Aarti stared at the bubbling water with vacant eyes. She could hear vague murmurs from the adjoining room. Listlessly, she added the tea leaves and the sugar. She had insisted on making them tea herself. He always loved the tea prepared by her.
Soon the murmurs got louder and turned into chatter. An exuberant burst of laughter rang out and reverberated through the house. Intermingled somewhere among the several voices, one would be his. They had friends over again. They had dropped in to meet him when they had heard he was back in town. He was here just for a few days and she was thrilled to be with him again. Soon he’d have to go back to the frontline where he put his life and their future in danger for the sake of his love – his country.
They’d had company last night too. Sometimes, she wished they would go away; just so she could enjoy a few moments of solitude with her beloved husband. But right now, she was glad for the company. In his absence, she had been lonely and miserable. She often bore it in resilient silence; for those long months were well worth the few and far-in-between moments of love, laughter, and happiness. Even if they came in the company of a few others.
Now that he was here, she wouldn’t ruin these rare moments of togetherness by whining. Every moment spent with him was precious. She couldn’t afford to lose even one by sulking. She wished the others would go away. Last night too, they had left late. And after the long evening, he’d gone to drop one of their lady friends home. He was chivalrous like that.
She remembered the last time he had come home. It had been her birthday and he had called from an undisclosed location just to wish her. When she’d come home from work that evening, he had been waiting at the door. An hour later, he had surprised her with a birthday party he had planned despite being deployed. It had been the best day of her life. They had even stayed up into the wee hours of the night, chatting and laughing, long after all the guests had left. The next day Aarti had bunked work and they had gone out for a movie before he left to resume duty. It had been a short visit but a memorable one. Aarti wished it could have been longer but she knew the demands of his job. She had grown up with it. Her father had been an army man and she had seen the life of an army wife, her mother, closely. In fact, in her growing up years it had only been Aarti and her mother. She was well aware of the fears, the sacrifices, the loneliness. She was well prepared for it. She didn’t for one moment regret being an army wife herself. If anything, she welcomed it.
When they’d first met, Vineet had told her how as a child he’d been told that dolls were for girls. And, so he had picked up guns instead. Aarti had laughed at the joke. It was remarkable how he could take such things so lightly. Playing with guns, skirting death at every moment, living alone in harsh conditions was no easy feat. Every day she feared for his life. Every day she wished he would give up all that and come to her. She knew how much he loved his job and his country. Their country. Her heart swelled with pride. Yes, she knew the life of an army wife.
And yet, it wasn’t enough to help her tide over his absences. Maybe with time, it would get easier, she consoled herself. Or maybe, once they had a baby, like her mother had her. But it was still too early to think about that. It had been only a few months since their marriage. In that time, Vineet had been home for hardly 5 days in 5 months. She would bring up the subject the next time he was home, she decided.
The tea bubbled, demanding attention and when it got none, it lost its patience. Time and Tide wait for no one, they said. And particularly not for a pensive woman lost in her own world. With an angry hiss, the tea rose up and furiously spilled over, painting the white kitchen platform a dark shade of tea-brown. Someone, Aarti didn’t know who, rushed into the kitchen and turned the knob off. Aarti allowed herself to be pulled her away from the kitchen. He led her into the living room. The murmurs died down when she walked in. The cackle of laughter had turned into deathly silence. The smiling faces had turned somber.
Aarti looked around at the familiar faces around her and tried recalling their names. She wished for them to go away. She wished for them to leave her in peace, just so she could enjoy a few moments of solitude. But she had resolved not to whine. They would leave in a while anyway.
She sat down on the sofa and looked around. There was a thick layer of dust all around. Where was the maid today? Even the newspaper hadn’t been stacked properly. She picked it up to straighten it. As if guided by an unseen force, her hands opened the paper to the half fold. The blasted report that she had read that morning looked back at her innocently. What was it, again?
Her head reeled as she looked at it. She tried recalling what it said but failed. She tried reading it now. But the tears blurred her vision. She closed her eyes and breathed deep. It was just a newspaper report. Why was she so upset about it?
Her tears fell on the paper blurring the bold, black words that screamed, “Drunk driving claims one more; off-duty army man left to die on road.”