The yellow afternoon melted into a golden dusk and then into an inky blue evening, even as I sat by the window staring aimlessly at heaven knows what. Off late, I realize, this seems to have become a daily routine. And I rue the fact that I know I could be doing, should be doing, so much other than just let time slip by. Each morning I wake up with a resolve of making this day different and better, but honestly speaking I myself am getting a little tired of watching my resolve wane even as morning turns into afternoon that turns into evening. I mean, before I know it, the day is over and I am right where I was. Until the next morning when it all starts over again.
Shekhu sincerely believes this is a phase, the dear guy. What would I have done without him? Sometimes I think the only moment I am truly alive is when he comes back home from office each evening, and the moment I open the door he hugs me like he hadn’t seen me for months. Four years of marriage, and I still am unabashedly in love with him. But then again, it doesn’t really feel like four years to me. Except when I take out our wedding photos now and then and go over them for the umpteenth time, and wish I looked as young now as I did then in them. Shekhu says I am still the new bride to him, and all my friends tease me even now about how Shekhu seemed to have skipped over the bit where the honeymoon is supposed to end. Which reminds me, it has been quite a long time I haven’t been in touch with many of my friends. Tanisha, the last time I spoke to her, was on her maternity leave and whining about how she was losing sleep over her newborns. And I remember thinking, “Twins? Wow, ain’t that lucky?” Shweta must have already shifted to China to be with her scientist husband, and I remember she had been deliberating for a long time on whether or not to leave her son with her mother. Wonder if she took him with her after all. Now why did I stop talking with Ruchika? Ah, right. She’d said something snide about my slender figure and how maybe I thought not having a baby was a good idea, for the sake of the way I look. If only she knew…
“Didi chawal banau ki roti?” Malati interrupts my trail of thoughts, and it is only as I turn to look at her that I realize I had forgotten to turn on the lights again. The streetlight from outside had flooded the marble floor of my bedroom with streaks of orange, and the shadow of that eucalyptus tree in front of the window had made space for itself in the corner, while the shadows of its fluttering leaves kept flickering. Almost as if they were indecisive about where to settle. So much like my mind.
“Didi?” Malati whispers this time, and I recognize this whisper as a sign that she is worried and a little scared. Poor girl sees me sit by the window every afternoon with a cup of tea in my hands, and a book on my lap. And then each evening she tiptoes into the bedroom to see if I am okay and finds me sitting in the dark. She always has a pretext to interrupt me, though. That day, at six in the evening, it is to talk about dinner .
“Roti banade beta”, I humor her. We both know the charade. She walks slowly towards me, I smile and nod at her. She picks up the stone cold cup of tea, barely half finished, from the windowsill, and closes the book that lies face down next to it. She smiles back at me with all the warmth of a wise mother, and I marvel without fail at how this puny little fifteen year old manages to make me feel guilty for idling my time away and fostering my musings; letting them take over me. She turns on the lights on her way out, and that is usually my cue to leave my seat by the window.
That day, though, I keep sitting on the loveseat, hugging my knees close to my chest, staring blankly out of the window. And that is exactly how Shekhu finds me when he reaches home an hour later.
“How goes Project Butt-Print-On-Loveseat?” he teases me, once I am snuggled in his engulfing arms. I take a few whiffs of his leather jacket and smile as I look up to him.
“Oh, good progress I am making, you know. By next week you should be able to see a permanent butt print on that plush loveseat for sure” I reply, waving my hand dramatically.
Honestly, our private jokes are what I love the best about our marriage. Trust Shekhu to make a joke out of anything, even of this hopelessly downbeat habit I’ve picked up off late.
“And how goes Project Finish-Book?” he asks again.
I make a face in reply and he shakes his head, tousling my hair playfully even as he pulls me closer to him.
During dinner that night Shekhu tries to talk to me about a long pending vacation. A change of scenery might be good for me, he says, and adds that he is ready to take me to any goddamn place of my choice. From Alaska to Timbaktu, he jokes. Even as I smile and nod while he talks animatedly, all I do is wonder how much pain he is hiding inside him. He thinks I have not noticed those faint lines on his handsome forehead, but I am his wife, after all. I always have been so observant of him, right from the first day of our marriage. “Are you sure yours isn’t a love marriage?” Shekhu’s aunt had asked me when she’d met me for the first time, hoping to dig up some gossip she could then spice up. “You really didn’t know each other before that matrimonial site?” she had persisted. To which Shekhu’s mother had vehemently replied, “My son always wanted to marry his mother’s choice ji. Only after I approved of Preeti beti, after looking at her photos and asking around, did they meet.” Shekhu’s mother had then kept looking right into his aunt’s eyes, almost as if challenging her to ask any further questions. Being the new bride I naturally had lowered my head, as I was taught by my mother, but even then I had felt the tension in the air as palpable as my mother-in-law’s shallow breaths of anger.
No one dared talk about the accident afterall.
The accident. The terrible bike accident that changed my Shekhu’s life forever. He doesn’t like to talk about it much, although I wish he did. I know sometimes he still has nightmares of that day, because each time he does, he breaks into cold sweat and wakes up, and then he can’t go to sleep for the rest of the night. The irony of this is that the accident was the first thing Shekhu told me about himself. “If you choose to marry me, all I can assure you is that you will be equally affected by my accident” he had said, very bluntly. I remember my first dreamy thought being “Anything for you, my Adonis!” but even as I let myself drown in those deep set eyes, I realized that what he was saying was indeed very serious. The words emergency and vasectomy vaguely reached my ears, and a few minutes after that I left the restaurant with the lame pretext of a forgotten appointment. But that night, and for nights after that, I lay on my bed trying hard to flush out the image of this dashingly handsome man in a white shirt and blue jeans staring at me intently even as I hurriedly took off. What I couldn’t erase was the way in which he’d looked at me, a look which said, “This is who I am. Take me or leave me.” There was defiance in his eyes, not arrogance, and after two whole weeks of ruminating over that one meeting, I had decided to give him another chance. Even though it meant I was actually considering a childless life.
“Preeti?” I hear Shekhu call out, and I realize I had been gaping at him for the last five minutes. He looks at me with so much concern it aches my heart. He has been doing everything he can, and then some more, to make sure I am happy and healthy, and I know I haven’t been able to meet him halfway.
I give him my best smile and sigh, “You *are* my Adonis, aren’t you?”
Shekhu grins, that boyish grin of his, and rubs his cheeks with his palm.
“Ah, someone should have told me the grey peeking through three-day stubble is stuff Greek Gods are made of” he says.
I laugh, tad exaggeratedly, and we talk about our vacation for the rest of our dinner.
When we had decided to get married, I was in the favor of keeping my parents in the dark until absolutely necessary but Shekhu had insisted they be told everything before the marriage was arranged. It had taken a lot of convincing to my parents, and I would forever be grateful to my brother for assuring my parents of enough grandchildren so they would not miss my side of progeny. For the best interests, this piece of information was kept away from relatives, although a fair share of rumors did make the rounds. A masked advice here, a subtle reproach there; I didn’t let anything get to me. Shekhu was so easy to fall in love with I couldn’t hope for anything more than to be his wife. Even if my mother had taken to breaking into tears each time she saw one of my cousin’s kids, I had been able to assure her this was what I wanted.
I look at my husband lying next to me, watching cartoons and laughing like he is a ten year old, and I can’t help but smile. Shekhu is all I want. Or so I have been telling myself for the past four years. Heaven knows Shekhu has given me everything I need and everything I want, and yet I somehow feel empty. I had never been obsessed about babies, and while friends oohed and aahed over toothless babies and talked gibberish and made funny faces, I had always been more reserved in my affection. No wonder it had come as a surprise on that day when Shekhu and I had gone to see Ruchika’s new born, and I had started weeping uncontrollably in the car on our way home. Shekhu made a joke about mood swings, while I tried to find an explanation for it. We left things at that.
“Will you be staying up late tonight again Preeti?” Shekhu asks me, his eyes still glued to the TV. If I didn’t know him any better, I would have said it is because he finds the floor mop commercial really interesting, and not because he wants to fake indifference.
“I don’t know. I might.” I say slowly, not looking him in his eye.
Shekhu heaves a sigh, and I know it is loaded with all those words he wishes he could say to me.
“Will you at least work in this room, please?” he surrenders and I nod.
Work. That’s what we chose to call it in an unspoken agreement. The fervent and rigorous online research I have been carrying out for a couple of months. Stuff that I add to my OneNote notebooks ever night on adoption agencies, and information about the procedures, and discussions on online forms for adoptive parents.
I pretend to be watching TV while in reality I am doing it all over again. Thinking of the “what ifs”. After that Ruchika incident, I spent days trying to broach the topic in front of Shekhu. Each time I tried, I could only think of Shekhu’s words right after I had said yes to his proposal, “But what if you want babies?” My reaction to his question had been to hold both his hands in mine and say “I have everything I want in my hands” I couldn’t possibly put him through this. For those days I had been torn between wanting to talk to Shekhu about it and not wanting to hurt him. And then my sister-in-law had dropped by during that time with her two-year old for a few days. The baby girl made it a point to tug at those already fragile heart strings, and she crawled right into my heart and into my arms. On the day they left, I had held her pillowcase close to me and sniffed it all day long. Shekhu had come back that evening, taken one look at me and known. What followed was sleepless nights and prolonged discussions. Sometimes depressing, sometimes hopeful. It broke his heart, I know, but Shekhu was the one to suggest clinical methods. But then we did the math and realized we couldn’t afford the expenses of an artificial insemination. And even then there remained a major concern about the sperm donor. After weeks of that, we both had to concede that we couldn’t move forward with it. Specially since it was a delicate process, one that couldn’t really guarantee a positive result.
Shekhu turns off the lights, and in the flickering light of the TV screen, he somehow looks a little worn-out. I sigh. I feel so jaded. I wish I could sometimes stop myself from obsessing about how incomplete I feel. The only time I don’t consciously mull over all these is when I am asleep, and even then I keep having weird nightmares about something terrible happening to Shekhu while I try very hard to save him but can’t. Shekhu still hasn’t come to terms with the adoption, and come to think of it, maybe even I haven’t. There are so many factors to consider. I mean, I know it is an awfully nice thing to do, but what happens when the child grows up? Will we be comfortable with hiding about the adoption? And if we are open about it, will we be able to handle the consequences? What if my son or daughter ends up yelling at me, “But you are not my real mother!” Will I be able to take it?
Even as I heave out a sigh, Shekhu turns to look at me. He reaches for my hand and holds it to his cheek.
“Please don’t Preeti. Don’t put yourself through this. You know it breaks my heart”
I nod and smile even though I feel a lump in my throat. Sometimes I really don’t know what to do with all this love. Heaven knows I feel selfish and greedy for wanting more. But how do I console that part of me which aches to be a mother? I want it so bad it actually hurts. And then I become a bundled up mess of emotions. Like all I wish to do is curl up into a ball and bawl my eyes out. But the very next moment I think of Shekhu, and how it might be already breaking him into two seeing me like this, and I try make myself understand.
Shekhu pops the softest kisses on my palm, and I melt inside all over again.
“You want me to put you to sleep?” I ask him.
He smiles, and puts his head on my lap. I turn off the TV, cradle his head in my arms and run my fingers through his hair. My own eyes start feeling a little heavy, and I longingly look at my laptop on the bedside table. Tomorrow could be the same day all over again, I know. But for now, all that matters is that right here, right now, I do have everything I need and everything I want with me. The orange streetlight once again creeps stealthily into our room, bringing with it the same shadow of the same eucalyptus tree. Only this time the wind seems to have settled in, and the leaves no longer flutter. I keep staring at the shadow on the floor, and in a strange way, I feel calm, and at peace. We will handle tomorrow when it comes, along with its fluttering leaves and flickering shadows. But for now, it is all okay.