For all of the wonderful people who found the River and stayed forever – you have been the reason I’ve found my words on more than one occasion!
“I am never going to lose weight like this,” She complained as she looked at the almost empty array of food on their table. They’d come to an all-day eggs and pancakes outlet, modest in setting but clearly as popular as it was touted to be it to be given it had taken then thirty minutes to be seated this late on a Saturday afternoon. She looked around and watched as couples, groups, even small families huddled over their rickety wooden tables creaking under the weight of similarly overindulgent food. There were smiles all around but the biggest one had to be one the face of the man she loved so much that she wanted to hit him till he stopped smirking. Shiv-ji, telling him she wanted to take the next step in their relationship was clearly the biggest kick his ego had received in years – the last time being the two of them and declaration of love and the time before that being the two of them again and a list of film songs. Dammit, she was so screwed. And heck, he was right – even in her own thoughts, she couldn’t say sex or make love! How the hell was the conversation she had never intended to happen, now going to shape up?
“We’re not going to do this every day, baby.”
“Don’t call me baby.” She said with narrowed eyes.
“Really? It’s that bad?” Arnav asked with almost a half-pulled down expression that was comical as it was endearing. Here was the Senior Manager who dazzled board rooms and promised to change fortunes of the modern day monarchies. “This is the second time you’re saying it today.”
“Baby is a thin person endearment.” She quipped. Something had unbolted years of inner turmoil in her head and now there seemed to be no holding back. Or perhaps she was just pathetic enough to want him to reassure her like he had tried to this morning. Of course, if he’d actually said that he didn’t think she was fat, it would have been something. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind, she rolled her eyes at herself. Who was she kidding? If he had said anything to the effect of dismissing her weight and size, she’d have dismissed his opinion on the subject forever. Either way, she was going to convince him that she was a complete lunatic and sometime not very far in the future, despite all his assurances, he was going to run far, far away. Now her only consolation was that he would continue to add up to his list of vices which currently sat at high-handedness and a proclivity to patronize – neither of which was very savory to her…
“What?” He said holding on to “the fuck” that should have come after that. She could almost see it in the thought cloud above his head.
“Baby is a thin person endearment.” She repeated, half-embarrassed and half-struggling to stay true to her promise of not holding back.
“And what is a…” He paused, like most people did at the word she knew wouldn’t come if she didn’t offer help.
“Fat” She supplied. “Fat is the opposite of thin. The internet says that is the acceptable word these days. From experience I can vouch for the fact that healthy, big and overweight are just as uncomfortable to hear if not more.”
He chuckled wryly as he took a sip of his coffee and a bite of his deliciously loaded waffle. “Thank you for expanding my knowledge on the subject. What is a fat person endearment?”
“There aren’t any.” She shrugged.
He stared at her mutely for several seconds. “You are doing this to scare me?”
She smiled and shook her head. “This is the part of me that you haven’t seen and given my size, that’s quite something…”
“God!” He exclaimed with a surprised chuckle. “All this zing…Where have you been hiding?”
It shamed her almost immediately when he didn’t take offense to her words. She was being bitchy, a pain in the ass actually. And he…He didn’t deserve it. He had done nothing to.
“Shona.” She said softly with a small smile. “I think shona is a fat person endearment. Or Jaanu.”
This time he let loose his amusement, taking her along with him, the fingers of his perceived hilarity tickling her into chuckles. It was strange, she concluded when they spent several indescribable moments just looking into each other’s eyes and laughing. It was also cathartic – liberating in a way that little else had been. When the chuckles subsided and something warm and tender filled his eyes, she knew he felt the same way. “I love you.” She said softly. “Irrespective of how I said it this morning, I do.” She whispered, making him gulp in a way that tore at her heart. Why couldn’t she have been a simple, happy girl who would bring him as much joy as he deserved? “I am sorry. It’s just…I have been dealing with this fat thing for too long. It shows up in the strangest ways. Snark, bitchiness, self deprecating humor, sullen moods, anger,” She took a deep breath. “Even tears.”
He reached out to cover her hand with his. “Will it help if I tell you that you are…”
She shook her head in a moment of sheer panic as she realized what he was about to say. “You know the medical exam we go through when we join IE-V? The doctor looked at me and laughed saying I would end up ten kilograms heavier at the end of four years given I was already so overweight. He hadn’t even checked my weight when he said it. So, no. Don’t say it. It will not help.”
He looked at her as if he understood exactly what she was feeling. On another day, she would have assumed the look in his eyes was one of indulgent pity – one she always thought she saw in the eyes of her family when they saw her struggle with her appearance. Today, however, she knew she wanted to believe the best in him. What was the point of loving someone if you couldn’t believe even such simple things? “You remember asking me the day I was leaving Detroit if I trusted you when you said you love me?”
He nodded simply.
“I do trust you.” She said softly. “I just don’t understand why you do though.”
“Please let me say what I need to.” She requested, her eyes flitting in and out of his gaze as she gathered her wits and rounded up her courage.
He nodded again and squeezed her fingers slightly.
“There are only two people in the world who are not family and still love me. Arjun and you. Arjun…not romantically of course – when he meant it like that – though he didn’t quite use those words – I didn’t believe him. I still don’t. That he loves me now…is the way one loves a very close friend. It’s taken us years to get here.” She said and sighed. “You…on the other hand. I don’t doubt that you love me. But I really don’t know why. And perhaps I am being selfish in asking but if…” She trailed off. She knew his answer wasn’t going to miraculously rid her of her self-doubt and still…perhaps today was one of those self-indulgent moments one was allowed to wallow in for a day or so in their lives. She hoped it was.
She waited and watched, prepared to let him off the hook if he were to seem to struggle too much. Strangely enough though, his mouth curved into a small smile, like there was a secret he was carrying and she had somehow stumbled on to it. “You are smiling.”
Arnav nodded his head. “I asked myself this question two years ago when…after I saw Tripti on IM-A campus.”
He shook his head. “Not in a bad way. I needed the answer myself to make sense of the path I was choosing. I was…I don’t want to call it scheming but I was wishing this grand sequence of events – which more or less did end up unfolding like I hoped for but at the time had no confidence in.”
She smiled. “You have better luck with plans than I do then.”
He chuckled. “No, I don’t.”
“If you are talking about the Nonsense Plan of the Decade from the Monsoon of 2005…”
“That was not my plan.” He said wryly.
“Right.” She rolled her eyes.
He laughed. “Anyway, back to question at hand.”
She took a deep breath and straightened her back even as he watched her prepare for his words.
“Why do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” He said softly.
“Poetry?” She asked as her eyes widened in her head. Dammit. “I must tell you that I don’t…”
“Just these words, I assure you.” He interrupted. “And I’ll admit I have no clue how my brain managed to retrieve these lines so swiftly right now.” He said wryly.
“Phew” She blew air out of her mouth in mock-relief. And despite her attempts, the import of the moment was buzzing softly in the air around. It was in the clatter of cutlery and the mutterings and laughter of groups and pairs. It swirled in the aromas of coffee and baked sugar and trickled down her back in the swelter of an imminent rain.
When he spoke, a note long forgotten beeped in the lub-dub of her heart and tingled in her ears. “When we were in college, it was the music that kept bringing me back to you. I couldn’t keep myself away. I didn’t understand it. And I sure didn’t welcome it. But I felt powerless in a strange way. But even then, it was the grace of your personality that first struck me. There is nothing more attractive than a woman who walks with her head held high amidst those who are whispering, mostly in awe and awe-inspired ridiculousness.”
“Don’t make me sound like…” She interrupted as her cheeks flushed.
“You asked a question,” Arnav reminded her immediately.
She breathed in again and waited for him to continue. She needed to quell the instinct to speak in again, the need to get up and leave. If they’d been in her room, she’d have paced the length of it and thanked her Shiv-ji for the opportunity to keep her eyes averted. Now, however…
“It was always true that your thoughts were transparent on your face. And yet, there seemed to be this air of…mystery…”
“Again?” He raised an eyebrow and one side of his mouth in opposite ended curves. It had to be patented, she thought to herself, this expression he seemed to be able to sculpt on his face so easily.
“Fine.” She grumbled. “But can you please tone down the…”
“No. Do you want the answer or not?”
“Actually I don’t think I do anymore.” She pointed out. She picked up her coffee and gulped it down.
“I am.” She acknowledged. “And just so you know, this tactic never works with me. Call me a coward and I will agree right away.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“Because I am no mystery. Just the opposite actually. You are just making it sound like…”
He looked at her quietly for a second. And then cleared his throat. “I want to make love to you.”
She choked on her saliva and coughed as he continued to stare at her unblinkingly. “What?” She asked, her voice gruff and pained. “Where did that come from?”
“It was always here,” He said indicating the space between them. “Do you think we should get married first?”
“Huh?” She shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
“If you won’t let me answer your question in words, there is only one other way I can think of to be just as effective, if not more.”
Her skin blazed with his words and her eyes stung in a burst of piercing desire that shot up her veins. He was going to kill her someday. But…there were in public and there were in the middle of a serious conversation. “It’s not funny,” She said with a frown, her hands now clenched in her lap.
“I’m glad because it’s not supposed to be.” He said as his eyes darkened and flitted across her face. It had to be the early evening sun in his eyes that made them glow so, she concluded. It couldn’t…he couldn’t possibly be serious. Sure, he’d said…things….earlier…but…
“Are you mocking me?” She asked in half exasperation. “Because…”
“You think that me asking your permission to make love to you is…”
“Stop saying that phrase like…”
“No.” He shrugged. If only he had been even slightly amused in his expression, she might have stood up and walked away. What was that she had wished about his list of vices? Idiot…
“Is that your word for the day?”
“No,” He said again and this time a small smile cracked his lips apart at the seams.
She let her shoulders slump. “Why are you punishing me? It was a small slip this morning, one that was really avoidable if only you’d let me…”
This time something in his eyes flickered. “You really don’t get it, do you?” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He motioned for their server to bring their check and her heart squeezed painfully. She hadn’t meant to be that dramatic but somehow…
“We are leaving.” She stated, using the obvious to assuage the acerbicity of her thoughtlessness. What was wrong with her? It was like she’d suddenly unleashed a side of her that she never wanted even hinted at.
“You said you were done ten minutes ago” He pointed out and she nodded prompting him to go about attending to the mundaneness of commerce.
Once they were done, he rose and offered his hand which she took without shivering evidently and they made their way out of the little home. By the time they were in Raagini’s car, Khushi’s nerves were stretched tauter than a tuned guitar. One pluck and she would…She looked out of the car as it battled with the weekend traffic. It was only a few minutes later that she realized that they were not headed in the direction of her home. “Where are we going?” She asked.
He looked at her for a second and named the area almost on the other side of the city. She knew he didn’t stay there either so it struck her as odd. “Where are we going? We are…At least I am not dressed to meet people.”
“We are not meeting anyone.”
She looked at him and waited as he continued to drive in concentration, offering her no more explanation. “We are going to have a colorful future, I can see. I am not going to let this go everytime, you know. I may be bad at confrontation but I have never backed down from an ongoing war of words.” She muttered under her breath and waited for the day to play out. It was clearly going somewhere and she had to admit, a part of her, the cynical part infact, was curious.
When she walked in to the large penthouse, a rush of mellowing yellow and the beginning of freshly squeezed orange at the edges filled her eyes. Bouncing off rich mahogany doors and dusty marble on the floor, the evening sun pushed against her eyelids and kept them wide open in surprise. She turned around to look at Arnav who was just pulling the door close. The sales officer who had accompanied them all the way up, had of course been sent away. She didn’t even know this was possible.
“You like it?”
She swallowed and looked around again. Rooms opened all around the large square living room she was standing in. The living room opened into a gardened-balcony that overlooked a wooded portion of land clearly occupied by the State. On the opposite end, a wooden stairway spiraled up to the next floor. This was the stuff of dreams, she concluded – one that was now beginning to scare her.
“It’s…” She had no words. “You…you’ve bought…it?” Shiv-ji had sent her tumbling into someone else’s life, she told herself. This was not her world. She didn’t suddenly wake up in the arms of the man she loved. She didn’t have the same man tell her he couldn’t wait to…No…she couldn’t allow herself to recall his words if she wanted to stay on her feet.
“I’ve paid a token booking amount but that was almost a year ago. It wasn’t ready to occupy then, of course. And it’s been a bad market for real estate so they’ve let me hold on to this. But…I really like this property…and a house is…I guess at least one is sort of a given in the lifetime…” He shrugged and looked around. “I wanted to have you take a look. I was going to…” He took a deep breath and looked at her. “I was going to tell you about it at leisure and see if you like it enough for me to hasten the buying decision.”
“Why?” She asked stupidly and then immediately regretted her question.
He raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t answer that. It was a stupid question.” She whispered and then decided to take advantage of the space that she now had at her disposal unlike earlier in the day. She hurried and walked to the balcony, pushing the large French doors apart to step out into what was half a garden in waiting and half a brick-tiled seating space. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply the clean evening air, something the city was fast losing in the kilometers being plucked out of potholed roads and being replaced by minutes and hours. When she opened her eyes, the flicker of fire that was rapidly turning orange, flickered with the unlikely clarity of an impossible dream.
He joined her just a few moments later as she placed her hands on the railing. He stood next to her, looking out at the trees and the city sprawled in a chaotic mess, beyond. Lights were beginning to twinkle in the distance, the bells of night tolling in the flicker of their languorous awakening. “Can you see us here, Khushi? Ten years from now? Still fighting because you still think I am condescending and because I still cannot believe you can be so oblivious to your own power?”
She could. It was that simple. Isn’t that why she’d hurried out of the space that was beginning to fill up with possibilities? She turned to look at him and wasn’t surprised when she found his gaze fixed on hers.
Before she could say anything, he put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer, kissing her deeply as she struggled with her own emotions and finally gave in. Before she could tell her intent from his, she was kissing him back till they were both fighting for air and a hold on their basest instincts.
“I love you, Khushi. And that means I love everything about you. I see a future for us. Here, or anywhere else that catches your fancy. I see us making love, making babies. I see us fighting and frustrated. I see us dreamy eyed and hopeful. I know we will see grief and uncertainty. We will wonder about the choices we made, including the one we seemed to have had made for us. But most of all, I see us together – naively enough to add that forever right away. Nothing as ridiculous as appearance is going to stand in the way. You asked me to not tell you what I really think about your physicality but the reality is that I never thought about it more than one does when one sees another for the first time.”
She would cry when these lines came back to her later tonight she knew. She would smile at the memory years from now. She would struggle to recollect the exact tenor of his voice and the construct of that declaration when she’d recount it to her eager teenage daughter or embarrassed new adult son as fate might decide. She would doubt them eventually, of course. Perhaps, she would even end up dismissing his declaration like she now did her sister’s. But she would remember this moment, she promised silently.
And with the small promise, she threw all thought she had bubbling in the deepest recesses of her mind – out of her head and she threw her arms around his neck, burying her face in his shoulder as his other arm curved around her and his body pressed against hers. She knew the fears hadn’t gone away and that they probably would linger a lifetime; that they would make their presence felt when she expected them to and perhaps sometimes when she was least prepared to handle them. But at the moment, she wasn’t going to let them ruin what she’d found at long last, not any more than they had already, not any more than they would without her assistance anyway.
“I don’t think we should wait.” She whispered in his ear and smiled as she heard his breath slice through the air and settle against the edge of her scar.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Tumse Milke Dil Ka Hai Jo Haal…
Album: Main Hoon Na
Singers: Sonu Nigam, Aftab Sabri, Hashim Sabri
Music: Anu Malik
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Dil mera paagal hai jaana, isko tum behla do
Dil mein kyon hulchul hai jaana, mujhko tum samjha do
Mehka jo aanchal hain jaana, isko tum lehra do
Zulf jo baadal hai jaana, muihpe tum barsa do
Jaana le jaaya hai, tera yeh deewana
Jaana tujhpe mit jaayega, tera yeh parwana
Jaana mere dil mein kya hai, tune yeh na jaana
Jaana tujhko yaad aayega, mera yeh afsaana
Note: Next update on Monday, Dec 4, 2017 – late night IST