He was fuming. He had no more qualms about walking out on her. She had crossed the limit. He had kept extending the boundary of his tolerance. Her pregnancy was driving him crazy.
His hostile eyes were directed at the the waiter who was coming towards him.
“Coffee,” he told the waiter gruffly. The waiter seemed immune to his hostility. The knuckles of Manish’s bunched-up right fist rapped on the table impatiently as the waiter walked away to respond to his order.
The restaurant was half-full, some of the tables still unoccupied. In a way that was good, since what he didn't want was a noisy restaurant packed with people. It would only have aggravated his mood.
Suddenly his cell phone rang. Without looking at the screen he held the phone to his ear. He could hear his wife’s voice at the other end. He disconnected the phone. She was calling probably to plead to him to come back. It was the last thing he wanted.
The phone rang again.His wife’s name appeared on the screen. He cut off the call. It rang persistently a couple more times. He kept cutting it off. No way he was going to take her call, he told himself. As far as he was concerned, he was single again,with no wife to take care of.
Marriage was such an ugly business. The arguments, the fights, the agony of living together especially during her pregnancy had taken its toll on him.
As he sat there a woman entered the restaurant.His eyes followed her as she sat down on a vacant table away from him. Her side towards him, he could see her profile. Suddenly he gave a start. Without a doubt, she was more than vaguely familiar. He recognised her. The same bob-cut hair, aristocratic nose, clear brown eyes, and fair complexion. She looked as gorgeous as she ever did.
Yes it was Tina, his ex-girlfriend from college days.
Suddenly his cellphone rang again. His wife’s name appeared again on the screen.
As a twinge of guilt passed through him, he brushed it aside resolutely. Then cut the call without further thought.
Tina was someone he had missed after his marriage. The person who occupied his mind whenever he had quarrels with his wife. And now, just when he had thought of divorcing his wife, Tina had appeared from nowhere. This was no coincidence. There was no explanation except that it was fore-ordained by the Almighty. Almost as if God understood his condition and engineered this setting. What made him feel elated was that she wasn’t accompanied by any husband. She must still be single, that was for sure.
It all seemed to him like a good omen.
He had taken the wrong road by proposing to Geeta, his wife. He remembered Robert Frost’s poem, “The road less travelled.”
The opening lines read,
“Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the road less travelled by."
The poem concluded with the words,“And that has made all the difference.”
It was all about choices and the risk involved in daring to refuse the beaten path, the usual, normal, ordinary, familiar, and safe road. And about trying a road not usually travelled by. About daring to risk taking a choice which one had relatively not experienced before.
While in college he had thought Tina was a little unpredictable. In his understanding at the time he could not have dared to risk marrying Tina. He felt that Geeta was the right one. Geeta could be managed, somehow. She seemed a more “safe” choice. But he had been proved wrong. It now appeared that had he taken the risk and married Tina, then that would have “made all the difference.”
But was it too late? He could walk back and take the road less travelled, though Frost insisted in the poem that you couldn’t retrace your steps and start all over again on the road not taken. But he didn’t agree with Frost. It was only a poem, nothing more. Just one individual’s understanding, not a universal experience.
He made his decision and suddenly got up. He walked up to Tina’s table and glanced at her as he passed by. He faked a gasp of surprise.
“Why, Tina, it’s you! “ he exclaimed.
“ Manish!” she seemed equally surprised.
“It’s been quite some time since I met you again.”
She had regained her composure.
“How are you, Manish?”
“ Tina, I’ve missed you so much.”
“I heard you were happily married.”
“Married yes, but not happily.”
“Something went wrong?”
“Yes. She didn’t turn out to be the person I expected.”
“People say marriage is like that.”
“I just married the wrong person, that’s all.”
“Why do you think that?”
“She changed a lot after marriage. I thought at the time that she was the right choice.”
She was silent.
Then she said, “My friend always says, ‘Marry the second choice. That’s always the thing to do.’ ”
“That seems to make sense now to me. But what did she mean by ‘Second choice?’ ”
She meant “Marry someone you like, not someone you love.”
“That sounds unromantic, you know.”
“I wonder if it really does. She explains it like this, ‘Marry someone you like and you would have a lifetime to learn to love her.’ On the other hand, love marriages go under a severe test, and they almost always fail.”
“I don’t believe that. Your friend doesn't seem to have experienced love, that’s all I can say.”
“The truth is she has experienced love. But she found it too taxing and so married her second choice. And she’s happy.”
“Maybe what she experienced before was not true love. Maybe her lover was not worth it.”
“No, I know my friend. Her boyfriend was worth it, but unsuitable to be married to her.”
He was tired of listening to her friend’s take on love and marriage.
He took a deep breath and said, “Tina, can we start again? Both of us. I am willing to divorce my wife if you agree. She’s pregnant and throws up tantrums so much I can’t bear it any longer.”
Tina fell into a meditative silence.
Then she said “She was your second choice, if I remember. And I was your first choice if my memory serves me right. But it just didn’t turn out the way we expected, did it?”
“But we can start again. All over again. I’m sure this time it will be different.”
“I’m sure it would make a difference. But not necessarily a better difference.”
She was refusing his offer. That was obvious.
She said, “Anyway, there he is. My second choice. A happy one.”
She was looking towards the doorway. A man holding a baby was coming towards their table.
As he approached, she said,” And by the way I used to throw up tantrums too when I was pregnant. My husband tolerated it somehow. And we discovered that it was a small price to pay for the gift of our precious baby daughter.”
The man walked up to them and sat down at their table. Tina reached over and took the baby into her arms. The man looked curiously in Manish’s direction.
Tina introduced them. “My husband, Ranjit. Ranjit this is Manish my classmate and friend from college. He is married too. His wife is pregnant. He was telling me his wife throws tantrums.”
“Oh! that’s natural for some women when they are pregnant,” said Ranjit, smiling at him. “Ask Tina. I mostly always lost my cool when she threw those tantrums. But Daya our daughter has been worth it.”
“Oh by the way, just wanted to add,” said Tina, turning to Manish, “That friend who gave me all that advice doesn’t really exist. But what I told you she said is true.”
Ranjit politely said to him, “Sorry, but I should have asked you earlier. Why don’t you join us for lunch?”
Before Manish could say anything, his cellphone rang. He got up and excused himself. Tina and Ranjit waited for him. He talked almost for two minutes and then came back. He did not sit down.
“I’m sorry. I can’t join you for lunch. My wife just called. I don’t know why, but she has this sudden craving to eat grapes. She wants me to get some for her. She has this desire all of a sudden.”
“That’s an emergency. But it will be worth it in the end. Maybe you and your wife could join us some other time later.” “Sure. Yes. That would be nice.”
Manish made his way to the counter, and paid for the coffee. Then he left the restaurant without looking back.