“Khushiiii…. Why are you so late?” Buwaji came on to her like a bulldozer. Khushi winced in fright. It was almost ten thirty when she reached home. She had walked down all the distance. The reality had not synced in yet. She looked at Buwaji blankly.
“Aray… Kuch Toh Bolo!” Buwaji shook her and “Huh..?” Khushi looked at her holding her breath. Payal came forward..
“Khushi, Chal Under! Come in, Khushi!” She took her inside. Khushi went to the bathroom. When she came out, Payal had laid the table and was waiting for her. Khushi had no apatite.
“Khushi, why were you not picking up the phone?” Payal asked and Khushi looked at her. She had forgotten that she had switched off her phone.
“Woh… S..sorry, I had switched it off!” she said guiltily staring unfocused.
“Khushi…! What are you doing? Why are you dipping the poori in water?” Payal held her hand tightly and Khushi looked at the poori in her hand. She had dipped it in the glass. Khushi kept the poori aside.
“Jiji, bhookh nahi hain! I want to sleep!” she said weakly.
“Khushi? What happened? Are you ok?” Payal cupped Khushi’s face. Khushi’s eyes were burning. She closed her eyes. “I am fine, Jiji..!” she said and got up joining her hands to the leftover food in her plate. She had never left the food in her plate. But everything was different today. She couldn’t forget the afternoon. Every moment was magical for her. For the first time in her life she had this sensation of being touched by a man. She was all lost. And then that letter… She didn’t know how to react.
She drew blanket over her head … she had forgotten to pray her devi mayya.. even her promise to go to the temple. She had forgotten the world around. She needed a sound sleep to wake up to reality. She just shut her eyes closed on this world.
******** ********** ********”
“Good night, Khushi Kumari Gupta!” Arnav smirked drawing the blanket. He closed his eyes.. his lopsided smile still on…
“You will know soon… !” he blurted. The hazel green confused eyes gazed at him. Her blushing face floated in the air.. The soft creamy feel of her cheeks made him stroke his stubble ..! He sat up with a jerk. “That was all fake…!” he said to himself. Her dupatta tickled him, the soft silky wavy hair slipped from his fingers…! “No!” he got down and came out to the pool side. He saw her face in the reflection of the moon in his pool. “No!” he splashed water distorting the reflection. Her giggle rang in his ears… he came in to the room. He looked at the side table.. Guava was gaping along with his wallet, pen, Bluetooth, keys and her note..! He picked up the guava!
“This coquet will teach you a lesson of your life. Khushi Kumari Gupta! The game begins…!” he gazed wickedly at the note. “I will turn your weapon on you! Trying to trap whoever you lay your eyes on? Huh? “ he gripped the guava.
“Why?” her hazel eyes asked him in anguish! He couldn’t bear the gaze. He turned off the lights and the darkness engulfed. He felt better. For a very long time he stared unfocused at the ceiling. Then picking up the pillow and pressing it to his chest, closed his eye trying to sleep.
*********** ********* *********
She was standing at the threshold of her house, holding guavas in her dupatta! A bright sun shone outside. She looked ahead at the woods. The mysterious woods … I want to go… I want to see what is in there… I want to explore…! She looked back in her house.. a cool shade gave her the feeling of protection. She smiled picking up her bag… “No Khushi.. you don’t know the road.. don’t go!” Payal pulled her back. Guavas spilled all over, few in the house and few over the threshold! She didn’t bother to pick them up! She looked at her babuji who folded his arms.. I want to go! She was determined to walk on the unknown path…
“I may get flowers… !” she was hopeful…”What if you get thorns?” Payal was skeptical.
“All the glory comes from daring to begin…!” she heard babuji’s words..
“Jiji, chalo naa! I want to explore that dream world!” Khushi stepped out in sunlight and Payal still lingered. “No, Please Don’t go!.. You may find a way to come back!” Payal shouted. Khushi, standing in bright sunlight, narrowed her eyes to look at her babuji. He was waving at her… “Babuji… !” she screamed in excitement…! She was leaving her cozy world behind and plunging into a new world…!
Khushi turned in her sleep blurting.. “I will walk on that unknown path to enter that unknown world.. all by myself… to find myself in someone…!” The guavas were left behind!
“Stop it Khushi..! Shut your mouth up!” Payal slapped her irritably turning in her sleep.
********** ************* **********
“Khushi…Khushi…!” Amma was banging on the door. Payal woke up with a start and hurriedly opened the door. Khushi followed..
“Your babuji..!” Amma was frightened to the core. Khushi dashed to the room. He was floundering gasping for breath… He had vomited all over… His eyes rolled up… His right hand had twitched in an awkward position. Khushi ran forward…
“Babuji…!” she called out holding his hand. He didn’t respond. “Call the doctor..!” she yelled.
“Call Sham Babua!” Buwaji went hurriedly to the phone. Payal tried calling the nearby doctor. Khushi came out running.
“Jiji.. rub his hands and feet. Clean him…! I will call the ambulance..!” She didn’t know, how long it will take. Ambulance arrived in an hour .. Babuji’s health had deteriorated further… he was unable to close his eyes… water streaming down his eyes… he couldn’t move a muscle. Paramedic took over and they all accompanied babuji to the hospital.
Buwaji was frantically trying for Sham. He was not picking up!
The emergency treatment had started. Khushi asked Payal to be there. She was running around to make arrangements.
“Sir.. I am sorry! They asked me to talk to you…” Khushi knocked the door of RMO. He looked up.
“Sir my father is admitted. We are asked to deposit money. I mean.. I don’t have it.. but I will arrange in the morning.!” She said in one breath.
“Yeah ok! Don’t you have insurance?” he asked. She shook her head.
“Ok! But please deposit the money immediately!” He said picking up the form to sign. She took the form and came out. The treatment had started. She calculated. She could withdraw some money she had saved still would fall short! She didn’t know what to do. Payal had not stopped crying so was Amma. Only Buwaji was sitting on the chair, muttering “Call sham Babua, he will do something, Nandkishore..!”
“Stop it Buwaji, he is not picking up the phone..!” Khushi was irritated. Should I call sir? She threw away the thought jerking back her head. She pulled Payal aside.
“Jiji.. stop crying.. there is no time to cry.. we have to do something..! We have to arrange for money..! I can withdraw some but we have to arrange at least eighty thousand for his treatment.
“Khushi I have saved some ..!” Payal calculated. “should I ask Aakash sir?” she too brushed away the thought. Buwaji was still trying Sham’s number. Khushi didn’t know what to do..!
“Jiji, I have some gold!” she finally decided. “Amma’s gold!” she said. Payal held her hand.
“No Khushi.. its your Amma’s gold! Don’t sell it!” Payal said.
“No! Jiji, I am selling it… I will take loan on that! You get the cash in two hours… I had read the advertisement..” she said determined and payal nodded.
“Khushi we need to go home..! but..! Ok I will stay here. You go home. .. pickup my bangles and Zumkaas too and arrange for money. Its six. Get tea for Buwaji and Amma. Once you come I will go home ..!” Payal planned and Khushi nodded. Payal had regained her composure, determined to face the crises.
“Haan.. Nandkishore…Hello Sham Babua..!” Buwaji was loud enough. She narrated the story.
“They are asking money to deposit..!” she was sure that Sham would do some arrangement.
“Umm.. Buwaji I am not in town… I am sorry.. but I will try to come and arrange something.. you don’t worry, everything will be alright…!” he said and Buwaji nodded looking up at Khushi.
“Give the phone Buwaji..!” Khushi held out her hand and switched it off.
Sham disconnected the phone thinking.. “If I go now.. I will have to pay the bills… If he is dying his own death…why should I..? ” he smirked wickedly. “Humm… Good bye, uncleji..!” he stroked his fist and licked his lips.
“Raani Sahebaa!” he called out and Anjali walked in. “Let’s go out for lunch..!” he wrapped his arms around her.
********** ********* ********
“Aray.. Khushi bitiya didn’t come!” Nani was surprised. They were to plan for the navaratri. Arnav looked up, so did sham. Both smirked for different reasons.
“Yeah Nani.. I will call her!” said Anjali picking up her phone.
“Her cell is switched off… no one is picking up the landline..!” she said looking little worried. Arnav too looked up at his Di.
“She won’t come!” he thought and got up.
“Aray, Chote, you didn’t eat your breakfast..!” Anjali pointed out.
“No! I will eat guava!” he blurted and stopped dead!
“What?” Anjali asked bewildered.
“Nothing Di, I will order something in the office. I need to go!” he strode back to his room.
****** ****** ********
The news spread in the office… Khushi was cleared off all the charges. Everyone was waiting for her. She didn’t turn up. Rekha tried her number several times.. So did Aman.
“Sir.. Ms Gupta has not come… not reachable on phone..!” Aman said standing in ASR’s cabin. ASR smirked…
“She will not! She is relieved from the job yesterday..!” he said coolly and turned to his laptop. Aman was shocked. “What?”
“Yes, I cleaned up the dirt!” ASR looked straight at Aman.
“So the sealed envelope was her relieving letter..!” he thought descending the stairs. ASR’s eyes followed Aman till her cubical… His eyes locked down at her cubical.. he had got it cleared. The empty space gaped at him. He turned to his system. The smirk had disappeared.
“Umm Bhai..!” Aakash came in. “Umm.. No one is picking up the phone in the house…!” he said. Arnav got up with a jerk.
“What? What happened? Where is Ram Prakash?” he asked at once. Aakash shook his head.
“No bhai, I am talking about Payal ji!” he said sitting on the chair. ASR’s expression changed.
“You came here to tell me this?” he was annoyed. “No.. I mean.. I am worried.. she was to give me the samples..!” Aakash said weakly.
“Stop it Aakash… forget the samples…I had warned you..!” he flared up. Aakash got up from the chair and went out without a word. His eyes again turned to the empty cubical. “Damn it!” he blurted and picking up his laptop moved towards conference room to resume his work there!
“She can’t have any effect on me! She is nobody!” he commanded himself denying his own feelings, his brain taking over his heart! There should be a successful takeover! Failure was not an option for Arnav Singh Raizada!
He had pulled through the day without her, somehow!
His phone rang! He knew! “Yeah, Regi, the news is correct! I eradicated the trouble!” he barked.
“Eradicated? Have you? Really?” Regi tried to control his temper and asked in a low deadly tone. There was no response.
“ASR.. “ Regi couldn’t continue..”Stop it Regi! If you have called up to discuss her, I am disconnecting..!” he snapped. There was a silence from the other side. He looked at the screen.
“I am sorry, ASR! Actually I called up to thank you for relieving her!” came a very calm statement from Regi. ASR’s mouth fell open. He waited.
“You did a big favor, ASR! She will be able to take care of her father well!” he again stopped. ASR waited.
“Yeah! That’s right, ASR… her father suffered a stroke and is critical..she will be…”
“What?” ASR asked in shock. “Regi…!”
“Stop it, ASR! You have already eradicated…! So don’t bother!” Regi disconnected. Arnav froze..!
“Khushi….!” His heart called out in anguish!
********** ********* *******
“What? What are you doing, Nandkishore? Where are you taking him?” Buwaji was in shock. Khushi looked on…
“Buwaji..!” she held her hand.
“We have to shift him to ICU!” the stretcher had moved… Khushi dashed to the doctor.
“Doctor..!” she chocked.
“Don’t worry! We are shifting him. Let us see!” she nodded and sat on the chair watching the arrangements, for a long time!
She dialed Aman’s number… “Umm sir, I mean … can I collect the check now? I mean.. I know .. I will get it at month end… but… !” she asked hopefully. Aman looked at his empty cabin.
“umm.. I don’t know.. I will do something.. Don’t worry…!” Aman had already decided to pay from his pocket, without ASR’s permission.
“No! its ok sir, I will manage! .. Umm sir, please… don’t.. tell him that I had called for money!” she requested. A lump formed in Aman’s throat! “Ye.. yes!” he assured.
“Get these medicines.. Immediately..!” the nurse ordered and rushed in. Khushi looked at the long list, clutching her bag she went to the pharmacy. The medicines were delivered. She waited for the bill.
“Bill?” she asked nervously, praying her devi mayya and touching the bundle of notes in the bag.
“Paid!” came a rude answer and she turned puzzled. When she came with the medicines, she found Sham sitting next to Buwaji holding her hand. She handed over the medicines without a word and sat at the corner. She went in to see her babuji. His ventilators were removed but oxygen mask was still on.
“Babuji.. !” she called in a small voice. Tear rolled down the corner of his eye. She held his hand and sat there for a long time. Doctors came in for a round..
“He is out of danger now… we will shift him to the private room in a day or so!” Doctors assured and she felt better.
“Who paid the bill?” the puzzle was not solved.
“Sham ji? Did you pay the bill?” she asked directly. He looked shocked for a second and then he smiled politely.
“Does it really matter, who paid the bill?” he asked her holding her hand.
“Aur Nahi Toh Kaa Nandkishore! He only has paid.. who else will pay?” buwaji had all the praises for Sham. Khushi withdrew her hand. “Thank you!” Sham tried to put his hand around her shoulder.
“I will go get coffee for you!” she dashed out to the coffee shop! She went to the billing section to know the credit limit..! She had to arrange the money somehow!
“Don’t worry madam… things are arranged..!” she was told. “Sham ji did all this?” she was surprised. Her tummy growled. “No barking please, kutteji!” she held her tummy tightly.
“Khushi…!” Rekha called out. She came and hugged Khushi. Khushi’s eyes filled with tears.
“Khushi.. don’t worry! Everything will be alright!” the office staff had gathered around Khushi outside ICU. Buwaji and Amma gaped at the crowd. Her amma broke into tears looking at the concerned faces of the people around. Rekha came forward. “Don’t worry, Maaji… he will be alright! And please don’t worry about anything..! We all are there!” she assured looking at her colleagues. They all were there to help Khushi. Khushi smiled faintly. “Thank you!” she was overwhelmed.
“Khushi..!” Aman whispered and Khushi said “No! Aman sir! Everything is arranged…!” she knew what he wanted to tell.
“Khushi… don’t hesitate.. if you need anything..Just call us! Ok?” Rekha cupped her face and she nodded. Buwaji gaped at their overwhelming love towards Khushi. She really had a magic wand.
else was watching this scene from RMO’s office with moist eyes. He was proud of his Khushi Kumari Gupta!!
********* ******** ****
He was in the ICU. It was almost eleven in the night. Khushi and Payal were dozing off on the chair outside ICU.
Babuji looked at him. He came forward. “Don’t worry!” he said with moist eyes. Then holding babuji’s hand said…
“I bought your house! But will always be in your name! “ Babuji’s eyes were expressionless except the tears rolling down.
“Don’t worry about her!” he said and strode out in the darkness of the corridors…!Nobody had seen this side of ASR except Babuji who was muted with paralytic stroke!! Nobody would ever know!!