Two Months Later
Anjali Mathur nee Singh Raizada sat across from her, her hands folded demurely in her lap, contemplating a way to begin their conversation. Khushi observed from afar; curious and apprehensive. Very little had changed since the last time they had met. Anjali remained just as beautiful and as elegant as afore. Aubergine cotton cloth fell to the ground in well crafted pleats, bleeding into a wide khaki coloured border. Trace amounts of vermillion disappeared into hair that was pulled away from her face in a high ponytail. Coupled with the beads of the black and gold resting proudly upon the column of her neck, they avowed her marital status to the world.
A sense of insecurity befell Khushi.
This woman embodied all that she did not. Tradition, culture and heritage were ingrained deep with her moral fibre and sense of self. It was this idea of identity and anchor to ones ancestry that Khushi had yearned to know and embody but had so cruelly been denied. Yet, through all the traditional garb, the familial connection was undeniable. Anjali like Arnav possessed the quiet magnetism that came with an awareness of self; peacocks walking among pheasants.
Blinking rapidly, Khushi cleared her throat. "You're a hard woman to catch."
Relief washed across Anjali's features, thankfully saved from beginning the exchange. "I'm sorry about that. I live in New York...with a husband and child it's hard to travel a lot."
The examination room was silent once again.
"I can imagine." Khushi tried to sympathise, though such a reality was beyond the scope of her imaginings. "So...I'm not sure that you know but... I'm Arnav's girlfriend." She cringed inwardly at the delivery. Mother India most likely didn't even understand the term girlfriend. Waiting to be judged by the paragon of Indian virtue, Khushi held her breath.
Surprisingly, her reaction was an unexpected one. For the first time, a genuine smile graced her features and like her brother, the full force of Anjali's charm was breath taking. "Oh don't I know it. It's all I hear about. Khushi this and Khushi that..." she giggled childishly. A few shades redder than before, Khushi failed to hide her own shy smile. "Sorry...I probably embarrassed you." Siphoning through her hand bag she pulled out her phone. On it, was displayed a picture of Khushi and Arnav dancing on their first date. Smiling broadly Anjali confessed... "He sent me this after I begged to know what you looked like. How was I supposed to know I had already met you. Do you remember I asked you for directions to Dr. Parker's office that day? God works in funny ways na? You know if Chote knew that I was showing you this photo, he would probably kill me."
Anjali's face fell as her eyes widened. "Hey bhagwaan..." she exclaimed, slapping her forehead lightly. "Please don't tell him I referred to him like that in front of you. Me and my big mouth...sometimes I just get carried away."
Khushi assured Anjali, her mind plotting and eyes sparkling with mischief. "It's ok. I won't tell him...not yet anyway."
She was rewarded with another impish smile...."When we all meet 'officially' feel free to tease him as much as you like. I'll join in."
They beamed at one another, momentarily forgetting the purpose of their meeting. In that moment an understanding transpired between the two, transcending the disquiet of their circumstance. Understanding that was secure in its foundation...their love for the man that was Arnav Singh Raizada.
"Well that's a good a segway as any....you do know why you're here don't you?" Khushi prodded.
Any previous joy that had briefly lit up her features fell away; her face ashen.
Years of professional experience helped Khushi to manage the delicate situation. As if on autopilot Dr. Gupta took charge."Matt referred your case to me. To be fair to him he was unaware of the relationship between your brother and I and in all honestly I didn't get the chance to study the file properly but I do know a few things. You need to be admitted Anjali...I know that you aren't exhibiting many of the signs or symptoms now but in a couple of years...." She trailed off sighing. "I don't need to tell you. You know it better than I do. We need to get you on that transplant list. The sooner you are on it the better chance you have."
"It's complicated Khushi." she said wistfully.
"We can work through it. There are hundred of options. The time for worrying about your privacy and career are long gone."
"I know." she conceded quietly.
Khushi scrutinised her, sensing that something was a miss. "What is it that's really bothering you? You're an intelligent woman, a wife....a mother. I don't buy for a second that the only thing you are concerned about is your career. At least not at the cost of being there for your child and family. What's holding you back?"
Anjali fisted her hands in her lap and closed her eyes tight. A single teardrop succeeded in its quest for freedom, free falling from her closed lids, its perfectly formed exterior splashing upon the fabric of her saree. Sometime later, when she finally opened her eyes, the vulnerability that had momentarily taken her hostage was no where to be found. Instead the glassy orbs were vacant...chillingly composed.
"Are you afraid...to tell them? Is that what's holding you back?" Khushi asked
Anjali stared at the ground, fisting her palla, repeatedly telling herself that everything would be alright. That Devi Maa would solve all their problems. Looking up at Khushi, she gulped, struggling to find the words to articulate her despair.
"They'll understand. They love you...You'll feel better if you share the burden." Offering words of consolation she slid the box of tissues toward her.
Contemplative silence cast its shadow upon the women. Anjali finally spoke, this time with bitter longing. "Will it?" she clarified. "Feel better? To tell the person you love that you're dying...will that make me feel better? Will it serve to lighten my burden or just make it heavier?" She wiped at her face roughly, leaving streaks of mascara fanning out from her eyes. "Maybe they will understand...but will they ever treat me the same? One confession could change the entire dynamic of my life...of my relationships. They would tip toe around me, whisper behind my back...I would loose the right to worry about them because they wouldn't let me. My suffering would be nothing compared to the pain that my one confession...." she breathed deeply, sniffing. "And what if...just what if, they decided they couldn't watch me suffer? They couldn't go on that journey with me? What if...they left me all alone again? What if the one person I fell in love with abandoned me even if I knew it was the right thing for them? Could I be so selfish to beg them not to go?"
Khushi felt numb...drained There was nothing she could do or say that would go any way to allaying her concerns. Clenching her teeth, she blinked away her own tears. This moment was about Anajli's grief...not her own insecurities. Quietly she offered advice from her own experiences...
"They deserve the truth Anjali...you just have to pray you have it in you to bear the consequences. Have faith, more often than not people surprise you."
Anjali was caught off guard by the candour of her answer. Nodding slowly, she repeated..."They deserve the truth."
"They deserve the truth." Khushi affirmed once more.
Smiling, Anjali leaned forward and cupped her cheek. "He loves you....you know. I can see it in his eyes." Hesitating for a second she asked..."Do you...love him?"
The younger woman looked away shyly, unaccustomed and reluctant to share her feelings. Anjali maybe Arnav’s sister but they barely knew one another.
“I’m sorry…I over stepped. It’s none of my business.” Anjali back tracked perceiving her discomfort.
As it had done at the beginning of their time together, silence took them prisoner. With out warning Khushi began to speak in a hushed whisper, as if afraid of her own confession.
"I...I think I'm falling for him. It's hard for me to accept but... I think I am. All I know is that once he has my heart there's no going back. It's his forever. There could never be anyone else. So...I have to be sure."
Anjali sighed, standing up. It was time to leave.
"I know we've only just met and that it's alot to ask but...one day when you’re ready I would love for you to call me Di.”
"I....I can't take your case." she stammered, blindsided by the request.
Understanding, Anjali reassured her. "It's for the best." With an expression so tender, it made Khushi feel as though she was a child again, Anjali swiped her kajal and dotted her behind the ear. "Kissi ki nazar na lag jaye." With that, she turned to leave.
Khushi called out to her. "I didn't understand...what you just said...I didn't understand it."
"I prayed that no evil eye should cast it's shadow upon you."
It was sometime before Khushi realised she was standing alone in the room. In that one blessing, Anjali had bequeathed her the lifetime of love her mother wasn't given a chance to. Collapsing in to the chair behind her, she hid her face in her hands and began to sob.
Patience is a virtue.
If only somebody had told Arnav Singh Raizada.
"Would you settle down?" Anjali begged her younger brother. Arnav shot her a look of annoyance and continued to shake his leg nervously, his fingers drumming on the arms rests of his chair. Anjali held his hand. "It's going to be alright...just breathe."
"He's late. I hate people who are late."
"He's doing us a favour so shut up." Anjali quipped back.
Arnav stood up and started pacing, running his hands through his hair. As a last ditch attempt to try and shift his focus Anjali slyly asked...
"You never asked me you know."
"My meeting with Khushi."
Arnav stopped mid step. His face fell..."I'd rather not know to be honest."
"Oh I'm not talking about the details...I'm just...you don't want to know what I thought of her?" Anjali tried to bite back her smile as Arnav took the the bait.
He stared at her for the longest time before snapping. "So?"
"What do you think of her?"
"She's seems cold..."
"What! No she's not...it just takes time to know her. Not everyone can be all Disney like you. You probably smothered her and that's why she...."
Arnav trailed off as he realised his sister was teasing him. He rolled his eyes. Laughing she continued...
"Accha baba...what do you want to know? I think she's reserved and not the type to show her love easily but whenever she talks about you this dreamy look clouds over her."
"Really?" Arnav asked grinning and sitting back down again.
Anjali pulled his nose and giggled. "Yes...just like the one you've got now budhoo. But she's also fragile."
Arnav answered quietly..."I know. I wish I didn't....but I know."
"She deserves the truth."
"But what if..."
"She deserves the truth." Anjali restated with more resolve. Arnav sighed deeply...
"Mr Raizada, Anjali... I apologise for being late...I had an emergent case." Matt Parker invited them in to his private study.
"Not at all Dr. Parker, we're thankful that you've accommodated us in your home. Aren't we?" Anjali nudged Arnav like a child, imploring him to co-operate.
He managed a fake smile.
"Look Mr. Raizada, I'm going to be upfront with you. You are now at a stage where we have to get you admitted. I have been willing to go along with your charade because your sister and I have had a close friendship and I have understood your need to protect your company. But now...your condition is worsening. If we don't get you on that transplant list..."
"I hardly have any symptoms." Arnav interrupted stubbornly.
"I guarantee you that you will. If not now then in a few months the occasional shortness of breath you are experiencing will exacerbate. Not to mention the plethora of other things you will have to deal with. Once an official diagnosis of congestive heart failure has been given, then the survival rate of patients after 5 years is 50 %. This is a time sensitive matter. The fact that you have diabetes only compounds your problems...I shouldn't have to say this to you. You know and fully understand all of this."
"I'm not dying right now..."
Matt struggled with the urge to punch him in the face. "Yes you are! Every second your heart is dying just a little bit more. I'm not talking about admitting you on a permanent basis. It's just for a week while we run all the tests required by the hospital. Full time hospital care only begins toward the end stages of the disease. A place I am hoping we don't have to get to. What excuse are you going to give me this time Mr. Raizada? Because you are running out of them."
Arnav covered his mouth and nodded. "Give me another month or so. I need finish up everything I'm working on and start to initiate the change in management. I'm going to hand over the company to my brother and law and sister. That way when the news breaks, hopefully AR's stocks won't take such a big dive."
Matt sat back in his chair, relieved. He finally had a timeline to work with. "It's not my place...but Khushi's going to find out. She's had enough things go wrong in her life. She deserves at least to be told from you."
"I'm not sure I'm brave enough to tell her."
"You'll have to find a way." Matt had been in two minds about the situation for a while now. He could see that Arnav loved Khushi but his love was selfish. There was no guarantee Arnav would get a heart. Patients died waiting for a heart all the time. Still love never asked permission...it just happened. What was unfair was that it had to happen to Khushi....of all people. It was times like these he really questioned god's existence.
Arnav looked at the two people in the room, his face forlorn. "I really am dying...aren't I?"
That was a hard chapter to write. I know there were no Arshi scenes but it was important. I hope that answered a lot of your questions. I have a few things to say regarding some of your comments. Please don't beg me not to hurt Arnav, or Khushi or to make it a happy ending. I would request that you simply enjoy the journey considering that I have promised you an alternate happy ending.
I know you will all hate me for doing this to Arnav but read the title of the story. I did also say at the beginning that things were not as they seemed.
I am also trying to refrain from answering everybody's questions because I don't want to give the story away.
Also there is still a lot of Arshi romance to come so don't fret on that account. As for ending this story in a week or so. I think that may have been ambitious. But I have decided that I will be only updating HAM till it is finished. I am on a role and I want to exploit it.
I CAN NOT thank you enough for all the wonderful comments you guys are leaving me. It is SUCH a motivator. See....I'm giving updates so often now. Infact it has been pretty hard to keep up with the pace you guys are commenting at. Keep it up! I am humbled beyond words.
With all the love in the world