Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Love Unlike Others

She was meeting Zoe tomorrow.

It seemed like they had known each other forever. But she still remembered, with crystal clarity, the day they had first met. She'd been nervous, too nervous to see the exciting side of attending college in a new city. The shyness that had seemed to recede in the last few years of school was back, pressing down on her with renewed force. Her mother had dropped her at the hostel in the morning, trusting her newly turned eighteen daughter to make her own way. She'd been in her room for five hours, putting away her things, arranging her books with extra care. Unable, so far, to pluck up courage to go and talk to any of the other girls. Suddenly, the door had banged open, and in walked a girl with a smile as bright as the sun. Zoe.

She'd been the reluctant friend, at first. But one couldn't resist Zoe's charm for very long. The three years of college were when she'd truly lived, for the very first time. Zoe had blackmailed her into wearing kohl, letting her hair down once in a while, actually wearing the shocking pink jacket her mother had forced on her. They'd called each other Kamla and Bimla, secret names that made their friendship more vital somehow. Bunking classes to discover newer varieties of chaat, sharing the first tentative sip of alcohol on a Friday afternoon in a deserted pub, filling their brains with reams of abstruse information before the examinations... every moment had had its own thrill. Zoe had been a serial dater, stringing along an ever increasing line of boys who seemed to hang on to her every word. She'd never really been one for dating, even though Zoe had coaxed her into a fair few. Zoe's love life, though, had never flagged for an instant. The wining and dining with the endless admirers was a regularly Friday night feature.

It was one such date that had changed everything. On her return, Zoe had been unusually quiet; her eyes filled with a strange new light. For the first time, she'd felt somehow excluded from a secret, somehow distant from Zoe. Soon, Rajiv became the first boy to ever get a third date. She'd been vaguely annoyed at the time, and unable to explain her mood swings. It hadn't mattered; Zoe hadn't cared, or even noticed.

A month later, on one frenetic pre-exam evening, Zoe had turned to her with a sombre look on her face.

"He asked me today. I knew it was coming, but I still wasn't prepared. I couldn't have been prepared for this kind of happiness, could I? We're going ahead with it, sweets.I wasn't supposed to tell, but I couldn't hold it in anymore."

"Going ahead with what?" she'd asked, half willing the answer to never come.

"We're getting married. His family won't approve, so we're having a civil ceremony before we tell them. Bimla, I'm getting married tomorrow! I'm so dizzy, I can barely breathe! Can you believe it?"

But I love you...

Her eyes widened as the unspoken realization sank in. She masked it with a huge smile, hugging Zoe tight, whispering her congratulations. Zoe drew back, looking at her with a half smile and a strange look in her eyes. Her breath caught in her chest. She recognized pity well enough.

Zoe knew.

(To be continued)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Night Vision

Things have a way of getting tangled up.

The rain pours outside, relentless like the thoughts in her head. The man beside her sleeps on, dreaming of God only knows what men dream of. Race cars? Supermodels? Her fingers have long since stopped seeking his out for comfort. They seek out a cigarette instead; the gesture now so practiced it barely registers anymore. The smell of the rain mingles with the tobacco scent of a thousand nights like this one. The mingled odours rise up and settle onto her chest, pressing until she can barely breathe anymore. The bed isn't hers; she rises to escape its throttling embrace.

The window seems less dangerous. Leaning out, she looks at the plants by the windowsill. His wife is a herb lover, she remembers. In the early, heady days of their acquaintance, she remembers laughing at him telling her that the missus's green thumb cultivated everything except weed. Now she leans and smells thyme, basil and mint. Well grown, well loved plants, tended with the care that escaped the marriage within the walls.

But then, how can she judge anymore? He's been lying to her for years now, inuring her to a life of secret meetings and covert hook ups. She may even have begun preferring it that way. God knows she couldn't be the wife, satisfied with herbs alone. She's been meaning to break it off for a long time, but habit has proved more persevering than she accounted for.

How does one end up as the Other Woman? Is she predisposed towards it? Is there a separate school or university for virtuous, herb growing wives? There's been nothing out of the ordinary about her life, so why did she end up taking this fork in the road? She looks at the sleeping man, the man who somehow got her to accept sordid as exciting; who managed to erode what was inside her till she was okay with this.

He's vain, a peacock looking for validation, from yes men and yes-to-anything women. His vanity is even more extraordinary given how meagre he is. Suddenly, it's impossible to stay used to this any longer.

She goes to the dresser and opens a drawer. The scissors are exactly what she needs. She goes over to his sleeping form and gently begins what she should've done years ago. It takes a while because she wants him to stay asleep; a scene isn't something she can endure right now.

When daylight breaks, the room is empty save for the gently rumbling snores of a man lying on the rumpled bed. All around his head lie bunches of hair, snipped without grace or mercy. The herbs on the windowsill look freshly watered.