savior goddess. A tear trickled down her cheek and almost immediately his anger left him in a whoosh! Those tears always made him feel inadequate, helpless, guilty. He hated them. He hated to be the cause of them.
Reaching out a hand he stroked a thumb across the cheek wiping off the tear. With a quick move he shoved his seat back. Releasing her seat belt, he hooked his arm around her stomach and pulled her across to sit sideways on his lap. This was a move they’d perfected over time. He wrapped his arms around her as her fingers curled into his collar.
He kissed her softly on her cheek and in his husky, honey voice said, ‘you want to tell me what happened in that rest room?’
She looked up at him, amazed that he knew all along that that was what had upset her so.
‘Anjaliji asked me your girl friend’s name,’ she said in a low voice playing with the top button on his shirt.
He hugged her close, his chin resting on her shoulder and thought, so that’s what this is all about. First Anjali and then Akash. No doubt the entire family is waiting to find out who is the latest in my string of girlfriends. For a moment, he felt a little bit annoyed with himself for placing Khushi in this position. It would have to be dealt with, but right now, she was his first priority.
‘What did you tell her?’ his voice rumbled in his chest, reverberating into hers.
‘I didn’t tell her anything. I couldn’t,’ she said. He understood, because he himself should be the one to say it, not her. It wasn’t her responsibility. But that didn’t account for her sudden change.
‘Is that all she said?’ he asked.
She shook her head, this time refusing to look into his eyes. He lifted her chin forcing her to look up.
‘She was saying that your current girlfriend is just the latest in your long list of girlfriends. And that people must surely be talking about her at the office,’ her voice was getting softer by the syllable, quavering at the finish, her lids still lowered.
He closed his eyes, and mentally berated his sister. On the other hand, his logical brain said, she didn’t know that she was talking to his girlfriend. One that was pretty hurt by the implications of that statement.
Before he could say anything, she said, ‘Arnavji, can I ask you something?’
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak yet.
‘Are you ashamed of me?’
His breath caught in his throat. ‘What?!’ he yelped. ‘Where did you get such an idea?’
‘I’m not like those girls you went out with, all beautiful and tall and elegant and well-mannered. I am just a small town girl and ...’
He stopped her mouth the only way he knew how. He kissed her, a soft featherlight touch, a flick of a tongue, a hint of her sweetness, before drawing back. Her eyes were round and bright searching his.
‘Shhh...,’ he said. ‘You really have no idea how beautiful you are, do you?’
She shook her head mesmerized by the growling husk in his voice and the heart beating fast under her fingertips and the eyes that glowed with desire in the dim light.
‘There is something about you, when you walk into a room, all others just fade away. You are light and color and warmth and joy. You’re my joy. My Khushi. Do you understand that?’ He picked up the hand resting on his chest to kiss the palm. ‘So don’t ever compare yourself to those women. You are all the woman I need,’ he whispered, before finally capturing her mouth with his.
His lips brushed over hers, asking her to open up, his tongue stroking along till it slid between her lips, and she let him come through, her arms curling up finally around his neck.
Devi Mayya! She had missed this.
Rabba ve! He sighed in contentment.
Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up at the car port. He held the door open for her to get out and was shutting it when he noticed that her dori was undone, sometime in those last few minutes he supposed. ‘Khushi,’ he called. Walking over to her he tied her dori, then checked her face, while she patted down his hair and brushed his collar. With straight faces, they walked up to the door, and he rang the doorbell.
Shyam pulled up to the carport a mere five minutes after Arnav and Khushi. Had he arrived seven minutes earlier, he would have seen the steamed up windows of the SUV parked rather precariously in the driveway. As it is, he missed catching his innocent Ms. Gupta in flagrante delicto (or red-handed as the say in Latin, for he was a lawyer and lawyers always use the perfect legal terms in a dead language) with none other than his own Saaley Saab. Blissfully unaware of his almost-kiss, oops! I meant, almost-miss, he whistled as he sprinted up to the front door.
Daiyya Ho! He really loved this tune.
Hari Prakash opened the door and he walked in to find the whole house humming with voices. The Guptas and the Raizadas were all present in the lounge, enjoying cups of tea and freshly fried samosas.
Anjali looked over and saw her husband gazing at them with a smile on his face, showing off those deep dimples, as he walked almost in a daze towards them. Of course, what she didn’t know was that he was mesmerized by Khushi who sat right next to Anjali and was currently engrossed in chatting with Nani.
He sat down joining in the general conversation, although ever so often his eyes were drawn to the happily chirping Khushi.
Hari Prakash came and said something quietly to Anjali.
‘Dinner is served, everyone,’ she announced. ‘Please come,’ she stood up and gestured towards the dining table.
‘Anjaliji, I’ll just wash my hands and come,’ said Khushi. She stood up and headed towards the bathroom on the first floor. Arnav followed her with his eyes.
‘Rani Sahiba, I’ll be right back, I just want to freshen up,’ Shyam brought his wife close and spoke in low tones, smiling at her.
‘Of course, Shyamji. Don’t take too long,’ she smiled cheerily.
‘I won’t,’ he smiled sweetly at her, before walking away.
Khushi came out of the bathroom and started walking back to the dining room, only to find Shyamji walking towards her. He smiled at her, she smiled back, lightly rubbing the back of her neck that was just a little tight. Necking in the close confines of the SUV often had that side effect on her.
‘Khushiji, are you okay?’ he asked, coming closer and closer to her. She stepped back a little, unfortunately her back was against the wall, so there wasn’t much further she could go. He could smell her now, a faint smell of bergamot, jasmine, vanilla, citrus and Shalimar?! She wore Shalimar?! How did a middle-class girl afford Shalimar? But whatever, it was intoxicating on her skin. His eyes were glazing over, watching those lips move as she answered his question.
‘Yes, Shyamji, I’m fine,’ she responded. ‘Just a little crick in the neck,’ she rubbed the back of her neck as she spoke, unconsciously drawing the kurta tight across her chest as she raised her hand.
‘I have the perfect thing for a crick!’ he exclaimed. ‘Come,’ and casually, just like that, Shyam Manohar Jha lightly held Khushi’s elbow.
She jerked a little in reflex, not expecting him to actually touch her. She couldn’t wiggle out of his hold either, after all, he was her sister’s nandoyi-to-be. So she did the next best thing, smiled wanly and allowed him to lead her towards their room.
Shyam was in heaven. Her skin was smoother than he thought it would be! The fragrance of Shalimar clouded his mind. He turned them around and started walking towards his room, his and Rani Sahiba’s of course. His hand was hidden by her dupatta as they came face to face with Arnav walking up the stairs. He dropped her elbow like a hot potato.
‘Khushi?’ Arnav was focused completely on her and the slightly waxy look on her face. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Just a crick in the neck, Arnavji,’ she said for the second time in as many minutes.
‘Come with me,’ his voice brooked no arguments, ‘I’ll get you some aspirin. My room is right here.’
‘I was just taking her to get the balm, Saaley Saab,’ for some reason he found it necessary to explain himself.
‘Thanks, Jeejaji, but she often gets those cricks even at work, so I know an aspirin will do the trick,’ he opened the door to his room and stepped aside to let Khushi walk in.
‘I’ll... I’ll just go and freshen up,’ Shyam muttered and walked away. Foiled by his own Saaley Saab. Unbelievable!
Arnav slowly closed the door and latched it. Khushi was still rubbing the back of her neck.
‘Come here,’ he said huskily, his eyes darkening again with unmistakable desire. She walked up to him and stood close. He turned her around and gently moved her hair forward, before firmly massaging her neck. Her eyes drifted shut. She moaned. He dropped a kiss on the back of her neck, before continuing.
‘Better?’ he asked after a while. She opened her eyes and nodded. His arms came around her, and she leaned back onto his chest.
‘This is my room,’ he whispered. She nodded, looking around her, taking in the spare, functional decor, in the almost monochromatic space. Nothing was there that wasn’t needed.
‘Think about what you want to do with it,’ he said, not knowing where that came from, but knowing immediately that it was right. Khushi, here in this room, in his arms, was just ... right. Nani would have her answer after all, and soon. First, he needed to know how Khushi felt about it.
Shyam was annoyed, frustrated and annoyed. Having been foiled by his brother-in-law in getting that little time with Khushi, he was really, really annoyed. Seriously, this brother and sister duo were like the wettest of wet blankets. Why couldn’t they leave him be?
As if on cue, Anjali touched his forearm and said, ‘Shyamji, you haven’t eaten anything. What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing, Rani Sahiba,’ he grimaced. ‘Just some problems at work.’ He glanced across the table,
‘He works so hard, you see,’ Anjali explained to Garima. ‘He just got back from tour last week, and as soon as he gets back, he has work piled up. He barely has time for me,’ she giggled prettily.
‘He is a lawyer, I thought you said, Anjali?’ Shashi asked.
‘Yes, that I am,’ responded Sham. After all, a prospective could-probably-be-future-father-in-law must be kept happy. ‘I deal with a lot of property cases, so I often have to travel,’ he elaborated.
Shashi nodded his head, duly impressed with his daughter’s in-laws. What he didn’t know was that right next to him, his elder daughter’s Jethji - or Elder Brother-in-Law Arnav, had his foot stretched out, his toes calmly rubbing up and down the delicate arches of his younger daughter’s feet, while she shoved food determinedly into her mouth.
Devi Mayya! she thought while glaring at him, but not withdrawing her feet either. He was engrossed in discussing something with her father while his feet did wicked things to her pulse rate. She sat up straighter in her chair and pulled back her feet. Arnav glanced over at her and smirked. She looked away from him, straight into Shyamji’s face, who gave her a sweet smile, which she returned with a grimace.
Next thing she knew she felt Arnav’s feet against hers, again. But wait! These weren’t Arnav’s feet! They did nothing to her pulse. Who then? She looked across the table and then dropped her spoon with a loud clang and promptly dived under the table to retrieve it.
Horrors! It was Shyamji! He must have thought it was Anjali’s feet that he was rubbing against. Anjaliji was right next to her! Picking up the spoon, she emerged from under the table to find everyone looking at her. Red in the face, she sat up straight, blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was no mistake on Shyam Jha’s part that he was trying to play footsie under the table with her and not Anjali.
Shyam Jha had made the first offensive strikes. And Khushi was oblivious. Besides with Arnav occupying such a large part of her conscious mind, her subconscious was having a hard time making itself heard.
Two days later, Khushi stood at the corner of Laxminagar, waiting to get an auto. For some reason today, there seemed to be a paucity of autos. She was going to be late, she thought. Arnav had already called her when he’d started out. He must be at the office by now, and she hated being late.
A sleek white car stopped in front of her, and the window rolled down.
‘Khushiji?’ the voice was unmistakable.
‘Shyamji, you? here?’ she peered into the inside of the car.
‘Can I give you a lift?’ he asked, still unable to believe his luck when he’d seen her standing there in her sunny yellow salwar-suit. He’d come to this part of town on some work, but work be dammed! If it meant getting some solo time with Khushiji, he was all for it.
‘Err... no, thanks, Shyamji,’ she backed away a step, something in her telling her that this was not a good idea.
‘Khushiji, if you’re going towards AR, I can always drop you. I’m headed there myself, as I have some work with Saaley Saab.’
‘Oh!’ she said, now truly trapped. But in all the months I’ve worked for him, I’ve never seen him there, she thought. Giving a mental shrug she decided. She was late. She had a ride. Might as well go for it. ‘Well, then, thank you,’ she said, opening the door and sliding into the passenger seat.
‘Safety belt, Khushiji,’ he laughed, delighted to be in such proximity of the object of his desire.
She fumbled with it, and he leaned across, pulling the belt and snapping it in place, making sure to make eye-contact with her as he did so. She pressed her head firmly against the back-rest as far as she could, without seeming obvious about it.
He started the car, and as they drove along, he asked her. ‘How long have you worked for my brother-in-law, Khushiji?’
‘About three months,’ she answered, looking straight ahead. There really was no reason to be afraid, but something about him was off to her. The sooner she got out of the confines of his car, the better, she thought.
‘It’s funny, I never heard about you,’ he said. Nor saw you before, he thought.
‘I guess because I work for him,’ she answered quietly, ‘I don’t socialize with him.’
‘Still,’ he thought about it. ‘Rani Sahiba did mention you a few times, you know,’ he added.
‘Really?’ Khushi was surprised.
‘Yes and I remember Naniji talking about you, too,’ he thought. And then he remembered the gist of the conversation. How both Anjali and Naniji had wanted someone just like Khushiji for their Chotey! Thankfully, he’d never heard anymore about it. Thank God for that!!
He tapped on the wheel wondering what else to ask her, and coming up blank.
Khushi was more than glad when she saw the hulking structure of AR before her. As he drew up to the steps, she quickly unbuckled her seat belt and was out of the car, even before he’d put it in neutral.
‘Thank you so much for the ride, Shyamji,’ she said before bolting up the stairs. It was only when she was riding in the elevator to the office that she remembered. He’d mentioned something about coming to see Saaley Saab. Ugh! She thought and slapped her head with her palm.
Like every morning, the blinds to his cabin were drawn shut. Arnav had had them installed to lend a semblance of privacy. With Khushi in the office, it was now a necessity. He waited for her to bring him his morning cup of coffee. He rather liked this ritual, and had gotten used to it, almost like a cup of coffee in bed, first thing in the morning, except, it was his cabin not his bedroom. But soon, he smirked to himself. Very soon. He heard the faint knock on his door and called, ‘Come!’
Khushi poked her head through the opening, ‘your Jeejaji is coming to meet with you,’ she said, before withdrawing her head and rushing away.
‘Jeejaji? Here?’ he frowned. Why hadn’t he talked to me in the morning before I left? He shrugged. Knowing his sister, it was probably something that needed to be said outside of her hearing.
Shyam strolled into the reception and looked around. Khushi was no where to be seen. He sighed in disappointment. Well, he might as well go and meet his brother-in-law. With that thought in mind, he turned towards Arnav’s cabin just in time to catch a glimpse of canary yellow rushing towards the kitchen.
He walked up the stairs and found the door to his Saaley Saab’s office open.
‘Jeejaji, come on in,’ said Arnav. ‘Khushi said you would be dropping by,’ he explained at Shyam’s perplexed look. ‘Is something the matter? With you or Di?’ he was all concern now, as he always was at the thought of anything being the matter with his beloved Di.
‘No, Saaley Saab, everything is fine,’ he smiled and sat down on the couch facing the desk. ‘Why wouldn’t it be?’
Why indeed not? For at that moment, Khushi walked in with a tray on which sat a mug of coffee and a cup of tea. She placed it on the coffee table, picking up the coffee mug and bringing it over to Arnav’s desk.
He took the mug and was about to thank her when Shyam spoke up, ‘Khushiji, won’t you be joining us for some tea?’
Arnav’s glance flicked over to his Jeejaji, before he picked up a file and handed it to Khushi. ‘Please give this to Aman, he is waiting on it.’
She held out a small bowl to him. ‘Your meds,’ she said.
‘Thanks,’ he replied, taking the meds and handing over the file to her. She nodded her head and walked out of the room.
‘What is this, Saale Saab? She is soon to become a family member and yet you treat her like this?’ Shyam was irked by the complete lack of familiarity that Arnav had displayed. ‘Couldn’t she have joined us for a cup of tea?’ He really was upset about that.
‘This is my office, Jeejaji,’ Arnav said quietly. ‘And I’d rather not see her accorded any special treatment if she is family. Although that has yet to be - formally, I mean,’ he finished.
Shyam felt duly reprimanded and backed off. Half an hour later, he took his leave. Looking over at Khushi’s empty desk he failed to see that Arnav had opened the blinds to his cabin and was looking down, a tiny frown drawn upon his face.