What do you do when you are forced to spend the day accompanying your fussy old aunt while she does her annual shopping in your city, especially when you are eagerly awaiting a mail? You turn yourself into an unwilling martyr and as soon as she is done, you literally (and discreetly) sweep her off her feet and dump her, along with her many bags and parcels into the train she wants to catch, wave down the first available auto rickshaw, and with a sigh of relief sit back as it takes you homeward. Your feet are killing you anyway and home is the place to be, with your feet up and a couple of cushions to support your back. But before that comes the mail, you tell yourself.
Once you reach your apartment complex and the lift has deposited you on your floor, you unlock the door, quickly walk over to boot up your computer and then go make yourself a nice hot cup of chai. You badly need it. Then, steaming cup in hand you go back, seat yourself in front of your computer, and quickly sign into your account.
Your face lights up when the site finally loads and you catch a glimpse of the first mail in your inbox. It is just the one you were hoping to see. Your heart constricts and tears fill your eyes seeing the spread of pictures. The hands and feet look so tiny. The puckered mouth reminds you so much of your own baby at this age. Now your own dear one has given life to another. The magic of life amazes you.
You take your time and go through each and every picture, your contented daughter with her daughter in her arms and her husband beside her in the hospital being one of them, secretly wishing there was a magic wand to move days forward to the one when you are to take the flight to go meet them all, most important of them being the little imp who you haven’t met so far, who was even now staring at you from the computer screen. You are already under her spell. You just know in your heart she would grow up to be like her mom.
After a long time you sigh and reluctantly move to the next mail. Your eyes idly go over the words contained in it and you suddenly freeze. The blood simply refuses to course through you, having turned to ice or so it seems to you. The hairs all over your body are standing up in an effort to warm you up, but fail miserably. You have started shivering and you hope someone would switch off the fan since you can’t move yourself. But there is no one else in the house and even if they were you are doubtful you could have called out to them. You are frozen from head to toe, an ice statue. How could your vocal chords function under the circumstance? Only your eyes are capable of moving, and they read over and over again, the words on the screen.
Abruptly you snap out of your immobility and start laughing hysterically. You realise what has happened has been by an error on someone’s part. Imagine that, nothing but a bloody error on someone’s part was what had put that mail in your inbox. Even as you laugh, you start crying. Tears stream down your cheeks, but you angrily brush them off with the back of your hand. Your laughter is now slowly transforming to anger. It builds up ever so slowly, a small white flame of rage growing and filling your being. The ice has disappeared, instead you are now a burning volcano. ‘How dare they? Right under my nose too!’ you think.
The rage brings on fresh tears, but the tears of anger have now turned to ones of helplessness. You are back to feeling chilly once again. This is the chill of vulnerability, of loneliness from which you know you don’t have an escape. Not in this life. You have been betrayed. And now you are sobbing, like a child, at the treachery inflicted on you. Your head is bent and shoulders have drooped in defeat. You cry silently.
After a long while, when the tears have stopped, you lift your eyes to read the words again as if to check the status of the wounds they have caused inside you. A strange uneasy calm settles over you. You are actually glad someone was in a hurry or careless enough to make a wrong click thereby copying messages to you that were actually not meant for your eyes. That action has revealed to you how you have been trusting two unscrupulous people most of your life, two people who did not merit the faith you had placed in them.
You wonder how you could have been such a fool. Your best friend and your husband were cavorting behind your back, meeting clandestinely and having a roaring affair. Now you understand your husband’s obsession with his phone, the way he was always texting, checking for messages. The sudden walks out of the room while attending calls, the monosyllabic answers to whoever he was speaking to when you were near, which had bothered you, but which you dismissed in the general happiness you felt in your daughter’s newfound happiness, all acquire a new meaning for you in the present discovery of truth.
You get up slowly, thoughtfully and walk to the balcony and stand for long staring at the comings and goings on the road below. Your husband’s infidelity strangely does not come as a surprise to you. You realise that you already knew in your heart and over the years had just inured yourself to the blatant signals that came your way. But your best friend? That is hard for you to take. You have grown up together, gone to the same school, shared your lunch box, and exchanged dresses, secrets about crushes and more. You are practically sisters.
Even after your respective marriages you both have kept your friendship going, as strong as ever. In fact it was you who have taken care of her two children when she took a year off to go study abroad. The only thing you never shared with her had been your misgivings about your husband’s possible indiscretions of which you had no proof, just a feeling of uneasiness. For some reason, you tried your best to hide it from her.
All of a sudden you notice the familiar car on the road coming towards your apartment block. Your friend is at the wheel as usual. You remember that it was you who taught her to drive. She turns left driving through the gate of the complex and you watch as she smoothly parks her car in the allotted space. You know you have been an excellent teacher. She gets out, looks up and waves on seeing you in the balcony. You wave back. You are standing too far up, so you are glad there is no need to smile. You watch her walking to the entrance of the building and walk back in.
At the sink you pour cold water over your face, wiping away all traces of your earlier emotional breakdown. Some lip gloss over your wan lips and a little kajal for your eyes perks up your appearance. You rummage around in the dressing table draw and find what you need. It feels cold in your hand. You feel you are ready. You know you won’t be disturbed for the next couple of hours at least. With exceptional calm you walk to the sitting room and seat yourself on the sofa facing the main door. You hum a tuneless song under your breath and wait patiently for her to walk in.
‘You go home and check your Emails. You read the second mail and freeze…’. Begin the story from here.