Monday, June 10, 2013

Naughts and crosses - Part 3

Read part 2 here

“Shalu, I am resigning” she announced to a shocked Shalu one day. “I cannot carry on like this anymore.”
Shalu knew it would be useless trying to convince Aditi once her mind was made up.
“Did you tell Anup?”
“I haven’t spoken to Anup in ages now.”
“Won’t he mind if you quit without telling him?”
“I don't think so. At least he won’t have to think about me seeing Rohit every day, if it’s playing on his mind, that is.”
But quitting the job was no solution. Anup still seemed light years away from her. He had been working more than ever and had become quiet and withdrawn. She decided that she could not let their relationship fall to pieces like this. She had to do something to save it.
After Anup had left for work, she took out their photo albums and started making a collage. And underneath each of the pictures she wrote her thoughts in a neat handwriting.
The first time we met.
At Neetu and Dilip’s wedding. I remember how everyone commented that we actually looked like a couple, though we had just met! We were always the ‘made-for-each-other-couple, isn’t it?’ ”
Our engagement.
I am so sorry I selected one size too small for your engagement ring! But you still made sure to squeeze it in somehow! It showed me how much you loved me.”
“Our first outing together after our engagement.
You managed to sneak me away from the whole bunch of our relatives for a photo session. I thought that was incredibly romantic.”
The big day- our wedding.
People could not stop raving about what a lovely couple we made. I cannot forget how you had sneaked in fruits and secretly met me, making me eat it! Mom was so mad at me later for breaking the ritual of getting married on an empty stomach! But you knew I could never go hungry for such a long time. You worried more about me than any ritual in the world.”
The best gift you have ever given me- our son.
You couldn’t see me in labour and almost yelled at the doctor for not easing my pain. I still remember the tears of joy in your eyes as you held Abhi for the first time. I know that you have not only felt and lived my anxiety through the nine months of my pregnancy but the pain of labour too!”
Our perfect family.
Me, you and the symbol of our everlasting love-our little Abhi.”
She broke down as she wrote the last lines.
The perfect family.
 It wasn’t perfect anymore. She had ruined it all. She continued writing her eyes blurry with tears.
“There are so many other pictures that could not be in the album, because they are in my heart. The picture of the smile on my mother’s face as you comforted her when Dad was being wheeled in for surgery, the look of content on my dad’s face when you held his hands and told him you will always be there for him and for us, the gratefulness on my brother’s face when you were along with him for his college admissions, and the love on my sister’s face as you took the entire responsibility of her wedding, like only an elder brother would.
You have been my biggest support, and I want to tell you how much I love you. I promise to never hurt you ever again, please forgive me one last time like you always have."
She decorated the border and left it to dry in her room. She hoped it would remind Anup of the love they shared and how much he meant to her. She hoped he would forgive her.
Anup had stopped eating at home for a very long time now, and so she decided to carry lunch for him to office that afternoon. She made Anup’s favorite ghee rice and korma and packed it along with some carrot halwa, dropped her son at her mother’s place and went to his office. She was standing outside his cabin door and about to knock when she heard Anup talking to his best friend and colleague, Ashok.
“I have to tell you something Ashok,” he started, his voice choked with emotion. “I want to file for divorce.”
“I suspected something was wrong with you, you haven’t been your usual self for quite some time, but divorce? That sounds too drastic. What happened suddenly?”
Anup told him about the phone call that had changed his life, which had brought his life to a standstill and had destroyed his faith in love and marriage. 
“How can you take such a hasty decision, Anup? I suggest that you talk it out with her. Just keeping quiet is no solution.”
“There is nothing to talk anymore. Trust is the basis of any relationship, and when that is gone, there is no use pretending that everything will be ok. I don't know if I am feelinng angry, cheated or just sad. Maybe all of it." ”
“Have you told Aditi?”
“I will, tonight.”
Did he say divorceHe surely didn’t mean that, did he? She panicked. She wanted to go in and talk to him, beg him, not to leave her like this. But maybe she deserved this, she thought. She went to the reception and left the lunch box with the receptionist and walked away.
“I still think you should talk to her first” Ashok said, “Think about Abhi. He needs both his parents, isn’t it?”
“How will I ever be sure this will not happen again, or has not happened before?”
 “She could have chosen to keep the secret from you, but she didn’t. Doesn’t that show how much she loves you and how much she has regretted that moment of weakness? You cannot punish her for being so brave. Cross your heart and tell me, would you have had the courage to confess if you had been in her shoes? Everyone is entitled to be forgiven once, and I think Aditi deserves to be forgiven too. The last few weeks have been punishment enough for her.”
Just then the receptionist called and informed him that his wife had visited and left lunch for him at her desk.
“See what I mean? She loves you, man, and is wallowing in guilt, forgive her” said Ashok. “Life is like a game of naughts and crosses, at each naught that life plays, you must know where to add your cross, if you have to win. Remember, three naughts in a row and game’s over.”
She could not bear the thought of having to live without Anup. She took a cab and went to sunset point, the place that was witness to so many of their happier memories. It was Anup's favorite place in the world.
She had been a little too early to witness the sun god make his downward descent. She sat on a rock, unable to look at the sun still shining brightly over her head. ‘I can neither face you nor Anup’, she thought, ‘you will leave me in a few hours from now and so will Anup.’
She wondered if she had done the right thing in not listening to Shalu. A cloud of gloom and depression was beginning to descend on her and she decided that she would see the sun go down one last time.       
Anup rushed home to talk to her. She wasn’t there. He went to his room and saw the beautiful collage she had left to dry. His eyes welled up as he saw each picture and read every beautiful sentence beneath it. ‘How could I have been such an idiot’ he thought. He called her mobile and found that she had switched it off. He called her mother.
 “Did she tell you where she has gone, ma?”
“No, is there anything wrong?”
“Nothing. I’ll call you later.”
Then he called up Shalu.
“No, Anup, she’s not with me. Is she ok?”
“I can’t find her, Shalu,” he panicked, beads of perspiration starting to form on his forehead, “can you come over?”
Shalu had dialed all of Aditi’s friends’ numbers on her way to his house but without any luck.
 “Where do I find her now?” Anup’s voice trembled as he paced across the room nervously cracking his knuckles.
“I suggest we go to the police, after sunset it will be too dark to even search for her” said Shalu.
Then it suddenly dawned on him.
Sunset. Yes, there’s where she could be, at sunset point.
“I think I know where she is” he said.
He rushed to their all familiar place and was relieved to find Aditi watching the sunset.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said walking to her side and putting a loving arm over her shoulder.
“It wasn’t until now”, she said resting her head on his shoulder, suddenly relieved that a big load had been lifted of her chest, “But now that you are by my side, it has become as beautiful as it always was.”
He smiled.
He had put his cross in the right place and knew that the game was now theirs.
                                                        *********the end************

Naughts and crosses Part 2

“Good morning Aditi! Hope your intoxication has worn off. You were pretty high yesterday!” laughed Shalu easing herself into a chair.
Aditi sobbed softly standing by the window gazing into the oblivion.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” Shalu looked concerned. She had been Aditi’s best friend since college and people didn’t call her mother hen for nothing. She had always been overly protective about Aditi.
Aditi broke down crying bitterly, “Anup will never forgive me. How am I going to face him? What will I tell him?”
“Aditi, sit down,” she said helping her to a chair and giving her a glass of water, “tell me what happened.”
“Rohit and I, we- we were together last- last night,” she replied, her face buried in her palms, unable to look at Shalu in the eye. “It was a bad moment….I didn’t mean to….I am so ashamed of myself…” she was still crying.
“Wh-What? You did what? Are you crazy? Rohit and you? Oh my god! How could you guys do that? I told you to get back to the room, didn’t I? You were so damned drunk. Shit! I should never have left you alone there.”
“I need to tell Anup everything,” said Aditi, reaching for her mobile, wiping the tears off her eyes with the back of her hand. “This is one secret I don’t want to keep.” Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks.
“No, no, no, no, no….you will do nothing like that. Get it? Don’t make such hasty decisions. One wrong decision and your life will be ruined.”
“That wrong decision has already been made, and my life is already ruined, isn’t it?”
“Come with me; let’s go to Rohit’s room.” She snatched the mobile from Aditi’s hand, pulling her to her feet. “Let me give that idiot an earful. Who does he think he is?”
He did not do it, do you get that Shalu?” she said pulling her hand away and taking the mobile back from Shalu’s hand. “‘We did it. We, as in me and him.”
“Why won’t you ever listen to me? You didn’t last night and you aren’t now” said Shalu fed up with Aditi’s attitude.
“Leave me alone Shalu. Just go.”
“Look, I know how you feel right now. But no one knows about it. It’s just the three of us, and I swear to god, no one will ever know.”
“My heart knows, doesn’t it? Anup deserves to know. My heart says so.”
“Didn’t your heart tell you anything when you were lost in Rohit’s world last night?” Shalu could be wicked and hard hitting at times.
“Shut up Shalu,” said Aditi turning her back to her friend, tears again beginning to roll down her cheeks. “That was mean, you are hurting me. Why don’t you just leave?”
“I am not going anywhere. Can’t you understand something as simple as this, you fool? You have Abhi to take care of. What if Anup does not forgive you? What if he decides to leave you? Can you think of living without Anup, without Abhi? Can Abhi live without his mother? Don’t do this Aditi, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life, trust me. And what about the shame it will bring you? Did you think about how your families will react?”
The truth, they say, is bitter. But to Aditi, it felt like poison, threatening to suck the very life out of her. She sat down looking out of the window of the hotel room, far into the horizon, and at the sun, as if by some magic, the whole time between now and last night would automatically rewind, the last night’s moon would come back and she would never repeat this horrible mistake again. Ever again.  
There was a knock at the door and Shalu opened the door, to find Rohit standing there.
“Look who’s here! Weren’t we missing you, Mr. Casanova? I am so angry that I could just slap you right across your face.” Shalu was seething with anger.
 “Can I come in and speak to Aditi for a minute?”
“No, you may not” she replied, trying to shut the door on his face.
“Shalu, look, I need to talk to her, please let me” he pleaded, pushing the door back and finally succeeding as Shalu gave in.
He walked into the room, and saw Aditi staring into space, “Aditi, I- I am sorry, very sorry.” He stammered as he reached out to her hand.
“Don’t” she said withdrawing her hand, rising and walking into the washroom, shutting the door behind her with a bang.
She filled the tub and immersed herself in it lying in it for a very long time, as if the water would wash away her guilt. The hot water felt like tonic on her skin. She cried herself to sleep in the water, and Shalu had to repeatedly bang the door to wake her up and find out if she was ok.
 “We have to pack and leave now, ok? Everything will be fine, I promise. Just remember, not a word to anybody,” she said putting a finger to her lip, “bury this secret right here, in Delhi, get me?”
As Shalu closed the door behind her, Aditi took out her mobile and dialed Anup’s number.
“Anup…” she began.
“What a surprise! How was the award function? Hope you guys enjoyed your trip?”
Felt like sarcasm. Maybe she was imagining it.
“You are reaching today isn’t it?”
“Ok, I’ll pick you up from the airport.”
“Anup…” she paused wondering how to say it, and then she took a deep breath, mustered all her courage and confessed, “Forgive me Anup,” she said starting to sob softly, “I-I was drunk and had been dancing with Rohit, then he came to my room and..” she was crying bitterly now, “….that was one bad moment, Anup, I didn’t mean to hurt you like this, trust me. Last night didn’t mean anything to me Anup, it never will. Because I love you and I always will. I couldn’t carry the burden of hiding this from you. Please forgive me Anup….”she begged.
There was a long silence at the other end, Anup trying to comprehend what she was saying. She wondered if Anup was listening, “Anup… are you there? Won’t you say something?Anything? Your silence is killing me.” And then she heard a distinct beep of the phone being disconnected at the other end.

“Didn’t Anup come to pick you? You told him you were coming tonight, right?” Shalu was surprised not to see Anup at the airport. He wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Aditi looked around to see if she could spot him. She waited for another half an hour but there was no sign of her husband anywhere.
“You told him about that, didn’t you?” asked Shalu, shaking her head, eyes wide in disbelief.
Aditi’s eyes welled up again and she lugged her suitcase walking briskly to the exit, Shalu hurrying to catch up with her.
“Let me drop you home, Aditi. It’s on the way.”
“No, you carry on, Shalu, I’ll go by myself.”
“Why are you so stubborn? Do what you want.” She could not understand why someone would be so foolish. But she also worried that Aditi may not go home, or try to hurt herself. 
“Please go home, ok, and be safe” she said before she went out and got into a cab still worried for her friend.
Aditi sat for another hour in the lounge thinking about what Anup would say to her. Would he really leave her and go away? Will she lose Abhi and Anup forever?
She finally got up, hailed a cab and reached home. Anup opened the door and for a moment, she thought he would give her a warm hug, and tell her how happy he was to see her.
No hug.
Not even a smile.
But the pain in his eyes was evident. He stood for some time, looking at her; perhaps waiting for an explanation and she stood speechless, even unable to look him in the eye. Before she could gather herself and say something, he turned back and walked away.
“Anup…” she called out, trying to reach out to him. She ran behind him, but he walked straight to the guest room and shut the door on her face. Teary eyed, Aditi walked back to her own room and stared at a picture of them taken on their wedding day.
“I am sorry Anup,” she said gently caressing his picture, “will you ever be able to forgive me?”
 Anup left to work before she got up. She called him repeatedly on his mobile, but he was either too busy with work or had not bothered to take her call. She waited for him to call back.
No call.
She went to her parents place to pick up her son and spent time with him at home still waiting for Anup’s call.
No call still.
She sent him a message.
Anup, I am sorry. Talk to me, scream at me, fight with me, but don’t be quiet, it’s killing me.
No reply.
He came back long after she had slept.
He had been avoiding her for almost a month now.
She had messed up the game. Fancy putting a cross in the wrong place! She should have known better.
                                                              ****to be cont****

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