Nirmala blushed even before she grabbed the letter from the post master’s hand. She leaned on the closed-door behind her and read it aloud.
February 27, 2013
You are beautiful. Your grace can put the dawn and dusk to shame.
As if in reply, she ran to her balcony and smiled at the sinking sun.
Below, in the busy street, vegetable vendors were busy selling off their day’s stock, the chat shop was brimming with kids back from school and the cycle repair shop had a queue of bicycles in front, blocking the rest of the narrow road.
The claustrophobic atmosphere in the street reminded her of the stingy toddy shop of her dad’s, back in the village. She remembered dodging the sweaty dirty bodies who tried to touch her, while she hastily served them liquor. Extreme poverty had taught her resilience.
Later, she remembered crying out her worries to her friend, who would console her and say “Everything will be alright one day”.
Her bruised past now lay buried under her new dignified life as Mrs. Gupta, whose days revolved around her husband, serving him the best food, awaiting his romantic letters during the day, listening to his office stories in the evening and sleeping to his typewriter ticking away in the night.
You were right! Everything is perfect now – she smiled to herself and pressed the letter to her chest.
Picture Source: vermeer0708.wordpress.com
Arjun Gupta, on his way back to office stopped at his lawyer’s residence. He came out with a satisfied expression on his face.
Who would have thought it to end this way? He could still remember how her pale nervous face, with a child like innocence, had looked at him with anxiety, as he had put the garland on her neck. Though his marriage was a convenient arrangement between two families, he had loved her at the very first sight.
He enjoyed her chirpiness and laughter and the way she got excited by the smallest gifts. He would simply stand and admire her, while she told stories about her childhood, brimming with tears at one moment and shaking with laughter in the next.
How wrong was I to think she loved me too, he thought, as he brought his bike to a screeching halt.
Nirmala checked her appearance in the mirror for one last time, before she ran downstairs to open the door for her husband.
She had taken extra care to darken her Kajal and make her hair. She planned to talk about those lovely letters of his. What best way to show her gratitude than look the prettiest? she had thought.
“Is anyone home?” he asked, looking beyond her, across the hall, as she stood at the doorstep.
“Someone is in a bad mood today,” she giggled, trying to brush aside the disappointment.
He looked at her. That killing smile again. He cursed himself for letting her think he was upset.
“Oh nothing, how was your day, jaan?” he asked, trying hard not to think about what he had discovered the previous week.
My mysterious husband, she sighed. So romantic in letters, yet so detached in person. “Oh it was good, how was yours?” she asked casually.
“Good as well.”
Keeping his shoes aside, he went upstairs without another word.
Probably he had a tough day, she thought as she followed him.
Arjun Gupta weds Nirmala Ram, he smirked at the album which lay on the bed.
Clearly she set it all up to leave me no room for doubts. He unbuttoned his shirt, stepped into the shower and turned on the faucet in full force. He tried to find a reason, a fault or a short coming on his part.
He had found the letters stacked in the corner of the cupboard, behind the neatly folded saris, tied with a saffron ribbon. He had opened them thinking he was going to crack some new naughty surprise of hers.
He read the letters one after the other, convincing himself that it was nothing like what he thought it was.
Since then, he observed her actions closely. He would say he is leaving to office, but stand downstairs to see how she became someone else’ once he left.
He was appalled by the cheesy lines of the letters, but Nirmala as he had found, seemed to brighten up while reading those.
“Let the aroma of your skin reach me, love”, she would go to the balcony and catch her duppatta high up in the air. Her lover would look upwards through the spokes of the cycle wheel until she went inside.
She would hop down and take a stroll along the street, clutching the piece of paper which said, “Flowers would bloom on every inch of the ground where you walk,” while the cycle guy kept the rubber tyres aside to watch her.
The last letter took it a step further. “Look at you. Your eyes would make anyone go speechless.” She sprinted to the streets, found the nearest shop and called out for some change. The cycle guy got up, wiping his tarred hand on his shorts, looked at her and asked, “Is everything alright?”
He had extended his hands to touch her cheeks. She had moved aside. But the sign of recognition couldn’t have been mistaken.
Arjun had left the scene, unable to take it further.
Later, he had sat contemplating the issue – I should probably talk to her.. No that would make her sad. I guess I don’t deserve her. Should I confront her? No.. She would die of guilt. Am old, she is so young… I think.. I think I should just move away from her life.
Convinced with his new decision, he had asked a lawyer to file divorce papers the very next day. Sooner the better, he had thought.
Nirmala lay on her bed staring at the new sealed letter, shocked by the turn of events in her own life.
Is everything alright?.. his voice carved out her past memories inch by inch. She recalled the long afternoons which they had spent by the beachside building sand castles, the whispering talks behind the temple and the promises they made while sitting under a dripping roof, too close yet scared to hug.
That was years ago. It was unfair that life had brought him to her life again.
Right then she craved to tell her husband about the only episode in her life that she had kept from him. She knew he would understand, and later give her a hug. The night would again be normal with the sound of his typing.
Through the heavy veil of tears, she opened the letter.
March 6, 2013
I mean no inconvenience to you. I thought you would be happy to see me. So wrong was I.
She read it again, trying to make sense of the words. She threw the letter aside, as if it had burnt her hand.
It was her friend all this while?
Confused and hurt, she wept.
Hours later, she numbly walked downstairs to answer the door.
It wasn’t her husband. Instead, a man introduced himself as the lawyer and told her to sign few papers. Along with those, he produced another typed letter from his bag – a letter, the first ever letter from her husband.
March 6, 2013
I was too much in love with you not to realise all this while that you loved someone else. Thanks to the letters.
Here is wishing you happiness for your new life with your old friend.