World Moves On
Vijay strides forward confidently, ready to attend his friend’s birthday party. I tag along more reluctantly, wondering how I let Pratap and Vijay trap me into these situations again and again.
A lady pacing slowly near the door gives Vijay way. She seems uncertain so Vijay stops to offer her help.
The figure looks familiar, and before he can say anything, I exclaim in surprise, “Uma!?”
She turns to face me. “Hi…! What a surprise!”
“What are you doing here?”
Uma’s brows crease. “I came this side on work and Karthik asked me to join him for dinner here. Madhuri…?”
Vijay says, “That’s right.”
My heart drops a few notches and I stand paralysed. There is an awkward moment before Vijay asks, “Shall we go in?”
I look at Uma questioningly. “I will come with Karthik. He is almost here, he said.”
My mind is in a whirl. How does Karthik know Madhuri?
“Wasn’t she the girl whom you bumped into in the exhibition?” Vijay asks. I nod, amazed that he should remember. Madhuri comes running to us and I step away, allowing the friends to reunite for the first since their separation this evening. I look back to see the door opening and Karthik and Uma enter. I step behind Vijay as Madhuri and he too face the door. Madhuri squeals and launches herself on Karthik.
Uma looks aghast and stops. Karthik too pauses and takes Madhuri’s outstretched arms. It would have been funny if I weren’t feeling so miserable. Without my realising, a moan escapes my lips. “Are you okay?” Vijay asks and I nod.
Karthik introduces Uma to Madhuri, who hugs her warmly. I am his wife, I want to tell Madhuri and see the smile wiped off her face. Uma catches my eye and rolls hers. I close mine and move away.
Seeing him, unexpectedly, after such a long time, unsteadies me. I need a breather to calm myself. I hate them all! Oh how I hate them. I am so lost to the world, my mind in a vortex, that I don’t notice Vijay has followed me. “You don’t look okay!”
Startled, I snap at him, “I just need some water.”
He rushes to get me a glass of water that I gulp down. More people have come in and the group has become larger, hiding Karthik from my view. The cake arrives and I tell Vijay, who is looking at me anxiously, “Please, give me a moment. Join the cake cutting, and I will be with you shortly.”
“It’s okay,” I retort angrily. “Just leave me alone for a few minutes,” I insist softly but firmly.
“Sorry!” Vijay throws up his hands in surrender. “Didn’t mean to intrude!”
But I am not destined to have even a minute of solitude. Uma seeks me out. “What a woman!” I remain silent. “How do you know her?”
“Colleagues. How does Karthik know her?”
“I don’t know. He just called her a good friend.” She looks at me. “Aren’t you going to say hi to him?” Uma asks me.
“I think I will give it a miss,” I reply firmly. “Does he know I am here?”
“I didn’t tell him,” she replies. “I thought of surprising him, but I am surprised myself now.”
We pause as the there is much laughter around the cake. Through the chinks between the people, I can see Madhuri feeding Karthik a piece of cake accompanied by much cheering. He slowly draws himself out of the group and looks around. Knowing Uma to be the object of his search, I slip away. I am not ready yet, and know that he hasn’t noticed me.
I make it to the door, but stand facing Pratap. “Where are you off to?”
“Are you my sentry?” I demand boldly.
“Haha… The party has just begun.”
“Do have a good time. I must get back home. I have other things to attend to,” I say. Pratap inclines his head and moves back, and it takes me time to adjust to this easy dismissal.
“How are you?” Karthik’s voice cuts into our conversation. I stare at Pratap, reconciling my thoughts. When I turn to him, he looks as if he could do with some composure himself. “I am good. And you look great.” If I had a knife, I would cut him. Now I have to rely on my treacherous tongue that fails to produce cutting sarcasm. “I didn’t expect to see you, here.” Without intending to, my tone sounds insinuating.
“I didn’t, either. Uma tells me you are Madhuri’s colleague!”
I nod. “Small world,” I say stupidly. “What about you?” I ask, finally meeting his eye.
I see him weighing options. Finally he says, “A good friend.”
He leaves me abruptly, letting me chew on his meaning.