“What’s the matter Rajji?” Pakhi dropped in by her desk to ask.
Tears sprang into her eyes at the reminder of happier carefree days. “Nothing.” She mumbled. She made a determined effort to perk up. “You tell me. How are things with you? I am sorry I have been too preoccupied with my own self that…”
“Never mind.” Pakhi interrupted. “I’m fine. Or rather would be,” she continued darkly, “if only my parents would stop badgering me to come back home.”
“Didn’t you block their numbers?”
“Yes.” Pakhi nodded ruefully. “I had. But then they landed up at the PG and left only when I unblocked them. But I still regularly switch off my phone. They don’t let study at all!”
“Oh. Are they forcing you to go back to your in-laws?”
“No. They’ve accepted that I am not going back there. They want that I should come back home. Stop humiliating them in Society by staying in a PG. They are even willing to let me go for a divorce.”
“What about your husband?
“He is still there on the fringes. He says he wants us to get back. He’s willing to even separate out from his parents.”
“Oh! That’s good!” Rajani perked up. “Go back to him.”
“I’m not so sure I want to.” Admitted Pakhi. “I am enjoying my freedom. I want to build my career, do something before I allow myself to be at the beck and call of anyone else, be they my parents.” Pakhi was bitter.
Rajani drooped. “Could I go to your parents in your stead?”
“What happened?” Pakhi questioned. “That day also you were going to say something. About Harsha changing, but we didn’t get to finish that conversation.”
Rajani drew patterns with her pencil.
She swallowed. “Maybe later. I can’t now.” She looked around. “Not here.”
“Ma’am we’re going to the bank.” Pakhi raised her voice to inform Tanya who nodded. “Come,” Pakhi said insistently, “let’s go to the roof. Hurry. Don’t waste time.”
Rajani shaded her eyes in the bright sunshine. “Harsha has changed. He’s different.”
“He’s gone on a crash diet and actively working out. He’s begun treatment for hair loss.”
“Personal grooming is a good sign. One must take care of ones health and appearance. People judge others on how you look isn’t it?” she clicked her fingers. “Perhaps he’s doing all this to get your attention?”
Rajani shook her head. “He waxed his legs and chest.”
Pakhi stared. “That’s a bit odd. I didn’t know men other than those in the film industry did that. Was he very hairy?”
Rajani shook her head. “These days he’s up almost the entire night…”
“Because of Anisha?”
“No. Ani usually sleeps through the night. Except if she is unwell.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s on the phone. Constantly chatting.”
“Chatting? With whom?”
“I don’t know. I did ask but he snapped at me and told me to mind my business.”
“But he is your business!”
“I checked his phone…”
Rajani raised bewildered eyes to Pakhi. “Strange messages on his phone. Chats with some Adi, Akki, Rahul, Prem, Badshah…”
“Who are these people?”
“I don’t know!”
“What were the chats about?”
Rajani was silent.
“I can’t say Shiks I really can’t say,” Rajani was so agitated that she didn’t even notice her slip, “It was cheap sleazy and sickening. I vomited after reading…”
Puzzled Pakhi frowned, “Why on earth would you vomit after reading chats. Who…oh!” Shocked she stared at Rajani who met her eyes pleadingly. “He’s gay!” Pakhi paced the terrace. “He’s gay. That explains it all.” She stopped in front of Rajani. “Did you speak to him?”
Rajani shook her head. “What could I say? What’s the proof?”
“You should have clicked a photo…”
“I felt too sick to do anything.”
“Well next time you can.”
Rajani knotted her fingers. “What’s the point?”
“Point?” Pakhi was impatient. “You can now take a divorce from him. Even your parents can’t deny…”
“They did.” Rajani’s voice was low.
“Did you talk to them?”
“So what did they say?”
“My mother let loose a string of abuses against him. Cursed him to hell for eternity. She prayed that his daughter also suffered like he was torturing their daughter.”
Pakhi was stunned. “But that means…”
“Yes. She cursed Anisha. I told her to stop, not to curse him but to take me away. But she’s beyond reason. Either she cries or rains curses.” She paused. “Sometimes on me as well.”
“For not producing a boy. For then I could have walked out taking their heir along with me forcing them to come running after me, wagging their tails…”
“What bloody nonsense!” Pakhi was infuriated. “What about your father? What did he say?”
“He was very sympathetic and supportive. He said he would understand if I had an extra-marital affair.”
“Unbelievable! Pakhi exploded. “Bloody hell! I want to shoot them. I want to hang them, quarter them and torture them,” she ground out. “Leave them all Rajji. Get out while you can.”
“You think I wouldn’t? But where can I go? Tell me one single place where I can go with my daughter, I’ll go. I promise I’ll go. But…”
“Don’t make excuses Rajani,” Pakhi was harsh and accusing, “where there’s a will there’s a way. If you really wanted out, you would find a way!”
“That’s not true.” Rajani whispered.
“Be honest Rajani.” Pakhi was brutal and unyielding.
“I…I can’t do that to Anisha,” Rajani looked pleadingly at Pakhi. “She loves her father so much. And he is very good with her. I don’t matter. She does.”
“Fine! Be the martyr! Sacrifice yourself!” Fuming Pakhi stalked off the terrace while Rajani looked on helplessly.
She went downstairs and sat down at her seat but her jangling nerves played havoc with her concentration.
Please don’t be mad at me, she texted Pakhi. I don’t know what to do. I am confused and dizzy. I haven’t slept for days wondering what’s right and what’s more important – my future or Anisha’s.
I am sorry, Pakhi texted back. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. We’ll talk later find a solution, there has to be one. Keep your chin up girl.
“What’s the matter?” Riteish asked in a low tone.
She shook her head and muttered, “Nothing.” His soft brown eyes peered into her pale face worriedly. “Are you sure?” His care and concern enveloped her with warmth that was comforting and tempting.
Rajani’s eyes skittered away. Could he be part of the solution? Could she lean on him? Her father had sanctioned and approved that course hadn’t he? It would be so easy to let go let Riteish take over. Get a divorce, and marry him. Anisha would get a safe place stay and over time she would learn to love her new father too. She allowed herself the luxury of dreaming happier dreams, carried up the stairs in the arms of another.
Click here for the next chapter: A Man’s World