“I will drive you to the airport.”
Rohit was staring at the thin skin formed over his cold cup of tea. He looked up, a bit startled.
“I will drive you to the airport.” Puja repeated across the breakfast table.
He nudged the cup a bit further away. “I will take a cab. It is better that way.”
There was silence again. The past two days have been silent. Friday evening they were sitting across this table with barely touched dinner plates between them. He told her about the flight. She was still raging then.
“Sunday? Have you lost your mind? Where are you going to get tickets in two days?”
He did not respond. He stood up and started to collect the dishes. She slapped his hand as he was about to take her plate.
“Answer me. How you going to get the tickets? Answer me.”
He wanted her to stop screaming. But he did not know how. That is the one thing he could not stand. And the sobbing. Sobbing was worse.
She lifted her plate and slammed it on the table. A piece of potato jumped off the plate and rolled across the table.
He looked at her. “I bought them two months ago.” He was barely audible.
“Suddenly you lost your tongue?”
“I already have the tickets.”
“So you knew all these time. All these time you sat there. All this time you lied to me. All these time -”
Her voice choked. He knew she was going to sob again. He took the plates to the sink and turned the faucet all the way. The water gushed with hissing sound. He stood there watching the rice, the dhal, and the vegetables wash off the plate and block the sink. The water started to fill the sink.
Two more days. Just two more days. Do not give in now. You can take two more days of screaming. Tow more days of sobbing. Do not let it get to you.
But she did not. She sat there, tears running down her cheek. But she did not sob. She was silent. She has been since then.
Not even when he started packing his suitcase. Not even now when he told her not to come to the airport. It was strange for him. He ran his finger on the edge of the cup. It felt smooth.
“Is she picking you up?” Her voice was calm.
“No. No. I told you I will take a cab.”
“She is meeting you at the airport?”
“How does it matter now?”
“I am just asking.”
“That is why I want to take a cab. I don’t want it to be hard for anyone. I just – ”
“You don’t have to worry about me.”
Then there was silence.
Puja always suspected it. She always knew. From the time she saw them together at the Christmas party. He told her she was just a colleague. But she knew. And there were others. She knew he was always sneaking behind her. Few years ago when she was in India to see her sick mother, she knew he was too friendly to the neighbor. The time when Rohit’s friend and his new wife came for a visit, Rohit did not take his eyes off her. There are too many to think of.
But she knew the Christmas party was different. He said she was being paranoid. Ann was just a colleague. Just a colleague my foot! And what sort of name is Ann for an Indian. What kind of woman has name like that? She knew her kind well.
She kept a watchful eye. She called him at the office. He was not there. She called him at lunch hour. He was out. She called him after lunch hour. He was at a meeting. It was always something or other. Every day she asked him why he was late. It was always the same excuse: “I had some work.” As if no one else had ever worked at an office. She knew what was going on. He was such a bad liar.
It became a dinner ritual.
“Did you go out for lunch again today?”
“You tell me. No matter what I say you would believe me anyway.”
“You can just tell me the truth.”
“When did that help anyone?”
“I called your office and you were not there.”
“I was out for lunch.”
“Here we go again.”
“It was Ann, wasn’t it?”
“How many times did I tell you ‘don’t be paranoid?’ How many times I have to – ”
“For god’s sake, cannot you tell the truth for once. I am your wife. I deserve better. I have right to know where you been. Who you been with. God is my witness you will pay for this.”
All he just kept silent. When it came right down it, he had nothing to say. What can he say? Nothing but bunch of lies.
Most of the nights, the dinner ended up in garbage.
And finally, a month ago on a Saturday night he came clean. He was home all day. She had nothing to ask.
“I am planning to go to India.” He volunteered.
“What does that mean, soon? I need time to prepare. I need time to buy gifts. I just cannot go when and as you please.”
“I am not taking you with me?”
“Why, you taking Ann with you?” She laughed. She liked watching his discomfort when she brought up the name. And she did it often. He was silent as usual.
“You did not answer me…”
He looked at her. She knew something was wrong.
That night the dinner was everywhere: on the floor, on his shirt, on the ceiling. He was sure the neighbors could hear. It terrified him. He did not want to be terrified anymore.
At first she was angry: she screamed. Then she was sad: she sobbed. Then she tired to be reasonable: she asked him to try one more time. But his mind was made up.
“Give me one more chance.” She tried to salvage what was left of their marriage.
He did not agree. She tried her best. The ticket was the final straw. She gave up. She became silent. He did not mind the silence.
After that she just wanted to know why.
“Why are you doing this? What did I do to deserve this?”
“It is not you.” He could not come up with anything better.
“What is it then?”
“I am not sure.”
“Are you happy with her?”
“Yes. I think it is selfish of me, but I want to start over.”
“But not with me?”
“But with Ann –” She stopped herself. No more arguments.
“Well, I think I need to make a change. None of us are happy – ”
“You don’t have to explain.”
He thought why she could not be this reasonable all the time.
She did not say much when his cab arrived. She stood near the gate as long as he could see.
On the way to the airport, he overcame with guilt. He was not sure if he did the right thing. He could have told her the reason. But he was scared. He shuddered at the thought of what she would do when she found out. It was a strange feeling: the mix of fear and guilt. As the cab drove farther away from home; however, his guilt and fear were overpowered by a sense of freedom.
It was a busy Sunday at the airport. There was a long queue in front of the check-in counter. He debated about calling her. To tell her. But he did not. Finally, his turn came, and he walked right up to the counter.
“Sir, are you flying alone today?” The lady in the counter smiled as a reflex action.
He paused for a moment and watched the narrow patch of skin where her makeup ends and her ear begins.
He was sure. After a long time he was sure again.
“Yes,” he replied.