“What? You slept with him?” I screamed.
She looked around nervously. Thankfully because it was odd time, the tiny restaurant that we were sitting in was not crowded. I realised my mistake and softened up.
“Did you actually do that Sandhya?” I asked her.
“Yes Anju, I did.” She said, her head still hanging down, refusing to make eye contact.
“You are married and have three children and he is married and has two children and why would you want to sleep with each other? Is that not adultery?”
“Yes, it is. But somehow it just felt right when we did it.”
“Jeez Sandhya, do you even know what you are saying? Can you not think straight?If a guy says he loves you, would you just forget everything and sleep with him?”
“Anju, he never said he loves me and he will never say it. He loves his wife too much”
“He loves his wife too much, my foot!” My voice was slowly going up again! How can this woman be so dumb, the smartest girl in my class, the one whose IQ was probably the topmost in the class, only one of the 40 that thought of doing Engineering after school and did it in style and here she is looking like dumbo not knowing any answer to life’s questions!
She looked up slowly and asked if we could leave and go the park. So we paid the bill and crossed the road to the park. Hot summer’s day, odd time and so the park was nearly empty except for the old man who was lying on a bench and another young couple that were cuddled up oblivious to what was happening and oh, the dog that was curled up under the tree to escape from the heat. We found an empty bench in the far corner away from the old man and the couple. Here we could talk in peace and even if I raise my voice she won’t feel uncomfortable.
“OK, now tell me. You are telling me that he loves his wife too much! How will a guy who loves his wife so much just sleep with anyone?”
“He is not that kind of a person Anju”
“Then what kind of a person is he?”
“Well, what can I say? You won’t understand!”
“Tell me in a way that I will understand. You are a teacher right? You take tuition every evening and I’ve seen the dumbest of the kid understand things when you explain. Now explain to me what exactly happened and why you let it happen? So how long has this been going on?”
“Anju we have been texting each other for the past five years and we have never talked about sex or anything related to it till yesterday. It was all an accident, I went to his house hoping to meet his wife. Unfortunately, she was not at home and he was alone. It was a mistake that I didn’t call her, she is always at home and he always comes late from work. In this many years I have never had to call her and never has something like this happened before.”
“So you both were just waiting for a chance to meet alone to do it?” I said sarcastically. She looked at me and had a dry smile.
“No Anju, it was never that way.”
“So did you enjoy it”- More sarcasm in my voice.
I am not sure she noticed the sarcasm because she replied “Yes”
“Sandhya, don’t tell me you don’t get enough sex. You are married and you have three children for heaven’s sake!”
“Anju, have you ever been in a situation where you lie in bed and think about “the queen and the kingdom” while something is happening to your body?”
“Think about it Anju,… the difference between sex and love….I get sex n times in a week, whether I want it or not! What is considered marital rape in some countries and what is legal in our country happens to me so many times a week”
“This is not new Sandhya, I am sorry you are going through this. But this is what happens to many women in our country, right?I am not saying what is going on is right, but what you have done is wrong, so don’t use this bloody excuse is all I am trying to say!”
Sandhya tried to smile at me. She bent her head down again and her eyes were glued to her fingers which were trying to peel off that imaginary piece of something from her saree.
“Sandhya, you have always been that obedient girl, the teacher’s pet, the rank holder, the dream child for any parent who won’t back answer. You studied the course that your parents wanted, you got married to the first guy your parents pointed a finger to. It was me who was the rebel. Why did you do it Sandhya?
For the first time in her life I saw Sandhya’s eyes well up. Yes, I have known her since Kindergarten and I have never seen her cry. She was always the “Smiley girl” of school.
“You think that is my nature Anju? To be submissive, obedient?
I kept quiet, let her continue…
“We have been friends from the time we were three years old. But have you ever heard me tell anything about my life to anyone? Even to you?”
I think back… actually I know very little of her. She has been the introvert, well no, she was always smiling and making friends and talking to everyone, that can’t be introvert, right? What kind of person is she? I have never thought about any of this in past thirty years that I know her. We do take things for granted!
:”No” I answered quietly this time.
“You know why?” she paused. “Because my life has been full of bumpy rides so far and I never wanted to show it to anyone.”
“Why Sandhya? You could have shared it with me? I’ve known you since our first day in school, we studied together for 14 years and we have still been friends inspite of having gotten married and having children. Why did you not think of sharing anything with me?”
“I was afraid I would be judged. I was afraid that nobody would want to be my friend. I was afraid that my parents would be considered as bad parents. I am still afraid of all this Anju”
I held her hand. It was cold and sweaty. I waited for her to continue. I just nodded.
“Anju, from the time I remember, I have been beaten up at home if I back answered or questioned anything. I did things because I did not want to see the cane or the scale out. I got the first rank because that was what was expected of me. If my position slid I would be beaten up. You know, my parents were always happy to see my progress report. I wanted to make them happy so that they won’t hit me. School was a happy place for me because if I worked hard I could get the first rank and all teachers and students would be happy with me. No one scolded me.”
I nodded my head thinking “why does she have to bring out all the history now?”
“I use to see you as my inspiration. A carefree person, who participated in everything and had great fun in life right through school. I wanted to be like you. I wanted to do BSc with you and become a teacher. But I was not allowed. Well, remember Nayana Mam’s class? How getting anything more than 6/10 meant we were good writers? I used to get 8/10 in all the compositions in her class. I knew then I wanted to be a writer. But nobody cared. Not then, not now! I worked hard Anju, to keep everyone happy around me. But there was nobody for me, and that was my own mistake too, I did not let anyone come near me.”
“But I was close to you…. ”
“No Anju, you were close to me, but not to the extent I would share everything with you. We finished school and you went on to do B.Sc and M.Sc and your teacher’s training before you got married to the guy of your choice. I did my engineering and got married to the first guy my parents showed me. I had no choice. I wanted to run away from them. I had dreams of a lovely husband, lovely children and a happy family.”
“You looked happy Sandhya!”
“When did I not look happy Anju?”
I had nothing to say, so I kept quiet.
Things were not right between us from day one. He had a girlfriend and his parents did not agree to him getting married to her. So for him this marriage was meaningless. He slept with me because he got free sex and I was his wife and it was my duty to keep him happy. He never bothered to ask me if I was happy ever.”
I was looking at her now. Is this all true or is she trying to justify her action by telling me stories? – This was the thought that was going on in my mind.
“Exactly ten months after I was married I delivered Ravi and another year later I had Ramya and Radha” I was not allowed to take care of the kids, because my in-laws did not trust me. I don’t blame them. If my husband doesn’t treat me with respect how will the rest of the world treat me? I was hoping someday my kids would grow up and shower me with love. But now they see that I can be walked over easily and that is what they do! I have no life Anju, no one that I can call my own.”
“So where did this guy come in between all this?” There was still sarcasm in my voice.
“I met him a few years ago, his wife is a family friend and that is how I know them. We got chatting and we very soon realised we had many things in common, that is when he encouraged me to write. I wrote stories,a lot of them and they got published”
“Yes Anju, my stories get published regularly in Woman’s Mag under the pen name ‘Anamika’ “.
She can’t be fibbing…is she really Anamika? “How did you manage to hide this from the family? Or do they even know?”
“Nobody knows about this Anju, I post the stories from work and I tell them to send the payment to an orphanage, nobody has a clue about this. He changed my life and I owe him a lot.”
“But you need not have gone to bed with him for that”
“I agree Anju. It was an accident. The last few years I am alive because I am writing. Actually no, I am alive because I do not have the courage to kill myself. The thought has come to me many times from the time I was a child but somehow I cannot bring myself to do it.”
“You don’t have the courage to stand up for yourself, you don’t have the courage to commit suicide but you have the courage to commit adultery?” Another sarcastic remark from me.
She realized she was not getting anywhere with me. She looked at her watch and said it was getting late and she had to go back for a meeting soon. We hugged each other and walked away. That was the last time I saw her alive.
For a day I ranted about how cheap she was. Then I got busy with my life. On a particular rainy Friday I got a call from her parents saying Sandhya had died, I could not believe my ears. They said it was an accident, some fire in the house thing, she was careless as usual and she died before any help could arrive. I could not imagine that beautiful face all burnt. I did not want to go see her, but my husband pushed me. He said I will get some kind of closure for everything if I went.
I went to the house, the house looked super clean. Of course what else can you expect of Sandhya’s house. She had to be perfect in everything. I was told that there was nobody at home when the incident happened and there seemed to have been fire of some kind and she had walked out of the door with fire all over her looking for help and before someone could call the ambulance and do something about the fire she fell to the ground and collapsed. The police believed the story because everyone said that she was always such a happy person and there was no suicide note. But something told me that things were not right.
I was looking around to see if “he” had come. I did not know his name or anything else about him so I did not know if he was there. The children, husband, parents and in laws all of them looked sad, but none of them were crying out loud and creating a scene. The parents kept saying how she was always careless and how she messed up and lost her life. Sandhya and careless? Are they joking? For the first time I was thinking about all she said. Was she actually telling me the truth? Was I not listening to her? I left the place more intrigued and heavy hearted than I had ever been.
I took me a couple of days to calm down. The weekend was spent with husband and kids who did their best to keep me happy. How lucky I was. Monday I was back at school, which was my work. As I passed the park where we usually meet, my eyes welled up. I wiped away my tears and rushed to school.
Around ten the peon came to the staff room with a letter for me. Nobody wrote letters to my school address. I opened it out of curiosity and I knew straight away who had sent the letter to me. I could not sit in the staff room and read the letter. The next two hours were free for me, so I told the head staff and walked to the park.
I sat on the same bench we sat last time and started reading the letter…
I am sorry for writing this letter to you. But you are the only one that knows my secrets. My death is not an accident. After I met you that day, I kept telling myself that I should have the courage to stand up for myself. But somehow I couldn’t and each day was a pain and yes I did take the easy way out. But I can tell you it is not that easy to take one’s own life.
I came to you the other day Anju not because I wanted to blame others for my act, but to find someone to listen without judging. For the first time in my life I wanted to open up to you. Somehow I was not successful. I don’t say I did the right thing, I am completely wrong. But he was the only one that showed me empathy. He was my soulmate. I did not want him to walk away from his wife and children, nor did I expect to walk away from my miserable life happily holding his hand into the sunset. I had no such dreams. So please don’t mistake me. I wasn’t even going to justify anything but somehow many things that have been bottled up for years came out.
My thoughts kept going around in circles since I met you. I took my time. I finished all my projects at work. Today, as of this minute I have no pending work to do. At home too, before “I go” I will finish everything that has to be done. No one at home will miss me, my kids, my husband, my in-laws or my parents. So that is not a problem for me. I have kept all the documents that they will want in the right places so that they don’t have to look for anything. I did not leave a suicide note because I did not want to blame anyone.
Can you do me a favour Anju? Ten years from now, my children will be big enough to understand. If at all possible, just tell them I loved them with all my heart. That is all I want from you Anju.
I loved you for who you were. Please do not change, be cheerful always!
It broke my heart. She hadn’t blamed me or anyone. She was always her perfect self, even in her death. For the first time I thought about how painful it would have been for her to die that way. How much mental pain she would have gone through to choose this path. May be I could have been a bit more empathetic when she spoke to me. She never said what she did was right. Why did I have to poke her even more? I judged her and showed her what i felt. At thirty three if I didn’t have the maturity to handle this situation how would I have handled her telling me about her when she was a child? May be she was right in not telling anyone. She was afraid she would lose her friends. Yes, she was much more mature beyond her age. She knew exactly what would happen if she had told what happened to her everyday. She smiled, kept quiet, kept everyone happy and moved on. The poor thing did not have even a single person to talk to. May be like she said she separated herself from others, but what friends were we if we couldn’t find out the tears behind her smiles?
I get up and walk towards the school. It is going to take me ages to recover from this. But even when she left she has taught me a lesson. Be empathetic and stop judging people. We need more love and less judging.
As I smile at the school watchman, I know my life is not going to be the same ever again.