This is Part VI of an ongoing series. To read the previous parts, click here.
Anaisha heard the shouting from the kitchen and walked back. With downcast eyes, she said quietly, “I’m right here.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know. Your mother… and then you had said that….” She started to explain.
“Don’t bring Ma into this. She didn’t ask you to desert me like this.”
Anaisha looked at him with sad eyes. Ravi was shocked. She didn’t just put the onus on his mother for her own actions.
“I am not bringing her into this… I am not blaming her… neither am I trying to come between you and her. That’s why I’ve never told you before. Because you will not believe me!” Anaisha retorted angrily.
Ravi stared at her, completely at a loss. “Vartika,” she said pointedly.
“Anai… don’t…” He warned.
“You don’t get it… do you? Kusum Aunty wanted you to marry her,” shouted Anaisha, annoyed at his refusal to see things that were in plain sight.
“She came into the picture much later. Ma set me up with her, to help me cope up with your disappearance. She wasn’t even in India that time.”
“Ravi… your mom had decided that Vartika would be her daughter-in-law, much before that. Vartika hadn’t even been half way through her MBA when both your mothers had got your horoscopes matched. It was a done deal, they were just waiting for her to finish her course and return from US.”
Ravi shook his head again, unwilling to accept her version of the story.
“Mom asked you to leave? Why didn’t you tell me?” Ravi was surprised and shocked, at the same time.
“It wasn’t her… not directly anyway… she would just always mention you and Vartika together…as if that was a forgone conclusion… Kunika Aunty had come home, one day. She told me Kusum Aunty’s wishes and conveyed your message that you didn’t want to go against your mom…. that you couldn’t tell me yourself, something about feeling bad… not being able to face me… busy with planning, moving on and all that. I thought you had made your decision. And I didn’t want to be the girl who came between you and your mom.”
“That’s ridiculous! What the bloody… What a waste… you just left… you tossed me aside like I was nothing. Like our time together meant nothing!” Ravi shouted, with tears in his eyes.
Anaisha was weeping profusely, by now. “No! It’s not like that… Please… it was equally tough for me too. I had earlier seen you talk to her on phone… that day when I had come to office. You were so happy while talking to her. I had asked you what it was about… you had said it was nothing… I believed you. But Kunika Aunty had later told me that you were even constructing a house for the both of you…so I thought that phone call that day…. you must have been talking to Var… Vartika…” she stuttered.
Even as she narrated the incident to Ravi, it sounded ridiculous to her own ears.
Ravi was aghast. He couldn’t recollect the incidents she was referring to and looked at her with accusing eyes.
“How could you have fallen for that? You should have known better than to believe some third person and let them come between us,” he countered.
“It was Kunika aunty, Ravi! Your favourite aunt… one whom you are closest to…. how could I have not believed her! I didn’t, even for one second, doubt her or her intentions.”
“Masi* did that. Why would she?” Ravi stared at the floor, his brow furrowed in annoyance.
“Maybe, because they think she would have been a better wife to you. Somehow, maybe, even I felt that.”
Ravi shook his head, partly in disbelief and partly in sadness, then looked up at the wall in front of him.
Anaisha fetched the framed photo of the little girl from the archway display and handed it to him.
“There was no way I was going to get an abortion,” she whispered.
There was something about those eyes, he recalled, as he took the photo frame in his hand.
Ravi looked closely, and as realization dawned upon him, it ripped him apart. Those were his eyes. She was his daughter. He gripped the wall to steady himself.
He looked at Anaisha and asked weakly, “When did you know?”
“Much later, when I had already moved here. Maybe after a few months. And then, I didn’t want to come back and disrupt your life.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried to…. many times…. considered calling or even writing to you, but the thought of you having moved on and making a new life with Vartika stopped me.”
“What did you name her?”
“Ritika,” she smiled through her tears. Ravi was thrilled. She had named their daughter, after his beloved sister!
“How old is she? Four?” he asked, half crying, half smiling. She nodded, as he handed the photo frame back to her.
“Right now, she is at a play-school friend’s place for a kiddie party and sleep-over. She is a year older, lives in the adjacent building, with her parents and elder sister.”
“Anaisha, I still deserved to know… no matter what your reasons… you had no right keeping this from me!”
“And risk breaking your relationship with Vartika?”
“There is nothing with Vartika! Never was,” he shouted.
He felt varied emotions course through him. Pride and sadness, mixed with pain and an intense sense of loss rushed through him, and he held Anaisha responsible for it. Furious at her, his aunt, and his inability to express his feelings in words, he banged his fist into the facing wall and grimaced.
“Ravi!” Anaisha screamed, horrified and scared at the extent of his anger and rushed forward to examine his hand.
She reached out to hug him but he swiped her hand away and jerked backward, rejecting her attempts at reconciliation, tears streaming down his face.
“Damn it, Anaisha! You have taken so much away from me,” he gritted.
“I am so… so sorry!” she sobbed. “It was stupid, I know…Now. Seeing you here…. like this… made me realize what a huge mistake… it was so stupid… what I did … because of that look at what I lost. It was a blunder.” She hid her face in her face, her body racked with sobs.
He stared at the floor, unable to comprehend her reasons, or understand her actions, but realizing them as part of human decisions which are sometimes silly, sometimes unreasonable. He saw her crying bitterly and couldn’t bear to watch her miserable like that any longer. He struggled to overcome his anger and moved forward to comfort her. He reached out and tugged at her elbow. She looked up at him, regret and pain writ large across her face.
They hugged each other tightly, each trying to absorb all that had happened.
She knew she regretted her stupid actions. He knew he would forgive her anyway.
“Don’t you ever do that again… don’t you ever leave me like that.” Ravi spoke sadly. “It almost killed me… It broke me…. You broke me!”
She buried her head into his shoulder and sobbed even louder.
After several minutes, he moved away and started to heat the food. Anaisha proceeded to set the table. Lost in thought, they ate silently; both trying to accept the consequences of their past actions, and the resultant misunderstandings.
They later moved to the living room and settled down on the floor, with a cup of tea each. She put her head on his shoulder and he held her hand tenderly. They spent the next few hours chatting, reminiscing about old times. They cried and laughed together; reminiscing about the past, catching up with the present. She shared pictures of their daughter, regaled him with tales of her antics and he shared those of their school reunions, and their friends’ weddings and birthday parties. He shared updates about their mutual friends and his family, and she told him about how she had started up her workshop.
Both didn’t want the night to come to an end. Each made a decision in their minds and resolved to implement it in the morning.
She showed him her new designs and he critiqued each one, discussing its nuances and scope for improvement. She brought out her design folder. He thumbed through it, remembering each design and its background story.
He came to the empty plastic sheets at the end of the folder and realized there weren’t any new designs added. He looked at her questioningly. She looked away, averting his questioning looks. He also instantly noticed that her style of design had changed from the curvy, flowy borders in the folder to pointy corners and sharp edges in those he saw on the laptop. Realizing that that the transition may have been unconscious, Ravi reached out to pick up the tissue box from the center table.
“Make one now,” he urged and handed her his pen. Anaisha pulled one tissue out and took the pen from him.
As Anaisha drew on the tissue paper, Ravi noticed the lines were again soft and curvy. He pointed out the difference to her. She stared at the designs, comparing them all, surprised at how the events in her life had affected her design style.
“Do you have any from the time you were pregnant?” He asked, curious about the style she would have used then, and wanting to pinpoint the exact time when her style may have changed.
Anaisha shook her head. “I started after she was born. I had to make a living. Ma and Papa had helped me financially until then. I also had savings from before, which were rapidly depleting.”
“I still have that one rupee you paid me for the first design.” She pulled out a worn out one rupee note from her purse. “I don’t even remember what I had drawn!” She laughed ruefully.
Ravi carefully extracted a small piece of laminated paper from his wallet and handed it to her, as she gasped at the realization of what it was.
He added the date on the tissue paper she had just drawn on and carefully added it to the folder.
“We’ll never get those five years back,” she whispered regretfully, holding the laminated drawing and staring at the newest addition to the folder.
“We have the future, now.” He promised and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.
*Masi – maternal aunt (mother’s sister)
Heartfelt thanks to Rashmi Menon and Dr. Meg Sorick