Two Years

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Chapter 7

On the Edge

Karthik brands me a liar when I try to tell him Sukumar was a mistake, that I had nothing to do with him. My emotional fumbling as I try to clear my name, seems to confirm my guilt more surely. Wearily, he says, “Kalpana, please! If I were blind or a fool...” he shrugs. “Don’t add insult to injury.” He stonewalls me at every point.

How do I convince this man? Simply die of heartbreak, the way my Aunt Vibha did. Uncle Vishwa became upset with her and refused to talk to her after years of living in love with her!

All because, having married her, my uncle lost out on some inheritance! And blamed her for it when he was in dire straits!

Wilting, my silent, patient aunt died. Even in death, she created no fuss. A heart attack in sleep, and she passed away peacefully. It took my Uncle more than half a day to realise something was wrong! And less than a year to follow her to the land of the dead!

Oh Karthik, is that what it will take for you to realise…?

I hear Karthik head for the door. Then I hear him call me urgently. Oh what bliss! I run eagerly to him. “What is it?”

“Where is the Scooty?” he asks, panic evident in his voice.

I frown, disappointed. Much ado about nothing. “I am exchanging it for a new one.”

He whispers in disbelief, “What!”

I shrug. He stares at me, making me nervous, so I stumble on my words, “It wouldn’t start and I called the service guys…and they suggested changing the bike. I thought it was a good idea when he told me how much it would cost.”

Karthik is still for a second. Regaining his composure, he asks, “Why did you want to start the bike?” The voice is soft, too soft, so that it is with difficulty I understood what he said.

I shrug, something stopping me from mentioning work to him.

He purses his lips, shrugs too, ducks into his car and leaves.

I stare after him, not knowing what to make of this exchange.

My bike is ready earlier than expected. Excited, I hunt for my cheque book. It is hidden among loads of documents that I can’t remember having seen before. I didn’t know I was rolling in money! I quickly grab my cheque book and my license copy and leave for the showroom.

As I drive the scooter back home, the wind on my face makes me feel wonderful. I reach home just as it is getting dark. I want to share this moment with Karthik, but I remember that we are not talking.

I miss Uma, she would have squealed with pleasure and asked for a ride.

It was she who helped me adjust to the family, making me feel welcome. She was single at the time of my marriage. Though I was away at work most of the day, she and I were always up for an outing, ready to grab the purse and gallivant around the city, eating out, watching movies. Karthik travelled quite a bit then, and she saved me from boredom and tedium. My in-laws were old and old-fashioned, and just the presence of so many people at home made me claustrophobic. Uma acted like a buffer, using me as her chaperone but, in truth, giving me the needed break.

When she married, I was the most upset because in the one year that I had lived in that house, we had become extremely close. When she left, it was just Karthik, my in-laws, and me, and the drudgery of the existence hit me forcefully. My relationship with my in-laws had never been smooth, and Uma was a blessing. Once she left, I had to deal with them directly. How could she think I would be ungrateful?

I lean back against the wall, the thoughts clogging my brain.

I leave the new bike key in my puja room, prostrate and pray that my journey on this bike remains as smooth as on my previous one. I am half way into undressing when the fresh air, the freedom of movement beckons, and I decide to go for another ride.

A sudden movement in the dressing mirror makes me look up and I am startled to see Karthik step into the room. I rush into the bathroom, embarrassed at being caught half-dressed. I feel an unreasonable palpitation and trembling, as if caught red-handed doing something I am not supposed to do. I hadn’t heard him open the door.

Karthik taps on the door and asks if I am alright. I mumble a response and take a few more minutes before I step out.

I avoid looking at him and head blindly to the kitchen when he tells me, “I am going out for dinner – a dealer’s meet. Don’t wait up, I will be late.”

The last bit is redundant, isn’t it? I have stopped waiting up. I nod without looking at him and head into the guest bedroom, which I have made mine now.

He lingers near the doorway and I hope he will come closer, that we will make up, that he trusts me still. But instead, he asks, “How is the bike?”

My jaws tighten with the effort of controlling the tremor in my heart. I reply noncommittally…“mmmm.”

He waits for more, but I turn away, half expecting, half hoping, that he would advance into the room. I can feel the tension in my body, and so it is quite a let down when he turns around and leaves the room.

Not just questions, I am unable to share even joys with him anymore.

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