He’d left her.
And she’d slumped on the couch for days, lifeless.
Today, she washed her hair, removed the wedding ring.
Attended theater, learnt salsa.
She found out it was a matter of choice.
To live, laugh, be happy.
Even when alone
Clutching her oversized bag, she let the afternoon crowd push her into the First Class Ladies compartment, gratefully accepting a seat as a kindly lady made some space for her.
The lady smiled at her, “It’s going to be an easy 30 minutes before we reach Churchgate. Care for some chikkis?” Fiona took one from the packet, the simple yet earthy sweet brought a sudden rush of emotions, and she struggled to control the tears that welled up.
Quickly brushing them away, she focused on the daily crossword that the lady next to her was solving from the tabloid. “Hmmm. What do you think Across 8 should be?” Fiona took the pencil and wrote it down for her.
At Churchgate, they both alighted, and Fiona hurriedly got into a taxi for Nariman Point.
It had been six months.
Fiona had landed the job at the swanky French boutique hotel. She felt a little suffocated put up at her married college friend’s place, and decided it was time she found one of her own. She pored over the Classifieds section finally zeroing in on a simple two liner that said ‘Working Girls Only, Paying Guests Wanted in Colaba.’ A quick phone call, and the maid who answered set up her appointment with ‘Madam’.
Post a hectic Monday at work, she landed up at the address. The door was opened by a prim looking maid. ‘Please wait, Madam will be here’.
An elegantly dressed lady, in her mid-fifties walked into the drawing room. They stared at each other, recollecting that short train journey to Churchgate. “Oh! It’s you!” she said, holding out her hand, “I’m Julia Nazareth.” Fiona shook her hand, and mentally crossed her fingers as she sat down for the usual ‘ínterview’.
She decided to tell the truth. And spoke slowly. “My name is Fiona Lewis. I am a widow. I am an American citizen, but decided to move back to India about a year ago. I lost my husband, and my only son in a car crash last year. My parents and in-laws, who were holidaying with us also died in the crash.” She paused, took a deep breath, and continued, her voice shaking slightly. “I was driving.”
The silence stretched between them.
Julia whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks, “Are you Stephanie and Kenneth’s daughter Fiona?”
Fiona looked up, startled. “Yes….do you …did you know my parents?”
It was Julia’s turn to be honest. “Fiona, I don’t know if your parents spoke to you. But Kenneth and Stephanie were contemplating a divorce. They meant to tell you in person when they visited you … it was because I … well, Kenneth and me ….”
Fiona said in a slow harsh whisper, “So it’s you then. The other woman who destroyed my parents’ happy marriage.” She got up and said coldly, “I guess we have nothing left to say to each other. Good Bye.”
Julia spoke in an even voice. “Please sit down, Fiona. I do not blame you for judging me. But please don’t leave without listening to what I have to say. I agree that what Kenneth and I did to Stephanie is wrong. God knows I still carry the burden of that guilt on my shoulders. Especially now since they are … Fiona, my child, look at the two of us. You and me. We are the ones left behind. To deal with loss, guilt, trying to bring some semblance of normalcy into this twisted toxic existence of our reality.
If this isn’t destiny, I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s the one chance God is giving me to make up for all the hurt and pain I have caused your family? Please don’t take it away from me, my child. Let me take care of you, I am old, I don’t have much time left. Please … ” she wept uncontrollably, her face in her hands.
Fiona sat back on the sofa, her mind in a turmoil. Should she forgive and stay? Should she walk away?
She thought of the past year, and couldn’t help wondering why the two women had been thrown together under such circumstances.
Maybe missed connections, and Fate’s attempt to reconnect them?
She knelt before Julia and put her arm gently around her shoulders. Both rocked silently, connected to each other by their own private hell of deep grief.
10th July, 2015
Photo Prompt – ©Stephen Baum
“Angie, it’s best that we don’t prolong his suffering,” said my brother gently.
A freak accident, and my Gerry lay in a deep coma, surrounded by strange tubes, hooked to monitors that beeped. The doctors said there was no ‘hope’, and it would be ‘practical’ to turn off life support.
I wouldn’t let them.
I need you. I am pregnant. You must come back. For me. For our baby.
I whispered to him. Every day. For six months.
Later, he said he remembered seeing a bright light. And hearing happy laughter.
I always knew it wasn’t his time to die.
Word Count: 100
‘You gotta do the right thing. Always speak your mind, clear the cobwebs. Invest time and emotions on great relationships. Sort things out,’ nags Stupid Inner Voice at me. It’s been doing that ever since I can remember. And I listen. Every single time.
But what does one do when someone stone-walls you? I ask plaintively.
Is dying really the next best thing? Screams my Aggressive Inner Voice.
(Gee – now we have a three-way conversation going – me, me, myself. I knew I was multiple personalities)
I sit in the dark, shutting out noise, light. Hoping if I hide away, maybe everything will figure itself out?
NO – says
Stupid Peaceful Inner voice. Go on out there, and be yourself. Some things you can control, rest you can’t. Accept it.
YES – says Aggressive Voice. Stay in the dark forever, Woman! You don’t have a spine you see.
Wow! The ‘spine’ word kinda nailed it!
It’s time to be myself, because I just found my lost spine.
No more hiding away.
Sigh of relief!
Pinky removed her makeup with steady hands. Calm strokes of the hairbrush adding to her overall sense of serenity. The one thing she craved for.
Rohan walked into their bedroom. “The car will be here at 10 in the morning to drop you to the airport. Good Night,” he said in a neutral voice, not looking at her. She nodded, to the back of his head as he walked away.
The farce would end in 12 hours. They had just returned home from their last public appearance as a married couple. Both were extremely successful entrepreneurs and had recently been featured on the front cover of a leading business magazine.
She curled up on her large bed, alone. Fighting tears that threatened to pour any moment. No, she couldn’t allow herself that luxury now. She needed to get away first. From Rohan, from this apartment she once called ‘home’, to escape from hurt. Her mind fought her every resistance and travelled five years back in time.
They’d met in Bangalore during their MBA program at one of India’s best B-Schools. He had been her senior. She had been smitten by his love for the written word, his simplicity and how he made her feel cherished. She was a small-town girl from Dharwar, with a fierce hunger to succeed. They got married within a year of completing her MBA. Their combined efforts had resulted in a young dynamic renewable-energy startup that had generated considerable interest from venture capitalists.
Then, Vera happened.
The young Research intern that Pinky hired for the windmill project. Bright, pretty, energetic. Who got things done. Pinky saw Vera as her protégé and mentored her. As their business grew, Pinky’s overseas travel increased. Building relationships was her forte, while Rohan focused on the technical and financial aspects of their company.
It had been a random Thursday evening. Her flight had arrived early, she decided to surprise Rohan by showing up at their office. She walked in. And saw Vera. Disheveled, in Rohan’s arms. They saw her and Rohan gently released Vera. Vera stammered awkwardly, “Er.. Hi Pinky. Rohan, Mom’s waiting for me, I have to go.” She quickly walked out without a backward glance.
Pinky stood still as a statue. Trying to breathe, to stay calm. Rohan walked up to her, hands in his pockets. “No Pinky. This isn’t what it looks like. Let me explain.”
“Don’t you dare touch me, you … pig,” she whispered. He simply looked at her, not saying a word.
She took a taxi to a hotel. She needed time to think. She spent the entire night pacing in her room. And took a decision.
“Rohan, I want a divorce,” she said to him next morning.
“But Pinky, you didn’t give me a chance to explain. I love you Pinky. At least hear me out,” he said helplessly. She was adamant.
“Let’s pretend we’re still married until the Sweden deal comes through. After that, we’ll be colleagues. I’ll relocate to the Bangalore office,” she told him coldly.
The divorce papers were drawn up. Vera had resigned months ago, citing personal reasons for her exit.
Next morning, she was getting ready to leave for the airport when the doorbell rang. “Surprise!” said Harish, her brother-in-law and her best friend, a wide grin on his face. She hugged him tightly, trying not to cry.
“Hey … what’s up? All well? Where’s Rohan?” he looked concerned, an arm around her shoulders as he led her inside.
Rohan walked into the drawing room, clearing his throat. And looked at his ex-wife sadly. “No Pinky. I won’t ask you to explain. Why my brother has his arms around your shoulders.”
Harish looked confused and angry, “Hey Rohan.. what’s this nonsense talk man? She’s hurting dude .. and …”
Rohan interrupted him. “Harish, I know. There’s something Pinky and I need to talk about in private. Do you mind?” Harish looked at both of them. “I’ll be back. For lunch. Be here.”
Pinky sat down on the sofa, tiredly rubbing her temples. Rohan handed her a glass of water, and sat opposite her. He looked at the only woman he truly loved.
“What happened to us Rohan?” she whispered, no longer able to hold back her tears. To her surprise, she saw tears in Rohan’s eyes.
“Nothing happened Pinky. That’s the truth. It’s how we perceive situations and allow them to control our mind, our lives.”
She listened quietly as he continued. “Vera’s Mom is diagnosed with leukemia. As you already know, her Dad passed away years ago. The day you arrived, they’d just broken the news to Vera. She meant to talk to you once you return, asking if she could go on a leave of absence. I was simply holding her to comfort her. Isn’t that the primal instinct of a human being? To hold and comfort another who is in pain? Just like Harish held you today when he sensed your pain. That’s all there is to it Pinky.”
Pinky wept. “Poor Vera. What a fool I’ve been Rohan. Two similar sets of circumstances in our lives, yet we reacted to them so differently.”
“Pinky, circumstances tried to fool us twice. Remember, they didn’t succeed. I trust you, and have complete faith in us. Do you?” his voice shook slightly.
“Oh Rohan I do. You have no idea how much I want our marriage to work. I won’t allow my mind to play games with my life. Not anymore. I think I grew up in the last few months. Maybe I was a little jealous. And possessive about you. I over-analyzed a situation, choosing to interpret it my way. I almost believed I could be replaced. I was insecure.” She hugged him fiercely.
“Pinky, you are my wife, the woman I chose to spend the rest of my life with. No one can ever ‘replace’ you. Vera is a good friend. Yes, we do get along very well. Just like you and Harish,” he said, holding her close.
Harish joined them about an hour later, brooding and angry. Pinky and Rohan, both explained quietly. In minutes the wide grin was back. “Phew… such complete fools you are. Why didn’t you simply talk it over? What a waste of precious time! Allowing silly circumstances to interfere with a solid relationship.”
(Prompt: Fool Me Twice)
Selected as ‘WOW’ Post
Three years ago, my husband suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Five days after his fortieth birthday. It was a silent attack, the doctors said. Three arteries were fully blocked, and the fourth, partially blocked. If we hadn’t taken him to the hospital immediately, I doubt I would be here today, blogging. I would probably be busy working two jobs instead of one, ensuring my daughter’s future is secure.
My husband hadn’t been told he’d suffered a massive heart-attack. They told him they were taking him in for a ‘routine check up’. The cardiac surgeon wasn’t sure if my husband would even survive the angioplasty. They told me this, in the middle of the afternoon, before they wheeled him into surgery.
But it had to be done. Decision making responsibilities rested with me. I went ahead and signed all the consent forms. Numb, but willing.
They said the operation would take three hours. I quickly arranged for my 10 year old daughter to be dropped off at a day-care centre. I knew they would stay open until 7:00pm. Which gave me time to breathe, to figure things out. To get some semblance of sanity into the situation.
My husband’s colleague, who I hardly knew, stayed with me in the waiting room. This lad who was no older than 25, said the right things. He was probably as scared as I was, but it helped, in some strange way, that fear seemed to provide grounds for companionship.
Once my husband was in the Cardiac Care Unit, we were told he was out of danger. With all thoughts of not wanting to cause unnecessary worry, I took it upon myself to break the news as gently as possible to the important people in my husband’s life. Siblings, ‘best buddies’, everyone who was in his sphere.
It was amazing, the insights into human nature that this incident provided. The days that followed taught me a lot about who I am. And my place in this existential space called family, friendship, relationships, life.
A really close friend in Bangalore offered emotional and financial support, and actually meant what she said, “I’m here. Don’t worry.” In that moment, I knew which friends were ‘real’, who was my ‘real family’.
Having undergone gender discrimination, sexual abuse in my growing-up years, and after l almost lost the one person I truly love unconditionally, I realized I will never stop being vulnerable. No matter how many birthdays I celebrate, how much money I make. I work hard at holding on to positivity, trying not to be bitter about my ‘pseudo-relationships’. Though there are days I can fight no more and I drop the ball at unexpected times!
There are labels attached to women like me, who, aware of their intense vulnerability, always wear a protective shell of aloofness around them. They are women who prefer to be completely self-reliant, independent. Too proud to show the chinks in their armor. Choosing to plow through their lives single-handedly. Quietly. Always with an unconscious air of self-assuredness about them. And I always look into the eyes of these kindred souls and smile, with as much kindness as I can draw from within. They recognize me, and always smile back knowingly, their eyes reflecting the same kindness. Because we are bound by a secret code. Of having dealt with pain, hurt, sorrows, challenges, far more than our due share in this lifetime.
I am starting to finally accept that it is okay to be vulnerable. To believe that I will always find a way to survive, though I am well and truly alone.
Participating Entry – YeahWrite #211 NonFiction Challenge
Word Count <= 1000 words
He practiced his smile every morning
The bathroom mirror told him he was ‘good looking’
He knew his charm was meant to woo
The girls, the Boss, and all the ‘Somebodys’ in his sphere
He ignored the slight shivers he felt
The way the floor moved when he stood up
The cold sweats that woke him up at night
He tried to forget the tick-tock sounds of the clock
From another day another time
When tearing sobs broke the silence of the night
His helplessness to fathom failure in a life that was hard-won
The bottle of pills stood testimony
To a soul that filled with sadness
To a mind that sparkled with intellect
To a spirit that refused to be crushed
To a life he knows he must live
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder
And looked into the eyes of this wonderful woman
She was his Wife and the mother of his Child
He straightened his tie
And headed out into the world
He was born to conquer.