Being punctual, I reached the cafe hour an hour before our meeting. I ordered a cup of coffee and took a seat near a window. Through the stained glass, I could see children hollering and running across the street. The air was cold and the sun had set, but it wasn’t dark yet.
The owner, a man in his fifties, carefully placed a white cup on my table and asked me if I’d like to have something to eat.
“No,” I said, irritated.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone other than Vaishali. I looked at my watch. She was running late. It had been one of her qualities that I resented. I took a sip of the coffee and fiddled with my phone to find some distraction.
I was uncomfortable in my winter clothes. I felt trapped. How could people wear these all round the year? I thought.
“Subhag”, I heard Vaishali say, as soon as I finished taking the last sip of my coffee.
“Hi,” I said, getting up to embrace her.
I could feel her breath on my neck. As we broke the hug, I looked at her, admiringly. Her smile was wide and her eyes had the same innocence that I had fallen in love with years ago. Although, six months had passed since the last time I saw her, but I remembered her fragrance like it had been yesterday.
She was wearing a blue shirt and black pants, a dress that was not doing her chiselled figure any justice. A name tag adorned her bosom.
She took a seat across the table and kept her purse on one of the chairs. Her phone buzzed and she took it out of her pocket.
I kept looking at her. Neither of us spoke. Finally I asked, “What would you have?”
“Nothing. I am fine,” she answered, softly.
“How’s everyone at home?” she asked, putting away her cellphone.
“Mom’s better. She’s recovering. How’s everyone at your place?”
“We don’t have to talk about him,” she replied.
“I know we don’t have to. But, you can’t deny he is as big a part of this as us.”
She shook her head and stared out of the window.
“Should we go someplace else?” I enquired. “Maybe back to my hotel room? I only told you to come here because this place is near your office.”
She nodded and we drove in my car to a secluded hotel on the highway to Delhi. I opened the room door and she walked in before me.
A queen size bed awaited us. My bag was neatly tucked under the bed. A bottle of best house wine was standing on the table along with two glasses. I was no romantic but I tried my best. Everything had to be perfect for our night together.
“Make yourself at home,” I smiled. “I’ll get you some water.”
We lay on the bed for the rest of the evening, sipping white wine and reminiscing about old times. She would occasionally giggle, and I felt happy.
I gently took hold of her mangalsutra.
“Remove it, please,” I said. “I don’t like to see it.”
She smiled and took it off.
“Thanks,” I said, placing my head in her lap.
I felt her fingers running through my hair. She bent over and we kissed.
Her tongue was soft and inviting. She gently bit my lower lip. Eventually, we made love, at the conclusion of which, I cried.
“Do you have to go today?” I asked.
I was leaning against the bathroom door and she was standing in front of the dressing table. The room was decently hot. She was wearing the sundress I had bought for her.
“Yes,” she replied, dryly. “My husb – Jatin is coming back today.”
“Screw him. Come to Delhi with me.”
“I can’t, Subhag,” she said, without looking at me.
“I can drop you home, if you want.”
“No, it isn’t safe. I will go by myself.”
She left in a few minutes.
I drove back to New Delhi that evening, alone, with a heavy heart. She had told me that I should leave as soon as I could, as rumours travel fast in a small town.
I had dinner alone and waited for her to contact me. Soon after the clock struck eleven, I received a call from her.
“I’m sorry that I am so late,” she said. “I had to wait to make sure that Jatin was sleeping. How was your trip?”
“I don’t want to talk about that,” I replied. “How long can we keep this up, Vaishali? I am done. Tired.”
“I am sorry, but what can I do?”
“You can leave him. That you can do.”
“I can’t. He’s a good man.”
He was a good man. I hated him but there was no way I could demonise him, but I didn’t care. Vaishali was meant to be mine. I didn’t care how Mr. Good-Guy would feel about it.
“Get a divorce,” I said. “I can’t take it anymore. Choose.”
“I can’t do that,” she sulked. “I love you.”
“I doubt that. If you did, you would leave everything for me.”
She did not reply.
“He suspects nothing?” I asked.
“I wished he did. Things would be so easier then.”
“Why can’t you leave him? Screw his family. Screw the world. I’ll love you more than anyone can. You won’t miss them.”
“Subhag, I am not going to let my aunt down. She was the one who raised me….”
I hung up the phone. I had heard this story many times, and I was in no mood to hear it again.
“If you don’t call me by tomorrow night and tell me that you intend on taking a divorce, this relationship is over,” I texted her.
I came back from my office in GTB Nagar by seven the following evening. She had not answered. As I drifted into sleep, my phone buzzed.
“We are going to try for a baby. Sorry,” her text said.
I dreamt of us that night.
We were twenty. I sat, holding her hands, on the spectator stand of our college ground. She was crying.
“You’re stupid that you’re doing this,” I said.
“My aunt wants it. She has set this match and she’s not listening to me.”
“This is your life.”
“No, I owe it to her.”
“You promised me your heart. What about that?”
“I am sorry, Subhag.”
“No, No, No,” I whined.
She got up and walked away. I followed her and no matter how fast I walked, the distance kept increasing.
Four months passed but I did not hear anything from Vaishali. I dreamt of her every other night and spent most of my free time refreshing her Facebook page to see if she had any “good News” to deliver. Thankfully, up until two days ago, I saw nothing special, expect for a few photos with Jatin that made me want to burn the neighbourhood down.
But, finally, yesterday I saw her Facebook update that said, “Very happy. Finally pregnant. Looking forward to be a mother.”
I kept calling her but she didn’t answer. This morning, finally, she sent me a text message.
“Subhag, I’m sorry, but we have to move forward. I don’t know if you found out but I am pregnant. I am going to have his baby. This is my world now. What we had was beautiful, but now, it’s over. If you love me, please don’t contact me. Let’s leave the past in our hearts.”
As I scribble this, I am sitting staring at our picture from our first date. How stupid is the guy in it! He thinks this is going to last forever. He has no idea that happiness is just a passing state – it comes to an end, and usually, without any warning.
The sad part is that if I were to relive my past, I would repeat the same mistakes. This is what is making me do what I’m doing. Vaishali is everything to me – my Past, my present, and my future.
A brown country-made revolver is in my hands. I can feel its cold metal barrel.
This is the only way for me to find peace. Maybe I’ll get her in the next life. Or the one after that.
I don’t blame anyone for this…