Seeing we will be disturbed here, Karthik leads me to the small balcony adjacent to the room.
“Nicely done up place,” he comments. I thank him with a nod and wait to see why he has brought me here.
“August 24,” he says, his eyes searching my face. I stare blankly, racking my brains to see why the date is significant. He waits for me to react…but to what?
Then it hits me. It happened around four years ago.
So? What more could be there to this story? I panic and he frowns. “You can’t have forgotten that August?” he asks incredulously.
I can feel the sweat in my palms. I say quickly, “Of course not!” I can’t get my expression right though.
He looks at me intensely, “You have recovered remarkably,” he says, his tone inscrutable.
I am floored. I look down. “Would you rather I lived in the past?” I say thoughtlessly.
My heart stops as he lifts my chin, and looks into my eyes. “Yes, one must come out of it, I suppose. You hurt so badly once... But having hurt me, you could let it go so easily…” His voice trembles.
I close my eyes, upset and irritated at how this keeps coming back and throwing me off guard.
He misunderstands my reaction and grips my arm tightly. “What is it!” he asks with suppressed anger. “I shouldn’t have brought that day up…right?” He shakes his head vehemently. “But Mani keeps talking about it. It hurts to be reminded. He doesn’t know, though. He doesn’t know what we lost in that cyclone. Why I was by the sea on a bad day when you were in the hospital…” he looks at me again. I don’t look up, feeling miserable. He waits a second before continuing, softly, “Why did you blame me, Kalpana? Why did you abandon me?”
I flinch. Who abandoned who? Why was I in the hospital? Brain fever for five months? Five months? Which five months…
“Do you want to go home?” he asks, his voice still soft.
I feel a sob rising. I pull away, realising that it was not a dream, my running away from him. It was something that had happened. I cannot explain it. We always had been wonderful together. What happened to make my body tremble whenever he came close? Like it is trembling now.
He sees it and says in frustrated anger, “Anyone but me!” He turns away. I fear letting myself go in front of him and turn around. But my way is blocked by someone. Tears blur my vision.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Vijay! What timing! Anyone but him, please! I look away but am caught between the two men in this narrow space, my distress evident to both.
“Nothing,” I say pointlessly.
“You bothering her, mister?” he asks sternly. Then seeing it is Karthik, he exclaims, “Err…sorry. I just thought…” He looks at me and asks awkwardly “Everything okay?”
I nod. Vijay extends his hand to Karthik and says, “Sorry…didn’t realise… Please excuse me.”
Karthik takes it reluctantly. He looks at me, and I nod to Vijay. “It’s okay, Vijay,” I say, hoping to dismiss him.
Vijay, after a hesitant glance in my direction, takes leave. Before going, though, he says, “I was about to leave, so I wondered if you needed a lift. The cyclone seems to be strengthening. We will be in the eye of the storm soon…maybe better to leave early. Dinner is being served.” He looks at Karthik uncertainly.
Before I can say anything, Karthik intervenes, “I will drop her.”
After Vijay leaves, Karthik asks, “A friend? A very concerned friend? Very close?”
The meaning and the tone are unmistakable. I look at him angrily. “Do I need to answer you still?”
I storm out, leaving him standing in the balcony.