The Resounding Silence
Karthik returns. I wait in the bed, praying he will come to apologise, ask what is wrong. I cannot bear his suspecting me of such lowly behaviour.
He moves with characteristic silence – doors shut softly, light-footed walk across the room, making his coffee in the kitchen silently. And… no word for his wife.
I get up reluctantly and walk up. “Karthik…” I say hesitantly, only to be cut down by his look. I bristle, wanting to fight. But there is no fight left in me. I feel my knees trembling. I wonder at how scared I am! The air between us is so thick, I fear that, just a flick of his wrist, and the air would cut me to pieces.
“Sukumar… I… You know…” I plead.
“Please, Kalpana! Don’t give excuses!” he snaps. I recoil.
The bell rings. We turn in the direction of the door, startled. I open the door and let the maid in. I am almost relieved, and yet dread grips me at his reaction.
The maid exclaims, “Has a bee stung you? Your cheek is red! Don’t tell me ayya did it! So calm and quiet! Must be that sister of his,” she whispers. “These sisters-in-law are never any good. You shouldn’t let them in to the house!”
I turn away irritated and ignorer her. Fuzziness grips me.
I follow her around discreetly. She asks for coffee, and I make her one, and one for myself.
The slap is only the symptom, I suppose – a scratching of the surface. If you dig in, you will find the root rotting, maybe more ugly forms will unleash their force. You ignore it, it will vanish. Only, it doesn’t. It lies heavily on you, and then it comes out as a slap one day, a nasty word another day.
I press my hand to my eyes. Why am I being so morbid! Because it is not normal… To be so easily suspected of having an affair… To be told that my explanations are excuses. To be not even heard!
I walk up to the drawing room and ask Karthik if he will have breakfast. I try to make my tone harsh, but it can’t have been loud enough. He does not even look up from the paper. I repeat it loudly. Why should I walk around as if I have erred! He says no sharply and gets up.
I can no longer pretend to be busy in the kitchen so I go to my bedroom. When will the woman leave so that I can take it out on Karthik! I try to work up an anger, but only frustration wells up.
I lie down curled, wondering if I should call up my father now, take a break, go away. I remain unmoving, as if paralysed.
Tears sting my eyes…how I wish… he would touch my cheek and make it up with me. I hate being angry with him. I hate it when he is angry with me. The cold silence makes me feel as if I am in a cemetery. I force myself to get up and freshen up.
This is the final wrench, instinct tells me. Why do I feel as if we are like a cloth torn in two, held together by just one weave? That weave is giving up too. The words have died between us so that I cannot say anything that will undo what Sukumar has told him. Better to recognise this for what it is, and make a dignified exit.
This is where the road stops. Exit, to where? NH – national highway – which number? Which direction? North, south, east, west…? All roads blocked. I close my eyes, hoping to shut out memories, but other memories take over.
My maid is not done with me yet. She still has to cut through all this nonsense that is going on in my mind and tell me, in practical terms, “Ayya is in the bathroom. I am done. Close the door. If you are not well, tell me and I will come back after I finish in the other house.” Ugh! Leave me alone, lady! But I don’t dare tell her that. Instead, I thank her and close the door after her.
Take care, she says, one woman to another. I nod, embarrassed that it has come to this.
I close the door and the balcony door. I draw the curtains, making the house near-dark – my head hurts in the penetrating heat. I sit with my elbows resting on the dining table, and my head in my hands.
Karthik looks around the house, looks at me, seems about to ask something but decides against it. He gets ready to leave. I look at him and start, “Karthik…” I try to sound strong, angry. “About last night…”
Karthik cuts me with one look. “We have been through this before, Kalpana! I am fed up of your pretences. Please spare me your lies at least now,” he says, his voice unrecognisable.
Lies! I flare up. “He is the only one who has even cared…”
He raises his palm and cuts me. “Yes, he is the only one cares. The rest of us are your enemies…”
I get up angrily. “You are putting words into my mouth! I didn’t mean that!”
He sighs wearily. “It doesn’t matter, what you say and what you mean. Don’t make it worse now, by trying to explain.” He starts to walk away, and I hear him mumbling, “At least for Uma’s sake you could have…” Words run out, as if they are wasted on me. He storms out of the house.
I turn away with tears in my eyes. Uma, how can I ever make it up to you?
I sit down with my head in my hands. Oh this Sukumar… he has muddled my life completely!
Tears will be controlled no longer. They surge forth and I sit down and cry.