The phone shrilled and broke her out of her reverie.
She was not expecting a message from him so was surprised when it arrived.
It was a text message.
Him : “Travelling to Mumbai for work tomorrow. Back after a week. Will explain.”
The bastard, she fumed, he chickened out.
She could not believe this as she read the message a few times. Our mind plays tricks when pushed into corner, tricking you to read the same message over and over in hope of a different meaning in the next read.
The meaning stayed the same.
She threw the phone viciously at the bed as tears started to roll and a sob escaped her. She wrapped her arms around herself in an involuntary reaction. The mind, trickster, knew that her she need someone to hold her.
The hurt and the anger fought within her for a dominant emotional position.
The hurt won.
How did I put myself into this position, she thought, the humiliation followed by the pain in a vicious dance within her fragile psyche.
The answer was not too hard. It was her loneliness that drove her.
She had met him a few months ago almost by accident on a plane. She was travelling to Mumbai for a leadership conference.
A corporate communication employee in a IT company , she mostly worked from home. It was one of the perks of her profession that allowed her to spend time with her two young children and focus on the domestic life. Her husband was a corporate executive with a consumer goods company and was not a part of her domestic life.
They lived in the same house but had a gulf between them. The marriage was an unhappy one. It started after their second child when her husband lost interest in her. The sex stopped altogether and he started spending more time at office. When at home, he lost all interest in her and the children and would spend most of the time in his room drinking and watching TV. The self-absorption had ruined their marriage.
At first she thought it was because of her body, recovering from the pregnancy but after multiple fights and humiliating discussions, she realised that her husband had changed. He no longer wanted her or felt anything for her.
After a year of this, one day she packed her bags and decided to leave home. The wish to end this loveless marriage was strong but her children was all she had and it was difficult to give that up. They did not deserve a broken home, so she stayed and gained loneliness as a companion.
She often told her close friends that she had divorced her husband and remarried loneliness.
The trip to Mumbai for the conference was thus an escape. A chance to hide from her life for a few days.
An old woman sat down on the plane on the middle seat beside her. No one prefers these middle seats and most people opt for window or aisle. After a few minutes, the old woman raised a fuss and wanted to change her seat. The flight attendant asked the people around for someone who would like to offer their seat to the old woman.
He offered his window seat and sat down beside her.
She looked at him. He smiled. She did not and turned away to look out the window.
“You do know that when God made you, he was just showing off, don’t you?” he said softly.
“Really,“ she said peeved, “a cheesy pick up line is the best you have to start a conversation.”
The conversation from there, post apologies from him, went exactly how all such discussions go. You share details about you work and family. He was married with two children and worked as a management consultant with a top consulting firm.
There is an age men reach when they have lost their boyish manner and yet have not reached the maturity of the middle age. At this stage, they still have the naughty look on their face which is a trace of their dying youth. The eyes however are old and weary. When you look closely, you notice that these eyes have seen too much of the world’s nastiness.
She liked him. His quirky humour, his enthusiasm for his work, the clear burning ambition when he spoke of his work and his jaded eyes.
The exchanged numbers and started to talk regularly. The friendship quietly bloomed as they discovered more about each other and liked what they unearthed.
The coffee dates turned into lunch dates and occasional dinner dates.
Their friendship, quiet and modest, like a humble dingy on a lake, hit rough weather on the day after his birthday. Since he spent the birthday with his family, he asked her out for dinner the next day.
She bought a beautiful tie for him as a birthday gift. He chose the restaurant which was a romantic place, blues music in the background, old-world charming decor and candle lights.
She was not much of a drinker but it was his birthday celebration so she agreed to a few drinks. They talked, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. The wine, the music and the company made her feel wanted after a long-time. When he suggested, they spend more time together and check into a hotel, she agreed.
Loneliness is a good friend and a terrible enemy. It starts out as a friend, enveloping us and giving us a sense of false camaraderie. It makes us addicted to itself and we know in our heart that this is a suspicious friend, someone our mothers warned us about when we were young. A bad company, our parents told us. This nudges us to ditch loneliness and find another avenue.
Usually the next avenue is not the best decision we make.
They went home late evening after awkward goodbyes and meaningless promises that their friendship will not change.
The walk of shame changes all friendships.
She could not sleep after she reached home. She felt happy and fulfilled after a long-time. But the guilt bit into her time to time chipping away at the happiness she felt, reducing it with every bite.
She walked into the room her children slept in and looked at them. She felt an enormous love for them rise in her like a tsunami wave, threatening to engulf her world. Silent tears dripped from her eyes as she sat at the end of their bed, fighting with the urge to hug them tight and cry without restraint.
She did not walk into her husband’s room.
She stopped in front of his closed bedroom and felt a flash of irrational anger at him. He was responsible for this. He had put her in this position that made her step out of the marital boundaries.
Strangely he would also be one with the biggest accusatory look if he ever came to know.
She went back to her room and tried to sleep. In desperate hope, when she woke up the next morning, perhaps this would be just a bad dream, she would forget with a cup of coffee.
The phone buzzed and woke her up the next morning. She looked at the time and realised the children and her husband had left for their schools and offices.
She looked at her phone and read his message.
Him : “Can we talk?”
No, she did not want to talk to him yet. She was not ready so she ignored the message.
He got the message.
What do I do, she moaned loudly wringing her hands in air in the closed bedroom. She replayed the sequence of events, in her mind and every time she did that, her mind twirled on a roulette of emotions starting with satisfaction, anger, frustration, fear and ending with desolation.
She did what any woman did, in her state, when life was crumbling all around. She called her best friend over and confessed.
They spend the day painstakingly discussing the details again and again. She cried a few times and felt her heart get a bit lighter as she shared her pain with her best friend.
They discussed what she said, what he said, what she did, what he did and what they did. They tried to find hidden meaning in his words and discussed possibilities of what he meant and what he could have meant. Each telling of the story with its scanty details changed the storyline. Towards the end it reached a point which loosely suggested he had taken advantage of her.
Sisterhood is a bond that transcends even the most powerful family ties. Every woman has a best friend that is usually a bit more than family in her world view. The sisters are best friends, worst enemies, close confidantes, life-support systems and usually aware of every little humiliating thought, deed and rash.
The second message arrived late evening.
Him : “when can we talk?”
They discussed every word in the message and debated possible responses for over thirty minutes.
Both finally agreed on the best response.
Her : “tomorrow afternoon”
He called the next day.
The conversation was confusing and disappointed her. She mostly kept silent. He kept stuttering and stammering as he tried to tell her that she should not worry and that everything would be alright.
He would always be her friend and would always stand beside her.
Men and women mostly speak a different language. The medium is common but the meanings are disparate because of the difference in their individual psyches. One is chalk and the other cheese.
She stopped his inane blathering with a snappy remark before she got more of a headache than she already had.
“What do you want?” he finally asked her.
Men are usually a confused lot when it comes to women. They grow up in the world surrounded by trade and commerce all around them. That makes up their life and most of their thinking revolves around this basic “give and take” principle of trade.
They had taken their friendship to the next level so now his inner thought told him there would be new set of “give and take” involved.
He was trying to figure out the changed contours of this new “give and take”.
“You cannot be in two boats at the same time,” she told him, “either be with me or be with your wife.”
That silenced him. The price she asked was much higher than he was willing to pay.
He sent a message after their conversation.
Him : “I love you but please think of my family and my children. I have responsibilities.”
Her : “Her or me. Decide.”
After three days of torturous waiting and no communication he send back the below message.
She came back to the present and reread the message.
Him : “Travelling to Mumbai for work tomorrow. Back after a week. Will explain.”
The hurt and the anger fought within her for a dominant emotional position again.
The time anger won.
She blocked him and deleted his number. He tried to call and message for a few days but she resisted every contact.
She was done and finished with him.
After a few days, he stopped calling. She threw herself in her work and tried to forget this ever happened.
It was hard but she has a good circle of friends. Sisterhood helped her get back to her life.
Loneliness, the enemy came back and this time she welcomed him with open arms. She treated loneliness like a new-found friend and he wept on her shoulder sometimes. Hush, she told him, when he cried, everything will be alright.
Time, they say, is a great healer.
The sisterhood kept nudging her to leave loneliness, her constant companion now, at home sometimes but she resisted.
She had learned to live with loneliness and often took him for a cup of coffee to a nearby coffee house. It was a place which gave her privacy so she could focus on her work and get the much-needed change of scenery from her home.
The tap on her shoulder while she sat at the coffee house, caused her to look around and she saw a young guy smiling back her.
He was not so young when she looked at him again. There is an age in a boy’s life when he sheds the imprudence and petulance of the teenage years and grows into a mould of a young man. Aggressive and shy at the same time, hesitant and blunt in the same sentence. A few years of working experience has given him the confident bearing that life demands. But his eyes reflect an immature vulnerability when he speaks to women, which is touching and sweet at the same time.
“Did it hurt?” he says softly with a smile, “when you fell out of heaven?”
She stops for a moment and smiles. Peeking out of the corner of her eye, she realises that her best friend, loneliness, has deserted her, to handle this one on her own.
“Really,“ she says peeved, “a cheesy pick up line is the best you have to start a conversation.”