” You cheated on me? You were cheating on me! ” Ayesha’s voice rose into a shrill. Disbelief contorting her face.
Ashok was curled up into a ball lying on bed while Ayesha towered over him. He felt lifeless shrinking inside himself after letting go of the secret that was poisoning his soul.
” And why did you have to tell me huh? So you can ease your conscience and dumped the misery on me! How can you be so selfish?” Tears cascading down her cheeks but on her countenance was rage.
” You think I didn’t know. Do you think I did not felt it? Why tell me? Why not leave me with a benefit of doubt? I knew you never loved me but why be so sadistic? Why confirm my fears? How are we going to live together now? You knew our families would never let us separate. Why did you have to destroy all my illusions? ”
Ayesha was sobbing now. Her anger spent. Ashok was not paying attention to any of her outbursts. He continued to retreat inside his shell.
Ayesha sat on the foot of the bed. Grief racked her body. Both hands covering her face.
” I also know love. I also loved. Once. I was in love with someone before I married you.”
She said softly now. Only pain echoed in her voice.
Ashok was awaken from his apathy. The thought of Ayesha loving someone else or even just loving did not even occur to him. He realized he never even thought of his wife in that light. He was so wrapped up in his own misery that he failed to see his wife as a human being. But it was too late now. He knew he can never love her not after loving another so passionately it consumed his whole being.
” But I gave up that love so willingly,” Ayesha continued as if talking to herself. ” For what? To please my parents? To avoid conflict? To maintain the status quo? ” She laughed bitterly.
” Perhaps I deserve it. Yes, that must be it. I deserved this. I deserve a pathetic life for being apathetic.”
Some part of what was still alive in Ashok told him he should be concern that his wife seems to be going mad. Sounding mad. But he could not rouse himself from the numbness spreading in his limbs. He closed his eyes to shut out the present and welcomed the dream of his beloved. Oh how he longed for his parallel life.
‘ Oh why did you do it my love? My dove?’ He cried inwardly without tears. Why did she leave him alone to tread on this dreary life?
But there was no answer. Only a lonely silence.
Ayesha woke up at the usual time the next morning. Ashok heard the pots and pan cluttering in the kitchen while his wife prepared his lunch and breakfast. He willed himself to get up and prepare for work.
When Ashok sat at the dining table after taking a shower and dressing up he saw his tiffin next to his satchel. Ayesha aside from her puffy eyes showed nothing unusual in her behavior as if nothing had happened the night before.
She was her usual self chattering about the gossip she heard from the sabzi walla or complaining about the garbage guy being late.
Ashok ate silently. Pretending to listen. Nodding his head when he felt he had to. As Ayesha stood up to refill his tea their future flashed before him. Two of them growing old together in this gilded cage. Performing the ritual of what was expected of them but each gradually withdrawing from each other hiding their true feelings in the secret compartments of their hearts.
Ashok surrendered to despair and resignation. The horizon seemed bleak but he knew he would be compelled to plod on as many others like him did.