by Kakuli Nag
I was attempting to hold a conversation with him. A futile attempt! Diplomacy was never my forte and I fumbled for words like a three year old struggles to talk with limited vocabulary. It is not an easy task to carry a decent conversation with someone I hardly knew and yet all the while had known his intentions, hardly spoke to and yet aware of his mind.
"Congrats Chris, I did not expect to be invited, really. This is great news." I smiled. When I do not like someone, it usually reflects on my face and I have very little control on it. I hoped my cheerful words compensated for the lack of warmth and enthusiasm in my acknowledgement of his wedding card.
"I hope you can make it. I want you to come and meet her". He sounded earnest and the more he expressed his eagerness, the more I hated him.
"I will definitely try. It is on a Sunday, I should be able to make it". I lied. I tried to put my diplomatic front forward, awkwardly. Even if he had sent me a private jet, I would not go, I was sure of that.
"I can arrange to pick you up" He confirmed as if reading my mind. I was clueless why he was so keen that I attend his marriage. I have met him only twice when he came home with a common friend. I don't even have his contact details. He has both my cell number and Gmail ID though. I am not supposed to be in his guest list. And now here he is in my apartment to invite me. There has to be something more to this, I assumed.
"That will not be necessary. I will come on my own or with Priya" I deliberately mentioned Priya, our common friend and watched the color on his face fade.
"When do you want to be picked? Is seven okay?" He made a quick effort to avoid her name. He did not know that I knew and that is what was funny about the whole thing.
"Don't bother about that Chris. I am sure Priya knows this place. She used to stay close by". I was still searching for the look on his face to find any sign of remorse. I could see none.
"Priya cannot possibly come from Delhi, so you have to rule out that option, of coming with her. I will send a car at seven sharp". He finalized the time and waited for my confirmation.
“You did not have the nerve to invite her, right?" While my heart was screaming at me to stop, my voice betrayed and let out the words, even before I realized it. I had promised Priya a dozen times to keep her little secret and go to grave with it - sealed in my heart.
"What?" He looked startled.
"Chris, let go of your defenses. I know about the war you fought and lost" I spat out sarcastically.
"I don..nt understand". He stammered.
"After four years you suddenly remembered one fine day that your parents are conservative and will not let you marry a Hindu girl" It was a statement alright however it was aimed to be a question.
"Alright then, if you know about those four years, Priya must have also told you, that for the past two years, I tried convincing my parents. I did everything so that they would accept her. I don't have it in me to forsake my parents for her. Call me a coward or whatever.” I could see beads of perspiration on his forehead.
“I swear on Christ, I never realized when I was getting involved with her initially, the final turn of events would be so negative, my family would react so violently, threaten and blackmail me emotionally. I will always feel terrible for what I did to her. You are right. I do not have the nerve to invite her, so I want one of her close friends to attend the marriage. I want you to be there, please"
I sighed. "You are eloquent with words, aren't you?" I shot another cold sarcastic remark at him. I will deal with Priya later I thought- apologize a thousand times for not being able to keep my big mouth shut. It seemed to me that my words hurt him and I was pleased with myself.
"I could not handle her outburst when she first learnt about my marriage a few months back and that is when I called you and asked you to talk to her and check if she was fine. She matters to me a lot. I swear. I care a lot about her well being." My impatience with his dialogue delivery showed prominently on my face I guess because he abruptly stopped speaking waiting for my reaction.
“Yeah I remember that drama. The sharp sound of acute helplessness you made on the call that night wanting me to repair the state of affairs for which you were solely and wholly responsible. That night, I pretended as if I could not fathom why you had asked me to call her, knowing all the while what Priya could possibly be doing alone in her Delhi apartment.” I wiped the frame of my glasses, struggling to maintain my poise.
“She was weeping bitter tears in self pity however I called you back to say she was doing fine. I wanted to protect her ego. For God's sake, she was even willing to convert to Christianity only to please you and your family. And then you came up saying that your
parents want a Malayali Christian and not a Tamil Christian. How the hell is she supposed to change the language her family speaks, the one she was born in?
"She told you all that?" He looked surprised now and ashamed at his narrow outlook.
"Instead of using Religion and language barrier to avoid her and singing that favorite song of yours that you tried so hard to convince your parents, you could have just told her the truth" I stated emphatically.
"And what do you think is the truth if not the language or religion difference?" Chris had a very innocent face which one will instantly like and a highly contagious energy level. I was happy for Priya, when I had first met him and found him to be perfect husband material - caring, intelligent, fairly ambitious, family loving, fun to be with, a great cook and not to forget tall and handsome, just the way metro women liked. Now when he posed that question at me about what the truth was, I fought the huge urge to slap him. I continued to stare at him, in his act.
"So tell me what you think is the truth?" He insisted to know.
"It was just a matter of waning interest Chris and you know that. Four years and you were bored with her. You could not imagine an entire life time with her while you had options of exploring elsewhere." My stare remained fixed on him.
"Instead of making my friend linger on hopes, you just had to be man enough to shed that nice image of yours, of being a good friend and all that jazz, muster courage to tell her on her face that it was over and you don't even care. Had you been honest enough to tell the truth, her mourning session for this relationship would have been brief. By drilling this into her heart that you tried to convince your parents for her, fought for her, tried hard for her, she would always want to believe you loved her and that, my dear Chris, is mourning for a life time."
Chris sat there silently for a while and then whispered, "I thought it would be less painful for her if I walk away and still be a friend. She can count upon me, if she needed me. I wanted everything between us the way it was when we just began to know each other - the lunches, movies, office, travel together, the long chats, the even longer walks, the fights, the patch ups. I wanted everything, except the possessive streak she began to develop over the years"
I laughed out aloud. He looked stunned at my sudden outburst.
"You needed an excuse. You are still continuing to justify something to yourself to swallow the lump of guilt in your throat, right Chris? You wronged her, you know that and your Christ believing heart cannot live with the man you have grown up to be. You are not just a coward and a fundamentalist without faith who esteems Religion above humanity - you also lack the guts to face your own poor self. Chris, if you pretend to believe that a lie is the truth for a long time, you will probably forget it was a lie and never know the truth ultimately." I paused.
"Here the truth is - you wanted her to believe it is because of your parents that you dumped her, you personally wanted to believe it is because of her possessiveness that you let go of her. Neither is the truth. You did not like her anymore and that is the only truth that remains".
Neither he nor I touched the coffee. Neither of us cared. Priya told me several times that Chris considered me above average in terms of intelligence and perceptive skills. As he stood to leave, I had this strange feeling, he wanted this conversation to take place. The Invitation was just an excuse.
He probably knew I was aware about his relationship with Priya. He wanted someone else, beside himself to know, what a pathetically manipulative person he had been to pacify his guilt under the veil of religion, language and her flaws. He wanted this conversation communicated to Priya as he could never gather enough guts to tell her to get on with her life without clutching on to her romantic memories with him.
I liked the way this conversation ended. I was happy with myself after having spoken my mind to him, letting him know how cheap and narrow minded he was. After he left, I opened the wedding card and read "Christopher Roberts weds Sangeeta Viswanathan". The moment I read a Hindu name, I knew I was so right about him.
While driving back home, Chris called Sangeeta and related the conversation he had with me, quite disturbed with the way it turned out eventually.
"And you told me, this friend of your ex is extremely intelligent and all with above average perception - can see things beyond what is apparent - who will understand why you did what you did. She just joined the clan to blame you. Will she ever know that you left Priya because she agreed to convert? If she cannot be loyal to her own faith of twenty eight years, how can she ever be loyal to an individual or a new family, was your reasoning and logic. Why dint you let today's conversation convey the truth?" Sangeeta demanded to know, angrily.
"You understand and that's enough". Chris opened the car windows to let the breeze in as he drove home.