Samidha watched her husband lying on the bed, her fingers idly caressing the cold soup bowl in her hands.
His eyes were closed and he was breathing steadily. He appeared to be fast asleep, yet it seemed to her that something was amiss. She didn’t want to try and shake him awake.
He’d eaten only half the second helping of soup, the one she held in her hands. That was a few moments ago and he was already in deep slumber.
There was a time when unshed tears gathered in her eyes, but they no longer did, no matter how low she felt. Almost like they’ve dried up, she thought to herself, or simply finished, with no more to flow.
Which wasn’t surprising. It had been exactly five years, three months and two days since the day he got bedridden.
Or decided to take to the bed. For he was one of those old school men who took it for granted that the wife was always there to care for him and the house.
Which she was. A homemaker, though not by choice, she had been there for him every single day of their forty-year-old marriage. Her mind started playing flashes from her past, the way they showed in those daily soaps.
“Papa, our college has organised a trekking camp to……. You know where? Matheran! I’m so excited!”
Papa stared indulgently at the bundle of energy who had just returned home from college in her typical way – bursting with things to say. But before he could react, Maa’s voice rang out from the kitchen.
“Samidha, you are eighteen now. How much more will you go around with friends? Now freshen up quickly, a family is coming to see you.”
“But Maa, you said I will get married only after graduation…”
“You can study after marriage, if your husband and in-laws allow you to.”
“B-but I want to get a job, earn money and travel round the world….”
“You are a girl, Samidha. Good girls get married and do what their husband permits them to. Now into the bathroom, quick!”
Samidha had no choice. It was the 80s, you obeyed your parents, no matter what.
“Yes, of course, she can continue her studies and get a job. She’s our daughter now. We will ensure that her wishes are fulfilled.”
This assurance was enough to make Samidha agree to the marriage.
She was on cloud nine, till she found herself pregnant just one month into her new life. All other plans were shelved by the forced bed rest.
The joy and excitement of becoming a new mother was incomparable to any other kind of happiness she had ever known. Before she knew it, she had settled into her new role, enjoying every moment of it.
Ten years flew by, at the end of which she was a mother of four.
Samidha gingerly approached her husband one day.
“Jee suniye, may I say something?”
A surprised Mandar nodded his assent.
“You are working all the time to provide for the family. We’ve not had any vacation in the fifteen years of our marriage. Let’s go somewhere…”
“Sure,” he replied, even more surprised, “after six months.”
Five months later, she lost her father-in-law. It followed that her mother-in-law refused to leave the house for a whole year.
A year later, all promises of a vacation were forgotten when Mandar was diagnosed with a huge kidney stone. Samidha was at the end of her tether, managing a demanding mother-in-law, four growing children and a husband recuperating from surgery who seemed to her to be a pretty spoilt child himself.
It was another five years before she ventured to ask him again for a trip, a vacation or just a chance to travel.
“Oh, okay, we’ll see next year,” was the dismissive reply. A year later, her mother-in-law joined her husband in the other world.
Another fifteen years passed this way. Office work, lack of leave, children’s board examinations, college, marriage and finally babysitting as a grandmother, before the children all settled abroad.
As expected, Mandar wasn’t interested in visiting his children. A traditional, extremely orthodox person, he was not even in favour of them leaving the country. Nor would he allow Samidha to go on her own. He needed her around him, always, to wait on him and attend to his million needs, which included picking up the empty glass of water from his table, doing his laundry and serving him fresh food every time. He didn’t allow her to hire a maid. “I don’t want outsiders doing our work,” he would say. And she, in the true tradition of the obedient wife, would dutifully comply with all his demands.
But Samidha persisted in asking him to take a break. Fed up of her repeated requests, he finally replied, “Yes, after my retirement.”
Samidha’s fiery spirit and travel bug had remained suppressed through three and a half decades of her marriage. But she had not lost them all, as she was soon to discover.
A call from her husband’s office a month before his retirement changed the course of her life, yet again in the direction she had not wanted it to.
“Madam, your husband has collapsed. We have taken him to hospital.”
What turned out to be a case of severe appendicitis went on to give more trouble than she could imagine.
After a complicated surgery and a long period of bed rest, during which time her children assisted through financial means and not by physical presence, it was time for physiotherapy so he could walk again.
Half an hour into Day 1 of the home physiotherapy session, Mandar complained that it was too painful and insulted the therapist so much that he never turned up again.
Mandar chose to remain on bed, getting up only to go to the bathroom. Samidha, once again the duty-bound, obedient wife, waited on him.
Days turned into weeks, months and years as his health progressively deteriorated, less due to age and more due to disuse of the body. Samidha had by then forgotten what the world looked like, beyond the marketplace. Soon, even that was forgotten, thanks to online shopping. She was now like a satellite orbiting Mandar, going nowhere.
The flashback reel abruptly stopped playing as Mandar stirred in his bed, one last time, before his head dropped back into his pillow, his last breath finished.
Samidha continued standing there for a long time, her fingers idly caressing the cold soup bowl in her hands.
The poison in the soup had worked. She was now free.
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