It was past midnight when Shiva entered the bar located inside the Marriotts.The dim lights of the bar soothed his frayed nerves. It was almost empty except for two lost souls sitting on diagonally opposite corners of the bar, their backs turned to face the blank wall .He went straight to his favourite corner and plonked himself resignedly into the luxurious armchair. He signalled to the waiter who ambled across to him in a state of extreme stupor. Shiva was in no mood to be patient and nice to anyone and lashed out to the poor waiter. The poor waiter didn’t know what hit him as he knew this regular patron had never behaved in such a manner earlier. He hurried to get the order. The order too was different this time. Not the regular gin and tonic but two straight shots. Shiva took one swig of it and ordered another one. This time it came to him in a flash. He drowned the second one too . He was still seething, still hurting. How can Seema do this to him! How can she say all these things! Of all things accusing him of infidelity! After the third round of shots he settled down a bit.
His mind went over to the events that happened in the morning. As was his routine, he got up by six, went for his walk and returned by seven. Seema had not yet awoken. He didn’t know why but today he decided to surprise her. Usually he would freshen up, make his own breakfast and leave for his workplace. Things were not going on well between the two of them since the past few months. He would leave without even seeing her and would return late from work knowing she would be fast asleep.He made a nice cup of coffee and entered the bedroom. It was empty. It was strange. Seema had never been a morning person. Where was she? He dialled her number. He heard the faint ringing sound of her mobile, a mourning sound. He traced it to her cupboard. He opened it and her mobile was right there on top of her pile of clothes. Why did she leave it here? He looked at the cupboard again. It was a mess. Seema was always so neat and organised in her ways.
He heard the jingle of keys and the soft shut of the door. He picked up the cup of coffee and made his way downstairs. Seema seemed startled to see him. She stared at him for a moment then turned her gaze away. He kept staring at her. Did she lose weight or did she look fitter? She had cut her waist length hair into a smart bob. It suited her. Her large doe eyes somehow looked larger on her petite face. Was this really Seema, his wife of five years? When was the last time he looked at his wife so intently? He noticed her face turning a shade darker under his gaze and realised to his embarrassment that he still had the cup of coffee in his hand and he was standing there immobile gaping at her. He quickly recovered and asked her gently, “Where did you go so early in the morning?” She was silent for a moment and with a smirk replied, “Why, were you missing me, my dear husband?”
Shiva didn’t know what to say. Then hesitatingly he told, “Please sit down. We need to talk.” For a moment it looked like Seema was going to walk away but she took her seat, sitting at the edge of the chair, holding it tightly, her knuckles turning white.There was silence for quite some time. All of a sudden Seema got up from her chair with a force that knocked it down and rushed towards him, her eyes blazing. She caught hold of his collar and hissed, “ You traitor, you cheat! You think you are smart, I will not know anything about your clandestine affair with Sonia!” Shiva was shocked out of his wits. Before he could fathom what was going on she continued, “Why did you transfer one lakh to her account? Don’t even try lying to me. I updated the passbook and have the proof. What a fool I have been! All these years you were trying to pull the wool over my eyes. You are still in love with her, your childhood sweetheart. You just wanted to get back at her for choosing Sandy over you. I was just a pawn in your game.”
Seema burst into tears and rushed out of the room. He heard the bedroom door shut with a bang and knew there was no use having any conversation with her now. She was not in a state to listen to his explanation or reasoning. What could he say to her ? What she said was partly true! He was still in love with Sonia. She was his first love. He reminisced about his past. They were together from kindergarten to college. But then one day out of the blue Sandy, the flamboyant, attractive rich casanova came along in the final year. He swept Seema off her feet with his expensive gifts and over the top flattery. She began to spend all her time with Sandy. Shiva felt sidelined. It was around that time that Seema took admission in the college. She was a shy, simple girl. Shiva made his move and befriended her. It made no difference to Sonia. All his efforts to spite Sonia and make her jealous was in vain. She was head over heels in love with Sandy and had eyes only for him.
Shiva , Sonia and Sandy graduated from the college. Seema still had two more years left. Sonia left for the U.S. to do her post graduation. It was Sandy and his parents who sponsored her entire education. She was a brilliant and a deserving student with a bright future ahead of her. Sandy too took admission in the same University. Shiva took up a job as he had to support his family. He belonged to a middle class family. Shiva worked relentlessly to climb the ladder of success. Along with his job he also joined distance education to complete his post graduation. He went on to do his doctorate and secured a high position in a multinational firm. It was Seema who stood like a pillar of strength, supporting and encouraging him in all his endeavours. But he could never forget Sonia. Returning home from work one day, waiting for the green signal, an urchin with a bundle of magazines knocked at his window. He caught the sight of the latest international business tabloid. Sonia and Sandy graced the front cover with the headlines ‘Youngest Successful Entrepreneurs Get Hitched.’
The next day itself he landed up at Seema’s house and proposed to her. Seema who had loved Shiva from the time she had set her eyes on him was over the moon and accepted it readily. Their marriage was solemnised within a week. Shiva was a dutiful husband, catering to all of his wife’s needs and tried his best to keep her happy. But within a year it was apparent to Seema that they were as different as chalk and cheese. She realised that she loved her husband deeply but he still pined for Sonia and often in his sleep would call out her name. Minor bickerings and disagreements soon snowballed into major fights and the gap between them just widened with each passing day. Shiva too gradually realised it was a huge folly on his part to get into this alliance in haste and repented his action. He did try to sort out of their differences but it was too late. He immersed himself in his work and soon they were two strangers living under one roof.
Then one day out of the blue he received a call from an unknown number. He picked it up and for some time all he could hear was a sobbing sound. He was going to disconnect when he heard a feeble voice, “Shiva, is that you? I am Sonia speaking from California.” He was stunned for a second. Then recovering he said, “ Yes I am Shiva speaking. How are you Sonia? You sound very disturbed. Is everything okay?” There was a long silence. “ No Shiva, nothing is fine. Please help me Shiva. I need you to transfer one lakh to my account immediately. I will give you my details. Please Shiva, don’t refuse me. You are the only person who can help me. Please Shiva, I beg of you. I will explain everything to you in detail when I reach India. Please Shiva, please help me.” The call got disconnected. He looked at his phone. Sonia had sent her bank details. Without any hesitation he transferred the amount to her account. How could he not help her! She sounded distressed. She was his childhood friend, his first love.
Shiva waited for Sonia’s call. There was none. He called her up on the same number. It was switched off. He was anxious and angry at the same time. What happened to Sonia? Why didn’t she call him? What if she was in some danger? Oh! What a fool he was to get conned by her cry of pity. She had at once withdrawn the money. He was tempted to confide everything to Seema but would she believe him? All communication between them was kept to a bare minimum. Shiva became restless with thoughts of Sonia. More than three months passed with no connection or correspondence from her. Some days he cursed her and on some he was sick with worry thinking about her. He began to spend more time in his office and instead of coming home he would seek refuge in this bar. He wanted to wipe out all traces of Sonia from his memory. But he had never cheated on Seema. She was wrong in her accusation.
Shiva ordered for another round of shots. He wanted to drown in his sorrows. He suddenly heard a familiar voice coming from the opposite corner of the bar. He strained to catch the voice. Yes, it was Sonia’s voice. He struggled to stand up but collapsed back into the chair. He could clearly hear the crescendo of her voice increasing. “ Get me another drink. I want it now. Who are you to stop me?” He heard the feeble voice of the Manager trying to placate her. “Please Madam, please sit down. We are closing the bar now. We can’t offer you another one. Please Madam allow us to help you to your car or our hotel car will drop you home.” Her ranting and raving continued. It was booming into his ears. He signalled for some water. He wanted to speak to her. He made another attempt to get up from his chair and steadied himself. He began to walk slowly towards her. He was still feeling fuzzy in his head. He had a closer look at the woman who sounded like Sonia.
He stopped in his tracks. What happened to the slim, svelte, beautiful girl with curly mop of hair and bright brown eyes with rosy cheeks. The person who was just a few distance away from him was looking old and haggard with grey hair, dull looking skin, sunken eyes and much much heavier. She looked up as he inched closer and he noticed the color going off her face. She looked around searching for a place to hide. He whispered, “ Sonia, is that you?” All of a sudden the second lone person sitting in one corner got up. Shiva stood transfixed. It was Sandy. Sandy looked up at the same time and his glance fell on Shiva. Like a bull he came charging towards Shiva, eyes blazing. “ You creep, you bastard. You never left us alone. Standing like a thorn between us throughout our married life. You ruined us. She could never forget you.” Before Shiva could fathom what was happening he found himself in a heap on the floor gasping for breath. With dazed eyes he could see Sonia walking towards him, lowering herself on the floor beside him. “ Shiva, Shiva are you okay?”
He struggled to get up and finally found himself on his two feet. Sonia was by his side and he hugged her tightly crying “Where were you my love? Where did you disappear after the last call? I was sick with worry about you. What have you done to yourself? She was crying too and hugged him closer.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Shiva felt Sonia going limp in his arms and collapse on the floor. He felt a piercing, shooting pain on his back and fell flat on his face, close to Sonia. Her eyes were open, blank and expressionless. He looked up one final time before going blank. He saw two hefty men and the Manager struggling with Sandy, trying to grasp the revolver from his hand. He was flailing his arms, cursing, screaming, crying, trying to break free from their firm grip all the time shouting, “ Now you both can be together forever. Hope both of you be damned in hell. Die you scoundrels. Die you rogues,villains.”
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