I had literaly nothing much to do today so was getting quite nagging and cranky. To keep me busy and from his hair my husband suggested I try my hand at writing a story. This is what came up eventually, after much deliberation.
It was our 17th anniversary. I was all decked up and admiring my self in the mirror. At forty, I looked remarkably young I thought to myself, and of course had not lost my charm. In fact with age I had attained grace and elegance along with sagacity. I looked at my watch; Niraj was late as usual. I looked back at the mirror and felt I needed to add in a bit more powder, since waiting for him would wane the powdered effect. ‘Maybe a tad bit of the lipstick too,’ I thought aloud.
The bell rang incessantly abruptly breaking my preoccupation with my dolled up self.
“Wait Niraj! You are late and you want me to fly and open the door for you.” I yelled out as I quickly went for the door.
“Niraj…” I trailed off as I opened the door. Standing before me with a huge carton in hand was not my husband but a young man in his twenties.
“Yes, who do you want?” The irritation in my voice was quite palpable
“Err Mrs Sharma?”
“Hi, I am Vidyut’s son.”
I was stunned for a moment. Of course how did I miss the uncanny similarity in features! I stared at him for a moment, speechless.
“You must be Arun, come in,” I said finding my composure and voice as well.
“Actually I didn’t come to sit, I came to give you this box.”
“What’s in it?” I inquired curiously.
“I don’t know, but I think… you know why don’t you have a look at it?” He said choosing his words carefully.
“I don’t understand. Why are you giving me a box and why are you being so secretive. Listen, why don’t you just come inside and tell me everything.” I uttered with finality.
I moved back, and Arun stepped inside. I took him to the living area, asked him to be comfortable. He laid the box down and plonked himself on the sofa.
“Now tell me.”
He sat straight, shifted his weight a little and said slowly and softly, “Last year dad passed away. When he was in the hospital, in his stupor he only spoke of you. Called you many times.”
I sat stumped, dumbstruck. I could see Vidu’s smiling face, those dimples when he smiled. Felt the softness of his touch, the warmth of his arms.
“You know aunty, my parents never loved each other. Dad did whatever he could as a father, as a husband, as a son and a son in law to the best of his ability. But he was never happy. The only time he found true happiness was when he met you. The moments you spent together were enough for him to spend the whole lifetime. You remember the ‘Bridges of Madison County?’
I nodded. My eyes couldn’t see Arun too well. Maybe it was the moisture; maybe it was because my mind was transported to my Vidu.
“You gave it to him. When he was sick he saw it over and over again. Made my mother and me pretty mad you know. Then one day, when he was pumped with morphine and other drugs, he called me in and confessed being in love with you. Something he could never do when his mind was alert. He asked me to find you and give you this box. Also, asked me to put in the ‘Bridges of Madison County’.”
I burst out in tears.
“You know I should be furious with you and dad. But I cant. I know exactly the day you met and shared time together. He came back home beaming and glowing like he had lived an eternity of peace in one beautiful moment. I thank you for that. You will never be able to comprehend the enormity of your presence even in your absence, in our lives. Somehow it all made us better people.”
He looked around in the room, searching for something. He walked straight to the dinning hall got a tissue and handed it over to me.
“Don’t cry aunty, be happy for him. He has finally found his peace.” Saying this, he walked out.
I remember all too well the day when I met him at the airport. Niraj was always busy, always working, even on weekends he was out on business trips. I knew they were not all business some were pleasure trips too. I had intercepted emails and we had had a huge confrontation in front of our children. I had decided to take a few days away from him and went off to my parents. It was at the airport that we met.
We had casually started chatting with each other but as the flight got delayed and eventually cancelled, we had more time to talk about each other’s lives. I was so hurt by Niraj and Vidu’s voice was so comforting that in a moment of weakness and also perhaps, somewhere seeking validation from the opposite sex, I blurted my life story.
He was very kind, heard me out and even consoled me, saying no matter what my husband did he actually love me. There were moments in a man’s life when he loses his way but the only place he would return to, is home.
I could hear him like he was sitting right next to me.
“Vidu, why could you not tell me you were not well!” I wailed.
My eyeliner that I so adeptly put on my eyes was dripping down my powdered face, which I was fussing about sometime back.
I opened the box and there lay the movie and a stack of records that we loved to hear. They were our songs. The stack had Joni Mitchel and Joan Baez. I didn’t have to look further I knew what all was there. I picked up ‘Bridges’ and looked onto the cover; Clint Eastwood and Meryl Steep, smiling at each other. Vidu was a far cry from Eastwood, but then, I was no Streep either. He was like my protector, my guardian angel; he was with me when I was at the lowest ebb of my life. He saved me from drowning in abject misery. He was my angel, my gift from God. I would often tease him ‘teko buro’ because of the fast receding hairline. But he didn’t mind that, the only offence that he took was when I called him my angel. I could see his face and I remembered those lines from ‘Bridges’:-
‘I see your face before me
Crowding my every dream
There is your face before me
You are my only theme
It doesn’t matter where you are
I can see how fair you are
I close my eyes and there you are
He was the most beautiful man with the most beautiful face, and I, let myself lose him. I let him go when he wanted me to be with him. Never bothered to get in touch again. If he could reside in some corner of my heart then why could he not reside with me in reality!
My relationship with Niraj had never been the same again and yet I never allowed Vidu to inch into my life take Niraj’s place. Were my children the only excuse? Or was I scared of the world and the society at large, raising an eyebrow, demeaning me. I gave up a world of happiness and love for some meaningless people and the so-called society to be a perfect wife in an imperfect alliance. I had never been with another man the way I had been with Vidu, even though our warm and sometimes passionate encounters were few and far between.
As I put on Joni Mitchell on the turntable, I heard Niraj screaming my name,
“Anju, we are late, are you still powdering and decking up, don’t bother, nobody will look at you.”
I paid no heed as I shut my eyes, thinking of that night at the airport hotel, our quivering hands touching each other, discovering each other for the first time, as Joni drifted in
‘Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way’.