The next morning she felt freshened and full of vitality. The boredom and sluggishness with which she began her days till yesterday had vanished. In their place was a melody, soft and lovely. And to her own astonishment, she found herself humming a long forgotten tune. She stopped it then, smiled to herself and then looked in the mirror. Then she realized that such a gesture too was unusual and extra-ordinary. Then she turned, half expecting a pair of loving eyes looking at her. She wondered at the changes happening to her. This is LOVE, which I never felt earlier, even in the presence of Robin. Now I know the miracle, which is love. What a fool I was! To neglect it all along for someone, who never cares for me? After all, to love someone for the sake of love alone is not a sin. I am getting something from Aravind, which these people can never give to me.
“But are your sure it is not a sin?” A voice from nowhere echoed in her ears. “How could you let someone kiss you? Is it not shameful to be unfaithful to your husband, who provides everything for you? How can you decide that he doesn’t love you? It is stupidity.”
Her mind oscillated throughout the day between divergent emotions. After the moments of happiness of the dawn, her mind gradually opened up to the realities of the day. The discord of two contradictory emotions, which fought constantly for supremacy in her thoughts, made her tired and also disgruntled. She did her domestic chores, of course, but it was only like a robot functioning, while she herself was experiencing an excruciating pain in her brain all the while that by afternoon she had decided not to go out but to take rest.
“But it will mean surrendering to her evil designs. Why should I?”
However, the real motive was different which she was not prepared to admit, even to herself.
But by evening, she had to surrender.
“He will come and wait.” She found an alibi.
Despite this, when she was crossing the threshold, she was feeling nervous. Her feet refused to move ahead.
Then she saw the lady standing outside.
“Where are you going?”
“To the sea –shore.”
To avoid the scornful eyes, Anitha bent her head. She succeeded in invoking the evil goddess of hatred and it gave her courage. The feet were now firm and she walked off.
On the ground, she noted the long shadow of the lady. It was moving restlessly.
‘Why should she bother?’ Anitha thought. ‘After all, I am asked to go out in the evening. By her son. To get rid of the day long broodiness. It is my right.’
Aravind was waiting at the usual rendezvous. His warm smile greeted her.
He had made up very carefully today. The black pants and white shirt suited him well. And his smile was simply ravishing.
‘He still looks like the college student.’ She thought while walking towards him. ‘The within-without man.’
The memories of the past were flooding within her.
She sat down.
“You are late.” His statement had an edge of admonition.
She did not say anything.
The sea was violent today. The waves were wrapping themselves over and over like some huge mattress, to beat against the soft earth and then to split into thousands of flowers, to explain that all the fury was a simple joke played on its lover. Then they receded, to return again.
The life and death and life and death.
Like his ‘remember to remember to remember.’ she muttered.
He was unable to hear her.
The face was turned towards the violent sea. Far away, the outline of a ship was visible, upon which she was concentrating. Her lips were moving rhythematically.
“Venus chanting her own hymn” He said.
But she did not hear him.
Her mind was floating like a kite released from bondage. And the kite was enjoying itself, picking at past moments of pleasure.
“Don’t sit there like a she-sage”.
Now it was admonition, clear and simple. “Do it at your home. Here we are to enjoy.”
She turned towards him and said:
“I was just thinking of the days when we were friends.”
“But still we are friends, No?”
“Are we now? After yesterday?”
“Why you doubt it?”
“Friends are for revealing, not for hiding.”
Now it was his turn to turn to the sea. Looking at the ship-like distance, he said:
“Yes. Friends are for revealing, for opening up. Not to hide, not to be afraid of. Yes. We joked and laughed like friends, but it was only a front. I was afraid; I hid it from you, even from myself.”
Suddenly he turned and took both her hands in his. Squeezing them gently, he said:
“I love you, Ani.”
Although she expected this, the sudden declaration was irritating to her. To her, the days for such tickling talks were long gone.
“Stop the childishness, be serious.” She chided him.
“I am dead serious. And you? You take it as childish talk. Tell me, do you not love me?”
By now, he had taken her face in his hands and was shaking it.
Anitha raised her face. It was daylight yet.
Two children were staring at them. Their faces showed fear.
“Leave me. People are looking.”
He removed the hands. He looked like a drunkard awakened from deep sleep.
“I am sorry, Ani.” He murmured. “I forgot. But, please.” His voice rose suddenly. “Please tell that you love me.” His index finger was pointed towards her.
“What is the use? We are…..” She stopped, as if searching for the right word.
“We are bound to be apart. And do not forget that I am…” She stammered. “I am ……… married.”
Her own words made her wonder. She had never meant to bring the subject of her marriage here. But ………It came out spontaneously. A slip of tongue, but quite naturally.
He became silent. Like a child, who was winning all along in a race, but defeated and disgraced in the end? His face paled visibly.
She noted and moved nearer to him.
“Hey, what happened?”
His silence was hurting her. A few moments before, he was bubbling all over with excitement, but now he looked like a shoo….ed balloon. She could not suffer it any longer.
She poked at his rib-cage.
“Hey, Ribbie, wake up.” She was determined to lighten his mood. It is only 6.30 P.M. in India.”
But even the joke did not register upon his turbulent mind.
She took his hand.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. And I never thought that you will be so upset.”
Still no reply. The taut face remained as it was.
“I told you, No? I am sorry. She waited and then continued. “Now I am going to count upto ten and if you don’t smile, I am leaving.”
And she started counting: “one…Two….Three…., while she smiled at him.
She could reach only upto eight.
But his next move was totally beyond her imagination.
He took hold of her. Pressing her shoulder, he dragged her towards him, made her fall into his lap, then raised her face and kissed and kissed it.
It went on.
Thirsty sand sucking in the drops of late, scanty rain.
She looked around, suppressing the temptation to shout out, while fighting to be released.
It was now total darkness around except for a few rays from a distant lamp post.
“Leave me.” She said.
The movement and noise jolted him. His hands moved off and he looked around bewildered.
She sat up. A horrible turbulence had taken over her mind. She was unable to focus her thoughts. The experience of the last few minutes was so heavy that she felt like weeping. And she bit her lips to control the sob, which rose from her soul.
“I am sorry.” He murmured.
It was the last straw. She lost control. The sobbing escaped her tight lips.
After a while, it slowed down.
Now she noted that the sea was keeping rhythm with her all along.
And this revelation fascinated her. The sobbing disappeared slowly.
She looked at her watch. It was late. Very late.
Anitha stood up and he too.
They did not speak anything till they reached his car. He opened the door for her.
“I prefer to walk.” she said very slowly and started walking.
“It is very late.” He said “It is not safe now to walk alone”
But she did not respond.
He moved forward and touched her hand. “Please.”
Anitha raised her face and looked into his eyes.
They were sad, yet serious. His sombre look evoked her sympathy. She got into the car.
“I am very late.” She murmured.
“Only a few minutes.” He consoled her.
The car moved ahead. Fast.
At the cross-roads, he slowed down.
“I shall drop you near your home”. He volunteered, half expecting to hear the ‘I don’t want to be dropped’ answer. But she simply said. “I will get down here.”
The car stopped. She got out.
She walked a few steps. The car was just on the move that she stopped and turned.
The car stopped near her.
“Good Night, Aravind.” She said and walked off.
He was now not in a mood to move off. Her words had a rejuvenating effect on him.
“Good Night” he thought. “It means she has forgiven.”
He wanted to shout out:
“Now Ani is mine. MY little, little, beautiful darling. She is mine.”
But it was not the case with Anitha. She was afraid, afraid of something mysterious. It was not the fear of her mother-in-law. She was afraid of everyone, everything. The public, the road, the shops, the passing vehicles. She was afraid of her house, the trees and the plants in the compound. It was as if the few moments at the sea-shore had unleashed such a strong torrent, releasing these mute onlookers from an ancient curse, which kept them deaf and dumb, and now they would interrogate her any moment.
She walked fast, fear hunting her from everywhere, yet hoping to reach inside her room sooner, where she expected a miraculous relief from everything outside, like being inside the mother’s womb again. Her cloths were wet with sweat and the sand still stuck to it. She wanted to get rid of them as early as possible.
She entered the house. It was not the laser beam which stared at her.
The rustle of cloths made a pair of lotus eyes turn towards her. They were filled with a look of relief from panic, as if the owner was much concerned, rather alarmed, of her delay.
Anitha doubted that a speck of accusation crossed in them for a moment.
“You are very late to-day. What happened?” Asking, Moli got up.
It was a flat question, a routine question, to begin conversation. But, to the turbulent mind of Anitha, It was a calculated reprimand. It made her look grave.
The lotus eyes noted the transformation.
Moli moved ahead and took Anitha’s hand:
“What happened? Anything wrong? She asked. “You look so frightened as if you saw a ghost.”
The question was irritating, but the reference of a ghost made Anitha realize that Moli do not intend to cross-question her, but is only worried. “I may be looking ominous’. She thought.
“No. Nothing.” She said trying to smile.
While speaking, she felt a strange, tingling sensation at the nape of her neck. Like something stinging there.
She turned slowly, expecting to see something behind. Like a scene from a ghost-story. The vampire sucking hot, live blood. A witch with a contorted, toothless grin.
But it was no vampire, No witch.
And it was not nearby.
The lady was standing at the threshold. It was her cold stare, which was pricking Anitha.
The eyes were black and cold.
Hot and cold simultaneously.
Hot with hatred.
Cold with contempt.
She looked at Anita for a few seconds, and then walked in.
Reaching near her daughter, she turned and looked at Anitha. Then she turned her head towards Moli.
There was something so awful in those eyes that Moli felt a shiver course inside her. Inadvertently, she downed her eyes and muttered: “I… I was just….”
She herself did not know what she meant. It was like an apology from an innocent by-stander, who accidentally happened to witness a crime.
Her mother did not say anything. The silence was so suffocating that Moli half turned to run away.
Then she heard the noise.
A growl from the wilderness.
Like a warning from the hell.
And it was from her mother. She could sense the fume and fury suppressed into it.
Like a drop of petrol sense the fire hidden in a match –stick.
The lady went inside and Anitha went to the dark corner, where the silent spectator lay.
His face wore a solemn look. He forgot to smile at Anitha.
She sat on the cot and took his hand.
She had often doubted as to whether any blood seep through them.
It was still the same dried twig of course, but very hot as if drawn out of a fire-place. And she could feel the tired flow inside.
“He has fever”. She thought. She felt a sort of relief, to have something to attend, to relieve her mind off the turbulence. She lifted her palm to feel his forehead.
He caught hold of her hand. It was a grueling task for him. She noted that her hand is drenched in sweat.
Hot, steam-like fluid.
His physical pain was writ large on his face. She felt that he has difficulty in focusing his look.
For a few moments, his laboured breath was too noisy that she was taken over by a sudden panic. She wanted to call Moli, but she had gone. Perspiring herself and shivering like a weak reed in a cyclone, Anitha managed to massage his chest and to ask:
“Do you need water?”
He moved his head slightly. She could not understand the meaning, but taking it in the affirmative, tried to get up. But the pressure on her arm increased, asking her to stay on.
“Have you fever?” She asked.
A gurgle escaped from his throat.
“Hungry? One minute.”
But she could not get up this time too.
His eyes were extra-ordinarily alive now, as if the entire life energy was concentrated in them, and were boring into hers. She knew that he wanted to tell her something and she bent to listen. But all that she could hear was a rustle.
‘What does he want to say?’ She thought. ‘Does he too want to blame me? Like the old lady? For coming a little late?’
Who the hell does she think she is?
But her thoughts were interwoven with a sense of guilt.
Did you do the right thing?
I did not do anything wrong. He forcibly………
‘No. You consented. You enjoyed it. Didn’t you?’
The question boomed in the room, making her shudder.
Did the sick man ask the question? Did I enjoy it?
And her conscience could not deny it.
She could not sit there any more. The sense of guilt in her mind was not letting her to tend him.
She got up.
She fed him that night too, but it was rather like a duty thrust upon her. Devoid of the warmth, which made it an occasion for abundant rejoicing every day.
And she could not sleep too.
Three pairs of eyes haunted her.
The piercing laser beam. You arrogant slut?
The accusing silence. Did you not enjoy it?
The lotus eyes were consoling and blaming at the same time. Why you are crying? You did not do anything wrong. But why were you late? And that made my father writhe in pain. You almost killed him. Why you did so dear? Why? Why did you forget us? Forget me? Forgot my poor, poor brother? No. I don’t believe that you want to….No. No. I don’t think. Your sweet child with lotus eyes. You can’t forget me. Nooooooo.
The spell broke like sudden drying up of a hot steam. She opened her eyes and looked around. It was silent everywhere, except for the tick-tick of the clock, like the heart-beat of the house.
Anitha rolled upon the bed, tried various ways and poses, but sleep was far, far away. The restlessness was gradually building itself up into a tempest; fierce and frightening. It pounded in her ears, like continual drilling. She closed her ears with both hands, but of no avail. She was feeling very weak and tired and thirsty. Gasping, she raised both hands as if to seize the air. She felt that all her vitality was oozing out, like a thick fluid, through her nostrils, blocking her breath.
To her relief, the hallucination vanished in a few minutes. (But to her, it was like a long long tunnel). When the breathing became normal, she pondered over it for a long time. She tried to remember the devastating experience of a few minutes ago and to her surprise, she could think of it as if remembering a horror movie seen sometime during a distant past.
And then it was only an amusing psychological exercise, which transitioned her thoughts off the guilty mental state.
Vigor and life oozing out, gushing out of nostrils.
Like being at the gate of death.
Towards next life?
How was it? She tried to recollect the experience. Now, it was an exercise to end a sleepless night.
Life gushing out, like a thick fluid, intermittently in the beginning and then increasing the velocity gradually, and then flowing out fiercely, blocking the breath.
Like a thick fluid? Like thick honey?
No. it was not honey.
She remembered that it had an acrid smell.
She tried to remember, recollect the smell.
And then the revelation pierced her thoughts.
It was the smell of oil.
Oil gushing out of me?
Involuntarily, she got up. Bewildered.
Oil gushing out of me?
Oil, the oil, which Robin searched during the first night?
He knew it. His vast experience recognized the hidden treasure.
The trace of the acrid, burning smell. The aroma of his very existence.
And she lost the present. Lost the reality that she is on her bed.
She was flying. Up, up and up. Forward. Unseen wings fluttered and flicked the air with hefty blows.
And inside the distance, he smiled.
Wearing a yellow cap. The dress was green.
The effervescent smile was pulling her towards him.
And she was glad. Delighted.
Freed from the bondage of a noose.
The noose had melted and now it shone on her neck like a silver collar.
And his plush beard and silky mane shone around his face, giving it a divine grace.
The bird could not reach the bearded saint.
The bird evaporated, vanished. And a bright golden lotus in full bloom was there.
A noise was rapping in her ears.
The knock on the door.
The dawn had long disappeared. The rays of the rising sun were bright enough for her to know that it was past seven.
Late to get up.
And she felt very happy. Not gloomy like every other morning.
Not even a shred of remorse.
She knew that it is Moli who is knocking the door.
She gets worried whenever I am late. Poor, poor girl.
She had a faint feeling that she had gone through some strange experience last night. A suffocating one it was.
And still this cheerfulness?
Yes. There was a dream, strange, but exhilarating. She could not recollect it, but knew that it is remaining in her.
A bud with a beautiful flower blooming inside, filling the entire plant with rapt anticipation.
While opening the door, her lips were humming.
Moli expected a tired and dull sister-in-law, and so that brightness stunned her. Moli was so taken aback that her lips, which were slightly parted to ask something, remained half-open but silent. Anitha noted the bewilderment upon the tender face. She remembered the graceless behavior of her mother-in-law last evening, but in the present jolly mood, it was so remote and irrelevant. All that mattered now was Moli and her confusion.
She lifted Moli’s chin with her finger and peeped into her eyes and smiled.
“Hey, princess? What happened? You look as if you are seeing the ghost of some funny creature.”
Shaking the shoulder of the girl, she added:
“It is me. Anitha.”
An involuntary sob took hold of Moli. She was weeping, but it was not out of pain, but from sheer love. She clasped and embraced Anitha, Like a small child clinging to its mother, who was absent for a while.
Anitha bent and kissed the girl on her forehead. Softly. Then she distanced the face a little and asked in a fondling voice: “Why do you cry?”
Moli separated herself from Anitha and said:
“Nothing. I was just……….”She ran away embarrassed by her own behavior.
Anitha felt that her heart go all out to the girl. She could not recognize the exact reason for this attachment, but remembered those sweet moments of that evening, when the rain and wind, thunder and lightening, were playing havoc, when the lights were gone and all that they could see was darkness, when time stood still like a stuck videotape, revealing open and dry pits in their minds, which silently, but sincerely longed for a fill-up with raw love. And when the stuck tape moved off, they were two inseparable souls, each having filled the vacuum of the other mind with affection and trust. And the last evening, when the child expressed her deep concern for Anitha, when she stood in front of her mother with downcast eyes, like a partaker in a dirty conspiracy, which she was not, Anitha’s sublime feelings for the girl had reached such heights, where she instantly realized that she will never in the future be able to question the sincerity of the girl. It was absolute trust, which bound them together.
“I had no right to cause pain to her.” Anitha thought. “I shall never do so in future, come what may.”