Curiosity Killed the Cat
“What happened on August 24?” I intercept him. “Even if you think I am pretending, please… humour me,” I plead.
“Ignorance is bliss, Kalpana,” he says in a heavy voice. “Why do you want to know now? Nothing can change the past.”
I lean back against the wall, thinking about this. Finally, I say, “When I went to my father’s house recently, I met the neighbour. She told me…” I can’t get myself to repeat what she said. I swallow hard. “She told me that he had been dead for three days before we discovered his body.” I feel tears rolling down my cheeks. “Is that right?”
He steps forward, but if he intended holding me, he seems to have second thoughts. “He died in his sleep, Kalpa, he didn’t feel a thing – the doctors said. You were so brave… Don’t make it hard for yourself.” As I wipe my eyes, he says fiercely, “I have been blind! I should have seen this. How did I miss it!”
I straighten up and say, “Karthik, I would rather get it all over with in one shot. I can’t face them one by one. I thought that was the worst thing that could have happened, apart from Sukumar. And now you mention August 24…no Karthik, I can’t take it anymore, even if that is the last thing we talk about.”
“It won’t be easy,” he promises.
“Easy! Difficult… I don’t know. I have tried not to want to know. But…now I am not so sure.”
He leans forward and kisses me lightly on the forehead. “Why didn’t you tell me before…oh my little one!” He holds me briefly, but moves back immediately.
I so want him cling to him, but draw myself back, not wanting to make it difficult for him. He is moving on in life. I should let him.
There is an awkward silence brought on by that hug. To fill that space, I mumble, “Because I was scared.”
I look away, hoping to regain my composure. My mind won’t let me be, working overtime. The problem is in prioritising the questions that are bombarding me.
“Karthik,” I say, without turning to him. “How did your father die?”
“Kidney failure,” he replies tonelessly.
I want more. “When did this happen? Were you with him? Had he suffered for long? How did you take it? Was I with you?” I ask, trying to picture Kathik.
“It happened a year before your father died…he had suffered long, but he didn’t tell us…”
“Because we came away? Because they were upset?” Guilt gnaws my insides.
“Maybe,” he says, his voice strained.
“I am sorry,” I whisper. I don’t know if he heard me. He does not respond.
“How did you take it? Was I with you?”
“He was my father, Kalpana! How do you expect I felt!”
I am stung by his tone. I keep quiet. But unable to be quiet for long, I ask hesitantly, “Was there a problem between us because of that?”
“No, that was not why we had problems. Now stop, please!”
Tears gather in my eyes. He cannot understand how miserable I am feeling!
He adds more gently, a while later, “The problem began much later.”
I turn to him, “Did we go for a check up?”
He looks at me sharply. “For what?”
I hesitate, unsure of how to word it. “Why…don’t we have children?” There, I have blurted it. He walks to the window and gently bangs his head against the grill.
I go after him. Standing behind him, I ask, “Was that the problem between us?”
He does not respond. I ask in a small voice, “Why didn’t my sleeping away from you bother you Karthik?”
He looks at me angrily. “Can you please stop this, Kalpana? Can you give it a break? You are going too fast for your own good!”
I lean against the wall, facing away from him.
“You are trying to understand two years in two minutes? Do you know what it is going to take you – this obsession? Just forget the whole thing! That is what I have been trying to do and you want to dredge it up?” he asks, coming in front of me.
“It is one thing to try to forget, quite another to really forget,” I say quietly.
That stops him. He comes up to me and says softly, “Can’t you see, that is what you were trying to do…and have done, successfully. Not everybody is so blessed.”
I burst out in frustration, “It is not blessed! It is cursed! Your own life, and you don’t know what happened! People throwing incidents at you and you don’t know what it means?”
He frowns at me. “Has anybody said anything to you? Who else knows this?”
I shake my head. “No one. But, I m-mean…” I stammer, trying to think. “Yes, Shelley said one day – after what Karthik and you went through! What did we go through? Then Uma asked – is our problem because…we don’t have…children.” I whisper as I say that.
He grabs me by my shoulders and cuts in. “Uma said that! Or are you imagining it?”
“Uma said that!” I look at him angrily. “Why, even you come up with a date, throw it at me casually! About Mani and you – how do I know if I know about that incident or not?”
How do I know why he hesitates to hold me when all I want is to bury my face in his chest?
I look at him, and sliding down in defeat at his immobile face, say, “Can’t you see, Karthik, how difficult it is to live like that? I tried. Only on the day you told me about my father’s anniversary, I realised I couldn’t remember some things. I have tried to rebuild a new life, away from our past. But seeing you now, talking to you…can you see how difficult it is, not knowing?”
“Go away, get out of here, go someplace where you can live among strangers. We can only hurt you,” Karthik gesticulates violently, as if shooing me away. “Your mind has done you a favour. Don’t look back. There is nothing in the past. Live in the present. This is what matters.”
I stand up defiantly. “It is my life, Karthik. You cannot deny me that knowledge, just because I have lost the key to it and you have it. I have lost a memory, not my mind. But if you continue to tease me like this, I will lose that too.”
He roughly pushes back the strands on my face. “Sleep, Kalpana. Sleep awhile. It is not as if I have a record player in my mind that I play and you see your life rewinding in front of you. I have tried to forget some things too… To gather up those memories…to face them again…alone this time…” he says with a sigh, with so much tiredness that I feel bad for him.
“Promise me you will tell me all,” I plead in a whisper. He stands up without moving.
“I will try…now I should leave.”
He is at the door when he turns back. “Will you be fine, alone? There seems to be no power still…”
“I am used to it now,” I remind him gently.
His hand is on the door. Can he hear my heart beating fast, asking him to stay back?
“Kalpa…” he turns. He is facing me. “Can I hold you?”
I let out a sob that comes unbidden. I slip into his arms and he holds me tight. I cry into his chest. I feel a drop on my head. Is he crying too? I look up, startled. He backs off quickly, opens the door and is off before I can call him.