The iPad screen flashed images of an annoying little man in sunglasses, dancing to an annoying little song that Swetha had heard too many times over the last six months. Her children had been tampering with YouTube again. She tapped away from the screen and was back onto her Facebook page. It was full of pictures of her friends’ children and of glib quotes that Swetha would have found funny and insightful yesterday, but today she was unimpressed. She ‘liked’ not a single one.
Despite being fully awake, despite having washed her face and brushed her teeth her eyes felt heavy. She considered turning the iPad off and going back to sleep, but her children would be up any minute and although the maid would manage them, it also meant that she would be going back to bed to her husband.
She glanced over at him, from the bedroom door and fresh tears rolled down her face. She looked away, walked away from the bedroom and towards the spare room. The clothes were drying on the rack and she picked up a pair of faded joggers. She put on her socks and trainers, picked up the house key and left the flat. Outside was muggy and she could feel droplets of moisture crawl down her back, soaking her t-shirt. But it didn’t matter how fast she moved or how painful the stitches, the words she had read on her husband’s email, just the one email, the night before, stayed static in her mind’s eye. Black on white. Black and white. “I will always love you” “You have brought meaning to my life” “Our time together, every moment is precious.”
It was coming up to their 8th wedding anniversary and Swetha could not believe, would not believe that this was happening to her. The man she had married detested any kind of deceit. He refused to pay the bribes that would make life more effiecient for them, he refused to tolerate even a white lie from his 6 year old daughter and here they were, far from anything that was familiar to them, confronted with the biggest lie of all, their marriage.
Swetha had left the comfort and familiarity of the United Kingdom, with her children to come to Kolkata to support her husband in his new venture. She hated the bathrooms in their rented flat, she hated watching the resident lizard climb the wall, she hated the fact she had no purpose except to play the good ‘wife’ whilst ‘playing house’ in this joke of a city. It was too hot and humid. She never felt clean because of the bathroom threw out the raw stench of sewage every time she had a shower. It did not matter how clean the toilets were! There always seemed to be a thin layer of dirt encased in another thin layer of perspiration that clung stubbornly to her skin minutes after washing. The overhead fans gave her a headache and the air conditioning was too expensive to run constantly. Swetha just longed for the British spring and summer. In the six months she had been here she had missed the snow, the snow drops, her mother’s rhubarb and custard tulips and most of all she missed the cool breeze you got, no matter how hot it got.
She thought back to early days of their romance, before they were married. She remembered meeting him in the park in the spring. The magnolia trees were in full bloom, the tulips and daffodils were just dying back and the trees were covered in white and pink blossom. Back then, Swetha had told Vijay that they would have to visit Japan for the annual Sakura festival. “We’ll travel the world together, just watch and wait,” he told her.
He was so full of confidence, she remembered. She could wish for the moon and he would be able to make her believe that it was possible. But reality sets in pretty quickly after the kids arrive, she thought ruefully to herself. It wasn’t about Swetha and Vijay anymore, it was about the children. He would give everything for them.
The children! What would happen to their children? They would come with her, back to England. She thought quickly. He wouldn’t be able to handle them. She would allow him to visit whenever he wanted. They loved their father, she couldn’t deny them that.
She stopped jogging and caught her breath. She sat down on a bench and let her breathing return to normal. She was out of practice. Vijay always nagged her to go running; endorphins and keeping in shape was important. He was quite fit himself. He took care of what he ate and he liked to look good. He was classically handsome, Swetha thought. He had that Clarke Kent, Superman quality about him, with his rectangular glasses and neatly gelled hair. She called him her hero. Again, the tears fell. She reminded herself of Alice in Wonderland; alone and stranded in a strange place, with tears so huge that they would drown the little creatures scurrying around at her feet. She felt like a helpless, lost child.
The wind suddenly picked up and the dirt swirled around her. Waves of dust hit her face and the clouds darkened overhead. She laughed…pathetic fallacy, they called it, she recalled.
The children would be up now. She ignored the pain in the pit of her stomach, and the desire to vomit. She had to confront him, before he left for work. She would not fight. She would tell him she saw his email by accident because he left it open on the laptop before he fell asleep. She would tell him she needed his card to buy tickets back to the UK for her and her children. She would stress that she wanted nothing for herself but he should consider setting up something for the children, in terms of funds. She would go back to work and her mother could look after the little ones. She had worked it all out. She did not need him any more. It was cold and to the point and love and emotions played no part in this conversation. She would not beg for him to leave the other woman, whoever she was and she certainly did not plan on falling apart in front of him. She would, instead, tell him she was disappointed in him. She would file for divorce as soon as she got back. There was no point in trying to work things out as she would never be able to trust him again. Finally, she would demand to know who SB was and how long the affair had been going on. He owed her that much, at least.
Back in the foyer of her building, the air conditioning hit her and momentarily made Swetha forget. But once in the lift, as she pressed the button to her floor, Swetha felt the nausea return. She was suddenly claustrophobic, terrified of returning to the pokey beige flat with the dirty sofas. She dreaded the confrontation and the fake smiles she would give her children as they rushed to hug her. She simply didn’t want to see her husband’s face but things needed to be said.
As she turned the key in the lock and walked into the flat, Swetha noticed it was still quiet. The maids were busy already though, quietly washing and chopping. The children were still dozing and her husband was sleeping peacefully. A part of her ached to lie down next to him, to fit her small rounded frame against his longer, more angular one. She desperately wanted to rest her head on his chest and feel the rise and fall of his breathing. But underlying it all was the urge to double up and howl in pain.
“Wake up.” She said the words quietly but forcefully.
The man on the bed stirred and grumbled, “leave me alone, it’s too early.”
“Get up, it’s important. We need to talk.”
There was something in her voice that made Vijay open his eyes. She was upset. He could hear it in the steady insistence in her tone.
He sat up and looked at his wife. She was still beautiful even with her dark circles and frizzy hair. She wasn’t that old, but she insisted on anti-wrinkle cream. She had an awkward grace that he loved; she was clumsy and artful, at the same time. She was intelligent, sharp but incredibly naïve. She was the mother of his two children and he was eternally grateful for her trust in him. To hear sadness in her voice, broke into his sleep and shook him awake.
“What is it? Are the children OK?”
“Your email was open, I read your mail to SB.”
“Oh, you found it?” Vijay yawned, grinned and rubbed the back of his head.
“Do you think it’s funny?”
“I think it’s a bit embarrassing! You weren’t supposed to find it.”
“Well, that’s obvious! Who is she?”
Vijay looked again, listened again. Things had not gone how he had planned. Swetha had found the emails. This was not how he envisaged on telling his wife about how he felt. Their anniversary was in two weeks time; he thought he might wait until then. He had been sending SB emails for a few days now. He resolved to send her one every day until the morning of his wedding anniversary. He had opened an email account in her name and sent them all there. [email protected]
He became serious. “Think about it, Swetha Bhavanandan! Who do you think SB could be?”
Swetha blinked the tears away and ran into her husband’s arms, sobbing until she thought her heart would burst!
Just then, the rains came.
Devjani Bodepudi, Hiland Park,