The stars were shining extra brightly today, like they knew how much their presence meant to those two people, who were wandering the world, lost, not knowing that their destination was right in front of their eyes, or perhaps pretending to not know.
All day today, Khushi had been running around, doing every chore she could get her hands on. She cleaned every surface of the house, cooked everyone’s favorite dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and had even made a mountain of sweets as offerings for her devi mayya. She wanted to be so busy in her work that her brain wouldn’t have space and time to think. She had to wait till night, to sit and speak with her mother, uninterrupted.
– – – – –
Arnav singh raizada wasn’t as composed a man as everyone thought him to be. If anyone were to look into his mind, they would see the chaotic stream of thoughts and their intensity, would cripple anyone. So ASR’s greatest power wasn’t to be in control of the situation, but was to convince everyone that he was in control, even when he felt like crumbling.
But there were some memories that even he couldn’t handle, they were so painful that every time he remembered them he would feel his breath stop. So he put all these memories in a box and closed the lid on them. He would only allow himself to indulge in these memories, good and bad, one day in a year. His mother’s birthday.
He locked himself in their room and let his thoughts loose, let himself remember all his memories about his mother. The way she smiled, so peacefully, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Her smell, sweet like sugar, and dough, and a slight whiff of jasmine. Her voice, that was as sweet and inviting as a cuckoo’s call. It was a strange feeling, knowing that you would never feel them again, but at the same time not believing that something that was so real to you once, stopped existing without a moment’s notice. This is what scared him, kept him from remembering her more often. With the realization of her not being with him anymore, came the acute pain of losing her.
“Maa, I am scared, will you sing to me?”
“Of course, chotte, but you have nothing to be scared of, I’ll keep the bad guys away” she said, with a sweet smile and sang him to sleep.
– – – – –
“Chotte, come on, have your dinner”
“I am not hungry, maa, I’ll eat later” He was angry that he couldn’t have gulab jamun like Di did.
“Chotte, I am sorry beta. But you know why you can’t eat them, right? I’ll make some of your favorite kheer tomorrow, just for you, we won’t share it with Anjali, what do you say? Our own little secret kheer party? Now, show me that bright smile of yours!”
– – – – –
“Where is my favorite lady in the whole world?” He said with a crooked smile.
“No chotte, you can’t pacify me with your sweet talk today, you went out with your friends without even showing me your face today. You know how much I dislike that”
“Maa, I didn’t go out with my friends. I went to get this!” saying this, he showed her the chocolate cake he had brought as a surprise for his mom.
When he looked up, he saw that his mother had started crying. “Oh, common maa, you already started the waterworks? It’s not even past noon!”
“Chotte! These are happy tears. I love you, beta” She said hugging him.
“I know maa, I love you too. You know, I think they declared today as mother’s day because you were born today!” he said, earning himself a kiss.
“Nice try, chotte, but it’s not always on my birthday and I am still angry with you for leaving the house so early. I was worried about you.”
“Sorry maa, won’t happen again”
– – – – –
His maa was never able to stay angry with him. She always caved if she saw his face drop, even a little. He had used this to his advantage many times. But today, for some reason, he was restless. He felt like his mother was angry with him again. Having a faint idea as to why, he touched his coat pocket and felt the small box hidden there. He had to right a wrong today, make his maa proud of him again.
– – – – –
Khushi settled down on the poolside with a mug of tea, to talk with her amma. It has been a while since she has sat down peacefully and talked to them. After removing the stars from the bedpost, she didn’t have a means to talk to them for long period of time, all she had managed was a quick “Hi” and “I love you” to her parents in the past few days.
She felt at peace, her mind was devoid of all thought, enveloped in the warmth of a mother’s embrace. Her thoughts drifted to the day she had lost that very comfort.
“Where are amma and bauji, massi?” An 8 year old Khushi asked warily. All day today she has been excited, jumping around and driving her massi nuts. Her amma and bauji would be home today. They went to their relatives wedding, but promised Khushi that they would be back, and bring her loads of jalebi’s if she was a good girl. So Khushi had gotten up extra early that day and dressed in her bright yellow frock.
But an hour ago someone had called the house and talked to her massi and ever since then massi hadn’t stopped crying and hugging Khushi. Khushi was scared and sad for her and wanted her amma and bauji to come back, because she knew that once he was home, he would make everything alright.
“Massi, don’t cry, please” Khushi said wiping Garima’s face. “Bauji should be home shortly, he’ll make everything alright. He’s my superman” Khushi said proudly, with the biggest smile on her face.
Garima hugged Khushi to her again and cried for the little girl whose world would be turned upside down in a few minutes. And she hated that she would be the one to break the sweet girl’s dreams.
“Khusi beta, your amma and bauji, they are in heaven now, beta, they are not coming back” she said, hoping that the little girl would understand.
“Heaven? Isn’t that where Devi Mayya lives? Why’d they go there? And if they are not coming back today, how many more days are they staying there?” Khushi asked dejected that she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep in her amma’s arms tonight.
Garima couldn’t help the sob from escaping her throat. “They are not coming beta, they went to heaven forever”
Now Khushi couldn’t help panicking “What do you mean they are not coming, massi? Of course they’ll come for me. They promised me. They said they would come back and they would bring jalebi’s for me, if I was a good girl. Is that why they are not coming massi? Did you tell them that I broke your favorite pot? I promise, I’ll never break anything ever again, please tell them to come back! I miss amma and bauji, I want them back!” Khushi cried. She couldn’t stop the tears flowing down her face, What did massi mean he parents are not coming back? How can they not be back for her? Would she never see them again?
And after crying and crying she fell asleep in her massi arms, hoping that when she woke up she would be in her amma’s arms and this would all be a horrible nightmare.
Khushi cried herself to sleep many nights after, each night going to sleep hoping that she would wake up and find the smiling faces of amma and bauji, telling her that they were just playing a prank on her, that they were never really gone.
As years passed she gave up crying, knowing that it wouldn’t bring them back, but always holding on to the hope that they would walk through the front door and engulf her into a warm hug. Instead of crying, she started talking to the stars instead. She told them everything. She told them what she wore that day, how her day at school had been, how she doubted that the uncleji who sold her bangles was cheating her because she was a kid, how her friend laddoo had eaten all her jalebi’s that day, and what she had for dinner. She wanted them to feel that even though they weren’t in her life anymore, they knew everything there is to know about their daughter.
But on this day, she indulged her tears, let herself feel how much she missed her mother. She accepted that her mother wasn’t here anymore, but also concluded that her physical absence didn’t compare to the immense love her mother had for her.
– – – – –
She felt his presence before she saw him. He came and sat beside her quietly, not wanting to disturb her peace, but knowing that he had to do this now, or he might lose his nerve.
“Khushi, I want you to have this” He said placing a small jewelry box in her hand. And seeing her opening her mouth to protest he said “Please, let me talk first.”
He took a deep breath and said, “I shouldn’t have brought up the topic of your amma and bauji.” At this, her eyes flared with a fire he hadn’t seen in many days. “Irrespective of what I believe or don’t believe about you, I know they are off-limits. You trusted me with your memories of them, and I am sorry to have broken that trust.”
“Open that” he said, looking pointedly at the box in her hand. She did, reluctantly. It had a pendant with three silver stars hanging off of it. “And before you reject it, I know that you hate it when people spend money on you, especially me, but that didn’t cost much, and I got it for you as an apology for disrespecting the stars you left for me.”
” I…I feel like maa is angry with me Khushi. I think she is disappointed in the way I’ve treated you. I don’t know if I was right or wrong to have married you, but I was definitely wrong to bring your parents into our fight. When I saw the pendant, I wanted you to have it, feel like your parents and maa are close to your heart at all times. Please accept it, if you do, i’ll feel like I did something to right that wrong.”
She stared at him for what felt like hours. He hadn’t actually said the word “sorry” to her. But she knew this was his way of making up for what he did. She wouldn’t have accepted it, hadn’t he brought up the topic of his maa. She knew how sensitive he was about that, and him talking about his maa, meant he genuinely felt sorry for what he had done.
Moreover, rejecting the gift would be just as cruel as what he had done. And Khushi couldn’t be cruel to him because irrespective of how he treated her, her crazy heart still loved him. And that love made her grab the olive branch he had extended.
He saw her take the pendant out of the box and put it on. But she didn’t say anything, didn’t even so much as look at him, saying that she would forgive but never forget. But that was enough for now.
They sat next to each other, gazing at the stars, well into the night.
– – – – –
In the sky, two stars blinked, like they were smiling at each other, telling the other that everything would be alright.