Meeting Goes Wrong
Karthik carries a sleepy Aditya in. On hearing there is ice-cream, the little boy perks up. I bring two cups for Karthik and him.
It is almost like one of the weekend afternoons we had when we were living together and all of us look uncomfortable. The picture touches a raw chord. Initially, the conversation is stilted, and Uma tries her best to bring up common ground. She mentions Vijay’s offer and her own intentions to accept it. Karthik starts to object, and the siblings argue. Uma remains firm on taking up the offer – I admire at how adversity has given her more character. There was a time when her brother’s word would have been law, however irrational that may be.
“Vijay says I can work from home, and meet with him periodically to update progress,” she says, and winks when Karthik is not looking. My eyes widen, since I don’t know the exact terms of the engagement.
Adit demands her attention. Uma looks at me sweetly, “Lunch was fabulous, and I want a power nap. So does Aditya.”
“We can go home,” Karthik intervenes. Both of us are embarrassed to be left alone.
“Nonsense. We can leave after tea…wouldn’t miss Kalpana’s tea for anything.”
Uma goes in and closes the door of the bedroom. And there we are, facing each other, stripped of all buffers.
We look away, and I feel a bit of the old tremor returning. His presence fills my being, and sends a knife twisting through my heart. I clear the table and ask him if he wants a second helping of ice cream. He refuses. “Would you like to rest?” I ask, hating the familiar silence.
“Is this a two-bedroom flat?” he asks. I nod and ask him to look around. He does and returns to his place. “You haven’t done much for this place, have you?” he asks.
My face tingles as I nod.
“It doesn’t feel like home, does it?” he asks softly.
My heart feels as if it will burst. Tears well up. I look away and silently shake my head.
“Did Uma tell you about Sukumar?”
“You said something about him… What did you know? Why didn’t you tell me?” There was an edge to his voice. I looked up to see a smouldering anger in his eyes. “At least Uma needn’t have suffered!”
Disappointment surges like poison through my body. I shrug.
He glares silently. Then his expression changes. “He didn’t…” he clears his throat, “…you are not in touch with him?”
I glare at him now. “What do you mean?”
“I just asked…” he backs off, looking very upset.
I ask angrily. “Why?”
“Why do you think that we would be in touch?”
He shrugs. “Don’t become sanctimonious with me now. The way you both carried on, and to think you knew about him and yet…! Of course, looks like you have found someone else since then.”
I look him full in the face, and spit back with vehemence, “You haven’t been idle either, have you?”
He blushes. “I got to know her after you left!”
The implication makes me bristle. “Obviously long enough for her to fall all over you in public!” I don’t let up.
“I can’t help that!” he says, defensively.
I toss my head. “In any case, what is it to me!”
“What do you expect me to do, Kalpana? Be a saint, after all that you made me go through!” his tone is a mix of sadness and anger.
I turn away, “I wasn’t myself. I can’t think how it happened.”
He laughs ironically. “Oh yes! Good excuse! I don’t understand why Uma wants to keep in touch with you. And now this Vijay business.”
“What about Vijay?” I ask cautiously.
He says, in what seems like a non sequitur, “Just to hurt me, wasn’t it, that Sukumar business? You were never serious about it… But why? Because you were hurt? As if what happened didn’t affect me! Oh let’s not talk about it…”
“You were the one who started it,” I remind him, my voice shaking in anger and disappointment. Getting up, I say sharply, “And considering you are moving on in life, why are you raking up the past? Isn’t it all over and done with?” I don’t want him to hear the hurt in my voice and so sound harsher than intended.
“I wish it were that easy!” he says getting up angrily.
He heads for the door and says over his shoulder, “Ask Uma to come right now.”
His abrupt departure leaves me feeling empty.
When I turn, Uma is already there, looking at me with sympathy. I bury my face in her shoulder, unable to contain my pain any longer.
She gently strokes my back. “I am sorry, I shouldn’t have asked him to come. I thought…maybe… Where is he now?”
I straighten and point to the door. Uma carries a still sleeping Aditya down, and the two drive away. I cannot see or hear the road from my house.
I know that was our last meeting.
I wish I had held my tongue.