The Absconding Wives 

The Absconding Wives 

‘Here’s your money, ma’am…please ensure to count before leaving the counter,’ suggested the executive at the Teller. 

‘Yeah, it’s fine… I’ll see you next week, and they both exchanged a smile before the executive pressed the numeric pager.  

Next in line was a woman who perhaps visited the bank for the first time, 

‘How can I help you?’ the executive smiled again, and her client forwarded a passbook with her identity proof. 

‘Kamli Chauhan,’ the executive confirmed. 

‘Yes, madam,’ it’s me. I want to submit this paper to deposit money in my account,’ the woman spoke in barely a whisper.  

‘Oh, you should go to the counter no. 18,’ the executive directed Kamli to the third counter towards the right.

Meera worked for a government bank for over twelve years and had handled almost every desk, be it the front end or the back end. 

Those days she was placed at the Teller’s desk.  Her job was secured, and it was her biggest asset to show off when her parents were looking for a suitable match for her to ‘settle down’.  They didn’t allow her to take further leaps in her career because it would then be difficult for them to find a husband for her.  

Alas! They lived in a patriarchal society where a woman’s accomplishment was measured through her man and her efficiency to manage him and his family.  She was born to a middle-class family in Delhi, where the only achievement of parents was to get their own house in the city and getting their daughters married before their retirement. Meera’s parents had accomplished both the tasks and were now struggling to live in their own house with their son and daughter-in-law. 

Well, Meera’s life was apparently perfect.  She was a mother of two beautiful daughters, and her husband was the Regional Head – Sales and Marketing in one of the reputed private banks in the city.  There was nothing more a woman of her strata could ask for. She lived her life in a set routine; household-work-household. She had the support of two maids, and weekends were a sure shot outing with her husband Vikram and the girls.  

While the queue was shrunk to only two clients by now, Meera glanced at her watch.  It was fifteen minutes to six.  She wrapped up with one of the clients and asked her colleague at the adjacent desk to help the other one. Then, in a jiffy, she packed her stuff and rushed to the metro station.  While waiting for the metro, she contemplated jumping off the platform in front of the moving train.   She has been wanting to execute her plan for a while but then repented her cowardice. 

At last, she boarded the metro and deboarded at the Model Town station.  She rushed towards the exit and stormed down the staircase while the escalators and elevators were crowded. As soon as she stepped out of gate no. 2, she spotted Vikram’s red Scorpio.  She sighed, moved towards the car, quietly opened the gate, and seated her confused self in the front seat beside Vikram. 

‘Oh, nice lipstick,’ Vikram leched at her fervent pink lips, and she shivered.  She immediately took out the wet tissue from her handbag and wiped it off.

***

The following day, Meera was at her desk sharp at 10 am.  She pressed the numeric pager, and the first consumer was Kamli, 

‘Madam, they didn’t deposit the identity proof and said that it needs to be attested.  I have the original one too.  You may check please.  I have been coming here for two days, today I must get it done, or….’ Kamli’s voice cracked as she pleaded with folded hands.

Meera sighed, stood up from her seat and went to her colleague at counter no. 18. She shuffled herself a few times at various counters and came back with the passbook in her hand.  

‘Here you go.  Your account is verified and now you may transact at your will,’ Meera declared. 

Kamli quietly took out a cash roll that she had hid in her cleavage and handed it over to Meera, 

‘Can you deposit this for me…in my account?’ Kamli requested. 

Meera not only deposited the cheque in her account but also got her passbook updated.  Kamli was speechless on Meera’s generosity in a bank where everyone else looked down and disregarded her presence, forget treating her as one of the customers of the bank. 

Kamli rolled the passbook, hid it in her cleavage again, covered her chest with her saree, and walked out while Meera smiled at her. 

***

Kamli walked for around fifteen minutes in the scorching heat of May and reached a flashy house on the third floor in east Kidwai Nagar.   She placed her finger on the doorbell prominently placed near the nameplate in gold that said, “Mehra’s”. Within a few seconds of ding-dong, Mrs Mehra appeared in messy nightwear at the door. She looked at Kamli with questionable eyes, and before she could say anything, Kamli explained, 

‘I had to go the bank…for verification, then only the money could be deposited.  See didi, I got my savings deposited in the bank,’ Kamli extended her passbook to the woman.  

‘Hmm…’ Mrs Mehra took the passbook from her and hid it in a cotton bag along with some other documents between her stack of sarees. 

While Kamli started to pick up the pieces of broken glass and empty beer bottles from the living room, Mrs Mehra headed towards the bathroom for a shower. 

Kamli was efficient, and she had taken over most of the household responsibilities of Mrs Kajal Mehra, the lady of the expensive house.  A well-maintained home that was neighbours’ envy and owner’s pride.   After all, they were the “Mehra’s” owner of Vartika Estates, the leading real estate builders in the country. 

Kajal was born and brought up in a business class family. Precisely, the upper-middle-class where parents have specific requisites to fulfil the objective of their life.  They not only want their daughters married but they must be married to a rich man so that they don’t have to step out of the house or work ever in life. So, they spend a lot of money on their daughters’ upkeep and ensure that they remain in good shape and stand out for their beauty in any social gatherings. Kajal was beautiful, and her charm matured like a fine wine during a decade of wedlock with her husband, Rajan Mehra.  

Kajal came out of the shower in a satin bathrobe and was blow-drying her hair when she looked at herself in the mirror.  She concealed her flaws behind make-up and went on with the day instructing Kamli and other servants who were at her disposal. 

It was 6 pm; Kajal stood in the balcony with a view of the ring road.  Life in Delhi was fast-paced, but hers stood still.  She had been contemplating jumping off the grill every day but couldn’t muster the courage.  She was lost in her thoughts when Kamli broke the silence, 

‘Didi, I am leaving for the day.’ 

‘Hmm.’ Kajal nodded. 

Kamli left Mehra’s house and geared up for the second inning with the same household chores at her home.  It was half an hour walk to her home, and this half an hour, she only thought about getting rid of her life.  She used to walk past a railway line every day to reach her house in the slums and contemplated jumping in front of the moving freight train almost every day. 

She was still a coward. She belonged to a family where girls didn’t survive. If they did, their parents got them married at the age of 15 to any Tom, Dick, or Harry to get rid of them.  Education was a dream for girls in her community, and they were meant to serve their husbands, both physically and financially. 

*** 

A week later, Meera saw both Kamli and Kajal in the queue.  They were together since Kajal introduced Kamli to the bank to open an account.  Meera pressed the numeric pager, and both Kajal and Kamli showed up on the counter. 

Three women exchanged smiles; for the first time, they looked into each other’s eyes and found something common. There was a peculiar connection that wired three of them.  Though the three women never spoke anything beyond professional, at that moment, something made them feel for each other. 

‘How can I help you today?’ Meera broke the silence. 

‘Umm she has to deposit some money and I have to withdraw my weekly ten thousand,’ Kajal confirmed what Meera already knew.  As Kajal handed over the cash, Meera noticed a bruise on Kajal’s arm.  It appeared fresh.  

A few clicks-clacks on the computer, and Meera was smiling behind the glass partition when Kajal noticed Meera’s black eye. 

‘Here it is,’ she handed over the cash to Kajal, 

‘It’s correct,’ Kajal confirmed before Meera could say anything.   

Kajal turned around, and Kamli followed her.  Numerous scars peeped out from the depth of the round neck blouse on Kamli’s back. 

Kajal was limping today while Meera’s eyes followed her and Kamli until they exited the bank. Finally, Meera sighed and sailed through the day before meeting Vikram at the Model Town Metro Station exit. 

Meera spent the evening explaining to Vikram why she couldn’t take his call during lunch hour and how she forgot to share her location on WhatsApp with Vikram before boarding the metro. Vikram was mad at her today.  Meera never knew whether it was Vikram’s love for her or she overthought it.  Maybe he was more possessive for her, or it was because he lost his mother while he was a child.  

Whatever it was but his possessiveness became strangulating for Meera over the years.  She was holding on to her children and barely breathing for her life.  Vikram even hated the breeze that caressed Meera’s skin.  She loved him, but Vikram’s love for Meera was getting scarier with each passing day.  Every time she tried to speak to her parents about her ordeal, they snubbed her off, 

‘He doesn’t even smoke while living in a metro. Not many women are lucky to have a husband like yours. Don’t ruin your life. No marriage is perfect.’ 

Vikram wasn’t a perfect man for Meera, but their marriage was perfect for the world. 

Meera had a long tiring day, but she couldn’t sleep.  She was constantly thinking about Kamli and Kajal. 

***

Kajal reached home from the bank that morning and hid the money in her cupboard.  Rajan came early that evening.  He was drunk, 

‘What’s this? Why do have to dress up like a maid? Go and change into something sexier.  My friends are coming over for a party.  Dress up like Rajan Mehra’s wife.’ 

Kajal didn’t want to be the eye candy for Rajan’s drunkard gang today, but she didn’t have a choice.  Her parents considered her mad when she said that she hated wearing those designer evening gowns, 

‘Most women dream about the designer dresses and jewellery that Rajan gets you to wear. Are you mad? You are a rich man’s wife, and your only job is to keep your husband happy, you will find happiness when you’ll see your husband happy.’ 

Kajal sighed and sailed through the evening amid leching eyes and lewd comments.  She had stopped to oppose, for she was alone, and the world was with Rajan. 

The party wrapped up, and looking at the mess in the living room, she thought about Kamli.  She couldn’t sleep and waited desperately for Kamli until morning. 

***

Kamli reached home in the evening only to see her husband, Raju, waiting for her. Seeing him, she tried to hide the packets of milk.   She knew that he’d get upset if he knew Kamli spent any money without his consent.   According to him, women who are married, only needed husbands and not cash.  He hated the idea of financial independence for women but wanted his wife to work, earn, and contribute financially to his life.  Eventually, he saw the packets of milk, and the rest was history.   She knew there was no point sharing her ordeal with her parents, so she never did.

***

A month had passed, and the three women met again at the bank. 

Each one of them noticed each other’s bruises and lived a common pain but never discussed it. While Kajal was there to withdraw her usual ten thousand rupees, Kamli wanted to deposit her usual three thousand rupees. 

Meera was waiting to see both for a while.  With the cash, Meera handed over a handwritten note to Kajal and smiled.  Before she could say anything, Kajal said, 

‘I know.’ 

Meera took the cash from Kamli and kept it aside in the drawer. A week later, Kajal came alone to withdraw money from the bank.  Meera was waiting for her; she pulled out an envelope from her drawer and handed it over to her with the cash, she didn’t say anything, but Kajal smiled.

***

The next day, Meera shared her location with Vikram from the Metro Station and threw her phone in front of the moving metro. Then, she boarded the metro, but instead of Model Town, she deboarded at the New Delhi Station.  

Rajan called Kajal and asked her to get ready for a party in the evening.  Kajal stood against her open wardrobe and dived in to take out her casual Kurti and leggings.  She paired it up with traditional juttis and took out the cotton bag hid between the stack of her designer sarees.  

She called for Kamli, and the two women stepped out of the house.  They took a bus from the ring road, and within an hour, they met Meera at the New Delhi Station.  The three women caressed each other’s bruises with tears in their eyes and expressed, 

‘Let’s run away.’ 

They boarded the train.  Soon after they were seated, Meera handed over the envelope to Kamli that contained the money she withdrew from her savings account.  Kamli felt the weight of the money in her hands for the first time.  Kajal was unrecognizable without make-up, but she looked happier with genuine smile. Meera unzipped her bag and took out the red lipstick. She applied the colour and pouted.  

The three women didn’t know each other, but they lived a common agony. They didn’t know what the future held for the three of them but decided to say ‘No’ to domestic abuse and ran away forever.  The three wives absconded, and they lived happily ever after!
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Vandana Saxena
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