2 years later
Delhi’s warm drizzle peppered an exhausted visage as Arnav dropped his head against the aging SUV.
Slipping an icy hand into the pocket of wool trousers, his fingers brushed against a cigarette. Running a callused thumb along the rounded tips absently, bleary eyes tracked a plane’s descent. He’d given them up over a year ago. Quit cold turkey when he realized each inhale only fueled a mounting agitation towards his surroundings. Yet, he hadn’t put an end to the habit of carrying them. The scent of unlit tobacco was reassuringly familiar.
Sentimental. Foolish. Both words he would never have associated with himself.
It was spreading. An incurable malignancy overtaking a weakened body, it tunneled through every vulnerable crevice until it paved ways to actions that would have been foreign to the Arnav Singh Raizada, Before Her.
Tonight was another case of such involuntary actions. Instead of going home after a punishing sixteen hours of negotiations, he had driven to the dirty parking lot of the congested terminal of Indira Gandhi. In the vain hopes that one of the planes descending from the darkened sky was carrying precious cargo; a passenger that may never return, a woman so rooted in the core of his depth that her removal from his life had made the world come to a standstill.
A streak of time had flown by.
Twenty six months, five days, eighteen hours and a handful of goddamn minutes.
As they faded into a blur, he had reconciled to a default mode of living. Dull and inanimate. Colorless and bleak. His life, before and after her.
What reason did you give her to stay? His mind sneered.
The acknowledgement wasn’t nearly as castrating as he’d imagined it would be.
She’d taken the flight right after his own, landed mere hours after he had. Yet, she hadn’t come to him. She’d disappeared on the streets of London.
How the hell had she managed to slip onto a private plane? Where was she now? Who was she with? When was she coming back?
The unanswered questions gnawed at him.
That she would forever withhold herself from him was unpalatable.
Not his Khushi. Not if she realized that the heart she accused him of not having was untrue. In her absence it had writhed in screaming agony. It needed her to survive, her sunshine to grow again.
As the roar of engines announced the impending departure of another flight, his phone pinged with an incoming message.
With trepidation he swiped across the alert notification.
For a brief moment anger detonated in vicious red within him as his eyes scanned Aman’s crisp message.
“Apologies, sir. She was not listed on any domestic or international flight tonight.”
Minutes ticked by mercilessly as he stood motionless, allowing his mind to absorb the daily blow to sanity.
He deserved this, Arnav reminded himself. He had placed his trust in the wrong person.
The rush of memory assaulted him; his sister’s tear stained face, his grandmother’s brokenness, the haunting hollowness of their home. But nothing was worse than Shashi’s silent accusation, the mute blame within those sharp eyes.
He had soaked up every bit of their animosity for they were reminders of her. That she existed, even if she’d ceased to orbit his world.
But the mind was not so different from clay; malleable and twisted by the force of will. With a vehement mental shake, Arnav shoved past the all too familiar despondency. He deleted the offending message before his thumb moved to press down on the first digital speed dial.
Stomach cramping from nerves, he waited, head bent. A silent plea that just this once she would…
“Hello! Jiji do you think this thing is recording? Hello?”
A nervous giggle that made his body taut with tension, coiling further as her breathy voice filled his ears.
“You’ve reached Khushi… Raizada.”
He hated that hesitation. Hated how unsure she was because he was a fucking idiot.
Once she’d begged now he would give anything for the opportunity. To be on his knees before her.
Come back and I’ll make sure you never doubt your place in my life.
“Sorry I missed you! Leave a name and message and I promise to return the call.”
Exhaling on a rough breath, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. Around him people scurried by, avoiding the increasing onslaught of surging gray. He stood still, wishing the heavy drips would drench his thoughts as thoroughly as it soaked his clothes.
For a few moments each day, his existence narrowed to this minute connection.
Another man would have admitted defeat. But if nothing else, a successful businessman understood the value of patience. As long as that cell phone kept ringing, there was hope. That blinding light at the end of his dark tunnel had latched onto the center of his being, tugged him in a forward direction as it taunted and enchanted him from afar. Often lingering in the space between his waking hours, hope was electrifying in her beguile.
Someday one of those planes would bring her back. When she felt he had suffered enough, had paid his penance in full, his Khushi would be merciful.
It kept him going.
He refused to go back to his old impossible self. Or something worst, a creature hewn of despair and death.
He didn’t smoke. He no longer drank. He sure as fuck didn’t date.
He worked. He cared for their family. He waited.
He lived in an imagined boundary.
A life muted into suspension.
Until someday arrives.