Deep in Work
“This is my sanctum sanctorum,” Vijay says as we go up the stairs to what is to be his room. “There will be lots of wires, and I don’t want any of them peeping out. All concealed.”
“The builder is already doing that for you, right?” I ask.
He nods. “But still, some of the stuff cannot be concealed. I may keep adding stuff, taking some things out…so, I want flexibility,” he explains.
He takes me through the other rooms, explaining what he wants and why he had liked my ideas. I try to accept the compliments modestly and internalise his ideas. So far, he has been nice and open to me, nothing of the monster I was expecting to meet. But then, I had interacted with him only a couple of times.
“By the way,” he says, breaking into my thoughts. “This weekend, my parents are here, and I am calling some of their friends here. Pratap and Madhuri will also be here. Why don’t you also join?”
I am engrossed in what looks like a kitchen, but trying to figure out since there is one downstairs as well. “Thanks but I am sorry, I am tied up. What is that? A kitchen?”
“Yes, for when my parents move in with me. I would like to be independent, and yet not be too away… you know what I mean?”
I nod. Two establishments in one house. Yes, now I get it. Though it is constructed as one house, there are two bedrooms and a kitchen downstairs, and two upstairs. Only the hall is common. Kitchen, I thought, was, but obviously not. There are two entrances too.
“Tied up with what?”
I frown, not understanding. “Ropes?” I blunder.
“What are you? Some masochist?” he asks, amused, though I am sure he realised that I had lost track.
“What tied up with what?” I ask in reply.
“This Sunday, what are you doing?” he asks.
I am taken aback. Nosey Parker! But, more importantly, what do I tell him? “My tenants are vacating. I need to meet them,” I say after groping for something to say.
“And Saturday?” he asks.
He taxes me too much! Before I can think of something, he says, “Nothing. And Saturday it is. So, I will see you at around 7.”
I try to wriggle out, but he is already telling me something else, pointing to the roof and going on about a roof garden.
I meet my tenants on Saturday morning, since they are leaving by evening flight. This is the first time I am seeing the husband, but he obviously has already seen me. He refers to his good stay here, about Karthik and how cooperative we have been.
I nod, I smile. I try not to wince seeing the walls. I smile at the child who has gone creative on them – it starts young. I am already planning what to do with the house, how to change it all.
I call up Pratap and ask about the evening affair. He insists on picking me up despite my vehement protests and lands up well in time, stopping me from giving any excuses to back out.
I haven’t socialised in… how many days, months, years? I tag behind Rekha, feeling like an intruder in this party where I know no one, not even the host. Madhuri is nursing a drink, but we hardly have any love lost between us. An old couple come forward to welcome Pratap and Rekha, who introduce me.
Vijay’s father looks like an army man, but had in fact retired from civil services.
After exchanging courtesies, Pratap and the father move away. Mother and Rekha include me in their circle of friends, but I feel bereft. I move towards Vijay, determined to mark my attendance and leave quickly. I pick up a cool drink, more to look part of the crowd than because I want one. But he is so engrossed with his guest that I hesitate to interrupt.
Madhuri walks up to me with a sarcastic smile, adding salt to wounds, “Hello!” I wait for something scathing to come, and right enough, she obliges. “I didn’t expect you to be here. You do manage to be where you are not needed, don’t you!”
Blood rushes to my face. It takes me tremendous effort to keep from showing my hurt. I say softly, “Never uninvited.”
“Some people are good at wresting invitations.”
I shrug. “You seem to know best! Lots of experience?”
“A cheap shot! He is a friend.”
“Ah! And you think someone who is friends with you cannot have another friend?” I retort. “Maybe he thought you could do with some good company,” I say and turn around, hating myself for this cheap exchange of words. I am mortified to face Vijay, who walks over. I lower my eyes, as tears make them burn. Madhuri walks over to him and takes his arm. “He knows better than that.”
“Am I the topic of discussion?” he asks.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Vijay,” Madhuri tells him languidly. “Why will I discuss her with you!”
I fight for composure and tell Vijay, “I must leave now…”
“Not without dinner. It will be served shortly. You don’t drink? Can I get you something cold?”
I really want to get away. But just then, Pratap, Rekha and Vijay’s parents surround us. Vijay’s father complains to Pratap, “No regular job, consulting. Tell me, is this what a guy his age should be doing?”
Pratap says soothingly, “He is making more money than me with regular business, uncle. What are you worried about?”
“Yes, but he has my pension to fall back on. What when that stops? Does he have a back up? Everything he earns, he puts into his gadgets. Now this house…isn’t that an extravagance?”
I am embarrassed to be caught in this. They are clearly discussing Vijay, I realise, and worse, almost as if he weren’t there.
Pratap continues, “Yes, but if nothing else, that property will fetch him a fortune. Uncle, the youth of today has different standards. Am I not on my own, in a way?”
The father stubbornly sticks to his old-fashioned ideas as Vijay squirms uncomfortably. I try to make invisible, but that not being possible, I draw Rekha away and excuse myself.
This creates another round of embarrassing drama as Pratap, on being informed of my plan to leave, insists he will also leave and Vijay and his parents press me to stay till dinner.
Madhuri whispers in my ear, “You do know how to get attention!”
What little appetite I had dies as her words rankle.
It is quite late in the night when Pratap finally drops me back home.
More than ever in recent times, I feel the need for Karthik’s comforting arms; but entering my house, I feel suffocated as loneliness engulfs me in a stifling embrace.