“Are you happy living with him?” my mom asked me, as I brewed coffee in the kettle.
I hesitated but turned back and gave a fake assuring smile.
“Good,” she commented.
I poured the coffee in three mugs and served it to my dad, who was conversing with my husband, in the hall and saved two mugs for mom and me.
“You didn’t give him coffee?” my dad asked pointing out to my husband.
We both looked at each other for a moment, wondering what to say.
“No, uncle, I don’t drink coffee,” he said when he realized I’m gonna blunder.
I just smiled at him.
“Then give him some tea, Dhivya. Should we teach you this too?” my mom ordered.
I meekly got up and was back in a few minutes with hot tea and handed it over to him.
“Thanks,” he said.
My mom and dad exchanged confused glances with each other.
“Mom, would you like some more coffee?” I said diverting the topic.
She shook her head and looked at me concerned.
“Sheela,” my dad called my mom, “Isn’t it time to leave? The train is due to arrive in about an hour.”
“Pa, next time, when you come to Bangalore, you should stay in my house for a week, unlike this flying visit,” I requested.
He nodded his head in deep thoughts. I became aware that my parents have smelt out the fishy relationship between me and my husband.
“Don’t lie for our sake,” my mom whispered in my ear before they departed to the railway station, “We know this is the first time ever he’s drinking your tea.”
I leaned on the balcony door and looked at the beautiful sunset as tears rolled down my cheeks. My mom’s words were true. I don’t even know if Varun likes tea or coffee. Today is the first time ever he tasted my tea. This life in Bangalore is not what I wanted but I wasn’t offered any other option.
Varun cleared his throat behind me to get my attention. But I didn’t turn around, just adjusted my position.
“The tea tasted good,” he said and left the place.
I sighed. Varun and I got married four months back. It wasn’t a happy marriage. As soon as the wedding got over I informed him that I was compelled to marry him and that I wasn’t ready for a husband-wife relationship. He consented and we migrated to Bangalore where he works and live like roommates under the same roof. But he hopes that one day, he’ll begin to lead a normal life with me. But I wish to live a solitude one…
“Will you please come? Just once, please,” Varun begged me.
Varun’s friends in Bangalore have planned an outing for a whole day and each one must come with his family. Though Varun and I’ve not gone out together anywhere earlier, I had to relent as I didn’t want to let him down in front of his friends.
“Ok,” I agreed, “but on one condition. Don’t try to get close to me during the trip.”
All settled, we set on our trekking expedition the next day. I got associated with the wives of few of Varun’s friends and they seemed to be fun. I was immensely happy as it’s after a very long time I was getting engaged with the outside world.
Varun would glance at me occasionally to see if I’m doing fine. We halted for lunch and every wife served her husband, the lunch that they had packed, with concern. So, to not stand out I hunted for Varun too. But he was found nowhere.
“Um, Mr. Anil, do you know where Varun went?”
“Sorry Mrs. Varun, I’ve no idea.”
So, I had to lunch alone in the midst of all the laughter that could be heard in the distance. Half an hour later, he arrived.
“Had lunch?” he asked me.
I nodded. Though I didn’t wish to ask, my heart pricked me.
“Where did you go? I was waiting for you to serve lunch.”
He hesitated before answering, “I went to have lunch in a restaurant. I thought you mightn’t have packed lunch for me.”
I didn’t know how to react to that and he left my side, not to make me feel guilty and worsen my feelings. But, I did end up feeling guilty.
The words that I had spoken the day before rang clear in my ears, ‘Don’t try to get close to me during the trip.’
“Shit, Dhivya,” I cursed myself.
From then on, I tried moving closer with Varun, just not to hurt his feelings, but he maintained his distance with me. I felt bad, to tell the truth, I was filled with remorse. I shouldn’t have told those words.
We continued climbing uphill slowly.
“Anil, throw me a water bottle,” I heard Varun shout to his close friend.
I took my bottle from my backpack and forced my way forward and handed the bottle to him, while his friend too did so.
Anil smiled at me and withdrew his bottle, but Varun gave a ‘sorry-I’m-not-gonna-try-to-get-close-to-you’ look towards me and grabbed Anil’s bottle and drank water from that. Anil stood stupefied.
Feeling embarrassed and rejected, I started climbing up faster and faster, before others could reach the summit. I wanted to vent out my anger on myself this way. But my breath grew short and I asphyxiated. I knew I had wheezing and that I’d have problems to breathe if I climbed any faster. So, that’s how I wanted to vent out my anger, to bring the pain (literally) upon myself.
But, the situation grew worse. With the chill, windy climate I was completely unable to breathe and my lungs weren’t in a condition to help me inhale oxygen. My heart throbbed faster. Only the sound of my wheezing was heard, but no other footsteps.
I panicked. I knew I was gonna blank out soon.
“Varun,” I tried to call out his name loudly. But I couldn’t hear my own voice. Out of fear, I blacked out just when I heard footsteps approaching me.
“Dhivya,” I heard Jiva call me.
Water was splashed on my face and I tried to blink open my eyes slowly. But it wasn’t Jiva in front of me. It was… Varun.
“You, okay?” he asked me.
I didn’t even have the strength to say no or shake my head.
“Quick, Anil, demount her backpack from her shoulder,” Varun barked orders, as he lifted me like a baby. I hugged him and threw my hands around his neck for support.
I groaned and closed my eyes again as I felt the pain in my lungs. Then, Varun started climbing downhill, half running and half hobbling. The pain grew stronger and I moaned louder.
“Dhivya, we’re gonna go to the hospital soon. You’re gonna be alright,” he said between his breaths just to make me interactive and conscious.
Memories of Jiva flooded my thoughts. I felt like him carrying me this way again after that incident. But I knew the harsh truth that this wasn’t Jiva but Varun. Yet, I felt safe and comfortable in his hands like I had felt with Jiva.
“Just try to stay awake. We’ll get into the car and I’ll drive you soon to the hospital and set your breath right. Okay?” he kept repeating this to me.
I tried breathing harder but that only led to getting numb in the cold air.
“Just a few more turns Varun. Then we’d reach the clearing where we had parked our cars,” Anil assured him.
“You heard that right, Dhivya? See, we’re gonna reach soon,” he said nervously, but in a reassuring way trying to mask his fears.
I still wasn’t able to open my eyes. I knew I’d black out soon. I raised my hand painfully and placed it on his stubble. It pricked me, but was comforting. I slowly caressed his face, trying to get him the message that I’d be fine soon. Energy drained out and I gave the last splurge of energy a push, to cuddle on his shoulder, my breath hitting hard on his neck and I went blank.
I saw Varun on my bedside, holding my hands and looking at me passionately. A mask enclosed my nose and it eased my breathing. He saw me gaining consciousness and let go off my hand immediately so that I wouldn’t realize that he had been doing so.
“The Doc said you’ll be alright soon. You’ll be discharged tomorrow,” he said.
I didn’t react.
“By the way, I’ve phoned your parents to come, in case you needed them better than me. Take rest. I’ll be back soon.”
With that note, he exited the room.
I wanted to ponder over many things but I guess, it was the heavy medicines that forced me to sleep.
When my parents arrived, I had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to hurt Varun anymore.
“You didn’t tell him you had asthma?” my mom fired that one question I never wished to hear.
This question injected more pain into me than the tubes that were inserted into my veins.
“No, Aunty. She did inform me. It’s just that I forgot to pack her inhaler. She told me to bring along, but I forgot it in a hurry,” Varun lied.
“Oh,” my dad muttered, though he knew the truth.
I felt like crying. So, I closed my eyes tightly and swallowed my tears.
“Ma, I feel drowsy,” I said.
“Let her take rest. We’ll meet her tomorrow,” my dad said and they both left.
“Mrs. Varun?” Anil called me, a while later.
“Please come in,” I said and tried to sit up.
He and his wife entered the room and I smiled weakly.
“How are you now? Feeling alright?” his wife asked.
“Actually, it was Varun who organized the trip primarily. He said that you spend your days alone, isolated in the house, away from people. So, he thought this might be a chance to help you interact with others and so he forced us all to bring our family for this trip,” Anil explained.
I looked at them, dumbstruck.
His wife placed a hand on mine, saying, “But he wasn’t aware that you had severe asthma. He cried hard when the doctors said that you were in a critical state.”
“Yes, he even cursed himself and began shouting loudly, ‘I tried to kill my wife.’ Then, it took a great deal of time to console and calm him down.”
“We just came here to tell you that, Varun loves you so much. Whatever the squabble or matter is between you, try to get those things finished soon,” Mrs. Anil said patting me.
“We’ll see you around sooner. Take care,” they said leaving.
I was discharged the next day and the doctors had ordered complete rest for another two days. So, Varun obtained leave and sent my parents back to Chennai, assuring that he’d take good care of me.
When he gave me a glass of milk that night in my room, I wanted to make him sit next to me and hold his hand.
“Just because I took leave, you needn’t think I’m taking advantage and trying to get close to you,” he commented.
I was heartbroken. I didn’t get sleep that night. I simply wanted to tell him everything and cry on his chest. So, I took the courage to walk unsteadily to his room. I sighted him resting on his bed with his eyes closed. But I sensed that he hadn’t slept.
I slowly walked to his bed and called out softly, “Varun.”
He opened his eyes, frightened. He was stunned to see me in his room.
“Wha… what happened, Dhivya? Need anything?” he asked anxiously.
“Can I sit here on the bed?” I asked.
“Yea.. su.. sure,” he said, jumping out of the bed.
“No, no, I want to sit on the bed with you.”
He sat down, and I sat down next to him, closely. But, he moved away from me.
“Varun,” I began, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that way when you had asked me for the tour.”
He remained mute.
“Two years ago,” I resumed, “I was in a relationship with Jiva. I was waiting for the right time to bring the subject in my house. But before that an incident happened.”
I saw Varun digesting this piece of information.
“What was that incident?” he asked eventually.
“Jiva and I never got an opportunity to be together. But when we did find those rare times, we’d go to the restaurant, mall or beach. On one such time, we went to the beach. We stayed playing till 7 o’ clock and that’s when I realized I was going breathless. Jiva panicked when I fell down on the sand, trying to breathe harder. He scooped me up just like you did yesterday and carried me all the way to the hospital.”
“But, I was in an even more critical condition than today. So, Jiva had to inform my parents that I had been admitted. And when they had come to know about our relationship status, they got pretty angry and felt that he was the reason behind my condition in the hospital. So, they forced him to break with me, before I could even gain consciousness.”
“And, then they forced you to marry me?”
I nodded, “I tried contacting Jiva but he rejected all my calls, messages and mails. I became depressed and finally consented to our wedding.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t wish to waste your life. It’s just that I needed some time to accept you as my husband.”
“No problem. Take as much time as you want. Till then…”
“No, I accepted you long back,” I interrupted.
Before he could realize the truth, I moved forward and placed my head on his chest and squeezed his hand.
“Varun, I’m really sorry for making you wait for long,” I said, in between my sobs, “But, you were patient all the while. That’s the greatest punishment I’ve had. How did you stay that way?”
He wiped away my tears and hugged me fondly, saying “I lived on hope.”
“Hope?” I asked, looking up at him and caressing his stubble.
“Yeah, hoped, that you might understand me some day.”
“I did today and thanks for arranging the trip for me.”
I guess this was the umpteenth shock he was having since three days.
“Yeah, I know. Thanks,” I repeated again.
“No big deal,” he said smiling.
“It is,” I said, kissing on his stubble.