MIXED DOUBLES (PART 13 OF ONGOING FICTION SERIES A FAIR AFFAIR)
By Neel Anil Panicker
Shefali knew when her day turned bad.
She had that foresight. It never failed her. Besides, she was saddled with her faithful hindsight that not only fortified her beliefs but also strengthened her suspicions.
Her fears played out pretty early in the day. It began when the alarm ditched her.
Result: she got up an hour late; her head feeling as if it had under the wheels of a heavy duty truck.
A cup of hot ginger tea glass did nothing to reduce the intensity of the pain.
She knew she would be carrying this giant mass of stone for a while.
Aman was missing from his usual position__the extreme corner of the bed which the two shared or rather, were forced to share by way of fulfilling their conjugal obligations.
Not that it bothered her. Minor irritants, as it were. And the least of her botherations, especially, and more so now, when the two were on the verge of entering into the fifth year of their ‘sham of a marriage.’
‘More a sham, less a marriage’, she found herself muttering from behind gritted teeth.
‘But, still, where was he?”
She looked up at the wall clock.
Still a good hour before his feet left the house.
‘Or was it?’
Earlier, all these years, she could predict his arrivals and departures with the kind of metronomic precision that would have made a military general proud, down to the last one hundredths of a second.
No wonder, her friends had nicknamed him Clock Man.
Her face contorted into a smirk.
‘What a joke! Clock Man!’
A shot of hot blood gushed into her brain cells.
She knew the truth.
‘It should be Cockless Man, instead. Wait… Cockless Man means a man without a cock.
The thought made her squirm.
Disgusted, she banished the dirt that was clogging her mind, muttering under her breath,
‘What difference does it make. Cock or no cock. He was, after all, no man’.
She quaffed the last drops off the cup, and stepped out of the room.
The washroom was empty. Her eyes caught the bathroom door. It too was empty.
‘Then where is he? Has he left? This early! Again? But wait… no, his clothes, they were… I saw it on the chair, ironed… which means… he hasn’t gone… damn’t it… then, where is he?”
Her mind raced through a multitude of questions. It was then that she heard it. The sound, very faint; still, a sound, a human voice.
‘Wait, where did it come from?’
Shefali moved in, her steps closing in on the drawing room, her feet on tiptoes, holding her breath, slowly, stealthily.
With his back to her and standing, head down, his face half covered Aman whispered
Shefali cocked her eyes, positioned herself against the entrance door, careful not to pop her head out, and listened on silently; intently.
“As you say, anything for you”
The chair croaked a little.
Had he found out. She braced herself for the worst; closed her eyes and counted her seconds, ten downwards.
She was about to give up when she heard his words, this time almost a whisper.
“I know I can count on you and only you” and then nano seconds later ,
“We will finish whatever is left, tonight.”
“Bye, I must go. Have to make the arrangements”.
A wave of white fear ran through her body. Her hands went numb and a massive shot of maddening pain shot through her head, hammering her insides with blind fury.
She held on to the door knobs afraid she would collapse; allowed herself an extra few seconds to catch her breath; and then slowly, very slowly, just as she had come, tiptoed her way back to her room.
With one last effort she sank into the bed and slowly, very carefully, hoisting her legs in, pulled the sheets over, right upto her eyes.
Then she heard it, his footsteps.
He was coming to the room.
She held her breath. From under the sheets, with her eyes closed, heart beats almost at standstill mode, she heard a slight crack.
‘He was opening the clothes drawer.’
She waited a few seconds more. The faintest of rustling of cloth to body. He was getting dressed. The usual – the ubiquitous white shirt and now.. she heard a click… the buckling of the trouser belt.
From beneath the sheets her mind raced.
‘Where is he going? At this time? It is not yet eight? Almost an and hour and half earlier than his usual leaving time?’
A few more seconds later and she heard the all too distinct click of the opening of the door.
She waited for one more second. And then pindrop silence.
Shefali flunged herself out of the sheets and and raced to the drawing room.
Her eyes landed at the prayer area just beside the large sized television set. Her hands frenetically and frantically rummaged through a small steel bowl placed adjacent to the idols of umpteen gods and goddesses to whom he laid obeisance every morning before leaving for the bar.
Moments later her worst fears were confirmed. It was not there__ the pass book.
The realization hit her like a ten tonne brick.
Her senses shot through the roof.
Her head started to swim and swirl. Her eyes blanked out and she was having trouble holding on.
With great difficulty she managed to pull her near collapsing frame onto the nearest chair and sank in__her entire body almost lifeless.
As beads of sweat began to form around her temple, a slow wetness formed around the back of ear lobes.
She knew the feeling.
It was a blast from the past.
Aman was onto to something. That much she was sure of. He had been acting strange of late. Missing his breakfast at times, leaving for God knows where an hour or two early when she very well knew that the bar opened only at eleven.
All these she had noticed but failed to make much sense.
Until today; until now.
Her ears played out the words and they rammed onto her numbed brains.
‘ Tonight…’ and then, … ‘anything you say, … followed by , ‘we will finish whatever is left’ .
She had trouble controlling her racing heart beats.
‘Oh my God, what is he upto. The passbook. It always lay there. She knew all his transactions. Never was it out of her sight. And it was gone today. Today of all days. Why? What is he planning? And what did he mean by “we will finish whatever is left”.
And then it came, a cold white fear. She had thought, fervently hoped and solidly believed that after all these years, the feeling would never come again. It was a sad almost forgotten chapter of her ever sadder past, relegated to the dustbin of horrendous memories.
But as she sat there, all alone that Saturday morning, it returned, with a vengeance and with an absolute brutality the sheer force reducing her to almost a nervous wreck.
‘He was going to kill him. Yes, that’s what he meant. Yes, that’s why he has been leaving early, and that’s exactly why he took his passbook… but wait he is not alone.. there is someone else … his partner in crime”.
As seconds passed into minutes Shefali was gripped by a failing, debilitating sense of despair and hopelessness.
Soon paranoia took over, and all the deadly, mind numbing ghostly fears of being maimed, discarded, abandoned, and even being killed came back afresh, this time more virulently and with a deafening force several times over.
The incessant ringing of the phone stopped her from entering into the Land of Darkness.
Mindlessly she picked up the receiver.
“Hi, darling, Heena here. Get dressed. We are supposed to go to the concert”.
The words hit her like a hammer stroke.
“Fuck the concert. I am not going anywhere”.
As the voice at the other end was just about to protes, she hurled the down on the floor, watching maniacally as it broke into pieces.