The Arrangement

By: P.G. Van

Niha stood up and turned to find him sitting in ‘her’ spot for their movie nights, the spot right next to Naani. She started walking toward the other couch when Naani called out to her and patted the space next to her on the other side.

“You’re in Niha’s spot, Mahen,” Naani said as she made him scoot.

“Fine… I can sit by myself.” He laughed, getting up to offer the spot to Niha, taking her by surprise.

Niha looked at him as he pulled open the recliner on the single-seat couch. She sat next to Naani, her eyes on him as he fumbled with the remote to start the movie. She leaned her head on the plush couch and continued to observe him.

She felt bad for what she said to him in the bathroom and wondered if that had anything to do with him joining them to watch a movie. He usually spent time reading or watching his shows on the big screen TV in the study upstairs, but that night was different.

“How many times have you watched this movie before, Naani?” he teased, and his grandmother snorted in response.

Mahen’s face lit up with a smile, and Niha took in his chiseled profile and was startled when he turned to look right at her. She looked away immediately and kept her eyes glued to the movie, but her heart was beating hard as she knew he was still looking at her. She let out a breath she was holding when he looked away to follow the movie.

A few minutes into the movie, Naani cleared her throat like she was preparing to say something important. “Mahendra.”

“Yes, Naani,” he responded without taking his eyes off the screen.

“I talked to Neelu today… she wants to come to see you sometime.” Naani’s voice was cautious, making Niha wonder who they were talking about.

Niha watched Mahen clench his jaw, but he did not respond.

Naani looked at him and said, “It’s not fair for her to…”

Mahen did not let her finish. “No is no. I give a damn about her, and I told you a million times already not to bring this up.”

“Mahen, you need…”

“No, Naani. I don’t care,” he barked, and it shocked Niha. In the month she had been living in the house, he had never raised his voice at his grandmother.

Niha turned to look at Naani, and her heart took a nose-dive into her stomach when she saw the older woman bat away tears. Anger built up inside her at the sight of the sadness in Naani’s eyes, and her curiosity about who they were discussing died in its path.

“Mahen, I won’t be around forever… I want you to…” Naani started to say.

“Naani, that’s enough. I’ll not tolerate this crap,” he yelled, and that did it for Niha.

She threw her arm around Naani and glared at him. “Mahen, stop it. You’re upsetting Naani.”

He stood up to look at Niha. “You. Stay out of this.”

“I’ll not let you talk to Naani like this,” she stated, not backing down in spite of how much his anger shook her on the inside.

“She’s my Naani, and I need to talk to her. Get out of here,” he barked, and Niha looked at him in disbelief, his harsh words burning her.

She stood up and ignored Naani’s words asking her to stay. She rushed toward her room, fighting back tears. He was right, Naani was his grandmother, and she should have left when they started talking, but she could not accept it. She could not bear to see the tears in the older woman’s eyes. She didn’t care about who or what they were talking about, but she could not push away the picture of the ever-smiling face of Naani with the sadness in her eyes.

Later that night, Niha was sitting on the wide, concrete window sill inside her room when she heard a soft knock but ignored it as she was sure she imagined it. Moments later, the door creaked open, and she looked in its direction to find Mahen opening the door. He stood, looking at her without entering.

“May I come in?” His tone was mellow.

“It’s your house,” she snapped.

“It’s your room,” he retorted but maintaining a soft tone.

She looked at him without getting off the window sill and nodded. He stepped in and closed the door behind him. He waited a moment as if expecting her to walk to him, but when she didn’t, he walked over to where she sat, sulking.

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