The Mirage

It was the sound of birds chirping in the bushes below that woke her up. She didn’t want to open her eyes though; the dream had been too good to be true, and she didn’t want to let go of it, just yet. Especially since it had been one of those precious ones in which he played a part, even if it was to just stand there and smile at her in an indulging manner. That smile, those eyes, they had the magnetic ability to cast a hook on her heart and tug at it hard and fast. In the past few months, it was this smile that had been the very pivot of her existence. With nothing else significant enough to look forward to, it was the one cornerstone she held on to, to keep herself sane and smiling as she milled through the monotony of her life. So yes, to see the same smile come in her dream was nothing short of a miracle, and she wanted to hold on to it. Nevertheless, her clock reminded her that it was time to set the wheels in motion. She got up from the bed, his piercing eyes still vivid and scintillating behind her half-closed eyes, and walked to the bathroom.

Later, sitting in her balcony, watching the sun crack through the clouds as she sipped the hot tea, it struck her that it was exactly a month since she had seen him, or talked to him. The yearning to do either had been too great in the beginning, too cruel, too obsessive.

Yet, in a world that’s connected too close for comfort, she had been able to do neither. He seemed to a have wiped himself off the face of earth, removed all the traces of himself and his existence. Of course, she could ask around, talk to common friends. She had tried that too, with one common friend who turned out to be too loyal to him than to her, and wouldn’t divulge anything she did not already know. After that, she didn’t want to risk asking anyone else. She couldn’t figure out a set of questions that she could ask without coming off as unusual, intrusive and even suspicious. In her part of the world, it would certainly raise eyebrows if a married woman with a preteen child went about asking questions about a man, also married and a father.

As the thoughts raced through her mind, she experienced the same constriction in her heart that had occurred every time she thought of him in this past month. This was a pain she had to endure alone, a burden she had to carry alone. And she had been largely successful in doing it. From morning to night, discussing the lockdown with her husband, helping her child with the lessons sent by the school, trying out new culinary skills or finally getting on to that long pending spring-cleaning, she did it all with a smile on her face, a song on her lips, and a skip in her step. She bragged about her small and big achievements on the social media, mused and wondered there about the happenings of the world, and watched in glee as her posts garnered likes. She also scanned, with a small, flickering hope, amongst those likes, to see if his name too would feature someday, a small nod, to tell her he was still there, to acknowledge her existence. Nothing came yet, and she continued to look for it, with the same vivacity that was characteristically her.

Nights were harder, the time between closing her eyes and actually falling asleep, hardest. It was the time when the façade came off, making her vulnerable and weak. With nothing else to distract her mind, the thoughts and memories came at her with full force, and she was left defenseless and totally battered. On many nights she would sit up suddenly, gasping for breath, so suffocating would the constriction inside her become. It was only after the free-flowing tears washed away the unspeakable grief would she feel relieved and strong enough to will herself back to sleep.

“Mom….”

The moan shook her out of her reverie. She gulped down what remained of her now tepid tea, and went in to coax her child to wake up. She would have to get everything ready at home, before setting out to do what she had planned to. The husband was awake and busy clicking away at his computer, with not a side glance at her as she walked in with the hot tea for him and placed it beside his keyboard. She had stopped expecting the glance a long while ago, in the same way she had stopped expecting a warm good morning smile, a surprise hug or a peck on the cheek. Not that those were non-existent, but they were too few and far between for her liking. There was no use faulting him; he was simply wired that way; it was simply not his way of showing love.

What she had felt for the him, was something even she did not understand. Something about him made her feel excited, alive as she had never been for a very long time. It was that feeling she wanted to preserve with her forever. She did not care for a relationship; she knew she was not ready to forego what she had painstakingly built in her marriage. She did not envision herself living with him, only perhaps, enjoying the pleasure of looking at him, talking to him, and having his gaze on her. Or perhaps, the feelings she had were not really for him. Perhaps they were for her idea of her ideal man, and perhaps, he was just a muse, to give a face to her idea.

Yet, she thought as she put on her favorite black kurti, this sudden radio silence was doing the complete opposite of what it’s supposed purpose might have been. She too had wanted to pull back and gain balance before it was too late, before she ended up doing something she couldn’t back out from. She too wanted to move on, keep her feelings restricted to what they were – just a fleeting emotional phase. She too wanted to stop them from developing into something irreversible, but the abruptness of his departure from her life unnerved her. She couldn’t find closure and move on as if nothing had happened. Which is why, her plan today was so important for her.

“I am headed out to buy some vegetables. Do you need anything?” she called out to her husband. The coronavirus lockdown had ensured that something as mundane as grocery shopping had become the highlight of everyone’s day.

“Bring some paneer if possible. There’s this new recipe I found on the net that I want to try out.” She smiled. Her husband was indeed a lucky person, for he could find contentment in the simplest of things. She wished she could too, and be free of this constant restlessness that gnawed her insides.

The scorching sun greeted her as she started her scooter. It had been almost a month since she had ridden on it. For the past month, like billions of others around the country, and the world, she had been confined to her home, hoping the coronavirus couldn’t find its way in there. Unnecessary movement on the roads was prohibited. You couldn’t go out unless you really had a genuine reason to. Thinking up the excuses she could give to the police if they were to stop her, she drove towards her destination.

After driving around for about an hour, she finally stopped in front of a Food Bazaar supermarket. The mauve-colored house stood only a few buildings ahead of her. This had to be it. She had managed to find a picture of his house on Facebook, on the wall of his wife’s account. She had known the general location already, so today she had mustered up the courage to come and visit him. She had thought long of what she would say to him when she met him. She would come clean with all that she felt for him, and would tell him that she wanted to continue to be his friend. She had been able to successfully suppress the small voice that questioned within her, “What is it really going to achieve?” She did not have room for doubts now, for inside her mind, she knew she would feel better only having poured her entire turmoil out to him.

 She parked the vehicle and hesitated. What seemed like a solid plan an hour ago, felt like absolute foolishness now. A part of her wanted to turn back and head home, but the other, more stubborn one, held fast to this manic obsession. Like a possessed person, she got down from her scooter and walked towards his house, her heart beating loudly against her ribs. When she had reached the building beside his house, she saw him suddenly come out of the front door. She quickly dived behind a car that was parked in front of the building and craned her neck to see what he was doing. He seemed to be fiddling with his phone, and then he pressed it to his ears.

“Can I please meet you, just one time?” She heard him pleading into the phone.

“It is hell living like this, away from you for so long. You know I have feelings for you. I am going crazy without meeting you. My wife and child will be going to her mom’s place tomorrow. We have got the permission to travel. Can I please come and see you after she leaves, Vinita? Please my dear, I am begging you.” Vinita was a common acquaintance.

She chuckled, disbelief and relief suddenly flooding through her in equal measure. It felt as if suddenly a cloud had shifted, and sunlight had streamed through with full force. She let out a big sigh. The mirage was somehow gone, and everything was crystal clear now. She shook her head, walked back to her scooter, and got ready to head back home, but not before buying those vegetables and the paneer.

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