Neal threw the newspaper on the table. In the quiet of the house, the sound startled Shruti.
‘What is wrong with you? I don’t have time for your nonsense. I have to finish this report.’
‘Let me finish this report and we will talk,’ Neal said without letting Shruti finish her sentence.
With a sigh, Shruti left the room. She busied herself with breakfast but her heart was not in it. The cobwebs of sorrow covered her soul. No matter how hard she tried, she could not dust them away. Over the years, the distance had grown between them and no matter how hard she tried, she could not bridge the gap.
‘Breakfast Shruti, is it ready?’ Neal’s voice broke her reverie.
‘Yes, it is.’
Over breakfast, Shruti tried to talk to her husband again.
‘Neal, I was thinking that we should have a child.’
‘What?’ The shock was clearly audible in his voice.
‘Well, it has been four years since our marriage, life is settled, there are no financial burdens, don’t you think this is a good time for us to have a child?’
‘Of course not Shruti. I cannot take the responsibility of a child just yet. I am not mentally prepared. We will talk about it some other time. I have to finish this report.’
Neal walked out of the dining room without giving a second look to Shruti’s crestfallen face. Tears welled up in her eyes. Head bowed, she cleared the table. When did our home become a house, Shruti was thinking to herself. Theirs had been an ideal marriage. As colleagues in the same office, they had been very good friends. Other than words, they could understand each other’s silence as well. No one was surprised when the friendship turned into love and they decided to get married immediately.
‘I don’t want to work anymore,’ Shruti had announced.
‘I have worked enough. Now, I want to look after you and our home.’
Her smile was infectious. Neal took her in his arms and smiled.
‘As you wish, my love.’
Embraced in his masculine arms, Shruti felt safe and happy. She sighed. Life was good. Someone up there was certainly looking out for her. She sent a silent prayer of gratitude. Every corner of the house was full of their love. She could feel the love in the air she breathed.
Slowly, unobtrusively, love had left their nest and had left indifference in its wake. Now there were layers of distance which could not be bridged no matter how hard she tried. With every morning, sorrow had crept in through the open windows, settled everywhere, took its hold on her, choking her.
‘Can you please come home a little early today?’ Shruti phoned Neal.
‘Why?’ Neal could not mask his irritation.
‘I want to talk to you about something. It is important.’
‘I will be home by seven, the usual time.’
The phone was ringing. It was Neal.
‘I will be late. Some urgent work at the office. I cannot come before eleven.’
The cryptic tone cut her to pieces.
‘I will wait. It is very important that we talk.’
‘Don’t wait. I will be quite late.’
‘Oh! But I will.’
‘Entirely up to you. Sleep if you want, wait if you wish. I don’t care.’
Suddenly there was a chill in the air. Shruti shivered.
‘Can we talk now?’ Shruti asked after Neal had finished dinner.
‘I am very tired. Almost dead on my feet. Too much wok in the office. We will talk on Sunday.’
He turned his back and went off to sleep immediately. Shruti tossed. Sleep eluded her. She watched the sunlight come in through the windows, bringing with it another day full of sorrow.
‘Neal, I must tell you something. It is very important,’ Shruti said on the Sunday morning which had dawned bright and beautiful. ‘It is about us having a child.’
‘I told you I am not ready for it just yet.’ The exasperation could clearly be heard in his voice. ‘In any case, the company is sending me to Germany for three months. It is a huge opportunity for me. I have to focus on my career at this moment. The company can, then, send me to U.S.A. That will really boost my career. It would also give me the promotion I have been waiting for since so long.’
Shock, mixed with grief, benumbed her. Her throat was parched. Air seemed to have been sucked out of her lungs. She held on to the chair so tightly that her knuckles turned white.
‘When did you plan to tell me about this?’ Shruti could barely get the sentence out.
‘Oh, the ticket came only yesterday. I thought I would tell you today.’ And, Neal got up to go to the bedroom.
‘Neal, I have something important to tell you.’
‘What can be more important than this? Later Shruti. I have to work on a few details.’
Shruti sat down on the chair with a thud. Her face had turned pale. Every drop of blood seemed to have been drained from her face. She looked like a ghost. A vein throbbed in her left temple. The cup of tea was lying untouched on the table. The layer of cold on the tea was like the layer of sorrow which had settled on her heart and could also be seen covering everything in the house. It had become part of her life—her companion, her soul-mate.
Neal came back. He was on cloud nine. He had carved a niche for himself. His bosses were very happy with him. Talks of sending him to U.S.A. were already making rounds.
Life started as he had left it. Two months had passed since he had come back. Work at the office was becoming more demanding. He had time for very little else. At home, everything appeared as he had left it two months ago. Yet, something troubled him, something he could not put his finger on. Shruti seemed to have gone into a shell. She would answer when spoken to, was courteous as she had always been, still something irked him. Once-in-a-while there would be just a little more salt in the vegetable or his papers would not be at their proper place or his daily planner would not be at his bed side.
Irritants, yes! But not enough which would allow him to pick up an argument with Shruti. He searched for opportunities to put her down but there weren't any. There was nothing tangible yet his eyebrows would shoot up at times. Shruti went about everything as she had earlier but there was a listlessness which would not go away.
It had been five months since his return. Slowly Neal began to forget Shruti’s slight mistakes. Office work consumed all his waking hours. He had very little to say to Shruti. She had stopped calling him. She made no demands on his time. The distance between them had become an unbridgeable chasm. Each was in her/his shell, unwilling to share the life they had once shared.
Saturday morning. After many days he had got a Saturday off. He just wanted to laze around. Shruti had gone to a friend’s house. He had not stopped her. He wanted to be with himself. Not wanting to share the space of the house with her, he had not objected. Rather, he was happy to be alone.
Bell rang. He did not want to get up. It rang again. Getting irritated at Shruti not being there to open the door, he got up and opened the door. The insurance agent was standing outside.
‘Hello Sir!’ Hari Gupta said in his usual squeaky, chirpy voice.
‘Hello Hari,’ Neal greeted the man, hiding his irritation.
‘Glad to meet you, Sir.’
‘Same here,’ came the perfunctory reply from Neal.
‘So, what brings you here?’
‘You have forgotten, Sir? I had talked to you over the phone. I had told you that premium for Mediclaim is due. You had told me to come today.’
‘Oh yes. I remember. Can we not do it on Monday?’ Neal did not want to make the effort to get the documents and his cheque book.
‘Policy will lapse, Sir. Request will have to be made. You will have to write an application to start the policy again. Too much hassle. There will also be a fine.’
‘Alright. I will get the papers.’
Neal’s exasperation had reached its limit. He went into the bedroom to look for the file. It was not at its usual place. He looked everywhere but the file was still untraceable. He opened the cupboard. All his clothes were neatly arranged. He began throwing them out. One by one, he threw out clothes from every shelf and every drawer.
He opened Shruti’s cupboard. For anyone else, it would have been a visual treat to see the neatly folded and arranged clothes. Not for Neal. There was not an appreciative bone in his body. With scant regard for Shruti and the labor she would have to put in to fold and arrange clothes in both the cupboards, Neal began throwing clothes out of her cupboard. With every piece of cloth he threw out, his irritation grew.
Nothing. The file was nowhere to be seen. He came to the last shelf. Resenting Shruti and her absence from the house every second, he began throwing the clothes out. Her multi-colored dupattas came flying out. There was a riot of colors around him on the floor. Consumed by irritation as he was, Neal was blind to all this. A bundle of envelopes came flying out with an orange and green dupatta. The white envelopes contrasted with the myriad of colors surrounding him. Still no file.
He was about to turn away when something caught his eye. It seemed like Shruti’s handwriting. He picked up an envelope. Something was written on it.
“My Dearest Darling.”
‘Sir, the file is here. Madam must have left it with your other papers,’ called Hari from outside.
Neal went out to deal with the man. Concluding the business with him in record time, Neal came back to the bedroom. Shruti’s handwriting mocked him. A knife pierced through Neal’s heart. With shaking fingers he opened the envelope. There was a letter inside it.
“My dearest darling! Ever since you have come into my life, my joy has known no bounds. I could never dream that I could be so happy. Thank you for becoming a part of my life. I love you.”
Neal’s world was shaken. He could not believe what he had read. Gingerly he opened the second envelope.
“My dearest darling! Today I was very sad. Then I met you. You made me very happy. I could not stop looking at you. I had tears of joy in my eyes when I saw you. I love you.”
Neal reeled. Shruti was in love. There was another man in her life! Anger and jealousy consumed him. He was full of hatred for Shruti. Randomly he picked up another envelope and opened it.
“My dearest darling! Today you are not part of my life any more. You are no more with me to give me joy. Once again I am as lonely as I was before you had come into my life. Once again there is nothing to look forward to. Once again the day will bring with it sorrow. I loved you then. I love you now. I will always love you.”
Neal could not stop himself from opening another envelope. The letter was not addressed to anyone. There was only one line written on it.
“Today I went and had an abortion.”
Everything came crashing down. Neal had been so preoccupied that he did not hear Shruti come in. she looked at the mess in the room and the letter in Neal’s hands with lifeless eyes. She went to the store room. She had a suitcase in her hand. Without saying a word, she packed her clothes and walked out of the house without looking back.