The man at the window
by Padmaja Menon
(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
That man was at the window again. Suruchi had got used to him staring at her as she swabbed, dusted or wiped the kitchen. She was aware of his piercing eyes as she chopped the vegetables, peeled the onions or whipped the curd. She also knew that she quite enjoyed the feeling of being stared at. And he wasn’t bad looking either. He had a tall lithe figure and he was always dressed in spotless white luckawi kurta pyjama.
She giggled suddenly. It was quite silly really. Here she was a much-married woman with two children, a doting husband; a happy family from all aspects, yet why did she look forward to seeing a stranger so much? All of a sudden, cooking had become a pleasurable job, she had started experimenting various recipes, she flicked dosas stylishly, she ground masalas with gusto, and she never even noticed when she singed her fingers while removing idlis off the cooker! She realized that there was a song n her lips and lilt to her footsteps all of a sudden. Why?
She couldn’t really care for a person who was just a man at a window.? What did she know about him anyway? He might be married, waiting for his wife to re-join him – she might even have left him. Yes, that was it, he was a divorcee, recapturing his past – or may be by looking into her kitchen he was recollecting married life when he and his wife had been together.
Or most probably, he was a bachelor out for kicks, staring amorously at an attractive woman in her domain, the kitchen. For attractive Suruchi was, she knew that with her large eyes, soft lips and rounded figure she had an effect on men, whether they were her husband’s friends or her brother’s friends. Their first expression on seeing her would be casual, then they would look again, later following her figure with their eyes admiringly. And they never looked her in the eye when they spoke to her. Suruchi sometimes couldn’t understand it.
What was it about her that made men behave like that? Was it respect or was it disrespect? She couldn’t quite place it. Even the young teenagers of her locality would gaze at her, show off for her benefit if she happened to be at the balcony while they played badminton or cricket. But they wouldn’t speak to her easily, only nervously. Her beauty must be unnerving Haha.
That man at the window would sometimes gather his friends around him in the evenings and loud singing and dancing would take place. Suruchi would take care not to inhabit the kitchen when such gatherings took place. She hated a lot of men ogling at her at the same time. Later when his guests departed, he would sit by the window pensively staring into space. Or was it at her?
She looked up at the window. He was having guests again. A woman too! Who could she be? A sister? No, she was too old for that. Mother? May be. Come to visit her son. Did she know that her son spent hours watching a married woman? And that the married woman did not mind? Rather she enjoyed it? A bit of harmless flirting never did anyone any harm!!
Suruchi hummed to herself, watching the window with the corner of her eye. She was preparing some snacks for Ravi, who would be back soon from office. Rave was all right, typical Indian male, explosive if rubbed on the wrong side, cloyingly affectionate when treated like Lord and Master! She couldn’t complain. He doted on her, was considerate and kind and well……….
She couldn’t expect any better from a man! In the last eight years of marriage, they had adjusted to each other and life had more or less settled down to a fixed pattern. Humdrum, mundane, prosaic. No excitement. May be that was the trouble, no excitement, took each other for granted. Maybe she was feeling the seven-year itch. But Ravi wouldn’t dream of getting involved even casually with any girl. He was too fiercely loyal to her. And he would explode if he knew about the man at the window. She knew that from past experiences. He couldn’t bear another man looking at her.
Wow! How possessive he had been. He raised hell, created scenes and later made fierce passionate love muttering wildly “you are mine, mine alone”,. A thrill shot through her. Those had been exciting days and nights.
But now he had matured and that primitive urge in him was kept n a leash. Maybe she missed all that fire and passion. Was that why she was flirting with another man? It was fun really, those glances that she gave him, as she stirred the sambar or salted the curry. Did he consider her an excellent cook and wish she were his? She blushed furiously. What was happening to her? His wife indeed! And …well, would she like it? To be his wife? Held in his arms? Cheek to cheek, lip to lip?
No…. surely, she would not. She would definitely hate being in anyone else’s arms but Ravi’s. Ravi was the only man for her.
Should she inform Ravi of that man’s stares? Ravi would be scandalized, he would bar the window, chastise her first, and make passionate love later. It would be great to feel his hungry thrusting and passionate murmurings. These days, they waited till the children were asleep, almost always falling asleep before them. It was always Suruchi who fell asleep. In the morning he would admonish her. She would flare up and put the blame on him. Couldn’t he wake her up? Earlier he had done so, planting short, sweet kisses on her cheeks, the nape of her neck, his mouth seeking hers. Her mind and body would automatically respond. But now if she slept, he also did so. Why? And if at all they made love it would be cautiously so that the children would not be disturbed.
The children, yes, they were the main cause of their drifting apart. The other day Ravi had discussed going off on a holiday leaving the children with his parents. But Suruchi had made excuses. Maybe they should go on that holiday – alone.
There was that man again staring away. Really, didn’t he have any other recreation?
Suddenly Suruchi felt irrationally irritated. Silly man. Always staring. Couldn’t he see she was a married woman? A mother? Of course, he must know. He must have noticed her children in and out of the kitchen. Even Ravi entered the kitchen at odd times, tweaking her hair, pinching her cheek, even planting a kiss now and then on her lips as she rolled out parathas or prepared a salad. He could surely see that they were a close unit and he was an interloper or did he consider her available, waiting for a chance?
Did he imagine she would give up her husband, her children for him? She couldn’t analyze it. In a fit of temper, she shook her fist at him. He sat immobile.
Suddenly she decided upon something. His mother was there. She would go to their house. It was just a block away. She would confront him. Before she could change her mind, she left the house. On turning the corner, she contemplated, was it this one or that one? Yes…. That was the one. Determinedly she strode forward. To the top floor. She entered the gate and ascended the stairs. She had just reached the first-floor landing when a door opened and a woman looked out.
“Hallo” she said in a friendly tone. “Going up”?
“Yes—yes” Suruchi was suddenly nervous. What could she say?
“To meet Arun? His mother has come to take him to the Hospital. You know, a week from now, he would be operated upon”.
“For what,” Suruchi asked, a sense of foreboding enveloping her.
“Arun had an accident, six months back. He lost his eyesight. The Doctors have said that an operation would help him regain his sight. So today….. wait where are you going …..”?
The woman stared non plussed as Suruchi rushed down the stairs. She ran all the way to her kitchen. Yes, there he was, immobile---- staring at her ki……….. no, staring at nothing…..” It was ironic.
Hard sobs racked her body. How wrong she had been. How silly she had been. Blaming a blind man.
But still………some how she had no regrets. She had realized something. Ravi and she had got caught in a groove, taking each other for granted, making a mess of their lives. A bit of change would be welcome. She would agree to that holiday, yes, they would go off together……. all alone, regain those passion filled, days and nights of old, come back rejuvenated to take up the reins of living anew …. Yes, they would.
“Thank you, Arun,”, she whispered, “get well soon, and God bless you”.*****