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Once Again

Short Story by Priyanka Maurya

It was a Sunday morning, around half past eleven. Rohan and Neha were seated in their one bedroom apartment’s living room, each holding a newspaper of their preferred languages: Rohan was reading a Hindi newspaper, while Neha an English one.

The living room resembled most of the urban household’s living room on a Sunday  morning. One would find a pile of stale newspapers lying on the center table, milk carton left open on the kitchen platform, accompanied by two used coffee mugs, two used plates still lying peacefully on the center table, showing the sign of Sunday morning breakfast.

Amidst all these little pieces of relaxation, sat Rohan and Neha, cross legged one on the couch and other on the floor. They both were completely engrossed in their papers as if forgetting each others’ presence. The only time they realized the other was when accidentally their eyes would meet and as an acknowledgment, each would pass a gentle smile towards the other.

It had been two years since Rohan and Neha got married. It was a union arranged  by  their  parents,  something  which  they  both  were  comfortable with. With frequent coffee meets, walks around the city, innumerable discussions, they chose each other as their life partners.

Neha an English teacher by profession and Rohan, a software engineer, didn’t have much common, at least not on the surface level. What connected them to each other was their strong belief in the philosophy that: No matter what career a person chooses, that shouldn’t be just what he/she should be about. There are and rather there should be different extensions of a human and no matter in which stage of their lives, each should get the complete freedom to engage and enhance those extensions. 

So, it goes to say that both of them were more than their jobs. Neha was a passionate painter, and Rohan an avid reader and a bibliophile. Owing to their deep love for the painting and books, one section of their bedroom was converted into a tiny studio-space where she would spend her free time painting and another wall was converted into a book shelf where Rohan would proudly showcase his book collection.

When  Neha  and  Rohan  had  first  moved  into  this  apartment,  everything seemed like a bliss. They were married for just six months then, and like any other newly married couple, they were too going through ‘the honeymoon period. It was a period of exploring the other person, period of companionship, period of LOVE HAZE, where everything else blurs and we live under the intoxication of love and togetherness.

Whenever Neha would sit to paint, Rohan would drag a small cane chair and sit beside her, reading his novels and at times narrating stories to her while she painted on her canvas. On the other hand, Neha quite frequently, would visit book stores,  and  gift  Rohan  his  favorite  authors’  novels,  which  she would then insist he read it to her while she cooked, or in the bed at night. In  their  YOU  AND  I,  they  had  found  ‘WE’. 

Like a gentle stream of river, time kept passing one day at a time. And today after almost two years of companionship, both Neha and Rohan found themselves to be in a place where they never thought they would end up in.

It started with one instance, of him being caught up so much in his book that he would forget to pull the chair beside her. Or she would be so engrossed in her canvas that she wouldn’t even realize his absence. Soon, the one instance turned into two, three and then many. Initially they would remind each other but soon that reminder seemed like an imposition. And soon this feeling turned into silence and this silence into a state of awkwardness which they now both felt.

LOVE IS NATURAL BUT RELATIONSHIP IS WORK. It needs to be maintained, day in and day out. We need to communicate, express and listen. The day, silence replaces words, relationship start to stagnate. And after a while we get so used to maintain the silence that even when we want to, words refuse to leave our mouth, keeping us dumbfounded and always in the state of unrest.

Neha and Rohan were going through the same. They wanted to say, but they just didn’t know how.

Every time Neha sat to paint, she would wait for Rohan to drag the chair and sit beside her. Every time Rohan sat to read he would wait for Neha’s call to come and accompany her. They both just waited.
The living room’s silence was suddenly broken by Rohan’s voice, “Neha, we have  to  go  to  Uday’s  house  warming  party  tonight,  remember  right?”  To which, Neha trying to hide her disappointment, replied, “Yes sure…by what time should we leave?” “Around seven thirty”, answered Rohan.

They then discussed about what possible gift should be bought for Uday and his wife. And  after  much  deliberation,  they  decided  to  gift  them  an  antique  wall clock. 

It was around one in the afternoon now and Neha started to prepare for lunch. On seeing this, Rohan asked her, “It’s been a long time since you made curd curry…!! Would you make it now?”

Neha, who had already started preparing for something else, was surprised for a moment, smiled and happily obliged. She was happy with the fact that in a long time, he had actually asked something from her. Otherwise, everyday would just eat whatever she cooked, without any fuss.

Rohan by now had finished reading the newspaper. He folded the paper, kept it on the center table and started walking towards the bedroom. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Neha was busy making curd curry and rice. She by now knew that Rohan preferred his curd curry with rice more than flat breads. As she started mixing the ingredients in a bowl, she started humming an old ghazal by Jagjit Singh, one of her favorite ghazal artists.

In the bedroom, Rohan was glancing through his bookshelf, trying to find a new book to read. But instead of a new one, he picked up his all time favorite, ‘Gunahon Ka Devta’ by Dharamvir Bharti, one of the classics of Hindi Literature. He picked up the book. As he turned around while flipping the pages of the book, his eyes fell on canvas paper which was kept behind the canvas stand, as if trying hide from him.

He kept the book on the bed, and went towards the canvas. He picked up the canvas paper, kept it on the stand and gave a hard look at it.  As he stared more at it, a sense of dejection engulfed him. He saw that there were two hands sketched, which came from each side of the paper, trying to hold each other. But no matter  how  hard  they  stretched,  they  were  just  unable  to  meet,  unable  to unite.

He  called  out  to  Neha  from  the  bedroom  itself  and  said,  “Neha…when  did you  make  this?”  Neha, unaware of what he had seen, went into the bedroom, while wiping her hands with a napkin.

She suddenly stopped at the bedroom door. Seeing the canvas paper on the stand and Rohan standing facing it, she skipped a heartbeat. In her mind, she cursed herself for her laziness. She was hoping to dispose that off before Rohan could lay his eyes on it but she didn’t.

Rohan asked her again, breaking her reverie, this time looking straight into her eyes, his voice a little somber “When did you make this?” Neha, in a relatively softer voice replied, “I’ve been working on this for a week now. But, I don’t like it. I was going to dispose it. Wait…let me do it right now.” As she said this, she started walking towards the sketch and grabbed the canvas just when Rohan patted her left shoulder, signaling her to put it down. For a brief moment, she looked him in the eye and then slowly, put the canvas back on the stand.

Now  in  that  bedroom,  what  remained  was  an  eerie  silence  and  three confused, scared people, all looking at one another. Rohan and Neha looked at each other, not sure what to say next.  And  at  both  of  them,  looked  the canvas which  stood  in  front of them as if a clueless child was caught red-handed carrying out a mischief…

Rohan held Neha’s shoulders and made her sit on the edge of the bed while he sat in front of her, on his knees. Neha was just unable to look at him. She felt like a guilty as if she who was caught doing ‘the act’ and was now unable to face the world.

Rohan took Neha’s right hand in his hand and covered it with his other hand and said, “We need to talk, don’t you think?” On this, Neha looked at him and just nodded yes. Rohan let out a deep sigh, let go of her hands and sat down on the floor.  He ran both his hands through his hair and without breaking the motion, just patted his cheeks.

The short story continues here,,,,,