Story 115


In continuation of Story 114.
The Story begins here


She felt the warmth of the morning sun on her cheek. She stirred awake and opened her eyes. His face was so close to hers; he was sleeping on his back while she was facing him, her hair stuck to his cheek.
She took a deep breath and smelled his shampoo. She was tempted to run her fingers over his cheek.
She had not meant to fall asleep in his bed. Her neck was stiff, and her shoulder ached because of the awkward position she had slept in.


She tried to get up without waking him up. Her Pallu had come off her shoulder and was stuck between the two of them, his arm resting over it. She tugged at the Pallu trying to pull it from under his arm. He stirred in his sleep and she froze. She did not want him to know she had slept in his bed. Of course, she was assuming that he had not woken up in the middle of the night and had not already seen her.


She did not want him to see her like this, so close to him.
There was yet another reason why she did not want to wake him, she was afraid of herself, of what she might do if he opened his eyes and she looked into them. She was so confused about what was happening to her.
She hated to admit but despite the circumstances she was attracted to him.

She tried tugging at the Pallu again and succeeded. She slipped out of the bed, adjusting her Pallu and then her saree. She heard him snore. She smiled and walked out.


Her daughter was sleeping on the mattress on the living room floor. The mattress was meant for the both of them. This was where she had slept at night, with her daughter; before waking up in the middle of the night and sneaking into his bedroom.
She knew her daughter was a sound sleeper. She slid back under the covers with her daughter and watched her daughter’s peaceful face. The past few months had been really tough on her daughter.


It had been almost a year since her life had been turned upside down when she had learned about her husband’s affair. It had been a few months since her life was completely shattered. It had come as a shock to her when she learned that her daughter was aware of the affair. It was also a relief to some extent. She had been saved from covering it up like her mother had. Though, the realization of truth had been really hard on her daughter. She knew she had to be strong for her daughter. And, she had gotten that strength from an unexpected source.


The doorbell rang. Putting her thoughts on the backburner, she sat up straight and tied her hair in a bun. Her hand involuntarily searched for the Mangalsutra. It took a while for her to realize that it had been a few months since she had stopped wearing it. The Mangalsutra was a symbol of her marriage to the man she had learned to love her whole life, but it did not make sense wearing it anymore, since there was nothing left of her marriage.


She opened the door and picked up the milk bags and the newspaper. Before closing the door, her gaze turned towards the door on the opposite side of the street. The door was closed, the Tulsi had dried. She felt bad. She closed the door and turned around. She felt his presence even before she saw him standing at the bedroom door. The stranger, who had become her friend. The friend, who had given her a place to live when there was nowhere for her to go.
It was her daughter’s personal choice to come and stay with her.


“You should be in bed” she told the man as she walked to the kitchen and placed the milk bags on the kitchen platform. He did not move.
She turned to look at him. His pale face stared back at her. He had been sick for past few days and she had been taking care of him. Giving him medicines and changing the cologne strips. The fever was still there, that’s what she was doing in the bedroom the previous night. Checking his fever. She had felt his forehead and then placed a cologne strip on his forehead. She fell asleep waiting to change the strip.
The way he stared at her, she realized he had seen her in bed. She cleared her throat and the man turned around and went back to the bedroom without saying a word.
It was going to be an awkward situation. She decided to deal with it later when the time came.


He was weak, not because of the fever but because of being beaten up the previous week. He had suffered some injuries defending her honor. A couple of egotistical males of the society had attacked him. It was beyond their narrow-minded thinking, their shrunken brains and the pre-conceived notion about a relationship between a man and a woman. Their mentality, fueled by her husband, no doubt; had made them confront her neighbor. They had demanded that he left the society, he had tolerated their attitude until they had crossed a line and accused him of having sexual relations with a married woman. With her. That’s when he had punched the closest man in the nose. He had fought for her, but the group was too much for him to handle.

She had stepped in to stop the fight. The women joined in to beat her up. Her daughter had shown presence of mind to call the cops. The crowd dispersed after the cops came and she had taken him to the hospital where they had attended to his wounds and sent him back home with her.


“Mom” her daughter said, placing a hand over her shoulder. She was startled.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Her daughter apologized.
“It’s okay.” She said and kissed her daughter on the cheek. “Slept well?” She asked her daughter, hoping that she was right about her daughter being a sound sleeper.
“Yes” her daughter said, smiled and walked away. Was it going to be yet another embarrassing moment? She wondered. Had her daughter realized that she was missing from the living room? Worst, had she peeked inside the bedroom and seen her sleeping in bed with him? She was ashamed to admit that her feelings for the man had changed since the day he had stood up against the society to defend her.


She looked at her daughter who was still smiling as she rolled the cotton mattress and folded the bedsheet and the cover and kept it on the rolled mattress and pushed it under the couch. She shook her head and continued the preparations for the breakfast. She’d never cooked an egg omelet before in her life, but since staying in this house she had learned to cook because that’s what he ate. He had insisted that he would adjust to her ways but this was the least she could do for him.
She placed the omelet in the dish and poured coffee in the cup and carried the tray to the bedroom.


He was standing at the window, the one that faced the house that was once hers. She followed his gaze; the bedroom window was open. She shivered at the thought of seeing her husband and the tray rattled in her hand. He turned around and saw her. He took the tray from her hand and placed it on the bed. She walked to the window to close it; that’s when she saw him, staring out of the window, bare-chested. She saw movement behind him and then two arms wrapped around his bare chest. She gasped and stepped back. Her husband saw her and smiled. He half-turned to pull the woman against his chest and kissed her on the lips. The same woman he was having affair with. He had brought the woman to their house; he was sleeping with her on their bed.


She saw movement in her peripheral vision. Her neighbor walked past her to close the bedroom window.
“I am sorry you had to see this” he apologized. She looked at him, the fact slowly dawning on her. He knew. He had seen them together before. When had the woman moved into her house? Was it before the fight or after? Not that it mattered. His face blurred as tears filled her eyes.
“Please don’t cry.” He said and moved towards her and before she could grasp what she was doing, she rushed towards him and wrapped her arms around him. She started to sob. He wrapped his arms around her and let her cry, resting her head against his chest. He saw her daughter standing at the door but he could not let go of her. Could not stop her from crying and letting out the bottled-up emotions of so many days.
The girl turned and walked away.


They stood in the middle of the bedroom; arms wrapped around each other. The sobs slowed and she moved back.
She walked out of the bedroom and towards the kitchen. Her daughter was making her own breakfast. She wiped the tears from her face with her Pallu and took the bread from her daughter’s hand. “Let me do it” she said without looking at her daughter.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed about anything; you know.” The girl said and she looked up surprised. “I am going for a bath” the girl said and walked away.

“It’s not what you think.” He said to the girl as she walked to the bathroom. He was waiting for her. “You don’t have to explain” she said and closed the bathroom door. He sighed.


***



It had been tough for him for past few months, having these two staying with him. He was not used to having company in the past. It took a while for him to adjust to their presence. To remember the basic things like not walking semi-naked in his own house, closing the bathroom door while peeing.
The daughter’s presence did not affect him much but being around her mother was torture. The woman he was attracted to, was now staying in his house. He hated it so much. To be around her, to see her everyday and to not be able to touch her. He had thought that he had gotten used to her presence since they had become good friends but he was wrong.


So much had happened since the day the woman across the street had come to his house for the first time. Since the day he had shopped for her and let her change her clothes in his house. He had felt his heart thumping against his rib cage and he felt it each time they met after that.
He liked that they had become friends but he did not like how it happened. He hated that it was at the cost of her daughter’s emotional turmoil. The girl did not deserve what had happened to her. To find out that her father was having an affair with another woman was shocking but the girl had dealt with it in a matured manner. He admired the girl for it.


He remembered –
It was late evening when she had come to his door. He was slightly annoyed by the persistent ringing of the doorbell and had yelled “coming” as he put on his shirt. He opened the door without unbuttoning his shirt and yelled “what”? even before he saw her. She was taken aback. She had apologized and started crying. She told him that her daughter was missing and she did not know what to do, who else to ask for help.

He’d apologized to her for yelling at her as he buttoned his shirt. He asked her to calm down and asked a few obvious questions. Had she called the school? Had she called her friends? She told him that she had gone to the school when her daughter had not returned home, she had called her friends but none of them knew where the girl was.


A worried look had come over their faces as the realization struck both of them at the same time. “Shit” he had exclaimed and rushed in to get his bike keys. He walked out of the house without saying a word and towards his bike. She closed the door for him. He kick-started his bike and she sat on the bike behind him and he drove towards the house. He parked his bike at a distance. She stepped down and ran towards the house. He followed her. They both looked around for the girl, reaching the back-side of the house. Neither of them had to peek inside, they knew her husband was inside the house, inside the woman. They both knew that the girl knew as well. They looked at each other as they heard the loud cry coming from inside the house.


He saw her expression changing from helplessness to annoyance to anger. She stormed to the front of the house and picked up a stone and hurled it at the window shattering the glass. He reached her as she picked up another stone and stopped her. He pulled her into the nearby bushes as the door opened. Her coward husband did not step out; it was the woman who had opened the door.
He felt her heavy breathing against his hand as he covered her mouth with his palm to stop her from reacting and yelling in anger.


Finding her daughter was the priority, he whispered in her ears and he felt her relaxing. They stepped out from the bushes and silently walked towards the bike. He saw her first, the girl was sitting on the stairs of a house few steps away from where his bike was parked. The girl had perhaps seen them going towards the house, she had perhaps witnessed the frustration of her mother, had seen her mother hurling a stone at the window.
The girl looked at him, their eyes met and she stood up. He let her mother know that he had spotted her. She looked towards her daughter and tried not to cry. The girl walked to them and wrapped her arms around her mother.


***


He did not realize he had been standing outside the bathroom door. The door opened and the girl stepped out, wearing a gown over her hurriedly dried body, towel wrapped around her wet hair.
 “Were you standing outside the whole time?” the girl asked.
“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to…” he tried to apologize
“Stop apologizing.” The girl said annoyingly and walked away.
He ran his fingers through his hair and turned around. “Shit” he whispered as he saw the girl’s mother watching him.
“What are you doing?” she asked. It was a simple question but he heard a hint of accusation.



Story 116