How blue is my Sapphire

By Vasanthi Meattle

Three ladies were seated in a bright corner of the restaurant. There was a colourful painting of two little girls in bright polka-dotted pinafores, sitting on a carpet of flowers, hanging on the wall behind the sofa. The upholstery of the sofa blended with the colour of the classy frame of the painting. There were large potted palms next to the table. Their water green leaves contrasted against the soft, pepper leaf shade of the walls of the restaurant. It was a chic place which had opened very recently and had yet to be discovered by too many people. Its quiet ambience had caught the fancy of many a lady of leisure. It was precisely this that the three ladies were. When most of the town folk slogged it out at their jobs, these ladies liked to meet on the afternoon of a weekday. Wherever they met, invariably, at the same time of the day, and the same day of the week, it was never crowded. Today also the place was almost empty. There was only one other table, besides theirs, which was occupied by a couple. They were obviously tourists and were busy pouring over a map of the city.

The ladies were close friends, thick as thieves, who met at least once a fortnight to exchange notes about each others’ lives, share a nice meal at the newest restaurant in town as well as the gossips doing the rounds amongst their common acquaintances. Time and money was not a constraint with any of the three.
 It was almost half an hour since they had arrived, been seated, and ordered their drinks. They had even begun on their first round of starters. The fourth one was yet to arrive to complete the group. She was the only one who needed to work for a living.
 “Where on earth is this Tina? “Said Rhea.

“Trust that woman to be always the last one.” Said Sheena, about their fourth friend, who was yet to join them.”Let’s call her and see what’s holding her” said, Vidya, pulling out her fancy smart phone from her even fancier clutch bag.

“Hey girls! Coming, coming! Just order a Bloody Mary for me. Will be with you in five” Tina’s voice crackled through the speaker of Vidya’s phone, which had been switched to ‘loud’ mode for everybody’s benefit.

“She seems to be in a rather cheerful mood today.” Said Rhea. “Remember how she was down in the dumps last time we met, after she had had that tiff with Prakash?”

“I thought they are quite made for each other. Really wish to see them walk up the aisle together” Added Vidya.

“I wonder when this girl is going to settle down, if at all” chipped in Sheena. “

“Oh, there she is, at last” said Rhea, who was sitting facing the entrance to the restaurant, and hence was the first to spot her.

Tina breezed in with her face flushed and hair all over the place. She was carrying a large tote bag, which she hung on the side of the empty chair which she pulled out to seat herself at her friends’ table. Propping her shades on her head, she grabbed the glass of Vodka which had been waiting for her, took a large sip from it before apologizing to her waiting friends.

The four friends had been together since their school days. They had even graduated together from the same college. Luckily enough, they had married into families in the same town as well. Hence marriage, unlike for most girls, did nothing to hamper the continuation of their beautiful friendship. They continued to be the ‘cozy foursome’, which is what they had been nicknamed by their classmates in college. Like before, they continued to be always there for each other, whether as sounding boards for each other’s problems or for lending a shoulder for a tearful one to cry on or simply to celebrate a happiness in each other’s lives. They were addicted to each other and hated it if they sometimes failed to make it to the fortnightly meetings due to some family obligation or the other.

Except for Tina, the rest of them had married successful businessmen, who, as businessmen go, were only too glad that their wives did not need them to keep them entertained while they were busy looking after their business empires, undisturbed. They had all had arranged marriages. Tina’s marriage had also been arranged to a businessman but from a rather conservative set up. She was expected to be home whenever her ‘lord and master’ was home. It was an unwritten rule that she had to be around till he left for work and again when he came back from it, however erratic his schedule might be. All the other ladies of the joint family household always rushed back from wherever they were, to be in time to welcome home their ‘breadwinner”, when he came back from a ‘hard day’s work’. Tina was working when she got married. She had tried to continue to do so initially, but soon had to quit because of these crazy restrictions on the ladies in the family. She was never told to quit per se, but it had become impossible to continue under the circumstances. The compliance by the other women in the family made it difficult for her not to conform. She was never allowed to ever stay back overnight anywhere, even at her parents’ house, as long as her husband was in town. And her husband rarely travelled.

These were only some of the oppressive dictates in Tina’s marital life.

She had been the most gregarious of the four close pals. The rest of them watched with dismay, as she tried to make her marriage work losing her own cheerful personality in the process. They missed her at most of their fortnightly tet-e-tets because, even though they tried to adjust the time and the place of the meetings to suit her, she was often unable to attend. The three of them had fairly steady lives and happy too. Tina was the only one yet to ‘settle down’ so to say.

One day, Tina’s brother met with an accident. Her parents called her to help them take him to the hospital. She rushed to their side but not without informing her husband. By the time her brother was treated in the emergency ward of the hospital and then discharged to go home, it was past 11pm at night. In spite of knowing that her parents had no other children who could help them in this time of crisis, Tina’s husband did not bother to even enquire about her brother, let alone offer to help. In fact, he refused to open the bedroom door when she returned and she was forced to sleep on the couch outside!

This was indeed the last straw. The next day, Tina called her friends and declared to them, “I’ve had enough. I have tried my best, but a person cannot go against one’s grain forever and ever. I am feeling suffocated in this oppressive family. I have decided to quit.”

And she did and her friends, though worried for her, were actually relieved. They had always wondered how and why the poor girl was putting up with so much unreasonable suppression. But it was not for any of them to suggest it .It was a call only she could take.

Tina picked up the pieces of her life and built it back brick by brick. Her friends, as usual, were her solid rocks of support. She worked hard as if there was no tomorrow and soon came into her own. She was her happy and cheerful self again. Cupid struck soon enough and she started seeing Prakash, a wild-life photographer. They had been introduced to each other at one of Sheena’s lavish parties thrown by her husband. Prakash and Tina hit it off instantly and started seeing each other. Tina even started accompanying Prakash on many of his shooting expeditions. Her friends observed that she seemed happy when she was with him and also equally happy on her own. Unlike their own, her life seemed to be quite a roller coaster, with as many highs as lows. It left them wondering whether to envy her or to feel bad for her!

Cut to the present, after they had all ordered their meal and settled down for a sumptuous lunch, Vidya remarked to Tina, “Somebody seems very happy today!”

“Yup!” Agreed Tina, cheerfully. “We made up after Prakash came back from his trip. Must have missed me….” She added with a wink. “Must admit I missed him too!”

“How many times do you guys break up and get back together! It’s obvious, you both can’t live without each other” Why don’t you guys just get back together for good?” remarked Rhea.

“What do you mean ‘can’t live without each other’? We are as happy on our own as well” Replied Tina. “The distance between us, when we are in our own exclusive spaces, is what is keeping us happy when we are with each other. Why would we want to rock this happy boat we are sailing in?”

“But for how long, Tina? Don’t you feel unsettled?” interjected Vidya

“You sound like my mother! I understand your concern, darling, but you know, luckily or unluckily, I have no children to think of.” Tina answered. “Like Snoopy says,’ my life has no direction, no aim, no meaning. Yet I am happy. I must be doing something right! Oof! How I love that dog! He’s taught me the secret of life- to keep looking up! Even when life pulls you down.”

“ Ya, it’s amazing , isn’t it, how we all used to devour ‘Charlie Brown’ comics all the time, while in school; but its only now that we realize how the profound statements in them hit the nail of life bang on its head!” said Sheena, reminiscing about their all-time favourite comic strips.

Vidya continued to press her point. “Don’t you feel like settling down? After all, we are all advancing in age and old age is not easy, alone”

Tina replied, “Our lives, we all have to live it ourselves. We might share it with somebody, piece-meal or all the while or all the way, but ultimately we have to live it ourselves, don’t we?”

“Ya but the journey is always easier with a person to hold your hand through your lows as well as your highs.” Said Vidya. “Anyway, tell me”, she continued, “Are you scared of committing to Prakash because of your horrendous past with that creep of a husband you once had?”

“No, no, Sweetie. Not at all” replied Tina, as she lovingly reached out across the table to touch Vidya’s troubled face. “I don’t know how blue my Sapphire is now, but I’ve managed to leave my past far behind. I have learnt what I had to, from it and have moved on very far from there. In fact, I feel nothing but compassion for that man who was once my husband.”

Then it was Rheas turn to interject. She asked, “But Tina, what about Prakash? He might want to have you permanently by his side. Men do have the need to be mothered, looked after, as they grow old, you know.”

“Again, I don’t know how blue is his Sapphire, but I do know that neither of us wants the other to be in this relationship out of any compulsion,” Tina tried to explain. “If he so wishes to, he is free to end it and move on at anytime just as I am. At the moment he also seems as content with the status of our relationship as I am. And if he wasn’t, what’s stopping him from changing it? I certainly am not… . stopping him , that is.”

‘And what if he finds somebody willing and happy to be more permanently with him, and decides to settle down with her? Where will that leave you, Tina?” It was Rhea’s turn to show concern.

Tina nodded her head, “I agree, at present that sounds like it will be devastating. But I’d rather deal with it, when it happens, if it happens, than live the dread, right now itself, and spoil my happy present as well. “I know all of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am. At least who I’ve become.”

All her three bosom pals couldn’t agree more. They loved her, admired her guts, kept their fingers crossed for her continued happiness and raised a toast to her spirit of living so fully in the present.