Too Little, Too Late
Uma calls and asks to meet me at 3 the next afternoon. I invite her for lunch, but she declines. Maybe that is for the best.
She comes seeming as bubbly as ever. She gives the house a quick once-over and whistles as only she can. I chuckle.
“Do you live here at all?” she asks.
The emptiness is too obvious. I cover up, saying, “I am at work most of the times, so this is more than enough.”
She shakes her head sadly. I make tea. She follows me in. I give her a gift I had got for Aditya. “I thought you will bring Adit?”
“I wanted to talk to you, and he wouldn’t let me. I’ll bring him the next time,” she assures me. I smile without comment. Such good times don’t come again and again.
However, I say, “That’s nice,” and smile. I wonder if Sukumar knows she is here to meet me.
“Anyway, I will have to tell everyone where I am taking him…” she drawls, looking away. I get the tea things, not wanting to pursue that line of thought. “I told them I meeting a friend…”
“Them?” My voice trembles with the stress of not revealing my eagerness to know who ‘them’ were.
“Amma and anna,” she replies in a matter-of-fact tone.
Why does any mention of him make me go blank still? “Is that where you are coming from? Your…parents’ home?” I ask, surprised.
“Yes, that is where I am living these days,” she says after sipping tea.
I stare at her speechless. “Your husband too?” I ask indignantly. I had been ousted, and yet the party to my transgression had been forgiven?
She put the tea back on the tray and looked at me sharply. “You don’t know?”
I frown. “Know what?”
She gets up agitated, “I thought Sukumar may have told you.”
I respond in kind. “Uma…how could you…!” I exclaim angrily.
She turns and her look stops me. “You expect me to forget what happened?”
Her words sting me. “Did you come to insult me?”
She stares at me silently. Then she says quietly, “You hurt me.” It hurts as much as Karthik’s slap had. “You hurt Karthik.” She takes a deep breath. “You hurt yourself… Can’t you see?”
I close my eyes. “I am sorry, Uma. I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember anything…”
I open my eyes startled as I feel her arms on my shoulders. “I wish I could too! It was the worst period of my life. Why did I stay with you! I was not even of much help. Adit demanded my attention all the time. I turned a blind eye when Sukumar chased other women. When he was overly solicitous about you, I thought it was brotherly concern. But that was not so, was it?”
I tremble in shock. Tears are flowing down her cheeks. “I thought you will handle him. Every day I waited for you to protest, to make a scene… even ask us to leave. But you just sat there, basking in the attention he showered on you…” She looks at me pityingly. “Were you so blind as to think it was genuine? Or, so angry with us that you pretended to be enamoured?”
I bury my face in my hands. “I don’t know! I don’t know!” I cry out.
She moves away and I feel my shame. “Anyhow… It was the jolt I needed to end my marriage.”
I look up in shock. “Uma! Not because of me! I was not in my mind!”
“Nobody in their right mind would be attracted to Sukumar! I discovered that too late. I paid the price. I am sorry to think, so did Karthik!”
“How can I make up for it, Uma? What can I do, tell me please?”
Uma shakes her head. “I am as much to blame. I only came to tell you, in case you still harboured any feelings for Sukumar… To warn you… He left a trail of disgruntled women behind at his workplace in Mumbai. He was thrown out on charges of sexual harassment.”
The word hangs between us ominously. An escape route for me? But I don’t know what to do with, how to turn it to my advantage. “No, I feel nothing for him…”
We sit in silence.
“I should leave,” she says finally as she looks at the tea tray with biscuits lying forgotten on a small table.
“Yes, it is getting dark…” I concur, but neither makes a move.
“Now that you know about Sukumar… Since you don’t… I mean… Can’t anna and you?”
I pause a few beats. “Have you asked him?” I finally ask, as much to know her answer as to buy time.
She lowers her glance, enough to tell me there is no going back.
I get up briskly and clear the table, asking her about her life now that she was a single parent. She tells me about a refresher course she did in IT. She is looking for a job - her mother does not like the idea of her working, but she doesn’t want to sponge on Karthik any longer than possible.
Our topics dry up quickly as everything leads back to Karthik. As she leaves, I make bold to ask, “Will you come again?”
An ironic smile touches her lips. “Sure,” she says but I know she is just being polite.
I call Karthik soon after Uma left. “Thanks for the bag…”
“Did you get what you were looking for?”
“Mmmm…yes. I met Uma at the exhibition…I didn’t know she had divorced Sukumar,” I almost blurt out. Maybe knowing Sukumar’s character, he will forgive me as a victim.
Instead, all he says is, “I thought he would have told you.”
With nothing more to say, I end the call.