Kajal almost fell, feeling giddy as she felt the air snuck out of her body. So the prospective groom was KB? Was she hallucinating?
KB walked towards her, and if he was surprised, he didn’t show it. He didn’t show any reaction, and she gave him the credit of being an actor par excellence.
They sat on the couches. Kajal, still shaking with nerves, sat next to maami while KB sat next to his grandmother, and the way he held her weakened wrinkled hand in his was simply adorable. He looked nothing like the obnoxious man on the set.
They were provided with refreshments, after which Kajal could finally breathe at ease. It was then that she took a look around. The walls of the vast drawing-room were off-white-colored.
From the decorative pillows and cozy throws topping the expertly upholstered sofa to the eye-catching color combinations, every detail enlivened the space. Of course, it was an open-spaced living room with large windows opening to the lawn outside, letting the late morning warmth float inside. But, overall, Kajal felt that though there was a luxury, there wasn’t an overt extravagance.
Even ajji was dressed in a simple designed pure silk saree and was grace personified as she spoke or conducted herself. However, she lifted her eyes to see KB staring at her unblinkingly, but besides the usual turmoil brewing in his eyes, she couldn’t make out the expression, wondering why he had to resort to buying a bride for himself. Moreover, she wondered what he thought of her.
That her heart kept pounding, threatening to break free of its thoracic chambers, wasn’t helping her. Unlike him, her face was a dead giveaway; she was sure of that.
She saw her aunt fawning over KB and was embarrassed. Maami was glued to TV shows every evening, and she would have indeed recognized KB, not to mention smelling the richness around.
“My Krishiv is an honest person, and the best son one can have. And I am glad he agreed to this arrangement.” Ajji spoke.
“Our Kajal is no less, kaki….” Her maami spoke. “…She is good at everything she does. Be it studies or cooking or painting.”
“Uh… Krishiv why don’t you take Kajal to the balcony upstairs and chat up a bit?” Ajji asked, and Kajal’s heart skipped a beat.
Her maami nudged her, and she stood up, following KB as he took the stairs. He led the way to the bedroom, which opened to an expansive balcony overlooking the sparkling lawn. He gestured her to sit on the cane chair while he sat across on an identical one.
“So Ms. Righteous is here to become a misuss, eh?” he smirked.
Kajal looked away at the lawn, not answering.
“What happened Kajal? Didn’t work out with Rugved?”
At that, she glared at him while he continued chuckling. “…Okay, okay… so tell me what made you agree to this marriage? I am sure had you known it was me, you wouldn’t have come here… or would you? I was curious about the woman ready to adjust for the sake of money… but now that I saw you, I am not surprised anymore…”
“Wait KB Sir… what is that supposed to mean?” Kajal was annoyed at his nerve.
“Come on Kajal you are in this for the money, right? And what a settlement after a year… you have it all sorted for yourself and your family. So I have to give it to you, Kajal, acting all bashful on the exterior, but this is what you…”
“THAT’S ENOUGH KB sir… you have no right to call me names. You are in this for a reason, too, and you didn’t even reveal it … so don’t be the pot that calls the kettle black. And you are right. If I had known that it was you, I would have refused right away. Nonetheless, I will take your leave…” Kajal fumed as she stood.
“Wait Kajal…” He spoke standing and was soon next to her, making her breathing halt in the lungs. “… Please sit…” He moved back while she sat, not because she wanted to but because her legs almost gave away.
“Fine, I apologize, OK?” he smiled the devilish grin that made her insides turn into the marshmallow. How could she remain angry anymore? He had that impact on her… she had become brazen and immune to insults!
“Kajal, there are a few rules you must understand if you agree to this marriage. First, I will not tolerate any interference in my personal life, nor will I bother you. Second, we will be staying in my penthouse in Andheri, where I will be giving you a room, and you will remain there or go out of the house whenever I entertain friends at home. Third, you are free to use anything you like on the lower level of the house right from the kitchen, pantry, library, mini gym, home theatre… whatever you like. But under no circumstances will you go up to the first floor. Lead the life you want to, and I won’t say a word… stay away from the press and a few occasions you will have to accompany me to a few dos to show the world. Is that okay with you?”
Kajal stared open-mouthed, and he snapped his fingers to bring her out of her daze. What just happened? Did he state rules? Goddamn rules? What was she getting into… frying pan to the fire? She shook her head to try to contain the sudden blood flow to her brain, which still felt blank.
“KB sir, I only have two conditions… no one should know about this arrangement, and I want to go to work.”
“The first I understand I wouldn’t want anyone to know either, but why do you have to work? Working with Rhapsody may jeopardize…”
“…I am leaving Rhapsody…” she said abruptly.
“…so where will you be working? Got a new job already…?”
“…I have an offer from Rugved Sir for an assistant to writer’s position… its something I always wanted to do… so…”
She saw KB stiffen. What was it between the two, just professional rivalry, or was there anything more to it? She sighed as she looked at him.
“Fine by me then… so let’s tie the knot in 9 days from now… and you have your exams too, right?”
How did he know? She nodded as he continued. “…you should appear for the papers then… the official honeymoon can be pushed ahead, and we will have a reason to tell the press as well… the exams couldn’t have come at a better time.” He smiled as if he was planning the plot of his TV serial, and she shook her head. But, of course, this was a TV serial in itself… they were going to act their parts of husband and wife.
The paths were laden with upheaval
yet they were trodden, as though critical…
She only hoped her heart would survive the emotional upheaval she was subjecting it to.
She stood up to leave, and he walked up to her pushing a stray curl away from her face behind her ear, even as his trademark citrus cologne engulfed her senses. She moved away from him, but he gripped her arm. She looked into his eyes, and for the first time since she had arrived, she saw that raw fire embedded in his eyes, snarling at her threatening to burn her. What she feared was agreeing to turn into ashes.
He moved closer to her, their bodies almost touching. He just had to touch her, and she was combustible in his infernos aura.
She gasped and tried to pull herself away, and as if out of a spell, his expression turned neutral again, and he released her looking away.
“Kajal, give me your phone…” he spoke softly and took it out of her hand. Her phone was locked. “…unlock it for me, please…” he almost whispered, and she was on autopilot as she put in the codes.
He typed a number and dialed. His phone rang, startling her.
“Save my number and answer me whenever I call… that’s another important rule I forgot to mention.” He gave her a side smile that did something to her insides. She nodded softly and walked out of the room, not bothering to take in the beautifully decorated room.
She spent the rest of the day trying to study but in vain. She looked at the phone now and then.. and her heart fell when there was no text or a missed call or anything of the sort. So then why the hell did he take her number of he had nothing to talk about? Everything in this reeked of quicksand, and she wondered if she was sinking deeper into it.
The only solace in the entire fiasco was she knew KB and was attracted to him… so the year shouldn’t be awkward… should it?
Later that evening, she explained her decision to marry to her stupefied mama and an unhappy Krunal, even as her maami wholeheartedly ‘supported’ her. She knew Krunal would eventually come along and convinced herself she was doing it to secure his future.
Her engagement was in two days, and she had emailed her resignation to Rhapsody, sighting personal reasons. But, as she went to bed that night, a strange fear rose through her being. Why did a rich, handsome guy like KB need to get into a contract marriage? And why did he agree to her when he had women ready to eat out of his hands?
What would her aai-baba say about her decision had they been here?