Short Story Husband and Wife – REMINISCENCES
Prashant returned from the court straight to his apartment, ignoring the pleas of his parents to go over to their apartment. The divorce proceedings were, as they always are, very painful and emotional. The “institution” of his four-year marriage to Alka was ended by a signature of the judge and a stamped paper. While a tearful Alka accompanied her parents, Prashant chose to return to his own flat. He opened the lock of the front door and was immediately greeted by loneliness, melancholy, desolation and, above all, deafening silence. He was immediately depressed.
‘It is bound to be like this initially,’ he consoled himself. ‘At least and at last I am free. No more nagging by her; no more daily fights and acrimony; a blessing in disguise that we don’t have any children.’
“Alka, dear, come sit with us and have some tea,” Alka’s mother pleaded.
Alka ran into her room and bolted it from inside ignoring her mother’s plea. She sat on the floor beside her cot and broke down and wept like a child.
‘Oh, God! What did I do wrong? I’ve always taken care of him and our home. All I wanted was that Prashant spend some time with me. Was I wrong? It was always friends, friends and friends and his programmes with his friends and his office work. There was no quality time we spent together, right from the beginning of our marriage. I, being a newlywed, didn’t complain. But after some time it became impossible, as if I was a piece of furniture. Where had all that love gone?’ Alka lamented. ‘Why did things become so bad that our marriage ended in divorce?’
“Alka, dear, Alka…” Her mother was calling for her.
The day after, being a Saturday and a holiday, Prashant woke up very late. It was eleven o’clock. He lay on his bed for a few more minutes lazily.
“Alka…” He realised that there was no Alka anymore in his life.
“Sh*t…” He got up and went straight into the bathroom.
After fifteen minutes and brushing and answering nature’s call, he emerged and went into the kitchen.
“How do I make tea? Where the hell are tea powder and sugar? God! What a beginning to a weekend!” he cursed.
A quarter of an hour later he was seated at the dining table with a large mug of steaming tea. He started sipping and instantly was scalded.
“God! Is this tea? When she was here…” he stopped the thought-chain, “No, not that route once again, man. This has to be good tea.” He consoled himself. But the thought process that was set in motion, by a cup of horrible tea, in the morning of the beginning of a weekend, did not end. It rushed into his mind, wave after wave, in an endless stream of consciousness.
A couple of months elapsed. The life of Prashant, which he thought would improve after his divorce with Alka, actually deteriorated. He never realised how much he came to depend on her for everything – handkerchief to bike keys, bed tea (with a pinch of cardamom) to sumptuous supper (Oh, for those parathas with ghee!), bath towel to dress for the office, the list is endless.
Reminiscing became a part of his evening life. Although he spent time with his friends, he sensed some change in the way they looked at him; as if they were saying, ‘You are responsible for your present state. You are at fault, not she. She was devoted to you. But you were a Male Chauvinist Pig’.
He used to lose himself in guilt-ridden recapitulation of his four years with Alka.
One such evening, he was sitting on a cane chair – a favourite of Alka – in the balcony of his bedroom with a glass of whisky and soda in hand, sipping the hard liquor slowly and trying to enjoy every drop of it. He was lost in the abyss of reminiscence.
‘God! I am lonely. Alka used to sit with me reading a magazine or talking to me while I had my drink. She used to make my whisky with soda and ice cubes; never complained, even when I sometimes had one peg too many and started blabbering. She was so patient.’
He had another huge gulp and replenished his glass.
‘Why did she say all those things whenever we had our fights, which were too many at the end? What was she asking for? A bungalow, a car, diamonds, jewellery, trip to exotic places, or a big bank balance for herself? Or did she demand a career for herself? No, not in the least. Actually, she gave up on her job right after our marriage to tend to our home-sweet-home. She was asking for a little attention and time from me. That’s all. Was it too much? After all, she never demanded that I take her along with me to my friends’ place. Why could I not fulfil the small desire of hers? I was a consummate jerk.’
Tears started to roll out of his eyes.
‘I am unable to bear this loneliness. Where are you Alka? God! What have I done? How could I let go of the one person that loved me selflessly. She always thought of me and only me. Her life started with me and ended with me. How could I be so selfish? Didn’t she give up her life, her parents, her family, her friends, her everything when she married me? Didn’t she think that my parents were her parents? Didn’t she take care of them devotedly?’
Prashant got up when he heard the doorbell ring. It was the milkman, asking for the monthly payment.
Prashant almost said, ‘Come back when madam is here.’ The milkman left after collecting his payment.
Prashant resumed his balcony seat, his whisky glass and his reminiscences.
‘Can Alka be blamed for all or any part of the so-called incompatibility between us? No. She had always tried to pacify me and patch up with me, swallowing my offensive, rude and chauvinistic behaviour towards her. No, I’ve now realised; the blame lies entirely with me…I miss her. I miss her smile, her pushing her hair out of her eyes constantly while cooking or doing daily chores. The short ponytail hairstyle suited her. Although I poked her many times about it she took it sportingly. It is I who could never take a joke, especially coming from her. I always sulked, the jerk that I am.’
Prashant fell asleep in the balcony chair that was Alka’s favourite. It was like lying down in her soft and loving lap.
Over the next couple of months, Prashant thought of calling Alka over her mobile but could not pick up enough courage to do that. Finally, one evening, he rang her number.
“The number you are dialling is currently switched off,” was the message he received.
He hung up, disappointed.
It was about seven months after their divorce. Prashant became a near-total drunkard and a derelict. He lost touch with his family – parents and younger brother. He stopped calling them or receiving their calls. He was irregular to work and shoddy in his assignments. He realised how much Alka meant to him in his life.
‘I have committed a great blunder…no, sin…in leaving her; that too for no fault of hers. I blamed her for our fights when I was responsible for every fight. I behaved like a jerk. I deserve this punishment. But I have had enough. I am going back to her. I will ask for her forgiveness, on my knees if need be; and her parents’ too. I shall beg her to come back to me. I’ll convince her that I cannot live without her. I have realised my mistakes truly.’
Prashant went to Alka’s house. He parked his bike and tentatively entered the house.
The inside of the house at once presented a gloomy and desolate picture. It was semi-dark with only a night lamp glowing. There were two people sitting in the chairs in the drawing room – Alka’s father, Gopal, and mother, Savitri. The expressions on their faces were similar; blank, devoid of any emotion. Prashant stepped into the drawing room softly and stood before Alka’s parents.
“Good evening, uncle.”
A few moments later Gopal lifted his head and looked at Prashant with a total apathy on his face. Savitri did not even bother to lift her head. Gopal nodded his head and motioned Prashant to sit in a chair. Prashant sat on the edge of a chair.
“How are you all, uncle?” Prashant asked.
A forced smile appeared on Gopal’s face.
Prashant did not know what else to ask. Yet, he continued.
After a long pause.
Prashant nodded a ‘yes’.
Again a long pause. Gopal looked at Savitri. She nodded.
“Come…” Gopal stood up on shaky legs and beckoned Prashant to follow him.
Presently, they entered Alka’s room. It was as it was when they got married, spic and span. Prashant did not find Alka.
“Uncle…” Gopal interrupted him and pointed towards a wall. Prashant turned his gaze on to the wall. It was like a grenade exploding inside his head. His whole world crumbled in front of him.
There she was; Alka, inside a neat and simple photo frame. There was a garland of mixed flowers slowly swinging from nails on top of the photo. A small oil lamp was glowing on a small wooden rack just below the photograph. Alka was smiling. She was beautiful, as ever.
Prashant ran to the bathroom and threw up in the sink. A few minutes later he returned to the drawing room and sat down in the sofa.
“Why? How? When?” He asked Gopal.
“The night of your divorce. Cerebral haemorrhage. We returned from the court and she straight away locked herself in her room. Didn’t open even when we banged for a long time. We let her be. She didn’t even have dinner. Late in the night, we heard some sounds from her room – something like moaning – but the door was bolted from inside. We broke it open. There she was, in a terrible state. Took her to hospital. Doctors tried for a couple of hours but…” He smiled wryly and fell silent.
A dumbstruck Prashant got up silently and walked out of the house slowly and unsteadily, one small shuffling step after another.
…Shyam Sundar Bulusu