Smita woke up with feeling of trepidation. She was expecting him today. Her husband was coming back from his tour and many things needed to be taken care of. She made a mental note of changing the drapes in the bedroom. He likes the yellow ones better. She sat up on the bed, trying to ignore the feeling in her stomach. What was it? Was it guilt? Worry? Sadness? Disappointment? She couldn’t place it. She was sweating now. So much needs to be done before he comes home, she thought aloud. She decided to sleep for some more time. Her eyes followed the moving spades of the ceiling fan. She was feeling sleepy again. Her mind wavered to Prabhat. Her fight with him last night had left her wanting more of him. But she needed to resist herself from visiting him. Her husband was coming back today. She sat up, feeling anxious over what awaits her. Pretence, playing the role of a devoted wife to an equally dedicated husband. She knew her marriage was a façade. He didn’t. But over the years, she had perfected her role. It’s been ten years of blissful ignorance on his part and two loving children. But she doesn’t understand them anymore. They talk at her, than to her. They all do. Sometimes, even Prabhat. She found herself thinking of their fight again.
She had left her children at her mother’s house and gone to visit him. He was painting. Colours smeared his fingertips. They never really left him, always a part of his clothes, essence or even stuck in the cuticles. She hated it. But she loved him. His smile was enough to make her forget her facetious marriage. She went directly to the kitchen to make tea. She was aware he wouldn’t have had anything to eat since morning. He was like that, so consumed by his passion that rarely did physiological needs bother him. While the water boiled over the stove, she started feeling disheartened. Today was her last visit until her husband leaves for another of his work tours. It could be days, even months before he is summoned. She sighed. Prabhat was standing at the kitchen door, a smile playing on his lips. “What is it?” he asked, being fully aware of the reason behind her melancholy.
“He is coming.” she answered.
“It’s a matter of few days before he would be leaving again,” he said reassuringly.
“You don’t understand. You don’t have to live like this,” she turned to look at him.
He walked across the kitchen and took her in his embrace. “I do understand,” he said, kissing her forehead tenderly.
“Don’t you ever feel jealous that I am not yours?” she asked. There was pain in her voice.
“You are and always would be mine. I love you. I don’t need to feel jealous of anyone, because I already have you.”
“But, I would be away from you now, at least until he leaves again.”
“You are always with me Smita. Always.”
“These words, they are empty. I want more. I want us to be together. Not like this, but really together.” Her eyes were tearing up. With a choked voice she continued, “Nobody seems to understand what I want or need. I want you Prabhat. Not for few days or hours. We are not small kids in love. We are mature adults who can take decisions for our lives.”
“So what you want to do?” he asked.
“I want to tell him, everything. I want to end this farce. I will divorce him and we will be together forever.”
“What about your children?”
“They are old enough now. They will understand. They must know their mother is unhappy. Children can sense such things, I had read it somewhere. We would be their parents. I know you would love them as your own. If they don’t want to stay with us, they can live with my mother. We can arrange for something.”
“Smita, you are not thinking clearly. They are only seven and nine. They are not going to understand anything. I would be happiest if they were to stay with me, but they are not at that age to understand our needs,” he appealed.
“You just don’t want to be with me. Why don’t you say that?” She forced herself out of his embrace and walked towards the door. “No one understands Prabhat. Whether you like it or not, I am telling him tomorrow. I don’t care if the children understand or not. They know their mother and they will one day forgive me for it.” She had walked out of his house with tears burning her eyes. They had had this conversation before, but this time, she was serious about going through with this. She was feeling suffocated in their little arrangement. She had to put an end to this.
Smita woke up again. She had to get up. But she just couldn’t get her body to move. The daunting task of confronting her husband regarding their marriage had paralysed her.
Would he throw her out of the house? Yes, that was a possibility.
Would he maybe beat her? She worried about bruising. But her husband had always been very tender towards her. Even their love making lacked passion. She had always sought that rawness with Prabhat. No, maybe she wouldn’t need to worry about bruising. She doubted if even his anger would have sufficient intensity. Somehow the thought excited her, to see her husband angry.
What if he readily agreed for divorce? Should she feel insulted? After all she was the mother of his children. They had lived together for ten years. She started feeling annoyed. “How can he let me go so easily? I have given him the best years of my life, sacrificed my love and career for him, and lost my youthful looks and figure in carrying his children,” she thought aloud.
Her daughter’s voice brought her back to reality. She was saying something. But she couldn’t understand her. They all have stopped making sense to her. Her husband, children and even beloved Prabhat. Maybe if she ignored her long enough, she would leave. She closed her eyes again. She could feel her daughter’s presence in the room.
Why won’t they let me be? What is so important early morning? Maybe she wants food. Where is their nanny? Stop bothering, my child, go away.
Maybe if she started thinking about Prabhat again, it would drown away her daughter’s voice. Prabhat, my sweet Prabhat. The day we had met for the first time. It was orientation day at college. In a crowded auditorium, filled with young hopefuls, there sat a boy with certain arrogance, his hand furiously sketching something. I had sat next to you, peeping into your sketches now and then. You caught me peeking and smiled.
“See something you like?”
“And what is that you like?”
You turned to look at me properly. “Faces?”
“Yes, when I see any artwork, well, of those depicting humans, I always look at faces. The emotions expressed on the face and in their eyes. It tells you everything about the art, doesn’t it?”
“Interesting. My name is Prabhat Nimbhalkar.” you stretched your hand.
“Smita Gokhale,” said I taking your hand. It felt good to touch you. I remember blushing. You laughed carelessly. It annoyed me. It somehow made me feel small. I turned away.
But somehow over the three years at college, we found ourselves drawn towards each other. I was always surrounded by a group of girlfriends, and you were always alone, sketching something. It took us at least three months after the orientation to talk again, and we never looked back. Our love, our fights, our love making, everything had been perfect. You laughed at my vanity and I at your rusticity. I believed we were made for each other. Then we graduated.
Then one day I returned home to find people who had come to ‘see’ me. They had come to arrange my marriage with their son. I was supposed to feel grateful, as he was an engineer, highly educated and earning very well. It was a match every girl dreamed of. The groom did not even feel the need to come see his future bride. A picture of mine had been sent earlier without my knowledge. He had liked me based on a picture. He didn’t know me. I didn’t know him. But I was supposed to feel grateful about this communion. I rebelled. I fought hard with my father for our love. But I was a Brahmin and you a Maratha. It was not something that even warranted further discussion. Within a month of that visit, I was married. My parents had stopped making sense to me. But two years after my marriage, I saw you again. You were visiting someone in the building where I lived with my husband. We discreetly exchanged numbers and knowing glances. We knew it was the right thing to do.
Our first embrace after four years. I was not the same; my body had weathered two pregnancies. I was shy when we made love. Everything felt new, but I was home again. My body was triumphing in ecstasy and my mind had stopped working completely. This is where I belonged, in your arms. Not with him or his children. With you and only you. You were my bliss.
Her daughter had left the room. She was alone again. She opened her eyes and tried to sit up. The room was getting warmer; it was almost ten in the morning. She had overslept. Her husband was going to arrive in an hour. She had so much to do. Still she felt paralysed with anxiety and excitement of what awaited her. Her children were outside the bedroom, talking in hushed voices. She knew her son Sri was saying something about her, but she couldn’t understand what they were talking. Maybe soon she wouldn’t need to even pretend to understand them, if they chose to live with their father. She wanted to shout at them to leave her alone. But she didn’t. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and cupped her eyes to feel the warmth of her palms. She had to bring herself to get up from this bed and do what needed to be done. She had to do this for Prabhat. Ten years back she couldn’t win against her father. But now she was prepared for a tough fight against her husband.
But how would she approach him?
Should she tell him directly about Prabhat and demand for a divorce?
Or should she just demand for a divorce and hide Prabhat from everything?
She just prayed silently that her husband would be at least a little devastated from the news. She wouldn’t be able to bear if he would just let her go like that. Her vanity wouldn’t take the insult well. After all he had selected her just by one glance at her picture. She wondered if he really loved her. They had nothing in common. They had never discussed anything, or had a conversation which went beyond the mundane niceties. He had never made her laugh. Their marriage was an arrangement, a beautiful wife for a rich, educated husband. He did work hard at everything. It tired her, his honesty. He was that kid who always coloured within the lines. There were days when his presence annoyed her; even his slow rhythmic breathing irritated her.
The doorbell rang. She looked at the watch. It was almost quarter to eleven. She had not left her bed, let alone her bedroom. She could hear many voices. Worried voices. Maybe her husband was here. The door opened and two men entered. One looked like her husband, but she knew he wasn’t him. The other looked very solemn. It made her want to giggle. They were looking at her and talking to each other. She couldn’t understand them. Where is the nanny? Why are they allowed in here? A middle aged woman entered the room. She looked very tired. Was she the one talking to me earlier? They were all looking at her and talking to each other. It’s been long since people stopped talking to her. They all talk at her.
The woman said, “Sri, she has not moved since morning. Every day is a struggle to get her to even move outside this bedroom. Look at her eyes. I don’t know if she understands what we are saying. It’s almost like our mother is not even there anymore.” The solemn looking man shook his head, “Mrs Sabnis, your mother is eighty three and suffering from dementia. It is not uncommon for them to become catatonic. But it is of grave concern that she has not eaten in three days. We need to admit her immediately.” Sri looked at his mother and sighed. “She keeps saying something. But we don’t understand what she is saying. We can make out our father’s name and some other names. But rest is all gibberish. I hope she is not in too much pain.” He looked at his sister, “I think we better get her dressed, I will call for an ambulance.” They all left the room.
They all have gone. Strangers in her room, talking things she doesn’t understand. But she must wait for her husband to come. She needs to talk to him about Prabhat. She can’t let these people interfere with her love, lest it be buried down in memories. She can’t lose Prabhat again. She must tell her husband and be free. This is her only chance to find her bliss.
My first attempt at short story that I submitted for a literary competition in May 2013