I waited for her.
It was dusk and was the flag end of an Indian monsoon. I sat on the steps. The awning above prevented me from getting wet, but I watched with delight the rain wet the stairs. All around me was the sound of the falling rain, not heavy, just enough for me to know of his presence. I have always loved the ways he expresses. Rain is my favourite.
She sensed me before she saw me. She stood by the gate, protected under her large black umbrella. The darkness had fallen. The street light near the gate came on, revealing her. Her cloths were wet in places. She wore a simple salwar , white which had yellowed slightly due to age. A red dupata was wrapped like a veil around her head and neck. Her hands held open the gate latch. She hesitated. I saw her looking at me. She latched the gate and walked towards me. I got up . She climbed the stairs, folded the umbrella and shook the rain out of it and propped it by the parapet near the steps. She switched on the naked bulb which hung above where I stood.
She turned and looked at me. I stood there , in the circle of the light she has thrown on me.
‘ I was waiting for you’ I said.
‘So was I’ , she replied.
She took the house keys from her bag and opened the door to her house, stepped in and switched on the table lamp near the living room sofa. Apart from the glow of the lamp, illuminating the immediate vicinity ,the room still lingered in dark.
‘Come in.’ She called out to me from inside.
I walked in, careful to stamp the rain and mud from my shoes on the rug that lay by the door. She was standing by the sofa. Her features were still hidden partially by the shadows.
‘Would you like to have some tea?’ she asked , after she invited me to sit of a single soft cushioned sofa.
‘If its no trouble.’
‘ No trouble, I was going to make one for myself.’
I leaned back , my back buried itself in the cushions. I looked around.
The living room was large. It was also a very old building. The original local architectural showed itself in every corner. The furnishing was relatively new and modern. The walls were lined with framed sepia prints , from where ancient faces stared out. There were no recent pictures. None of her family.
None of her son.
‘ When did you leave from there?’ I asked , as she walked in bringing with her two cups of tea. She held a cup in each hands. The steam curled up from the hot brew and the room was captivating filled with the aroma of it. She handed me one cup.
‘I just didn’t go back after the funeral’ she said, seating herself on the sofa facing me. She held her cup between her palms on her lap.
I sipped my tea. She sat; watching me.
We sat there in silence, drinking our tea, listening to the sound of the rain ,which was becoming a downpour.
‘Your husband is still there?’ I asked
‘Yes’ she replied. ‘ He didn’t object when I told him that I will not be joining him. He transfers money to our account here. He had written that he had moved out of our apartment and has now taken up a studio apartment. He is planning to sublet it to a bachelor, because he finds being alone very lonely.’
‘What about you? Do you find it lonely?’ I asked
‘Lonely? No. I just wanted to be near him. As near as I can.’ Tears welled in her eyes.
‘Iam sorry. This must be hard for you. I can stop.’ I said, not meaning it at all.
Then she did the most amazing thing. She leaned forward , moving from the shadows to the light of the lamp. I saw that she had aged. Her once black hair had streaks of grey in it. The shadows highlighted the wrinkles that had formed on her forehead- worry lines, but her eyes were bright. She looked straight into my eyes and said ,
‘ I know who you are.’
The words were whispered at me. She gave me a knowing smile, and then she leaned back on the sofa, with the smile still lingering , waiting for my reaction.
I was surprised. Really was. Moreover I was impressed. Most people who are in my presence are aware deep within themselves of my nature. But few would dare to confront it; for to confront is to acknowledge.
I had to smile, seeing her smug expression as if she had just solved the biggest riddle there is and was waiting for a pat on her back.
I could have played with her. I could have questioned her to the extent of making her doubt herself. I could have confused her, unsettled her. I didn’t do any of those. I decided to give her what she wanted. Acceptance.
‘Are you scared?’ I asked.
‘Surprisingly no. You are not what I expected you to be.’ She replied.
‘Actually Iam exactly what you expected me to be.’
I had finished my tea. I placed it on the coffee table in front of me. She still cradled her cup in her palm, relishing the warmth.
‘Would you like to see him?’ she asked quietly. She was not looking at me. Her eyes were looking unseeingly into her cup.
‘Yes.’ I replied.
She went up the stairs. I could hear the draw being pulled open in her bedroom. I saw through her, the album being pulled out. I saw her placing her palm above the cover. Hesitating. Remembering. She held it close to her breast with both her hands and shut the draw by leaning on it.
She came to where I sat, and placed the album in front of me on the coffee table. I pulled my seat closer to the table. She sat on the ground, next to my legs and opened the album.
Sometimes life makes its presence felt more in its absence.
‘ I got pregnant two years after our marriage.’ She said. ‘My husband and I had decided that we will have the delivery there itself instead of here. Actually we could not afford the travel expenses and moreover our combined earning was essential.’
She had opened the album to a picture of her sitting on a plastic chair in their balcony. She was dressed in a white housecoat with a read border. Her pregnancy was clearly visible. She was looking straight at the camera and she was radiant. The sun was behind her, the brown tinge of her hair was highlighted like a halo, her face was in the shadow but was clear. She had in her hand a bitten doughnut, the crumbs lined her lips.
‘ We were very happy,’ She continued, her fingers tracing the border of the picture, her eyes still searching intently at the picture for any possible sign of events yet to happen. ‘He was truly wonderful. He used make me breakfast during the weekends.’
Out side the rain fell .
‘We weren’t prepared for the pregnancy . I had a tough time dealing with it. I used to have terrible mood swings. Sometimes I used to feel as if Iam no longer in control of my body, as if it was invaded. I hated it. He was very patient with me.There were times, when I could see the disappointment and hurt in his eyes but I didn’t care. I was more consumed with what I was going through. I guess I blamed him partially for everything.’
She flipped the sheets of the album absent mindedly. More pictures of her , in various stages of her pregnancy . There were few pictures of both of them together, where the picture was taken with one of them pointing the camera at themselves.
‘When the labour began,’ She continued, ‘ we were in the kitchen. We were talking about making evening walks a mandatory thing in our life . I was becoming worried about the weight I was putting on. Suddenly the water broke.’
I was there.
How the floor became wet. The sudden silence between them. Then the panic. She running into the bathroom to change and he looking for the carry case they had packed for in the event of such an emergency. The frantic drive to the hospital. The labour pains. The cigarette smoke in the waiting room. The forms to be signed. The expenses. Finally the birth.
Then the days filled with sweet sufferings.
The kind of life which looks good only in retrospect. The sleepless nights, the pains from the after effect of the operation, the sore breasts…the breakdowns with the baby lying in your lap and howling, refuting all attempts to pacify him and you start screaming…you lament the loss of yourself.
Then there are days when he squints at you and grabs the finger you hold out to him and you melt. You feel as if your whole journey was towards this moment. All you talk about is him, you practically cease to exist ; what he eats, the words he say, the day he turned and lay on his stomach, the day he walked. Being unable to throw away his baby cloths. A love truly baffling , yet so right. You don’t want to analysis it or understand it, you just want to live in it.
She kept on speaking. I listened.
She stopped talking. She had exhausted herself on the living. Memories have been taken up, dusted and examined. She looked at me and saw me for what I was.
'Why did you come back?' She asked.