As I sipped the last of my coffee, I glanced at my husband sitting next to me on the couch, immersed in his iPad. The home theatre in front of us displayed the latest commercials. As I bend down to retrieve the TV remote from the coffee table, I noticed his untouched coffee, all cold. The pre bedtime coffee was a tradition for us coffee lovers, which had lately turned a necessity to keep us together in the same room that wasn’t just the four walls of our bedroom. I shook my head in disappointment, took the remote and leaned back on the couch. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to watch, but the immense nothingness in the room was killing me. I flicked to the next channel.
“I was watching that.” he said, barely taking his eyes off his iPad.
I was just way too tired to argue. Instead, my eyes wandered about the living room. The plush curtains on the windows; paintings that adorned the wall, more out of his knack for showing off than passion; the majestic chandelier above that reflected the sad demise that our two-year marriage had taken. And suddenly, just like that, it started pouring outside.
“It’s raining!” My excitement at the sudden rain masked my grave attempts at small talk. As the butterflies in my stomach tangoed with one another, I realized that a stroll outside was the perfect way to break the news to him.
“Let’s go outside right?”
I’m not sure if he didn’t hear me or if he just didn’t choose to respond. So I sat a little closer to him and placed my hand lightly on his thigh. I didn’t see even the remotest acknowledgement of my touch from his part.
I tried again. “Like how we used to, back when we were in college; getting drenched to our bones!”
Silence again. “Aman? Are you listening to me?”
“Ya Isha. Tell me.”
A small part of me wanted to grab the iPad from his hands and smash it on the floors then and there. But of course, I didn’t.
I stood up abruptly, dumped my coffee in the dishwasher and proceeded to the balcony. Leaning against the railing, letting the raindrops kiss me, I wondered why we had even got married in the first place. Of course, back in college, we were nothing like this, he was nothing like this. He was so loving and caring and always attended to my needs like I was his number one priority in life. Yes, that was it. I am not sure what changed or how we became this zillion-year-old couple trying to make our marriage work, but I was just no longer his priority.
The melancholy that was clouding the surrounding air was suddenly vanquished by the arms that wrapped around my waist. As he slowly kissed the nape of my neck, causing the hairs there to waltz in surprise, he whispered, “Why do you wanna go out in the rain when we can do much more here?”
I couldn’t help smiling to myself. As the kisses progressed down to my shoulders, he slowly turned me around. He planted just the slightest kiss on my forehead, held my face carousingly with his hands and slowly leaned me against the balcony. His lips were closing in on mine. Just as they barely touched mine, he whispered, “I know that you are not ready, but maybe it’s time we thought about having a…”
I quickly kissed his lips. “Aman, I have something to tell you…” Just then my phone rang.
As I pushed him away while rushing to answer the call, he held on to me a bit tighter, “Let it ring, you can call back later.”
“Must be Disha calling from the US. You know she does not get a large a window of time to call.”
“Screw her! She is always such a pain in the ass” He loosened his grip on me while rolling his eyes.
“I will just be a minute.” I kissed his forehead re-assuredly.
“Are you kidding?” I had already rushed out to the living room. “It’s you and your sister!!” he called out to me.
Just as I was picking up my cell from the coffee table, I noticed Aman’s coffee, still untouched. Contrary to my predictions, it was my mother calling. “Could not call any other time, right?” I thought to myself as I picked up the call.
“Ishu, is everything okay with you?” She sounded distraught.
“Ya Ma, why wouldn’t it be?”
“Listen, girl, your papa and I are really worried about you.”
I was mouthing ‘mom’ to Aman in the balcony, who in turn enacted being shot in the head. I fought tooth and nails to hold my laughter in. “Mom, you are the one who seems like in trouble. Why are you even calling me so late in the night?” I turned to face the clock that hung on the wall; it showed 10:35 pm.
“Shekar baiyya said that lately, you have had lights on everywhere in the house in the wee hours. You won’t even let us stay over and keep insisting that you are better off on your own. And now you are not sleeping again. He called a few minutes ago, saying…saying he saw you pacing on the balcony,..umm…talking to yourself. He sounded really worried…”
“Hahahaaaaa!!! Oh my god mom! Don’t tell me that you are calling because of some nosy neighbour. Has he turned blind too now?” I couldn’t help laughing. “I don’t understand what’s wrong with you or Shekhar dada. Am I frigging crazy or something to talk to myself? I was only talking to…” The words caught in my throat and refused to budge. “…Am…Aman”, I managed, more of a whisper of assurance to myself.
The silence that suddenly crept in was nothing less than suffocating. I have no idea how many minutes passed by before my mom spoke up.
“Oh, Ishu…Not again…It’s been five months since…”, and with that, she broke down. Just then, the phone fell from my hand. Just as it shattered on the floor and the sounds that followed deliberately reached my ears readily, pieces of reality started flooding me; slow and steady at first, and then a sudden jolt that had my entire world crumbling down. As I held onto the arm of the couch for any amount of support that I could garner, I noticed that there was no coffee cup on the coffee table.
“Oh! No! No!”
I would have given anything to not have to turn back to face what was in store for me. With everything I had in me, and taking as much time as possible, I slowly turned back for a full view of the balcony. Knowing something all along does not make facing it any easier; as tears burnt down my cheeks, terror flooded me. A part of me had fought every last bit of reason and was ready to tumble down any amount of logic just to see Aman there, waiting for me on the balcony. But reality won all along; Aman was gone.
I couldn’t believe that I was losing it again, after all the hour-long sessions at the psychologist’s, who kept insisting over and over again that it wasn’t my fault. What did he know anyway, in spite of all his claims? Here I was, trying to change what happened; pondering over every last detail, rewriting what was to what should have been.
The worst part of it all was remembering what really happened…
…I tried again. “Like how we used to, back when we were in college; getting drenched to our bones!”
Silence again. “Aman? Are you listening to me?”
“Ya Isha. Tell me.”
That did it. I grabbed the iPad from his hands and threw it across the room. As it shattered to pieces, reality struck me. I honestly had no idea what triggered my action; maybe his increasing workaholism that was slowly plunging me into loneliness.
“What the….” he was brimming with anger as he went to inspect the remnants of my deed. “Why the fuck did you do that for?” he shouted.
The rise in his voice did nothing but fuel my anger. “Why? You are asking me why? Cos you don’t fucking listen to me, Aman!”
“I was just working! Not having an affair behind your back or something to fucking throw my iPad!”
“How can you even say that, Aman? When the hell did I say that I thought you were having an affair?”
“Then what the fuck is wrong with you? You are just seeking attention. You keep nagging me to spend time with you, and you bloody think that I don’t even try.”
“You don’t! It’s just about work work work and nothing else for you.”
“Just fucking grow up Isha! Just please do get out of your fairy-tale world. This is what life is, people have responsibilities, and being a Chartered Accountant it triples. You cannot be so naive as to think that every single day is gonna be like a honeymoon.”
“To hell with your work! You know what? You want me to grow up, right? Get a fucking divorce and do whatever the shit you want!”
As the dreadful silence engulfed us, all the colour drained from his face. He did not have the courage to meet my eyes. He quickly turned, grabbed his keys and walked out the door; closing the door silently behind him, yet at a rush.
I know that I should have kept my cool at least to give him the news he was waiting for all this while, but I didn’t. I know I should have said something, I know I should have gone after him; but I didn’t. I did realize that I had hit too close to home; having lost his parents to a bitter divorce too early in life, it had taken him precisely six years and ten months to gather the courage to propose marriage to me, to develop faith in the institution of marriage. And I had precisely proved his deepest fears true. But, I was too furious at him that I cursed him, left the door unlocked and slumped on the couch, switching channels one after the other; unable to concentrate. As minutes passed into an hour, I couldn’t help checking my phone for the time, or his messages. I pondered a million times about ringing him up, but my fingers withdrew themselves from the dial icon the very last moment. I went out to the balcony, having nothing else to do. I looked about, just in case he was back, but retreated back in vain.
Hours passed and the time read 00:15. It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rainwater had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back and rushed to the living room believing it to be Aman.
As I swung the door open, I was shocked to see that it was my mom and dad, worry written all over their face.
“What are you two doing here at this hour?”
They let themselves in. With a trembling hand, my mom took mine in hers and walked me to the couch. “Come, Ishu.”
Panic had risen beyond controllable limits in me. “What is happening, Ma?” I looked at my dad, “Pa, say something!”
They sat me down the couch and settled down beside me on either side. Their hold on me tightened, and with words chosen with the utmost care, my dad spoke up. “Ishu,…Aman…Aman met with an accident.”
“What?? No!” I looked at my mom. “Where is he now?”
“He…He is at the hospital.”
“What the hell are we doing here then? Let’s go see him. I am sure he needs me.” As I was about to stand up, they held me down.
With a shattered voice, Papa struggled with his words. “ Ishu…because it was late, no one saw him on the road, I guess…It was God knows how many minutes after, that Shekhar baiyya found him…He…He rushed him to the hospital and called us. But…”
Tears had already started streaming down my mom’s eyes. I, on the other hand, had completely gone numb; not a single hair in my body moved. My father continued painstakingly, “ Ishu, he didn’t make it…”
There was a sudden ringing in my ears, the kind that is severe enough to reach in and rip apart every minuscule of your soul; the kind that sucks in every single sound in the universe and drowns you in it. My father was saying something, but my world had already ceased to exist that I did not understand a single word of his, neither did he, I guess. Somewhere among the cacophony of the sounds in my ears, I caught my dad saying, “…the police said that he was drunk…”
I could sense something dying inside me. I could hear my heart thudding in my ears that were ready to burst. I don’t have the faintest clue as to when I started to scream my lungs out. I don’t know when the tears came flooding, if it did. All I remember was thinking how the college’s most popular drunkard had not touched a single drink since the day we had started dating…
A sudden throbbing in my stomach brought me back to the present. As I clutched my stomach, I realised that I had slid down the couch and was slumped down on the floor. I was incapable of going on like this, all that agonising pain that was suffocating me with its each step. It was exactly five months since Aman passed away; exactly five months since I found out that I…that Aman-we were-No! I cannot think about it! Please God, No! I would have given everything I had in me for just a chance to tell him what I had wanted to tell him that whole day, what I had just learned.
Holding onto the armrest for support, I stood up. With faltering steps, I rushed to the cupboard. Post his death, the dust had collected and lingered on the curtains, depriving them of their plushness; cobwebs made a home on the chandeliers; the paintings lost its meaning; medical leave extended to the point that I had no corporate job to return to; coffee was never brewed again and my beloved books in the cupboard had been replaced by bottles of liquor. I madly lifted one bottle after the other and furiously threw the empty ones on the floor; the loud crash reverberating through the empty house. I was desperate to get one last drop of whiskey inside my system.
“FUUUUUCKKK”, I had accidentally stepped on a piece of glass. The sudden pain and the gush of blood that flowed out had calmed my nerves for a split second.
As I stood staring at the tiny pool of blood that had collected beside my foot, I finally knew what I had to do. I bent down and picked up the sharpest piece of glass that I could find. With indissoluble calmness, I proceeded with it to the bathroom. As I slowly swung open the door, images had started flooding my head; of Aman, the one-sided dimple with which he smiled, the way he scrunched his nose as a sign of disapproval and how his curls always just hung down on his eyebrows. I turned on the tap, and as water began to fill the bathtub, my smile spread from ear to ear at the thoughts of him.
I slowly sat down on the floor, the cold bathroom tiles sending a chill down my spine. I dipped my left arm in the water, the ripples becoming one with those left by the tap. A kind of nonchalant calmness had engulfed me and just as I placed the sharp shard of glass on my wrist, there was a sudden jolt inside my stomach. Wincing at the pain, I bit down hard on my lips and ensued with my task at hand. But the pain was unheeding and pressed down harder on the inner walls of my stomach. Without letting go of the glass in my right hand, my left hand immediately pressed down hard on my belly. Right where my palm lay, this time there was a soft blow from inside, more of a soothing embrace than pain; like someone was reaching out to me. As the glass slipped down my fingers, tears streamed down my cheeks, barely touching my lips that were fixated with a serendipitous smile.
Fours year had gone by. As the rays flooded the room, my eyes opened, slowly adjusting to the sudden light. As I stretched myself with a wide yawn, my fingers fell on the other side of the bed; empty. Panic spread inside me like wildfire.
“Honey? Honey?” I rushed out of the bed. I bolted across the doorway, screaming his name.
I stopped suddenly at the entrance to the living room, heaving a sigh of relief. On hearing my voice he slowly turned around and climbed up on the couch; the same one dimpled smile and the long curls. “Ya, mom?”
PS: This was written for the TOI Write India competition season 2, on the prompt by Anand Neelakantan (the words in bold are his prompt).