The Credit Card
The Credit Card14 mins 175 14 mins 175
The flight number AE1102 has landed, passengers are to collect their checked-in luggage from belt number 3 of the Arrival hall. Thank you
Vidya answered her phone, "Hi, hello, yes I have landed safely," while boarding a cab.
As the cab dropped her, she stood there with her weekender bag, looking at the house. 'How long has it been?' she wondered, '25 years.. is it? Does it seem like? Yes, it does!' Vidya felt every second of those 25 years.
She went inside the house and looked around. Then started climbing the stairs and paused before a photograph. She ran her fingers on the dusty frame and sighed, 'Akka!'. A few moments later, she came inside her room.
Everything was as she left, only covered in white sheets of a sham. There was almost no dirt on those furniture but were they really covered? To certain mites, they were as naked and vulnerable as a newborn. But yes, the white cover helped. Couldn't save the damage, but helped. Helped in appearing normal. Helped in blending in with the others. But those mites, they still live inside those crevices, eating it away, every day. She stared at her favorite chair by the window, as a tear rolled down her cheek.
She called for a maid and took a while to make the place look like her home again. After her shower, she came out of the bathroom in her towel and stood in front of the mirror of her dressing table. Water dripping off her wavy short gray hair on to her broad shoulders, then down to her slender waist and then all the way down to her long legs before her bronze skin soaked it in. The last time she looked at herself in this mirror, she was very different- younger, no wrinkles, stubborn, determined and little less wiser. 'I wish I could go back and tell that 28-year-old Vidya to put a check. To think, imagine, anticipate, contemplate and re-contemplate and stay. That, I can see what is going to happen after this. So don't leave, please!' Another tear rolled down as she pleaded her younger self but it was as futile as the teardrop which just disappeared amidst the droplets of water on her face.
Soon she draped a crème colored saree, locked the house and left for the supermarket.
On the way, she stopped at her friend's house. Her friend, Nina, was standing at the gate with a brown envelope. Vidya took that, sighed and said, "Thank you for all the years, Nina. You knew me the best. I should have listened to you. I'll come back for drink, maybe tomorrow." and left. Nina just smiled and nodded.
Vidya picked two packets of chocolate chip cookies and straight went to the counter. She took out a credit card from the envelope and stared at it. "Ma'am?" The man at the counter gestured for her card. Vidya handed over the card, still looking at it. She watched it very carefully, as the card swiped by the side of the machine, then slid at the center, the amount entered, pin pressed. Vidya's heart started beating faster. Then the moment of the green button. She was tense and restless, her heartbeat was totally expressed through her sharp-featured face. The man at the counter saw Vidya's face and paused. "Ma'am, is there a problem?" Vidya looked at him and nodded her head, then looked away. Still, the man was a bit apprehensive about pushing the green button until he heard his manager shout, "Fast!" and he hit it. The transaction was approved and the bill came out with a screeching sound. The man and Vidya exchanged embarrassed looks.
With the credit card in hand, Vidya went outside to the supermarket-owned open coffee shop and sat on a chair, facing the road. She always loved to see moving cars. She gazed at the road, while a waiter came to take her order, "What can we serve you today, ma'am?"
"A cold coffee with whipped crème for me please, and for you?" – Vidya asked.
"One large Latte, please" – Srinivas replied. And then asked, "Oh, do you have chocolate chip cookies?"
Vidya: Vasu, I thought you were working out.
Srinivas: For choco chips, I'll run that extra five kilometers.
Vidya: That lucky choco chip!
Srinivas: (smiling) Let's go out this weekend. Hill or beach?
Vidya: (bigger smile) Do I really need to answer that?
In the misty valley of Kodaikanal, Srinivas and Vidya held hands. Vidya rested her head on his shoulders as they watched the clouds hiding the peaks in it. "Everything is so temporary", Vidya said as the cloud moved to the next peak. "The mountains have their own rules if you are referring to the climatic condition." Srinivas replied and chuckled, running his finger through her hair, "and often they are referred to a woman's character". "I am serious Vasu, we should do something about it now," Vidya said in a worrisome tone; to which Srinivas assured, "We will."
On another day, Vidya yelled, "I don't want to see you anymore, Srinivas,"
Confused Srinivas who is only used to Vasu from Vidya, replied, "Srinivas? Who is that?" He asked holding Vidya by her waist and pulling her towards him.
"Don't touch me! I trusted you."
Gauging the situation, Srinivas pleaded, "Will you please let me explain?"
"No. there's nothing left to be explained." Vidya started to leave fast.
"Vidya, you'll have to let me explain. We have to talk about this. Please, I beg you," Srinivas held her feet, crying, "I beg you."
Vidya gently pulled him up and held his face, "You know what you are to me, please don't stop me, I might do something to myself" and rushed out of the room.
Ten months later, Vidya speaking on her cell, "Yes I had to shop a lot for moving out, and I think my card is maxed out, damn this demonetization! I just don't have cash anymore," handed over her card to the man on the counter, "I just gave the card, I am sure it's maxed out, just taking my chance. I think I have to borrow both cash and card from Akka before leav.." Vidya paused as she saw the transaction being approved. "Yess... Approved!" Vidya rejoiced on the cell phone but her grin narrowed down the moment she got the card back.
"What the.. I'll call back." Vidya hung up being disappointed in herself. She carried her four large shopping bags and called for a radio cab whose ETA was 11 minutes. Vidya wanted to get out of there as soon as possible and thought of hailing a yellow cab instead. As she rushed to the gate, she faced the inevitable, Srinivas.
"I am sorry I used your credit card by mistake, I'll transfer the money to your account," Vidya said without looking at Srinivas.
"It's our card, Vidya. Leave that.. How are you? Where have you been? I tried to reach you so many times," Srinivas asked in a trembling voice.
"I am leaving tomorrow, have a good life," Vidya said taking out the credit card and handing it over to Srinivas, still not looking at him.
"So stubborn, Vidya? That you couldn't let me speak or see you once? And now you are leaving!" Srinivas almost breaking down.
"Please take the card, I am getting late." Vidya requested.
"Please keep the card with you, consider it my one last request. If you ever use it, I'll know. That's the only way I could feel connected with you." Srinivas pleaded.
Vidya with the head still bowed down, started to leave with brisk footsteps.
"Vidya?" Srinivas called out, she stopped, "You can hide those tears from me but I know. Will I ever see you again? Will you ever come back?"
Vidya turned back with her red-teary-kohl-smudged eyes, "Yes I will when nothing could be changed back to what we wanted it to be."
Vidya's finger touched the hot cup of cappuccino and she came back with the sting of the heat. Looking at the roadside, she wondered, 'And here I am back in the same place after 25 years. I guess it's time enough not to change anything. Here I am, swiping that silly credit card in the hope that he would come to see me, like last time.'
'Last time, he took less than 6 minutes, but yes he was 25 years younger. So, I should give him double the time. Okay, 30 minutes should be enough. Why am I behaving like a 16-year-old?! Did Nina activate the right card? What if his number is deactivated or changed or lost or whatever… Argh, I need to stop!!' Vidya talked to herself when she saw a tall man coming towards her wearing a white shirt and blue denim.
As he got nearer, Vidya couldn't believe her eyes. Vasu, as young as she left him. Only more handsome. That style of walking- putting his left hand inside the pocket, sleeves folded, wrist watch on right, those pitch-black curls. She stood up in surprise with her mouth opened and eyes big. As he came closer, Vidya noticed his eyes were bit different and so was his nose. He was slightly more masculine with broader stature. He wasn't Vasu, but he was not very different from him. "Miss. Uhh, Mrs. Vidya?" he inquired.
"Yes. Call me Vidya. And you are?"
"Hi I am Dhrishit, son of Srinivas, can I please sit?"
Vidya was spell-bound and awestruck. She wasn't prepared for this. For 25 years, she prepared for almost all possibilities and circumstances under which she might encounter Vasu. She rehearsed her lines and sentences like a dialogue. She rehearsed multiple iterations of reactions to one sentence. Once she'd be rude, next moment she'd think it would be too rude and that it might hurt him. She prepared for infinite virtually anticipated and imagined situations, all situations but this.
"Whh.. where is Vasu, I mean Srinivas, your father?"
"He couldn't come, not keeping well. So, he sent me."
"Wha.. what happened to him?" Vidya asked in an uncomfortable tone. She wasn't sure about how she was feeling about Dhrishit. Whether she was feeling happy that he was Vasu's son or she was feeling the pain that he was a son of Vasu with some other woman. But she wasn't feeling any of these. She was feeling guilt.
"Old age you see. Appa sent me to tell you what he always wanted to tell," Dhrishit said in a firm tone.
Firmness and guilt are not good bedfellows. She was finding it very difficult to face him.
Vidya nodded her head gesturing him to go on. "Did you know my mother?" Dhrishit asked.
"I knew her name," replied Vidya.
"After her marriage, all my mother knew and tried to become until her last breath, was you. And you know just her name?" Dhrishit said sarcastically.
Vidya was silent. Dhrishit continued, "You knew that my father was already engaged to my mother when you met Appa, and still you both fell in love and made promises to one another, cheating my mother multiple times."
"Your Appa sent you here to reiterate this?" Vidya asked politely.
"You're no less than a Goddess to him, he would never say anything like that to you, that's not him, that's me," Dhrishit replied rudely, his face getting red.
Vidya took her cell in hand and decided to leave. She did not come to justify herself, especially after 25 years.
Dhrishit did not stop her. But Vidya stopped. She had to let it out, 25 years of unfulfilled love was too much to end with the massive void of guilt. That is not the closure, her love deserves. If not love, she deserves a closure. She sat back down.
Vidya looked at Dhrishit and said, "Love is never planned, especially the one that we had. Vasu promised he would tell everything to her and break the engagement but he didn't. I got to know from someone else about their marriage date. I couldn't take it. I left on impulse. I felt more cheated than your mother, I can bet."
"Amma?" he laughed, "You have no idea what she has been through! Let's not get into that." Dhrishit stated clearly. "Why were you so stubborn not to listen to him once? Why didn't you stay and solve it? That would've changed so many things. Would have spared lives."
Vidya looked at him with intrigue as he continued, "It was then when you went to Kashmir, my father wanted to break the news to my mother but as luck would have it, she met with an accident and lost her legs. You know my father well, he would have never gone back from his responsibility, especially when it's about arranged marrying the girl who had nowhere else to go. My father was shocked, pressurized by his family and alone. You left him when he needed you the most. You could have stayed and figured something out, together, something better than however, it was." After a pause, Dhrishit said in a broken voice, looking down, "and then my father ended up marrying my mother out of sympathy because she was a cripple." He tried his best not to break down.
Dhrishit continued, eyes moist this time, "My father told my mother about you, before the marriage, but what could she do?! My father carried out all the responsibilities diligently but he was always incomplete. My mother tried to become like you, she couldn't do much on that wheelchair, though. She didn't hate you for what you did to her. Actually, she didn't hate anyone. She was a simple and happy soul, my Amma."
"I am sorry, Dhrishit, I am sorry. Please forgive me for your Amma. I ruined so many lives along with mine." Vidya's voice trembled.
"But you know what Miss Vidya, I couldn't hate you." Dhrishit confessed, "Makes me angry at times to think that I couldn't. Sometimes, I put an effort to hate you thinking of my Amma's ordeal. But still, I can't. Maybe Appa's stories about you two were too ideal, maybe because my mother never spoke ill of you or probably just because my father's blood runs through me."
"Whenever Appa spoke about you, you always seemed like that one perfect woman, with so much love and respect to share. Whenever I had imagined the kind of woman I would want to have as my partner, I had portrayed you, not my mother, but you. Just see the irony of my life, I am supposed to hate you and here I am confessing that I wish to have a woman like you. I don't think it can get any worse!" Dhrishit covered his face with both hands.
Vidya said looking at the moving cars, "Actually, it can be much worse. Leaving that one person thinking you'll be alright and then living half of your life waiting to come back to that one day to see that one face, is actually quite terrible. I was so overwhelmingly upset that Vasu was marrying her for whatsoever reason, got me mad, even suicidal. Out of concern, my sister called me to the US and I just left. I thought many people have breakups and so often, so even I should be fine like everyone else. Plus, I was going to a happening place and I could use that distraction. But what I didn't anticipate was the hollowness that would be persistent. Sometimes, I could give a humanoid shape to my hollowness, which was more prominent than real people around me. I had flings, yes. I thought I liked someone who had remote resemblance with Vasu- his voice, nose, hands, eyes. But nothing lasted more than a month. It took me a year to understand the blunder I have made. I regretted each day of not talking, discussing, fighting, convincing him to be with me. I couldn't have come back then, I already did a lot to your mother. I regretted not listening to him at the right time, for not staying when he begged me to. You don't want to do that. Living with regret is much worse than dying with it."
"I wouldn't say that. I saw my father, and I don't think he was any better than this," Dhrishit replied looking into her eyes.
"What? What do you mean, Dhrishit?" Vidya's expression changed exponentially.
Dhrishit took a big breath and said, "Appa is no more. On his death bed, he gave me an old phone and told me, "One day you'll receive an SMS for a credit card transaction from the nearby Supermarket. Make it there within 30 minutes."
Vidya became pale and stone-faced. Dhrisit continued, "Vidya, Appa loved you very much. He worshipped you. He told me holding my hand, "Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a connection and love like this, it's like closest thing to magic in real life. I loved your mother because she was your mother, but there's another form of love, different from all. It makes you stronger and better than yourself. The ones who have it, they'll know what am I talking about and for the ones who don't, this kind of love will always be a myth for them. You'll know when you have yours. Trust it."
"Yes, you'll know when you have yours. You'll know when you be with her. And if you ever come across a self-destructive woman like me and you feel she is the one, don't let her go. Sometimes you need to make a move at the right time. Otherwise, you might not get the chance to redeem yourself ever again. So, lock her down, tie her with ropes... But don't let go. Even if she dies to, make her stay." Vidya stood up, about to leave.
"Where are you going?" Dhrishit asked standing up.
"I am leaving tomorrow, take care of yourself. It was nice meeting you." Vidya gently smiled as she had a déjà vu after muttering those words. She took out the credit card, "Please take it. I don't think I'll need it anymore."
Dhrishit took the card and in return gave a business card to Vidya, "Call me for anything, even for crying out loud. You are the closest of the family that I am left with." Both parted ways without saying another word.
This is the last and final call for Miss Vidya for flight number AE7202
Flipping the business card through her fingers, Vidya dialed a number, "Dhrishit? Vidya."