‘What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?’ Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’
‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.
Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.’ She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?‘- by Ravi Subramanian (For details of the contest click here)
No Place to Run
Maya ran up the stairs and pressed the bell. She rang until Sanjay opened the door.
“Hey.” Sanjay peered blearily at her. He stumbled back inside.
Maya followed him. “Were you sleeping?”
“For heaven’s sake Maya,” Sanjay said, “it’s barely seven am, that too on a freezing Sunday. What did you expect?” He vanished into the washroom. “Make some coffee will you?” he yelled through the door.
“Okay shoot.” Sanjay sat across Maya at the dining table clutching his mug for warmth.
Maya seemed to be in the grip of a dilemma. She fidgeted restlessly.
“What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?” Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. “Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.”
“Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .” she rolled her eyes in disgust. “That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.
Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.” She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, “Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?”
“I…I couldn’t say.” Sanjay shifted in his seat. “Best if you talk to him directly.”
Maya bit her lip. “I wish I could,” she mumbled. Tears filled her eyes.
“Oh man.” Sanjay got up and paced his tiny kitchen.
She hurriedly wiped her eyes. “Sorry.” She blew her nose and offered him a watery smile. “I am okay, really.”
Relieved, Sanjay slid back into his chair. “Talk to me Maya.” He sipped his coffee and waited patiently.
She swallowed valiantly. “The thing is,” she said pulling at her handkerchief, “I am afraid to talk to Adi. What if -, what if he admits he is having an affair? What will I do then?” she asked.
Sanjay sighed. “But how will not talking to him help?” he said gently. “I mean, you came to me to know the truth. Now suppose,” he said looking at her, “just suppose, I say ‘yes he is having an affair’ then what will you do?”
Maya buried her face in her arms and burst into huge sobs.
Sanjay dragged a hand through his hair. “Apart from that,” he muttered to himself. He pushed his chair back and viciously attacked the pile of dishes in the sink.
After a little while, Maya pulled herself together. She got up and began drying the dishes.
“I am sorry.”
“Dump him Maya. Walk out today. Right now.”
“It’s not so simple Sanjay.”
“It is. This is the 21st Century, not some medieval era where women have no choice but to stay on with their husbands and silently bear all the torture.” Sanjay pulled open a drawer and swept the cutlery into it. He opened cupboards looking for something that could serve as breakfast.
“You don’t understand.”
“No.” Sanjay slammed the cupboard shut. He turned to her. “You are the one who doesn’t understand. You are the one who is making things complicated.”
Maya stood there twisting her fingers with a trapped expression on her face.
He sighed and led her to the dining table. He sat down across her. “Look Maya,” he said, softening his tone, “I know it’s not easy but you have to take a stand on this. But, it’s high time, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Sanjay drummed his fingers on the table. He raised his hand and gingerly lifted the floppy sleeve of her kurta. There was a big purple patch on her upper arm.
Maya flushed. She hurriedly pushed the sleeve down. “I banged it against the door,” she mumbled.
“Please Maya, don’t give me all that rot.”
“I love him. He is my husband. I can’t just walk off.”
“Why the hell can’t you? See, this is the problem with you Indian women. You create problems for yourselves. Always lying to yourselves. Always in denial.”
He walked out of the room returning with a packet of cigarettes and a lighter.
“I thought you had given up smoking?”
He lit up and took a deep drag.
“Tell me Maya. Make me understand. But don’t give me all that nonsense about loving him. Honestly, if you ask me, it’s all your fault.”
Maya sat with her head bowed.
“Come on Maya.” Sanjay paced the floor restlessly. “Tell me, where is the problem? You are educated. You hold a good job. You are financially secure. All the laws of the country are with you women.” He ticked them off one by one on his finger. “Walk out. File an FIR. Apply for divorce and that’s it.”
He came and stood beside her but she refused to look up.
He pulled out a chair and sat down. “Just think of it Maya – freedom, peace and your life is yours again – don’t you want that?”
Maya looked at him with helpless, tear-filled eyes. “But it’s not so simple.”
Sanjay’s chair scraped gratingly. “Now you are getting on my nerves. For heaven’s sake, show some spine. Walk out before things become worse.” He stubbed out his cigarette.
“You are saying that because you can’t see the big picture.”
“So show me.” He sat down again.
Maya scrubbed her face and blew her nose. “Even if I ignore the fact that I am emotionally dependent on him – ,” her voice wobbled and she trailed off.
Sanjay groaned and buried his head in his hands.
Maya cleared her throat and began again, “I have to think about the practicalities.”
“Yeah, let’s talk about the practicalities. House, car, maid.” He listed briskly. “Today nothing is a problem if you have money. With your remuneration package, that should not be an issue. You don’t even need financial support from Aditya.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“What do you mean?”
Maya fiddled with a spoon. “When we got married three years ago,” she paused, “you know we had a love marriage?”
“My family was against the marriage because he was not well off. They cut me off when I went against their wishes and eloped with him. Adi was very upset for my sake and determined to make it big. He wanted to buy a house and show my parents that they had misjudged him.
“So we decided that one of our salaries would be used for the monthly expenses while the other would be our savings, which would be used to purchase a house, pay off loans and stuff.” She looked down.
“And obviously, his salary was saved while yours was used for the monthly expenses,” he completed for her. “But the car loan that you took from the office, that is being deducted from your salary isn’t it?”
“Well, I needed the car. Aditya takes the Metro.”
“How much money do you have in your account right now?”
“Maybe around ten thousand rupees? It’s nearing the end of the month.”
“And how much money in his account?”
“I don’t know. Mine is a joint account but not his. It has only recently struck me that while Adi knows my exact salary, my daily expenses, even the exact amount of money in my purse, I don’t know anything about his finances. What his salary is, what the investments are, I know nothing.”
“Unbelievable. How could you be such an idiot?”
Maya tried to smile but failed. “I was crazily in love with him and trusted him completely.” She bit her lip and looked away. “He was so sweet and caring. He insisted on taking care of the finances. He said he didn’t want to bother my pretty little head with such petty things. He didn’t like me talking to my friends…he said that he liked to have all my focus on him, only him.” She choked. “Because he was so possessive, I lost touch with all my friends. You are the only one I could think of – .”
“Damn the guy.” Sanjay swore. He clicked his fingers. “Fine, I will lend you the money. What do you need the money for? Renting a house right? About one lakh should do the trick,” He raised his hand and silenced her. “You can pay me back later,” he waved his hands, “whenever, not a problem. Okay?”
Without waiting for a response, he opened the Sunday Times. He took out the classified section and began skimming it. “One room studio apartment near the office would be ideal.”
“What about Chavvi?”
“What about her?” He looked blankly at her.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Despair was clearly written on her face. “She is just two years old. How can I take care of her and manage a job all alone? You know I have to travel a lot.”
“Who takes care of her now?”
“There is a part-time help. But she does everything under my mother-in-law’s supervision. I couldn’t think of leaving her alone with the maid.” Maya’s face was pale and pinched. “Besides, she is unreliable. She often comes late and is frequently absent.” She turned to Sanjay and appealed, “How will I manage alone?”
“Aren’t there crèches or something?”
“Yes, but it’s not a practical option for Chavvi. She is too young. Besides she has a delicate constitution. The doctor too advised against it. Plus, with the amount of travel I do,” Maya shook her head decisively, “that is not an option.”
“Call your parents to stay with you.”
Maya tried to speak but no words came out. She drank some water. “They are not with me in this,” she finally managed to say. “ ‘You made your choice, it was your decision, now deal with it’ – that’s what they say whenever I try to say something.”
“Okay, how about contacting some NGO?”
“I did try,” she said tonelessly. “The lady at the other end listened patiently to my problems and then said ‘best if you try to adjust’.”
“How about a working women’s hostel?”
“None of them have any provision for housing a child.”
Sanjay fiddled with his phone.
“I know.” He clicked his fingers. “File a complaint with the police.” He pointed to her arm. “That’s a case for domestic violence, the police will come and arrest your husband, maybe even mother-in-law. My friend’s sister,” he tapped his phone, “did exactly that.”
“Then what? You and your daughter continue to stay on minus the monsters, that’s what.” His eyes glittered triumphantly.
“But what about when they get bail? They will come home right? What if he hits me again? Should I go to the police again?”
“Of course. That’s what the law is for. But don’t worry it won’t come to that. One brush with the law, and the worst of them straighten up. Happened with my friend’s sister, they are now living happily together.”
“Everyone is not the same.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know the first time Adi raised his hand at me, I threatened to call the police. You know what happened? He became even more violent call the police will you? Then may as well hit you to my heart’s content, after all they can arrest me only once. And for how long – a few days, weeks? When I come out of jail, you cannot even imagine what I will do to you and your daughter. You have no place to run to – even your parents have disowned you. He laughed maniacally and thrashed me with his shoe.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
Sanjay was horrified. “I guess you didn’t call the police?”
“Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. He took away my phone and locked me in the room. I could hear Chavvi crying in the other room the whole night. In the morning, they let me go to her, as she was running a fever. They threatened me that if I breathed a word about this to anybody, they would get a doctor to certify that I was mentally ill. They would put me in a mental asylum. Take me away from my daughter…” Maya broke down.
“They are bluffing.”
“Perhaps. But I cannot take the risk. Not at my daughter’s cost.”
“But this…this isn’t acceptable. There must be some solution. File a case, demand alimony, child maintenance, bleed the &*%^#$ dry, make him grovel.” Sanjay pounded his hand on the table.
Maya looked at him sadly. “You still don’t get it do you? He wants a divorce. He wants to marry that woman. But he wants me to be the one to walk out so that he can file for desertion. I have no money, no place to go and I will lose my daughter too. He has money, power, contacts on his side. He will do anything to get rid of me without having to shell out any court fees or alimony using Chavvi as the bait.” She shuddered.
“So let him keep Chavvi. After all, he is the father and his mother is capable of looking after her. There are lots of PG hostels for girls. I can immediately arrange for you. Should I?” he asked eagerly.
“Are you crazy? How can I leave Chavvi at the mercy of those monsters? I would rather kill her myself.”
Sanjay looked at her in horror.
“That’s why I came here. To ask if you knew this other woman. Does she know that he is married? What kind of a person is she? Would she back off if I talked to her? At least then he wouldn’t be so desperate to get rid of me. He knows that I am due for a salary hike.”
“That means you will continue to stay in this hell hole? What about Chavvi? Such a home environment cannot be good for her.”
“At least she has a home.” Maya got up. “I better go. Will you find out about the woman?”
He nodded slowly.
“Thanks.” She paused at the door. “Isn’t it ironic that I apparently belong to the privileged 2% of the women of this country.” She smiled mirthlessly. “All the anguish, humiliation, and suffocation that I feel are nothing compared to the disgust I feel for myself.”
A cold clammy sensation enveloped Sanjay. “How can you bear to go back there?” The words seemed to be wrung out of him.
Maya drew herself up. “Don’t worry, I won’t kill myself. Because you see, I don’t matter. Chavvi matters.”
So what did you think? What are her options? Look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, solutions – thanks. Click here for more short stories.