Bijith Nair furtively tossed a sugar cube into his insipid tea, and tilted his head towards the right, from where he could get a clear view to the door of his kitchen.
He could see the slouched back of his wife; her round figure taking up every inch of the viewing space that the doorway allowed. The way her arms and elbows moved in measured swings, he predicted she was chopping something.
Noticing she hadn’t been keeping an eye on him, he quickly added another white lump to his tea and stirred it delicately, ensuring that the spoon didn’t hit the bottom or the circular-frame of his ceramic cup. The clanging would draw her attention.
Somehow, today, he did not want her to know that he was finding it difficult to resist this sweet temptation that diabetes had long denied. Sugar reminded him of love and may be that’s how he felt now, but she didn’t need to know that, not yet.
He was about to reach for his cup, when she called out to him, “Biju! Should I give you porridge or cornflakes for breakfast?”
“They both sound hmmm…,” Bijith struggled for a word, and after a few seconds of vacuous thinking, came up with “…very delicious! I can’t decide. Why don’t you choose my poison?”
It was meant to be sarcastic, but it almost, came across as complimentary. Why else, would she mutter a polite “Thanks”.
Krishna never got his sarcasm, but even after 42 years of marriage, Bijith hadn’t stopped trying. It made him feel accomplished and more involved in the decision-making at home. If Krishna ruled the house with an iron hand, Bijith liked to believe that he ruled the house with sarcasm, one that was mostly lost to her and his kids’ untrained ears. Nonetheless, he had made his point, and to Bijith that seemed more important.
Now, sipping into the sweet concoction, he was reminded of the heady days of his youth, when love was not singularly bestowed on any one woman. Though most of them had either ended tragically or comically, except for the arrangement his parents had fixed with Krishna. Their marriage had always seemed like an amicably agreed upon deal. Nothing of real consequence, especially romantic, had ever been exchanged between Krishna and him. Suresh and Shiva happened to them during those rare occasions when they were overcome by passion or call it lust. Love was a word only hanging in the air; it all felt more like comfort. And yet in all these years, she had been the only one who mattered. Though, something always felt amiss. And until yesterday, he had never figured out what.
He smiled and got up from his dining seat, moving towards the large French window, which opened to his balcony.
Bijith never drank his tea at the table; it was always outside from where he could see the compound. And because his building shared space with a school, the ground was always home to children running amok either during PE class or recess.
“What happened? Why exactly are you smiling to yourself?” Krishna asked, interrupting the string of thoughts running through his head.
“Nothing…just remembered something amusing,” he said, his mind straying again.
“Since yesterday, I have been noticing you…suddenly behaving strange.”
Krishna was sly, he knew. She could read him easily, or probably, he gave out too much. This time around, he had to act with caution or he’d risk letting her know.
“Stop over-thinking,” he said, “Breakfast ready? I need to step out in a while.”
Walking on the jagged pavement of Mumbai’s Fort area, inside the arched stone-walled gateway, Bijith thought of what happened yesterday. He met Sharda right here, while he was out on a stroll, like he was today. Sharda looked just like she had when he last saw her over 40 years ago. They had dated briefly, before she was married to an Army man. Though it had been a long time since, meeting her hadn’t felt strange at all. It all still seemed so familiar and fresh. It was hard not to draw comparisons with Krishna. Especially since the two women had once been close friends in college. Unlike his wife, whose skin fell into lose folds on her face, Sharda’s was still taut. The passing years had barely done her any damage. Only the silver strands that intermittently emerged from the long black of her hair, told the story of her ageing. She had been widowed five years ago, and lived alone in the city after having lost her only son in the battlefield.
They had promised to meet again today. He had been anticipating this moment since last night. She would come. They would smile. Somethings would be exchanged. An untold story would bloom again.
Sharda hadn’t disappointed; in fact, she had come before time.
“Hi,” he said. She could make out that he was nervous; Bijith was toying with his own hands. “I have been thinking about us since yesterday,” she said.
“So have I,” he muttered.
“Strange…we met again.”
“There’s always a reason,” he interjected.
She handed him a small note.
“This really helped me,” she said, “but I don’t think, it was meant for me.”
“Thank you Sharda.”
They hugged awkwardly. “Hope to meet you again,” he said, before they parted one last time.
That afternoon, when he got home, he slipped the note into a book that his wife had been reading. She would find it later; he cared little about her reaction. He just wanted her to know something that he himself had forgotten.
It was dated July 19, 1971. It read:
Thank you for the wedding invitation. Am glad you are moving on, and marrying that Army guy. I hope you have forgiven me for breaking your heart. I was so foolishly infatuated with you, that I had forgotten what it was to love. It’s funny how my wedding was eventually fixed with a friend of yours, who I didn’t bother to give a second glance while in college. We have been married for a month now and for once, I think am really in love.
Am just saying that love happens, and mostly when we least expect. It doesn’t need to happen the way we would have wished it to happen, nor does it have to feel like how we want it to feel. I am so comfortably in love that Krishna doesn’t even know. May be, she might never know, but does it matter. I hope the same for you and your husband.
Bijith (and Krishna)