“I am scared Ryan! What if..” “You must relax Tara. All will be well. We are almost there at the hospital. Try holding on for a while.”
She had asked me stay back home, she knew that she wasn’t alright. It was her last trimester and I should have been there next to her but I wasn’t. I had these dreams of building a perfect future for our kid, a world which we couldn’t receive. I never realised how carried away I would become. I never did, even then.
We luckily reached on time, and all went well. Our daughter Arya was born. She had her mothers eyes, those curious little ones which followed me wherever I went.
But now when I reminiscence the day, I could clearly sense that something broke between me and Tara. She didn’t actually confront me but I could see it in her eyes. I had let her down, and it became the beginning of our fall.
Marriages are mostly arranged in India. Mine was no different. It was in the fall of 1999, I had been working for a civil consulting firm for the past four years and was ready to take the big step of marriage. I had a failed relationship when I was in college; the heart break had left me shattered for years. I just didn’t have the courage or the excitement to move on. The pain was pretty intense initially but it waned way with time, slowly bit by bit. Now when I was ready to get hitched, a small part of me became curious, the one which badly wanted to fall in love all over again. That’s when Tara happened to me. She and I had met only a couple of times before we got married. We didn’t get a chance of getting to know each other more, it was only after marriage that we realised how perfect we were for each other.
The first night together is always the most awkward phase in any arranged marriage. I remember Tara walking in with the trademark glass of milk in her hand. Her hands were shivering as she placed the glass on the table and sat right next to me. We both were nervous and we both didn’t know what to speak then.
“What do you know about me, Tara?” I passed a line to break the silence.
“That you work for a consulting firm and you’re a talented civil engineer.”
“About my personality, my character?” I stressed. Her eyes moved curiously towards me.
“I think…that you love speaking a lot. You didn’t give me a chance to speak back then when we met.” She had a sigh of relief as she finally muttered those words. I on the other hand was a little shocked but pleasantly happy. She was finally speaking up and it was my turn to reciprocate.
“You had those curious eyes stuck on me, just the way you have them now. Every time I finished a statement, your expression remained the same so I thought you were expecting more. And so I went on!”
“You have a nice voice Ryan. It felt like I have heard your voice somewhere. It was like a deja vu for me. That’s why that expression I believe.”
“Thank you. That’s a first. Where did you hear me before?”
“Do the math engineer. Where could our lives possibly intersect?”
“I had attended an event in your college. But I don’t know whether you were there in the audience. We were staging a play and I was the narrator. That’s the only connect I can think of. I moved to Delhi, and you to Bangalore.” Still thinking where else she could have heard me.
“Do you remember the host for the event?”
“I don’t, to be frank. But there surely was a lot of hooplah by my friends about the cute host. I on the other hand was busy on my phone, narrating every detail to my ex.”
“You are bang on. But I didn’t knew that I also got compliments! I was too scared of my saree, I had worn it for the first time.” She paused for a while, then continued as she passed me the milk and picked up an apple for herself.
“Ex? What happened, if you don’t mind?”
“Not a problem, it was a long time ago. We broke up after college. Long distance doesn’t work in my case. To be honest it took me time to get over her. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. I had so gotten used to her company that after we fell apart, I found no one to share them with. My stories, my emotions, I just couldn’t handle them.”
“Then how did you cope?”
“I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, time does heal. I found my voice through my blogs, I tried to showing my emotions in open. I slowly tweaked my quality to become more of an extrovert. It wasn’t easy but I had already made up my mind to make things work. So I think they finally did.”
“That was deep!”
“I have a habit of going deeper in conversations. Hope you don’t mind.”
“I am similar on that note.” She added.
“Tell me your story? Boyfriend?”
“Where do I start?”
“That seems like a long list!” I tried my humour but all I got was a blank expression from her. She sat down near me, after placing back the jewels, with a dead pan expression, looking straight at the wall in front.
“No Ryan. Akash was the only one.”
“What happened then?”
There were tears that started to appear. She spoke slowly and finally uttered, “He is no more.”
“It was three years ago. There was a car accident, a lorry had rammed into his vehicle. And I didn’t see him again.”
“I had just spoken to him an hour before then. I never knew that it would be our last. I never knew that.”
“I am sorry Tara. I really am.”
“Don’t be Ryan. I am okay now. He is the reason for me starting my NGO, “Rakshak”. It deals with implementing better rules and infrastructure for road safety. We are working with the government to get the Act together, and if brought in & passed by the house it would be revolutionary Ryan.”
“I now remember. I saw your interview in “The Hindu”, Tara. You have wonderful ideas lady, I hope your dream succeeds.”
“Thank you Ryan. Won’t you be supporting me?”
“Always will, always.”
“You still thinking about Akash?” She enquired.
“Yeah. See I will try making one thing clear Tara. I won’t try to take the place what you have for Akash; I won’t ask or compel you to forget him. He is part of you and I respect that.”
I could see her eyes get moist again; she had those curious eyes back on me. She wiped away the tears and made herself comfortable on the sofa.
“Come here Ryan. Are you tired or can you narrate a story to me?”
I smiled as I sat to her left, and narrated the story I know the best. Her expressions, I could never forget them, they were the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. She had her giggle going for her, and I saw her finally the way I always hoped her to be, smiling. The conversation went long; we moved from one story to another but managed to keep our curiosity burning high even after the exhausting talk. That night we shared a sofa, like all friends do. She dozed off on one end while I on the other. We woke up with a smile for eternity in our eyes but never knew that we would end up divorcing each other eight years later.
I got up from my seat as I saw her coming. It felt like she hadn’t aged at all, the twinkle in her eyes remained alive for me. Though we did have our share of grey hair, but a date was a date. That too after ten long years since we separated. I decided to narrate what I knew the best, and she was all ears to the old story of mine which she had heard enumerable times before. Her curious eyes remained the same, even after eighteen years since that night of our marriage. So I began.
“I sat down, recollecting and refurbishing the details of our last encounter. The time froze as the thoughts poured in to the floating phrases that I had been left to deal with. I closed my eyes, and finally allowed them the space to regroup into a complete whole for me to understand. The play was disturbing; the first thought that sparked reminded me of the void she had left, years ago. It’s really strange that the first possible thought we get when we meet someone, who used to be close, is the one of departure, the one that actually hurts.
It was raining heavily that day; cyclone warning had been issued and the landfall was expected in the next 6 hours. I still remember the frantic calls she had made to my office and how easily I had brushed them aside. She kept telling me to come home soon but I had an important client to satisfy. The deal would have been a big boost to my company, it would have sent us to the next level and I was too ambitious to avoid that. The last call that I received from her was on 8:05 P.M. There were 12 missed calls from her in total. When I finally gave her a call an hour later, the lines were left jammed. I kept trying her phone but all I could hear was how unreachable she was. I didn’t leave hope, as I frantically called her number every other minute, but signal was nowhere to be found.
I left the office in a hurry, managed my way through the overflowing flood to finally reach home. The lights were cut off, the house door was left open. The water had seeped in and all the items were floating in the verandah. I sensed my daughter’s teddy bear near my leg, while her favourite red dress was flowing away in to the main road. I couldn’t control my anxiety any more; the endless thoughts were running amok in my head. All of them related to their safety but I couldn’t find a trace of that in the house. I enquired with the neighbours but nobody was able to answer. I leaned towards the wall and seated myself with the tears that began to flow; it even beat the rain that stopped half a day later.
Next day, I reached my friend’s place after I received a text from her about Tara and Arya.
“Is she safe? How is Arya? Where are they?”
“They are upstairs.” She replied.
As I made my way towards the stairs, my friend stopped me with words that shook my world and left me shattered in a second.
“She wants divorce Ryan. She can’t handle you anymore.”
I didn’t want to believe those words, my Tara can never do that to me. I know my selfish self was talking again, but some characters in us are really difficult to be plucked.
I went ahead with the stairs and knocked her door only to hear the same words from Tara. The only difference was that this one broke my heart to pieces which I was sure would be never fixed again. I could hear my daughter sob from a distance but I wasn’t allowed inside the room. The door remained shut despite my endless protests. I didn’t realise then that the door would be bolted for me forever.
We signed the divorce papers the next Wednesday, and the last sight I remember of my daughter was in the court where her mother took the custody from me forever.
Today after ten long years, I saw Tara again.”