Heavy silence hovered around the house the next morning. I woke up with a burden in my head, it felt like I had a real wound brooding. I carried on with the chores of the day , only when I had readied food for the cattle I came to know that Chotku and my husband were off to his factory which was in the neighboring district. I hurried with my work in the kitchen, cooked a little rice which I would later have with curd. Grains and spices had to be prepared anyway for the neighbour.
As I proceeded with my daily ritual of cutting, chopping and cleaning, I felt frustration spreading through my veins. A worm crawling over each nerve giving out creeps to my soul. I couldn’t get last night’s image off my eyes.
Pretenders, aren’t we? We pretend to be happy when all we wanna do is cry. Pretend to love them when they make our flesh rot. Pretend to be married when our souls hardly seem to recognise each other. Last night, in a way, the face had been unmasked but why wasn’t there any trace of shame? Did I not deserve an explanation? An apology? I didn’t. For him I deserved nothing.
By the time I finished chopping vegetables, our servant who took care of the cattle had gone home. I picked up the plate in one hand and pulled my drape over my head with another. Slowly, almost mechanically, I walked through the backdoor towards the stranger’s house as soft dewy grass gently caressed my sole. I gently knocked the door and waited, I was about to knock again when the door opened.
“Hello! Are you Mrs. Shastri? Please do come inside.” He said cheerfully. Amidst all chaos happening in my head, the existence of this man seemed completely unnatural.
“Please have a seat ma’am” he said, disappearing into the kitchen. The room was identical to our own but the air seemed different. It had minimum furniture, hardly any decoration. A photo frame was lying on a rusted iron table. Possibly him and his wife. Dozens of books lay here and there, as if they were people casually sitting and passing time. Two minutes later he came back with a glass of water and some brown things on a porcelain plate. “It’s a chocolate roll. I’m sure you’ll like it.” I could feel the pulse on my forehead. Is this man insane? What if someone sees me with him? What is it and why is it brown?
“What’s your name?”he asked, it was the first time a man had asked my name.
” Beautiful name Radha. My name is Shashi.”
I smiled and this time it wasn’t forceful. I saw him eating with a spoon and did the same.
“What are your hobbies Radha?
“I mean what do you do in your free time?”
“I… ” I stared at him unblinkingly. I had no idea what he wanted to know.
“There must be something. Like gardening, reading, something like that?”
“Oh. I knit sweaters.”
“Great. I can’t knit.”
I tried to smile. Before I could say something I heard the loud screech of the large iron gate. Losing my breath, I adjusted the drape over my head and ran.
My husband was back, I couldn’t see Chotku though. I asked if he wanted tea but he flatly refused and retired to the veranda. After dinner that night, I lied down in my bed thinking about everything that had happened in the afternoon. Why was he good to me? He didn’t stare at my the way a scavenger stares at its prey. He was gentle.. His voice was soothing.
My train of thoughts was disturbed as the door was banged open. I sprang up immediately and adjusted my drape. My husband in with the same intensity and shut the door. My heart was pounding. In a fraction of a second he was there, pulling my drape off.
“I don’t want to do it.” I said in a soul less voice.
“What?” He barked as if something stank in the room.
“I don’t want to sleep with you tonight.” I stated.
Before I could realise what I had told or anticipate an answer, a slap landed on my cheek. My inner cheek and lower lip was now bleeding profusely as tears rolled effortlessly down my cheek.
“Do not raise your voice you pig, your mother didn’t teach you how to talk to your husband or is she a whore too?”
Next morning when I woke up, I had a swollen lip, a black eye and several bruises. I could’ve been a punch bag but punch bags provide no sexual pleasure. It was my fault, how could I defy my husband! So what if he slept with other women! So what if he, for a while was violent. I shouldn’t have crossed my boundaries.