Slap First Ask Next
I could hear voices in the guest bedroom, but couldn’t hear what was being said. There was so much happening, and I was so out of it all, that it stopped mattering.
But today, I was very disturbed and I wish Karthik would come out quickly. I wanted to have a quiet chat with him.
And, I am not looking forward to it. Plonk, my heart goes at the thought.
Ever since I returned from the hospital, Karthik has been different... Indifferent. Frighteningly so… His silence makes me feel jittery.
Uma, his sister, stayed with me at the hospital, and Sukumar, her husband, did most of the running around. But Uma and I barely talk, either. Does she also believe…! How can she not?
How can she not when she can see Sukumar’s solicitousness! When she saw him put an around me that morning and kissed me, thinking she was not around. I had looked up angrily, but saw her looking at us from the doorway. I slapped him, but she turned away in disgust. It must have looked like an after thought. If she mistakes me, who is to blame her? If Karthik is convinced…
I will ask Karthik to send them away. Sukumar transgressed a line today. Karthik can’t expect me to put up with them anymore! Does he really think I gave Sukumar the room to?
I close my eyes, my hands on my brow, feeling resentment and anger.
Suddenly Karthik yanks me up harshly. He shakes me and I tremble in helpless anger! Uma is right behind him, sniffing and begging, “Anna, no, please! I am sure it is all a mistake… please!” Her voice drops to a whisper and then a stunned silence falls on all of us as a tight slap stings my face.
Check and check mate on the same day.
Instinctively, I hold my left cheek and glare at Karthik.
“What?” he dares me.
Words fail me.
He points his hand to my face, and then with a flick dismisses me, all the disgust and anger pour forth unmistakably. Angry and snubbed, I look behind Karthik, at the audience he has. I feel lonely in this crowded house.
Uma stops abruptly, eyes widened, the plea frozen on her lips. Sukumar is right behind them, so that only I face him. He smirks, and wags his finger, as if to say, “I told you…” Yes, he told me he was looking forward to some wild time together. When I protested angrily, he laughed and said smugly, “In any case, your husband and my wife suspect us. You don’t lose much by giving in.” I tried to slap him. He grabbed my hand and pulled him to me. “Don’t make me cross,” he said in a low, menacing voice.
So he had got his way.
Jerkily, I move away. I catch the hurt stoop of Karthik’s broad shoulders as he gives me way. I feel giddy with self-doubt. It drives a knife through my heart more than the slap.
I leave the room. Sad, angry, unsure.
In a house that has two people I love, I feel only disappointment and dejection. Karthik and Uma… and neither has a word of understanding to offer me.
Both are stiff with me. Karthik in fact has been ignoring me completely when he returns from work. He comes to bed late, and barely acknowledges my presence. If I try to talk to him, he freezes me out. My words die on my lips.
Does he really think Sukumar and I…?
I walk in to my room and lie on the bed. Uma and Sukumar use the spare room. I have nowhere to escape except this 6x6 bed, where one half will soon be claimed by the man I understand no more.
But he didn’t. That night, Karthik gave up the pretence of sharing the bed with me. We clung to our corners every night, sleeping like strangers forced to share the bed. Tonight, he doesn’t have to pretend that there was anything between us anymore.
The side where the face stung, I didn’t turn on that side because then I would be facing the side where Karthik should have been. His absence hurts. His presence hurts more…not being able to reach out to him.
The voices outside subside. Darkness takes over. I lie awake, conscious of every nocturnal sound. Then I see a figure in my room. I recoil in fear at first. I relax as I realise it is Uma. She hesitates, then comes to me and sits by me, touching my cheek. Did she expect I was awake or hope that I was asleep?
She says softly, “Kalpa, oh….manni, I am so sorry… I wish I never had come. I wish Sukumar had never seen you… I wish you had not given in…”
I try not to stiffen. I wait for Uma to leave. I don’t know anymore who is a friend and who an enemy. For I realise that because of Sukumar – and me… how abhorrent it is, to think of us in the same breath – Uma and I are not comfortable with each other either. She thinks I encourage him!
Dawn breaks outside the window. The house is abuzz and I curl up tighter. I hear the car leaving. I get up slowly. The house is empty. Uma and Sukumar have left with their three-year-old son. Karthik must be driving them to their parents’ house. No leave taking…
No byes for your aunt, Adit? After all, you so loved playing with me? Why, Mr. Sukumar, no parting kiss? Uma? Yes, you took your leave last night. Bye, then.