Arnav stared at the screen, his eyes narrowed. His head was aching and the presentations at the quarterly meeting seemed never-ending.
He looked at his phone lying on the table near his laptop.
It was getting late and he had to take Khushi to watch her movie, her Salman Khanji’s phillum.
A slow smile flitted across his lips.
The finance manager frowned, perplexed. What was so amusing about his report that it had brought a smile to the face of the ASR who never smiled?
Aman sat back in his chair, relaxed. ASR was changing for the better and all because of the slip of a girl, Khushiji. He was going to the movie tonight with Khushiji, Aman knew. He had booked the tickets for ASR. He thought of how he had skulked around Shyam Manohar Jha’s office digging for info on her and smiled. Fate was strange. If Khushiji could find it in herself to marry his angry boss, then she would be his bhabi.
“Aman,” ASR whispered.
Aman leaned forward to hear him.
“Call Khushi and let her know I will be late. Ask her to be ready so that we can leave as soon as I get to her house,” he murmured.
Aman nodded and left the hall.
He called Khushi and relayed the information.
“Amanji, kya hua? Why is he late?” Khushi asked. “Bahut kaam he?”
“It is the quarterly review, Khushiji. He has been in meetings from morning,” Aman explained.
Khushi frowned. “Amanji, maybe we can watch the phillum another day. Salman Khanji is not going to run away anywhere. Please ask him to take rest,” Khushi said.
Aman smiled. “I will tell him, but I can’t guarantee that he will agree,” he replied.
A few minutes later, Aman called Khushi again.
“ASR is determined to take you to the movies. He wants me to tell you that he will get to your house in time, whatever happens,” Aman could not keep the smile from his voice.
Khushi huffed in annoyance. “What is wrong with this Arnavji?” she asked Aman. “Suniye, Amanji. This is the last adjustment I am willing to make. Where is the phillum being shown?”
Aman gave her the information.
“I will wait for him there. Arnavji can come there directly from his office,” Khushi declared. “He needn’t drive to Laxmi Nagar.”
“I will tell him,” Aman offered.
“I am leaving for the theatre now, Amanji. Please tell him that it is no use frowning at me,” Khushi smiled.
“I will tell him,” Aman laughed.
Arnav parked his car in the space specified, left the car and strode toward the entrance of the cinema, his eyes looking for Khushi. He saw her as soon as he entered the building. Dressed in a pink anarkali, she looked like a rose. She was looking around at the many couples who had decided to spend the evening fruitfully by watching Bollywood thumkas and dishoom dishoom.
“Khushi,” he called softly.
She turned to look at him, her eyes bright with pleasure.
“Arnavji, you came. Did you finish your meeting?” she asked.
“Yes,” he muttered. “How did you get here?”
“Happyji gave me a lift in his rickshaw,” she replied cheerfully.
“I would have sent the car for you,” he grumbled.
“Only a car? You are Reiizada Singh Raizada. You should send at least a truck or a train,” she teased.
He looked at her dancing eyes and had to smile.
Arnav looked at the screen in horror. Did they have to sit through three hours of this? He turned his head to look at Khushi and he felt his indignation vanish in to smoke.
She was smiling away, tapping her fingers to the music.
She looked at him with happy eyes. “Salman Khanji dances so well, doesn’t he?” she asked him.
Arnav nodded weakly. She really liked men who could dance?
“He is so handsome!” she sighed, mooning over the hero.
Arnav frowned. Handsome? Who? The hero? The man was old, old enough to be her father! Yes, he had muscles, but muscles were not everything.
He looked at her enthralled face. Maybe muscles meant a lot to girls. He looked down at his own lean body with discontent. His head throbbed, his eyes ached.
The hero tackled 20 men with his bare hands and sent them flying in all directions. Arnav rolled his eyes but Khushi clapped her hands in excitement.
He looked at her, amused but feeling slightly insecure. Did she really think men could perform such feats in real life? He leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes.
“Arnavji, you are missing the best part. Aankhein kholiye,” she whispered urgently.
Sighing, he opened his eyes and stared at the screen.
Khushi took hold of his hand in elation, totally caught up in the story.
Arnav looked down at his hand held safe in both of hers and swallowed hard. When had he last watched a movie? He couldn’t remember. Every moment had been spent working, wading through files and documents, striking deals and negotiating contracts, running away from the nightmares of his past... A normal life had eluded him...till now.
He looked around. Couples were cuddling, taking advantage of the dim light and the preoccupation of the audience. He looked down at Khushi.
The heroine was weeping on screen. Khushi sighed in sympathy. As he watched, tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
Arnav stared at her in dismay. He had arranged the date to make her happy, not reduce her to tears.
She sniffed in sympathy. He quickly pulled out his hanky and passed it to her.
She took it with a grateful half-smile and dried her cheeks with it.
“Khushi, don’t cry. Please,” he whispered, feeling terrible.
She nodded and returned his hanky, now wet with her copious tears. Slowly she rested her head against his shoulder. Then she coiled her arms around his arm and tugged it close to her bosom.
He swallowed. Hard.
He lifted his free hand and covered her fingers with his.
She looked up to smile at him.
The tub of popcorn and drinks he had ordered for her remained untouched as she revelled in the joy and sorrow portrayed on screen, clutching his arm tighter when she was moved by the melodrama.
Arnav’s torture finally came to an end at the end of three long hours. The hero got the girl and vanquished all the villains.
On the way home, khushi looked at him and said, “Shukriya.”
“For what?” Arnav asked, his eyes mellow. His arm was still cramped and numb from her zealous ministrations.
“For taking me to see this phillum. I enjoyed it. Didn't you?” she asked.
Arnav looked away. What could he say? That he had enjoyed her hug but disliked the movie? That he hated to see her cry, even if it was in empathy with the heroine?
He just nodded.
“It is nice having a boyfriend,” Khushi decided.
Arnav turned his head to look at her, his eyes startled.
“It is like having a friend, isn’t it? I don’t have to be alone anymore,” she smiled happily. The smile suddenly vanished. “But I am katti with you.”
“Why?” he asked, puzzled.
“You broke your promise,” she accused him without heat.
“I did?” he asked.
“Yes. You promised me that you would give me a pappi only when I asked for one, not before. And then you gave me a pappi yesterday at the office,” Khushi pouted.
Arnav’s eyes studied her lips with deep interest. He said, “I did not break my promise.”
“Jhoot!” she exclaimed. “I never asked you for a pappi, Arnavji.”
“You did too. Your eyes asked me for one,” he declared.
Khushi gasped. “You are Ramanchi Singh Raizada.”
Arnav burst out laughing.
She glared at him.
“You are full of tricks. If I don’t take care, you will steal me away one day and then say that I asked you to do it,” Khushi complained.
“Will I have to kidnap you, Khushi?” he asked, his voice low and tempting. “Won’t you come willingly with me if I call you?”
Khushi stared at him for one moment, her eyes unguarded. He read the answer he had been looking for in those eloquent orbs and almost sagged in relief.
She looked away.
He parked before Buaji’s house.
“Khushi, where shall we go tomorrow?” he asked.
Khushi thought long and hard. “Temple?” she asked.
Temple? He stared at her. He must be the first boyfriend taking his girlfriend out on a date to a temple!
“It is Diwali in a few days,” she reminded him with a smile.
It was Diwali? he wondered.
“I love Diwali. The lights, the crackers, the sweets...” Her face was a picture of excitement.
He hid a smile. She was a child in the garb of a woman.
“Acha, hum chalte he,” she said, opening the door.
“I will come with you to the door,” he offered.
“Nahi. Aap baittiye. You had a long day at the office. Now you have to drive home,” Khushi said as she jumped out of the car.
She circled the vehicle and walked up to his window.
He lowered the glass to look at her beautiful face.
“Aap se ek baat poochein?” Khushi asked.
“Poocho,” he murmured, his eyes on her delicious lips. Her taste still lingered on his taste buds.
“You hated the movie, didn’t you?” Her eyes twinkled.
A slow smile took birth on his lips. “It was not that bad,” he replied.
“But you liked it, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, especially when Salman Khanji hit the villains,” she said with relish.
He smiled. “Good,” he said softly.
“And when the heroine ran to hug him,” she added.
“Salman Khanji is the heroine’s hero, but you are my boyfriend,” she declared.
He stared at her, his eyes wide and hopeful.
She quickly looked around, pushed her face in through the open window and kissed his cheek soundly with a ‘puchkoo’ sound.
“Shubhraatri, Arnavji,” she murmured, her lips close to his.
Then she turned and ran to the safety of Buaji’s house.
“Good night,” Arnav whispered to the silent night air, caught in the magic web of her kiss.