The waves crawled gently to the shore. Sweet smells of seaweed and coconut wafted on the serene beach. Nikita shut her eyes, as the zephyr kissed her dimples, and her curls danced in a frenzy. The cool water tickled her feet. She giggled like a child. Craning her neck back, she drank the star-studded sky. The half-moon warmly smiled back at her.
Suddenly, the gentle breeze bellowed like howls of wild beasts. The violent waves rose up like a ravenous monster. The cool moon blazed angrily burning her skin. A spinning maelstrom began swallowing her. She tried to scream, but her voice betrayed her. She felt suffocated.
“Mummaaa…,” she heard a voice from a distance.
Nikita woke up, gasping heavily for breath. A flying pillow hit her head.
“Mumma, save me from this monster,” Sonu screamed.
“Mumma, he poured water on me! I will kill him today,” Monu cried, darting towards his twin brother, climbing over his mother’s head.
“Stop it, will you!” Nikita hollered, but as always, her voice was drowned in the riotous wrestling and raucous cries.
She noticed a jug toppled over on the bed, as the water had spread over her feet.
So, this was the ‘wave’ that swept my feet!
She checked the time. It was 4pm. She had been reading a romantic novel set in Maldives, and didn’t realize when she dozed off.
The dream felt so real.
“Mumma, I can’t connect to the Wi-Fi. Can you please check?” Amogh, her eldest son shouted from the other room.
The only time he remembers me is when the Wi-Fi disconnects!
Just then, her mobile rang.
“Darling, you know my friend, James, right? Well, his family had to vacate their flat for a night because of faulty electrical issue,” Nikita’s husband, Neeraj said.
“So?” Nikita sensed danger ahead.
“So… well, I invited them home tonight.”
“What? Neeraj, haven’t I told you before not to invite people for dinner at such a short notice? Now, what am I going to cook? The house is in a mess, thanks to these notorious twins…”
“Err… darling, I have invited them to stay over at our place till their problem is solved. Hope… that… won’t be a… problem?” Neeraj spoke in a honey-laced tone.
“WHAT?” Nikita’s yell made him cringe. “I thought it’s only about dinner!”
“Don’t worry, darling. I shall help you too…”
“Like the last time, when you had invited a dozen of your friends, while you reached home from office just before dinner?” Nikita snapped.
“That was because of bad traffic…”
“Stop giving excuses, Neeraj! When will you own up to your actions? Can’t you be a bit more practical and responsible?” Nikita swallowed a tear. “Your three sons are quite a handful. And you…”
“Hey, darling, just one last time. I swear…”
Nikita disconnected the call. She had been hearing him promise for the last heaven-knows-how many times.
She dialled her bestie, Roopa.
“I’m just done with him!”
“Hey, Niks. What happened? What did Neeraj do this time?”
“As always, he has invited his friends home, without even having a word with me, Roops.”
“Goodness gracious! When will this butthead brother of mine learn the art of discussion?” Roopa sighed.
“Not in this birth, I’m sure.”
“Don’t worry, babe. In the next life, if there is any, we will be re-born as the privileged men, throwing away orders, enjoying patriarchy,” Roopa chuckled.
“I feel good talking to you, Roops. Wonder why your brother isn’t like you?”
“Oh, he was a mistake committed by my parents. Being the first child, he was unplanned and stupid, unlike me- the planned and sensible one!”
Nikita laughed. “How’s my brother treating you, by the way?”
“Don’t ask, Niks. He’s never home! Sometimes I feel as if I’m a single mother!”
“Sad life, Roops. In a nutshell, our lives are screwed. We used to be so happy in school and college. Wonder what happened?”
“Marriage, Niks. Marriage. That’s what happened. You fell in love with my dimwit brother, while I fell head over heels in love with your silly brother.”
“Love is blind, now we realize!”
“And senseless too.”
Both of them had a hearty laughter.
“Mummaaa…” A scream called for immediate attention.
“I better leave before my twins set the house on fire, Roops. Bye.”
Nikita was as tired as a log at the end of the day. The guests had turned out to be crankier than her eight-year-old twins. She had prepared pasta for everyone, but madam guest bluntly confessed to abhor the ‘junk food’. Nikita quickly made some rotis with chicken curry. But mister guest didn’t eat non-vegetarian food for dinner. Nikita gritted her teeth when Neeraj nonchalantly proposed the idea of dining out, avoiding her smouldering gaze. She detested wasting food. Even her children never dared to waste food, even if they had to eat ‘healthy and tasteless’ vegetables. And here were a bunch of irresponsible grown-ups, who happily walked away as the table sadly displayed untouched morsels.
Nikita nearly fainted when they announced their stay for the next day too. Neeraj didn’t raise even a finger to help. And the mess her kids together with the guests’ kids made was unimaginable.
“Amogh, can you at least help me with the dishes?” Nikita asked her teenage son, whose nose was always stuck behind his tab.
“Sorry, mumma. I have homework to do,” he walked away without even looking up.
“Niks, I’m just fed up of your brother!” Roopa yelled over phone two days later.
“Don’t steal my lines!”
“Ravi just gets on my nerves! Most of the time, he isn’t home. He’s either on business trip with his team or on pleasure trip with his buddies. He claims to deserve a break to relieve his stress. But what about me?” Roopa stifled a cry. “Just because I’m a housewife, don’t I get stressed too? Is looking after the house and kids not a nerve-racking ordeal?”
“Of course!! It drains us of our sanity and energy,” Nikita echoed her thoughts.
“Ravi was furious to see our daughter’s report card yesterday. He blasted at me for being careless and neglecting her studies. He asked me what do I do the whole day? That I just laze around doing nothing! Nothing? As if everything runs on its own!”
Nikita felt sorry for her bestie. For a moment, she forgot her own pain. They just remained quiet, for even the silence cried a million words.
“I wish I could just hug you right now,” Nikita said.
That night, she couldn’t sleep a wink. She knew even Roopa would be wide awake. They were two different individuals bound by a common tie- of pain and negligence. Of being taken for granted by the people who mattered to them the most. Of being uncared by their own family, for whom they happily buried their own identities and dreams. Yes, it was by choice, but did that mean they would be belittled at every given opportunity?
The sun rose from the horizon, bringing rays of hope and some naughty ideas.
Nikita immediately called Roopa.
“I knew you’d be awake,” Nikita chuckled, as Roopa picked up the call in just one ring.
“I knew it had to be you so early in the morning.”
“Listen, I have a brilliant idea to teach our contemptuous family a lesson. To make them realize our value,” Nikita whispered, as she tiptoed into her balcony. The majestic sun pumped energy and optimism into her nerves.
“What do you mean? Come to the point,” Roopa curiously raised an eyebrow.
“Let’s run away!” Nikita blurted out.
“What? Are you in your senses?”
“Very much, Roops. Right now, I’m not very sure, but quite positive about this thing. Our absence should make these nincompoops realize that we deserve more than being side-lined.”
Roopa was lost in deep contemplation. “I guess you are right,” she finally spoke.
“Atta girl! I knew you wouldn’t deny my proposal,” Nikita jumped rapturously.
“But where are we eloping to?”
“I have some ideas popping up inside my brain. Let me plan it properly. Then we can discuss about it.”
Once she was alone and free after Neeraj left for work and the kids left for school, Nikita called her friend who worked in a travel agency.
“Maldives?” Roopa gasped, with a tinge of excitement in her voice.
“Yes, you heard me right,” Nikita quipped. “We are running away to Maldives!”
“I thought we’d be going somewhere close by. Like Goa! Wouldn’t an international trip cost us dearly?”
“Madam ji, a couple of months ago, when your dear husband went on a boys-only trip to Switzerland, did you ask him the same question?”
“You are right!” Roopa sighed. “I have always been cautious when it comes to my personal expenditure.”
“Even I! And haven’t we paid the price for being neglected every time? So, let’s prioritize just one thing here- us! Let’s celebrate ourselves,” Nikita cheered.
“Well then, I’m going to break my fixed deposit that I had started with my first salary years ago. I was actually planning to use it for future use. But who’s seen the future? Let’s enjoy the present, right?”
“You just spoke my words, Roops. That’s the spirit. So, start furtively packing your bags. And don’t forget your swim wear,” Nikita giggled, as her mind had already pictured them basking on the pristine beach.
The following days saw Nikita in a pleasant demeanour. Her twins were baffled when she didn’t yell at them for breaking the vase during their pillow fight. Amogh, though glued to his device, did find it strange that she didn’t plead with him to switch off his tab. Neeraj had the shock of his life when a cheerful smile bloomed over Nikita’s lips, instead of a frown, when he broke the news about his office colleagues visiting them over the weekend.
“You mean you are absolutely fine with it?” Neeraj reconfirmed.
“Absolutely, darling,” Nikita’s smile widened. “I have realized that no matter how much I despise, you’d still go ahead and do your thing. So, why resist?”
“Are you feeling well?” Neeraj placed the back of his palm over Nikita’s forehead. She laughed.
The D-day arrived. An hour before sunrise, a suitcase and a bag were stealthily pulled across the bedroom and the living room. A note was placed on the bedside table. The door shut gently. Not a soul woke up. A taxi was waiting for Nikita, that took off to the airport.
Nikita stayed in Mumbai, while Roopa lived in Pune. The duo had agreed to meet at Chattrapathi Shivaji International Airport. They hugged each other gleefully as soon as they met.
“I can imagine the look on our husbands’ face when they realize the truth,” Roopa chortled.
“By then, we’d be flying up above, shattering the shackles of patriarchy,” Nikita said dramatically, and they both hi-fived.
Back home, a chaos had erupted.
“We are getting late for school. Tie my shoelaces,” Sonu cried.
“Where is my toast?” Amogh asked.
“Boys, I can’t find your mother. Can you please do your chores yourself?” Neeraj screamed on top of his voice.
The boys stared as if they were asked to rip off their kidneys!
“Okay, I will help you this time.” He quickly got to work and sent them to school.
It took a while for him to find the note written by Nikita. He read it.
I’m going on a much-deserved holiday. I shall be back not-very-soon. Please take care of the house and kids. Consider this as my annual leave.
P.S: Don’t worry about me. I’m with my bestie.
Neeraj read it few more times, till his mobile rang.
“What has your sister done to me?” It was Roopa’s husband, Ravi.
“I was about to ask you the same. Your sister has just dropped a bomb!”
There was an eerie silence.
“I am shivering, buddy,” Ravi finally found words. “I have absolutely no idea where my own things are. And on top of it, my daughter’s test is coming up. Should I do the chores or teach her?”
“I guess… both… that’s what the women did, right?” Neeraj replied.
The next few days tested their patience to the core. Sonu and Monu realized that daddy was inefficient in almost all the work. They remembered how their Mumma insisted on doing their chores independently, and how conveniently they would place it back on her. Amogh no longer could while away time with his tab. He had to wash vessels, do the laundry, and even change Sonu’s bedsheet at night when he wet the bed. The icing on the cake was when Neeraj’s friends arrived over the weekend. The greasy vessels, the overly-ordered food and the messy house gave him a mini heart attack! It was well over midnight when he finished the chores and breathed a sigh of relief. He swore never to host again. That’s when he realized why Nikita complained, and he cursed himself for never helping the poor soul. Oh, he craved for a tight hug from her!
Roopa’s daughter had always been lazy about her studies. Now that her mother wasn’t around, she undertook responsibility. Ravi would come early from work to help her. It took him a while to discover masalas from the kitchen shelf and operate the ‘highly technical’ washing machine and even ironing their clothes without burning a hole in it. He slowly realized that household work is a never-ending job, and the kitchen sink magically birthed dirty dishes in its womb. He berated himself for being harsh on his poor wife.
Sweet smell of coconut and seaweed wafted. Nikita shut her eyes, as the zephyr kissed her dimples. The sea water cooled her feet. She smiled, reminiscing about her dream.
The duo sat on the pristine white sand, enjoying sunset. Lost in the rhythmic percussions of the waves on the shore, they admired the tangerine sky that splashed a soothing ray of tranquillity in their weary souls.
“What are you thinking?” Roopa asked.
Nikita exhaled sharply. “Thinking of home. Somewhere I feel it’s my fault too. I was the omnipresent one. I made myself too available. In a way, it’s I who made them highly dependent.”
“You echoed my thoughts, Niks. We think we are indispensable in their lives. Only if we take a step back, can they take a step ahead.”
“Glad we took this holiday. Like us, they too need a break from us,” Nikita laughed. “Who said only guys can have fun?”
“So, shall we plan for our next run away?” Roopa winked. The night sky echoed with buoyant laughter.
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