A Confession I Can Do Without
It is almost lunchtime by the time I reach office. Madhuri is pacing restlessly, and apparently waiting for me. She follows me as I step into my work space.
Her manner is elaborately casual…too casual, and I suspect that her complimenting my work at Mani’s is pure lip service. I feel guilty now, at the promise Karthik made me. What will happen to her? She seems serious about him.
I pretend to be preoccupied as she questions me about the previous evening, the storm, I hope we were fine, etc. And then the question pops out, “So, when did he leave? We were worried about the storm…so bad. Hope he didn’t get stuck anywhere?”
I lean back and say, “No, he left after the storm abated. He called to say he is fine.” I don’t need to explain anything…and yet, she is a woman in love. Having introduced him as my colleague, I am in a fix as to how I am going to explain his sudden interest in dropping me home.
“I thought I would call him and ask…” she says.
I shrug. I worry about how she will react once she knows the truth. I wonder what I should do. Things are so bad between us already.
She finally bursts out in a whisper, “I can last only so long. Tell me all about him now.”
I am surprised I can laugh. But maybe her childlike eagerness is what prompted it. “What do you want to know?”
“Right from how you know him to what makes him tick.”
I smile sadly, “I will tell you whatever I can. But tell me what makes you like him.”
“He is a gorgeous person. I mean, so calm and steady. And our chemistry is wonderful, don’t you think so?” I blush inadvertently and look away, the word chemistry throwing up immense possibilities. I picture them the way I had seen them that day. Yes, I felt it, the jealously. There was nothing to mark him as my man…he could be hers too. Then she adds, her voice soft and mellow, her defences down, “You know, Kalpana, I meet many people, many who flirt with me, many who compliment me, many who make a pass at me. But no one has made me connect with myself, understood me and made me understand myself the way he does…” She looks at me to see if I understand. My throat runs dry. I understand only too well.
“Where did you meet him? How long have you known him?” I ask quickly, turning away from memories.
“I met him once at Mani’s place – maybe more than a year ago? He visits them often and we used to keep bumping into each other there.” Then she makes a face, “He is so patient, so gentle... But he never shows how he feels about me. I am sure I wear my feelings on my sleeve.” She laughs. “But I think he likes me too. He doesn’t make a song and dance of it, but is around, strong, silent, supportive…”
I frown, remembering his saying he was no saint. He likes her, I know. “That’s him…yes. He takes time to open up… and is inscrutable, or so I have heard. Just give him time… Do you know he was married?”
She nods, “Yes, but he doesn’t say why he is separated. Just shrugs and says there were issues that they never sorted out. Do you know what it is about? I can’t imagine any woman walking out of his life!”
I feel a pang of pain. I shake my head, and say honestly, “I also don’t know why. Give him time, and he will open up.”
“That bitch gave him a hard time, or so Mani thinks. He says it is only in the last year or so he seems to have got her out of his system.”
I almost gasp in pain. Silence is my only answer as my head goes into a tizzy.
“I can talk to you about him, sometimes?” she asks, out of the blue. Seeing my surprise, she says, “Vijay can’t understand, and since you know Karthik, maybe you can help me?”
I shake my head. “I can be of no help, Madhuri. I understand him even less.”
She simply laughs, not understanding my agony as I try to sound light. Maybe she mistakes it for pettiness. Let her think what she will.
I wonder now about Karthik and Madhuri. He seems to be ready for a new life, a new wife. What am I doing, bringing him back to darkness?
When she moves away, I give myself a second to bury my face in my hands, uncertain as to what to do next. Oh, curse the rains, curse the party, curse getting trapped with Karthik. Curse me for asking him to tell me more. Curse the accident… I pause at the thought. What accident? Bike, my taking the bike was surprising. Some accident?
I clutch my head. I want to call the next day’s program off. I remember him holding me last night. I feel weak. I want him all the more.
Pratap walks up to me to ask for something. He catches my desolate looks and becomes solicituous. I get up, trying to smile, but my eyes fill up. He calls me to his room, and shutting the door behind me, asks me to sit. He pulls up another visitor chair close to me and asks what is wrong.
I shake my head, but end up crying.
“That man yesterday, he was not just a colleague, was he?” he asks with tremendous insight.
I shake my head, but don’t continue. He calls Rekha and asks her to come over. I look up startled. “Please, it’s okay! Don’t disturb her!”
He ignores me, gives me a glass of water, and lets me be as we wait for Rekha to come. I am thoroughly embarrassed now, more worried about how to handle her than my own problem.
Rekha comes in a while and, seeing me, asks Pratap what’s up.
“Why don’t you talk to her?” Pratap says and leaves quietly.
I apologise and try to wriggle out. She guesses I am not. “He wouldn’t have called me otherwise. But, it’s okay, relax. You don’t have to say anything. Just know that we are there for you.”
“You know about Karthik and Madhuri?” I ask, finally, as he silence lulls me into confidence.
She looks at me hesitantly and nods.
“Karthik and I separated two years back,” I blurt.
“Oh…! Is seeing them together bothering you?” she asks gently.
I shake my head. “Karthik and I haven’t met each other in two years. When I saw him with Madhuri at her birthday, it bothered me…but well, it is time he moved on. But last night, we met again at Mani’s house, and then he dropped me home. We got round to talking about our misunderstandings…and well…that is not the issue. Nothing may come of it still. But this morning, I couldn’t tell Madhuri he is my husband. I feel guilty about misleading her. That was not my intention. Things look pretty bleak still…” I rattle hurriedly.
She looks thoughtful. “Why didn’t the two of you talk to each other earlier? Didn’t you both know how to reach out?” she asks, hesitant.
I shake my head.
She waits, but I don’t explain. What is bothering me is not Karthik and me, but Madhuri.
As she ponders, I rush on, “I still don’t know if things will work out. But just that, how do I tell Madhuri now, having led her to believe we are just colleagues! And if things do work out…?”
“Let me think this over. You understand? She is a terribly sensitive person.”
I wish I could bury myself deep in the earth. Trouble…
I close my eyes. Rekha touches my interlocked palms gently, “But what will be, will be. Thank you for telling me. At least, we will try to help her – prepare her to accept it.” I look at her gratefully. “More importantly, we must try and make it work for you, if things are looking up. Tell me if you need any help…anybody to mediate?”
I look down, overwhelmed at her offer and kindness, shocked at the deep desire to be back with Karthik.
I shake my head slowly. “If he cannot convince me, no one else can,” I whisper.