22nd September 2014, 05.00 P.M.
“I don’t understand why you get us back to square one all over again, Sathish.”
“You could just bring it up to your parents Anu, couldn’t you?”
“I could. But what purpose does it serve? They won’t accept this lunacy. I could wait for as many years as you wish from now, but they would not consent. Not them. I know my dad well.”
“So, what is your suggestion now?”
“Give it a break, Sathish. Will you?”
“Don’t you ‘give it a break’ me. Just tell me what the fuck you want to do now.”
“Watch your mouth!”
“Yeah, sorry. I’ll take it back. Pretend I did not say that.”
“You are trying to intimidate me.”
“No, Anu. I’m just trying to make you put the facts plain in front of us.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing for the past two days now. You are not even listening.”
“I’m listening now.”
“Okay. This is the last time I’m saying this. It pains me to have to repeat it these many times, dammit. We have to forgo our love.”
“For something too painful to speak up this comes out so easily for you.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“That was just a statement.”
“Look, Sathish. Don’t speak as though you are the only one among us whose love is true. I love you as much.”
“Correction there. You loved me.”
“Hello, will you speak now at least?”
“Did you make this call to sort things out or pique me?”
“Pique you? Funny. I’m the one who should be annoyed here, if any. You are excited about getting this over with. So why pretend otherwise?”
“You are testing my patience. I’m risking my employment here, talking to you during my office working hours.”
“Point duly noted. For your information, I’m a software engineer, too. I have a schedule to keep, too.”
“Enough, Sathish. We are going nowhere with this. And I don’t like this change in tone of yours at all.”
“If I rebuff your statements, I am being rude. Is that so?”
“But that’s not the way you always speak.”
“You mean, I should still be your puppet as I have always been.”
“Okay, one question. I’ll end it there.”
“By my calculations, We have had sex on six occasions. What about that?”
“You are showing your true colours now, Sathish. You are blackmailing me.”
“No, I’m not. I’m just asking what about that.”
“What the hell is there about that?”
“Nothing? Does it make no difference at all? I mean, you are going to be in bed with the guy your father has pointed out to you in, maybe, three to four months. You were in bed with me a month back. Don’t you feel guilty?”
“It’s no concern of yours.”
“Stop bluffing, please.”
“What did you think, you idiot? Just because I had sex with you should I abandon the wonderful opportunities those wait for me at my doorstep? Think practical, Sathish. I loved you with all my heart. I just can’t live with you, simple because there are too many hurdles against our way together, and my way separate is too enticing to just shake it off. This guy my parents have found for me is working in California. How would I every go to California if I married you? It was me who took care of all the expenses during our days together in the first place. Forgive me for saying this, but this is the truth. I have options laid out in front of me, and I’m making a better choice. It’s as simple as that.”
“Why didn’t you think of all these when you accepted my proposal of love to you?”
“Please, talk to me.”
“Man, you won’t understand. I don’t have time to reiterate everything again. This love sentiment you say, it’s not a pragmatic solution of life. Not for me, anyway. You’ll find yourself coming to the same conclusion after a few years, when"”
“Don’t patronise me, you bitch. If you wanted a guy to fuck with, you should have chosen a"”
She swings the phone away from the curtain of her straightened hair and jams an angry finger into the red hang up button on the screen. “Stupid.” She mutters under her breath.
“Anitha, are you still on call?”
She looks over her shoulder. Her lips immediately curl to form a false smile. “I’ll be just a minute, Ajay.”
“Come on, yaar. We don’t have all day here.” The guy shouts back.
She contorts her face into what she thinks must look like cherubic pleading and sticks out the fore and middle fingers of her free hand, meaning two minutes. Her gang goes back to chattering.
She opens her Whatsapp. Sathish calls a moment after she has blocked him in the app.
An impatient pst escapes her. She cuts the call. She switches off her phone and stows it into her jeans pocket. She then walks back to the ring of her colleagues, a wide smile plastered on her face.
Please, talk to me.
My liberation has come at last. I have been waiting for this for a whole year now. Anitha has finally dumped Sathish. I knew it was coming right from the moment her father showed the picture of a guy a week back and told her he was working in US. I saw her eyes glitter with greed. I saw her ogling the guy’s photo after her father had left. She forsook Sathish just then. I will not be troubled with this haunting voice anymore.
It came on the day Sathish first called Anitha. I was shocked to hear it coming, a rush of Intelligent Waves. I had pretty much closed up after Tee’s disappearance and the string of events that followed. The familiar tingling sensation prodded me. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of having found company once again, and almost replied. Then the guy’s voice came. It triggered the old memories from deep within me. The misery I had buried over years under a dense outgrowth of indifference and callosity reemerged. I decided just then not to reply. I did not want to be lured back into the mirage of human love only to be crushed with grief later. Things would not go wrong if they did not start. I opted for them to not start rather than have to live with the consequences.
Sathish and Anitha started their ‘love’ in no time, and it thrived over the year. On every call, the voice of the other SIM came over the line, asking me to respond. I never uttered a word. Whenever the voice floated to me, sometimes too insistent, I thought of Tee. I somehow felt that even if I talked with this SIM, I would not feel the same comfort and joy I had felt when I talked with Tee. He was one of a kind. I lost him. I am not going to amend it by starting a relationship anew. I waited silently for this day to come. And come it has.
“We can move, guys.” says Anitha, approaching her friends.
“Okay, then let’s start. The movie begins in half an hour.” says one of her friends named Priya.
They move to the entrance of the complex, howling and gibbering all the way. Four of them are boys and three of them, Anitha included, girls. I look at Anitha, her face all lit up, free of even an inkling of sorrow for having abandoned Sathish. Her delightful face turns up in me the image of an old memory. One where she lay dying, her blood drenching her bedspread, her breath turning shallow. I remember how I felt seeing her that way, how I reprimanded myself for having mistaken her pure love for untruthful infatuation. In retrospect, I was wrong just then.
Her father arrived home earlier than usual that day, as if on cue. She went to hospital and came back after two days, a huge bandage circling her left wrist. She must have revealed her secret to her family. Her father comforted her, pretending to having heard it for the first time. His attire showed no signs of his having interfered in their love to bring about its termination. I would have spat on him if only it was possible for me. I still believed Anitha’s love was true. As days passed, I began to grasp the truth. Anitha did not chastise herself due to Raghu’s loss or because he showed his dirty side to her. She did it on a whim. She did it, because she felt angry and wanted to prove something. She wanted to show someone, or herself, she loved him truly. I still remember the way her face looked after she saw what she did to herself. She was frightened. It was farcical to see her cut her wrist to die and panic at the face of death. It was only a few more days before she turned normal again. Now, if you asked her if she knew Raghu, her response would be, “Raghu? Which Raghu?” Not because she does not want to be reminded of the name, but because she does not remember it at all.
She fell in love again sometime between next six to eight months. It was one of her classmates. It went on for another two years, without any form of sex, until she came to the end of her third year in her college. He spat on her saying she was trying to boss him too much. Sathish, another classmate of hers, proposed love to her by the end of last year. He was everything she liked. He did whatever she asked him to do, he did whatever pleased her, and, most importantly, he did not demand anything back. He was her perfect servant. She, on the other hand, lavished on him a good amount of money. He was not from an upscale family as she. She was not a generous soul to bear with that; I saw her wince at the site of holes strewn around his vest once as he removed his shirt to bare himself to ride her. Yet he acquitted himself well, not giving her the trouble to brood over his subsistence. He never demanded money from her, but he exercised perfect subtlety in asking her sums. The symbiosis helped them get on very well all these days. Both of them enjoyed themselves with that, sometimes huddling cozily in the bed of his rented apartment. Its prosperity was not marred by anything, until today.
They have reached the theatre now. It is crowded. Two of the boys have moved on to collect tickets. Anitha takes out her phone and switches it on.
I allow myself to think of Tee after a long time. The magic of those few days we shared still amuses me. I lose myself into those thoughts, not wanting to look at Anitha or her turncoat friends.
Her phone rings. It is a new number. Not any new number. It is different from any number I have ever seen. It has more number of digits, for one thing.
She looks at it first, and then at her friends. Pursing her lips in thought, she swipes her finger nimbly across the display to connect the call.
“Hello, hi. Is this Anitha?”A voice asks in English.
“Yes. Who is this?” She asks back in English. From the day she became an employee of a multinational company, her conversations started to have too much of English blended in them. Her demeanour changed, too. I think of it less as an adaptation to environment, and more as vanity.
“Hi Anitha. I’m Rakesh, calling from the States. Hope your parents told about me to you.” He continues in fluent English.
The change in Anitha’s features is so sudden it would look comical for someone else watching her. An instant flush rises to her cheeks. “Oh, hi. Hi, Rakesh. How are you?”
“Fine. How do you do?”
“Excellent. You had a chance to have a look at me?”
“Yes, of course. Had you?”
“Yeah,” he says, and switches to Tamil. “I asked my mom to proceed with the particulars only after looking at your photo.”
“Oh, thanks.” Anitha says with a strained note of modesty.
“Are you busy? Am I holding you off?”
“Hey, no. It’s perfectly fine.” she says, not even sparing a look at her friends waiting for her in the cinema’s lobby.
“Cool. I thought it would be good for us to understand each other before, you know.. everything else.”
“I am a software engineer in a renowned company here in San Francisco. My salary is ten grand now, and it would go higher with the next years. I hear you are working in a software company in India?”
“Yes, I do.”
“My native is Dindigul in Tamilnadu. My parents are going to stay there. They are not willing to move to America with me. So, after marriage, it will be only you and me here. I could have picked a thousand girls here in US, but I wished to marry a traditional tamil girl. The beauty of Tamil girls is something unique. I could see that beauty in you(Anitha smiles proudly at this). Before we move on further, I would like to put in a few requests to you with regard to our marriage.”
“Yes, tell me, Rakesh.”
“It would be hard for you to do, but after marriage, you must not go to work. Sorry if it came out in demanding tones. I wish to have a wife who would take good care of me, and in future, my children. I believe the magic of a woman lies in managing things at home. Is it okay for you?”
Anitha grins broadly, and says, “It’s perfectly fine, Rakesh.”
I grimace within the confines of my own darkness. I see people’s faces flash in my mind’s eye in quick succession.
I see Anitha whose love involved commanding Raghu, and later Sathish, to make them dance as she pleased.
I see Raghu whose love involved making Anitha trust him only to later cajole her to bed.
I see Anitha’s father whose love involved foxy twisting of his daughter’s wishes to fit his own, and reining of her will to be never free.
I see Sathish whose love involved sucking money from Anitha to live a snug life.
I don’t see, but hear Rakesh now, whose love in future would involve using the free service of Anitha, spoiling her within the walls of his home for his own comforts, inconsiderate of all the things she studied in her life and the potential she held within her.
No form of human love comes with no strings attached, I realise with a figurative wince. They all say they love each other, but underneath the affectionate exterior of all of it, hidden deep within is a selfish catch, a wish to control the life of the other for their own good.
As they chat on, I recede to my burrow and continue to remain impassive for my own good.