The last of the guests walked out of the elaborate Sheesh Mahal lawns, and the tired hosts trudged back to their rooms. Tomorrow morning was another lot of ceremonies to be performed for Akash.
Arnav, his lip throbbing, was in no mood for making conversation with anyone right now, least of all ‘whining or maybe even drunk’ Lavanya. Wanting to be alone with his thoughts, he sauntered towards the bar of the hotel, hoping to grab a quiet drink while he eased some of the tension that had been a constant companion throughout the evening.
Leaning against the dimly-lit bar counter, he reached out for the whisky, enjoying the quiet solitude of the night. As he gulped down the first one in a single shot, he welcomed the burning feel down this throat, and beckoned the bartender for another.
It was after he had gulped down two of those neat single malts, that Arnav noticed he was not alone in the room. At the other end of the bar counter, he was taken aback to see ‘Romeo’ gulping down similar single malts and muttering to himself. Resisting an urge to go and return the punch, Arnav saw that he kept continuously looking at his Blackberry every few minutes. What was up with him? Arnav wondered, and where the hell had he ditched Khushi. Was she wandering around the place again while her lover downed whiskeys in the bar! “You really have to stop thinking of her all the time, man”, Arnav spoke to himself, the whiskey lulling his senses a bit.
He must have spoken aloud, because Aman looked up towards him from the other end of the counter. As their eyes met, a visibly high Aman, raised his glass at Arnav, in a toast. With a curt nod at him, Arnav downed his third one for the night. This time his glass was filled automatically, without his asking for another.
It must have been what they call ‘Dutch courage’ but the fourth glass had Arnav walking across to his bar companion, ready to get some answers.
“Women”, he head Romeo mutter incoherently, staring again at his Blackberry.
“So, where’s your girlfriend” Arnav asked boorishly.
“That’s precisely what I have been trying to find out for the past 4 hours… no past 2 weeks”, Aman, all but slurred. “Is proposing to someone such a wrong thing to do?” he asked sadly.
“What the…” Arnav sat on the stool beside him with a thud. So he had heard right at the gazebo, there was a proposal happening in that romantic setting. Arnav felt his hands beginning to tighten around the glass again, but stalled the impulse to break something. Khushi had once said, that he could only break things in anger, he recalled with a sudden silly smile on his stern face.
“Hey, you smile too?” Aman looked at him in wonder, asking for another drink. “I thought your facial muscles had frozen into that perpetual scowl … that happens, you know … if you keep scowling, your face becomes like that. Mum always said that to me,” he finished contemplatively. “Oh, and sorry about that, dude,” he pointed, glass in hand at Arnav’s lip… “but you got what you deserved, eh?” he chuckled.
“So you proposed, and she is not happy with that,” Arnav probed, ignoring the jibe about the smile or the lip. Why was there a cold block seeping around his heart?
“Yup”, Aman quipped, “I did the honorable thing and proposed after our ‘romp-in-the-sack’ u could say”. “And what do I get… “SILENCE and the complete silent treatment.”
“WHAT THE ... ROMP-IN-THE-SACK”!!!!!! Arnav felt the blood rushing into his brain, and his world falling apart. This couldn’t be happening to him. Romeo, was continuing his rambling, and some of the words were dimly registering in Arnav’s ready-to-detonate brain.
“Oh, I’m Aman, by the way … Aman Malhotra”, Romeo reached out to give a weak handshake. “Arnav Singh Raizada”, Arnav rasped, his mind still dealing with the storm beginning to brew there. “Khushi and I completed school together, and were neighbours too, while my dad was posted here,” Aman qualified. “Grew up practically in each others homes, and all.”
“SHE SLEPT WITH YOU?” Arnav snarled, ignoring all social niceties. “And she speaks of morals and scruples!”
“Hey,” Aman gave a warning growl, “I slept with her, okay … and you better watch it pal, I have been a school level boxer, as you may recall”. Then he let out another wail the next instant, “So, I proposed like a gentleman, the next morning, man … I tell you… WOMEN!” “And now she is not speaking to me…”
“Not speaking to him??” Arnav thought angrily, “She was practically smothering him all evening, and he feels she is not speaking to him!!!
And why am I getting all worked up with Kushi Kumari Gupta’s love life. I did not want anything to do with her, in any case. They both could go to hell, as far as I am concerned”, he gulped down his whiskey, which was promptly refilled silently.
So why was there a black cloud somewhere in his chest? Why was he feeling as if the earth had caved beneath him? Why did he want to curl up and shed tears? Why was he not loosing his temper and breaking things instead? Why did he feel as if his breathing had stopped … he faintly remembered Di telling him that this would happen to him one day. “And I didn’t listen to her,” he whispered in wonder.
“You having ‘women’ issues too it seems, my friend.” Aman responded to Arnav’s whisper. “Guess, we need to drink to that now”, he said, beckoning the waiter to fill their glasses. “Lets toast the women in our lives, or should I say, the lack of women in our lives. And hope that we can figure them out, as well as we figure out our corporate deals, eh?” Aman raised his refilled glass in a silent toast clinking it with the one in Arnav’s injured hand.
Arnav gulped his drink down, letting his anguish engulf him. Glimpses of the moments spent with Khushi floated in front of him – the first time he met her here, the day she banged her scooter into his SUV, saving her in the guest house, breaking her fast on Teej, peeping out at him from his wardrobe, brushing his lips in the alcove – she flitted in his thoughts like a sprite who he could not grasp.
The glasses were refilled once again…
The suns rays, attacked his eyes as if he was under a police scanner. And what was that thundering in his head… Who the hell had put the music on so loud?? And would someone draw the bloody curtains, so that his eyes would stop hurting!
A pained groan beside him, made Arnav sit up in his bed, holding his head as a severe ache shot up his temples. “What the hell was going on here…”
He turned slowly, so as not to cause his bursting head more harm, towards the noise and saw Aman Malhotra holding his head and groaning on the bed beside him!!
“Ahem”! he turned slowly now towards the door, where he saw an angry Di standing with a tray of lemon juice and some pills.
“That had got to be the most irresponsible thing you have done till now, Chote!” she said trying to keep her temper in check. “You are well aware that we have the haldi ceremony of Akash in a short wile, and you are busy sleeping in, with not a care in the world”.
Di’s voice was like sandpaper on the two men holding their heads, sitting up in the bed. And too add to their woes, Aman’s mobile rang almost immediately.
“Khushi”, Aman groaned, seeing the caller id. Arnav stiffened as he watched Aman take the call sheepishly. They both squeezed their eyes shut, as Aman held the phone away from his ear and a livid Khushi could be heard scolding him for disappearing, and not coming home. Each ‘hum’ and ‘ji’ which earlier irritated Arnav, was now cutting fresh wounds on his already aching heart.
“She’s mental, man”… Aman whispered, as they shared pained looks over Khushi’s tirade coming clearly through the phone.
“Ahem”… came another pointed reminder from the door, and Arnav all but shouted at every one to GET OUT and leave him alone. (more in character, no guys?)
“Chote? … the ceremony”??? Anjali Di walked over and handed them the nimboo pani and some pills each.
“I’ll be there in half an hour, Kay”, Aman was pleading on the phone, trying desperately to get Khushi to cut the line.
KAY!!! Arnav groaned and fell back on the bed… What the hell was happening here? Why was that girl’s lover in my bed! And what the hell was KAY????
Oh for god’s sake! ... Arnav, gulped the pills and stormed out of bed, ignoring the nausea that rose as he stood up suddenly.
“I need a cab … er … Anjaliji” he heard Aman ask hesitatingly. “And I don’t recall clearing my bar tab last night either”… he all but groaned. His own voice was also too loud and jarring this morning.
“Don’t worry about it,” Arnav ground out, through gritted teeth. “I think you are needed somewhere else”, he looked pointedly at the beeping phone in Aman’s hand.
He watched in haze of pain as Aman and Di walk out of his room and wondered if the pain in his head was more or the one in his heart.