Khushi clasped her arms around her bent knees as she sat still, trying to stem the tears relentlessly streaming down her face, by sheer force of will.
The dull gnawing pain in her heart refused to go away.
The gentle breeze rustled through the leaves of her husband’s beloved plants, brushing a soothing caress across her cheek. The sunlight glimmered on the untroubled blue waters of the small decorative pool in front of her.
The water isn’t really blue, Khushi, his voice echoed in her head, water is colourless and in this case it reflects the blue of the tiles that line the base of this pool.
This little scientific fact oddly seemed to comfort her more than her beautiful surroundings. You knew where you were with science. Science was solid and dependable. Much like him. Her ever practical and stoic husband. Without a romantic bone in his body.
Khushi sighed as she stood up. She should really try to be more like him. She had enough things to do without sitting around mooning and crying over fiction.
Wiping her tears away, she re-entered their bedroom. A quick swipe of kajal to hide the puffiness of her eyes, another coat of gloss and a glass of water later, she was good to go.
She walked out of the room, softly shutting the door behind her as she went downstairs to prepare dinner.
A pair of molten brown eyes watched her careful descent down the stairs and toward the kitchen, before the owner of those eyes retreated to his favourite haunt– the same half-terrace.
With a sigh he picked up the book that his wife had dropped and opened it to the page she’d bookmarked.
“I know,” he said, breaking our embrace. “Inshallah, we’ll celebrate later. Right now, I’m going to run that blue kite for you,” he said. He dropped the spool and took off running, the hem of his green chapan dragging in the snow behind him. “Hassan!” I called. “Come back with it!” He was already turning the street corner, his rubber boots kicking up snow. He stopped, turned. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “For you a thousand times over!” he said. Then he smiled his Hassan smile and disappeared around the corner. The next time I saw him smile unabashedly like that was twenty-six years later, in a faded Polaroid photograph.
The words on the page jumped out at him. A little smile quirked at the corners of his mouth. Khaled Hosseini. So this is what his romantic of a wife had been silently shedding tears over. Almost immediately his smile disappeared. The memory of those heart breaking tears rolling down her cheeks while she breathed deeply and attempted to reign in her emotions left him feeling helpless, with a strange ache in his chest. He wished he was more like her– able to vocalize his feelings. He had wanted to step out and comfort her but he didn’t know how to. And so he’d stayed silent.
Arnav exhaled, closing his eyes in frustration.
He had always been thus– bottled up, reclusive, reticent. There were a lot of words in the same vein that could be used to describe him. And this was precisely why he hadn’t wanted to get married at all. And he wouldn’t have, had it not been for his Di’s incessant emotional blackmail.
Arnav Singh Raizada may have been a successful lawyer, but he didn’t do emotions. And he had been worried that he would never be able to love a wife the way she deserved to be loved.
And when he married Khushi– the girl his sister had chosen for him, he found his worst fears coming true– in a completely unexpected manner. He didn’t have to worry about not loving Khushi. It was impossible NOT to love her. Loving her was as easy and came as naturally as breathing. It was expressing that love that was the problem. In his heart he knew that a woman like Khushi would want words of love and reassurance from her husband. And she deserved no less. After all, she had given herself to him heart, soul and body. But he didn’t know how to tell her that he loved her. What she had come to mean to him in just four months.
He should be able to sweep his wife off her feet and walk off in to the sunset with her– but he couldn’t, the very thought filled him with an awkwardness and a feeling of inadequacy. Heck! He couldn’t even hug her and tell her that everything was going to be alright when she sat crying over a book!
He would have to do something about it.
Khushi softly hummed to herself as she stirred the dal, while expertly rolling out rotis on the side. Saturdays and Sundays were the only days she had the luxury of cooking for her husband, and she enjoyed doing it. Her job as a high school history teacher really didn’t leave a lot of room for leisure.
She smiled. The man was the most contrary one she’d ever met. And just her luck that she’d ended up married to him.
Khushi had admired him right from their first meeting– his calm, self-assured air, his quiet intelligence, his no-nonsense practicality, his reputation as an enormously successful corporate lawyer, his obvious good looks, and most of all, his kind eyes. Eyes that crinkled delightfully when he flashed her one of his rare smiles.
And her heart beat just a little faster every time he smiled at her.
Khushi Singh Raizada was hopelessly and irrevocably in love with her husband. With the way he thoughtfully lowered the lights so that she could go to sleep while he sat up late, working. With the way he never forgot to tell her what time he’d return. With the way he randomly bought books and trinkets for her and shrugged it off when she thanked him. With the way he made her feel when he made love to her. With his quiet and reticent nature. With his cologne. With his plants. She loved everything about him. Most of all, she loved the way, he made her feel cherished without resorting to grand declarations of love and promises of the moon.
It was after she’d cleared away the dining table, put the left overs in the refrigerator, washed, dried and put away the dishes and given the kitchen counters a final wipe-over, that she finally went upstairs to their bedroom.
Looking around for her husband, she was surprised to find him missing. He’d come upstairs a while ago. Something drew her gaze to the French windows that led to their little half-terrace and pool. It seemed to glow with a golden light in the darkness. Stepping outside, she gasped in delight.
Clusters of assorted candles lit up each and every corner of the terrace. She recognized the candles. Some were the silly, decorative kind that people gave as gifts that were invariably never used. Some were the practical, thick white ones that she kept for emergencies. Some were tea-lights left over from last Diwali. She could even see the slightly wonky, colourful ones that she’d laughingly made one weekend with one of those ready-made candle-making kits. Someone had painstakingly raided the entire house for every single candle that it held and it had resulted in these deliciously inconsistent flickering clusters of candle light that transformed the terrace into an enchanting exhibition of light and shadow. Chiaroscuro, the history teacher in her whispered. The woman in her dismissed the history teacher. The Romans had never had anything nearly as wonderful as this. She knew exactly who was responsible for this. The question was why?
Almost on cue, he stepped out onto the terrace beside her, his hands shoved in to the pockets of his casual linen pants. His expression was as untroubled as ever. His eyes betrayed him. Khushi in these four months had learned to read them well. Now they reflected all the uncertainty and hesitation he felt.
Khushi smiled brightly at him. “Thank you. This is beautiful. But why?”
Arnav shifted uncomfortably. He cleared his throat. She waited patiently. He finally spoke. “You seemed… upset in the afternoon… and I’m not very good with words… you love Diwali.”
This remark might have seemed cryptic to most, but Khushi understood it perfectly.
Her smile wobbled and the traitorous tears pooled in her eyes again.
This man who could make or break the fate of multi-million dollar enterprises, but couldn’t say the words that he thought his wife wanted to hear, had spent hours looking for all the candles in the house and then lighting them all only because his wife had shed a few tears over a book in the afternoon and he had thought that it would cheer her up.
Foolish foolish man.
Didn’t he know that he didn’t have to do all this? That she knew what he wanted to say?
Her tears seemed to unsettle him more. He ran a hand through his hair, tousling it. “Khushi, I didn’t mean to upset you! I’ll… I’ll blow them out if they bother you.”
At that Khushi giggled although the tears continued pouring down her face. With a bound she ran toward him and hugged him tight. After taking a moment to recover from the shock, he wrapped his arms around her, gently stroking her back. He wasn’t entirely sure about what was going through his wife’s head but he would wager a guess that she had indeed liked what he’d done for her. The ache in his chest had mysteriously vanished.
Khushi finally leaned back a little and gently kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Arnav. But you didn’t have to.”
Arnav suddenly felt overwhelmed. There was so much he wanted to say to her. So much he wanted to share with her. But like every other time, words just felt inadequate. “Khushi… I… I…”
Khushi silenced him with a soft, lingering kiss on his lips.
“I know. For me a thousand times over. Right?” She twinkled up at him.
The corners of his eyes crinkled and he flashed her that heart-stopping smile.
And then he drew her closer and kissed her– unhurriedly, deeply, lovingly. The way she deserved to be kissed.
Maybe they didn’t need words anyway. Words after all, could never express everything a kiss could.
Saint Valentine’s Day or plain old Valentine’s Day is observed on 14th February every year. It began as an early celebration of the martyrdom of St. Valentine. The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.
It became associated with romantic love during the era of Chaucer (14th century) and grand romantic gestures between lovers first appeared during the 18th century in England when the tradition of courtly-love flourished. Today, it has become a hugely commercialized (and if you ask me, rather overrated) festival that greeting card giants, chocolatiers, confectioners, jewelers and even the friendly neighbourhood flower sellers cash in on.
While I’m not averse to having a ‘Day’ to celebrate love (why not?), I don’t believe that red hearts and expensive wine are imperative to do so (although I’ll never say no to diamonds/chocolate/flowers on any day of the year). Bottom line being ladies, cut your significant other some slack if he isn’t overly fond of chubby cupids. He loves you nonetheless.
* From Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner