The message came this morning.
“My father died last evening. In Jakarta. I was with him and am coming to India with my mother for the last rites. I thought I should let you know.”
I stared at the message. The number was not registered in my phone. But I knew whom it was from.
A ghost from the past. My past…
Vinod used to work in my town. It was not a big town back then but was on its way to becoming one. Back then, my life was not great, but good. It would have been great if my husband and I had not become distant emotionally.
Physically, we were still good. It was effortless, he would glide in and whoosh, there I was. But me, I have always wanted the whole package, with satin ribbons. Not just hot sex but the romance. Not just bodies melding but hearts touching.
Which of course was waning. A new job, exciting new people, his star was on the rise and my husband was in raptures running up the stairway to heaven.
Which left me on my own, feeling pretty much unappreciated; the compliments had dried up, his eyes no longer lit up when he saw me, I must have looked frumpy next to the cool crowd. I complained, he scoffed; I yelled, he yelled back; I was unhappy and angry that it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
What happened next is not a cliché. Vinod and I met by chance at an event; we spent a few minutes talking. I am sociable person and a good guest and exchanging pleasantries comes easily to me.
He seemed dreamy, he seemed gentle and I don’t remember what we spoke about. Later I figured perhaps he was a little drunk. I didn’t even think about him until he called me a couple of days later. We had done the usual visiting card exchange at the event.
Anyway, he wanted to meet me for a drink; I pointed out to him that I was married. So am I, he said. But what’s the harm in having a drink together? I was amused and said I would let him know.
He called me every few days until I relented and said yes. But I took my friend Fazila along; she’s a good talker and I could count on her to take over the conversation if needed. I had not told him that I was bringing a friend and he was a perfect gentleman and paid equal attention to both of us.But every now and then, he would look at me and his smile would deepen, his eyes amused. I am sure I blushed, as if I were caught out in a misdemeanor.
Hesitantly at first, I began meeting him every few weeks. We talked about everything – work, family and the state of the nation. He was a software engineer and I had no clue what writing code was about. But I was curious about the practical applications and quizzed him endlessly. He was enthralled with my work; I managed the local branch of large network of art galleries and was forever nursing the egos of visiting artists and buyers. We would spend a couple of hours talking, nursing a couple of drinks, he would walk me to my car and I went home. That was it.
Until the day he gave me an envelope as I got into the car. “Don’t open it now, go home and read it. And then call me”, he said.
I put in my bag, went home to find a party in progress. Some folks had dropped in, the booze was flowing and I was happy and high when I went to sleep. I woke up late the next day and after doing the morning chores, was lolling in bed for a bit instead of setting off to work.
Vinod called, and as I answered I remembered that I had not opened the envelope. “Hang on, one sec”, I said scrambling for my bag and hastily opened the white envelope. There was a single sheet, a print out.
I gaped at it. I could not understand what it was. I mean, it was in English. It seemed like a poem but what was it? It seemed to say that he hated me.
“Are you there?” said his voice on the phone. “Are you angry, I am sorry if I upset you”, he said. “You didn’t call me, I thought you must be angry”, his voice trailed off.
“I am not angry. I am stunned. What does it mean? What on earth do you mean? Do you hate me? What have I done to you? I don’t understand this”, I said.
“I don’t hate you”, he said.
“You do. You said so in this . I don’t know what to call this – a poem? What is this rubbish?”
“Rubbish? Its not rubbish. I have poured out my feelings to you.”
“I mean, my feelings for you.”
“You feel hatred for me? And you had to write that down and give it to me? You couldn’t simply tell me? And why the hell are you calling me to ask me if I read it?”
“You must be mad, I went on. Who the hell does things like this? Why have you been meeting me then? Calling me? You are mad”, I hissed.
“I am mad about you”.
“You heard me – I am mad about you. And I am mad that you can’t see that. That’s why I hate you.”
I hung up. It was an auto response. I was dazed, my brain would need time to process this information. And until then I didn’t know what to say to him.
I sat on the bed for a long time and moved only when my boss called from the head office to check if my reports would be completed by noon.
I shut out everything else but work and managed to keep from dealing with Vinod’s unexpected confession for a few days, as both work and social commitments were hectic that week.
But I knew I had to speak to him. I am a kind person; it’s simply not in my nature to be deliberately rude or cruel to nice people. And Vinod was a nice person, we had an easy relationship, we spoke, we laughed, we teased. We were well on our way to becoming good friends, I had thought.
Not that I was completely unaware that he appreciated me as a woman. He would compliment me, admire my clothes, say things that appealed to my vanity. Now I had to think, had all that meant something more?
I was confused now; what did he expect from me? What did he want? Would I be able to give him what he wanted? I am not built for deceit; I would not be drawn into an extra-marital affair. I would not leave my husband, and I did not want Vinod to cheat on his wife. Would I now lose is friendship?
What we shared was a deep understanding, a real empathy. Why did he have to go complicate things?
We met after ten days. There was a soft smile on his face, and I was trying hard not to seem agitated. “Its ok”, he said, after we ordered drinks and sat looking at each other. “Don’t look so worried, I don’t hate you”. We started laughing and laughed until we had tears running out of our eyes.
“Oh God, this is such a relief”, I thought inwardly and the evening went on as it had many times before. I was happy that he was back to his usual self and was content not to refer to his letter or the momentous phone call.
I never saw Vinod again. A couple of weeks later, he sent me a text message that he had got a transfer and was moving to another city. On and off ,through the grapevine I had some news of him; kids, another job, another move and so on.
I don’t know if he knew what happened to me, which was nothing unexpected. My husband left me; I got the house and the kids.
Vinod and I never saw each other after he left all those years ago. Once a year though I got a message on February 14: Happy Valentine’s Day. That’s it, those three little words that made me smile and happy that someone cherished me.
I had got the same message yesterday too.
Today I got this text. From Vinod’s son. “My father died last evening. In Jakarta. I was with him and am coming to India with my mother for the last rites. I thought I should let you know”.
Copyright: Sandhya Mendonca 2013