“Khushi...?” Payal was shocked to see Khushi at the door at midnight.
“Woh... Jiji... Please pay that cycle Rickshaw wala!” Khushi dashed to the bathroom picking up her night dress. Payal hurriedly went in to get money.
Khushi came out after some time to see Payal waiting for her with the towel, at bathroom door. She had closed the room door. Khushi took the towel and patted dry her face. Payal gazed at her from head to toe.
“No! Jiji..!” Khushi didn’t want to talk about anything. “I Know!” Payal said gravely and holding her hand brought her to the bed.
“Sleep!” she said tucking Khushi under the blanket and Khushi closed her eyes. Payal went in to the kitchen to boil the milk. She came into the room again with milk glass mixing sugar and Turmeric. She waited for Khushi to open her eyes.
“Jiji...!” Khushi shuddered and Payal placed her hand on Khushi’s forehead. She could feel the anguish. Khushi opened her eyes. “Pi lo! Have it!” Payal helped Khushi to get up and gave her the milk glass. Khushi drank it and looked at Payal. “Now, go to sleep!” Payal said sitting by her side and caressing her face. Khushi closed her burning eyes. Payal sat there patting her, stroking her, without asking her anything..!
Khushi woke up to find Payal still sitting by her side and stroking her head. “Jiji..!” Khushi sat up.
“No!” Payal pushed her back on the bed. “Take rest Khushi..! Don’t get up!” Payal said with tearful eyes. Khushi hugged her tightly. “Jiji..!” Khushi sobbed. Payal held her tightly.
“No, Khushi! Don’t cry.. We will talk about it later. Ab So Jao, Khushi!” Payal said in a hoarse voice. Khushi closed her eyes holding on to Payal. She felt safe. She was with her family... with her jiji! Khushi slept like a child in her Jiji’s arms.
*********** ********** ********
“What happened Nani?” Anjali was asking holding her hand. Nani looked around. Everyone had gathered in her room except her chote.
“I am not feeling well..!” she said with efforts. The last night drama had taken toll on her and she was running high fever. Laxmi was sitting on her bed looking at everyone. They tried to shoo her away in vain. She was not ready to leave Nani.
“I.. I will call the doctor..!” Aakash dialled the number.
“Where is bhai?” he asked and Nani closed her eyes.
“Arnav bhaiyya, went out somewhere early morning..!” Ram Prakash said holding a tray of tea cups.
“Hello hi bye bye! Call him, Aakash Bitwa..!” Mami sat on Nani’s bed pressing her knees.
“No! Please don’t call him.. he must have gone out for some work..!” Nani said opening her eyes. Everyone looked at each other. Aakash talked to the doctor.
“He is coming in fifteen minutes..!” he said. Mamaji helped nani to sit up. Mami gave her tea. Laxmi too got up seeing nani sitting up.
“She should take rest... “ The doctor prescribed the medicine and went away.
“Aray.. where is Khushi?” Now Anjali had looked around. Sham folded his hands on his chest smirking.
“She went home... got a call!” Nani told meekly. “Is it?” Sham couldn’t stop himself from asking. Anjali looked at him surprised. “No.. I mean.. thats right! She went home~!” he covered up.
********* ************ **********
“Aray, Khushi? When did you come?” Amma asked seeing Khushi in the kitchen making another cup of tea for her.
“Just now, Amma... !”Payal answered on her behelf. “Chal Khushi..!” Payal pulled her. “I will get your tea!” She said. Khushi smiled faintly and went into Babuji’s room. She came back after some time and said..
“Jiji, Laddu Bananay hain!” her jiji was surprised. “Laddu?” she asked.
“Bhog Chadhanaa Hain! I have to take them to Mandir!” Khushi said.
“Ok!” said Payal looking at her intently. “I will go have bath..!” Khushi said. When she came out, She was wearing her dupatta tightly around her neck hiding the dark marks and a full sleeves dress. Payal looked at her and said.. “Chalo I will help you!” They engrossed themselves in making Laddus.
Khushi and Payal were in Mandir, sitting on floor gazing at the idol. Payal couldn’t stop her tears. Khushi told her briefly about the night’s incidence.
“Khushi...!” she held her hand tightly breaking down. “Jiji...!” Khushi wiped her tears. Payal recollected herself.
“Why didn’t you slap him?” she asked knowing Khushi’s reflexive behaviour. “I couldn’t!” she said and Payal fell silent. Khushi sat wrapping her arms around her knees.
“Rakshas Hain woh... He is a Monster... He could have killed you, Khushi!” Payal’s rage saw no boundary. “I will go and ask him....! He had no right..!” Payal got up with a jerk.
“No!” Khushi pulled her back looking at her Devi Mayya.
“What?” Payal asked shocked. Khushi stared unfocused and spoke.
“Jiji, you remember, our neighbour? Neeraja chichi? And her son Anuj?” Khushi asked holding Payal’s hand not letting her go away from her.
“Haan... what about them?” Payal asked bewildered. “You know, how worried chichi was about Anuj?” she asked again. “Haan!” Payal agreed. “I know, he used to do anything in a fit of rage! “ Payal said shuddering with the memory.
“And once he had thrown away everything from the house..!” Payal added. The shattered room of Arnav and his wounded wrist flashed before Khushi. She continued.
“Do you remember? Once babuji had brought that old Hoquiam Chacha when Anuj had gone out of control?” she asked.
“Haan!” said payal. “You know? That hakim Chacha was like an angel to Neeraja Chachi...!” Khushi and Payal both went back to their house in Lucknow and her neighbour Neeraja.
The haquiam looked at Anuj, who was sitting in the corner and was crying hard in repentance. he said... “What if your son had a high fever and was ailing..?” Neeraja looked up and said.. I will do anything for him... “Usaki seva karungi.. I will take him to the doctor..I will do anything ...!”
Haquiam chacha smiled and said... your son is not a brat or bad... your son is sick! Treat him like an ill person who needs love and care...! he is not bad, Beti... yeh bachha tumhari bahut kadra karataa hain... he cares for you, he loves you, Beti! Only thing is he is not well. He is little sick... !” Haquaim Chacha had kept his hand on her head and said
“He is not mad or bad.. he is sick. Treat him as sick person.. give him your love and care.. That is his medicine...and not bashing... he will be alright soon!” Neeraja had tears in her eyes. She knew why was Anuj behaving like that after his father had left them both.
“Woh beemar Hai Jiji...! he needs help!” Khushi said in a bear whisper and Payal looked at Khushi. Her eyes filled with tears... “Khushi... that’s why babuji has so much faith in you! How can you think like this?” Payal hugged her younger sister, admiring her.
“Humm Jiji.. I can think like this, because I am mad! This madness gives me this weird thinking...!” Khushi grinned to Payal’s relief..
“Haan So toh Hain...Pagal Toh Tum Ho!” Payal said grinning back.
“Chalo Khushi..!” She said getting up. Pandit ji had come with empty Laddu Container. Payal took it and turned to leave. Khushi went to her Devi Mayya again.
“Hope Nani ji and Arnav ji are alright!” she murmured.
“You are still thinking about them? What kind of bond is this, Khushi?” Payal asked shocked. Khushi looked lost.
“I don’t know, Jiji.. What is it called! But I can’t stop thinking about him...!” Khushi said to Payal’s bewilderment. “Probably.. I am the only person who has seen his best and his worst...! I have seen him risking his life to rescue me in the riots... I was the one to see him saving me from getting kidnapped or raped... I was the one who knows that he paid all our hospital bills.. I was the one who has seen him helping Regi sir... “
“I have seen him punishing the wrong doer, I have seen him ruthlessly killing his competition by his business prudence, I have seen him yelling at people around him...And I am the one, who he bashed like anything... insulted, humiliated, manhandled...! As if I am his punching bag..! I am the one he hated the most..!! ” Khushi said holding her Jiji’s hand.
“What is it, Khushi? Love?” Payal asked aghast. Khushi looked startled. She gaped at Payal..
“I don’t know, what it is...May be our love to hate each other?” she asked faintly smiling.
“Chalo jiji, we are getting late...!” Khushi said descending the stairs.
“Are you... are you planning to go back to Raizada house?” Payal looked at Khushi’s descending figure. Khushi turned.
“No Jiji.. I will never go there again or meet him.. They don’t need me ...!” Khushi said turning and waiting for Payal to catch up with her.
“Have you forgiven him?” Payal asked looking at Khushi’s dark marks on the neck.
“No! Who am I to forgive him, Jiji? He should forgive himself...! I don’t have a solution...!!” Khushi again remembered his shattered room and shuddered.
“You are the saviour, Khushi, you will endure to save someone!” she said kissing her head affectionately.
“No jiji, I am a bad omen...!” Khushi said looking lost. “Had i not stayed over, had i not asked the question... this wouldn’t have happened...he wouldn’t have gone out of control... Nani wouldn’t have suffered so much...! “ Khushi said sadly.
“No, Khushi... you are not a bad omen... you are the purest of the pure hearts! You are an angel...!” Payal broke down again anguished at Khushi’s suffering.
“Chalo Jiji.. let us plan for those extra hours I will be getting from tomorrow...! I don’t have to go to that house in the morning now!!” Khushi smiled and descended holding Payal’s hand like a child.