Chinkee bua was ready with her bags the next morning to leave for Gurdaspur. She was getting all nostalgic about her childhood and time spent with her brother – Aarush’s father.
‘I can’t wait to see my village after such a long time.’ bua giggled. Aarush tried to ignore her, but she came and stood next to him and started boring him with stories of how she used to steal his father’s share of mangoes, and how they used to fight in the childhood. Being the only child of his parents, Aarush never had any of that privilege to fight with a sibling, and neither had he ever had the joy of stealing stuff from anyone without the intention of hurting them! Radhika too, could not relate to any of the incidences. She too after all was the only child of her parents. The kind of life Aarush and Radhika had seen, they couldn’t imagine many things, but they could feel the loneliness of being alone, and so they understood each other better than anyone else. They had always been there for each other since the day they met for the first time.
‘Alright Mr Jain, it was really nice having you as our hosts. We wish you could join us…’
‘Next time, Mr Choudhury, next time for sure!’ Radhika’s father bid a goodbye to everyone and he stood there at the entrance of his house with moist eyes and folded hands. He couldn’t thank Aarush enough for treating his princess, like a queen.
They took a flight from Varanasi to Chandigarh and from there began a road-trip till Gurdaspur. Everyone was tired by the time they reached their village, and nobody had energy to cook or do any work, so they ordered the dinner from a local dhaba and slept in one big hall. Radhika was sleeping next to Chinkee Bua, Aarush’s so-called favourite aunt, and Aarush was sleeping in front of the bathroom door.
Past midnight, Radhika got up to check her phone which was continually buzzing. She was terrified. Her worst fears had come true. She rushed outside to make a call.
‘Hello, yeah…I’m Radhika Jain…I mean, Radhika Choudhury, can I speak to Shashank?’ the temperature was low outside, and it was pitch dark. There were no lights, not even street lights, and she was standing in the dusty road, without her footwear.
‘Yes, Shashank…yeah I got it, but…’
‘I was thinking to tell Aarush about it.’
‘Alright…’ she hung up and held her head in worries. After a few minutes, she went inside the house without making any noise.
She had to use the bathroom, and spotted Aarush sleeping in front of it.
‘Aarush…shh…’ she whispered, rocked him hard, tried to wake him up.
‘Hmm?’ Aarush was deep asleep.
‘Get up, I need to go.’
‘Bathroom, where else?’
‘Can I come too?’
‘Are you nuts? Come on, get aside. I need to go, really, really bad!’
‘Only if you give me a kiss.’
‘NO!’ Radhika revolted.
‘Then I am not getting anywhere.’
‘Fine, I am going outside in the fields. That’s what you used to do in your childhood, your mother told me!’ she laughed, and Aarush was red with embarrassment. Back in his childhood, they did not have properly constructed bathrooms, so fields were the only abode.
‘You are a monster!’ Aarush got up and vacated the pathway for Radhika to cross and enter the bathroom.
The moment she came back, he grabbed her from behind.
‘I am not going to leave you.’ he whispered in her ear.
They had people sleeping in the lobby and in the drawing room, and Aarush was hugging Radhika – practically in the middle of a huge crowd. If anyone could wake up, they would easily spot them standing there!
‘Leave me, Aarush. Anyone can wake up.’
‘So? I am not going to leave you till I get my fees.’
‘This is the fees I take from people who need to use the bathroom.’
‘Tell your Chinkee bua to pay it first!’ Radhika bit her tongue. She knew she had opened a worm of cans for Aarush, he hated his aunt!
Listening to Radhika, Aarush pinched at her waist so hard, that she was about to scream, but immediately he gagged her mouth with his hand.
‘You can’t scream. Shh…anyone can wake up.’
‘I hate you!’ she said from behind his hand.
‘I love you too…’ Aarush bit her ear and kissed her shoulder, by sliding aside her top a bit.
‘Aarush, if anyone sees us, we are dead.’
‘And I am sure nobody will see us. This is my family. They all sleep like dead rascals!’ Aarush kissed her neck and shoulder again.
‘You stop with your midnight romance now, and sleep. Tomorrow again we have a long journey to cover.’ Radhika got out of his embrace and walked aside.
‘At least give me my kiss.’ Aarush pleaded.
‘No! Tomorrow…’ Radhika whispered and ran away.
As she reached her place to settle down, Chinkee Bua was wide-awake and asked her, ‘What took you so long? Are you okay?’
‘Yeah, I am okay, bua. Everything is okay.’
‘I thought to check on you, but then I saw Aarush was awake, so…’
‘Okay bua, good night!’ Radhika didn’t want to answer any questions or face any embarrassment so she chose to brush the topic aside and sleep instead.
‘Good night.’ his aunt wrapped herself into a thick blanket and slept.
The next morning, Radhika woke up to fragrance of delicious breakfast including – aloo ke paranthe, lassi, makki di roti – and everything else that constituted a sumptuous Punjabi breakfast!
‘Wow, I can’t wait to have breakfast.’ she woke up Aarush.
‘This was my staple food when I used to live here. In Mumbai I think I am living a much healthier life. I won’t eat any of this, do one thing, get me some cereal and milk, I will have that.’ Aarush rubbed his eyes.
‘No! I am not getting you anything. You are eating this with me, I am not eating all of that alone. Look at your bua, and look at how she has filled her plate. I would get the same I think, and I need someone to share it with.’
‘No issues, nobody will say anything to you if you don’t finish your food. This is not school. Go get me some cereal darling.’
‘Aarush, it’s not about getting you cereal, I get you cereal for the rest of the year, and I cannot make these things. Now that you are getting a chance to eat all this, why do you want to miss it? God knows when your mother will make any of us again for us!’
‘Why will I make all of this? You will learn it too. Aarush loves aloo ke paranthe, right son?’ his mother interrupted. Radhika felt sorry, but then she understood that nice-behaviour of her mother-in-law was only in her house for the time she was staying with her parents. Now she was back to being herself, once again.
‘I used to mom, I hate them now. They were responsible for my fat-stomach in childhood. I have toned my body with a lot of effort, please don’t ruin it.’
‘Yeah, why will you like my food now? You have better things to focus on.’ his mother took the offence.
‘MOM! It’s not like that. Why do you always divert the topic into something totally unrelated? Aloo ke paranthe are like a factory of oil and potatoes are anyways a hundred percent carbs. I don’t need carbs, I need proteins.’
‘Yeah right, now everything I cook will be a factory of carbs dipped in oil, you have changed!’
‘And I am happy with this change. I think you should change too. So many people are suffering with cancer and diabetes in Punjab, don’t you see how wrong our food habits are? Right after we wake up, we are consuming a thousand calories in the form of these paranthas. I like cereal and milk better. And I am going to ask father to make you stop eating all this fatty stuff too!’
‘Do whatever you want to do. Radhika, you want some of these or you want the cereal as well?’
‘No maa, I will have your Punjabi breakfast only.’
‘Thank you for doing one right thing in life, and that is marrying this girl! Come with me…’ his mother asked Radhika to follow her.
‘Why do you do this Aarush?’ Radhika asked him.
‘To make you guys patch up.’
‘Of course. If I won’t quarrel, she will find new ways to demean and insult you. And to prevent that from happening, I do all this, so that she finds flaws in her son, and likes the daughter-in-law more…’
‘Aarush…you…’ Radhika controlled her emotions, ‘I feel like kissing you, but can’t…’
‘Yeah, you can. Nobody is around anyways, come…’ Aarush grabbed her and bit her lip.
Just as Radhika and Aarush were totally engrossed in each other, they heard a faint knock on the door. Aarush backed off and Radhika rushed outside.
‘Good morning, dad…I was just…I mean…’
‘It’s okay. Your mother sent me to ask you what do you want in cereal, Oats or porridge?’
‘Anything will do…anything…’ Aarush was still nervous and shocked.
‘Oats it is. I will tell her to make some for me too – without sugar.’
‘Perfect!’ Aarush hastily got up, grabbed his pillow and mattress and went to the room to store it in the cupboard.
Radhika caught a glance of him and pouted at him. He started making faces at her, for embarrassing him in front of his father for a hundredth time in a row now! Radhika loved it, and Aarush loved seeing her happy. Aarush went to eat his breakfast outside, while Radhika was puzzled, whether to tell Aarush about the last night’s call or not…