Shelley finds out about the interior decoration course. She also tells me of a vacancy. I am keen to grab the opportunity and recklessly tell her I will meet them two days later, when Karthik is going to be out of town. “Karthik does not know about this yet,” I whisper conspiratorially. “Please don’t tell him about it,” I plead.
She giggles. “Sure!”
I close my eyes which brim with trembling tears.
My eyes involuntarily scan for ads for paying guest accommodations, hostels, houses on rent… I close the paper in confusion when I realise that I am actually circling a few prospects. What! What am I doing?
That evening, Karthik brings his mother home. I guess this is for my benefit, to help me when he is gone. But neither my mother-in-law nor I are happy about it, and our faces tell it all. Karthik reluctantly returns her to her nest the next morning. One more black mark against me… My name is so blackened that one more dot makes no difference.
Shelley is such a darling that she escorts me to the interview. I had spent some time refreshing the concepts, and Maheswari recommending me adds to the advantage. I am flummoxed when they ask me about some accounting software they use, but tell them confidently that I can learn. They nod, and I detect pity in their faces, which seems ludicrously disproportionate. Is it such a crime? Am I in the right place?
After the interview, I manage to send Shelley on her way and scout the places I have circled in the rentals section. I would have loved company, a second opinion…not having to do this. But in the last two days, I have been leaning towards striking my own path than drag my marriage down further.
Karthik returns from a short tour a week later. I am ready with my decision – life seems to be limping back to normalcy - I have a job, a course to pursue, and a small house to live in. When dad returns, hopefully the tenants will move out and dad and I can resume our lives in my own house.
I give Karthik a day and then approach him. “I want to speak to appa.”
He is silent for a moment. “I understand,” he says softly. “His anniversary is just round the corner, and you must miss him.
“Anniversary…” my head reels. I grip the chair.
I find myself in Karthik’s arms. My face is wet, and so is his shirt. “I really wish he were here sometimes. You wouldn’t be like this,” he whispers. Then his voice turns cold and angry. “But sometimes I am glad he is not here to see all this.”
He abruptly walks away. I feel bereft.
He pauses at the door to the bedroom. “Mother asked if you wanted to do anything for the anniversary. Should she talk to the priest?” I shake my head. He bangs the door shut. I shut my eyes.
I allow my mind dwell on my father just for a moment. What a fool I had been. In the hospital, when I asked for father, Uma had looked worried. “We are there for you,” she had said, which had made no sense.
Sukumar had intervened. “You know where your father is…” he had said gently, taking my hand in his.
Why didn’t I understand? I had been distracted by his stroking my hand and nodded, wanting to retrieve my hand. His hand crept up to my shoulder. “Be brave.” He stroked my head. “He is with you, giving you strength.”
I nodded and closed my eyes, relieved when he got up and moved away.
I stare, I tremble, trying to not stress myself and will for the details to emerge. Frustrated and unsuccessful, I go to Karthik’s door and raise my hand to knock on it.
I pause, finally understanding what he meant: if my father were still alive, we wouldn’t be living together anymore.
I fear opening a Pandora’s box. I may find out what happened to father, how he died. But along with that will emerge other questions. Why was Karthik not there in the hospital with me? Why did Sukumar take my hand, take such liberties? Why when I curled up on my side, it was Karthik I wanted by my pillow, touching my back, but what I got was Sukumar mumbling inanities? Why, when I cried for Karthik, it was Sukumar who put a comforting arm around me, stroking my back?
Do I want to know what gave Sukumar the courage?
Did Sukumar come between Karthik and me, or did he fill in a gap?
Why did Karthik accept my sleeping away from him without a question?
Is he angry because I turned to someone else, or because I turned to his sister’s husband?
How can he bear to keep away from me?
What does he do for company?
Who does he go to…? Where…?
My fingers curl and I move away from the door, shying away from facing the truth. Uma’s accusing eyes, Karthik’s angry eyes, my fears… they follow me as I go to my room.
Next morning, as he heads for the door, I take my offer letter to him and tell him softly, “I am moving out, Karthik.”
He stops, glances at me and then looks away. “As you wish.”
I look up shocked. No conciliatory words? Such easy acceptance of such a significant decision? I cringe in shame as I think he had been waiting for this, maybe even pushing me to this, and yet I couldn’t see it.
Impulsively, harshly, I say, “He is not a good man…Sukumar.” I don’t know what prompted me to say that. A memory nudges, but settles back, all the confusion pushing it back.
He gives me a look of disgust, but the mask falls back instantly. I look down, ashamed at myself, at my desperate need for him to beg me to stay.
That day, I pack. I don’t take much - just my clothes and some documents. Everything in this house is mine, and yet I feel alienated, a stranger.
It hurts that he does not even want to know the details.
I leave a note of goodbye as I vacate this house, my house, two days later.
It coincides with my father’s anniversary. Two years now, the death certificate among my papers indicates. Maybe it is a blessing that I remember my father smiling and happy.
Maybe it is a blessing that he passed away before seeing me walk out of Karthik’s life.