Renu sat silently in the ambulance trying to hide her pain. She looked at Harsh who looked really troubled. She said, “I am quite fine now.” He looked angrily at her. She said, “I promise you I will not interfere in others affairs. Let others solve their problems.” Harsh said, “I don’t think you will act on your words.” Renu knew there was no point in arguing. She had walked out of her house that morning when she saw a girl walking past the road unmindful of a car coming in her direction. She jumped forward to save the girl, but instead broke her right ankle. The girl far from being thankful to her looked at her angrily. Renu suddenly said, “Well, did I know that the girl was walking before the car purposefully.” Harsh looked at her kindly. Her habit of interfering in others work and trying to help people who did not need her help, had always irritated him. “But,” she argued, “I was only trying to help.” Harsh knew she was suffering under the fire of his anger. He put his hands around her shoulders and said, “We will talk about it later when we reach home.”
Renu had lost her parents recently. She would be alone in the house with no one to look after her. Harsh had asked her to stay at his home, but she refused. Harsh did not quite agree with her, but she was adamant. When they reached home, lesser people came to sympathise with her. Most of them who came were only interested in her fiancée Harsh. Some commented that she should now allow him free passage in the house. She heard it patiently and tried to cool down. For Harsh was getting angrier at every word they said.
Renu could hardly walk. Harsh tried to make her comfortable in every way. When he was sure that he had done everything necessary he left. Renu was now all alone in the house. Her kitten sat silently near her. She played with it for sometime, but soon she began to doze. She soon fell into a deep sleep. Her servent had also left and she had no one to speak to.
Her sleep was rudely broken by the sound of vessels falling. She sat up slowly. Her door opened slowly. In entered a young girl. She was giggling. The girl was her neighbour Ria. She was younger than Renu but was quite interested in what was happening in her neighborhood and kept every one well informed about it. Renu said to herself as she saw Ria, “Here comes the grandmother of the neighborhood.” Luckily for Renu, Ria did not think of coming inside. She said, “They are quarreling again.”
Ria went out, obviously interested in the fight next door. Renu knew she would have little peace of mind now. Her neighbors next door were a newly married couple, who in no way seemed to be one. Their quarrels would keep the whole building awake, and was a matter of enjoyment for those who were interested in others matters. People in the building kept no connection with them and many thought that they should be asked to move out. Renu bore up with these disturbances when she could. But she was sick and needed a lot of rest. She was angry that such people came to live next door. She prayed silently, “Should I quarrel with Harsh after marriage in such a manner, I should prefer not to be married all my life.”
She put the pillow over her head and tried to sleep. But she couldn’t sleep. Her restlessness increased and all she could then was to pick up the telephone and ask Harsh to take her to a quiet place. But Harsh would be late and she had to patiently bear the disturbances next door.
Night was coming and she began to doze. The couple had stopped quarreling. Renu felt that peace had come at last. The crowd around the flat had dispersed and the chattering of the women could no longer be heard. She looked at the watch. It was past midnight. Harsh hadn’t come. He had called up late in the evening to tell her that he had an important engagement which would keep him away for the whole night. He would come only the next morning. She had slept almost the whole day and evening. She no longer felt sleepy. The loneliness of the house frightened her. She wished that she had gone with Harsh. His house was full of people, and anyone would have come over to her place. But she was too shy to ask for such a favour and told Harsh strongly that he shouldn’t ask anyone to help her out. She was confident that she could manage on her own. But now she wished that she hadn’t been so stupid.
Renu looked about for some recreation. She thought that the television would be a good choice. But it was improper to watch it at such an odd hour. She sat silently on the bed. She picked up a book to read. It was an interesting novel and she soon got interested.
The night was dawning and she had read almost half of the novel. A dim light from the eastern horizon fell on her eyes. Limping on her crutches she walked to the window to remove the curtains. She walked back to the bed. She was sleepy again. But hardly had she sat down on the bed when she heard a shout barely audible but clear enough to be heard in the silence of dawn. The shout was followed with the severe sound of beating. She put her ears to the wall and heard the low sound of the lady next door. She heard a whimper and then it was all silent. She told herself, “Is the man murdering his own wife?” The door opened and closed again. Renu limped to the door and opened it slightly. She saw the man carrying a sack. She wondered if it contained the dead body of his wife which he was now disposing. She walked out to see if she could hinder the man. But she was slow and the man had vanished in his car.
Renu meant to raise an uproar. But she fell back when she saw a trail of blood on the floor. The man while he carried the sack had left a trail of blood on the floor. Renu walked to the lift and saw that the trail of blood led to it. She was weak. The shock of seeing the trail of blood made her faint. She hurriedly ran into her flat. She couldn’t stand such a sight. As she entered her room her whole body began to shake. Unable to bear the shock she fell down on the cold floor.
Her sleep was broken by the urgent call of Harsh. He was holding her in his arms. As she saw him she gathered her arms around him. Harsh tried to speak to her, but she kept on crying.
Ria came in suddenly. “Renu didi,” said she, fear evident in her eyes, “Your neighbour next door has murdered his wife and fled. There is a big lock on his door. The floor is stained with blood. The police have come. Come out soon. Something really interesting has happened.” Harsh tried to keep out Ria, but Renu was on her feet and already walking out. Harsh couldn’t understand why she was so exited to go out. He quietly followed her.
The police inspector was questioning people to know if anyone knew anything about the murder. But everyone only shook their heads and answered in the negative. Someone said, “Even if anyone has seen he wouldn’t speak.”
Renu pushed her way into the crowd and said, “I know everything about the murder.” Harsh walked forward and pulled her back. “You must be mad. Even if you know you shouldn’t speak,” he told her quietly. But she was ready to jump into the matter and Harsh could do little to stop her. She said, “I was awake early in the morning when the incident took place. I heard the man beat his wife to death. Later he filled her body in a bag and fled away with it in his car.” The inspector asked, “Then why didn’t you call us up.” She said apologetically, “I had an accident yesterday. When I saw and heard everything I was so overcome by fear that I fell unconscious. I gained consciousness only now and came to tell you everything.”
Just then someone in the crowd shouted, “The man has come.” Renu’s neighbour walked into the crowd. The man looked with surprise at the crowd gathered in front of his flat. The policeman asked Renu, “Is he the man?” She nodded. The policeman walked to the man and said, “Your neighbour has accused you of murdering your wife?” The man let out a wail of surprise and said, “Sir, my wife is very much hale and hearty.” Renu said angrily, “You lie. I saw with my own eyes what you did. You murdered your wife early in the dawn.” The man said, “I agree that we fight every moment of our life. But we cannot dream of a life without each other.” He called out, “Anjali.” Someone answered back from behind the crowd, “Don’t shout. I am coming.” All turned to see. The wife walked forward. She was frightened to see all the people stare at her. She walked to her husband and said, “What is happening here?” The man put his hand around his wife’s shoulder and said, “This lady accuses me of murdering you. Here inspector, here is my wife.” The inspector looked doubtfully at Renu. Renu looked at the couple and said, “But your wife has a bandaged head, how do you explain it?” The wife said, “I will explain it. Last night as usual we had slept after a fiery debate. I came down to sleep in the hall. I was suddenly awakened by the sound of something falling in the hall. I woke up. A pair of green eyes was staring at me. It was a cat. But I was too sleepy to understand. I shrieked and attempted to run but instead fell against the table. The cat attacked me for it was itself frightened. I began to struggle. Hearing all the noise Rajan came. He killed the cat with his tennis racket. The racket still lies in our flat. We then filled a bag with the dead body of the cat and Rajan went out to throw the bag. Then he took me to a doctor. We are just returning from the doctor’s house.” The inspector looked convinced when he heard this. He looked at Renu and said, “Please be careful when you accuse a person next time. You would have made a simple case a very complex one.” The couple next door added, “We would be happy if you don’t interfere in our matters any more, Miss. It is true we fight a lot, but for that matter we cannot murder each other.” Giggles were heard from the crowd. Renu wished she had never opened her mouth. She found Harsh’s comforting arms around her shoulders. Harsh said, “I seek forgiveness on her part. She misjudged the whole situation. This all happened because she had an accident and the slightest sound disturbs and frightens her. I will take her away with me today so that there would be no more misunderstandings on her part.” The inspector said, “I excuse her for she looks terribly sick. But the next time she should be careful.”
Harsh led her into the flat. Soon everyone had dispersed and everything was normal as any other morning. However Harsh was putting all her things in a bag. He meant to take her away. He was not ready to hear a ‘no’. But he was angry and spoke little to her. She watched him silently frightened to speak.
Renu could not endure his silence for long. She said after a patient wait of fifteen minutes, “You are angry with me. But there was no fault of mine. These two people fight so much that anyone would say that they would kill each other any day.”
Harsh looked at her angrily and said, “People might think so. But no one is so stupid to say that the man had killed his wife and then make a fun of himself. I wish to listen to no more excuses. I had told you a hundred times that you should not interfere in others matters. But my words fall on deaf ears.” Harsh turned away to see if any thing was left behind. He was again busy collecting the things. He had almost forgotten Renu.
Renu looked at him busy with himself. She wondered if one day they would be fighting like the couple next door. She thought of her parents whom she had seen quarrel quite often. She had always felt that her parents would divorce one day. She had therefore felt a great relief when her marriage was fixed to Harsh. She had known him from childhood. He was a quiet boy who she felt never learnt to quarrel. She dreamt of a happy life with him. But now he too was quarreling with her. She suddenly said, “I am not going with you. I prefer to stay alone in my house.” Harsh turned back with surprise and astonishment. Coming up to her he said, “If you choose not to listen to me then stay back. But I ask you again do not be stupid. The emptiness of this house would frighten you and you will go day-dreaming again and make people laugh at you.” She said haughtily, “If you think that I day-dream then leave me to myself. I refuse to this marriage. I free you. Marry someone who will suit you better.” Harsh stared at her open-mouthed. Then he began to laugh. It was now Renu’s turn to be surprised. He sat down beside her. He said, “Do you really wish me to part from you now that we are part of each other. When we love each other and will marry in a few days.” She began to look the other way. He saw that she was trying to hide her tears. Harsh thought it better not to speak. He was about to stand up when she said, “ When you scolded me and we started arguing I felt that…” “That we would start quarreling as your next door neighbours do or…” paused Harsh, “as your parents did.” Harsh sat down again. He said, “I can understand why you say this. You had always been unhappy for your parents were forever quarreling. I also know why you agreed to this marriage. We had never loved each other before our marriage was fixed. It was a compromise on your part for a life of peace and quite. You were always frightened that your parents marriage was ruined by constant quarrels and that they would have one day or other divorced.” Renu now looked at him surprised that he understood her so well. Harsh didn’t see her surprised face for he was now standing near the window looking out at the far horizon. He was busy ruminating the past. He said after a moment’s silence, “You had the same fear in your heart when I argued with you. You felt that we are also being involved in quarreling which would end our relationship one day. But you failed to understand the real meaning of marriage. If you had then you would have understood your parents and also the couple next door. You were not with your parents when they were dying in the hospital. I was and I still remember every detail of their death. Papa was the first to receive the message. Fearing to cause you shock and sorrow, Papa asked me to attend them. I stayed with them all night. I saw their love for each other in those few moments. In those last moments when life was cheating them, the old couple who had led twenty-four years of their life fighting and quarreling with each other, who were ready to divorce at any moment, told me of their true feelings. Lying in different beds they prayed to the lord that their last breath be spared for each other. They had fought, it is true. But the greater truth is they had loved each other and never did they dream of separation. Even in death they had aspired to be together. Your mother was the first to die. Your father was not told about it but he realized it soon enough. He called me beside him and said, “I believe you will keep my daughter happy after we are gone. I know that Renu’s mother is gone although no one tells me this. I wish to follow her on this journey. But before I am gone I wish to tell you something that I have learnt from life. You might fight with your spouse for years but never think of separation. Your spouse is your best friend. She quarrels with you, yet she is the one who would be with you in every summer of you life and lend you support in the stormy weather. You can separate too easily but the pain of living in separation is too hard to bear. Both you and Renu have your own share of faults. You might fight, but should not separate. If you do so then teach each other the lesson of wisdom that this old couple has learnt from life.”
Harsh looked out silently towards the sky. Renu saw that he was sad. It pained her to think that she had spoken of separation to him. She said, “I am sorry.” But Harsh was lost in his own thoughts. The door suddenly opened. Rajan came in. He said, “I came too suddenly. I am sorry about it. I wanted some eggs, if you have it. I meant to make the breakfast today. But I can make nothing more than an omlette. Anjali agreed that it would do. But we had no eggs.” Harsh smiled and said, “That is not a big trouble. We are happy to help you. But I would personally request you to excuse Renu for what she did.” Rajan stopped him and said, “Actually eggs were just an excuse. Anjali sent me to tell you that we are sorry that we had been such a nuisance to Renu. We should have thought of the trouble we caused her when we fought constantly when she was so sick. We cause a lot of trouble to neigbours wherever we go. But it can’t be helped. We can never think of separating and so we can never stop quarreling.” Harsh and Rajan laughed at this joke.
After Rajan was gone, Harsh said, “I should be going now. If you think that you should come with me than call me up, I will come.” But Renu didn’t answer. Harsh called her from the door but she was silent. He walked back to her. She sat with her head bowed tears streaming down her cheeks. As he wiped off her tears she caught his hands. “I am sorry. I was so bad to you.” Harsh looked at her kindly.
Renu lifted her e yes to him and saw that he was smiling. She was suddenly feeling warm and happy. Thoughts of separation had made her feel unhappy minutes ago. Harsh had seemed so quarrelsome and rude. Now she realized she was only misjudging him. She could be the happiest when he was with her.
Harsh said, “Did you think I was too rude?” But Renu was much too
happy to say anything. Her hands grasped his, and all he heard was a whisper, “I love you more when you are rude.”
Harsh smiled. Lifting himself a bit he firmly planted a kiss on her forehead. He added, “And I think I will bear up with your nosey nature.”
From across the wall they heard a yell, “Do you think you have made an omlette? It looks like a rubber plate.” Another yell answered, “Do not shout. I will throw the frying pan on your face!”
Harsh and Renu looked at each other and burst out laughing.