I really don’t know what a fix is for I never did drugs. Nevertheless, the impact of her limpid eyes was an arrow straight into my heart. I was reduced to an Indian version of a marsh-mellow and I was addicted. I was caught like a kite to a tree. Despite being a much married man, I couldn’t help myself being affected like some callow youth star stuck and my heart did a butterfly trapped in a boy’s hands.
Generally, I wake up to the nagging of my overworked wife. I know I should give her a hand in getting the breakfast ready, or get the lunch boxes packed. Every third day, the chaos is even more as it’s the much awaited ‘water day’ in our locality when the rationed water by the city corporation is released and every pot and pans had to be filled lest we are left without water. Despite knowing that it was too much for her to handle all alone; Neeta, my wife of twenty odd years, always raised my hackles by her querulous tone. More she complained about her ‘unending chores,’ I felt myself turning mulish and I refused to help her with whatever life was throwing onto her lap. Lower middle-class was the term that best fit us and hence the convenience that comes with affluence was missing from our lives. It was a humdrum life with its never ending battle eking out a meager living as one of the many clerks in the local post office and back home living in a small shared ‘excuse of an apartment complex.’
I locked myself in the toilet with the newspaper that I had managed to smuggle in with a great deal of stealth. No one could begrudge a man while attending to nature’s call, however long he took over the same. This was my usual way of avoiding the chores. I did not consider myself selfish. It was all Neeta’s fault. She just did not know how to handle me right. Moreover, my mother could manage all six of us and my father had never lifted a finger to help her.
I came out of the bathroom just in time to bid my children good bye who walked their way to school along with other neighborhood children.
I looked at my wife dispassionately. Her sari was stained with some oil and turmeric and the folds were tucked up to allow easy movement. Her hair was gathered into a haphazard bun that had more to do with comfort rather than style. She had a set look around her lips and I sighed knowing that there would be more of the same lecture, accompanied by accusation that we didn’t earn enough to afford a house help. I hurried through my breakfast and almost scalded my tongue in my hurry to drink tea and leave home.
The scooter as usual failed to start. “Why can’t you get that repaired,” Neeta grumbled.
But I had my own reason. The scooter would sputter a little distance only to give up around the corner. It was right outside the shop where a young shop assistant had caught my fancy a few days back. She was new and attractive. It gave me time to fiddle with my scooter and to watch her at her work for some time. It brought colour to my otherwise bland life though I was too timid to take the acquaintance forward. She hardly noticed me.
One day, as the scooter came to life and I was preparing to leave, she bestowed upon me a slow, appreciative smile and I was completely bowled over. My heart did a happy dance and my nerves sang with abandon. I never realized that such an attractive girl would find me interesting. I was a product of our movies and it was proved that more persistent you are with your interests; the girl would ultimately change her mind. I started paying attention to my wardrobe and got a couple of brand new shirts though the bills made me wince a little. After a few days of this silent albeit meaningful communication, I mustered some courage to ask her out to watch a new movie and a walk along the lake and she readily agreed.
I found even Neeta’s harangue akin to music as I looked forward to the most exciting date of my life. I prepared with a great deal of care for an evening out with Koel. Yes, I had learnt her name and her voice was as sweet as the summer bird. My cup of happiness was full…
“What happened to you, papa?” asked my eleven year old Suraj. “How come you are helping us fill water? Don’t you have a newspaper hidden under your vest?”
“Hush,” said his sister Preeti, who was a couple of years older, “We are not supposed to know that, mutt,” and they both sniggered.
Yes, I was helping around the home more. I was pulling my weight and doing more chores. The family that I had hitherto taken for granted, was what brought some solace to my sore heart. The girl Koel, along with her accomplice had done away with my gold chain, ring, watch, money, and pride when I had taken her out for a ‘secluded’ walk along the lake.
I wondered if Neeta knew the actual story of how I had actually lost the gold that her parents had gifted me. She wanted to file an FIR at the local police station when I had mumbled some story of how I was robbed at a knife point but had managed to fob her off. Like the ‘hidden newspaper’ this too might not have missed her eye for the afternoon gossip among the women folk was how a ‘young girl’ and her accomplice were hoodwinking middle-aged fools in the neighboring areas.
Glossary – Koel – Hindi name that denotes cuckoo bird.