Continued from Part 2
"Splash!" His friends roared into peels of laughter as Arjun suddenly found himself drenched in colored water.
"What the hell!" he yelled, craning his neck to look upwards, trying to figure out who was playing Holi in December. That too in icy Shimla! He turned around 360 degrees unable to spot anyone, when he caught a whiff of pink move across the terrace of the resort building to his left.
"Hey you! Stop!" he screamed in that direction, but before he could say anything else, his words were paralyzed by the sight in front of him - the most captivating face he had ever seen. His eyes met her beautiful sparkling pearls. They betrayed fear, but they were also full of mischief, and life. For several seconds, he was lost in those eyes bewildered. Suddenly, she turned and ran away, bring Arjun back to reality as the cold breeze hit his wet body with full force and he ran towards the resort. He ran towards the nearest staircase, knowing the resort as well as its owner well, given that it was right next to his pilot training academy on the outskirts of Shimla. Whoever it was on the terrace would most likely be using the main staircase that went in circles and opened to the lobby area, and he knew exactly where to intercept them.
As soon as he heard giggles, he emerged from the spot where he had been waiting. The three girls immediately stopped laughing on seeing him there, but Arjun was only interested in one who he recognized immediately with her pink dupatta and hazel eyes.
"You! Stop!" he shouted, and she seemed to comply for a second, but then she suddenly turned back and ran in the opposite direction, leaving her friends stranded. Having no choice, Arjun ran behind her, until they were both back on the terrace, though not on the same side as the main road.
"Wait" he screamed and Divya stopped, having nowhere else to go. She immediately resorted to Plan B and made a cute pouty face that had never failed to get her anything she had wanted.
"Uhh...uh...I am sorry..." Divya softly said, her face looking so innocent that Arjun's anger immediately melted "My friends...they made me...it was a bet...it wasn't meant for you...please don't hit me" As she said the last few words, Divya's voice sounded like she would burst crying, shocking Arjun.
"No I am not going to hit you! Don't cry...please...I am sorry" Arjun helplessly spoke.
Divya chuckled inwardly hearing Arjun apologize to her, but continued her drama. "I...I didn't mean to...I spoiled your uniform...I will pay for cleaning it...from my pocket money...but I don't have money. I will save money and pay you 5 rupees a day, ok?"
"It is fine. You don't need to pay me. Just don't cry." Arjun looked into his pocket for his handkerchief, then realized it was wet. "Sorry my handkerchief is wet...please don't cry. It's okay. Damn it's so cold today."
"I am fine. I can get you a towel if you want so you can dry your hair before you go back to your academy."
"Okay." Arjun said and started following Divya to her room.
"I am Arjun by the way. Arjun Khanna. I am training to be a pilot at the academy."
"I know." Divya said, then added noticing Arjun's questioning look. "Guessed it from your uniform."
"Okay. What's your name?"
"Divya…You're here with your friends?"
"College study trip." Divya nodded.
Divya was thankful to find none of her roommates in her room, and quickly brought a towel for Arjun. She secretly drooled watching him dry his face and hair, but kept her sorry face on all the time. Finally, Arjun thanked her and left, and she gave her the most penetrating smiles he had ever seen as she walked him out. Arjun walked out feeling strangely happy even if a little surprised at how he had gone in with the intention of punishing her and had spent all his time apologizing and thanking Divya. His friends were no longer where he had left them, and he searched his pockets for his phone to call them and find their whereabouts when he realized he had left the phone in Divya's room.
"Out with 100 rupees, each of you. I told you Divya never loses a bet."
"Yeah, yeah don't gloat." Trishna conceded, pulling out two 50 rupee notes from her purse. "Here you go. But seriously, this time you outdid yourself. Not only did you aim perfectly at your hero, you actually managed to get him to your room! At least give us the steamy details!"
"How I wish something steamy happened Trishu darling!" Divya dramatically exclaimed holding her heart. "I was trying to save myself from his anger so had to keep an innocent good girl face all the time."
"Don't lie! I saw how he was grinning on his way out! Don't tell me you didn't kiss him! Especially when both of you were dripping wet in here!" The girls giggled at the wordplay on wet.
"I swear Trish...if I had kissed him I would be the happiest girl on earth. But I had to make do with just secretly drooling at him. Hero didn't even make the ittiest bittiest of moves!"
"So you should have told me. I would do anything to make you happy, Miss Divya!" Arjun's voice at the door startled all three of them, as they turned to find Divya's wet hero leaning by the door, smirking.
Arjun's lips broke into a smile at the memory of the day he had first met his Divya. It was memories like those that had been keeping him alive, he reflected as he glanced in the rear view mirror at the same - even if a lot more pensive - Divya sitting on the back seat of the taxi with their two children. He tried to look for the same mischief, the same sparkle in her eyes that he remembered. The taxi took a sharp turned and his attention was drawn outside. He didn't know these roads. This wasn't the way to their house. Soon, the taxi stopped and they all stepped out. The kids immediately ran towards their home, and Arjun scanned the neighborhood as Divya paid.
"Come" Divya softly said and began to walk inside. Arjun waited a couple of seconds before he followed, realizing that he had been expecting Divya to hold his hand and drag him inside excitedly like she always used to do. But this wasn't the same Divya who was 10000 volts of electricity 24 hours a day, was she?
Divya opened the door and let them inside. Almost immediately, Ria yelled "I am going to Pragya's place!"
"Go after lunch Ria. You haven't eaten"
"I am not hungry" Ria said as she picked up her backpack and ran out, past Arjun who was still standing at the doorway.
"This girl..."Divya muttered, then noticed Arjun still standing outside, staring at the house. She followed his gaze to his portrait on the wall, and immediately walked to it to remove the garland on it. Somehow, she hadn't had the courage to do that last night, because she didn't really believe what she had heard on the phone was true. Perhaps she didn't even believe now, but she could no longer think that it was a prank girl. Her husband, whose death and disappearance she had lived every moment of the last seven years, was standing right in front of her. "Sorry..."she muttered.
"Why don't you sit here? I will quickly make something to eat" Divya turned to walk towards the kitchen when Arjun stopped her by holding her hand. That grip sparked off a million memories making Divya slightly shudder.
"Wait. I am not hungry. Sit here with me. We need to talk."
Divya nodded. "Hmm. Just that Rohan would be hungry and will start getting cranky. Can I just quickly make something for him?" She asked, almost tentatively.
Arjun nodded. "Yeah. I am not going anywhere." He said with a faint smile, but something about Divya's face made him realize she didn't quite believe it. For the next half hour, Arjun observed Divya quietly as she cooked in her tiny kitchen, then fed Rohan sitting in her lap, his eyes glued on the television at all times. He tried to remember how she was feeding Ria when she was young, but struggled to remember. He only remembered her playing with Ria, almost competing with her sometimes for toys and attention. She would feed her when she was hungry, but mostly bathing and taking care of her was done by Radha or Arjun whenever he was home.
Ten minutes later, she came to him with his lunch. He gestured her to sit as he grabbed the plate and kept it on the table.
"How are you, Divya?"
"We are ok. You?"
"Much better now. Don't you want to know where I was all these years?"
"I am afraid of asking." She said, and Arjun saw tears welling up in her eyes. He held her hand in a gesture of support.
"I am sorry Divya. But I am here now. I am back. You are not alone. " He said and Divya nodded, not letting her gaze meet his.
"I...I need to tell you something." Divya said, with a tentative shiver in her voice. Arjun gulped, and waited for Divya to speak, afraid at the same time of what it was going to be. Seven years was a long time, especially when you had been dead these seven years.
"Ma..." she said, now sobbing "Ma is no more. She..." Divya struggled for words, while Arjun's own eyes welled up with tears. His mother! And he wasn't even there with here!
Arjun choked on tears as Divya slowly told him how his mother has passed away a couple of years ago. The pain of losing her was amplified by not being there for her in her last moments. After some time, Divya went inside to bring him some water while Arjun walked up to the window and stared at nothing, battling with the turmoil inside him. Had the grief of his death hastened his mother's demise? God, how much pain had he caused to those he loved the most, Arjun thought helplessly as tears fell through his eyes. Why, he questioned his destiny, not for the first time in the last seven years.
Much later, Divya walked in to her room with a glass of milk for Arjun. The kids had eaten and gone to bed. They had avoided Arjun and understanding the situation - especially Arjun's pain over the news of Radha's death, she hadn't pushed them to meet or talk to Arjun. A lot had changed today. They all needed a night to let the changes sink in so they could start the adjusting process tomorrow. As for Arjun, he had been quiet and anguished ever since she told him about Radha. He loved his mother, she knew. She had been the only one who had supported their marriage and accepted Divya, especially as her own parents had disowned her. In all these years, she had been more of a mother to Divya than Padmini ever was. And yet, her loss was even harder to live with for Arjun than it was for Divya.
Arjun was standing by the bed, taking off his T-shirt, his back to the door. Divya's feet stopped automatically as her eyes fell on the marks on Arjun's back. It had been years - but really, it felt like centuries - since she had seen him without his shirt on. She recognized the skin, but not the bloody lashes and cuts all over his back, a clear proof of the torture he had endured. Divya gasped as the pain from Arjun wounds shot through her. What had he lived through, all these years?
Arjun turned back, hearing Divya's gasp. Even through the tears that clouded her vision, she could clearly see more marks on his chest as well. She kept the glass on the side as she walked towards Arjun, then lightly touched the wounds on his chest. He flinched, but it was Divya who was really in pain at that time. Their eyes met, and Divya's heart broke sensing the deep terror that Arjun had lived through. She wanted to ask a million questions, but instead just hugged him, wordlessly.
"I am sorry, Arjun" Divya said, a while later, sitting on the bed while Arjun lay in her lap with his hair in her fingers.
"It's my fate." Arjun sighed, then closed his eyes. "I haven't slept in a long time Divya"
"Sleep. I am here." Divya said but she knew her words weren't enough to kill the demons within her husband and soothe him to sleep.