THE MERCHANT'S LOVER
Ananya Malhotra ignited the last candle in her bedroom when someone banged the door. She looked at the clock, blew the candle in her hand, and rushed towards the door with a smile on her face. Before she reached, it banged twice, louder each time. “Coming!”
She opened the door and Vikrant was there. He picked her into his muscular arms and slammed the door with a furious kick. Ananya wrapped herself on him and flopped into the bed while showering kisses on his face. Vikrant moved the frizz from her giggling butterface; it was flushed with the rays of the full moon and the flaming candle. He weaved his index on her crinkled brunette hair and found those big hazel eyes where he found himself lost every time.
“I think you should tell her.” Ananya broke the pleasing silence.
“I know,” he replied, with a sigh of sadness.
He leaned on the bed and grabbed the half-drunk glass of champagne from the table. Ananya grazed herself into his arms and began to wave her soft palm on his newly grown beard.
“I understand. But how long we can live like this? It feels like we are not just betraying her, we are betraying each-other too.” said Ananya. Her voice was cold.
Vikrant heaved another deep sigh and turned at the window behind him – to the sea of the Arabs; it was glittering like someone had weaved a blanket of pearl on it. Ananya was following his chivied face; after losing its true colour to the yellow giant in the sky, it still glowed like flakes of snow in the moonlight. She clutched her left arm tighter over his neck and started to play with his silky dark hair.
“That fear of yours, it will make the truth more painful for her. It has been seven months; it's just a matter of time that she will find us. Can we take that risk?”
Vikrant looked at her. “I am just afraid that she just doesn't do anything stupid.”
Ananya grabbed his face and looked straight into those tired brown eyes. “Hey. Nothing will happen like that.” Vikrant's untamed heart got a little relief by her mellow voice; he gave a smile of comfort to her.
“I wish I had met you earlier,” said Vikrant, and kissed on her forehead.
Ananya's eyes became glittered by the stored moisture in her eyes. She gave a pleasing smile and kissed him with utmost fervency. She laid her head on those strong pecs and closed her eyes. “Better late than never.” said Ananya.
Vikrant kissed on her head and looked at the sea, where the brightest moon was leaning to the east. The grand clock on the north wall told them they had passed another midnight together, and there are hundreds of midnights like this are waiting ahead. He sighed. “Better late than never,”
Vikrant Dewan was a merchant who spent most of his days on Goa port, shipping excellent pieces of jewellery across continents. But in his 31 years of life, on a scale 1-10 of having a great romantic life, he was dragging himself at the bottom quite successfully for a long time. While having everything a man could wish for – money, time, handsomeness, but still he couldn't let go of his one particular habit, which was the real cause of his boring adulthood: lack of romanticism. The reason behind this behaviour was quite tricky, but the outcomes were tremendously funny and often annoying for the women at his opposite. As some examples, Jhanvi, his girlfriend from high school, waited an entire evening on her 17th birthday at Roxy's cafe, because her boyfriend was busy to tally up the last month's business expenditure – his second girlfriend, Ruma, who was an aspiring poet back in the college days, recited one of her own, poorly written poem to his new boyfriend, on the valentine's dinner. But instead of receiving a bunch of roses, chocolates, and ornaments, she received nothing but some hilarious laughs and claps from her boyfriend – and for the last one, Dipshikha, who left him almost 6 years ago, because he used to compare Deepshikha with his late mother, Mrs. Ankita Dewan.
Despite such horrible experiences, whenever he approached or got approached by someone, God knows how, but he always came back with the same title from each one of them – “calculative and unromantic.” As the days passed, and the graph of his failure spiked upward along with it, his desires fell dull and he went back to his mistress like every time, his work. But, life never stops; it flows, along with the people, and Vikrant wasn't meant to be an exception. Love is something that cannot be found – it just happens, and it happens you're expecting least of it. He too found his ONE, the one he was waiting for so long – Ananya – through one of the few things he dearly disliked – parties, especially the casual ones.
He was in Mumbai, for one of his client's wedding reception. He had no intention to attend it, but then he thought it would be the worst way to lose a lucrative client. Like always, he wasn't enjoying the party, the atmosphere was choking him. He decided to say ‘goodbye’ to the newly married couple when a woman came into the reception hall.
The red saree and the long brunette hair drew every pair of eyes in that room. The woman was in her mid-20s, she was slender, like the God sculpted himself. She handed the gift to the bride and looked away from the couple when their eyes caught each other for the first time; a glance, which supposed to flee in a second or two, locked on each-other, until one of her friend, or a colleague perhaps, break the hypnosis and took her away to the crowd. But it was too late, the damage was done, those hazel eyes had already made the man obsessed. Before the gentleman inside kept him under control, Mr. Sikhawat, the old groom, came with the woman in the red saree to introduce her.
“Mr. Dewan! Meet Ms. Ananya, the mastermind behind those beautiful pieces of jewellery, our chief designer.” He said, turned at Ananya. “And Ananya, meet Mr. Dewan, our finest customer, and a great friend.”
“Finally,” said Ananya, extending her hand with a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
Vikrant suppressed his impetus and grabbed her hand; a sweet warmness hit his frozen palm.
“You must have cast a spell on him, didn't you? I don't remember a day in the last 2 years where he didn't admire you.”
“Careful, Mr. Dewan. Ms. Malhotra has a two-edged sword in her tongue.” A crooked smile was hanging from Mr. Sikhawat's face.
“A merchant who failed to pick the gem from a pile of coloured stones, has failed as a merchant. And I'm pretty sure I am not one of them,” said Vikrant with a pliant smile.
There was a brief silence until her unparalleled smile and the groom's laugh came out together.
“See, Ananya? Mr. Dewan knows how to play with words too. There is no way you can fail; your contribution to our company is invaluable, Vikrant. You are the true jewel of my business.”
“It's always a pleasure to work with you, Mr. Sikhawat. And I hope that this relationship between us will be unending.” Vikrant said.
“Well, I never had a doubt about that,” said the old groom, smiling. “did I say anything wrong, Ananya?”
“No, absolutely not,” replied Ananya, with a wider smile. “Don't worry, Mr. Sikhawat, I will do my best to make sure that this relationship between you and Mr, Dewan, thrive at its potential.”
Vikrant still couldn't believe it had been 9 months since that day, and now 4 weekends in a month wasn't enough for them. But anything with Vikrant had never gone easily. There were obstacles in the path, but unlike the others, he didn't have too many, just one – Rohini, his wife.
Rohini was stirring the coffee when the sharp sound of the door came into her ears. “Good morning,” Vikrant said with a smile, put down his dark grey coat on the sofa, and started to unbutton his sleeves.
“Good morning.” She replied.
“Nothing,” she put down the spoon and took a sip.
Vikrant went to his wife, standing beside the kitchen window, in her green velvet housecoat, gazing at the cup. She was taller than Ananya, almost the same as Vikrant. Her flawless porcelain skin was contradicting with the fact that she just crossed 42 some days ago.
“What's wrong, my love?”
Rohini remained silent for some moments. “I had a fever yesterday – I called you, three times, even in your office, but –”
Vikrant never hesitated to avoid interactions whenever he spent time with Ananya, but Rohini's sore voice and dried face made him tense and convicted for the first time. He laid down in her shoulder, and the remaining tulip perfume on her black silky hair hit his nostrils. Vikrant tightened his grip and reached her cheek.
“I am sorry, sweetheart, actually I was with Mr. Sinha.”
“I called him last night.” said Rohini, turning at him, “He told me you left for home before evening.”
Vikrant became speechless. Rohini gripped his hands. The coldness in her palm ran through his veins, he froze.
“What's going on, Vicky?”
“What do you mean?” asked Vikrant, remaining still for some seconds, “Wait a moment. Don't tell me you think I have a mistress in Mumbai, Do you?”
A few drops of tears streamed through her cheek; she dropped her grip and turned away.
“My god! Rohini,” Vikrant laughed out loud and kissed her.
Rohini gripped him with all her strength; his shoulder became wet, but her restored warmth and trust somehow delayed his worry. But deep inside, he knew, with every delay, he was sharpening the lie, and very soon that lie will tear her heart into pieces. But every time Ananya came in front of him, his sensations, his emotions, stabbed his dignity. Ananya herself couldn't resist his charm; she knew every time she met him, kissed him, loved him, she was destroying three lives. But her morality couldn't stop the force of love frisking inside her. And when love is forbidden, that force becomes unstoppable. Every time their limb, their lips, their hands touched each other, they felt that God made them do this sin; it was their only way to run from that guilt – that pain they were causing, not only to each other but also a person who was completely unaware about this infidelity. Vikrant realized he was pushing everybody's life in an unending hollow of darkness; he decided this tale of lies must end.
Later in that evening, Rohini was sitting at the edge of the bed, unlocking her tangled hair in her bath coat, when Vikrant entered in his boxer and flopped over the bed.
“Sometimes I think I should have married a more matured man.” Rohini smiled at him.
“Mature men won't tolerate your irrational demands,” Vikrant spread his hands and closed his eyes.
“Like what?” she replied, frowned.
Vikrant heaved a deep breath, “Like – ”
“Like – a baby?” she replied.
Vikrant pulled his head; Rohini's lips were radiating with a smile. He stood up, “What did you just say?”
Rohini dragged herself close to her husband, “I was thinking about this for a long time, but I wasn't sure how you would react about this but – Vikrant, don't you think we should become parents now?”
“A child?” he said, after a brief silence. “Why?”
“What do you mean "why" ?”
“I mean, are you not enough for each other?” he asked, in a throbbing voice.
Rohini touched her nose at his, “I didn't mean that – I just want to complete this small, happy, family of ours.”
“But you are 42.”
“We will sort out something.”
“Did anyone say something to you?” asked Vikrant.
She looked at his eyes, remained silent. “I just want to be a good mother.”
“And what makes you think you can't be one?”
“I – I can't explain.”
Vikrant grabbed those soft cheeks, “I am sure you will be a great mom – but, ”
Rohini discarded her eyes from him.
“Rohini, children are a huge responsibility – and I don't think I am ready for that. Besides, I am not in a mood to share.”
Rohini burst out into a laugh, she grabbed her husband and smooched his lips extra deep. Vikrant was lost, thinking about that day when she would find out about these promises, these appreciations, all of it, was nothing but a lie. “This the last time I am lying to you, Rohini. I promise.” Vikrant thought to himself, tightening his arms over his wife.
It was mid of November. Ananya leaned on a rattan chair in the balcony, from where the sea was pretty far, but visible. The sinking sun fell his last sweet rays to brighten her ivory face. She was sipping wine and looked sad for some reason.
“Do you love her?” asked Ananya.
“No.” said Vikrant in a cold voice. He leaned on the balcony, little far from Ananya, concentrating on the sinking sun.
A gust of wind hit them, filled with the aroma of succulent fruits and mellow flowers from the gigantic garden outside her apartment. Ananya closed her eyes, an alluring smile raised on her face. “Looks like nature also believes that,” she said. Vikrant replied to her words with an ashamed smile, sipped his coffee, and went back to the sunset.
“I know how it feels, that very thought – that fear,” she said, “My mother was a charming woman. I admired her more than anyone in my life – but she didn't admire me, not even once. She told dad I was her biggest burden, otherwise, she would have left home way before. That day, after hearing those words, I was the happiest person alive, knowing I was saving my family – but what I didn't know, was the real meaning of 'burden”. And when I did, everything was over.”
Tears fell from those sunlit eyes, She looked down as a blow of wind weaved the loosen hairs from her bun. “It has been thirteen years and I don't even know if she is alive or not – and I hope she is not,” said Ananya. “Life is strange. People we love the most, are often those who hurt us the most – and I know you don't want to bring that pain upon her.”
Vikrant was surprised. It was the first time she ever mentioned her past, which was completely against their few mutually agreed conditions; “Never insist each-other to reveal about another's past” was one of them. But now he realised why she pitched this condition. Although he had no problem with that, because he didn't have to mention his shameful failed relationships – not even their names, and surprisingly, his wife was in that list too; all she knew, that her lover is married, nothing else. At first, it felt a little weird, but later, he realized that their past was the only antagonist of their love, and so they decided to accept each other as who they are, instead of what they were or what they pretend to be.
Vikrant sat down on his toes and grabbed her hands. “The only fear I have is losing you.”
Vikrant's words glittered in her smile like the last rays of drowning sun did on her hazel eyes. She grabbed his face and kissed his lips; the essence of strawberry on her lips made him kiss longer than usual. After the detachment of lips, Vikrant smiled at the massacre he made on those slim red lips. He rubbed his thumbs over them to reveal the soft pink skin and kissed again.
“I want to live like this, every day, for the rest of my life,” said Vikrant with a joyful smile.
Ananya grabbed his neck with her lenten arms, Vikrant stood up and pulled her on his lap like an infant.
“Can we just vanish – for some time? Far away from this – this reality,” said Ananya.
“If that pleases you, so be it.”
It was a fine day in December. They were in Mussoorie for almost a week, in a hotel named Blue-Pearl, situated on the northern side of Mussoorie, covered with lavish greenery and the bluest sky. The sun was drowning behind the greens, and the fugitive lovers, running from their reality, were enjoying their warm tea at the balcony. Vikrant was on his chair, with an empty cup in his, enjoying the last rays of Mussoorie; Ananya was sitting on the other side of the table, congregated, leaned over her chair, looking towards the glowing west. Vikrant opened his eyes; her silhouette with waving frizz fell upon him. That was everything he ever wanted – everything he ever dreamed about. Three failed relationships – a complicated married life, and now he had found his one, that young woman in the gold playsuit, sacrificing her dignity, her humaneness, for a man who committed an unforgivable betrayal to his lawful wife. That was love, a true and purest one, beyond every social containment.
“Vikrant? What if we never leave this place?”
“You mean hide?” said Vikrant, pouring tea in his cup.
“If that's how you see it – yes,” said Ananya, looking west.
“I wish we could.”
There was complete silence for some time until Ananya broke it.
“Sometimes I think, I am the one who made you corrupt. I don't think God will ever forgive me.”
“Every choice has a cost, Ananya. It is the priority that matters.”
“You don't understand. Every time you come to me, I not only see your undivided love for me; I see guilt, shame, in your eyes. Tell me, Vik, if you feel so ashamed of yourself, then why didn't you leave me?”
Vikrant understood her concerns – realized his past is the only way to make her understand the present.
“My parents died in a car accident when I was twenty, left nothing for me except a business at the brink of collapse. I went door to door, every person I knew, for help – and obvious reasons, nobody was ready to lend their money to a would-be bankrupt sophomore, so I had to make some bad decisions.”
“What "bad decisions" ?”
“I took the money from some bad people.”
“But I wasn't making enough profit from my business, to pay the amounts that the lenders were demanding.”
“Let me guess, this was she came in, right?” Ananya said.
“Then one day, a fashion designer came to the shop; we met, we talked and we laughed, and she gave me an expensive deal that I needed desperately – and this is where everything went wrong. As weeks passed, the dinners became dates – friendship became a relationship, for her. But I was mesmerized by her charm – I didn't stop meeting her, and nor did she. One day, after one of the dinner dates, she handed over me a briefcase full of cash. And before I could come out from the shock, she proposed marriage.”
“And you weren't able to reject her,” she said.
“Of course I couldn't, she saved me from getting shot in the face, that was more than enough for me to delightfully accept her proposal.”
“Then life happened. I saved myself and my business, got married to a beautiful woman, made a lot of wealth – but somewhere, it all felt false, felt pretended for me. Now it feels like I just traded myself to her, to save my life.”
Vikrant went silent, so did Ananya.
“You must be thinking so pity about me, isn't it? You should, but trust me, Ananya – I tried to love her, and I still don't know why I couldn't. That's why I decided if I can't pretend to be a good lover, at least I can pretend to be a great husband.”
“But you failed her – and yourself,” said Ananya.
“I avoided countless women in the past four years because I didn't want to break her heart.”
“What happened then?”
“I fell in love.” said Vikrant.
A mesmerizing smile shined on Ananya’s face.
“I shouldn't have said these; now you might be wondering, how to get rid of this melodramatic traitor,” he said with a sarcastic smile on his face.
Ananya stood up with her pleasing smile and sat on his lap.
“You want to know I am thinking? If I hadn't met you at the party that day, I would have lost the most loyal partner destiny has to offer.”
Her words brought an unseen smile on his face she had never seen before. Their warm lips touched each other. The kiss felt different, it was sweeter than ever.
The next morning, Ananya had caught mild fever; she didn't leave the room and Vikrant went to bring some medicine before taking their fight in the afternoon. Ananya was getting bored with the annoying headache and loneliness. She ignored her lover's advice and started to pack their luggage.
Vikrant came back with the drugs, saw Ananya in front of the wardrobe. He called her numerous times as he went forward. She turned, with a bunch of photographs in her left hand and a tiny box in the other.
“You have brought a ring for her?” she asked in a sharp voice. “Why?”
“Tomorrow is our marriage anniversary,” Vikrant replied casually.
“Wait a minute! I am confused – are you truly that innocent or are you just an excellent actor? What is it?”
“Why are you getting frustrated over this small issue?”
“Small issue? My God, Vik. Are you shameless? After everything, you told me yesterday, and now you are planning to surprise that person – who took advantage of your “tragedy”?”
“I have already told you, despite the truth, I am still her husband. I can't deny that responsibility.”
Ananya put her hands over her face as things in her hands scattered over the carpet. “I am tired of this 'Trying to be a great husband' acting of yours; it sickens me.”
“This is just a gift, I don't know why you are reacting like this?”
“Because I think you are enjoying being dragged between two women.” Ananya ramped towards him. “It must feel great? Isn't it? Collecting love and lust from both, by keeping them happy with your vigor and sugar-coated words?”
“Watch your mouth, Anne. You are crossing the line.”
“No! You are the one who is crossing the line.”
Ananya grabbed his deltoids with her sharp nails. He prepared a gruesome reply to her nonsensical behavior – but then, he saw the same insecurity and concern in those eyes. He stopped himself, remained silent for some moment.
“What's wrong? Tell me.” Vikrant touched her cheek.
"I can’t." Vikrant released himself from her daunting grip and heaved a sigh.
“I shouldn't have brought you here; it's not your fault, I am the one who wanted to spend time with you – but as long as that woman is present in your life, you can't be alone,” said Ananya, throwing the box over the bed. “Do whatever please you – but don't try to touch me until you break all the ties with your precious wife.”
Vikrant stood still like an imbecile, listened to her mean words as she pushed him aside and slammed the door.
9 days after his absence, Vikrant was finally on his way home, ready to tell the truth to Rohini – but what was intimidating him, was Ananya's outrageous assault she rammed upon him. Despite being well aware of her impulsive nature, he didn't expect her to be that visceral and terrifying over one diamond ring. He reached the main gate, while these things still huddled inside his mind. The watchman gave him an enthusiastic smile and opened the door.
He entered their bedroom and left astounded. It was covered with mild yellow light, the fragrance of fresh tulip was huddling inside, symbols of love spread everywhere, and a path of rose petals leading to their bed.
Vikrant's face became gray; all that strength, courage, vanished.
“Happy anniversary, love,” said Rohini, smirked at him.
That sleeveless black dress stood out on her porcelain skin, hair was straight and dyed recently. She kissed his lips, quite harder than usual. She looked at his right hand, “I guess that's mine.”
“Of course, who else I will bring this to?”
“You deal with jewels – it's not hard for you to find a gorgeous hand.”
A smile of embarrassment bloomed on his face; he failed to give a reply.
“I am kidding,” she said. “Wait here, I have something for you too.”
Rohini handed him an opened envelope, went to the couch, and started to make a drink.
“Where have you been?” asked Rohini.
“Honey, I told you. I was in Delhi, to negotiate with a client.”
“It's a new one, you don't know. Why are you asking? ” Vikrant said, reading the letter inside the envelope.
“Well – a man came here yesterday, to meet you – he said he was from Delhi.” said Rohini, “He told me he had an appointment with you, which didn't happen – because you went to meet him personally – at Delhi.”
The smile on her face was evident to him that the deception he had been sewing for the past seven months was shredded. He prepared to apologise.
“Rohini – I,”
Before Vikrant could complete his words, Rohini threw her glass at him. It shoots through less than a few inches from his face, scattered on the wall behind him.
“Don't you dare to say a word, you son of a bitch!”
She grabbed his collar and shook him. Her eyes were red, glittering.
“I buried my instincts, every time – whenever you said those sugar-coated lies. I loved you, gave you my everything – but you went to that whore, just for your undying lust for young women. How dare you go Mussoorie with that witch? Did I never disrupt through your conciseness, not even for once, huh? Answer me, answer me!”
“Don't you dare to seek apologies, you bastard. You have no dignity, nor shame,” she said, grabbing his chin with her nails, “What I failed to give you is that you went to that slattern? Tell me – what spell she had cast on you, or you just couldn't resist her youngling sexuality, huh? Tell me, what happened – tell me.”
Vikrant looked away from her red, swollen eyes, and tried to remove himself from her firm grip.
“It's my fault, Rohini. Don't drag her into this.”
“She had nothing to do with it?” said Rohini, stepping backward. “Do not tell me you have fallen in love with that filthy woman.”
An absolute silence took over their quarrel.
“So it's true then,”
“I know what I have done, Rohini – the amount of pain I have brought upon you; and no amount of apologies can't amend this. I never wanted to hurt you – I thought by hiding the truth, I was sparing you – but now I understand I was just sparing myself. I know you can't forgive me, but I am tired of lying – I can't betray you anymore, or myself.” said Vikrant, heaved a deep sigh. “If I had told you before, neither of us had to see this day.”
Rohini absorbed his words with her fragile patience; her eyes were still red, but dried out of tears, jaws grinding on each other. She slapped him.
“You think I am a child – that you'll give me two lectures about philosophy, and I'll forget everything you have done and hand you over to that worthless bitch.” said Rohini, “Listen to me very carefully, Vikrant Dewan. If you dare to meet her again. I swear to god – I will slice her throat, remember that. Now get lost, I am done with your fake tears. Get out!”
Days passed, and they became two strangers who lived under the same roof. Ananya, on the other side, was boiling rage. The man who said countless lies, one after another, just to spend some hours with her, hadn't contacted her for the past two weeks. She called him thrice, every day, but he never picked up once – but the new year brought an end of her loneliness and impetuosity with Vikrant's arrival – and brought something worse than she was going through.
It was a Friday night. For the past nine months, Ananya used to go out with Vikrant in every fortnight Saturdays – they watched cinema, or a play, dinned traditional french meals at Juliette's, then roamed around Aksa beach, having chat with a couple of sweets kisses and go back home before midnight. Now, those happiest days seemed decades ago for her.
Vikrant caught sight of Ananya as he entered in her bedroom; She was on the floor, at the verandah, under the dim light of the chandelier – wearing an old white romper, whose lease had been fall down from her shoulders – two bottles of scotch, one empty, an ashtray front of her, a glass in her left hand – empty, and a flaming cigarette in the other.
“I thought you lost the way,” said Ananya, staring at the sea. “Come, sit. Let me make you a drink.”
Vikrant sat beside her – her face had become withered, dark patches below her eyes, seemed she aged twenty years in just twenty days.
“I am sorry I couldn't call you.”
“She found out about us, isn't it?”
Vikrant remained silent.
“And I guess she has told you to leave me, otherwise she will kill me,” Ananya said with an inattentive smile, eyes still froze on the glittering sea.
And again, Vikrant didn't say a word.
“Then you are probably here to tell me – “It's over, Ananya. I am sorry. Please forget me.” Tell me I am wrong.”
Vikrant saw the anger, the fear of loss, through those teary eyes. He touched her cold hand, “Look at me, Anya. Look at me.”
She turned her fainted gaze to him.
“Until death takes my last breath, no power in this world will be able to separate us.” said Vikrant.
“Then leave her, because she won't. You have to leave her – or she'll never let us come together, she will never let us come together,” said Ananya, hiding her sob.
Vikrant put his right arm on her hunchbacked shoulder, lobbed her frizz over the left ear, and wiped her stained cheek.
“I will make everything right.”
“But she won't let you.”
“What makes you think like that?”
“ Because I know plenty of women like her, and I am well aware of their capabilities.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because if I was in her place, I would have done the same.”
Vikrant realized her emotion had got completely seized over her intelligence, harsh words will only make this worse. He touched her shoulder, “All right – what are you proposing?”
“Let's disappear – forever,” said Ananya. “This is the only way left.”
“Left? Where? This is no hide-and-seek, Ananya. She will come after us. And even if we consider that, I just can't leave Goa. Everything I ever achieved has been spread around that place. I can't just leave all that and leave, it's impossible – and dangerous too.”
“Dangerous? For who? Me or your possessions?”
“Life is not a fairytale, Anne. I don't need to teach you the value of money – then why are you asking me to do something that will put our lives in greater trouble.”
“Then what should I do? Let you sleep with that witch for another seven months? Huh? Tell me!” Ananya started to sob aloud.
Meanwhile, several drunk corporates were passing below the balcony, caught her sobbing. A mid-age crossed, chubby, bearded man between them, shouted at Vikrant. “You filthy bastard, don't make that gorgeous girl cry – I am warning you – otherwise I will come up, beat your ass, and make her my bride.”
The corporates laughed at his Shakespearian style threat, and they went off to their destination soon after. Embarrassed, Ananya wiped her tears and prepared to go into her room.
Vikrant grabbed her hand. “Do I look like I am happy? Knowing the woman I love, living all alone, dying for these few hours,” said Vikrant. “I am going through the same misery as you are, but sometimes you have to do things which do not please you, for people who love you – care about you.”
“Do I not love you enough? Care for you enough?” she asked.
“More than anyone else.”
“Then stop this nonsense of “being generous”, I can't tolerate this anymore.” said Ananya, “A woman you don't love, is living with you under the same roof – and I can't even see you when I want. What kind of relationship we are in, Vikrant. Sometimes I feel, I should kill myself rather than burning in this pain.”
Vikrant looked at her with his daunting eyes and remained silent before telling her his intention, which he knew she would deeply disagree with.
“Look, we need to stop seeing each other – for a while – until the divorce. That's the only way to be certain about our future.”
“Are you out of your mind? It will take months, maybe years, god knows – and how can be so sure that she will sit idle in that time? You are infidel to her; she will do anything to see you in misery.”
Vikrant heaved a deep sigh in self-disappointment. “Then what do you want me to do?”
“Stay,” said Ananya. “Send her a divorce notice. You don't need to leave this house anymore."
“Are you crazy? This madness of yours will sink us both. You need to calm down, and let me handle this.”
“No! Let me handle this. I have already seen what you can do. If you wanted, you would have told her the truth way before this inevitable chaos, but now I understand why you didn't? You have fallen in love with her. That's the truth.”
“You've completely lost your mind.”
“I don't want you to hear another word from you. If you leave this house today, it will be closed for you – forever.”
Vikrant remained silent. His eyes were stuck at her wet hollowed eyes, demanding his answer. He stood up and went off without saying a word. She didn't stop him or say a word, just turned at the midnight's sea, fumed the smoke in the air. The sound of door-slamming echoed in the room – she smashed the flamed cigarette in her palm and burst into tears.
It had been a month since Rohini wasn't talking to Vikrant. After that quarrel, she was going through an ambivalence between forgiving him and continuing the torment silence, until his self-esteem kneel in guilt.
After Vikrant came from Ananya's house, Vikrant didn't get a chance to lay his back on the guest bedroom as Mr.Sinha, his manager, notified him about a fixed meeting with a client. Knowing he had nothing to do on this lonesome Sunday, after eating some breakfast, he went off towards his office. Rohini was keeping her eyes on his every movement, presumed the reason for his absence last night, which led her to decide to end this tormenting silence between them by erupting another wave of rage at him. After an hour of sunset, Rohini’s strolling stopped by the doorbell, but unlike her husband, she heard multiple loud footsteps, ascending on the stairs. She turned, saw a mid 20’s girl in a blue tunic top and white trouser, and the maid gasping behind her.
“Mam, this woman wanted to meet you – I told her to wait – but she didn't listen.”
Rohini raised her hand at the maid, turned at the girl. “Do I know you?”
“Oh yes. You do, but I am here so we get to know each other a little better.” said the girl.
“Come to the business, I don't have time for bullshits. Tell me who you are or I'll throw you out of my house.”
She frowned with a smirk. “Why don't you call your “beloved husband” and ask him who I am. He knows me better than anyone in this world.”
Rohini's eyes became wide, she waved her hands at the maid; she nodded and left. Ananya went in and stopped in front of her. Her stagnant eyes were irritating Rohini.
“How dare you come here?” asked Rohini. “Get lost, or I’ll call the police.”
“I bet you can – but I didn't come to digest your vile words or your silly threats. I am here to tell you the truth.”
Rohini smiled. “The truth? I know enough. You better leave with your truth, or I'll call the police.”
“Go ahead, call the police, call your lawyer, call whoever you want to call, but today you'll learn the truth, whether you like it or not, Mrs. Dewan,” said Ananya. “Or – should I say, Mrs. Malhotra?”
Ananya’s last words froze Rohini's heart like a cadaver. “What did you say?”
“You are not used to truths, aren't you?” Ananya said with a smile.
“I am Rohini Dewan, and that's my one and true identity.”
Ananya lost into false laughs for a couple of seconds. “So you have abandoned your past, just like you abandoned your ten-year-old daughter in that filthy courtroom."
Ananya's words flinched her back, her heart was stopped, so did her consciousness – collapsed altogether. Her entire life flashed through those astounded eyes, all those memories she had fallen behind years ago.
Ananya's red eyes became blurred. “No. I am the girl who cried inside that courtroom, called my mother a thousand times – but she never looked back.”
“No! This can't be,” said Rohini, throbbing, tears dripping through her chin.
“Isn't it ironic? What you did with me years ago, is now happening with you.”
“I did nothing more than saving you, girl. I loved your father, I loved him enough to become a mother when everybody went to college because I didn't want to break his heart – but your father just loved himself; his wish hadn't stopped with you. He wanted me to live my entire life, rotting in that kitchen, bringing food to his mouth three times a day, taking care of you and the household. I wanted to be an artist, but he trapped me in his sweet words – but I said nothing, I was ready to sacrifice everything for you and your father – but he didn't stop there, because he didn't want to. One day he burnt all my designs, just because I was going to an exhibition with a friend of mine – and that day I decided that I can't live with that person under the same roof.”
“After all these years, now that I am front you; you want me to believe you left me because dad was a skeptic. I saw your meeting with Mr. Rahaman every day, for months before you left us – don't you dare to blame my father.”
“Your father was a vile, skeptic, and a selfish man. He never wanted to see me thrive, but Rahaman did, he encouraged me; helped me to become who I am.”
“Oh! Of course, he did. Who would dare to stand before your charm and lust.”
“Shut up! How dare you talk to your mother like that?”
“You? My mother? What have you done as a mother? Tell me?” said Ananya, “Nothing, you did nothing. But now you want the privilege of being one. Have your hypocrisy knows no bounds?”
“What do you know about me? How much do you remember? Did he ever tell you what happened that day? Did he tell you I called him for months? But he didn’t let me talk to my daughter.
“What do you know about lying? What do you know about me? What I had been through? What did I do to bring some food to my mouth? You know what's true – You never understood me, just like your father never did.”
“I don't care. In all these years, how many times has my thought crossed your mind? You are telling me you did everything to save me from your struggle? Then why didn't you try to communicate with me? In all these years? Have you ever thought about how I look like, what I am doing, even if I am alive or not? Anything? No. Where have you been when I got bullied because of you? Where were you when I burnt in fever and mumbled your name? Where have you been when I bleed for the first time? Where were you when I was all alone? Nowhere, you were nowhere close to me, because I was a burden for you, an obstacle, on your dream life – but see the amusement of fate; it brought us together, it brought me to my justice, and you to your ultimate fate. You have taken everything I am deserved, so you could live your glorious life. Now I'll do the same to you.”
“You can't do this to me.”
“Yes I can, and I will. Just like your selfishness snatched you from me, I will snatch Vikrant from you, and you won't be able to do nothing. And that will be your true punishment.”
“Do whatever please you. But let me make myself very clear. If I lose him, I swear to god, I won't let you have him – even if I have to kill him for that,” said Rohini.
“If you cause one scratch on him,”
“You have no idea what I am capable of.”
“No matter what you do, he won't come back – you know why? Because he was never with you – you are nothing but a burden for him – but how could you know? A cold-hearted woman like you is incapable to feel anything beyond sexuality.”
Ananya's words brawled inside Rohini. Her neck cramped, so did her left fist. She swung her right palm on her face at lightning speed. The sound echoed in the room. There was an absolute silence. Ananya's eyes were wide, swallowed, dried out of tears; Rohini's fingerprints were flaming on her ivory cheek, shrouded by the hair.
“Don't you dare to talk to me in that manner,” said Rohini. “I am not a woman like you who destroys families. Now get out of my house, and never come with that face again."
“How dare you touch me – you, a characterless woman. You slept with men to reach where you are right now, and you are lecturing me about my character. What do you know about me to question my dignity?” said Ananya, “It's not your fault anyway. You thought that I am just the same, like you. You may love him, but I never trade anything to make him do the same. This is where you lost, Mrs. Dewan.”
Rohini lost her voice, her will was scattered. She was running from years, from all these truths, were unbearable for her; those selfish excuses that defended her dreams, her achievements, her reputation, everything she sought in her life, now needed her defense to retaliate against that harsh truth, otherwise, she will lose the only truth that matters to her the most – the undying and selfless love for Vikrant. Before Rohini could stab her with her words, she saw her daughter, yelling some seconds ago, tottering; her eyes were starting to blur – and in a blink of an eye, Ananya fell over the white furry carpet beneath their feet. Rohini, absolutely baffled, kneeled beside her senseless daughter and started to shake her arm.
“Anne? Anne! ” said Rohini.
She put her fingers below her jaw. The blood was still running, but a little slower.
Reena, the housemaid, jogged inside the bedroom, wiping her face with the fringe of her saree. Before she asked why she had been summoned, she froze by the unknown lady, unconscious, laid on her landlady's arm.
“Oh my god!” said Reena, “What happened to her?”
“Stop panicking, Reena.” said Rohini, “She has lost her sense, call the ambulance. Now!”
Vikrant hadn't touched a pen or a paper in the entire day. After the meeting, he laid in his office,thinking about his mistakes that brought him in that abandonment; the mistake of falling in love with Ananya, the mistake of lying to his wife for months about his illicit relationship. All these irreversible incidents were huddling inside his mind when a deep yet euphonic sound brought him back to reality. He opened his eyes. The clock had struck 8. Vikrant stood up, and the telephone rang.
“Sir, It's me, Reena. I need to tell you something. Today,”
Reena told the partly known story to her landlord in a single breath.
“What? Where is she?”
“Mam told the ambulance to go to St. Teresa Hospital.”
Vikrant was wriggling his hands at the reception; he bent his left wrist to calculate the time hospital authority was taking to evaluate his request to meet Ananya. After some moment, the female receptionist, who was vanished with his request, came to him. “Mr. Dewan, the authority has accepted your request, you can see the patient.”
Vikrant went into a room and saw Ananya in a deep sleep. As he was observing her, someone entered the room. A doctor - tall, dark, average aged man with a clean-shaven face and rimless glasses, looked at him like he had lots of questions to ask and more answers to give.
“There is something I need to clarify first, I won't say a word until you give me trustable information about your relationship with our patient.”
“She is my lady.”
The doctor doesn't seem shocked like he was expecting this reply from the beginning. He looked at him for some moments with a smirk on his face and said, “Well then, congratulations, Mr. Dewan. Now your lady has your love inside her.”
Vikrant's heart stopped, and so did his mind; he couldn't laugh, nor cry. He had no words left to respond, just countless possibilities of four lives, rattling inside his mind. “The woman who admitted her, is she aware of this?” Vikrant asked.
“You mean her mother? Yes, of course. But she had left almost an hour ago, and didn’t care about informing us.”
Vikrant closed his eyes; he clutched his fists and heaved a deep sigh.
“Doctor, do what's necessary, I will come back soon.” said Vikrant with a frozen voice, and rushed away.
Vikrant broke almost every traffic rule anybody could break to transit a trip of 45 minutes in just twenty. The terror inside grew impetuous as the distance between him and his wife was decreasing. Reena informed him that her wife didn't go to the house. Vikrant knew where she went to – Their villa near the kola beach.
Vikrant rushed through the lawn to reach the door; he went inside and ran through every room at the ground floor, but they were flawless, as two weeks ago. He went upstairs and saw Rohini at the balcony, looking at the sea. Vikrant halted at the door. She turned; her skin had turned grey, so did her eyes, the fortifying wind brought the fragrance of tulip to his nostrils – it was familiar – it was in the anniversary gift. His feet tucked at the floor. There was silence, the stagnant eyes were talking with each other. She looked back to the sea, it was dark, just like their lives, the night of the new moon. Vikrant went forward as she grabbed the railing.
“Rohini, come back here.”
She was too far to reach his words. She pushed herself and submitted to the gravity. The sound of the collision made him deaf. He ran.
She was laid on the lawn. The stream of blood touched his shoes. Vikrant collapsed in front of her, shivering, looked at his wife for the one last time, the woman he betrayed, the woman he killed, the woman who loved him till her last breath, her wife – lost – forever.
The summer passed in courtrooms. They shifted to Kolkata in the first week of June. Vikrant went busy, setting up his business there, and Ananya devoured herself to redden everything in pink in the room they chose for their child. Although Vikrant and Ananya, both were disappointed with Vikrant. She was supposed to be spending that time with her husband, not with a middle-aged Bengali housemaid. But that wasn’t the only thing which bothered Ananya; during those courtroom hours and migrating to a new place, she developed an illness. She saw her mother, everywhere – covered with stains of blood and tears, looking at her, every day, everywhere. But Ananya didn't tell her husband; she didn't want her imbecility to cause him any distraction. But unfortunately, things didn't go as she planned; the depression didn't stop; she did everything to distract herself from the distraction – painting, singing, writing, playing guitar, but it didn't change a thing. Soon that depression turned into dreams, and eventually into delusions. Ananya started to see Rohini everywhere – bedroom, kitchen, hall downstairs. Every time she saw her mother, that delusion did nothing but showered unending anguish and anger through those dark, hollowed eyes. As the days passed she started to believe in those hallucinations. One day, things went so bad that she screamed out loud in the middle of the night.
“Go away. Leave us. I beg you, leave us!”
Vikrant was observing her unusual behaviour, thought the reason for her unhappiness and disappointment was he, himself. But that night, he realized that his wife was going through something else, something more horrifying. With her utmost reluctance, they visited a local psychotherapist. After some days, due to her decreasing symptoms, Vikrant realized that the medication was working. But what he didn't know, that she was overdosing the medicines to prevent those unending hallucinations, and getting addicted to those drugs while doing so. Soon, he found out this problem and tried to convince his wife, but she rejected his advice with extreme aggression. When she refused his words, he applied his masculinity and snatched those medicines from her. And things went worse – she screamed, yelled and begged for those medicines, rampaged in the house with that little life inside her. Vikrant wasn’t seeing any solution, he thought the anxiety that was tormenting her wife had caught him – the fear of losing her wife, the insecurity of their child's life, bombarded upon his head together. And three days before her wife's delivery, the fear that was eating Vikrant's heart for so long turned out to be real. Ananya overdosed those medicines to avoid the panic attack, but she failed to handle it and fell from the stairs, all the way to the drawing-room.
Vikrant knew he was getting punished, for the crime he can't outrun, but he didn't know his true punishment was still waiting for him, a punishment that he will give to Ananya and himself. The doctor gave him a choice, her wife, or their daughter.
Vikrant put a rock in his torn heart and chose. He traded their daughter for Ananya. But the price he paid was half, the other half was Ananya's – and she did pay the price – with her motherhood. She lost her fertility due to excess drug consumption. The news killed Ananya, from the inside; she had no tears left after giving all to his daughter, all she had was countless regrets and a heart that will never get the warmth of a child.
Time slipped like clenched sand. A year passed, but they didn't. It was an evening on the end of monsoon, Vikrant came back from the port and saw her wife sitting on the balcony, tranquilized, looking at the Ganges. Ananya stopped stepping outside their house, her smiles were history, and so did her painting. The strings of the guitar caught rust like her voice. All she did was roamed around the room that meant to be their children, every day, for the past one year. The only person she had was her husband, to lie down on his shoulder every evening, and talk about the kids, who played in the garden in front of their house.
“Ananya?” said Vikrant, entering their daughter's room.
She didn't move or replied to his words, sitting still on her chair at the balcony. The drowning sun was lost behind the dark clouds of August, the moist wind made everything glitter, from the garden to the Ganges at the opposite of it, radiating the green. The room was dark, merely covered with the ashy light of dusk. Vikrant went through the waving curtains and stood behind her. He couldn't recognize her Ananya anymore; her skin had lost the bright gold tone, cheekbones had become more prominent, and the hair had lost its shine, and the fragrance of tulip was lost. He put his hands over her shoulder.
“You know what day it is,” said Ananya in a sober voice, looking at the river.
Vikrant sat down beside her; he held her cold, moist hand and remained speechless.
“It's our daughter's birthday,” she said.
Vikrant had lost everything, and he blamed none but himself. He had no words left to comfort her pain, her anguish, but only shed tears with her, and tried to share the grief of a mother, who had lost her daughter, her motherhood.
The last ray of dusk was gone, so did the growl of the wind, but the torment silence was still with them. Ananya stood up and went in, it was her time to take the pills.