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False Pride

Short Story - By Lakshmi Menon

Today was the fourth day since they had stopped talking to each other over a petty argument. Every moment when Dinesh was at home Shalini waited patiently for his loving call - “Shalu…. My darling!” but it never happened.

She decided that she would not say anything until he came and apologized to her. In the past, it was always Dinesh who had come forward to compromise and bridge the gap between them caused by any petty misunderstandings, and more over Shalini could not remember even a single instance where such an event lasted for more than a few hours. After all, it was only a silly matter on which they had argued unnecessarily for about an hour which ultimately had lead to create a wide gap between them. Shalini sighed heavily.

They were married eleven months back, after knowing each other for almost a year in the College. After their wedlock they did have occasions like any other couple when she had to quarrel with Dinesh and in most of them Dinesh had picked up a quarrel for mere fun. But it had never gone beyond a day. It was too much for Shalini to bear the unpleasantness and finally she had decided to make the long-awaited holiday the most enjoyable. Sipping the freshly brewed coffee thoughtfully Shalini remembered what Dinesh had said last week.

“Next Friday is a holiday for me. We can go to my cousin’s house for the housewarming ceremony,” Dinesh had said while handing the invitation card to her....

His cousin, an engineer in PWD, and his wife had invited them for the house warming ceremony of their newly built bungalow, near his office, about ten miles away. Shalini was overwhelmed by the suggestion and looked forward to attending it with her handsome husband, wearing the new silk sari presented by Dinesh two months ago for her twenty-third birthday.

As she was preparing the special breakfast for the holiday, the unpleasant event passed and repassed in her mind like an uninvited guest, and found that tears came to her eyes.

That fateful evening the air was mild and the sky was calm. Dinesh and Shalini were chatting in the balcony of their two bedroom flat on the third floor.

Suddenly they had noticed a fair, young girl begging in the street, gripping her blind husband’s hand, holding a plastic bowl showing to the kind-hearted pedestrians. Shalini was touched by the unfortunate girl’s pure love to her husband though he was blind and dependent on her.

“She could have certainly got a better husband,” thought Shalini, “Why can’t she love someone else?” Seeing the sad face of his beautiful wife, Dinesh commented - “See that girl’s love to her husband, even though he is a blind man!” He wanted to ask her whether she would have loved him if he was blind, but did not wish to hurt her. “That is the reason Shelly wrote …. “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,” - said Shalini showing her power of knowledge of a degree holder.

For a moment, Dinesh looked puzzled. “Who quoted this, you said?” asked Dinesh suspiciously. Shalini giggled and said, “Shelly…. P.B. Shelly.” She winked at him.

Dinesh went into peals of laughter as if his wife had said an interesting joke. Pinching on her pinky cheeks romantically, he said, “What a silly girl you are! It’s Shakespeare who wrote this, not Shelly.” Laughing again, he added, “If you don’t know the names of the poets correctly please don’t refer to them, okay?”

Shalini felt humiliated over his comment. She was not the type who would easily agree to such arguments. She went on arguing for about half-an-hour insisting that she was correct as she still remembered the poem very well. At the end, to settle the unnecessary argument, lighting a cigarette Dinesh said, “Don’t waste your energy by boasting too much with the little knowledge of literature you have.”

Putting on a long face, Shalini rose to her feet and went inside. After a while, Dinesh asked her to accompany him for a stroll intending to make her feel happy again, but she refused to join him.

The next morning she decided to teach him a lesson for humiliating her. She woke up as usual and went to the kitchen. After five minutes she came back to the room with a steaming cup of coffee. Finding him still asleep, she left the cup on the table and stood there for a minute or two, then with a revenging mind, biting her lips, she went to do her morning chores.

Dinesh was alarmed to find the time piece showing seven thirty when he work up and the cold coffee on the table. He wondered why hadn't Shalu awaken him? He made some noise in the room to attract Shalini’s attention, but she didn’t come out of the kitchen pretending to be busy. Angrily, he sipped his coffee and proceeded with his morning chores without waiting any longer for his wife. Hurriedly, all alone he had his breakfast, which was already served on the table. Without uttering a word Shalini was watching him from the kitchen, through the half-opened thick curtain.

Each moment she waited to hear from him - “Shalu, why are you not sitting with me for breakfast?” but he asked nothing. Five minutes later, he hurried for work taking his brief case, without turning to see his Shalu and give the usual “bye” and “present” on her lovely cheeks, for the first time, in their short married life. When he was gone she closed the door and took a deep breath, and later she found her suppressed feelings had made a channel on her cheeks.

In the midst of his heavy work, Dinesh hardly had time to remember the events of the previous night and subsequent atmosphere at home. He returned home in the evening in the usual jolly mood, looking forward to having a cup of steaming coffee from the bangled hands of his lovely wife with a broad smile, which would magically wash away his weariness and fatigue. He had a lot of news to share with her in his mind including the latest love affair of his Sales Manager and the latest fashion sari worn by his colleague Miss Pushpa. He had already planned to gift such a sari to his beloved wife on the anniversary day which was not far.

To his great disappointment, as he entered the house he was welcomed by the grumpy face of his wife. After opening the door for him, she walked towards the kitchen, without uttering a word. That suddenly brought back the memories of the bitter events of the previous evening and her morning negligence towards him. He threw away his brief case and quietly drank the coffee kept on the table with a sullen face.

In the deadly silent moments that followed, Dinesh felt that it was literally impossible to sit silently at home for a long time. He took the newspaper in his hand and tried to focus his attention on the half-read columns, but he could not concentrate on anything in that suffocating atmosphere. He spent some time puffing away at one cigarette after another. He flicked the ash off into the ash-tray, and drew a long breath, waiting each moment for Shau’s presence, in vain.

Suddenly an idea struck him. He changed his dress and hoped she would ask him where he was going at that unusual hour and even kept the answer ready in his mind. As he heard no question from her, Dinesh went out ignoring her wondering look. He went straight to Rajan’s house, one of his old friends, whom he had not visited after his marriage. He had a warm welcome there. Rajan and his wife expressed their displeasure for not bringing his wife along with, when he came for the first time, after marriage. Dinesh made an excuse that he was going somewhere else and on the way he just dropped to their house when he remembered his old friend and that he would certainly come some other day with his wife. He was very much touched seeing the concern of Rajan and his wife that he did not feel like sharing his troubled mind with them.

When he returned home by nine past, opening the automatic door, he found the covered cold food on the table. How could Shalu be so cruel, he thought. Shalini was sitting on the sofa reading a magazine. Without gazing from the book, she observed his movements. Without exchanging a word to each other, he went off into the bed room, hoping to hear something from his dear wife, in the form of questions or any complaint. After a while Shalini heard him go to the bathroom, and the sound of splashing water.

Though he was hungry he did not sit for his dinner and sincerely wished that if she had called him he would go and have dinner with her. Shalini was more angry now with him for going out late in the night without telling her a word and also to bed, without food. As she quietly cleared the untouched food from the table his wordless message sent the blood rushing hotly through her veins.

Both of them were in their own world of loneliness blaming each other in mind. As Shalini lay awake in the bed at night she wished for her dear husband’s warm embrace, whispering his apologies for the rude behavior and vice versa Dinesh from her. But their false pride did not give away easily. A sudden wave of terror hit her. "How long we’re going to continue like this? Is he slowly moving away from me?" Even while she was silent, there was always a flush of feeling inside her that said” “Why don’t you go and speak to him first, this time?”

The Short story