This short story is selected as Story of the Month April’2015 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
I took out from my wardrobe, a sky blue colour sari, which had small white flowers printed on it. My favourite colour was peach though…. all shades of peach or the colours closest to peach. Sitting in front of the mirror, I thought if I need to wear lipstick or not. I wasted few minutes, revolving the tip of the lipstick, letting the sticky stick come out and in. I put a faint shade on my lips, just as a last second decision.
In the car parking, I was nervous to see my neighbour Mrs. Dias and her four year old daughter. I went to my car and crossed them. She looked at me and smiled but only with sympathy. I felt better for a moment. While driving, I was bit tensed as well as anxious. After all I was meeting Robbie Saxena first time in my life. Though quiet sure about the fact that he would also be equally nervous, I wanted to show him that my inner stature is composed. I reached the ‘Café Senorita’ sharp at 11 a.m., as was pre decided with Robbie. I was always punctual. Never liked people who do not consider time as their heartbeats. One beat missed and missed a bit of the life. The table was already booked. I entered the lobby.
“Table for Mr. Robbie Saxena & Mrs. Sharmila Rathod?”, I asked the Attainder, an old guy with a French beard.
He escorted me to the table on which a silver plate as ‘Reserved’ was placed properly. I sat on the chair, observing myself in the mirror wall to my left. I was still in shape in my mid forties. Of course, I had well managed both, health and happiness of me and my family. I looked at the watch. It was ten passed Eleven. Slight sign of irritation followed my calm face. But the next moment, I was thankful to Robbie for coming late. I had got enough time to unwind my anxious mind and think before meeting him suddenly.
Casually I looked at the door. Robbie entered through the glass door of the café. While coming towards the table, I found the same nervous expressions on his face, as I had ten minutes before. As he reached the table, I got up from my chair. Robbie extended his hand to shake. But I just smiled and said “Hello”. The fake smiles on each other’s face made us more uncomfortable. Both sat down but the air was tight between both and both could feel that. The attendant got the menu card. I went through the list of menus. But I just ordered, “One coffee”. By that time, Robbie made up his mind to order an Italian wrap. But my coffee made his tongue say, “ Make it two”.
The waiter disappeared. Still there was no start of our conversation. I saw an old couple sitting at the corner table. Unknowingly a faint smile came on my face. Robbie looked at the couple. He realized what I was thinking.
He uttered, “I am sorry”.
Carrying the same smile, I turned my face to him. I overheard him.
I asked, “Pardon me?” .
“I said I am sorry. I can understand what pain you are going through now.”, Robbie said.
The smile on my face vanished. I said, “ I am sorry too.”
Robbie nodded. Again there was a pause in our communication. The coffee was served on our table.
“Nice colour”, he said pointing at my sari.
“Its Abhay’s choice”, I responded.
“I know”, Robbie smiled as if he remembered something. “Its his favourite colour”.
I agreed to it. Blue was Abhay’s favourite colour.
“He always used to say, you look very pretty in blue”, Robbie said.
“He used to mention …me?”, I asked with a surprise. My face had expressions of shock and puzzle both.
Robbie said with a gasp, “of course. Always.”
I wanted to cry. After many days I felt better. But I stopped my mind and put on the same mask to pretend to be strong…at least in front of Robbie.
“I got to read his diary and….only then came to know….”, I said looking at the half filled cup with hesitate.
I continued, “ All his office stuff was sent to me last week…Treasa got everything home. Treasa is his secretary.”
“I know her”, he said.
I looked up at him with amaze , “ And does she know you?.. I mean….”
Robbie said, “ she knows me as his friend.”
“Ok.”, I Uttered.
He picked up the cup. I could see a golden ring in his ring finger same as mine in my ring finger.
“ It must be difficult for you too.” My statement surprised me. But somehow I thought that the person sitting in front of me was exactly in the same situation as I was right now.
“Yes, it is. I am coping up with the things. Never thought something like this would happen. Everything was so perfect.” His eyes filled with tears. I could see dark circles under his eyes. He was though handsome, his face looked terribly stressed.
“Whole day I was trying his mobile number desperately but he was not picking up. I was surprised. It never happened before. Then I called up at his office. Treasa told me about the accident…”
He tried to hide his face but his tears rolled down his face. “ I wanted to see him for the last time…”. Robbie could not talk further. Neither could I manage to hold myself back. I felt sorry for Robbie. I turned my face to the corner table which was now empty. The old couple was gone by now. I wiped my tears.
Robbie recovered himself. The long silence continued. For some time no words were spoken but the emotions conveyed between the duos. It was past 11:30 when Robbie broke the silence.
“I need to leave now. I have some client meetings scheduled”, he said and waved his hand in the air for the check. We left the Café in few minutes. I wanted to talk to him about everything but the words fail to come out of me. Probably I was not ready this time or the first meeting was not the right occasion for that.
While driving home, I started thinking about Robbie. Several questions rose in my mind, “Was he really to blame? Or was it Abhay? Or was it me, who could not even notice a single trace of infidelity in my husband’s behaviour for so long?…. “
Unknowingly I drew my car towards Raheja Valley. I could only see one person at that moment who could calm my restless soul. It was my elder sister Vijaya. She was a socialist by profession. She was five years elder to me. Though unmarried, she carried a dynamic personality. Her advices were always helpful rather real guidance for me. I was glad to find her at home when I reached her place.
“What’s wrong? Is everything alright?,” was the first question she asked me.
“Just wanted to drop by.” I said.
“Ok. I will make you a coffee” She vanished in the kitchen.
I sat down holding Abhay’s diary in one hand.
“What is it?”, Didi asked, handing over the coffee mug. “You look worried”.
“Its something I haven’t told you yet Didi”, I was hesitant to speak.
“Tell me. Is it about Abhay?”
“Yes. I have found this diary in Abhay’s stuff which his secretary got last week.”
“And you read it?”, she asked bluntly. Her question was straight to my heart.
I was surprised by her question. “Yes, its my husband’s diary. I have all rights to read it Didi”.
“That is what you think. “, she said sarcastically. “Anyways, what about the diary..?”
“I don’t know how to put this into words. Its about Abhay. He, he…cheated on me Didi”, my eyes were filled. “He had cheated me all these years…. He was having an affair .. and that too… “, words could not come out of my mouth. “And that too with a guy…. Didi” I busted into tears.
Vijaya Didi’s face was still calm as she had not heard something unusual. She went to the window, playing with the leaves of her newly planted Banyan bonsai with her soft touches. Her calm face made me cry more.
“Don’t you feel anything wrong about it?”, I asked.
That was the difference between me and her. She could always take the things in her stride, think and analyse them but feel still okay. Where as, I have no such patience to keep them in one corner of my heart and think. My eyes and my words act more than brains in such situations. I knew this basic difference between us. But still I expected at least this time she would react and sooth me in such a miserable condition.
“Sharu”, she started while sitting on the sofa again, “ I know its hard for you. I never thought of Abhay having an extra marital affair.”
Her face was still and I could feel that she was upset to hear about me. Very few times she had managed to match the same feelings of mine in hard situations.
“What is your stand to all this?”, she asked me rather than giving any suggestion. I told her about the meeting with Robbie Saxena. She was amazed to know my stand towards the whole fact.
“Very well and how did the conversation go? Did he say something about Abhay”
“No Didi, we both were uncomfortable as well nervous to face each other. There was no much conversation.. after all this was our first meeting.”
Didi asked with surprise, “You have still intentions to meet him?”.
“Yes”, I said quite firmly. “ I want to know what made my man choose this person, carrying a secret affair behind me. What he has special that made my man fall for him. You know Didi, if it was a woman, I would not have shown so much interest, but why did he choose a man. And all these years, I was unknown to his other side.”
Vijaya Didi was quite taken a back with what I said. She came and sat next to me, holding my hand. I could see an instinct of pride in her eyes. She said, “ We all have our own other sides. But we never show them to others… I wont say they are always bad but our consciousness does not permit us to reveal it to others. I am glad Sharmila that you have taken a great decision to know that person. You never know, by meeting him, probably your mind will forgive Abhay for whatever he did or you will find some reasons to justify his behaviour.”
While driving home, I thought about what Vijaya Didi said. It made sense to me and gave a further push to see Robbie soon.
It was mid December. The nights were chilled with cold breeze. And they were more chilled with Abhay’s memories. I could not sleep that night. Though my eyes were closed, I could see the past clearly. I remembered the times when we met. Almost twenty years ago. It was love at first sight for us. We met at his cousin’s wedding. Didi liked Abhay a lot. She took initiative for our marriage and within six months we were married. He was heading a sales division in a reputed organization. I was never a career freak. But I was never idle.
After our marriage, I took up a job as a lecturer in Saint Joseph collage. That was indeed Didi’s decision that I should use my knowledge somewhere after bagging a gold medal in Economics from the university. Abhay wanted me to pursue my Ph.D. but I never agreed to that. I started liking teaching in the collage. Soon my designation became Professor Rathod. It sounded nice. Abhay was happy for me. Didi was happy too and hence was I. Its not that I never wanted success but I was glad to achieve their dream. Vijaya Didi & Abhay were very close to my heart always. Probably these were the people who had understood me in a real sense…..or that’s what I thought.
Since childhood, I had been Didi’s favourite. I was like her shadow. Though we were different in opinions for everything from favourite colours to politics, she has influenced me a lot. But I could not take decisions like her. Abhay always called me an emotional fool. It was a fact. I could never think with my brains but with my heart. And I supposed it’s the most difficult situation where you listen to your heart, though your brain directs you to do something else. I was not sure if it was my heart’s or my brain’s decision to meet Robbie, but I was feeling as if the decision was correct. And as Didi said, I could forgive Abhay after knowing Robbie personally. Rather I wanted to forgive him. But my mind was not getting a convincing reason for that. That night my tears took the place of my dreams and I was awake till late night, thinking if when to meet Robbie again next time.
I picked up the phone next morning to call him up. But my ego stopped me to do so. He was the third person in my life after all. I had a position in Abhay’s life. I was his wife and he was nothing. He should have called me up. Shouldn’t he feel an urge to meet me? Should he not feel guilty for being in a wife’s life for all these years unknowingly as a third companion? Two days passed and my anxiety was on high. I decided to call him up. But fortunately, Robbie called up the same day and saved my ego from falling.
“Hello, Mrs. Rathod? Its Robbie. ”, he asked.
I had his number stored in my mobile. But I pretended as if I didn’t know him. Probably I just wanted to show him that I was WIFE and he was….?
“Yes. Mrs. Rathod. Who is this?”
“Its Robbie. We met last week. I am Abhay’s…”, and he stopped saying further. As if he expected me to accept and acknowledge his position in my husband’s life. I wanted to ask him, “You were Abhay’s what? …Nothing but a Keep?”
“Hello Robbie. What can I do for you?”, I asked calmly.
“We could not talk much in our last meting. Rather it was uncomfortable for both of us to talk in the first meet. Honestly, I wanted to talk a lot and make a few things clear. Can we meet again? I mean.. if its comfortable for you.”
He said the things what I wanted to tell him and I was relieved. He invited me to his place. I was indecisive to meet him at his apartment. He convinced me though. But I was still not sure if I wanted to meet him there. According to Vijaya Didi, I had already taken the decision of meeting him, the place where we were meeting was irrelevant. I gave up thinking where to meet and started thinking what to say after meeting. This time I was more nervous than the first meeting.
I reached at his place on time as usual. He opened the door with a smile. He was wearing a white linen shirt with blue jeans….looking much handsome than the other day. His apartment was small but cozy. He asked me to sit and went inside. He had a taste to everything from furniture to wall paintings. No doubt he was good at interiors. House was neat and clean. The colours of the walls were matching to the furnishings well. And the curtains……
The curtains were Abhay’s choice. I remembered, last year when we went to shop for our curtains. Abhay liked the same curtains…. Aqua blue with fresh white designs printed on it. But I didn’t like them much. They looked too dim. We bought fresh white self embroidered curtains of my choice. I got up and touched those curtains. I sensed Abhay’s touch to them.
“You liked those.”, Robbie came with a coffee tray.
“Abhay liked them. I found them dim, though.”, he said it casually. But it surprised me.
He offered me coffee and blueberry muffins.
“You like these muffins, right.?” . There was no need to ask if Abhay told him about that.
“Did Abhay tell you everything about me?”, Hiding my curiosity I asked him.
“Yes, mostly everything. Ma’am I must say. He loved you a lot.” There was not a bit of jealousy or hatred in this sentence when Robbie said that. The smile on his face had the same honesty as he had said this statement.
He showed me his portfolio of new designs. It was thick album of more than thirty photos, showing his talent and creativity in architecture and interiors. Somewhere I felt as if we had forgotten the main reason to meet. While driving to his apartment I decided to talk and ask him everything. I wanted to know how and when did he enter in my life and was there always like a shadow for last four years.
But here something else was happening. I closed his portfolio, surprisingly. I looked straight in his eyes and said, “ Are we here to discuss about your achievements and career? Can we talk something relevant now?”.
Robbie felt bad. “ I was just trying to make you feel comfortable before we talk about Abhay. I know this issue is much sensitive for both of us.”
It made sense to me but I did not want to show him that.
“How did it all start?”, I fired my first question.
“ We met in Delhi around five years back. At a business conference.” Robbie answered like a small child. “ We became good friends. When we were back in Bombay, we stared meeting regularly. Of course our interests were same and we liked each other’s company. But there were no feelings as such initially.”
“Did he know about your orientation that time?”, I fired again.
“I told him myself. But trust me, there were no intentions behind that. I considered him my good friend and he ought to know about me… right? I did not want him to know about me from any other sources.” He tried to convince me.
“But why did you turn him into gay? He was someone’s husband dammit!”, I couldn’t stop my tears. I bursted into tears.
He felt sorry for me. He handed over the glass of water. When I was calm enough, he started.
“I have not turned him into anything. We cannot turn anybody as a gay or a lesbian. We are born with those traits. We are genetically engineered that way. And if those traits are not there, no one could make you one.”
“What do you mean? My husband was one? We had been married for last eighteen years and we were happy all these years.” I was not understanding what he wanted to say. Rather I was not in the condition to comprehend.
Robbie held my hands in his. He said,” I know that your husband was very happy with you. He told me many times that he loves you very much. And I know myself that though we had an affair, he did not love me as much as he loved you.”
I felt really better with that. I didn’t know if it was truth. But that moment I needed someone to tell me that and Robbie did it so well.
“But .. he had a past though. Abhay was a bisexual.” He held my hands with much care this time.
For a moment I was shattered. A sheer blaze ran through me. I looked into Robbie’s eyes. I could feel that his eyes were filled with tears.. they were understanding me, my condition to know such a fact. My heartbeat was still running faster and I wanted some more air .. just to breath and swallow whatever I heard.
“Ma’am, I can understand what you are going through right now. I shouldn’t have told you this. But I wanted to clear that when society looks at people like us, they just imagine us as lust freaks or …or sex seekers. But we have feelings too ma’am. We have hearts too and we can feel, love, care same way as you do in the straight World. Abhay gave up that World once he got married to you. For all these years, he was a perfect husband. Never betrayed you for anyone.”
“But he did it for you”, I was blunt this time.
“I don’t know how did it happen and why did it happen. Whatever happened was not in a spur of moment, we fell in love gradually. But honestly Ma’am, you were always his first and foremost priority.”
“Huh, I have read his diary Mr. Saxena and it clearly says who was important to him.” I wiped my tears and put on the same mask to pretend strong.
“ I have seen his diary too Ma’am. And I saw he has written about me and our meetings date wise, day wise. But you forgot to notice that I was like an appointment for him. He booked me on his diary whenever he had time from you. Because you were always on all the blank pages where he did not mention our meets.”
I looked at him with amaze. I really did not notice that Robbie’s name was on few pages, date wise. For a moment I felt pity for him.
“Abhay’s death has caused major loss to my life not your Ma’am. You had all eighteen years of life full of memories to cherish and I had a few meetings to remember.”, he hid his face, not letting me see his tears.
I gave him glass of water which he drank contently.
We sat for few moments together. This time the air between us was not tight, neither we were thinking of what to say next but the conversation we had made us both feel better. It was a rare opportunity to share the same agony for the loss of same person, where we both were sharing equal positions in that person’s life and still acknowledging each other’s company.
“I should leave now”, I said and got up from the chair. Suddenly, I asked him,” Can I take your portfolio with me? I have not seen it completely.”
He gladly gave me his designs. He didn’t know that I had taken his portfolio to have an excuse for meeting him again.
Over a week’s time I went through his half seen portfolio. To my surprise, I found a photo which was hidden in the last pages. Abhay and Robbie sitting closely, probably in a restaurant. Abhay’s hand was on Robbie’s shoulder. They both looked happy and content as if they have forgotten that the space between them belongs to me. But I remembered what Robbie told to me….” Ma’am I must say. He loved you a lot”.
Nobody knew accept Abhay whom he loved the most but according to Robbie, I was the winner. And his thought made me feel better. Though behind my mind, I laughed at my immature idea. Somewhere I started accepting the fact that this third person was a part of Abhay’s life and unknowingly mine as well. It is devastating for a woman to know about her husband’s affair. But in my case, the situation was different. I did not have my husband now to whom the strings of the third person were attached. I was tracing those cut strings to understand my husband, his secret affair and an unknown individual. I was thankful to Abhay that he succeeded in keeping his love affair a secret. If he would have been alive, I might have never tried to forgive him. Neither would I have tried to know Robbie. No wonder, we grow in our thought process as we go through ups and downs of life.
I showed the picture to Didi. She liked him. “ Quite a handsome boy”, she said.
I didn’t like Didi’s comment. She read my mind, as usual.
“C’mon Sharu, you have met this guy twice. But have you found out if he is really to be considered as guilty? Do you still have anything against him? I found him a gentleman. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have met you again and tried to explain everything.”
“I don’t know Didi. Yet I don’t know who is at fault but I am trying hard to wipe off all the misconceptions I have for Robbie. He is a nice guy indeed, but…”
“Sharu, you need not blame anybody. Not Abhay, not this guy and neither you.” She said. “Whatever has happened that was destined… that is life. And life is always unpredictable. You never know what twist and turns are there in each of our lives. Please don’t forget that there is no war or competition between you and Robbie, neither you have to prove who was best in his life….because the main factor of conflict is no more between you both. What would you try to prove? “
“I am not trying to prove anything Didi. Its just the reasons I am still searching for his betrayal and my fault to be unknown to the other side of his life.”
“Is it that important now? Are the memories of Abhay and the years you spent together are not enough? Are they not worth?”
Somehow I was comprehending what she was trying to say. I knew Didi’s style of making me things understand. Probably, one would find it ruthless and rude, but I was used to it by now. I knew that behind what she said, had a deep thought process for my betterment. But my heart was still racing behind those questions.
Few days passed. This time I called up Robbie to meet him. This time I did not find my ego stopping me for doing so. Probably because I had a reason of returning his portfolio.
When I reached the garden to meet him that evening, he was already there…sitting on a bench, looking at kids playing. His face looked amused, but one could easily see that he had something else on his mind. Like he was remembering something …or someone.
I went and sat on the bench. He looked at me and said, “Hey”.
I smiled while taking out his portfolio from my bag. I handed over it to him.
“It is nice. I liked your work.”
It seemed as if he was not in the mood to make me talk. So I started myself.
“ Its nice weather today. “
“Hmm.” He nodded. “This place is also nice. We used to come here. Abhay liked to sit and talk for hours here.”
Once Abhay got me here. I never liked places with crowd. In the collage, I had enough noise and people around me. It somehow kills your privacy. That is what I felt and we never came to this garden again. I was here after almost eight years.
“You like to be in the crowd like this?”, I asked him.
He smiled and looked at me, “Not really. But then, this was the place where two men can sit and talk casually, without any misconception in people’s mind. And he was fond of people around him.”
I knew that.
“Abhay was so different with you than with me. He never got me here again, after once I told him that I don’t like this place.” Unnecessarily I felt as if I was still above him while making this statement. A small proud smile flashed on my face.
Robbie’s face was calm as if it was truth. “You are right. He always did everything what you liked.”
“I did everything what he liked.” He got up from the bench.
I followed him. I did not like what he said. I was numb for a moment. A colourful ball came rolling down to us. Robbie tossed it back to the kid with a smile.
“I found immense pleasure of doing things for him. Things which he liked and interested in doing so.” A different gleam came to his face. “ He liked to go to places like this, full of people, colour… do things differently. Eat out on the stalls. Hang out in the garden, on the streets. We all did that.”
How could Abhay like such things? He was talking about some different Abhay. My Abhay was always a shy guy. He always preferred a descent and classy life style. And besides, he loved the company of me and Didi.
“He had strange fantasies of doing things.” Robbie laughed at his thoughts.
“Do you mean he was not happy with me?”
“No Ma’am, its not that. Its just that he had a different side of life too which he hid from the World for all these years. And when we met, he found a companion to do so.”
“ I was his companion. I was his wife. Why could not he share that to me? “
“He loved you Ma’am. He did whatever you wanted him to do so. He molded himself as you wanted him to.”
“Did he not love you?”, my question was sharp.
“I don’t know. He never told me that.” His face was serene.
While driving home, I felt as if I found a new Robbie that day. I was amazed with his honesty and jealous with his purity of heart. I found many answers to my few questions. Answers which led tranquil to my restless mind. I was feeling proud to take the decision of meeting and knowing Robbie. Now I knew him.
By the time I reached home, I acknowledged Robbie in Abhay’s life. I agreed that the destiny plans everything for wellness. Robbie was needed in Abhay’s life…for Abhay and his own hidden life.
I had a peaceful sleep that night….after many days.
Our meetings increased week by week. Every time I met him, I came across a new Robbie and a new Abhay too. Abhay who was known to me was very different than Robbie’s Abhay. Robbie’s Abhay was vibrant with full of life and colours. He was careless in His World. My Abhay was rather calm and responsible. His Abhay learnt the ways of life and gave a shape to Robbie’s life too. My Abhay was well molded as I made him. I never did it purposely but in the relationships we tend to bend according to our partner if we really want to. Abhay did that. I had learnt Abhay through Robbie. I had also learnt Robbie ….and nowadays I had started discovering myself.
I thought I always followed the two geniuses of my life. But the truth was, I always followed myself. I thought I was naïve to take my decisions of my own life and forever depended on Didi or Abhay, but in reality I took my own decisions which I wanted to take. I agreed to their thoughts whenever they appealed to my mind. I never chose to do Ph.D. as Abhay wanted me to do. I never agreed to wear always blue as he wanted me to wear. I decorated our home as I wanted, though consulted and convinced Abhay to agree on my decisions. We preferred to go to places and did things of my choice not Abhay’s.
It was indeed hard for me to accept my pretentious behaviour of knowing Abhay and claiming him. I never understood Abhay for all these years in real terms. I loved him but I loved myself more than anything…and I had accepted that.
I was thankful to Robbie for letting introduce myself to me. I was thankful to myself too for introducing myself to Robbie….as I found a new friend in him. Though the friendship we were sharing was all because of the same man we shared. It was strange but at the same time unique and special. He was like a new fresh breeze to me which had taken away all the vague misconceptions about Abhay and their relationship. He helped me to remove all the dark clouds in my mind. When I told him about my ostentatious behaviour and apologized for my pointless comments I made on Robbie in our first few meets, he just laughed.
“You were being yourself Sharmila”, he couldn’t stop laughing on my immature thought.
“Stop laughing! I am telling you honestly Robbie. Sometimes I feel awful to even think about it.”
“I don’t find it awful at all.” He said quietly, “ You were his wife and you were doing what you ought to do.”
I did not get him.
He continued,” Sharmila, you knew that he was your husband and you can claim that right over him. He was convinced and accepted that fact. He was a descent man and respected, moreover loved you. So you did your job and he did his, that simple.”
He plucked a grass stick from the lawn and played with it.
“But you never behaved like me….never claimed him. You always agreed to do the things on his terms.”, I was still not convinced.
“That’s what I am telling you Sharmila. You were his wife and I was?…I don’t know.” He looked at me and smiled.
Our weekly meets came down to daily routines of walks, ice cream parlours and coffee shops. We started visiting each other’s places. Once we had been invited by Didi.
“I hope you would like the dinner.”, while keeping the plates in front of us she said.
“Of course Didi, what is special on the menu?”, I asked hungrily.
“Your favourite Lemon Aioli with Dark Chocolate Sorbet.” , while sitting next to me.
“ And for you Sweetheart Robbie, a special dish: Fricassea di Pollastri…its an Italian dish made up in mushrooms…and..”
“I know. I have tried it.”, Robbie said with a smile. Didi went inside the kitchen to fetch the dishes.
“It was Abhay’s one of the favourite dishes too.”, he looked at me solemnly. I knew that.
Our eyes met as if he wanted me to know it though.
Didi heard him from inside. “That is why I prepared it. Just one more reason to remember him when we all are here.” Didi said looking at the closed vessel. “You like it too?” Didi asked him.
“Initially I did not. But then gradually I developed the taste.” He said.
I never tried it. Personally I did not like the appearance of it.
“Can I taste it?” I asked Didi. She was surprised but promptly she changed her face, appreciating change in me. Gladly she served the dish and not so gladly I ate it.
One day I was sitting in his study room. Robbie was supposed to give me his whole Tagore collection to read. I was pleased to see his study room full of books…from Shakespeare to Oscar Wild, from R.K. Narayan to Anita Desai, all the shelves were loaded with knowledge treasure. No wonder he had gained so much maturity at that young age.
He came in wearing a peach coloured sweater….the same as once I knitted and given to Abhay. I liked nonetheless on Robbie. He was looking handsome as usual. He looked at me with a broad smile like a child showing his trophy.
“Oh! It fits you well.”, I appreciated.
“He forgot it once here.” He touched the sweater with hands. “It still has his warmth.”
He turned to open the window. I tried to reach him…to feel Abhay’s warmth. But he was out of my reach, I just felt the cold breeze came in through the window.
We almost completed four healthy months of our friendship. I didn’t even recognized when he became the closest person in my life after Didi. I adored him for loving Abhay, the way I did always. Sometimes he became a very good friend to advice on essential matters, sometimes he was a caring brother or a scolding father out of love for me and often he was a child. It took me long to understand his moods. I related myself to him so well because we were facing same situations but I could just tackle the situation and he could enjoy tackling it, without any borrowed stress. We were growing with each other in our thoughts. We had arguments and fights but the end results were mutual. I was grateful to him to bring my life to normal after Abhay’s death.
One morning he dropped by me. “Just to say hi!”, he said when I asked him reason to come so early in the morning. But I knew he wanted to tell something. I deliberately did not push him to tell me anything. He was looking happy. I gave him coffee mug. He said, “ Ok, I will tell you. I have got selected for the International Architecture Program in Canada.”
“Wow! That’s amazing.” I hugged him.
“So when is it staring?” I asked curiously.
“I have to leave after two months. It’s a four year program and once I get this degree, I can always work wherever I want to or open up my own firm.”
“Four years?”, I was disappointed. But he was not. He was ready with his dreams to fly away. I took out my mask after many days and put on my face, only this time I did not pretend to be rude but happy for him.
When he went I took my pills and slept for the rest of the day. When I got up, it was evening. Over a cup of coffee, I decided just to be happy for him. Next few days, I did not go to the collage. I informed in the collage that I was out of town for a few days. I went to the market and bought peach colour woolen balls. I wanted to knit a sweater for Robbie as I did for Abhay. With each knit, I remembered all the times we spent with each other. With every mend there were memories of Abhay with me and Robbie. I was careful and I was gentle.
A week later, I went to gift him the sweater. I knew it will fit him and I even knew he would like it. I was excited and glad to give him a surprise like this. I rang the bell thrice. He took a long time. He was shirtless when he opened the door. Something was not right. He was surprised to see me.
“Hey, how are you?” he smiled at me.
I smiled back at him. But there was some movement behind him…I looked over his shoulder. I saw a man’s reflection in the mirror through his bedroom door. He was putting on his pants. I could not control myself.
“You ba**ard!”, I slapped him and walked off towards my car. He followed me and tried to stop me. But I drew off. I drew far away and stopped the car on the sideway. I did not know why I was crying but I cried for a long time. I decided after that not to meet Robbie at all. I avoided his calls and I fully concentrated in the collage festival. I started coming late and going early so that Robbie would not find me. I purposefully left less time for myself. Students and other professors were amazed to see me working for annual event for the first time in my fifteen years career.
He tried to approach me in the collage but I avoided. It went on for few days and then he also gave up. I was hurt deeply but my hands were full with the collage festival.
One evening when I came home, Didi was standing at the door. She was waiting for me.
“Didi? What happened? When did you come back from Kochin?”
“Where are you nowadays? Your phone is switched off. I was worried.”
I opened the lock. “Come on in Didi. I am working with the collage festival. There is a lot of work nowadays. How was your tour?” I showed as if nothing has happened. But I knew Didi. Her eyes told me that she was there for some other reason.
“Sharu, Robbie called up.” She did not wait for any casual talk as starter. “He told me everything. Why Sharu? When are you going to grow up?”
“Grow up? Didi, you know what has happened and still you think I need to grow up? I saw a man wearing clothes in his bedroom…I saw him half naked and disturbed in his act and you expect me to grow up? Are you saying he was right? Didi, its not even one year Abhay passed away and he has already started sleeping around with other men? How could he just forget everything….that love, those memories of Abhay so soon? ”
“Sharu, what is wrong if he is moving on with his life? He is just doing what he is ought to do. People meet, they separate and then new people meet. That is how life is about.” Didi was as usual ruthless and practical.
She stood up and turned her back to me. “Sharu, I know you all these years well. You are a good human being, just sometimes you don’t know how to react to the situations. You are still that small child, Sharu. Do you remember when dad used to get us new clothes? You loved to see me in new clothes but you used to still fight with dad why I was looking beautiful than you, though your dress was expensive than mine.”
She turned to me. “You know what is your problem? You like Robbie. You care for him a lot and that is why you can not see him going away. You want his success but also him.”
“But I am happy for him Didi. I want him to go to Canada and pursue his dreams. However, he shouldn’t have forgotten Abhay…..at least not so soon.”
“That is why I tell you dear to grow up. Its not always what you think or how you see is right. Sharu, how could you say that he has forgotten Abhay? Why do you expect him to let linger Abhay in everything you do or you don’t do? He has loved Abhay as much as one can. He loved him and changed himself for him. But that is past now.”
She held me tightly with both her hands.
“ Abhay is no more and he has accepted this fact. He is moving on with the flow of life. You are afraid Sharu, that you will never cope up with his speed….though it is his career or his personal life. You are afraid that you can not forget Abhay. And that is why you don’t want him to move on. Now you need him as your companion to remain in memories of Abhay. Let him move on in his life.”
I sat on the chair. Didi read through me in and out. She was right. I did not want him to lose our World of Abhay or rather I was selfish to let him move on. I was jealous of him. He was living in the life and I was living with the life. Life of memories.
“Sharu, please don’t be selfish. He is leaving tonight. We should meet him once before he goes away. I told him we will meet him. C’mon, lets go.”
Didi drew the car to his place. While getting down I took the bag which was lying since last time when I met him. I did not give him that sweater which was knitted so affectionately. When I reached his door, there was a big lock on it. He was already left. There was a pack at the door step, named Sharmila. I opened the pack. He left Abhay’s peach sweater in the pack. I brought it back and sat in the car.
“What happened?” Didi asked, “Has he left already?”
I looked at Didi with a broad smile and nodded. She started the car. I held the sweater close to my heart. I could feel Abhay’s warmth that day.