It was as if the knowledge of the background to their marriage released him from his guilt and worry. Now that he knew she didn’t actually love him, he allowed himself to contemplate what it would be like to have her as his wife. Over the next week, he found excuses to be near her, listen to her, watch her, all without making her aware that she was suddenly subject to his scrutiny. He told himself that he was just information-gathering, but he didn’t let himself think about why he found his gaze lingering on the curve of her cheek or noting the way she fiddled with her dupatta when she was thinking nor why he took the time to catalogue the different ways she smiled at different people. He wouldn’t even admit to himself that he wondered what kind of smile she might someday give him.
As he lay awake in the middle of the night at the end of the week, unwillingly aware of the woman clinging to the other side of the bed, he thought about what she might want. The week had passed in status quo; they continued to live in a state of limbo. Perhaps she was waiting for some signal from him, some reassurance that he was going to let her have what she wanted. Well, if that was what he needed to give her, then from tomorrow he’d make it clear that they needed to move on, make a start on whatever their life together was going to be.
He woke the next morning and left her lying there as he went to the gym for his morning workout. They’d fallen into an uneasy routine; he woke and went to the gym leaving her to bathe, dress and make her way downstairs whilst he was gone; it was only at the breakfast table that they actually came face to face. This morning, he cut short his workout, making his way back to the bedroom much earlier than he normally did to talk to his wife.
Walking in, he saw Geet sitting at the dressing table, her hands reaching behind her neck to tie her doris. Driven by a sudden urge to learn how soft her skin was, he moved towards her and took the ends of the doris in his hands. She sat perfectly still as he tied the knot, and her clear discomfort broke through the wave of desire that suddenly rolled through him. Reminding himself that she probably needed further reassurance about her continuing presence in his life before she was willing to let him touch her again, he moved away from her. Her dupatta was lying on the bed; he picked it up and handed it to her then watched as she draped it to cover as much of herself as possible.
Stepping forward, he looked at her in the mirror; as their eyes met, he rapidly rethought his plan of talking to her.
“Geet, I think we need to talk. Shaam ko mere saath dinner pe chalengi? Hum kahin aur baith ke baat karenge to koi interruptions nahin honge”
She held his gaze, then nodded slowly. Unaccountably relieved, he said “Theek hai, main reservations karwata hoon. Will you be ready at eight?”
As she nodded again he said “Theek hai. Chaliye, main nahaaloon”. Taking some clothes, he walked into the bathroom; as he closed the door he looked back and saw her filling her maang with sindoor. The sight triggered an odd sensation deep inside him, like a memory trying to escape, but he shook it off as he prepared for the day.
The day passed as the previous Saturdays had; she stayed busy entertaining the guests who inevitably dropped in whilst he spent most of time in his office, going over all the details he needed to remember. Lunch was a quiet affair, dominated by Dadi talking about the fact that Dev needed to remarry whilst determinedly ignoring the extreme discomfort of prospective groom. By the time evening came, he was more than ready to spend time with his wife. He laughed inwardly; from being completely opposed to the idea of having a wife, he had become remarkably eager to reap the benefits (as long as it was on his terms). He supposed it was only reasonable; if he had a wife, there seemed to be no reason why he should continue living like a bachelor.
He dressed early and sat in his office till eight o’clock, then made his way to the bedroom. When he entered, he found his wife standing at the dressing table spraying a little perfume on her wrists. She was wearing a saree with an almost backless blouse, her hair flowing loose over one shoulder, her only adornment heavy kundan earrings.
She looked unbelievable; no one who saw her in this avatar would believe that she was a small-town girl who had only recently entered high society life. If he had been uncomfortably aware of her beauty when he saw her dressed in her everyday clothes, her effect on him was now similar to being punched in the gut. Realising that he was staring at her like a fool, he stepped further into the room. She finally saw him standing there and turned saying “Main tayyar hoon. Hum chalein”
As they walked out of the room together, he had to remind himself what his agenda for the evening was. Letting himself be blinded by her beauty was not the basis for a mutually-beneficial convenient marriage. (And if part of him couldn’t help but think he much preferred the simply dressed Geet he saw every day, he ignored it for being foolish).
The evening passed quickly if quietly; his attempts at making conversation were met with uncomfortable silences. It wasn’t until the waiter brought over their coffees that he decided that it was time to come to the point.
He stopped, suddenly hesitant (which was not a feeling he was used to).
Before he could say anything else, she spoke “Main jaanti hoon aap kya kehna chahte hain. Aap sochrahe honge ke main aap ke sabr ka faida uttha rahi hoon, magar aisi baat nahin hai. Main shayad iss jhooti ummeed mein ji rahi thi ki aap ko sab yaad aajayega, aap ko hamare beech ki sab baatein yaad aajayengi.”
Looking up, she met his eyes, and then said “Magar aaj yeh ummeed poori tarha se toot gayi hai. Aaj ke baad, main aisi hi patni bann jaoongi jaisi aap chahte hain”
Before she could say anything else, he decided it was time to let her know that he knew all about their history.
“Geet, mujhe sab pata hai”
She looked at him, hope blazing in her eyes for a moment before he continued “Main jaanta hoon Dev ne aapke saath kya kiya, main jaanta hoon hum ne shaadi kyun ki, main jaanta hoon aapka baccha............” He stopped, not wanting to distress her deliberately, almost missing her whispered “Hamara”.
He didn’t understand what she meant by “hamara” but decided to ignore it, not wanting to get side-tracked.
“Dekhiye, main samajh sakta hoon aap ne mujhse shaadi kyun ki, aap Dev ko kyun bardaasht karti hain. If I was in your place, I would also feel that the Khurana family owed me something. But I think we need to be clear.”
She looked at him, giving no hint of her reaction, and then lowered her eyes whilst he spoke.
“I don’t need you to pretend to be in love with me; you don’t need to convince me that I’m the love of your life. You’re my wife, we’ve agreed to stay together. You’ll always be entitled to everything that comes with the title of Mrs Khurana.”
He paused, battling a sinking feeling that he was committing one of the biggest mistakes of his life, and then forged ahead.
“Shall we not just have honesty between us? You don’t have to keep up this facade of grieving, or of hoping I get my memory back. I’ll be honest, it won’t gain you anything further.”
Finally she spoke, her voice as cold as the Arctic. “Aapko inn sab baaton ke baare mein kahan se pata chala?”
“I asked the company’s private investigators to look into the matter for me”
She made a small sound, one that could have been called a laugh if it hadn’t been filled with rage. “To aap ne yeh sochliya ke ek Private investigator ki report se aap ko hum donon ke beech ki har baat samajh mein aagayi, aapko laga ke aap mujhe samajh gaye hain. Aap ko apne investigator pe bahut bharosa hoga. Ek baat bataiyye, aap ko lagta hai usse hamare beech ki har baat pata chal gayi hogi?”
She finally looked up at him, her eyes blazing with anger, but before he could answer her, before he could ask her what she meant, she shielded her gaze and took a breath. Every trace of emotion vanished from her voice as she spoke again.
“Accha hai ke aap ne mujhe bata diya. Aaj ke baad main aise hi bann ke rahoongi jaise aap ne mujhe socha hai.”
She smiled, finally answering his unacknowledged wondering about the type of smile she would give him. It was not quite the smile he had hoped for - bitter and full of anger- then it too vanished as she replaced it with a bland social smile.
“Magar ek baat to zaroor hai; agar main aap ki jagah hoti, to ek Private investigator ki report ke saath saath main apni ardhangini se bhi poochleta ke sach kya hai. Issliye nahin ke woh report ghalat hogi, magar issliye ke har baat jaisi dikhti hai, waisi hoti nahin hai”
Pushing her chair back, she stood before he had a chance to react, to ask her what she meant, leaving him with no option but to acquiesce to her suggestion when she said “Ghar chalein?”
The drive home was silent; when they arrived home, he stopped to check his emails before making his way to their room. He entered quietly, then stopped to watch as she removed her earrings. Her movements were jerky and abrupt, as if she wanted nothing more than to strip off every reminder of their conversation.
She put her hands behind her to untie her doris, but the knots were too tangled and she struggled in frustration. Finally giving in to his urge to help her, he stepped forward and moved her hands out of the way.
She stilled as she felt his touch, then as the doris fell open she whirled in his arms and kissed him. It was a kiss filled with desperation, hunger, regret and anger; so many questions asked by that kiss that he reeled under the impact.
The feel of her lips on his was like fire in his blood; he had never felt such a rage of passion as he felt at that moment. Her hands came up to caress his face, touching him as if to ask whether he remembered, whether he recognised, whether he knew. As his arms came up around her, a jolt of electricity ran up his arms from the place where his fingers touched the bare skin of her back.
Moulding herself closer to him, she kissed him again, holding him as close as she could. He was almost lost in passion, on the verge of lifting her into his arms and taking her to the bed when he felt her tears on his lips. He pulled back, bringing his hands to her face, feeling the tears pouring from her eyes and was shocked.
He had never intended for her to feel as if she owed him her body, even he wasn’t as hardened as that. Angered that she was making him feel like a monster, he drew back to tell her that she didn’t need to prostitute herself, that he didn’t need a sacrifice to appease him; at that moment, he was struck by the sight of her face.
A memory hit, of a night when he had wiped her tears before. He struggled to hold on to that memory, to remember that moment from his past, but the harder he tried, the more the memory eluded him. A moment later, he clasped his head as a headache pounded at his skull; his last waking memory was of her cool hands soothing his forehead.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------to be continued -------