A short story, this time.
“Caught up with tours this month. Looks like I can’t make it this time. I know you’ll manage, Nandini. You always do. If anything, you’ll do better than me.”
She stared at the message, for some time, before putting away her android.
After nearly twenty-four hours, the headache had finally gone, and now, she could feel the pangs of hunger gripping her. But first, she needed some water. In the darkness of her room, all she could feel were her temples, sore and exhausted, with the pain that made her fear they would explode any minute.
Propping herself up, with her back resting against the pillow, she reached for a glass of water. It was still dark outside.
The book she had intended to read, lay untouched by the side. She couldn’t focus on reading these days. Actually, she couldn’t focus on most things. Staring at the ceiling, she lay in silence, wondering if her listlessness was a sign of depression.
The room she was in, was in a state of disarray. There was an ice pack that had fallen on the floor. Clothes were piled atop a dark brown recliner chair in one corner. The flowers from last week were still in the vase, dried up and withered, with a few petals strewn on the dresser table. She remembered that she had not stepped out of her room in two days.
As she lay thinking, Nandini found herself inseparable from the pain that she had been quietly enduring over the past few months. Lately, an overwhelming sense of tiredness had come to rest on her being, which made her snap at the children and swept her with anxiety over little things. It had begun to drain the joy out of everything that she had earlier enjoyed.
Dr Mehra had casually mentioned during her last visit, that her failing health was a sign of something far deeper than exhaustion. The energy and the vitality with which she single-handedly ran the household and raised the children was wearing away. There were dark circles under her eyes that stared at her, every time she looked into the mirror. Her eyes reflected her fears, although she herself couldn’t tell what she was so afraid of.
Two years into their marriage, Prashant had signed up for a year-long overseas assignment that was the start of their long-distance relationship. He was due to return to his old job, but life took a turn when a chance encounter with an old friend landed him an enviable position with a multinational that he couldn’t refuse. Prashant was a true workaholic and she knew he loved his job. He had worked very hard for it and she possibly couldn’t pressurise him to give it all up because she felt miserable with this new arrangement. She did her best, juggling her teaching job and looking after the twins, and even balancing it with the frequent visits from the in-laws. Some day, she thought, he would be back and then he’d realise how she’d held it all together, for his sake.
Years went by. He kept promising to return, but he didn’t. Not even when the younger one fell ill and had to be hospitalised. His work commitments always had priority over everything else. The family would understand, he said. The family always did. With time, his visits became less frequent. They didn’t need a lot of money, she’d been telling him during their recent video calls. They needed him. He could find something here, even if it paid less. He said he was trying. He’d been saying the same thing for years. His annual visits were like a consolation prize. But, deep down, she feared she knew the truth.
Some days, it was difficult to imagine how two decades had flown by, while she continued to wait for him, to return to her and the children; to fulfil the promise he had made years ago.
“Empty promises”, she thought to herself as she ruminated on their life together.
If it weren’t for the children, she’d have walked out of their relationship by now. The realisation that she could no longer hold herself together anymore, broke her. She wanted him to know that she didn’t wish to carry on alone, any longer.
On most days, a good cry was all that she needed to brush aside her pain and get on with her life to face up to the countless responsibilities that lay ahead. But, now, she was resolved to break that cycle because it made her feel like a victim. She didn’t want to feel let down anymore. It was a cloak of invincibility that she wanted to surround herself with. And she knew well enough, there was never going to be a knight in shining armour coming to her rescue. She had thrown in the towel once and surrendered to fate. But not anymore.
At eighteen, when she left home to pursue her dreams, she had made a promise to stand up for herself.
“Whatever happened to that?”—she wondered now.
It struck her that she had completely disregarded her own self, whilst living up to what others had been expecting of her, all along. And, that, she felt, might be the real reason for the deep resentment she felt towards every thing. As she looked up towards the window, she could see the sun was up and a narrow sliver of light was filtering through the curtains. With a quiet resolve, she reached for her phone. She paused for a minute and then typed,
“The waiting game is over, Prashant.”
It was clear as crystal. Her mind was made up. The thought of losing him did hurt, but knowing that he wouldn’t fight to keep her back, hurt her a little more.
But, it didn’t matter. She felt like a caged bird, suddenly set free, after being fettered for a hundred years. Letting out a deep sigh, she smiled, as she drew the curtains wide open to bask in the warm glow of the morning sun.