I see a lifetime with you
And if one thing is true
It’s that God knew someday I’d be standing
On the edge of forever with you
“Do you think she is really gone?”
Khushi turned her head to look at Ally. Like her own, the tears seemed to have dried up in her twin’s eyes as well but the smudges of grief still marred Ally’s face with the same gravity as she knew they did hers.
Khushi looked away and took a deep breath. She closed her eyes, trying to see if she could see the last smile her mother had given her in that vision. Her eyes burned, tired with the effort of keeping awake but the image of Gail didn’t come into focus easily.
“Krishna says she can hear her.”
This time Payal had spoken, her own face drawn with lines that seemed to exaggerate her already tired state.
“Does that really happen? Can you both hear her too?” Payal asked softly, never taking her eyes off the horizon even as she leaned on the railing.
“Careful.” Khushi pointed out and pulled her friend back, unable to keep the twinge of worry from creeping into her voice. Her mother’s mortality had suddenly reminded her of how precious life was, how potent the fear of loss and the agony of having to survive in the wake could be.
Payal smiled ruefully and caressed her still flat stomach but stepped away, holding the railing with her palms as she looked at Khushi gratefully. “Thank you. I keep forgetting.”
Khushi smiled back and shook her head. “You look so tired. Are you sure you don’t need to see the doctor?”
Payal shook her head and shrugged. “Not other than my regular visits. I feel fine otherwise…And I was fine till…” She trailed off but Khushi knew what she was going to say. All of them were fine, more than fine before her mother’s passing. Now, there just seemed to be a gaping hole that none of them knew how to fill. “I feel like Aayi died all over again.” Payal said softly.
Khushi’s heart broke as she remembered the time Payal had lost her own mother to a long battle with cancer. Gail and Hannah had been mothers to her ever since. In many ways, Payal’s loss was almost twice as poignant.
“I am so sorry you haven’t even had a normal newly married life yet, Payal. Something or the other keeps coming up”
Khushi looked up at Ally who was looking at their friend sadly and realized just how true her twin’s words were, how she had failed to see what she would have noticed if she had not been so self-involved.
“I didn’t marry a normal family, did I?” Payal asked with a chuckle and then her eyes became calm, serene like they had rarely been before the wedding. “I have my whole life in front of me for romance, Al.” Payal vowed. “Shay has been wonderful. Hours before the wedding, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.” She said with a small smile. “And now, I cannot but revel in the knowledge that this is what I had always dreamed of. Sure, it hasn’t been traditional in the truest sense of the word, but clearly nothing about my life has been traditional at all.”
Ally smiled and gave Payal a quick hug, making Khushi’s dry eyes well up with little warning. She sent a small prayer up to the heavens, thanking God for the lovely people her life was strewn with, people who stood by each other in tough times, solid as a pillar.
“You didn’t answer my question. Do you think it’s possible that Krishna actually hears Aunty G’s voice?” Payal asked again as the three friends resumed their roles in the moment of companionable silence as evening splashed its colors across the skies.
Khushi nodded but it was Ally who spoke. “I can’t hear her. I don’t think Khushi can either” Khushi nodded again at Ally’s silent question, “But she has always claimed she can hear Granny Fiona. So I guess, it does happen.”
Khushi chuckled at the unwilling grumble in Ally’s voice. “You can’t blame her for not talking to you, Al. The two of you always had a slightly rocky relationship.”
“She was a crabby old bat.” Ally said fiercely and then quickly apologized up at the skies. “Sorry, Granny Fi.” She looked at Payal who was also chuckling softly. “You didn’t know her. She was miserable. Bring me this, get me that. Behave yourself. Sit properly. Ask your mother to serve food already. Those candies are not for you. Look how well-behaved Kathy is. Even Shay. Why must you be so pig-headed? If only your mother had listened to me about a whacking every now and then” Ally mimicked in a high, shrill voice.
Khushi clucked and shook her head. “She was grumpy but she was sweet.”
“She was sweet because you always did what she wanted and never uttered a word in protest. Kathy, the angel of God.” Ally shook her head.
By now, Payal was laughing out aloud. “I am not surprised she didn’t think you were God’s gift to Grandmothers, Al. Just listen to yourself. She was your grandma” Payal exclaimed.
“You are just lucky you had a lovely Aaji, Payalia. Fiona O’Reilly Abraham was not your average grandmother. But she did have the best ideas on the use of magic. Do you know that Madame Alannah was actually inspired by her?” Ally asked with a smirk.
This time both Khushi and Payal turned around to look at Ally with questions in their eyes.
Ally laughed out loud and shook her head. “She did it once. I was not supposed to know but I walked in on one of her sessions with someone from the village. She bribed me with ten of Mom’s best chocolate chip cookies to keep it a secret.”
Khushi and Payal looked at each other in awe and then turned to look at Ally. “You blackmailed her?”
Ally shrugged. “I didn’t need to. She was so scared of Mom and her finding out that she was doing these “sessions” behind Papa and her back. You remember how it was when Papa…”
Khushi waited for the piercing pain to strike as soon as Ally mentioned their father. She saw the stillness in her twin’s eyes in that exact moment. Except this time, the pain came, duller than ever despite wringing her heart with just as much intensity. She closed her eyes, only to see the only image of her parents together and smiling she had in her memory.
She opened her eyes, not surprised to see tears flowing down Ally’s cheeks even as Payal’s glimmered. Did the tears ever really dry, she wondered even as she looked up as the first stars broke out into the open, twinkling amidst orange flame.
“They are together.” Khushi whispered and the breeze picked up, swirling around them in a reassuring caress.
The three of them fell silent, each using that brief moment to send a wish of rememberence to the woman that Gail O’Reilly-Gupta was.
Ten minutes later, a small sound of someone clearing his throat, broke the silence around them.
Khushi didn’t need to turn to know that it was him standing at the entrance to the gallery at the lighthouse. But Ally’s words confirmed Arnav’s presence just the same.
“Does your magic include floating? How come we didn’t hear the stairway squeak under your weight?”
Arnav smirked and shrugged. “Maybe it does.” He responded mysteriously and immediately directed his gaze to Khushi.
How are you?
Khushi smiled at the concern in his thought and nodded imperceptibly.
“I guess we should be heading back to the Isle now, Aditi.” Payal said with a smile as she glanced at Khushi and Arnav before slightly nudging Ally by her elbow. Not that her twin needed any nudging, Khushi realized as she saw the twinkle of teasing laughter in Ally’s face.
Khushi rolled her eyes.
“How are you doing, PJ..I mean Payal?” Arnav asked, his face a light shade of dusty pink as he realized he had used Krishna’s way of addressing Payal.
“As well as I can be. Thank you for asking, Arnav.” Payal responded equally politely, making Ally giggle.
Once again, Khushi saw Ally and Arnav’s eyes lock in a battle of smirks before Ally and Payal began walking away.
“You don’t need to leave.” Arnav offered and yet the lack of an enthusiastic call to stay back was evident in his voice.
“Oh, we aren’t leaving to give you two time together. God knows, you had enough of that in Ireland away from prying eyes.” Ally said sweetly. “You are free. That means Aman is free. I have better things to time my entries and exits around new lovers.” Ally waved her hand around airily.
Arnav chuckled and shook his head even as Payal winked at Khushi and the two women hurried away, the stairway, creaking with meaningful playfulness as they descended in a fit of silent and not-so-silent chuckles.
“Are you sure you are all going to be thirty this year?” Arnav asked, his voice strangely louder than usual, as he walked over to Khushi and bent slightly to kiss her mouth.
“I heard that!” Ally’s shout floated up to their ears and immediately Khushi understood the reason behind Arnav’s raised voice.
“You aren’t any better than her,” She whispered as Arnav snuck his arm around her waist and pulled her closer.
Khushi sighed and leaned against his shoulder, sighing again as the warmth of his body stole into hers, making her shiver once before spreading like fire in her blood. “Thank you for helping with moving the guests to Aqua. Between you and Aman, you handled everything,” She said softly. Aman and Arnav had practically taken over all the practical things the family needed to care for as they left the cousins, Payal and Aunty H to grieve the way a loved one’s death deserved to be.
Arnav didn’t say anything but Khushi felt his hands squeeze her closer for a second in acknowledgement.
She closed her eyes as the breeze patted her cheek lovingly.
He rubbed his hand over her bare arm, silently urging her to talk in the way only he seemed to be able to.Ever since the vision of her mother bidding them adieu when they had been on their return from Dublin to Delhi, Arnav had given her every inch of space she needed. He had held her close as she cried, silently through the hours on the flight. He had steered her through the terminal in Delhi, all the while, taking charge even as he called Akash to have Krishna travel to Goa in the next available flight. He had watched from the sidelines as she had hugged her sister and cried endlessly, their tears only growing stronger in shared sorrow. He had carried Gail’s frail body down to the living room and placed it in the coffin. He had silently taken over from Shay as her cousin struggled to manage the Isle and the preparations for the funeral and the memorial service. He had allowed Krishna to find her own outlet for grief as she stepped away from him and sought solace with her new family, the one that her Granny G had been part of.
For all of what he had done, Khushi had been silently grateful, aware that he was right by her if and when she needed him.
She closed her eyes and savored the feel of his fingers on her arm, soothing. In that moment, she could have been touched by the sea and it would be no different. The sea. Arnav. She smiled even as the words came tumbling out finally. “In some ways, I was hoping that this time would be easier. We had time to say goodbye, she smiled when she last saw us, she went with hope and reassurance that everything would be taken care of behind her. And yet, I feel like someone is tearing my soul to pieces when I walk in and see the chair that she loved so much, the picture of all of us from one Diwali in the past, the scent of her perfume that still lingers in the parlor…” She trailed off.
Arnav took a deep breath and continued to caress her arms.
“And the worst is I know the pain never goes away. When Papa died,” She sucked in her breath, “there was at least hope that something would be different in years. Now…I know it never will be,,,all that will happen is that life will take over and piercing loss will not have time to show itself every minute, like it does now. But someday, when I am hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree next year, when I flip through the guest register at the counter, I’ll remember something innocuous from the time with her and it will still be the same….the truth is I will miss her….always…”
He nudged her to lift her head and turn to look at him. The evening around them had darkened enough to reflect the glimmer of the early winter skies in his eyes. Khushi watched as he pressed a kiss against her forehead, her eyes closing again as she felt his lips on her temple. “Do you miss Anjali?” Khushi asked as they settled on to the floor of the lighthouse, using the small rug that Ally had brought with her earlier in the afternoon, to sit on.
“Some times Krishna does something or tilts her head in a way that is so much like Anu, I feel like she is right there in front of me, smiling like she used to on the few good times we shared.” Arnav confessed, his voice low and heavy as he threaded his fingers through her hands.
Khushi nodded with a wistful smile and leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes as she did. “Thank you.” She whispered, grateful for his presence more than she had ever been.
He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles softly. “Remember the day Aman and Aditi got engaged?” He asked softly.
Khushi opened her eyes to look at him and nodded.
“He told your mother he had found a way to be your son.” Arnav said with a smile. “You once implied I was jealous of Aman.” He said, holding her fingers, staring at their entwined hands. “That day…”
Khushi stared at him in wonder as he kissed her knuckles again. “The day I came back and asked her to meet me, the day I told her that my wait was over, that I was coming back…She looked at me with such…”He shrugged, “Pride…I think that might have been the closest I’ve had to a parent. I’ll never forget that”
She smiled, unable to hold back the moisture that sprang into her eyes again. “Arnav,” She whispered.
Arnav shook his head. “She was a good person. Good people should be missed when they are gone.” He whispered and pulled her closer so that she was resting against his chest again.
“She liked you.” Khushi said with a smile.
Arnav chuckled softly. “She trusted me to be with you. That’s more than I can ask for.”
Once again, silence fell around them as Khushi rememebered the number of times she had seen Arnav and her mother together, the number of times she had wondered what it was that bound them together. It was her, she realized. It had always been her.
“You are never going to ask me what she meant by that last statement of hers to me, are you?”
Khushi smiled against his chest. The truth was that the conversation had replayed in her head a hundred times since the vision. But in the events that followed, the importance, the weight of those words had diminished. Though, if she were honest to herself, she would accede that even if she hadn’t been mourning, she would never have broached the subject till Arnav brought it up himself.
“Why?” Arnav asked quietly.
Khushi shrugged. “When it’s time for you to tell me, you will. I trust that.”
“Do you trust me enough to let me talk about it with everyone else present in the room?” Arnav asked quietly.
This time, Khushi lifted her head and looked into his eyes. She could see the faint shadow of his thoughts, of the answer that he and her mother had seemed to know, share in secret. She smiled and nodded. “I trust you.”
“It may change things …” Arnav began and Khushi shook her head resolutely.
“No. It won’t.”
Arnav looked at her, doubts lingering in his eyes as the clouds rumbled in the distance.
“I trust you.” She repeated with a smile.
Despite the day that it had been , it ended. And with morning came another day filled with activities that kept them on their toes, tugging at their emotions as it rolled by. It was past noon when they finally settled down in the small parlor with the usual cups of coffee, the discussion low and muted as light conversation remained spattered in the early afternoon. Sunlight streamed in through the window in generous dollops even as memories, tears, reminiscent smile, thoughtful words lingered. The memorial service for Gail O’Reilly Gupta had been scheduled for earlier in the day followed by lunch which had been taken care of by Shay and Hannah with no help from anyone else. The number of people who had attended the service at the Isle had been heartwarming but when she thought about it, it made sense that even those who had interacted with Gail not more than once or twice over the years, had taken the time to pay their respects.
The scent of the strong bitter brew mixed with the fading aroma of incense made the air heavier than it needed to be and yet the room was buzzing with anticipation, with almost every one present, glancing furtively at Arnav and Khushi to kick off the session.
“We seem to be doing a lot of this lately, haven’t we?” Aman whispered as he plonked himself next to Khushi on the couch. “We missed you at the last one, though.”
Khushi turned around and smiled. “You look tired.” She said softly, noticing the way his eyes drooped, his face drawn with the strain of all the running around that the men had been doing.
Aman shrugged and sipped his coffee. “As long as the service was…”
“It was beautiful. Simple and elegant just the way Ma would have liked.” Khushi reassured him, placing her hand on Aman’s. “And your eulogy – Ma must be so proud.”
Aman smiled and looked away. It had been a rare sight to see Aman Mathur with his guard down, with his voice leaden with grief. But when he had stepped in front of the audience to talk about Gail, when he had addressed her as the mother he never knew, there had been not a single dry eye in the crowd. In that moment, Khushi was sure that she had felt Gail’s tears in her eyes, just like she did now.
Shaking herself out of the shroud of sorrow that threatened to take over the brilliance of the day, she smiled.
“But since you’ve demonstrated how well you do at organizing events, I think you might be planning all of your wedding on your own.” Khushi teased lightly.
Aman chuckled and sipped some more of his brew. He fell silent a second later, cradling the mug between his palms, as if using the warmth to make up his mind. “I think we might push the wedding out for a bit. I don’t want to do it when Al is…”
Khushi looked at him sadly and smiled. She turned to look at Ally who was talking to Arnav, the two of them strangely at ease with each other. Arnav had insisted on keeping the Isle guests away slightly longer to allow the family to try and ease their way back into the schedule. As was expected, he found his idea opposed rather vehemently by Ally who had strangely inherited Gail’s ideas about what was proper and what wasn’t. Knowing that she would be steam rollered by both of them, Khushi had stayed away from the discussion much to Ally’s frustration and Arnav’s amusement.
“Ma would not have wanted you to delay anything on her account.” Khushi offered softly. “Especially something that she was so happy for.”
Aman looked at her and smiled. “At time, you look so much like her….” He said and shook his head. “I’ll talk to Al. You tell me about your trip to Ireland and well…” He jerked his head towards Arnav. “Him.”
Khushi smiled, not even bothering to hide the soft blush that stole up her cheeks.
“That man has a way with the women I love.” Aman sighed. “Speaking of which, I think Ally is going to kill him.”
This time Khushi couldn’t help but chuckle. “They are quite a pair.” She said, watching as Arnav replied to Ally’s question. She couldn’t hear the discussion but she was sure he was being too calm and composed for Ally’s liking. Once again, she shook her head.
“They are. Every time I think of Niamh and Morgan from that story, there is no one else I can picture.” Aman confessed, his eyes staying put on Ally’s form.
Khushi smiled in response and picked up her coffee mug.
“That is what this is about, isn’t it? The curse?” Aman asked finally.
Khushi gulped down the coffee, thankful for its power as it filled her with renewed energy. She would need it, she realized as the importance of this small meeting sank in once again. “Yes.” She whispered and Arnav turned around to look at her, their eyes meeting across the room as everything came to a stand still.
He nodded at her and she excused herself from Aman’s company, just as Ally excused herself from Arnav’s. The sisters met mid-way and smiled at each other.
Finally. They whispered together and resumed their rightful places.
Author’s Note: At the risk of chappals, groans and sighs at the end that never seems to approach – looks like we will see the magic seventy number after all.
Next update: March 11, 2013, 9pm IST