Khushi entered the office just in time and his eyes locked on her like a radar. His phone slipped from his hand and he didn’t even notice it! She was wearing a red saree, she had managed to hold in place until now. She had let her hair loose on her back clipping them with hairpin at the back. Her wavy, silky hair bouncing on her waist as she walked, her little golden Zumkas dangled in her ears. The curls of her flicks sprawled on her forehead which she tried to send back with her fingers. Her cheeks competing with the color of her saree, she was not looking up and he was not taking his eyes off. He was completely stumped by her beauty.
She came to her cubical, did her rituals by praying her devi mayya and resumed her duty. He ignored his ringing phone completely busy looking at her. She refrained from looking up. She was nervous, she had taken a risk. She was not sure about the result. She was biting her nails, fidgeting, winding and unwinding her hair lock on her forehead nervously. ASR clenched his fists wanting badly to stop her from playing with her hair. She was working with one hand and playing with her curls with another. He couldn’t bear it!
“Stop it!” he yelled and came back to his senses with a thud. She winced down in her cubical. He looked around embarrassed. He looked away for a fraction of second surprised by his own reaction. Then couldn’t control it! His eyes not obeying his brain, turned to her again and again!
“Chamakili…!” Lavanya lifted the charm coming to Khushi and holding her by elbow. Khushi looked up at her. “Chalo… I need help!” she said pulling her up. Khushi got up and Lavanya looked at her.
“What are you wearing?” she surveyed Khushi from head to toe!
“Saree? To the office? Why?” she asked surprised at Khushi’s looks.
“umm… Aisehi! Just like that!” Khushi tried to smile hiding her blushing face.
“Chaliye!” she took a step forward and tripped over the plaits losing her balance. She held her saree plaits and the chair to regain her balance.
“Careful!” ASR took a step ahead blurting!
Lavanya shook her head hopelessly. “You look typical… with these sleeves and all!” Lavanya pinched Khushi. Khushi crossed her fingers waiting desperately for his shout! It didn’t happen.
She went to Lavanya’s cabin but had lost interest in doing the work. She just nodded to what Lavanya was saying. She saw him going out and lost her chance.
“Khushi, Kuch doosara plan Karana padegaa! Think Khushi, for plan B! You got to read the file! “ Khushi looked around. This was her chance to find the file from his cabin and read it. She was desperate. Lavanya’s phone rang.
“Yeah! ASR coming!” she said and turning to Khushi, “Chamakili, I am going with ASR! Don’t know when we will be back. Keep those files on his table ok?” Khushi nodded happily.
******** ****** ****
“Do you have any idea what you are doing?” came a voice from behind and she jumped in fright. She closed her eyes shut praying her devi Mayya. She waited for him to start shouting… but there was silence and she opened her eyes and turned to face him!
She had no idea what was going on in his mind. She was in his private room, reading Regi’s file from the shelf. She had entered lion’s den defenseless.
He was looking at her mesmerized with gaping mouth. She fidgeted nervously trying to set right her saree, biting her lip furiously. He couldn’t take his eyes off her lips and couldn’t tolerate she biting her lip. “Stop it!” he barked and she tried to hide the file behind her and he came back to his senses.
“Extracting information from confidential files..do you know what it is called? Intruding in someone’s room!” with every word he took steps ahead towards her. She stood there clutching her saree in her fists, closing her eyes. “Now he will shout at me…pass remarks on my dressing sense, disdainfully. He will push me… hurt me… abuse me! And then… I will ask him the question and he will answer me in anguish.. for hurting me! Let him hurt me, Devi Mayya! I will get my answer, then! I don’t mind he abusing me!” she prayed hard ready to get hurt. Her fingers ran over her dark mark on her forehead ..!
“Its called espionage… theft of information…! Do you understand?” his voice was rising. She waited with bated breath. He pulled the file from her struggling hand and looked at it. She trembled uncontrollably in fright.
“what were you doing?” he asked her advancing and invading her personal zone. She stepped back thudding her back on the shelf. He brought his face nearer and she closed her eyes. He straightened himself up and yelled, “How dare you come here!” Khushi prayed hard.
“You are disgusting Ms Gupta!” he yelled disdainfully with hatred. The abuse had not reached its peak yet! Khushi waited holding her breath!
“I pity your parents… for having a daughter like you…!” before he could continue further, she opened her eyes emitting fire! She came on to him like a tigress!
“Don’t bring in my dead parent in this!” she fumed with rage panting hard. He gaped at her in shock.
“D..dead...!” he blurted in shock remembering their conversation in Nainital when she wanted to meet them once…! He took a step forward and she paced back thudding her back on the shelf.
“Khushi…!” he looked at her trembling figure.
“No!” she said turning her face hiding her tears. She was ready for the hurt… but bringing her parents was beyond hurt.. it was an insult of her parents.
“You are right! I have no right to come here! I have no status.. I have no right to ask question… I am nobody.. I don’t have a right to know… because I am an orphan with no godfather…!”
“Usaki Maa Mar Rahi Hai! She is dying!!” he turned his back on her clenching his fists.
“What?” Khushi stopped dead.
“His mother is terminally ill! She is suffering from colon cancer, advanced stage… she wanted to die peacefully in her house!” he said it in one breath. She walked around to face him with tearful eyes. His moist eyes met with tears.
“Regi… Sir…” she couldn’t continue with a bulk forming in her throat. He swallowed hard.
“I had to sent him…! She was not ready to take chemo treatment here in Delhi!” he quivered. Khushi came a step forward.
“Regi was more attached here! I had to sever the ties!” he said in a bare whisper. She gaped with tearful eyes.
“He is a world class designer! He has no career in his small town! He has a family to support!” he chocked. Khushi fell silent. He looked at her for support!
“I had to do it!” he said reiterating it to himself. Convincing that he did the right thing. Khushi nodded but looked at him in anguish.
“What will he do now?” she asked quavering.
“I opened an office in his town! Made him incharge! He will handle from his home town!” he said gravely, knowing well that this arrangement was not going to work for long. But till then it was an arrangement and means to support Regi financially. Regi was the designer, creative artiste and not an administrator! He would suffocate soon … he had to carry on! Arnav chocked. Khushi gaped at him.
“Why were you hiding this from us?” she asked astonished. He gritted his teeth in frustration!
“This is a new question!” he dismissed her turning his back on her. Numerous questions cropped up in her mind. “Why can’t he show his nicer side to us? Why can’t he share his anguish? Why is he so lonely? Why does he suffer alone? Why can’t he be like us, normal? Why does he wear mask of a Monster all the time? Why can’t he be he, Arnav ji?” she came around to face him. He avoided her. But she was not to give up.. she tried to hold his hand and he jerked it pushing her with all his might. She banged her back on the shelf with a thud again.
“Got your answers? Satisfied?” he came on to her! He looked dangerous. He would kill her if she opened her mouth again. She was scared. She wanted to run away. He spoke as if reading her mind,
“You won’t get what you want, Khushi Kumari Gupta! So, go back to your work..!” he stepped aside and Khushi took a step to run from that place. Next moment she was flat on the carpet with the entire file shelf toppling on her with her pallu trapping in the rack!
“Khushi..!” he ran forward and removed the shelf in one jerk. He pushed away the files and tried to help her get up stepping over her plaits and they both crashed down on the floor embracing each other, one on top of other!
“Khushi..! Are you ok? Are you hurt?” he asked her concerned. She shook her head, trying to get up.. His grip around her tightened pressing her hard against his chest. She could hear his human like heart thudding against his chest. She heard the sweet beats closing her eyes. “He is not what I thought!” she thought still in his arms. He couldn’t control his urge to run his fingers in her wavy silky hair. Couldn’t control ruffling..!
“Khushi..!” he blurted losing his composure. She raised her head and looked up at him. Her teary hazel eyes brought him back on earth. He looked at their condition and turning over with a jerk and getting up at once pressing her down on the floor, said
“Yeh sab thik karo!” he glanced at her slipped plaits of her saree and barged out of the room. Khushi got up slowly and gathered her saree. She draped it properly and looking into the mirror tided up her hair. She pushed the shelf back to its position and started arranging the files..and books scattered all over the place. She came out cleaning up the room and steadying her breath.
He was still panting. He avoided to look at her.
“I..I cleaned it up!” she said in a small voice and he nodded looking out of the door. She came around and looked at his clenched fists. She poured water in a glass and held it to him. He finished it in one gulp. She looked up at him and opened her mouth to say something.
“Khabardar… jo kisi ko batayaa! I am warning you! Don’t tell this to anyone!” he hissed at her with gritted teeth. “And don’t call him!” he ordered.
“Itani Akal Hain Hum Main!” she hissed back. “Really? Are you sure?” he asked scornfully coming back to normal!
“Ok!” she paused .. “Laad Governer!” she said aloud and descended the stairs with her spirits lifted.