A Short Story - by Kakuli Nag
I never realized the world of trust was so limited until that evening. I was not only nervous and fumbling for words; I was countering myself over and over again before I could face Siddharth. All day, I swear on God, I played and re played the meeting in my mind a thousand times and it ended the same way, his questioning look and my crest fallen posture. His imploring and my ignoring! His look was pleading and mine was misleading!
I will not admit that I had anything to do with this entire episode. It was just a friendly meeting, a casual hi like any other hi to a dozen other men followed by a casual exchange of phone numbers, no promise for future meetings, no intimate look or instant attraction. How am I supposed to know, even in my wildest dreams, that the two characters would be attracted to each other later, behave like teenagers, dying for each other's attention, chatting on mail till the wee hours of the morning, getting possessive about each other, beginning to build a future for themselves and worst of all, contemplate a divorce to wind up a marriage that lasted for just three months. Something inside me coiled even to think that I had initiated all of this and had very little control over the consequences.
Usually these relationships do not have the potential to sustain. I did not want any of these emotional jazz to linger, I swore to myself that I would wash my hands off, shrug my shoulders, move to a different city, start afresh and forget the whole thing like nothing ever happened. I am not carrying any emotional baggage, I thought selfishly and I had no intention to stay back in Bangalore to take ownership of this mess. He begged to meet me, just one last time before I dumped all of it and escaped.
Siddharth is more than handsome, smart, intelligent, family oriented and fairly rich - the perfect husband material by average standards. I barely knew him for over two months. Two distinct characteristics distinguished him from the rest of the average men I meet every second day. One was his open laughter that still echoed in my ears, and the second was how he cared for my friend of six years, Sneha - his wife.
I have stayed awake for nights together regretting a few things I did, recalling things I should not have done and repairing the damages my actions may have caused. I wished well for Sneha and so I suggested that she stay at my place when her husband was away in Texas for a three month project. Homemade food can never cause me any harm! For someone who is so used to outside junk, her cooking would be a welcome boon. Sneha was scared of living on her own in the empty spacious rooms of her house and was only too glad to stay with me.
That's the “Hi” I exchanged with him after their marriage and that's how some wrong things began. I missed attending their wedding as it collided with my cousin's wedding in Kolkata.
Within two weeks of the marriage, he had to take up this project in San Antonio. Two days after he flew to Texas, I had to go to Mumbai for a short legal assignment. I requested a neighbor of mine, who used to stay close to my house for over two years, to send his sister to accompany Sneha in my house, for the week I would be away in Mumbai. He promised he would, and be around if they needed anything. Relieved at the thought that Sneha is in good company, I flew to Mumbai only to learn that my assignment was not as short as I had expected it to be. It would last for three months.
Since I had promised Siddharth that Sneha would be safe and entertained in my house while he was away, I felt obligated to keep him informed; which I did through an email, when I flew to Mumbai, explaining the arrangement I had made for Sneha in my absence.
I remember that he had sent me a series of mails thanking me for being so thoughtful, that Sneha is lucky to have someone like me as her friend. He even offered to reach out to his friends in Mumbai to show me around during weekends, when he learnt that my stay had been extended. Soon our mails got frequent, more than just a courtesy. The subjects were vast and captivating, ranging from the Mumbai attacks, if I was in a safe environment with enough security around to how he liked Sneha the very first instant he had seen her, his office work and mine, his cold supper to my hot coffee and the kind. These topics became an excuse to reach out and seek each other’s company in e-conversations and escape the empty hotel rooms we stayed in, across geography. The whole time during those three months, we simply wished to be back in Bangalore, in our own cozy homes. We comfortably used each other as time extinguishers.
Sneha was very fun loving however she could not be confined to an arm chair for long email chats. She had wheels tied to her toes and would rather prefer the sweet quick exchanges over the phone and get going with her daily routine. Her manifestations of love were probably different. Being glued to a chat box discussing useless nothings, in the name of conversation was certainly not her trait.
The coffee was left cold. I looked everywhere except him. I toyed with my ring, fidgeted with the spoons, my cell, my purse, my handkerchief but nothing helped. I smiled at the wrong people; called the waiter several times wanting to order stuff I had no plans of eating. I wanted to do everything but be left alone with him there. I did not want him to ask me anything, plead for any information which I was determined not to give: How did it develop? Did I ever realize? Why am I acting weird now? Why can't I absorb the truth and accept it? How much of it was my fault or was it my fault at all? What should he do now?
He looked dejected. Serves him right, I told myself. Why did he have to take that stupid assignment in Texas and be away from Sneha immediately after marriage? Wasn't he some six years older than her and should have had the maturity level to understand how she lacks seriousness and has childish interests in abundance? I kept repeating these thoughts to myself, cursing him invariably to be able to let go of the lump in my throat. The lump of massive guilt!
I remember every word he had written about Sneha in his emails, all his plans to surprise her when he returned, all the gifts he would get for her from Texas, the house he planned to buy in the suburbs of Bangalore and heaven knows what else he had chatted about her. All his hopes and dreams were grazed to the ground. I had ruined them!
Silence prevailed for more than twenty minutes now. I died a thousand deaths in those minutes. Finally, I chose to break the silence.
"Now what?", I sounded irritated as if I had graced the occasion by being there with him and every minute was costing me a billion dollars. As a lawyer I wonder if I can ever earn those billion dollars even in an entire life time. "Now what?" he repeated. "What now, are you going to blame me for all this?" I asked upfront and was fuming even before I realized. Some defense mechanism was active and my otherwise sane marbles began to betray me already.
"I will blame you for trying to help me and then ruining me". He was so composed. I wondered sitting there, what he had as a daily dose to build that kind of patience or maybe he was just trying hard to remain composed. One penetrating gaze and I could figure out how he was struggling. A man's ego being hurt is a big thing to deal with.
"Listen, I had nothing to do with all this. You knew my intentions; I just wanted to help and got entangled in this whole thing involuntarily." I hated myself explaining.
"Fight the case for divorce", he said in the same composed manner, as if he was talking about someone else.
"Great! What is this now? Is this some kind of penalty clause that I am responsible for this whole thing and so I am supposed to fight the case now? There are a dozen lawyers out there to hire. Why me?"
"Why will you not fight this case?"
"Listen, before you give up, did you even try talking to her? May be she realizes this whole thing is a mistake Siddharth, a temporary illusion. You went miles away from her immediately after the wedding, you were alone there, you felt lost and she too must have felt deserted here, it just happened!"
"I don't want to talk to her or repair anything!". With those few words, delivered in a determined way, something collapsed - the motive of sustaining a relationship and something become extremely prominent - the failure in sustaining the relationship. I stared. He asked me slowly," Does it help to regret or pretend not to regret?"
I made a mighty effort to ignore what he asked me and spoke the legal language, clauses, terms and conditions of separation within one year of marriage. I made it sound like a Herculean task, more difficult than it was and emphasized the bright chances of patch up and a life happily ever after which did not quite register in his mind. I felt like I was being scrutinized under a microscope due to his constant stare.
Continue reading here... Short Story "Hi !!" .....