The Affair That Wasn't
The Affair That Wasn't
The phone rang incessantly and finally, Julia forced herself to pick it up. It was Karan, her college friend and someone who had been trying to be a pillar of strength for her over the last many months. He sounded concerned.
“I was getting worried you didn’t pick up the phone.”
“No, I am fine but I just didn’t want to talk to anyone.”
“But Julia, you can’t stay like this. You need to talk to friends who care.”
“I know but sometimes I am just not in the mood. I need to be alone sometimes.”
“I understand, but I hope you will not miss the function today.”
Karan’s sister was being felicitated for her MBA and he and his parents had arranged a big celebratory party for her. Karan had invited all his friends and was insisting that Julia come too. He said that it would be a change for her and all the old college friends would be there. Julia wasn’t too keen but found it difficult to say no to Karan.
“I will come but if I don’t stay long, don’t be angry.”
“Of course not, how can I be angry with you. I am so glad you will come. While the friends will come after lunch, you join us for lunch and relax for some time.”
“OK, I will.”
As she kept the phone down, she realised that she hadn’t changed even though life had changed forever for her. She honestly didn’t feel like going and putting on a false smile to people, having to listen to the sympathy from folks who thought it would help but would only make her heart more painful, having to see the jolly good time her friends would have while she remembered what she had lost. But then she was a person who just didn’t feel like hurting anybody, she invariably thought too much about how others would feel and went out of her way to take care of their feelings. This habit of hers had brought her to this tragic state and she once again went into the events of the past.
Julia and Karan were classmates in college and were good friends. Both came from traditional families. They were often teased by their classmates as a couple but both knew that they were not. He was a Hindu and she a Christian and both knew that nobody in the families would agree so they both consciously never extended their friendship beyond being just 2 classmates. Karan came from a wealthy family and with a flourishing food and restaurant business and he could not afford to antagonise his family. Julia came from a humble background with a god-fearing, church-going family and she knew they would be devastated if she did anything drastic.
Julia met Alex in the church, both their parents suggested that they get married and she simply agreed. She didn’t want to hurt her parents. She travelled around the country with Alex as he changed jobs and finally after many years they returned to their hometown to settle down. Karan also married and left her life as he became busy in his family business.
Julia was 45 years old and even at that age she made many a male turn and look at her. It didn’t matter what the age was, youngsters or middle aged and even old men they looked at her a second time. She was slim for her age, very little extra fat on her, still carried herself well, had a really good figure even if it wasn’t the wow or voluptuous kind, had hair that cascaded down her shoulders, she could carry off modern dresses including jeans and tops very well. One important thing about Julia was that at a young age she realised that it was a good bra that ensured that she had good breasts and made it a point from a young age to take care of them well.
At 45, unlike most women her age she carried herself off so well that she attracted attention whether she liked it or not. The biggest quality of Julia was that she was friendly and spoke to everyone warmly and sincerely so that made her even more endearing to all those who met her. She had this special quality of always fighting against injustice and this made her popular amongst the family and friends circle she moved in.
She had a lovely marriage, a husband who never said no to her and loved her madly and while like all couples they had their fights they knew that they couldn’t live without each other. Her husband Alex had a job that made him travel often and that made Julia quite bored and alone at home. But she didn’t mind or complain since she was busy with so many activities. She had the unique ability to fit into a modern or traditional setup and so she found that she did not have too many friends because they were either old fashioned or liked gossip or didn’t have enough intelligence to discuss politics, philosophy or such. They talked about cooking, churches, kitty parties, etc which made her bored. Julia was an excellent cook and created her own dishes, she could just eat at a restaurant and then actually prepare that dish back at home and her dream was to have a restaurant of her own. But she knew that it would not be since Alex wasn’t that rich and they both found it difficult to take the risk of a large loan.
Alex was very broad-minded, liberal and he encouraged her to do whatever she liked. He gave her a lot of self-confidence and even if she did not work in any office she was smart and had a certain intelligence and wisdom about work that most housewives lacked. She could tell Alex things about his office and work that always made him talk to her. But then like most couples each took the other for granted when it came to such things. Alex always felt in recent times that he should have encouraged her to work and regretted his decision that he demanded a wife who did not work. He felt that he had wronged her and so he now encouraged Julia, even more, to do things in the community which Julia did. But whatever she did was voluntary and in spite of being hugely popular, she deep inside felt that she wasn’t appreciated or acknowledged enough for her abilities and talents.
One day she was invited by her old college friends to join them for a reunion and she took Alex with her and met so many of her old classmates, heard so many stories of happiness, joy, tragedy, and sadness and realised that she wasn’t very different from others. Many had prospered and become very successful. She met Karan who was now a big businessman running a chain of restaurants and even had a back end food processing plant. He was very successful and given her own interest in cooking they ended up talking a lot about his business. Like with many others she exchanged numbers with Karan and they drove back home.
As they drove back, Alex teased her about how many old boyfriends she had met.
“Boyfriends? God do you think I could have married any of them? In college, everybody looked like they would be failures or become a bank clerk.”
Alex laughed loudly. “Come on every one of us feel that way. If you look at my college day pictures I also look like an idiot. Unfortunately, I never studied much in co-ed places so I never got the chance to have any girlfriends or any girl I was infatuated with. Thankfully I didn’t become gay.” And they both laughed. Alex was like this. Always talking nonsense, acting silly and Julia would keep saying that she had married a kid who never grew up. She always told him that she wanted a dignified guy who would take care of everything but instead got a kid where she had to do so many things herself. Alex would invariably say “Come on, that’s actually positive. I am encouraging you to be smart and not be like a dumb housewife”. Unfortunately, even if she knew it was true, Julia somehow never felt that way.
“Actually while I didn’t have any boyfriends but lots of people used to tease that I and Karan were a couple.”
“We used to get bullied by a lot of guys, there were some rowdy guys in college and any attractive girl they used to harass. So Karan and a few others would sort of be protective towards me and a few other girls and so they spent a lot of time with us. Somehow Karan would talk to me more than the others. So we would get teased.”
“OK but then given your talent in cooking and dreams of having a restaurant why didn’t you hook him for yourself?”
“Are you crazy? My family would have died of shame and disowned me. His family also would have thrown a fit. So it was impossible.”
“So OK it was impossible because of other reasons and not because both of you did not have feelings for each other?”
“Alex – don't start a fight. Since I knew there was no question of marrying a non-Xian I never even thought in any other terms and so this is a hypothetical situation.”
“OK, but if you had the freedom and opportunity would you have loved and married someone? Karan or maybe someone else?”
“I don’t know, maybe I would have. But then there is no point in discussing these things. It’s a useless discussion. Whatever is in our destiny, fate happens”
The discussion ended there.
Some days later, Julia was surprised to get a call from Karan. They spoke in general of many things, the class party and their classmates. She found that she and Karan had similar views on many things when it came to gossiping about their friends. Julia as was her habit, told Alex about the call from Karan.
After that day Karan would call her once in a while and they spent a short while talking to each other. He then suggested that maybe they meet up whenever she was free. The only time she would be free would be in the afternoons and he said that suited him because after lunch there would be a lull in his restaurant business. Karan said that he would invite a few other friends who lived close by and they could all meet once in a while.
Julia asked Alex if she could go out with her friends and said that another girl and couple of guys lived in that part of the city and probably they all would meet up. Alex readily agreed and told her to go have fun since she needed a change anyway being cooped up at home.
The first time Julia went there were about 5 of them and they spent a few hours talking to each other and just chilling out. The next day Karan would call and they would again gossip about the previous days get together.
As usual, Julia would tell Alex about her outing and something funny or tragic that had happened in somebody’s life. She didn’t take names but would tell the incident or event since Alex wouldn’t know who she was talking about.
After a few such meetings, the number of people dwindled and soon it would be just she and Karan. It had happened gradually and over a few months and she didn’t even notice the change. If Karan noticed it, he didn’t mention it. They would talk about his business, the dishes, the cooks, the customers, recipes, etc. Given her keen interest and talent in cooking and a family that loved food and had strong views about them, she could relate to him perfectly and so they discussed him and his business extensively. Karan found that she was a very good sounding board and so he always discussed his issues with her. Given her knowledge in cooking and insight into human behaviour she gave him ideas and he found them very useful and could actually use them in his business.
Soon he became addicted to her presence as a sounding board and unofficial adviser. So even if they didn’t meet, they spoke for hour’s together everyday and discussed so many things. Julia found herself doing something useful and when she got feedback about how her ideas had succeeded, how a new recipe was a hit or how a problem customer was taken care of etc she would feel very happy and thrilled. She felt a sense of accomplishment. At 45 this was a huge high for her.
Since their daily phone calls had become a habit and involved some serious issues she no longer spoke as she cooked or cleaned around the house. She would lock herself into her room and speak. Alex noticed this.
Given the happiness, at her accomplishments, she loved to share them with Alex when they were together. Of course, she had to also explain the whole thing and so she spoke about Karan incessantly. If Alex was irritated, he didn’t show it. Julia never noticed that Alex would go quiet and happily kept talking and sharing news about Karan, his success, his business and her contribution and so on.
Soon the afternoon meetings between Julia and Karan became more often and Julia would just drop everything and go to meet him. Karan being in the restaurant business knew about others in the business and in order to discuss an idea or a decor or a recipe or whatever he started taking her to show other restaurants. Many were far away and on highways and so Julia ended up going on long drives with Karan often. She ended up coming back home late and if Alex called by late evening she would tell him that she was on such and such highway and would come home soon. Alex never questioned or said anything on her return and she never felt that anything was amiss.
This went on for a couple of years and Alex never said anything and Julia never felt anything and like always she would happily prattle about her day to Alex and invariably that was more about Karan and her accomplishment in contributing to his success. Again she never noticed how Alex felt.
Julia never once even thought as to why Karan never spoke about his wife or what she did. The one time she had broached the topic Karan had told her that his wife was rather traditional and focussed more on their children and involved in her own family matters which kept her busy. He did hint that she wasn’t involved in his business and so he never ever discussed his life with her. Julia like her nature did not probe or ask any questions.
Whenever Karan needed to check anything he would message her and she would respond. As they sat in a restaurant one afternoon talking about life in general and how people behaved Karan casually told Julia that he always deleted his messages and calls soon after getting them to avoid others seeing them when checking his phone to protect confidential information. Unconsciously Julia registered this comment and from that day she started deleting all records of her calls and chats with Karan.
Unfortunately for Julia, Alex was by now very suspicious about what was going on between her and Karan. She could have told him that there was nothing but then she was now quite busy, feeling good about whatever assistance she gave Karan. Karan never failed to compliment her, often, and she enjoyed the attention. She felt that Alex took her for granted and she enjoyed this attention and contribution to Karan and his business. Given her love of cooking and dreams of a restaurant of her own, she was living her dream albeit indirectly. She never noticed the changes in Alex.
Alex in the meantime was busy with his job with lots of stress and so they often quarreled and fought. She attributed every fight to the stress that Alex was undergoing and became more involved in her activities with Karan as a change. She just didn’t realise that her involvement with Karan was what was actually the cause of the stress in Alex and not his job. They spoke lesser than before and he spent his time working even after getting back home. It was as if they had grown apart though both loved each other madly.
Julia’s constant talk about Karan had gotten into Alex deeply that he now felt that at every stage, every day Julia was comparing him to Karan and feeling disappointed in her choice of husband. He withdrew into a shell and convinced himself that Julia was now in love with Karan and disappointed that society and a family with children prevented her from making a choice and walking away with Karan. Alex asked himself the question as to why in all these years Karan had never once brought his wife home, or invited them to his home, never once suggested a family get together. With Karan, even on the phone, Julia was a very different person. She was always smiling, laughing, happy and the moment she got a call from Karan she would just drop everything and go to meet him. This stung Alex and only convinced himself that the two weren’t just in love but also probably involved in a physical relationship.
With each day his suspicions only grew and finally, he decided to check and find “proof”. He asked the telephone company to send him all the records of the calls to and from Julia’s phone. He installed spy software on her phone that stored messages in the cloud even though she deleted them. He also checked her phone when she was in the bathroom. Julia soon realised that Alex was checking her phone.
Julia knew that she had nothing to hide in her relationship with Karan, so, she didn’t bother to raise the issue or even ask herself why Alex who was so trusting did such things. She only got more irritated which worsened their relationship. Also wasn’t she telling Alex everytime she met Karan, everything she and Karan spoke so her friendship with Karan could not be an issue she convinced herself though she felt that it was an issue.
Alex on analysing the phone bills and the spy software realised that Julia was spending hours every day on the phone with Karan apart from the frequent meetings, she was sharing all the sex jokes and dirty stuff that he sent her and he was now convinced that not only were Karan and Julia having an affair but were most probably sleeping together. He never raised the issue with her, she never tried to be sensitive and talk to him and things became worse between them. Every time either of them spoke, it ended up in a fight.
Then on one fateful day, Alex got into a furious fight with Julia over a trivial issue and finally in anger blurted out – “Go, go be with Karan where you are happier”. Julia was shocked. There was nothing between her and Karan and Alex was making such an accusation. Alex then told her whatever he had discovered and finally, Julia broke down and asked that she be given a few days time to resolve things with Karan. She said that as there was nothing between them, she would need to properly convey this issue to him without hurting him. Alex internally wept – “here I am the one who is hurting so badly and she cares more about hurting Karan”.
The next day Julia asked Karan to meet her whereas all these years it was always Karan who would suggest a meeting. Karan said he had some work but would meet her. Karan picked up Julia on that fateful day and said – “Listen I have to urgently hand over a document to somebody and so we will drive down there and we can talk on the way”.
Julia had no choice but to agree and she didn’t ask where he needed to go. That way Julia all her life had been naive and that had often got her into trouble and this time she was in big trouble, but didn’t know it.
Karan had to drive to the next town a good hour and a half drive away. She didn’t want to spring the issue suddenly and lead him up to it slowly. So she spoke about other things casually and it was too late when she realised that they were on the highway. Once committed she had no choice and kept quiet. She didn’t inform Alex either about this development. Alex was thinking she was meeting Karan somewhere near their house.
Time passed and she brought up the topic only after they had started back from the next town and soon it started raining. She told him the fight with Alex and what all had happened and Karan became quite agitated and upset and the rain became very heavy. Karan had trouble seeing the road properly and with what Julia was telling him, he had a hard time driving in the rain. Soon they came across a highway hotel where he decided to stop by and wait till the rain reduced.
This highway hotel was one of those shady places but neither of them noticed and they waited in the lobby for the rain to subside. Suddenly there was a screech of tyres and a number of police jeeps and vans stopped in front of the hotel, dozens of cops got down and while some surrounded the building others led by a pot-bellied, tough-looking cop entered the hotel and started breaking down doors. A full-fledged raid was underway as this highway hotel was known for prostitution and drugs. Karan and Julia did not get a chance to explain anything; gruff, tough cops simply hounded them with threats to beat them and along with many other couples Karan and Julia also got arrested and in their own car they were driven to the nearby police station.
Their cellphones were seized and after the senior inspector came in he found that Julia and Karan did not look like the other riff-raff and so allowed them to sit on a bench instead of locking them up in a cell. But he knew something was wrong with them. Given the situation there was little either of them could do, they could not even call up anyone for help.
After three hours Alex got worried and sent messages to Julia but there was no reply. He then started calling her and there was no response. Amidst the various seized phones nobody bothered. Alex was now in a panic. His mind was going wild with all kinds of imaginations. His mood alternated between anger, panic and remorse.
By this time the inspector had finished with the others and called Julia and Karan to come to sit in front of him and started asking questions. While Julia fumbled, Karan answered confidently and while telling the truth, he also lied saying that she was his cousin. Julia’s phone again rang and the inspector looked into his drawer and saw the words – "Hubby" on the screen. He picked it up and asked who’s phone it was and Julia said it was hers. He smiled. He now knew what was happening. He received the call and Alex literally shouted – “Julia, where are you, I am so worried”.
The inspector answered “She is here with me at the highway police station”
“What? is she all right? Was there some accident?”
“She is fine and nothing to worry.”
“Then why is she at the highway police station of all the places, what is she doing on the highway?”
“That I cannot explain but the police today raided a highway hotel where she was arrested with a Mr. Karan her cousin.”
“What cousin? He is her friend. What were they doing at the hotel and why were they arrested?”
“I think it is better that you come here.”
By this time Julia had gone white and pale, she looked ready to collapse, and Karan was sweating profusely and seemed to have lost voice. The inspector, probably a sadist was enjoying their discomfort. He now guessed what was going on.
Karan soon found voice and started protesting and throwing names and almost sounded threatening. He said that the inspector was misunderstanding the whole situation. Julia now weeping seconded this statement. The inspector lost his cool. He shouted at Karan.
“You first lie to me about who you both are, you then lie to me that you stopped because of rain when you are driving an SUV that can even go across shallow rivers, you then threaten me with VIP names, you finally try to bribe me. First, learn to tell the truth and behave with a police officer. You must actually thank me because if I wanted to I could have filed the FIR, arrested you formally, put you both inside the lock-up with the others. But do you know why I didn’t do that?
I didn’t do that because the hotel manager said that the two of you had arrived a short while before but had NOT asked for a room. So I wanted to investigate before taking action. Now sit there till the other gentleman arrives and then we will resolve this.”
A short while later the inspector got a call and had to leave, so he told the constable that after the third gentleman arrived he could let them both go.
A little later Alex arrived looking distraught, upset and worried. He did not see Karan and Julia and went up to meet the constable and asked what had happened. The constable said “Sir, we raided a hotel where prostitution was going on and our inspector found these two there. Inspector has said that you can take them both with you since he hasn’t filed a case against them”.
Alex was shocked and furious; his worst fears were now coming true. He concluded the whole excuse of Julia to explain to Karan in person was a lie. They had as usual checked into a hotel room and probably discussing how to handle the situation and as usual sleep together before she returned home with a new story.
He saw them as he turned around. Angry and in a rage, he said, “Both of you follow me, let's discuss elsewhere” and walked off. He drove off on the highway and after a couple of miles, he stopped on the side and got down.
Julia came running from the other car towards him.
“Alex this has been a terrible misunderstanding. What you are thinking is just not true but please, believe me, nothing of whatever you are thinking is true. I swear on god I am telling the truth”
Karan slowly walked towards them and this irritated Alex since to him it looked like an arrogant swagger. Alex lost his temper. He then started a tirade against both of them for taking advantage of his trust and broad-mindedness. He told Julia about her own behaviour and conduct and how she showed more concerned about Karan than himself.
“I know you married a person who did not meet your dreams, your aspirations. You told me that you could not marry Karan because of family pressures, destiny and now when he has come back into your life you realise what you have lost. But again you are afraid of society, family and instead of doing the honourable thing to divorce me and marry him you preferred to sleep with him.”
Karan was shell shocked. All this was news to him. What he thought was just a friendship that clicked because of common interests was apparently much more. In the past few years, he had never once realised that Julia had such feelings for him. She often talked of her family and Alex so affectionately. So all this help and advice that Julia had been giving him – was it a reason so she could be with him? Did Julia have dreams that Karan would actually leave his family and become hers? Karan’s mind was in turmoil since the situation seemed to be spiraling out of control. Every minute was a new revelation, a new shock, a new twist in his life. He just did not know what to say.
By this time Alex had turned to him and was abusing him. He was cursing Karan for having brought misery into his life. He accused Karan of taking advantage of Alex’s trust and having a jolly good time going to bed with Julia in the afternoon and then going to bed with his own wife at night. Which male wouldn’t enjoy that kind of a life?
“You are selfish and taking Julia for a ride. You are taking advantage of her for your own ego and pleasure. You are fooling her and at every stage protecting only your own interests. If you are a decent human being as you claim to be, do the honourable thing. I will divorce her now and then whether you marry her or keep her as a mistress is up to you both to decide. But you cannot have the pleasure of enjoying her in bed while she is my wife so that both of you can laugh together at me after having sex as to how you both are fooling me.”
Karan stayed silent and Julia, as was her habit of fighting against injustice, was upset at Alex for all the accusations and the filthy abuse, the false accusations against both of them finally burst out in a loud voice angrily.
“ALEX, you have no right or business to talk like that to Karan, you dare not make such accusations”
Even as she blurted those words out, she knew she had made a terrible mistake, but it was too late. Alex looked shocked, she could see the hurt deep in his eyes. At that moment it was as if Julia was actually looking deep into Alex, his mind, his heart as she saw how he was feeling. She wanted to take back the words, but it was too late.
Alex was now breathing heavily, his face was like he had seen a ghost, he went pale and started sweating, his mouth became dry and like in a trance he looked at Julia, arms stretched out in front as if to keep her away and started saying – “Oh god, I am sorry, I didn’t realise this. I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry.”
Continuing to say sorry he started walking backward away from them, hands still outstretched, and in a flash, before anyone could realise, he had stepped on to the highway. Just at that moment, a heavy truck was going at top speed and it hit him with such a force that Alex was flung into the air like a doll and as both Karan and Julia watched his body seemed to start coming down in slow motion. Alex fell on the concrete road and bounced before he settled down like a limp rag doll.
Julia screamed and ran towards him while Karan stood transfixed. Life today was throwing so many curve balls at him today; he did not know what would come next. Julia reached Alex who surprisingly had lost little blood but his body was crushed inside and he was already dead. But the blood continued to flow inside, the brain continued to work and as Julia held his face Alex looked at her with vacant eyes and like a speaking doll he continued to say Sorry, Sorry but without any soul in it and he then went silent forever. Julia fainted.
She had no recollection of what happened next, she was in such a state of shock that she was under sedation for weeks after that and after a few months she became alive to the world around her. She remembered the final fateful moments and kept weeping. Her family, friends, and doctors – all of them never once brought up the topic of Alex, never spoke about him, but kept giving her strength that she was not responsible for what happened. She used to be puzzled because she blamed herself for his death and knew that but for her friendship with Karan, her trying to live her dreams through Karan but at the same time being insensitive towards Alex had caused this whole tragedy. But she was too tired to ask. Nobody wanted to discuss the events of that day either. She never knew what had happened after she fainted. She didn’t want to know.
She had been living the life of a recluse, going to church everyday, involving herself in church activities and since Alex had left behind a goodish sum and a flat, she had a comfortable life. She often went down memory lane like now and knew that she had to continue her life till the day came when she would be with Alex again in the house of Jesus. She hoped that she could explain and seek his forgiveness when they met in heaven. She was sure that Alex would be in heaven, but would she go there?
She looked at the watch and realised that she better get ready and go for the function at Karan’s place. She went to the function hall and Karan greeted her warmly and told her to be comfortable and relaxed, have lunch and enjoy the music till the other friends arrived. She didn’t even then realise that even now he had never once bothered to introduce her to his wife. Julia was naive that way.
Julia was now sitting behind a couple of elderly women who were yakking away non stop, gossiping about someone or other. She was not interested to eavesdrop till one of the women said – “Talk to Karan, he can extricate himself from even the biggest of problems and can help you. See how he handled that Christian girl scandal.” Julia became interested and started listening.
“You mean you don’t know that scandal?” said the woman to the other.
“Karan was friends with a Christian girl who was helping him in his restaurant business. One day when he was driving on the highway he saw her and her husband standing next to their car on the side of the road. Thinking their car had a breakdown he stopped to help them. He found that the girl's husband was drunk and was unable to drive the car any further. He offered to help the girl and drive them home in his car. Apparently, the husband misunderstood and started shouting saying that Karan was flirting with his wife. That girl asked Karan to go away since this was a regular thing for her and she would manage her drunkard husband on her own. So Karan got into his car and left but that husband was so drunk and angry that he started chasing Karan’s car and ran on to the road and got run over by a truck.”
“The girl fainted and then Karan arranged an ambulance, called the police and using all his influence ensured that the police did not file a case against the truck driver who had hit that husband. He ensured that a doctor gave a report that the husband had high levels of alcohol in his body, he paid off the truck driver and finally the case was closed. In fact, the girl’s family was very grateful to Karan for everything he did and closing the police case on his own without involving the family.”
Julia knew that they were talking about her, this explained why nobody spoke or seemed to know about the events of that fateful day. She now knew Alex was right. Karan was more interested in his self-preservation than anything else. Even now the care that he showed was to ensure that she didn’t create issues for him.
Listening to the two old women, she was shocked, but also getting to know the truth made the scales drop from her eyes. She was immensely sad but she was also suddenly self-confident. She was also determined. She walked out of the function hall ignoring Karan as he called out to her. She drove back home a new woman. She decided that she would now do what she should have done a long time back – get rid of Karan form her life permanently – that way maybe she would still have her Alex with her.
She decided to go for confession – something she had never done in her life. She would seek forgiveness for what she had put Alex through. From today she would be strong and keep the memory of Alex alive in whatever way she could. She would never let anyone take advantage of her anymore. Knowing the truth, however bitter, she was now stronger and would face life confidently. Julia once again lived.