An Important Affair — A Short Story
The rain splattered on the window panes bouncing off rhythmically to the ground, the sound echoing in the calmness of the night. The light emitted from the thundering of the dark clouds lit up the room which otherwise was dark, the lights switched off, and the volume of the music turned low. Suresh stood at the window watching through the haze the empty streets running across the neighborhood. There was a dog drenched to the skin, trying to find shelter underneath the makeshift extensions of the locality shops. He seemed to be pondering on the best spot available which would spare him of the torrential downpour that had been pouring for the past hour. Apart from him there was no other soul visible across his span of view. He stood there listlessly, motionless, listening to the Jagjit Singh Ghazal playing in the background. The song themed around unfulfilled love and the pain and suffering the lover had to live through every day, remembering the cherishable moments spent with the beloved. The melodious voice, couple with the weather outside added to the melancholy which Suresh was going through. The rest in the house were fast asleep. It was close to midnight and Suresh had not been able to grab an inch of sleep since he had laid down in bed. No amount of tossing and turning could shake the recurring images and thoughts out of his head. The only question ringing in his ears was “Why did I do it?”
It was exactly a year ago he had bumped across Anita in the office cafeteria. He was running late for a meeting and had to finish lunch in a hurry. His eyes ran across the filled tables and chairs searching for an empty spot. He always wondered as to why God decided to put all obstacles and challenges at a time when you would want the world to move at your pace. He located an empty chair in the far-right corner of the cafeteria. It was a table with two seats out of which one was occupied. There was a girl sitting and multi-tasking of having food and swiping the screen of her smartphone at the same time.
“Hmm excuse me, is this seat occupied? “ Suresh asked.
There were a pair of blue eyes which looked up at him, the mascara and the kohl lined perfectly. A small fair dainty hand swished across the hair which was colored a mix of black, brown and golden, streaked to the latest fashion in town, the red nails wisped the strands falling across the fair beautiful face.
“No this seat is empty” the sweet, melodious voice seemed to leave a ring in his ears.
He put his plate down and settled in. He started attacking the food vigorously trying to stuff more than he could chew. He had around 10 minutes left by his watch to finish the food, board the ever populated lift to the 10th floor, swipe his access card across the block and make way to the Meeting Room.
“Do you know statistically a lot of people die while eating wfood in a hurry? The food actually gets in your windpipe causing the system to choke” she addressed him.
He stopped for a moment and looked up.
She was gazing intently at him. On a closer look he found she was even prettier than he had realized at the first look he had cast her. The flawless skin shone radiantly in the amber overhead light, the red lipstick complimenting the combination. She flashed a smile at him displaying a set of perfect white teeth.
“I am late for a meeting” he said with a mouthful.
“Everything in this world can wait except enjoying a relishing lunch”
“Hmmm I do not have that privilege right now “Suresh mumbled
“I’m Suresh. So which project do you work for?”
“So you are one of those who mostly burn the midnight oil?”
“You can say that, but it is not a matter of choice, it is compulsion” she sighed.
Suresh noticed a faint trace of disappointment on her face. He wanted to delve further and start an involving conversation, however he now had approximately 5 minutes to trash the plate and rush upstairs.
“Hey you know I would get awfully late for the meeting. I am dying to be a part of it since it’s the most interesting convention in the world” he flashed a smile. “It was nice meeting you ….. Maybe we will bump into each other when we both have ample amount of time to share a cup of coffee”
“I’m Anita. It was nice meeting you too Suresh. Hey I forgot to ask you which Project do you work for?”
Suresh rushed to the end of the cafeteria and dumped his plate on the overloaded counter. He swirled and dashed across the door almost running over his Senior Manager Ashok who was ambling through the doorway.
“So sorry Sir” he blurted.
“You better watch out your pace my boy” Ashok exclaimed.
He was just in time for the meeting chaired by Director Ashwin, and was attended by other Project Managers, and nominees from other departments.
“So Good Morning to all” Ashwin’s loud bassy voice boomed across the meeting room. The air conditioner as usual reminded everyone of the climatic conditions in Shimla. He could imagine huddling in the room and holding a cup of cappuccino in his hands and looking across at the beautiful vivid scenery outside. Strange but he saw a visual of him walking along the cobbled path, not alone but with another companion, a girl. She had a sweet, melodious, infectious laugh which echoed in the stillness of the air and bounced back across the hills. She turned to face him. It was Anita!
“So would you mind presenting the Quarterly Data to us Mr. Arora” Ashwin’s voice broke through the myriad images which were weaving in his head. The room was silent and all eyes were curiously looking at him.
“Yes Sure” he blurted and got up from his seat. He connected the laptop to the projector and started off. He waded through the presentation with a twitching thought running in his mind. What were the strange projection of images he had seen flashing through his mind? The constant thought kept nibbling at him. He finished his piece and walked back to his seat. He sat and looked at the screen of his laptop, not being present there anymore.
Her beautiful face and that infectious laughter kept coming back to him. He twirled a pen in his fingers and pondered. Was he falling for this girl? He hardly knew her and had met her for 5 minutes or so. What was so mesmerizing about her that her thoughts lingered on? Was he in love? Definitely not. He decided not to dwell much on the nagging sentiment which hung over him. He waited for the meeting to be over and went back to his cubicle. No sooner had he unlocked his computer he opened up V-Connect, which was the internal online portal where he could browse, search, and connect with all other employees of the organization. It was a good platform which allowed employees to take part in forums and discussions, and express their views on different topics. There were different categories of employees, segregated by age groups who used the portal for their individual purposes. The entry level staff consisting of college graduates, and employees with some experience, used it mostly to connect with the opposite gender, primarily with the intent of progressing their romantic sentiments. The Middle and Upper Management used it to share their views and statistics about the company, to touch base on any burning issues and to highlight the progress of the organization.
Suresh browsed the portal mostly seeking information about either policies and procedures, or knowledge sharing. He was not aware of the options to search and lookup other employees. He turned in his chair and addressed Hemant another Project Manager with a different Client.
“Hmm Hemant do you know how to search people on V-Connect?”
Hemant had an impish smile on his face, “So what is the purpose may I ask?”
“Arre I need to connect with someone in HR regarding an issue” Suresh lied.
“Ok, so let see…” Hemant pulled his chair near Suresh’s Desk and turned the laptop towards himself. “So here you go to the top bar and look for the search button and type in the name …..“He paused. The pause seemed like eternity since Suresh had not responded.
“And the name of the person is ……?” Hemant quizzed with eyebrows raised.
“I will search it myself. Thanks for directing me” Suresh said hurriedly and reached for the laptop.
Hemant put his hand across and said “My friend I can smell something cooking. I know you well enough for the last 2 years to smell a rat. You have not searched the portal for any person as far as I know. If you wanted to connect on an issue you reach out through mail. So how come this new desire of connecting on V-Connect?”
Suresh felt the cat was out of the bag. He resignedly said “I came across this girl today at lunch. Was a brief intro for 5 minutes or so? I somehow cannot get her out of my head. You know what, I almost lost it at the Weekly Quarterly Presentation today. Ashwin nearly hung me by the collar. As it is the data was not that encouraging coupled with me totally lost”
“All right buds, so what is her name?”
“Her name is Anita. I am not sure about her surname”
Hemant got back to the screen and his fingers danced on the keyboard.
“Ok let’s look now. We have Anita…. and then I click on search and voila here are the options…Anita Chopra, Kundra, Garg, Rubiya…..hey do you know how she looks …..” Hemant stopped himself. “What a silly question. Our prince charming is head over heels with this beauty and the idiotic me asking how our princess looks. Pull your chair over here”
Suresh looked through the options displayed and finally stopped on a name. Anita Singh was her name. The display picture was shot with the backdrop of snowcapped peaks, probably taken in one of the innumerous hilly destinations near Delhi. She looked as radiant in the picture as she was in person. She had a fur cap on and a heavy oversized cardigan and mittens on her hands. She was holding a snowball and was flashing that perfect smile.
“I believe this is her” Suresh declared scrutinizing the picture.
Hemant let out a low whistle,” You’ve got yourself a charming lady my friend”
“Ok, thanks for the assistance “
“Hey when am I getting an intro?”
“There is nothing brewing between us. It’s just curiosity. Will keep you posted” Suresh smiled.
“Don’t give me that ‘keep you posted’. You sound like Human Resources….I am watching you” Hemant gestured pointing his fingers at his eyes and then Suresh.
Suresh turned back to his laptop clicked on the profile of Anita. She worked with the Quality Assurance Team. There was not much of personal information except she resided in Gurgaon. Relationship status was not populated. He was still wondering why he was spending time on V-Connect when he had loads of reports to be completed and submitted. However he just could not turn away from browsing and pondering further. Should he send her a message, or chat with her, or send an email. He did not have any purpose to connect with her so what should be the subject of the conversation. He was still lost when he found her status on the portal showing ‘Available’. He clicked on the profile and opened up the chat box. He was caught in hesitation. Should he chat or not. He felt a slight tremble in his fingers. He finally typed.
He waited. The minutes seemed to pass like hours. He had been staring at the chat box in anticipation for around 2 minutes when suddenly it showed her status as ‘Typing’
“Hey Hello there”
“Hi Anita, it seems I connected with you in error. I was actually supposed to connect with Anita Garg and by mistake I sent a message to you.” he lied
“Oh…that happens sometimes with me too” she typed.
“ Anyways, I did give a thought to what you had said about enjoying and relishing one’s meal and have decided to follow a slower pace next time onwards” He added a smiley after the sentence.
“That’s good to hear. I am a foodie and hate to finish meals in a hurry. Not that I enjoy the meals at the cafeteria, however food is food and habits have to be changed”
“Point taken Ma’am. So I did mention we can grab a cup of coffee if both of us are not occupied. Are you busy with something?” he typed and immediately felt he should not have done so. He realized he was too excited and was rushing things. There was no reply at the other end. He knew he had spoilt his chances, he had come across as a pile on and realized his mistake. He was about to close the window after staring at it for a couple of minutes when he saw her typing.
“Apologies, was caught up with something. Hmmm so you would like to have a cup of coffee with me…..is it a date?” which followed up with a winking smiley.
“No ways…it’s just that I had an interesting meeting and was looking to freshen up and what better than make new friends” he smiled to himself.
“What about Anita Garg. Did you not have something urgent to follow up with her?” she seemed to have caught up with him. Suresh was saved since he was not facing her in person. His face had gone red.
“I will surely connect with her but at a later part of the day”.
Months passed, seasons changed, and so did progress Suresh’s love story. Anita and he had been meeting up outside office at cafes, movies, and weekend pubs. He had come to know she was originally from Himachal, but her family had shifted to Delhi some 30 years back. She belonged to a business family dealing with export and import of authentic leather goods. She was the only child and had been pampered throughout. He on is part had shared his antecedents, born and brought up in Delhi, a typical Punjabi boy, belonging to a business family dealing with wholesale of ethnic garments. He had a younger brother who was completing his MBA from one of the premier business schools.
They had become comfortable in each other’s company, developing a mutual liking and fondness. The underlying attraction which Suresh had was still there. He however did not admit to himself that he was actually in love with Anita. He wanted to test the waters before fishing out. He believed Anita had a special attraction towards him too, the way she looked at him over a cup of coffee, the way she held his hand while crossing the road in the maddening Delhi traffic, the way she brushed her shoulders against his when he walked her back to her house during the late evening outings. But he wanted to be doubly sure. To some extent he considered their pair a mismatch. She was gorgeous as hell, coupled with a smart dressing sense which fitted her torso perfectly. There were eyes following her everywhere they went. He on the other hand considered himself a regular guy. He was around 5 feet 11 inches tall bordering 6 feet, he was not fat but tipped the scales at around 90kgs, fair complexioned with spectacles, he looked more of a common guy who should have been married and settled, with a couple of kids hanging on his shoulders, than walking around with this beautiful girl.
On one instance when they were perched at the window facing tables at Café Coffee Day he had casually asked,” Hey do you have a boyfriend?”
“It’s actually pretty crowded here, let’s go someplace else” she seemed to have ignored the question.
He thought either he was not asking a worthy question or she was too haughty to answer that.
He decided to play it slow. Though they discussed everything under the sun in office and after hours, any conversation about relationships was ignored by her. He had become the talk of the town at his workplace. His colleagues and even bosses passed sliding remarks at him,” Being too “busy” nowadays.” Hemant had been bugging him about a treat since he was finally dating Anita. He had to make clarifications that they were just friends, and the relationship had not even started off. He had to sign a pact in blood, to take Hemant to “Beer Island” the day he was officially the charm of his lady love.
“Hey lets watch this new action movie which released last week” Anita had remarked during one of the lunches at the Office Cafeteria.
“Why not” Suresh sipped at the lemon tea taken from the vendor which had less of lemon and more of sugar tasting like hot sweet water, “When, tomorrow?”
“Yes, provided you are available” she said.
“Suits me. Why don’t we meet at Saket and I will book the tickets online”
He was there way early. In all excitement he had throttled his car and reached there around an hour before the movie was to begin. He had mentally decided that he would open up his heart to Anita today. His love pangs were mixing too much with his bloodstream causing his mind to function irrationally. His friends, colleagues had noticed his aloofness and credited it to his new found infatuation.
“Yaar hit the nail with the hammer “Hemant had commented in office philosophically.
Now what he was not sure about was the possible outcome. What if she rejected his proposal? Either she would be offended and not speak to him ever again, or she would tell him” We can be just good friends”. That would be worse since he would still be tagging himself along, and his emotions, but not free himself from the shackles he was bound with. On a positive note he thought she would accept his proposal, they would get married and have lovely kids and live happily ever after.
He was shaken out of his thoughts by a tap on his shoulder. Anita was radiantly shining in the attire she had worn. She was almost perfect whenever he saw her, clothes, hair, and the accessories. He wondered how in the world she took out time to portray the self she exhibited to the world. Maybe god did create some good specimens when he was in the mood, and there were the hurried stuff like him!
“Have you been waiting for long?” she chimed.
“Not exactly “he lied “I was here maybe around 5 minutes back.”
The endless rounds of sutta and chai at the neighborhood tea stall during the eternal wait made his throat feel parched. He gulped from the bottle of water he was carrying and felt a bit relieved.
“So did you get the tickets?”
“Oh yes, the bookings were done. We have to collect them from the counter”
They walked across to the counter and joined the queue of for online booking collection. He stood behind her and waited. The fragrance of her perfume and her freshly conditioned hair blissfully mixed into an aroma making him feel dizzy.
“Anita…..how are you?”
The guy who had addressed her was a tall, lanky, handsome chap. He was wearing a crisp ironed white shirt with blue denims. His loafers were clean and trendy. He had neatly gelled long hair which was pulled back and set in place. He removed his Ray-Ban shades and smiled at her. A killer smile which may have sweeped a large female following off their feet. In short he was looking at a picturesque Casanova, the one you read in the novels and stories.
“Aditya….what are you doing here?” she said.
Suresh was perplexed by her expressions. She had forced a half-smile and her face had lost part of the glow which was omnipresent. Her voice was a curt, formal tone, unlike the chirpiness which it always had.
“Well I am here to watch the movie” Aditya smiled again. A pretty girl walked up to him and swished a hand across his waist,” Meet Kajal a good friend of mine. Kajal this is Anita and Anita this is Kajal”
“Nice meeting you” Kajal extended a hand. Anita gave a wry smile and shook hands with her. Till then none of them had noticed Suresh accompanying Anita.
“So have you come alone?” Aditya quizzed.
“No I am here with a friend” Anita turned towards him” Suresh meet Aditya and Kajal, and guys this is Suresh a colleague and friend.”
Both of them seemed to scan Suresh from head to toe. Aditya had a smirk on his face which was half disdain and half self-conceit. Suresh sensed the instant dismissal of worthlessness from both of them. It was then that Suresh noticed the tags of the brands on Aditya’s clothes, and shoes, and an Audi keychain dangling from his belt buckle.
“Nice meeting you” he remarked and extended a hand. The Tag Heuer clinked on the shake oh his wrist.
He turned back to Anita and said, “So how is Aryan?”
“He is doing good” Anita responded curtly “But I believe it’s none of your business”
Suresh and Kajal were taken aback by the sudden hostility. They had been and were mere spectators.
At that moment the queue moved forward and Anita reached the counter. She collected the tickets and flipped them busily.
“So hope you enjoy the movie Aditya…and Kajal” she managed a fake smile.
“Maybe I will call you later” Aditya said
“I do not think that is required and would be a requirement. Anyways have a great day” she said and walked off.
Suresh was too stunned to react. He extended a hand towards Aditya and said” Hey whatever, it was nice meeting you man.”
Aditya still had the disdainful smile on his face “You better watch out buddy. Do not fall for her”
He turned and walked off with Kajal in tow. Suresh looked around and saw Anita waiting near the entrance beckoning to him. They found their seats in the theatre and settled in. The movie was still yet to start. There was an uncomfortable silence between them. Suresh was wondering whether he should break the ice and start a casual conversation. The agenda he had in mind was not moving as planned. All throughout the movie there was hardly any conversation which had happened between them. During the interval he had cordially asked if she would like a soft drink with some popcorn. She had replied in a monosyllable declining the offer. The remaining part of the movie was spent in concentrating on the proceedings towards the end. They waited for the crowd to filter out and then moved out of the theatre. The hallway directed them to the front of the building which was already getting crowded for the next show. They reached there and stood in the same awkward silence.
“So what next. Do you want to grab a cup of coffee?” Suresh finally mustered enough courage to suggest.
She pondered with wrinkled forehead for a moment and then said,” I guess there is a Café Coffee Day around the corner”
They walked over and entered the sparsely crowded café. Suresh looked around and found two empty seats in a corner.
“So what would you like to order?” Suresh asked
“Cappuccino for me”
“Anything along with it?”
He was getting used to the monosyllabic responses. He walked over to the counter and ordered and paid. He collected the tray and ambled back to his seat. They mixed the sugars and for a round of sips the silence overhung like brooding dark clouds. He looked up at her over the rim of his cup. Her face had lost its colour and she seemed to be in deep thought. Her eyes were lost and directed at the carpet.
“Everything okay?” Suresh checked.
She looked up at him and into his eyes. From the time the fiasco had happened probably this was the first direct eye contact they had. She seemed to be evaluating something in her mind.
“I am sorry! I spoilt the day?” she finally spoke “It’s just that you bump into people who you would not want to meet ever. Anyways forget it, you tell me what else we can do today, anything interesting?”
The chirpiness and the smile was back. Suresh felt relieved. There was still light at the end of the tunnel.
“I guess it might get pretty late today if we make any other plans. Maybe we can meet out another day” he said
“Yes let probably do that. But you might be a busy guy…work, family, girlfriends, etc. Will you be able to manage some timeout” she smiled mischievously.
“I do not have any girlfriends” Suresh looked her in the eye and replied.
“That’s a wonder. Nowadays every other person is hooked up. You hardly come across anyone who is single”
“Well I am but the search is on”
“What kind of girl are you looking for?” she leaned forward
“Someone like you…..” Suresh had dropped the bomb.
For a moment both of them looked at each other in silence.
“You don’t know anything about me” she held the stare.
“Would love to. Look Anita let me be upfront. Our first meeting at the office cafeteria had me head over heels for you. I had fallen for you from that moment onwards. It’s been really painful journey from then on……I really love you Anita!” he blurted out.
She remained in the same posture for a moment holding his stare and then leaned back and said “You hardly know me. What you are probably charmed by is my external persona. I do have a lot of people getting attracted for the same reason”
“So you think it is infatuation?” Suresh was getting bolder,” Or is Aryan the guy in your life?”
“You might want to consider that” she replied calmly.
Suresh felt his world crashing. He had expected Anita to be in a relationship, after all a gorgeous girl like her ought to be loved, but the actual realization of the moment did not seem to sink in. His world had been around her since the first day he had met her. Endless sleepless nights and absentmindedness during office hours had become the norm. His family had started noticing the indifference. His mother in particular was concerned.
“Beta you are losing weight over something every day. Is everything all right?” she was concerned.
“Everything okay Ma. Just work pressure” he had lied.
He knew he had to get his feelings out of his system, He had to convey the emotions across to Anita before he was driven to the verge of being called a lunatic. But strangely hearing she had a guy in her life, and was in a relationship felt like being hit by a lightning bolt.
“Aryan is my 3 year old son”
Suresh belonged to an orthodox Punjabi family which believed in the system of arranged marriage and dowry. His parents had been looking for prospective matches for him, showing him the profiles and the family backgrounds. He wanted to establish his career first and then embrace the concept of marriage. After meeting Anita things had changed. He considered her as an ideal partner and had seriously given a thought of tying the knot. She would be an ideal candidate to bring forth to his parents. She belonged to a business family, with an at par financial background, the caste difference was there but he know he would have been able to persuade them.
With the turn of events after his last outing with Anita the perspective had changed. There were two sides to it. One he was angry that Anita’s past would be revealed to him in such a dramatic sequence. He all along had considered her to be in a relationship, but her having a child from a previous relationship! He did not even know whether it was a lovechild or she had been previously married. Who was Aditya and what relevance did he hold in her life? Was he ready to accept her with the baggage she had? His emotions were mixing with reality and practicality. Being a typical stereotyped guy he wanted a partner as pure as Mother Mary. But here he had fallen for a girl who had a colorful past. Was he ready to accept her with all of it?
Second his parents would never accept Anita with her past and present situation. He could have convinced them on everything but Anita having a child and them to accept it would be a herculean task. They would bring forth the questions, “What will other say? What would we explain to them? Why can’t you get another girl?”
But he needed to convince himself first before he moved on. He needed to accept her past and then move forward to the future. He had a ton of unanswered questions which needed explanations.
He called Anita and arranged to meet her outside over the weekend. In office he had been avoiding her for the last couple of weeks, he used to cook up excuses of not going to lunch with her, and provided her alibis he was busy with family over the weekends. He had been passing a dreadful time. He knew he needed answers to a lot of questions.
They were sitting across the tables at Barista in Connaught Place looking at pigeons pecking seeds on that bright Sunday morning. Suresh had not been able to make eye contact with her. There was another couple sitting across them. The guy had brought a fresh bouquet of red roses which were kept on the table. It seemed to be a new relationship as both of them seemed to be getting acquainted. An elderly gentleman was lost in the newspaper sipping his freshly brewed coffee.
“It’s okay, I do not blame you for the reaction” she finally said” You were not meant to know what you learnt that day”
“Why did you never tell me?”
“What relevance would it hold Suresh? We were never meant to be together”
“Anita I loved you and in return you could have at least let me in on your past. You knew it that I had feelings for you. Why did you not tell me what I was to know in that manner?”
Anita sighed,” Aditya and me met at college. He was a typical Casanova. He was rich, handsome, and had all the frills and fancies. All the girls fell for him and so did I. We had a short affair after which we got married. We had Aryan in a year. Things started changing there on. Aditya developed a drug problem, coupled with an alcoholic problem. He became verbally and physically abusive. I tried coping with the issues and saving the marriage, but nothing seemed to work. He was cheating on me with other women. No amount of counselling sessions could save him or us. We went through a messy divorce and I won custody of Aryan…..in short that is what it was and is” she had tears rolling down her cheeks.
Suresh sat there a mute spectator. He had opened a can of worms which he should not have done.
“I’m sorry…..” he managed to say.
“That’s all right” she said wiping the tears “That has been my life, and now I am a free woman. I am terrified in getting into relationships. The moment a person starts getting close to me, images of Aditya’s physical torture flashes in front of my eyes. I still take medication to put myself to sleep…my parents want me to get remarried but the prospect of that seems terrifying….”
She paused for a brief moment and then asked Suresh,” So you love me right? Would you or your family accept me the way I am. Would you or they be comfortable in marrying a divorcee?”
She paused again. Suresh was too confused at that moment. He did not know how to react to her questions.
“Anita….I….do not know what to say…”
She smiled “I do not blame you as I do not blame others. So let’s strike a deal. I will wait until tomorrow for your reply. Let’s see how strong your love is. You and your family needs to be convinced before we take things any further….thanks for the coffee anyways”
She got up and left. Suresh watched her leave, her fragrance fading away, her beautiful figure slowly mingling into the crowd. He sat there, his mind muddled with thoughts. He decided to get some fresh air. He paid and went outside. He stood there and took a deep breath. Was he ready to accept Anita the way she was? Would he able to give Aryan his name and accept him as his child? Was he so deep in love to go against his family and be with Anita? His family he assumed would be totally opposed to accepting her as their Daughter-in-law. For Christ’s sake he belong to a Punjabi family and such deviations were never considered. He had until tomorrow to take the biggest decision in his life.
All through the night he had not been able to sleep. The turmoil drove him to the verge of insanity. On one side he was bound by family obligations and on the other his love beckoned him, whom should he choose? By dawn he had decided. He went about his morning chores and left for work. He spent the entire day in front of his laptop immersing himself in the presentations and excel sheets. By evening he was exhausted. He packed his belongings and headed back home. He freshened up and went to bed. He had not called Anita or met her. She had given him until today to decide, and inform the outcome. He assumed the message was communicated. He had chosen his obligations. He lay on the bed staring at the ceiling fan turning circles, his conscience pricked him making him guilty of his own decisions. It was raining heavily outside, almost reflecting the mood he was in symbolically. He got up, had a glass of water and stood at the window watching through the haze the empty streets running across the neighborhood. There was a dog drenched to the skin, trying to find shelter underneath the makeshift extensions of the locality shops. He seemed to be pondering on the best spot available to him, sparing him of the torrential downpour which seemed to have been continuing for the past hour. Apart from him there was no other soul visible across his span of view. He stood there listlessly, motionless, listening to the Jagjit Singh Ghazal playing in the background. The only question ringing in his ears was “Why did I do it?”
Days passed by and Suresh set himself back in the monotony in his life. Deep inside him was miserable. He avoided moving from his workstation so as not to bump into Anita. Strangely he had not seen much of her on the premises. He wondered whether she was till there with the organization or had moved on. Hemant had dragged him out of his cubicle one day for a cup of coffee. He was waiting listlessly at the counter in the cafeteria when he saw her. She was passing by, her head low deep in thought. She looked up for a brief moment and their eyes met. She held the gaze for a moment and then looked the other way. Suresh felt a sinking feeling in his heart. He was sure for that brief moment he had seen the pain and accusation in her eyes as if saying” I did not come for you, it was you who had come for me”. He was sure he noticed that her skin had lost some of that radiant shine which was omnipresent, and the beautiful smile was nowhere to be seen. He was sure he had seen those lovely kohl lined eyes swell for a moment and she raising a hand to wipe a tear. He knew he was to blame for this.
He had gone back to his room, locked his door, and wept his heart out. He was incommunicable for two whole days when his mother had come looking for him.
She knocked at his door “Suresh are you awake? Please open the door”
“I’m okay Mom, am just busy with some office work. Will meet you guys in sometime” Suresh lied behind closed doors.
“I want you to open this door now and stop lying to me”
Suresh opened the door and let his mother in. She looked around at the unsettled state of the room with clothes, books, etc. lying all over the place. She perched herself on one of the chairs and looked at him.
“So you would mind telling me if everything is alright?” her voice was stern and assertive.
“I told you Mom, everything is okay. I was just busy with work for the last two days….I was about to finish it and come downstairs” Suresh said not meeting his mother’s gaze.
“If you think I am buying in to your lies that is a misconception”. She softened her voice and said,” Come sit near me”
Suresh pulled up another empty chair close to her and sat. She passed a soothing hand across his head and said” What is wrong my son? I think if you tell me you might feel better”
Suresh took a deep breath and let out everything. By the time he had finished his eyes had gone moist and his throat dry. The silence which filled the room hovered for some time.
“So you met this girl who is perfect for you in every way, is a divorcee, having a child from her previous marriage, and you rejected her because of you not being sure whether you would want to accept her, and second because of family obligations. Am I correct?”
“Yes” Suresh said.
“Let me ask you an honest question beta. Do you really love her?”
“Yes I do”
“Let me tell you a story. There was a young, happy couple who were having a wonderful time with each other. There were so deep in love that they broke all traditions and married against their families’ wishes. They were living this almost perfect romantic life when all of a sudden the guy disappears. The girl searched high and low, and after some days found the guy living in with another partner. She was devastated, heartbroken at the infidelity. To make matters worse she was pregnant with this man’s child. She went back to her family who rejected her for the decisions she had taken. There was no one else left she could go to. She was so depressed that she decided to end her life. She was about to jump into the river when she was suddenly pulled back. God has his own plans and she was destined to meet him that night. That first encounter slowly and gradually developed into a friendship, which further blossomed into a liking for each other. They shared their past, and each had a heart breaking story to render. His wife had a premature death, a victim to cancer, and since the time she left, he had become a loner. They fell in love and got married. A healthy child was born and they lived happily ever after………” his mother paused” My son it’s not the society norms which dictate your heart, nor any obligations. You should be convinced that the person who you are choosing as your partner is the one you would love to grow old with, one whom you can trust, and love, and in return be loved. Rest everything is superficial…..the child I referred to in the story is you!”
Suresh looked up shocked. He was dumbstruck for a moment. To add to all the misery he was going through his mother had to break this to him” Mom…..why…why did you not ever tell me this?”
“What difference would it have made? Did your father ever treat you as his step child? In fact we decided not have a second child so that our love for you is ever divided. He loves you more than he would have loved his son, and he loved me and accepted me the way I was, and with my past. If you really think this girl is the one with whom you want to spend the remaining days of your life with, then go to her and tell her what you feel. Never mind what the society or others would think, or what would they say…it’s your life my child and you should be confident and happy with your decisions” she smiled.
The tumultuous rain had stopped outside and the clouds had cleared. The moon had appeared from behind the clouds and showered its glow across the city which was deep asleep, lost in their dreams and aspirations. Suresh started his car and took a deep breath, his thoughts crystal clear. He smiled and hummed his favorite Ghazal as he moved outside his gate and took the road leading to Anita’s house.