Ria waited for Vikrant to go for his bath before moving from her place. As usual, he had come from the office little before dinner and headed straight to the bathroom. This was his daily routine.
Initially she had thought nothing of it as he did look tired by the day end. So to freshen up was the most logical thing to do, before sitting down for an appetising meal and then chilling together rest of the evening, which by the way, was her most favourite part of the day. She loved relaxing with Vikrant on their couch, sipping after dinner liqueur or just lazing around listening to ghazals and old Bollywood songs. She looked forward to them unwinding together; taking about their day, and laughing on common jokes or remembering some past memory. They always had dinner early. This was one rule Ria meticulously followed. Of course, most often than not, he ended up coming just in time to have dinner, early being an euphemism for not-later-than-8.30. But then, those days, she was an indulgent and loving wife, and blamed his position as a VP in the company for his more than fair amount of work.
Now things were completely different. She had neatly divided her married life in two eras-BD and AD- Before Damini and After Damini. Of course, she had no way of knowing the exact beginning of the AD era —it had begun for her when she had discovered Damini’s lacy handkerchief in Vikrant’s coat pocket.
Which is to say, roughly two months back. That is, a year after their marriage.
They had met at her school friend’s party. He was plus one with some class mate. Later on, he had told her that Aarti was his cousin and had come with her only when she had promised that there would be free booze and good food. Finding himself surrounded by attractive girls was an added bonus. After Aarti had introduced them, they had hit it off instantly. She was blown by his rakish charm; his twinkling eyes which dared you to do the unthinkable. He was tall and well-built to boot.
She had been flattered when he had chosen her over so many other glamorous girls at that party. Not that she was not good looking, but she had her head firmly screwed on her shoulders; and was aware that though she was pretty in the conventional sense of the term, but then so were others. But she knew she stood apart from others, in her sparkling wit and quick repartees. Maybe that is what attracted Vikrant to her. Whatever!! She was happy that the evening had passed in a happy daze and they had parted with a promise to keep in touch.
He had called her up a few days later and they had met on that weekend for dinner. She realised that they both enjoyed being with each other and the conversation flowed smoothly like treacle on a sponge cake! In short, she was swept away on her feet and happily went with the flow!
Things had progressed smoothly after that. Evenings together, long drives on weekends, flowers and chocolates. What more could a girl ask for? Well, she should have…..asked for more that is! She should have removed those blinkers from her eyes, should have followed the small wriggling doubt raised by her instincts about what did a guy like him—dashing, falmboyant— see in nerdy her? Her sixth sense, usually spot on, should have questioned the pace at which things progressed!
Today, looking back, she remembered an incident with Vikrant which had left disquieted and uneasy. By then, they were a twosome and very much had a future together— at least in her mind.
How she wished now that she had not kept ignored her misgivings.
A year and a half back…
They were out walking on Marine Drive (a sea side promenade in South Mumbai) when ….
“Hiiiiii …..VIKRANT ! How are you? It’s been a while…. Where have you been? You never called. Ok, so you are still with Ni……” exclaimed a girl stopping abruptly after seeing her. She had appeared out of nowhere.
Vikrant taken aback, had cut her short.
“Oh, Hi ……Sandy! How ‘s you? Long-time…..” he answered.
“Ria, this is Sandy! My colleague from my previous office…! Sandy, …. Ria!” He introduced them.
She was lissom, tall and very attractive. She had an air of confidence around her and she was looking at Ria askance.
“Common, Vikrant…Not just a colleague, more than that, surely? won’t you agree?”, Sandhya had retorted.
“Hi Ria! Nice to meet you. Have you known Vikrant for long?” she continued.
Before Ria could answer, Vikrant spoke. “Oh yes, we have been friends for a long time.”
That was so blatantly untrue, but she had let it pass. Sandhya, once again looked her up and down and smiled to herself.
“Vikrant, you are something else! Another one? Sandhya shook her head.
Ok, I will let it be……I sincerely hope you have changed ……” Sandhya had grinned. She turned to address Ria but Vikrant seizing his chance, had pulled Ria away and hurried them off with a hasty goodbye.
Ria had turned back to see Sandhya still standing there and looking at her with somewhat of a pity in her eyes.
She had, of course questioned Vikrant, but he had brushed it by giving some vague excuse of Sandhya being an air head and an in-house office joke.
They had married with their families’ approval. Either parent had nothing to disapprove; both belonged to the same caste, were educated, presentable, and held good jobs. Both came from same family background…. upper middle class; so even that issue was taken care of.
Ria had considered herself the luckiest girl in the world at that time. She had seen the envious look in her friends’ eyes when they met Vikrant at the small engagement party that her parents had insisted to throw to announce the betrothal. Her extended family couldn’t stop praising Vikrant for his achievements and his looks. He was the star of the family and considered a prize catch. Ria had glowed with all the compliments coming their way. She was immodest enough to know that they made a striking pair, what with her lively, attractive face and his dashing demeanour.
Ria had made peace with herself about the Marine Drive incident; an incident which had rattled her open honest self to no end. But then she had reasoned, Vikrant WAS an attractive man and he was courteous too, that kind of was misconstrued by most wasn’t it?…….especially by young women looking for boyfriends? ….and except for that one tiny bit of unsettling moment, he had never given her any other reason to doubt him.
For the last two months, since her discovery of that lacy bit of cloth in Vikrant’s pocket and a restaurant bill—lunch for two, Ria had become a pro in hiding her actions and feelings. Vikrant always carried home cooked food. They both did. After a long search, she had finally found a cook ready to come at 7.30 in the morning, to make their ‘dabbas’ …. a ubiquitous word for the elaborate lunch that they both carried. Meticulous planning and menu sharing with her cook on ‘what’s app’ had achieved the impossible; a treat awaited them every day at work. Infect, it was a sore point with her colleagues and a constant threat, mercifully in a lighter vein, to whisk off their cook with double pay.
So why was Vikrant eating in a restaurant in the middle of a busy working day? With whom? And more important, what did he do with the lunch that he had carried from home?
One day, she was shocked to see an invoice from a leading store on women apparel. He had bought an expensive bottle of perfume. Okay! So where was it? She had yet to see it….so whom was it for?? Was he having an affair? Was there someone else in his life? No, not her Vikrant!
These questions had plagued her no end, till she had discovered the handkerchief. God must have taken a pity on her and on her state of mind, because the lace handkerchief had a name embroidered in one corner- Damini! Now at least her tormentor had a name.
Now as per her daily habit, Ria picked up Vikrant’s coat to frisk it for today’s activity. The coat did not disappoint. In the pocket of the inner lining, she felt something. Whisking it out, she was shocked to see a doctor’s prescription. It was on the letter head of a gynaecological lady doctor. She had prescribed some iron and vitamin tablets to some Damini Vishwanathan, for her first trimester. Vikrant must have bought the meds and put the prescription back in his pocket.
Stunned, she stumbled towards the bed, feeling suddenly dizzy. She flopped on the bed dazed and hurt. Her eyes welled up with unbidden tears and rolled down her cheeks. She lifted her hand to wipe them off, unthinkingly, as if on remote.
She could hear the shower still running in the bathroom. Vikrant, oblivious of what was happening in the bedroom was bathing off his sins…that is , if he considered them as sins. She could hear him humming a popular Bollywood song. He was in a happy mood.
Of course, he was, she thought distractedly. Who wouldn’t? Knowing he was going to be father?
The bathroom became quiet. The shower had been turned off. Ria shook herself of her stupor and stuffed the prescription back in the coat. Where had she found it? The inner pocket? or the other one? She had no time to think, just hoped she had put it back in the right place.
She stood up, wiped her face, and struggled for equanimity. She turned to face Vikrant with a deadpan expression. He was dressed in casuals and ready for dinner. He looked particularly happy today. He suggested having a drink before dinner. That was unusual; they only relaxed over drinks on the weekends or while having friends over.
“Why? How come? I thought we only drank on weekends? “Ria struggled with the words.
“Oh Ria, come on, don’t be so boring. A glass of wine, on week days once in a while, is fine too!”
“Okay, if you say so! What are we celebrating? That is, if we are celebrating something? “She asked, looking at him probingly.
He shook his head. “No, no…what can we celebrate? Our promotions are not due and the appraisal’s done too! Just felt like drinking, relaxing over a glass of wine….so can we? “, he asked with a flourish.
She nodded her assent, still operating on remote. She knew the dam would burst in sometime, but for now she was amazed at her composure and his duplicity, his absolute nonchalance and his ability to cheat and still be so normal.
She marvelled at herself too…. she managed to sit with him and share a glass of wine without shrieking and tearing his eyes out, which she so desperately wanted to. She even sat next to him on the dining chair and coaxed herself to eat something. He, of course, never realised anything was amiss. She patted herself on her back for being such an excellent actress. Maybe, she had missed her calling?
Lying wide awake, next to sleeping Vikrant, Ria wondered…… what next? Where did she go from here? What should she do now?
Turning on her side, she gave Vikrant a long look. He was sleeping like a baby, carefree and totally unaware of the upheaval he had caused in their lives. How could he be like this? She was aghast. Had he always been this deceitful? Had she missed the signs, because she was so totally the opposite? She could not hurt a fly, let alone cheat on someone. Her guilt would not make her live. But look at Vikrant. He was so relaxed about the situation that he could happily sleep. When was he planning on telling her? Or What? Just come home one day with HER and the baby in his arms?
Too restless to sleep, she got up and walked out of the bedroom. Of one thing she was sure, she would loathe to share her bed again with Vikrant. She felt dirty, unclean. Though why? She wondered. It was not her who had cheated; in fact, she had been cheated upon. And she had been wronged upon. But even then, somehow, she felt dirty.
She sat back in her favourite armchair in her living room; a room which she loved for its easy ambience and happy colours. She felt most at home here, reading or listening to music or just sitting with her legs up, waiting for Vikrant to get home. Now somehow, she did not feel at peace even here.
Her mid was working furiously. One thing she was absolutely sure about was that this was not her fault. She had at no time in their marriage, driven him away. They had a good sex life, both enjoyed it; and nor were they averse in little experimenting. They had a routine…cuddling, foreplay and then the act. It was so satisfying and so natural. Of course, they were game for a quickie too…when time was short.
They had discussed children. They both loved children and were sure to have them one day. Both were young, healthy and had time to plan a family. They had decided to be married for at least three years, before thinking of having babies. Babies meant responsibility and since they had time on their side, they had planned for some ‘we time’ before starting a family.
They both were successful in their careers. He was a VP in a software firm and she was a Director in a legal firm. They had a bright future in front of them. They were supportive of each other’s career goals too.
Both believed in fitness. He was a regular gym goer and she was into ashtanga yoga. They occasionally went for a run together in the nearby park, after a hard day’s work. They enjoyed staying fit.
They were epicureans…loved good food at home and otherwise; enjoyed dining in restaurants known for their cuisine; could talk intelligently about wines…in fact he was quite a connoisseur and always could be depended upon to choose the right wine for the occasion.
So where had their marriage train derailed?
What was Vikrant lacking in this marriage? Her head was going around in circles thinking about an answer. Was it his disposition? Was it that he could not help but cheat? Was it that it was in built in his system?
He had ditched Sandhya for some Nita? Then ditched Nita for her? and now was Damini going to replace her?
Why had he married her? It was not rocket science, now that she thought about it! It was because she was unattainable till she was his wife! Had he seen her as a challenge? Someone whom he could bed only after marriage, because she had resisted all his manoeuvres and coaxing. Was he really such a cad? Why had she not looked through him? How could she have been so gullible? She berated herself for being such a fool.
And now Damini! Would he do right by her? Would he be there as a father to his baby? Own up the responsibility? or ditch her too? She could only hope he would do right by Damini, now that there was a child involved. But she had lost faith in him. She felt bad for Damini. A leopard never changes his spots, does he? Que sera sera …. whatever will be, will be! She had washed her hands off him. Now it was time to think about her life and her future …
The next morning….
Ria woke up with a cramp in her neck. Squinting her eyes in the bright sunlight filtering in through the lacy curtains from the bay windows in the room, she unfolded herself out of the armchair, where she had fallen asleep yesterday night.
It was Sunday. Their day off. Vikrant would be still sleeping. They always slept in late on Sundays, their weekly cheat day.
But today she could not afford to sleep in late. She had things to do. She went to the storeroom, took out her bags to pack. Vikrant was dead to the world. She packed her clothes, her shoes, and her handbags. She took her passport, a folder containing their important documents -their Mutual Funds portfolio, their fixed deposit receipts, their Stocks statements and their locker keys. Yes, everything.
She put her jewellery and her prized possessions— small knick -knacks which she had bought because she had loved them on sight– in her handbag; picked up her laptop bag and turned to leave.
No wait. She went to his wardrobe, took out his coat, removed the prescription from the inner pocket and draped the coat with the prescription on a chair. She walked out without looking back.
She opened the garage, put her luggage in the trunk of their Mercedes and swiftly drove away.
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