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The rest of the brunch was a blur, I didn’t particularly enjoy myself and Priya seemed to notice this distracted me. Infact she even asked me if everything was alright. “Ya ya, just the beginning of a mild headache,” I said. I used that as an excuse and slipped away early. Suhail and Naina wanted to stay back a while longer so Deep and Priya agreed to drop them back while I took the car back home. When I was on my way home the phone beeped. The text was from Karan.
Karan – Did I say something to upset you?
I thought about how I wanted to respond to this and typed it out slowly.
Seema – You didn’t upset me, but I wasn’t sure where our conversation was headed.
Karan – Meaning?
Seema – I got the impression that you wanted to convey a lot more than what you were actually saying.
Karan – again, meaning?
Seema – Actually, forget it. My mind is just a little messed up now.
He didn’t say anything for a long while and just as I was entering home, he texted again.
Karan – Why?
Seema – I felt like you were flirting, maybe flirting isn’t the right word but were just being different, Karan.
Karan – How, Seema?
Seema – You tell me, what are you feeling for me?
Karan – Truth?
Seema – Ofcourse
Karan – I want to spend time with you, I like it. I like the conversations we have, like the fact that you seem to get me.
And there it was, just what I was both dreading and wishing for. There was chemistry; I was not the only one who was feeling it. I didn’t reply for the longest time. And even when I did I was very hesitant. I couldn’t afford to do what my parents and sister had done. There was no way I would wreck my marriage for this. I had to end it, there was nothing to end but I couldn’t even let it fester and get to anything, I kept thinking.
Seema – But it’s wrong!
And then he called…..
“Seema, I don’t know what is right or wrong. We have known each other for a while now and the more we meet that more I am sure of how I feel for you. I love and respect Kanchana a great deal. But we have lost that connect. She is always in her world and never appreciates me for anything I am doing,” he said.
“I see how you and Suhail are. I know what you want out of your marriage, and Suhail is not in a position to give you any of that,” he went on. “So, what are you suggesting?” I asked in anger. What did he mean by he knew what I wanted from my marriage? “Don’t be driven by anger now, Seema. Just listen to what I am saying and think about it for a while,” he said to me. I was feeling so conflicted, on one hand I was happy that he recognized the issue in my marriage and on another I hated the fact that he could see through the tough exterior I had built. Yes, I did want different things for our marriage, and Suhail was not in a position to give me all that. But that didn’t mean I would cheat on him or do whatever else that Karan was wanting me to do. I loved him, I loved Suhail. Regardless of the flaws he had or our marriage had. I would make it work, no matter what.
“Karan, I don’t want to hear what you might have to say. I am happy with Suhail. We have Naina, and they are my world. Yes, I like spending time with you, just as I like spending time with many of my other friends. If I have led you on in any way, I apologise. We should end this conversation here, Karan,” I said and disconnected the call.
I sat by myself for a long while after that call and replayed the conversation over and over again. I had done the right thing. There was no point in prolonging this at all. It would end up in such a big mess. “Mamaaaaaaaaa, we are home,” Naina shrieked as she ran into my arms. I held her tight for the longest time and stared into those little eyes. I kissed her on her forehead and hugged her again, not wanting to let go. Suhail walked in behind her and sat down beside me. He watched as Naina and me shared a moment. Naina was already telling me what all she did and ate after I left. She spoke in such an animated manner, just like Suhail. After she had completed everything she wanted to tell me, Suhail looked at me and said, “Seema, we need to talk,” in a somber tone. I lost all colour from my face, how could he have known. Nothing had happened. Why does he want to talk, I wondered. I placed Naina amidst her toys and went to Suhail and sat down.
“So, looks like we have to build a new home, Seema,” he said. “Build a new home?” I asked looking confused. “The company wants me to move base to Hong Kong. They want me to head the entire South East Asia region,” he continued, all the while speaking with pride. Had I heard right, move to Hong Kong. That would be the perfect thing to do, get away from here and all that was beginning to happen. The best thing would be to nip it in the bud. I hesitated for just a second before I said, “Oh, that’s wonderful, Suhail,” and I amost leapt up to give him a hug. Suhail heaved a sigh of relief as he hugged me tight. “Oh, Seema, I am so glad you are for this move. I was dreading telling you thinking you wouldn’t want to move from here. Am I happy or what,” he said smiling at me.
The move happened so quickly that there was almost no time for anything. Suhail was scheduled to leave the next week after he told me and Naina and me were to leave by the end of the month. But I insisted that we all leave together. “Wouldn’t you want to meet and tell you friends, spend some time with all of them before the move?” Suhail kept asking me. “They will all come visit us there, so that should be fine,” I answered. And so just like that we moved. Almost overnight with bag and baggage. I would have gone anywhere given how I was feeling. I knew staying in Delhi wasn’t going to help the marriage; speaking to Suhail about how I felt wouldn’t have helped either. So the only way out was this move.
Hong Kong was an entirely different ballgame. Suhail got even busier and we hardly ever saw him. It was a new place for Naina and me. We were both like two lost puppies, going about things in such a routine mechanical manner. What kept me going was Naina, the move brought us so much closer. We would spend hours together in the local libraries, markets, parks. I remember how she tentatively told me about her first crush in school, “Mama, I think I like this guy in my class.” Before I could respond to added, “He is Korean,” she said sheepishly. I smiled at her, “Korean, you have such international taste my bachha.” And we bought ended up laughing. I was there for her through her first heartbreak, her first terrible hair cut, her first victory at the school debate. I was always there for her.
I missed Delhi so much, but never intended to go back to it. Days rolled into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, and before we knew it Naina was ready for college. My life now was all about Naina as Suhail was hardly in the picture. I had successfully started afresh and had cut all ties with Delhi and my friends there. I hardly had any friends in Hong Kong, mainly because I just didn’t want to get attached to anyone. I still felt conflicted about whatever had happened with Karan. I wasn’t able to entirely forget him and I kept blaming myself for it. The more I willed myself to forget him, the more he figured in my thoughts.
And then one day, after a long hiatus of 14 years, out of nowhere I heard from Karan. He was in Hong Kong and had gotten the home number from Suhail’s secretary. “Seema, hi, this is Karan,” he said. I froze; I felt that funny feeling in my belly, the same feeling I felt when we sat beside each other at the comedy night. “Karan,” I said tentatively. “You just vanished, Seema. Did I push you to do this?” he asked in a low voice. I had no answer to that. He was the reason I decided to move away, but I couldn’t just tell him that. “Where are you calling from, Karan?” I asked him; half hoping he would say Hong Kong. “I am here, in Hong Kong. Came in last night and this time around felt the need to reach out to you, both. So I called Suhail’s office and when I mentioned being a family friend from India, his secretary promptly gave me this number. I am glad she did,” he said. “Felt the need to reach out this time, meaning you have been here before and didn’t call?” I asked, half accusing. “I wasn’t sure you would want to speak to me, Seema,” he said. And that maybe the truth. I might not have been ready to speak to him had he called earlier. But I was ready now, to seek his friendship, maybe even companionship, again.
We spoke for a while and then I asked him if he would like to come home for dinner. This time around I was sure that I wanted to see him. I needed to see him. “I would love that, Seema. Text me your address and I’ll come over. Is Suhail in town?” he asked tentatively. “No, he isn’t. He never is,” I said before hanging up. After the call, I suddenly felt alive. I wanted to cook up a good meal for Karan. I remembered how much he appreciated good food, and Kanchana hated cooking. I felt the urge to get ready after such a long time. I ran myself a long luxurious bath after all the cooking I did and wore an orange organza saree. Time had flown but I still looked good. Just that there was no one around to dress up for, no one to appreciate me. Naina was busy with her life now and I was left to fend for mine. Karan was on time, the doorman rang at 7:30 p.m. to announce Karan’s arrival. I felt those butterflies fluttering about again. I was happy, after so long.
As he walked out of the lift, I couldn’t help but smile. We hugged, as though it was the most natural thing to do. Karan had gotten me a bottle of my favourite wine. As he handed it to me, I looked at it and exclaimed, “You remember.” “Ofcourse I do, Seema. Ofcourse I do.” We spent an hour asking about all that transpired in our lives. Catching up on the decade that had passed us by. It was only then that I found out about Karan and Kanchana’s separation and subsequent divorce. “It was long coming, Seema. She wanted a ‘busy’ husband who had no time to spare for her. I wasn’t the kind to pretend to be busy. It didn’t work,” he said. But oddly enough he seemed happy telling me this. “How is Kunal? How did he take this entire thing?” I asked feeling sorry for the little fellow. “Surprisingly well, these kids just amaze you sometimes. He was very calm and sorted about this entire separation. Infact he has been a constant andsolid support to me through it all. It was asthough he was the father, and me the son.” Karan said in a reflective tone.
We sat in my living room, talking, drinking wine, reminiscing, and enjoying the silence from time to time. I hadn’t felt this good in so long. Sitting with Karan I realized how I had completely cut myself from the world, and for what? For a husband who had absolutely no time for us, no time for me. I hardly saw him, the days he was in Hong Kong he was socially so busy that all our time went in attending cocktails and dinner parties. Maybe, just maybe, Kanchana would have been a happy wife if married to Suhail, I suddenly thought. I looked at Karan and saw him looking at me and smiling. Without saying anything I moved closer to him, nestled my head in his chest and just sat there feeling secure knowing there was someone, for me.
I sat like that for the longest time; Karan was stroking my arm and holding me close to him. We didn’t speak and the silence was neither deafening nor looming large. This silence was what I needed; this peace was what I was missing. With so much difficulty I moved away to lay the table for dinner. Having another person share the table and the food was like a boon to me. Having spent many nights having dinner alone, this was heaven. Karan enjoyed the food; I had even taken the trouble of making his favourite – Dahi Bhallas. It was now his turn to exclaim, “You remember.” “Ofcourse I do,” I said smiling all the while. We sat there enjoying our meal and the conversation kept flowing. It was 1:00 a.m. when Karan finally decided that he should go back to the hotel. I wanted to ask him to stay; I didn’t want him to leave. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made 11 years ago.
“I’ll make the bed in the guest room, Karan. Why don’t you just stay here? It is late anyway,” I added as an afterthought. “Would that be the right thing to do, Seema,” he asked. “We are beyond thinking about what the right thing is, aren’t we?” I asked him. And so he decided to stay. I made the bed up and ensured he had a change of clothes for the night. Though I made the bed for him we ended up sitting back to talk and didn’t realize when we fell asleep on the couch in the hall. I was lying on his chest when I finally stirred at 7 in the morning. “Good morning, gorgeous!” he said as he opened his eyes. What a lovely feeling this was, to wake up beside someone who cared and loved you.
And just like that my life was on track again. I was glad that he had shown up, I was glad that he had come along. “Good morning, Karan,” I said just as I closed my eyes again.