‘Cool and confident Abhilasha’ is what her colleagues called her. An MBA graduate, Abhilasha worked as Marketing Manager at a renowned advertising firm since the last five years. She had grown in the firm all through sheer hard work and grit. Rahul, her husband, on the other hand, was more laidback. Not that he was not as qualified. In fact, he was an MBA graduate himself and worked with a multinational organization, but he was content with whatever he earned.
Abhilasha had always been the more ambitious one, just as her name suggested. They had met in college and fallen in love after starting out as friends. Rahul had proposed marriage and she had accepted gleefully. Married now for ten years, they enjoyed a good life. Successful in their own careers, they were a well-matched pair as per everyone.
But Abhilasha felt something was missing. And no, it was not kids. They had both agreed that they didn’t want any and it didn’t matter what the others thought. Recently she craved more tenderness, more attention from Rahul. She missed his hugs and kisses, his impromptu weekend getaways, his surprise gifts. In short, she missed romance. Every time she tried broaching the subject with Rahul, he said that she was thinking too much.
Parking her car outside the mall, Abhilasha stepped out. In her hurry, she failed to notice a woman walking in equal haste from the opposite direction and they crashed into each other. Abhilasha heard a “Sorry” and turned to apologize.
“Rashi! What a surprise!”
“Abhilasha? OMG! This world is such a small place. I didn’t expect this!”
They hugged and stood back to assess each other. Rashi had always been the cute one in college. With a small built, she looked no more than a kid herself even now after so many years. Abhilasha was tall and slim with long, lustrous black hair that shone.
“You look just the same. How? I mean college is long over” cried Abhilasha.
“Haha, you look good too sweetie. Maybe a couple of pounds heavier. And I mean it in a good way.”
Abhilasha smiled. She worked hard to keep her body fit. This was a combination of Zumba and Yoga for the last two years to keep her ship-shape.
“I am surprised to see you here, Rashi. I thought you were in the US.”
“Yes, I moved there after marriage. But Sharad decided to move back to India and here we are. We have only been in town for the last six months. You know how it is when you move back from a foreign country. Plus, we were dealing with chaos with the kids’ admissions etc.”
“Hmm, I can understand. So, let’s meet one of these days. There is a lot of catching up to do for sure.”
“Yes, let’s do so. My number is XXXXXX6472. Send me a text on whatsapp and then we can connect. I have gotta rush now, bye sweetie.”
Rashi hurried away and Abhilasha headed to the mall, lost in her thoughts. She and Rashi had been good friends while in college. While Abhilasha decided to pursue further studies, Rashi got married and moved to the US. Over time, they had lost touch with each other.
She had to admit that Rashi looked great. No one would ever say that she had kids. But more than that, she envied Rashi for her lifestyle. Dressed in designer clothes, she was wearing a Rolex on her arm and her one carat diamond glittered on her finger in the sun. Abhilasha felt downright dowdy in front of her. And she had also noticed the Audi in the background with a driver in waiting.
Picking up her groceries from the hypermarket, Abhilasha headed home. As she parked her car in its usual parking spot, she couldn’t help but feel deflated. Looking at her tiny I10, she couldn’t stop thinking about the gleaming Audi and its owner.
Rahul looked up as she walked in and said “Hi”. He went back to his television where India was busy thrashing its opponent Pakistan. It was World Cup Fever and he barely noticed the dinner laid out in front of him. Not wanting to complain, Abhilasha got ready for bed and lay down. But sleep eluded her. Her mind kept comparing with what she did or didn’t have. Somehow, she fell into a restless sleep.
The next day, the phone rung while she walked out after an important presentation that had gone well and she smiled as the name read ‘Rashi’.
“Hi Abhilasha, Rashi here. Are you busy?”
“No yaar*, just finished a meeting and will be heading home soon. What are you doing now?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just invited to dinner at NSCI. The Mehrotras son has just secured a place at NASA, so they have invited us and you know how it is…can’t refuse!”
Abhilasha felt a wave of jealousy hit her. The Mehrotras, Wow! They were on Page 3 almost every week.
“Listen, I wanted to check. Why don’t you come home for dinner tomorrow night? With your husband, I mean. Yes, I checked your Facebook account and saw that you are married. It will be good as will get the chance to catch up with you peacefully. Your husband will have Sharad to keep him company.”
“Oh yeah, sure!” gushed Abhilasha.
Hurriedly jotting down the address, she said goodbye and almost ran home then.
Rahul saw that she was very chirpy and asked her the reason. He too was glad that Abhilasha had bumped into an old friend and that they had been invited to dinner.
The next evening, as they parked outside the elegant townhouse, Abhilasha looked down at her dress again. She had dressed with care in a black, figure hugging knee length dress and accentuated her curves. Her only accessories were a simple watch on her wrist and diamond studs in her ears. She looked stunning and she knew it.
“Rahul, I look fine, right?”
“Abhilasha, you look great. I mean I don’t stand a chance near you.”
Her throaty laugh echoed at that. She had taken utmost care with Rahul’s dressing as well. Dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt and a casual checked shirt on top, Rahul exuded an aura of casual elegance.
The door was opened by a maid and they were ushered into a spacious and airy living room. It was interspersed with expensive artefacts from around the world. Obviously from all their extensive travels! Abhilasha felt the twinge of jealousy pop up again and supressed the feeling.
Rashi walked in followed by her husband. Dressed in an evening dress in soft mauve and her hair pulled back, Rashi looked like an exquisite flower herself. Minimal make up and diamonds in her ears and ring finger were her only accessories. Sharad was tall and athletic and his muscles rippled when he moved.
“Abhilasha, I am so glad you could make it. Do introduce me to your wonderful husband.”
“Rashi, thanks dear for inviting us. Rahul this is Rashi, my college friend. And this is Sharad, her husband.”
“Rahul, glad to meet you. I say you are a lucky man with Abhilasha as your life partner. She is a stunning woman” Sharad smiled at that.
Abhilasha blushed and Rahul laughed. It broke the ice and before long, all four of them chatted like long lost friends.
The children came in to say goodnight to the parents and the maid took them away soon. Abhilasha couldn’t stop admiring the house. Long hallways, spacious bedrooms, classic furniture and accessories to match, the house reeked of money and elegance.
After dinner, they settled in the lounge overlooking the lawns. As Rashi headed to check on dessert, Abhilasha looked over to where Rahul and Sharad were talking. She noticed that Sharad kept glancing in her direction and when Rahul wasn’t looking, he directed a smile at her. She smiled back shyly and felt tingly all over. Somehow his glances made her feel that he liked what he saw and she felt a stirring that she couldn’t deny.
Sharad came up to her when the others were out of earshot on the pretext of handing over a drink and said, “You are beautiful and you know it. Why don’t we meet somewhere outside one of these days and get to know each other a little better? I know you are a go-getter Abhilasha. I have been working long enough to know an ambitious woman when I see one. Think about it. And you know where to reach me.” Winking at her, he walked away.
He had just propositioned her! Although shocked, Abilasha was also thrilled. She was flattered as no other man had expressed his interest so openly, that too after marriage. And then guilt hit when she looked at Rahul. She knew she loved him a lot.
She couldn’t help noticing that although Sharad was attentive to Rashi when they were together, she felt that he was eyeing her too. As they thanked Rashi and Sharad for a lovely evening at the door, Abhilasha felt Sharad’s hand linger too long in hers.
In bed, late that night Rahul cuddled and kissed her. She couldn’t help thinking what it would feel to have Sharad’s strong arms around her. Guilty of such amorous thoughts, Abhilasha buried her face into Rahul’s shoulders although sleep was nowhere in sight.
The next morning as Abhilasha opened her whatsapp, a message pinged.
03/18/2019, 6.35 AM – Sharad: slept well?
03/18/2019, 7.05 AM – Abhilasha: Yes. And you?
03/18/2019, 7.06 AM – Sharad: Actually, I didn’t. Couldn’t stop thinking about you.☺
She didn’t know what to reply to that and kept mum.
A day later, he texted again.
03/19/2019, 8.30 AM – Sharad: Think about it. I am not a very patient man. I know exactly what I want.
Every day he found reasons to text her and she could feel her resolve slipping. She knew what she was thinking was wrong although she felt powerless to stop herself. On one hand, she felt excited that a man had shown interest. That too someone like Sharad and on the other, she knew she loved Rahul. He was not as suave, but he had his heart in its right place. The conflict between her heart and mind continued.
As she arrived at work on a Monday morning, she saw Rashi waiting in the lobby. Abhilasha was surprised.
“Rashi, Hi dear! You here? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, so far. Can I please talk to you?”
“Sure. Can you give me some time? I have something to finish, then we can.”
“Yes. I’ll wait.”
As Abhilasha worked on her assignment, she couldn’t stop thinking about Rashi. She was dressed to kill again, yet Abhilasha sensed a desperation in her voice. She hoped there were no problems.
“Rashi, is everything okay? You seem a little upset.”
“Upset? Why should I be upset even if it is my friend who is sleeping with my husband…”
Abhilasha unable to comprehend what Rashi was trying to say, asked, “Friend? What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know? Here you are, Ms Successful at work, with a wonderful husband of your own and are also sleeping with my husband. And you ask me if I am upset?”
In a shocked tone Abhilasha replied, “I am NOT sleeping with your husband. And you are right, Rahul is a great husband, no doubt. Do you know YOUR husband has been texting me since we visited your home? Not the other way around.”
“Yeah, right! I saw how you were looking at him the other day.”
“Hah, did you see how he was looking at me? Rashi trust me. I don’t think your husband is what he wants everyone to believe.”
“But then why did you continue replying to the texts? Every day I see another chat between you two and my heart stops.” Saying so, Rashi burst into tears.
Abhilasha felt guilty of doing that and unable to see her friend crying, went up-to her and hugged her. Tears flowed freely from her eyes too, yet she was unable to decipher the reason for this outburst. Maybe Rashi was depressed or insecure? The questions were many and the answers lay with Rashi.
Rashi calmed down after a while and settled down on the sofa in Abhilasha’s office. As they sipped strong cups of coffee, Rashi said, “I am sorry for that outburst. But I have had enough. I couldn’t bear to see Sharad skirt chasing again and I had the feeling that you were leading him on and had probably already slept with him too. “
“I would never do that Rashi! Although I admit I did feel attractive again with his compliments. Rahul means a lot to me, I would never jeopardize our relationship for a mere fling. And what do you mean by again? Is Sharad cheating on you, Rashi?”
“These flings have been a part of my life for many years now, Abhilasha. To the world, I am a happy woman, one who has everything that money can buy. Except her husband’s love. I know the countless nights I have slept alone, waiting for him, while he is in bed somewhere with another woman. No, don’t be so shocked. Our marriage broke down a long time ago. We are only in it together for the kids.”
“So, why not get out?”
“And do what? Where will I go? I have never worked in my life before. How will I take care of myself and the kids?”
“Have you discussed this cheating with Sharad?”
“Yes, many times but it is no use. His polite façade is just a farce. To the world, he’s a family man but he just doesn’t care. Not for me or the kids. They just complete the family picture. And that is not all. If only you knew of all the other things he does…” she paused and then continued, “Sharad, He…he doesn’t mind swapping partners. In fact, he is always on the lookout for such groups. Even in the US, we were part of one such group…”
Abhilasha’s mind was churning. Couple swapping? Oh damn, she had read about it, but had never believed that such people existed. The idea seemed ridiculous yet here Rashi was admitting to it herself.
Rashi continued,” I have no choice Abhilasha. I am stuck in it. In a foreign country, you are at the mercy of your husband. I detested it then and I detest it now. Eventually, the group dissolved as someone complained to the authorities and we narrowly escaped arrest. It was then that Sharad decided to move to India” her body shook and shuddered.
“Rashi, but remember you are smart and I don’t think any woman deserves this kind of marriage. Yes, there are many things to think about and work out, but I don’t think Sharad will get away scots-free from this one if you choose to walk away. The laws are in favour of women in today’s times and Sharad has responsibility towards the children as their father. He can’t deny that,” Abhilasha consoled her friend.
“Yes, but society? What will everyone think and say?”
Abhilasha was livid, “Rashi, do you honestly care about what society thinks? This is YOUR LIFE. And it concerns YOUR future. Don’t hand over the reins of your happiness to someone else. I would have left Rahul immediately if he had tried to pull a stunt like this on me.”
“Abhilasha, you don’t know how lucky you are. I realize now that money is not everything. It can never buy you happiness. Always remember that.”
Both were silent for a while after that, lost in their own thoughts. Rashi left after promising that she would think about what Abhilasha had said and would touch base soon again.
Abhilasha’s mind was in a tizzy too. She wanted to teach Sharad a lesson and was tempted to text him then and there. Yet she held herself back for the sake of her friend.
Later, as she opened the door to her house, she saw Rahul standing in the balcony and staring outside. Tiptoeing in quietly, she hugged him from behind.
“Abhilasha, hey I didn’t hear you come in…” he smiled at her.
“I missed you” is all that she said.
“Yeah, me too.” Looking in to her eyes he asked, “Do you want to plan a weekend getaway? It has been a while.”
With moist eyes, she nodded. She now knew that all that glitters is not gold. She was so thankful to God for blessing her with a life partner like Rahul. Life could not be any more beautiful.
Yaar – Friend
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