Beyond words

When eyes and souls connect

Chapter 25: Lonely in a crowd

on May 17, 2013

roka

Raizada Mansion had outdone itself this time when it came to preparations. Workers scurried everywhere clearing, trimming, mowing, hanging lights, stringing flowers and sprucing up the place for the impending celebrations.

Nani ji sat content at the center giving directions and guiding the event. Anjali wished she could make copies of herself one for the kitchen, one for the outdoors and one for the puja related detailing. Mami sat moping in her room rueing the loss of her position as the bahurani in chief. Realizing belatedly that whether she liked it or not, she had to be at the forefront and that videos and pictures will be taken, she focused her attention on getting ready. It wouldn’t do to be seen with bags under her eyes would it?

Akash put finishing touches on a gift he had bought for his fiancée. A set of payals for his Payal. He knew she hated ostentation and he had been careful not to splurge on it. He had a lifetime ahead of him to do that.

Arnav barked orders to Aman on the phone.

“No, he couldn’t be at the office today. Yes! please reschedule the meetings to next week.”

“And Aman, I expect you to be here at home for the evening celebration. Bring your daughter with you. And yes, that is an order.”

A smile nudged the corners of his mouth. For all his bark, Arnav had a soft corner for Aman. His man Friday.

Work was taken care of. There was just this problem of the little note that stayed in his pocket burning a hole with its presence. The year that had gone past had Di at its center. Khushi remained on the outer edges rarely disturbing his conscious.  This past week had been tumultuous. It had dredged up memories he had suppressed for a whole year. It brought with it remorse and an overwhelming sense of regret. He looked forward to the evening with a mix of apprehension and excitement.

He felt like an animal on a hunt, his senses heightened and the thrill of the kill pumping adrenalin through his body. Except his prey knew he was lurking and was armed.

He dressed to kill.

His phone buzzed and he looked at it with irritation. Picking it out of habit, his eyes widened when he saw the message.

“Nannav mere bhai. Am at the airport. Is anyone coming? Do I take a taxi? – NK”

In all the excitement surrounding the sudden festivities he had totally forgotten that Akash’s cousin was flying in from Sydney that afternoon. He slapped his forehead and texted back.

“Take a taxi. Will explain when you get home. Ask for Raizada Mansion. Most taxi drivers will know. If not, call me.”

He ran down the stairs to apprise Di and Akash of NK’s arrival and stood mesmerized at the sight of the Gupta family at the door.

Di, Nani and Mami stood with the aarti plate and they were calling out to him. Walking downstairs he was aware of a pair of eyes following him.

Folding his hands in a polite namaste, he joined the rest of the family in welcoming the bridal party and acted the perfect host.

His eyes strayed to the vision in cream and pink next to the bride. Her dark locks framing her porcelain face. A small stone studded clasp pinning the hair away from her ear. The barest of eyeliner highlighting those charcoal eyes. A smile seemed to permanently dance on her face. She stole looks at him when she thought he was not looking.

Feeling a tiny prick of excitement, he dug out a small box from his pocket and discreetly dropped it into her bag that she had left by the side of the dais  He stood by Nani and watched as Di held out the ring for Akash to put on his fiancée’s finger.

payash1

Akash eyes shone with happiness as he slipped the ring on Payal’s finger gently. Khushi held out the ring for Payal to slide on Akash’s finger. Payal looked up demure and happy. Her fingers trembled a little as she held Akash’s hand and slid the ring on. They turned towards everyone and walked off the dais to take blessings. Only Khushi noticed Akash slip his hand into Payal’s reassuring her that he was there to support and hold her hand. For life.

As the music began signalling the start of the festivities, the door opened and a handsome young man strode in. A collective gasp went around the room.

“NK Bhai!”

The entire clan rushed to the door and greeted the newcomer with such enthusiasm that the Gupta family looked on in surprise. Struggling to breathe from the onslaught of hugs, the said NK extricated himself and introduced himself.

NK

“Nandkishore. You can call me NK.”

Payal shyly extended a hand as Akash explained that NK was his cousin. He went around the group and his hand lingered on Khushi’s. Arnav burned. He made it a point to rush NK away from her and to his room.

When Arnav came back, the music was on and every one seemed to be having a good time. His eyes scanned the room for Khushi and found her talking to one of their guests for the evening. Wondering how she knew him, he made his way to the small group at the back. Waiting for a lull in the conversation, he stuck his hand out.

“Welcome Mr. Mehta. I am are glad you could make it to Akash’s engagement. Meet Khushi, sister of the bride.”

Mr. Mehta took the proffered hand and shook it vigorously before proclaiming “I know Khushi. She supplies food to our canteen. In fact, I believe she does business with most of us who are here today. Excellent partner to work with.” he beamed.

Arnav’s eyes narrowed. “In that case, I will leave you folks to catch up.” He strode out of the room in a huff.

Walking to the poolside as he did when he needed to let off steam. He took a couple of deep breaths and stared at his reflection in the pool. She has a life. She had one before she came into yours, a voice whispered in his head.

She was a business woman now? What else did he not know about her? Why did he feel she was his? Why did he burn so when NK held her hand? The questions seemed relentless. Pushing himself to get back to function, he walked in to see her dancing with abandon.

khushib

She was a free spirit. The joy on her face roused something protective in him. What he would he not do to make sure she remained that way all her life? He leaned against the pillar and took in the celebrations feeling like an outsider, his eyes only for Khushi.

Aman walked in with his daughter. A little girl of about 5 years. He looked around to find Arnav at the back watching the group with a wistful look on his face. He had worked for Arnav over ten years now. The ten years had been good to him. When his wife died following complications from her C-Section, Arnav had provided silent support providing him time off and arranging for a wet nurse for the baby. A man of few words, he had been a godfather of sorts to his little Anya.

Arnav felt a little hand slide in his. Looking down, his face lit up at the sight of his goddaughter. He lifted her high and gave her a kiss on her forehead before setting her down. He guided Aman to the refreshments and asked him to help himself. He felt a tug at his elbow and found Di looking with curiosity at Anya. Introductions done, he was happy to see Di take Anya under her wing and show her around.

Soon Aman was introduced around the crowd as the man who was heard but never seen. Laughter bubbled to the ceiling and the night fell on a happy crowd. Arnav ached to be alone. Crowds made him feel lonelier.

Slipping away to his favorite spot he found someone standing there much to his annoyance. He was about to turn away when she turned and his heart stilled.

She was looking at the sky. Her eyes searched for the two stars she claimed as her own. She sat down by the pool looking reflective. Her eyes seemed to be brimming with tears. A quiet voice said “I feel lonely Amma. Even in a crowd.”

His heart went to her and he turned and went inside.

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3 responses to “Chapter 25: Lonely in a crowd

  1. emotional update very beautifully done khushi telling her parents even in the crowd she felt lonely

  2. Awesome update…. Absolutely loving this story

  3. fijiankudi says:

    I started reading this chapter with smiles and thinking burn Arnav burn . then towards the end i had tears in my eyes. poor arnav has no clue how to enjoy himself.

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