Five plus years is a long time. Five years of living alone out of choice. They had parted amicably, no tears, no scenes. Mature adults, so in control of their lives that they had put individual wants over their relationship! She wanted her hills, he his city life.
Inky silence. She tossed around between blankets, but ghosts prowling in her mind would not let her go back to sleep. Hadn’t she laid them to rest? Here and now, I will deny them the pleasure of resurrection, she decided. She took a deep, steady breath, determined not to be daunted. Calmly she bade them go.
“You belong to a past I have moved away from. Please go and do not return unbidden.”
Her resolve made the shadows drift away, but not without a parting shot:
“The vacuum our departure creates will be filled in by your fear of the future. Ha! Ha!”
A clap of thunder unhinged the silence. Gusty winds and rain tattooed the tin roofs of the woodshed and garage like stampeding hoofs on asphalt. Familiar with the sounds of monsoon in her beloved hills, she padded around her bedroom, the parting shot of her faded memories overpowering the din outside.
“That is exactly what I have done! Lived between shadows. The past haunting, the future uncertain, while life is traipsing by me.”
After the break-up, managing home, garden, four servants and an active social life left little time for her inner world. Sometimes when loneliness and ensuing bitter pain smothered her like city smog, she took refuge in ego-trips: Mrs. Batra remarked just the other day how she envied my independence and courage. A role model cannot allow herself to break down. With such hollow comforts, she bypassed her real feelings, till they exploded as acute depression. A time-bomb that shattered her carefully crafted outer persona. Her façade of falsehood ripped asunder by pellets of densely compressed emotions, she was left with deep gashes on her psyche. Antidepressants were as good as pieces of cardboard covering a shell battered wall.
She had to undergo intense therapy for over a year, before she was allowed to go back home. Her friend in Bangalore, with whom she had stayed through this trying time, had been a great support. She also had help from the young Mr. Laheri as caretaker of her property during her long absence. Smart, sober, very capable and mature, she had taken to him the moment she had met him at the Silver Oaks Club. Now when he offered his services she had hired him immediately.
He was at the airport to receive her and briefed her about the latest developments during their long drive home. She was pleased. She requested him to carry on in her employment for some time more and suggested that he should move into a spare room in the main bungalow itself. Laheri had been waiting for just this opportunity.
As time went by, they grew very close to each other. Late into the night, servants would see lights burning and shadows moving about in one of their two heavily curtained bedrooms. In the mornings they would find glasses and cigarette ash, empty cups of tea and biscuit tins or remnants of sandwiches around the fireplace. Often he would leave his slippers behind in her room or her shawl would be draped on the back rest of a chair in his room. They openly flaunted their friendship and eventually had the whole town whispering. These whispers spread faster than modern technology can spread viruses. Unperturbed they went to the Club and on social visits together, ignoring snide looks and remarks. She even made it clear to all that she would accept invitations only if he was included in the guest list!
Then one wintry morning, he packed his bags and went away. She was sad, but managed to cope up. The evergreen grapevine of gossip, buzzed more vigorously now with conjectures and wild imagination. No one was quite ready to accept her explanation that his mother had fallen seriously sick and so he had to rush back home.
* * * * *
The first letter arrived two months after his sudden departure. She read it with disbelief and finally replied a fortnight later, matching its hesitant tone. Then came another and another till their exchanges became an almost weekly feature and she looked forward to them with teenage eagerness. The tone had graduated to a friendlier one and soon it was unmistakably intimate. Why on earth did they not talk to each other over the phone? She wondered. She had changed from her sad self to one who hummed, listened to romantic music or just lolled in her favorite spot, smiling mysteriously at the beautiful hills, her lifelong friends.
One morning she was clearly too excited as she woke up earlier than usual and had the servants bustling around, preparing special dishes, decorating the house with colorful rangoli and flowers. She herself prepared a special welcome thali. Very well groomed and dressed she darted around the house, a butterfly impatient for the bud to open up.
At around 11o’clock, a taxi drove in through the gate, up the short driveway and she could hardly contain herself, as she steadied the welcome thali in her trembling hands. The servants were surprised at her loss of composure, but totally dumbstruck when the visitor got out of the taxi.
“Sir? After all these years! Welcome, sir, welcome.” They fell over each other in their astounded enthusiasm.
He beamed at them. Pleasantries were exchanged, his bags brought in and finally they were alone. He swept his wife into his arms and held her tight, their bodies trembling to a synchronized rhythm. Clinging to him she sobbed her heart out. For long neither could say anything to the other. It just felt so wonderful and right being in each other’s arms again. She had almost forgotten what it was to have his strong, loving and protective arms around her. And he smelt wonderful as he always used to. How she had missed him!
“My darling. I missed you so much. I am so sorry for what I put you through,” He said after they let go of each other.
She put a finger to his lips “Ssh, Ssh, it’s all over. But till today you haven’t told me what brought about this sudden change in you.”
“God bless that Laheri boy. His tender and empathetic talks made me see the fallacy of my ways.”
“You know him?” She was incredulous. “But… how? Where? Since when? Why didn’t you ever mention him?”
“You won’t believe me. He popped into my life soon after he left you. Don’t know how he cornered me into giving him a job. Before I knew it he had become a confidante and friend. He got us together again. But he didn’t want you to know till I was back with you here.”
“Oh, that sweet boy. He was wonderful to me too. So kind, sympathetic and like a true son, till his mother’s illness called him away.”
“That was just an excuse to get away from here once he realized how much you missed and needed me. His parents are both dead. He came there to sound me out and found that I felt the way you did.”
“Darling, we must write to him and have him over at our place now. May be we could adopt him, get him married and leave everything we own to him.”
Her husband was quiet for a while. She searched his face.
“My love, he vanished just as mysteriously and suddenly as he popped into my life. He went away, I don’t know where, but left a letter for us. I will read it out to you.”
He pulled out a long envelope from his briefcase. Taking out the letter he read in a slow, hushed voice.
“My beloved friends,
I take your leave with equal amounts of sorrow and satisfaction. Sorrow, that I must part so abruptly from you and satisfaction that I could bring you together again. Remember always to let the light of love outshine all shadows that threaten to eclipse it.
My lovely wife and I too separated with mutual consent. Our careers, our personal likes and dislikes, undue emphasis on individual space and independence took precedence over our marriage. Everything was about ‘you’ and ‘I’ when it should have been ‘us’. Neither wanted to give an inch. Today our loss is irretrievable. I have lost her for good. My beautiful, intelligent, career oriented wife has become manic depressive and tried to kill me when I went to patch up things between us. Her family too abused me and threw me out of the house.
I deserve what I got, but I do not want others to suffer as I continue to do. As an act of repentance as much as of love, I have made it my mission to bring separated couples together. You are only the second couple I have succeeded with. Pray that I can help many more. That is all I ask from you. And also, that in your turn you try to save as many tottering marriages as you can. Thank you.
“God bless him and give husbands and wives like us the sense to put their marriage and love before all else.”
“Amen” he reciprocated.
Turning solemnly towards her husband, she took his hands in hers and said “Till death do us part.”
“Amen” said he again and they sealed their vow anew with a kiss.