As the moonlight tapers down forming a pattern on the letter pad, I am very much conscious of the distance between us. Today marks exactly 25 years of marriage. Sounds so long right? But somehow I don't feel old. I just feel wiser. So much has changed in our life, yet so much remains the same. Your firm boyish face has matured down and I can spot a few wrinkles near your eyes which you call 'laughter lines' but your capacity to speak words with just a look remains unchanged. I guess years can never change the way we always understood each other and were in sync. I never had to explain myself, you always knew. Right from the day we met we clicked. Though we started off as 'just friends' I always knew you were different, that the bond between us was deeper and much meaningful. In certain ways I think it was meant to be.
Today our daughter whom you always called Candy was asking me 'Mom what is love? How do you know its the right person? What gave you the confidence to marry Dad out of all the people?' and I had no other answer other than 'You just know, honey. Something within you. maybe a wiser part will let you know. You will have no doubts and if you do, rest assured that it isn't the right person.'
Her questions have put me in a very nostalgic mood. I can't remember when we first met. Maybe that's because we grew up together. You were always there for me. You were the one who taught me to climb the first tree and you were the one to provide a shoulder for my tears. You were the one who took me to my first dance and you were the one who sneaked me out of the house when I wanted to go to the disco. Oh how glorious I felt that day. It was as if I belonged to you. I wanted to shout to the whole world that we belonged together. Nothing else mattered except us. The whole world was focused on us. It was then that I knew for sure that I loved you. I didn't want anything else in life other than to be with you. Everything else paled into insignificance.. It was just like a fairytale. Except....... that the prince had to say he loved me. Didn't you understand my love? I wanted to confess my feelings at that very moment. I was very sure that something so powerful couldn't not be one-sided. surely you loved me too. But something held me back. I just couldn't say it and no one was more surprised than me. Surely I wasn't going all shy on you!
I still remember the drive back home, when you told me that you were moving away. I felt as if my heart would break. You? going away from me? It couldn't be real! Fairytales didn't end this way. On the drive home you were supposed to take me in your arms and confess never dying love to me and you were calmly saying you were moving away. Through a mist of unshed tears I heard your voice . college ..admission....MBA.....career.....States. It all sounded so logical but hell my heart was in no mood to be logical. I don't know how I got through those days till you left. I wrote you endless letters and in the beginning you replied meticulously. But slowly your replies trickled away and at one point the correspondence between us died away. It was more painful to write to you and keep waiting for a reply. Praying for a reply, wondering why you didn't reply, cursing you because you didn't.
Years passed. I too buried my love for you at the bottom of my heart ..... the best place for dead things. Then disaster struck fresh. A year full of tragedies topped by Daddy passing away. Exactly three months later Khushi entered our lives. An ironical name considering I was hardly in a position to rejoice at her arrival. I was too old to be playing elder sister and yet that was what I was 'didi'. But I could not reject her. She was the living image of Dad. Seemed as if Dad had come to us. Claiming his stake at life again. Refusing to an end to his life when he was just 45. Maybe that was the reason behind Khushi.
Khushi gave a new meaning to our lives. Filled it with new meaning and gave us a new zest towards life. Now that Dad wasn't here anymore the onus of the bread-maker fell on me. A role I wasn't really suited to. Where was my dream of marriage to you and a house full of children who would dance at my feet yelling 'mummy'? Children who would have you eyes and charm. My idea of a happy future had always been seeing your face at the end of a happy day and house sounding of happy laughter. I remember your telling me I was dreaming of a miniature basketball team. What a contrast I was now sitting in Dad's chair and making decisions he should have made, issuing orders to people I had known all my life and who called me 'Squirt' till a few months. And I felt a fake. The hyped industrial world wasn't for me. I might be the heiress to the largest industrial kingdom in the country but I didn't belong in the field of earning it. Before this all I had known of riches was having designer dresses, pocket money equivalent to my friend's parent's salaries, never running out of money. Now it was running between offices, attending endless meetings, going to parties I hated, having a plastic grin on my face. Bless old Daddy he had thrived in all this. And I felt as stifled as a rose cut from the tree in which it bloomed. My discomfiture led me to withdraw into myself and ironically gave me the nickname of 'ice princess' and 'iron lady ' . People mistook my silence for haughtiness and discomfiture for ruthlessness.
The only people I lived for now were Mummy and my little angel Khushi. Even though I had shed tears when she was born and cursed my fate, she had now become the centre of our lives. The milestones were the day she took her first step, the day she first spoke, her waiting in the doorstep half asleep and running into my arms saying 'me is waiting'. Years passed. Khushi was now five and beginning school. I was still slogging in office .
Then another lightning hit me. I got a letter from you. I can hardly call it a letter just two lines.
Am moving back. Will be there sooner than you think.
Who else but me.
Just when I thought I was finally over you, you were coming back. Back to haunt me. Back to resurrect my dreams. Was this God's sense of humor? Was I fated to be the constant butt of his jokes. Why did you have to come back when it was too late? I didn't need you now. Didn't need to be reminded of what I could never have. Too much water had flown under the bridge. I couldn't have you even if you fell in love with me. It had been 10 years now. I had changed a lot and wondered if you had too. Had you lost your lop sided grin or did it still break hearts? Did you still speak with your head inclined towards the right? Did you still nibble the end of a pen when thinking hard? With a sigh I got up and went to make myself some coffee. I couldn't face it, couldn't torture myself like this anymore. Maybe I should get away from here for a while. A month maybe and come back prepared to met you, planning how I should treat you ...
I heard a knock on the door and said curtly ' yes? ' And there you were as handsome as ever, even more. The changes were slight but perceptible. You had matured and had the arrogant air of a man confident in his own skin. You had always been a little uncomfortable with your height well over 6 feet but now you seemed to be using it to your advantage. Hell there was too much of you in the room for my own comfort. From years of practice I filled warmth in my voice and said 'Sameer! When you said soon I expected maybe in a month. What do you mean by bursting into my office?? '
You flashed me a boyish smile and said ' I did say 'sooner than you think' and winked. Gosh you almost had me there.
'But where is my Sandy? The mad teenager who was tearing around in jeans and hair anyhow? What I see now Miss Sanjana? Does my Sandy still exist? I miss her you know'
'Sure. You pop in after 10 years and claim you miss me. Oh u must have been paralyzed with grief. That's why you didn't write'
'My, my! The lady seems miffed. When I read about the ice princess, I never knew you had show that act to me. I know what I have done was unpardonable .. '
'Yes it was'
'.. but can I make up with dinner tonight? My place. I will cook. Just the two of us? There are lots of things I want to talk. Lots of unfinished knots to tie up'
'I am busy tonight. Got some meetings to go to '
'Well some business work ... ' I hedged
'On a Sunday? Come off it Sandy. Why are you hedging? I am sure you don't have it damn work tonight too. You never work late. You are deadbeat in the nights. I haven't forgotten that.'
'Damn it Sam, you can dance into my life after 10 years and take charge. And what do you know about me? And what can you have to talk with me after all? You never bothered these 10 years? What's assumed so much importance suddenly? Well I have news for you. You can't make me dance to your wishes. I have a life too. ' I knew I was getting hysterical. I knew I was over reacting. I stopped before you could figure out that there was more behind my tirade than just anger over stopped correspondence. You should never know that it was my hurt pouring out. It was a wound you had cut and the poison was oozing out now
' Sandy we were friends once. I want to believe that we still are. I know I was stupid once and believe me I can never forgive myself for that. I lost sight of the important things in life but if you think I ever forgot you, you are mistaken. We were too close for me to wipe clean the memories. I wanted to come and see you every day for the past few years but couldn't muster up the courage. You were my best friend Sandy, can't you forgive my folly of stupidity? At least give me the chance to explain myself'
'No amount of explaining can change anything. But you can pick me at 7 tonight'
And I cursed myself for the rest of the day. You always could talk me around. You had made me feel like the evil stepmother. You were the one who had walked out of me and you made me feel mean for refusing to come out. Well I would make sure this was the last time it happened. Tonight would the end of a beginning. I could not let you hurt me all over again.
But whom was I cheating? Once we went out that day, it was like we had never been apart. Lives feel into the same old pattern. You took up a job here. You were once again almost living in my house. Khushi started calling u 'buddy'. Funny it was what we use to call each other when we were young. Things were almost the same. You were back and I was still in love with you. But again they were so different. Back then I had the hope of winning your love. Of being Mrs. Sameer some day but now I knew it was all a dream. A fairy tale consigned to books and dreams. It could never be now. It was too late. This Sandy had new responsibilities. She couldn't afford to dream and there was Khushi just 5 and just beginning her life. I had to be there for her. I couldn't foist her on anyone. She was my responsibility.
I remember the Valentines that day vividly as today. You called me up at 12 in the night. I picked up the phone and sleepily mumbled 'ullo'
'Wake up sleepyhead and come down. To our place'
'What the hell its a god forsaken hour and you .. ' I grumbled
'Please. I promise you, you won't repent it ever '
'Coming coming. And I look a fright. You had better be prepared'
'Come as you are. I don't care if you are in rags'
' You dun have a choice'
I still ran a comb through my hair and wondered what you were up to. I saw myself out of the house and ran down the steps to what we called 'our place' . It was a little forsaken ramshackle cottage hut really, which we used to play in when we were young. It was also where I used to go whenever my sorrow and longing grew too bad.
Today when I entered it I gasped in surprise. It was entirely done in daisies. Bunches off it all over the place. Soft music filled the room. I spotted a single long stemmed white rose. Ah so you remembered white was my favorite. Attached to it was a card. I flipped it and read ' Marry me? Be mine. Anxiously yours Sam'
Tears blinded my eyes. All my dreams coming true when it was too late. I didn't know what was more cruel. Steeling my heart with the knowledge that he didn't love me or soothing it with the knowledge that he did but I couldn't have him. We were star crossed. Destined to be apart.
I ran out of the cabin tears flowing down my cheeks. I heard you voice call out to me. But I couldn't stop I had to go. Far away for some time. Going home I made a quick decision I had to leave immediately before you could stop me. I woke up Mom and said 'Mom there is some problem in the Delhi branch. I am going immediately. Don't worry and keep safe.'
'Sandy! What's wrong? You look all drained and your eyes are all red. What's wrong honey'
'Nothing Ma. I am just worried. Gotta rush. Will call you when I reach there. If you run into any problems call me on my mobile'
'Sure honey. Don't worry about us. Now that Sam is here, he will look after us. I had always hoped you would make a match of it but '
Gosh I didn't need this now
Quickly kissing her on the cheek I went into my room. Randomly threw a few clothes into a holdall and packed my handbag with a few essentials.
The phone began ringing. I knew it was you and ignored it. As I began walking out of the house I could hear my mobile ring. I saw it was you. I wasn't ready to face you just yet. Not strong enough to say I didn't love you as I ought to. I blocked your number and started driving away to the airport. I called my office and told them to get the company craft ready in 30 minutes ' Mam! Now? ' He asked. 'You heard me' I snapped and turned off the phone.
Strapping myself into the seat, I finally stopped fighting against memories. Gave myself up to them and went back 5 years. When I was in final year of college getting a business degree in which I was least interested. It had been a difficult year and political pressures were building on Dad. And there were labor problems in two of his prize companies. I knew he was worried but he never let me into them. I was the protected pet in the house.
I remember that cold June day when I was walking back home. The car had broken down and the driver said it would take time to put right. Home was just ten minutes away so I decided to walk. Just I rounded a corner a van screeched to a halt beside me and pulled me in. It was straight out of a C grade movie. I was too numb even to move or protest. Scream my survival instincts yelled at me but no voice came out. I had turned dumb with shock. I didn't know these men, didn't know what they wanted..
The ugly leering faces frightened me.
'What do you want? ' I managed finally
'We want to get back at your old man honey. He thinks he can walk off with our money? He is sitting on pots of money which is ours sending his daughter to fancy schools, getting them fancy clothes on our money'
'But dad gives u a salary. He works hard for what he gets'
' He gets damn too much. We want a share. You know what your precious papa did today? He fired me. Me! Told me to get out of the place. I tell you lady no one does that to me No one now I am going to have some fun with you and you dear papa is gonna pay. Oh he is gonna suffer all his life. He will look at you and remember me'
He looked a lunatic as he raved on. I could feel his clammy hands on me. I yelled but it was no use. I had been set up. My own people, the driver who had driven me since I was in school I had given me away. I blanked out my mind as the horror happened to me. He not only raped my body but my heart and soul as well. I felt as if he killed a part of me, a part that believed in good people. I had been protected all my life but now was being exposed to the ugliest part of it. When he was done with me he sneered and said 'he was going to return me to my papa'
Things were a nightmare after that. Dad was furious and got that man arrested but by then I was indifferent to it all. What did it matter now? Could anyone give back to me what I had lost? Could they give me back the innocence, the trust and the child like belief I had held in the world? Could they give my back my childish dreams? Could they turn me back into that carefree gal whose only major worry had been what to wear to college? Hell could they give me back my choice of whom to gift my virginity? A part of me died day. I withdrew into myself. I did get on with my life putting up a brave front for my parents but life was never the same. I still went to college, still went out with friends but life wasn't the same. AT home too life was constantly downhill. Problems at work were beginning to bog down papa. He was beginning to look 20 years older. At 45 his hair was as white as Santa and as wrinkled. After having two heart attacks in a month he finally succumbed to it when he heard one of his factories had been set on fire. My life too underwent a big change. I was forced to change overnight. I had to fill Daddy's shoes. In midst of this mayhem I failed to notice one small thing. It was four two months later that I discovered I was four months pregnant. I don't know how I failed to notice it. A visit to the doctor threw another yorker at me. It was too late to do anything. I had to have the child. The child which I neither wanted nor cared about. I didn't a reminder of the very nightmare I wanted to forget.
A child had to be created out of love not out of violence and hatred. How could I bear and deliver a child whose father had put a full stop on my joy? But from what the doctor said it was risky. But I was ready to fight the odds. By now I didn't really care if I died on the operating table.
When I reached home and told Mama, she was stunned and then cursed herself for not having thought of that. But she soon pulled herself together and said 'Of course you must have the baby. I can't lose you. '
' But ma a child born out of love is an angel and that born from violence a bastard. When it asks me who am its father what do I tell it? That he is lounging in jail coz he raped me? And mummy do you think the reporters are gonna let it lie? They would make a movie out of it. I finally broke down and cried as I had never cried before. As I ought to have cried when papa died or the day I had been raped, the day my dreams had been killed, the day I had been robbed of my youthful dreams.
Finally Mom managed to convince me and we moved to Delhi 'to take care of business there'. When the child was born 5 months later she had my fathers name in the birth certificate. I had given birth to a 'sister'. From this moment she was officially my mothers 'daughter' and I was her 'didi'. It was Mom's plan to give 'respectability' to her grand daughter. I smiled at the irony of it all. My daughter who should have been born in a exclusive nursing home and be welcomed amidst joy was born in a small private clinic of a 'chachi' Mom named the child Khushi which I said was an oxymoron for the child could never be a joy to me. It was a painful reminder of what I had lost.
When we returned to Mumbai it was with Mom holding the child in her arms . She called the child a final Valentine gift from her late husband. Yes my daughter was born on Valentines which I again considered a bitter irony of destiny. God's sense of humor. The press played it wonderfully and it was touted as the most romantic sequel to his death.
Life went on till you came back. How can I marry you? You want a young girl who can romp with you through life. not a ready family. You want a partner to share your dreams, not someone who has had all her dreams killed. Maybe we could have had all that if you hadn't left. But now it was too late. Khushi may be calling mom 'mom' but she was still my responsibility. I could not marry and leave them like a normal sister might do. And I couldn't expect you to handle the responsibility. It was too late . Too late to change things. Too late for me to tell you I loved you. Maybe I should have confessed that day when you were to leave. Maybe maybe .. Oh I hated that word.
I went through the following week like an automation. I know you called up twice and I had left instructions that I didn't want to take any calls from you.
Two days later I remember another package being delivered to me. This one was a bouquet full of white roses and another card curiosity caused me to open it.
A second proposal and a different one. This time I want a wife and a daughter. Khushi has already agreed. What about her mother? '
Who else but me who wants to be your husband for life. And then you walked in to my room. And you began talking right away.
'I spoke to your mother the next day and she told me everything. And I was hurt Sandy. Not only for all your suffering but because you didn't trust me enough to confide in me. I always lent you me shoulder. Did you think my shoulder wasn't strong enough this time?' You pulled me your
his arms and said ' And I am lucky here. I loved one beautiful lady and am getting two.'
Then I remember you looking anxiously into my eyes and saying ' I am, aren't I? '
How could I refuse such a proposal. We were married quietly in a private ceremony a month later and you moved in with us. You also adopted Khushi as your own and that was your first Valentine gift to me. I remember the invariable card ' a candy for my sweetest Sandy.
As I think over my life today, I don't think I want to change even a small part of it. We have an awesome chemistry and gruesome history behind us. History and Chemistry it can't get any better.
P S Candy sends her love and kisses to her buddy papa too ;)