According to Greek Mythology, the first humans were created with four arms, four legs and two heads. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into separate parts; condemning them to spend their lives in search of other halves.
– via Plato’s Symposium
His once pristine empty room was now jumble of greys clashing with vibrant hues. The monochromatic upholstery had decorative pillows with batik print or traditional embroidery scattered on them. Though he grumbled when his wife stuffed an odd dupatta next to his ties, a thrill ran in his spine whenever he saw the said dupatta caressing his ties. He mumbled at the assault on his eyes, the brightness of mirrors, gold and bangles when he opened their combined clothing space. He could see their personalities’ clash, mingle, intertwine and thrive in their room and after being two years married to her, something in his stomach settled and his chest loosened.
He dropped the chocolates he picked up hastily in a perfunctory duty free shop. He winced at the crassly wrapped bright green paper in garish read ribbon. It screamed tacky but he was running late. He dropped his watch next to bunch of red bangles in front of dressing mirror and waited for his wife to make an entrance. He poured a glass of water from the refrigerator his wife kept in their room. He knew very well she would be breathless when she would arrive because after hearing he had arrived from his business trip, she would run the whole way from whichever part of the mansion she was at.
He smiled when he heard the jingle of anklets and cacophony of bangles.
“Arnav.” She breathed out, slowing to a stop at the doorway. He smiled at her.
“Happy Anniversary Khushi,” he said and looked at his lap where the chocolate box lay. His words to her were simple and were written on the back of a receipt from airport coffee shop. When I lay my head on the small of your back, I feel I am feeling the curve of the earth itself.
Khushi hurried towards her dresser and pulled out a small box. “Happy Anniversary to you too Arnav,” she replied softly and handed him the box. She had stuck a simple card with words – My bones have made a map of the path made by your fingers and your eyes. I cannot tell anyone who I am without telling them who you are as well.
Intrigued at the size, he rushed to open his while she took her time in running her fingers all over her present and gently untangling the ribbon.
Over the weeks after their marriage Khushi had come to terms with Arnav busy and quite unpredictable schedule. To ease their slowly building relationship, she had impulsively left a note with few words in his left shoe one morning. She found a note in Arnav’s handwriting sitting under her sindoor written on the back of cable bill. That habit stuck and they left each other notes all around their room.
“Just rip it out Khushi,” Arnav nudged her knee with his as he tore open the wrapping paper of his own present. She made a face at him which clearly suggested she didn’t like his idea but he didn’t care. He was too excited to see what she had gotten for him. Smiling across ripping paper, excited hands and massive anticipation, both managed to open their presents at the same time.
Arnav’s face fell when he saw his present while Khushi lit up. Sensing his quietness Khushi looked up.
Frowning at his blank face she placed her hand on his arm. “Don’t you like your present Arnav?”
Arnav clasped her hand in his and squeezed hard. “I…” He trailed.
“What is it?” She asked softly. After two years of being married to Arnav, Khushi could now recognize all of Arnav’s silences.
Arnav was one of those people who expressed in their silences. When she started to actively listen to them, she understood him a bit more. She filled his silences, she teased in his awkwardness, he steadied her flailing hands and he bubbled her enthusiasm.
“You found me an antique watch that’s been out of business for decades while I picked the first bright thing I could see in a duty free shop.” He replied flatly. Khushi waited for him to continue but no more words were said.
Khushi gently nudged his hands out of the box and took the watch out. Without meeting his eyes she balanced the watch on his left wrist and smiled at the way brass body of the dial gleamed against his pale skin. The watch was indeed exquisite and Arnav’s ramblings about it made perfect sense the moment her eyes landed on them in an old antique shop.
“It took me five months to find this watch, you know?” She said buckling the watch and adjusting it around his wrist. Once satisfied with her work, she took his hand between hers. She leaned in and kissed him on the corner of his mouth. “I didn’t do it because it meant a grand gesture. I didn’t do it to undermine your efforts. I definitely didn’t buy this as a means of one upping you.”
Arnav nodded. “I know you wouldn’t Khushi. And that’s why it hurts me the most.”
“Because I am not throwing a tantrum?” She asked raising an eyebrow, mouth set to thin line. It was classic Khushi signal for “I-am-getting-pissed”.
He shook his head vigorously. “No. No. No. My mind is my own enemy Khushi and the scenarios it supplies makes me hate my decisions. I wonder if I am being callous or prioritize things that don’t need the kind of priority or it’s just that I have this gross misconception that you won’t mind. And when you don’t react to my shitty gifts, I feel that you don’t care what I give you.”
Khushi was taken aback at his confession. She hadn’t seen this side of Arnav much – the shy, confused and self-deprecating one that made her chest rumble and fingers clench.
“Come here,” she said sliding out of their bed and pulling him towards the balcony. Arnav went unquestioning her insistence.
She took him in her arms and pressed the nape of his neck to her shoulders. Arnav was pliant in her arms as he buried his face in her neck and hugged her tighter. He took in her smell – resident smell of tadka from lunch, a bit of perfume, some lingering smell of camphor after morning aarti and underneath it all, it was all Khushi.
He was home.
“Maybe there is a perfect art of gifting giving out there. Maybe there are couples who know exactly what the others want and buy them that. Maybe there are couples who don’t care for anniversaries at all. Maybe there are couples who see this as a competition. Maybe there are couples who think once a year gift giving absolves them for the rest of the year. Be that as it may, I can guarantee you that we are our own brand of couples.” Khushi chuckled when Arnav let out a huff of laughter that tickled her neck. “What I am saying is – you may have got me some cheap chocolates today but few days from now you will go and do some stupidly amazing thing like bringing my parents to a temple they were meaning to visit but could never do so or talking to me about your work and asking for my advice or telling me stories about brokenhearted comets and the parts they lose in their travel. I am not complaining about the gift you’ve given me today because you are not done. Because I am not done. Because we are not done.”
Arnav was quiet for several moments. “There were too many because-s in your speech.” He whispered in her ear and pulled back chuckling. Khushi rolled her eyes and thwacked him on his shoulder.
“You are such a jerk,” she huffed.
Arnav laughed gaily. “Let’s eat those chocolates before they start becoming goo in this insane heat.” He said shuffling her towards their bed. Khushi snagged the first one and crammed into his mouth before he could say anything. And then she launched into a detailed explanation of her adventure in procuring his watch. He watched her flail, make jazzy hands, hop a little, bounce a lot and talk million words a minute. He basked in the attention she was pouring on him, felt the warmth of her eyes scrubbing away last of this exhaustion from travel.
As ordinary as they appeared, as unimportant they felt in the world at large, they did feel they were two souls that were always navigating together. They were two beings who met and parted and died and lived; sometimes together, sometimes alone. There was a collision when the first met. There were sparks when they met again. There was thunder when they met for the third time. A star shied away behind darkness when his fingers left an evidence of his anger on his arms. The air became syrupy and honeyed when he lavished her with tenderness. His skin refused to acknowledge when broken tears from her eyelashes landed on his skin.
Even in this universe they met they parted. They met again and parted again. They shared a space, one breath and a huge bunch of fairy lights. They were entangled in a way fate didn’t bother to unravel. They were them. Arnav and Khushi.
They were universe’s oldest souls that fought and clawed their way to each other. Because the alternate wasn’t ever known to them.
Thank you MiraBell for inviting me to this writing group. Much appreciated and so so so fun!
Much thanks to Twiggy (vgedin) for being an amazing beta and a great friend. I love you dammit!
A bit of shameless promotion: This OS is the first part of my ongoing series of short stories. A bunch of them will be posted in coming weeks. Find more here – Vertigo Falls