Morning Walks on the Beach

Radhika glanced at the clock ticking away on the kitchen wall as she chopped the potatoes. It was 6:30 am already. Lunch and breakfast would have to be ready in an hour or else Vikrant would leave for office in an irritated mood again. She cursed herself for waking up late. Stifling a yawn, she placed the cooker on the gas stove.

No matter how late she slept, she was always up by 5. She pampered her husband and daughter with delicious meals every day. So what if she couldn’t get the recommended 8 or even 6 hours of sleep? She didn’t care.

Or maybe she did.

It had become a habit over the last fifteen years of her married life. To always go that extra mile to keep everyone happy, to cater to their every little need. A habit she couldn’t break, even on days, she was sick, when all she wanted to do was lay in bed for just one more hour.

She tempered the coconut chutney and poured the batter on the pan. The delicious aroma of Masala Dosa wafted through the kitchen as thirteen-year-old Tia sleepily sat at the dining table and called, ‘Mom, have you ironed my PT uniform?’

‘But today is Wednesday and PT is on Thursdays, why do you want it now?’ she asked, placing a crispy hot dosa on her plate.

‘Chairman Sir is visiting and we have to wear the white uniform, Mom. Why do you always forget? And I’m not having this dosa, can you please make a cheese omelette for me?’

‘Tia, you didn’t tell me about Chairman Sir’s visit and what’s wrong with the dosa? It is 7:30 already, hurry up. I’ll iron your uniform,’ she said, rushing to the bedroom.

‘Radhika, where is my breakfast?’  called Vikrant.

‘Just two minutes,’ she said, handing out the neatly ironed uniform to Tia.

‘Can you please make an effort and get up a little early from tomorrow? It’s not as if you have to go to work or something. You have the whole day to rest, so please help me leave home on time. ‘

‘You think I rest the whole day? And who does all the work? Have you bought a genie?’  She was irritated now.

‘Woman, you are impossible! This is what I get for working my ass off. An irritated wife’s irritated face, every morning. I wish I could stay in office and never come home,’ he stormed out.

Tia left for school in a while and Radhika slumped on the couch, exhausted.

By nine ‘O clock, she completed her morning chores and took a quick shower. Wearing an old T- shirt and pyjamas, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. There were dark circles under her eyes and the T-shirt fit her a little too snugly around the middle. Her hair was all frizzy and badly in need of some tender loving care.

Last month, she had promised herself that she would exercise. A promise she couldn’t keep for even two weeks. She glanced at the framed wedding photograph on the bedside table. The bride in the photo smiled, resplendent in her wedding finery, happiness reflecting in her eyes. Her smooth skin, slender figure, moreover her happy expression was a stark contrast to the way she looked these days as she was nearing 40 – unhappy, tired, unenthusiastic. Irritation was her constant companion. She felt unappreciated, unloved and worthless.

It wasn’t that she had given up her career for her family. She was never the ambitious type.  She always wanted to be a good wife, a mother who was there for her child, whose husband returned home to delicious home-cooked food and a spotless, tidy home. Then why was she feeling this way?  Years of being taken for granted by her husband had probably started taking its toll.

Vikrant wasn’t the ideal husband.  He wasn’t a bad one either. He was just an average husband like thousands of other husbands in this country, surrounded by an air of entitlement for being the breadwinner of the house. To add to it, he was as unromantic as a man could ever be.

It hadn’t bothered her before. Now she wished he showed some gratitude, valued her, told her he was happy to have her in his life. But he was not the one for displaying emotions. That didn’t necessarily make him a bad man. He wasn’t a domestic abuser, never raised his hand, never cheated.  He worked hard to provide them with a comfortable life.

The date on her phone told her it was 20th December, her 40th birthday. And Vikrant had forgotten, again.

This time, even she had forgotten her own birthday.

She felt the apartment closing in on her and felt the need for fresh air.

A walk by the beach seemed enticing. The beach was a few minutes drive from their place. She quickly changed into faded blue jeans and an old top and headed to the beach on her Activa.

Parking the scooter under a coconut tree, she removed her slippers. She walked barefooted into the waves that lapped at her feet. She closed her eyes and tried to relax, to see the positive side of life, to be thankful for what she had. There were worse troubles in the world. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong in her life. Still, she wasn’t happy.

She walked on the sands in the cool December breeze and sat down after a while. She placed her head on her knees, unable to unwind. She hated herself for feeling this way. She knew she should be happy to have a cosy home, a lovely daughter and a husband who ensured financial stability. But for some reason, she wasn’t.

‘Are you okay?’ asked a male voice.

She turned, startled.  No one had asked her that in years.

‘Ravi! What are you doing here?’

‘Radhika!  I can’t believe I just ran into you,’ said the handsome man and a radiant smile lit up his soft brown eyes.

Ravi was her classmate from college. She hadn’t seen him in years. She had heard from friends that he was settled in the USA.

Once the heartthrob of all the girls in college, he had now lost weight and looked kind of pale. But then, he wasn’t a twenty-year-old anymore

‘So what brings you to Mumbai?’ she asked.

‘Let’s say my roots pulled me back,’ he said evasively.

She spent the next few minutes filling him in on the details of her life, her husband and daughter. He listened with interest.

‘So what about you, which lucky girl’s heart did you steal, whom did you marry?’ she asked.

‘I’m still single, no one is willing to marry me, you see?’ He chuckled.

‘Oh come on! The most handsome, dashing dude of our college can’t find a girl to marry, whom are you kidding?’

‘Leave it Radhika, wanna have coffee? There is decent cafe down the road,’ the topic seemed to make him uncomfortable.

‘Sure. I ‘d love to.’

They took the seat near the window facing the sea and ordered two cappuccinos and grilled chicken sandwiches.

‘So what were you doing all alone on the beach?’ His kind voice seemed to hold genuine concern and she felt herself warming up to him. For some unfathomable reason, she opened up and let her emotions flow, narrating in detail even the minute things, real or imaginary that weighed her down. Being an introvert, she had no close friends with whom she could share her worries.  Today, this man from her past who wasn’t even a friend, showed a little warmth and she opened up her heart, like never before.

‘Sorry, I must have bored you to death,’ she said when she realised that she had been talking for the last twenty minutes.

‘No. No. Not at all. You must do this often. Don’t ever bottle up your feelings; it is not good.’

‘Thanks, Ravi. I feel much better now. ‘

‘The pleasure is mine, M’am ,’ he bowed dramatically and she smiled.

‘How about a walk on the beach every morning? You can use my pep talk and I don’t mind having pleasant company for a change.’

‘Oh, my mornings are kind of busy, you see?  There is so much to do,’ she hesitated. She had old fashioned morals when it came to accepting male friendships. Her orthodox upbringing had ensured that. The thought of spending time alone with another man made her a little uncomfortable.

But the prospect was exciting. Just two hours with him had brought out the smile that was lost behind clouds of despair from ages.

‘I need to leave, Tia will be home soon,’ she said, getting up.

‘Won’t you cut your cake, birthday girl?’ he smiled as the waiter brought a small chocolate cake with a single candle.

‘You remember my birthday? How?  I haven’t even updated it on my Facebook profile,’ she was surprised.

‘I never forgot it in the first place,’ he smiled back and a dimple formed on his left cheek.

Her voice turned husky with emotion. ‘Thank you,’ was all she could say.

They exchanged phone numbers before leaving.

‘Call me if you change your mind about the morning walk,’ he said as she started her scooter.

‘Sure,’ she said and sped away.

The next morning was a little better. Only a little.

Toiling in the kitchen, keeping things ready for Vikrant and Tia, seeing to it that they had a hearty breakfast, packing nutritious and tasty lunch for them, then seeing them leave without a ‘Thank you’ or even a grateful smile. This was how most of her mornings were. But today, she didn’t mind it so much. Her mind was elsewhere.

She fished out her phone from her handbag. There was a Whatsapp message from Ravi.

‘Changed your mind?’ it read.

‘Yes,’ she replied impulsively, feeling like an excited teenager.

An hour later, she met him at the beach. She had put a little more effort in dressing up. The previous day’s drab clothes were replaced by well fitted, slim jeans and a white Nike T-shirt. She had tamed her hair with serum and brushed it a little longer than usual. Few curly locks escaped from the grip of her hair tie and touched her flushed face.  

‘Wow, someone is glowing today,’ he teased.

They walked for an hour, talking, teasing each other. She had never felt this energetic in years.

Time just flew when she was with him. She felt young again.

They met on every weekday after that. She hated weekends for keeping her away from him.

Three months passed in a wink. Her daily walks and self- care started showing results. She looked fitter. She looked happy, positive.  Even at home.

Everything was still the same. Vikrant was his same old self. Tia was the same rebellious teen. Everything was just the way it was. It was Radhika who changed. Changed her way of looking at things, her way of responding to situations, handling disappointments. The atmosphere at home was so much brighter than it was before she met Ravi.

The only minus was the nagging guilt she felt for meeting him without Vikrant’s knowledge. She had meant to tell him initially, when there was nothing but friendship between them. But something within had stopped her. She knew he wouldn’t approve. Now, the friendship had turned into something more. She couldn’t name what it was. Crush? No that was a term used for girls of Tia’s age, not for forty-year-old women.  Love? The word itself scared her, bathed her in more guilt. Her morals were back to nag her, telling her this was wrong. She was sure whatever it was, it had no future. Her life was with Vikrant. She would never walk out on him. He didn’t deserve that. Yes, he was not a dream husband, but was good at heart and she would never do it to him.

Radhika and Ravi had never crossed the boundaries. Holding hands was the only physical contact they had. And that too had made her feel like she was an unfaithful, cheating wife. She wanted to end whatever they had before it consumed her. Right now, what they shared was beautiful. Using one word to name it would be undermining its purity, its beauty.

They continued their morning walks for another few months. She prepared extra food every morning and packed it for him. This man was in need of a loving wife. She could never be that, but at least she could pamper his tastebuds with her culinary delights.

He polished off everything in minutes, licking his fingers with childlike glee and Radhika’s heart did a somersault at the sight. He was all praises for her fantastic cooking skills. By contrast, Vikrant had never said a good word. Not even once.

‘Why don’t you make something out of this?. You cook like magic,’ he suggested.

‘A small eatery down this road, maybe. People would flock there, you know? Give it a serious thought,’ he said.

Why had she never thought of it before?

‘Hmm okay, I‘ll think about it,’ she said. In her mind she already started planning to make this a reality.

A month later…..

It was Sunday. Radhika was cleaning the kitchen after lunch. Vikrant was taking a nap and Tia was out with friends when her phone rang.

‘Radhika, I need to meet you now, can you please come to the café?’

‘Now? What happened? Can’t it wait till tomorrow?’

‘I am flying back to New York tonight, I’ll explain everything, please come,’ he said before disconnecting.

Confused, she quickly grabbed her keys and left.  Intuition told her what was coming wasn’t good.

Ravi was waiting at their usual table. Cool breeze blew the sheer curtains and and it looked as if it was going to rain. Ravi looked a little unwell and she was concerned.

‘Tell me Ravi, what happened?’

He looked away. She thought she saw tears in his eyes.

She placed a comforting hand on his.

‘Radhika, I am so sorry, I should have told you before.  I was here for just a few months. I wanted to be in India. Frankly, I hoped to meet you again, before it was too late.’

‘What are you saying? I don’t understand,’ she was getting worried now.

‘I have leukaemia. Time is running out of my hands’

The world seemed to crash around her.

‘What?’ she said feebly, unable to withstand the blow.

‘I had feelings for you when we were in college. Before I could confess my love, you announced your engagement. I could never get you out of my mind. ‘I love you Radhika, I always have,’ he said . She felt a stab at her heart.

‘I couldn’t thank heavens enough when I met you at the beach. I knew my days were numbered and wanted to be with you during these last days of my life. I knew it was wrong, you are married and all. But believe me, I couldn’t stop myself.

Thank you, Radhika, for all these beautiful moments.  My next round of chemotherapy starts next week. I know it is of no use, I would prefer to go in peace. But Priya, my sister, won’t hear a word. I was supposed to leave a month back but had no heart to leave you. ‘

He looked so sad that tears streamed down Radhika’s face.

‘Oh Ravi, how can I make you feel better?’ she said helplessly.

‘Marry, me?’ he said

‘What?’

‘Just kidding. I told you, no one wants to marry me. Who will want to marry a cancer patient? As long as I live, I will remember this beautiful relationship we had. And promise me one thing; you are not going to change into that grumpy Radhika again. You will be this bubbly, smiling Radhika that I see on the beach every day. Even at home, no matter what.

Vikrant may not be what you want him to be. But he is a good man from what you have told me. Remember, Radhika, only you are responsible for your happiness, no one else. Not your husband, not your kids. And keep walking. Health is more important than anything else. Who can tell you this better than me?’

‘Promise me that one day, you will open that restaurant of yours,’ he said as they parted. She embraced him and cried. She wanted to tell him that she loved him too, but the moral police of her mind was patrolling again. Loving him with her heart was one thing, but to say it in words would make it more real and somehow make her infidelity more sinful.

‘Bye Radhika,’ he said as he walked away.  

Six months later….

A message from Priya said that Ravi passed away last evening.

Radhika‘s heart wept. She said a silent prayer for him, recalled the blissful time they spent together.

She was to inaugurate her restaurant the next day. She hadn’t finalised a name yet. She wanted to name it after him. But a name like ‘Ravi’s’ would definitely raise eyebrows.

Extramarital affairs usually loomed like dark clouds, threatening to destroy homes and marriages. But this was different. Their days together had made her a positive person, had transformed the way she looked at life and the people in it. She had to admit, her relationship with Vikrant had started improving. He had started noticing the changes in her and miraculously, he was changing too.

As she sat on the wooden steps of the restaurant after overseeing that everything was ready, she spotted a lone cloud in the evening sky.  A bright silver lining caught her eye with its significance. Ravi had come like a silver lining when all she had in life were grey clouds of despair. Yes, that would be the name of her restaurant, ‘Silver Linings.’

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Shailaja Pai

Shailaja Pai is a stay-at-home mom with a newfound passion for writing. She loves writing fiction on women's issues and social issues. She has authored a few blogs on other platforms and won many of their 100-word story contests.
Shailaja Pai

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