She didn’t want to feed the monster but after ages, she had time. Time to work her way, one by one, through her long list of ‘Books to Read’. On top was ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. She logged on to Amazon and found 23 used copies. One of those would do. After finishing it she would donate it to the local Red Cross Charity shop. This was her formula for keeping a clean, spacious, open home. It’ll be here tomorrow. Magic.
Boredom stayed miles away as her mind landed fancy occupations. Lately she’d been listening to Eva Cassidy’s songs and imitating some of her less well-known paintings on her sketch pad. They were simple and sweet and reminded her of her childhood. She had also attended a poetry workshop on Zoom and was trying her hand at prose-poetry.
She longed for her home-town, Bhopal in India, even though she had chosen to leave fifteen years ago. Traveled thousands of miles in search of some ground beneath her feet and some air to breathe, after a major heartbreak. Now she had left that ruin far behind. Her job as a journalist felt like being with friends creatively. She had found that patch of earth and created a little haven for herself. At 39, she was settled even if her parents worried she was not. A little flat in East Dulwich in London was home.
The tiny package arrived in a massive lorry. She opened the door even before the deliveryman had knocked on her door. She pulled at the stiff brown case. It was a fight to set the contents free but finally the book was held in her elegant hands. All eight corners were soft and rounded. Turquoise blue and white decorative pencil-work on a sinister black background. An ornate profile of a young woman with her hair put up anointed the front and back cover. This book was worn. Like her, it had travelled. It was smothered in a familiar dusty odour.
She opened it to the first page. In a sparkly green feminine font, it read:
“For my darling husband Atul.
Happy 4th Anniversary!
Sometimes I feel like Caroline de Winter.
4th March 1999”
In that second, it was not her book. It was his. Once again, he had appeared out of nowhere and snatched her calm. The last time he did this was when she was a college student, happy with her books and music. He was two years her senior. He had subtly got her to look up at him and at life, invited her to parties, long bike rides and picnics. Before she knew she was his girl-friend and surprisingly she enjoyed the role. He made her laugh. He was a preening peacock and she, the simple sparrow. But it worked. They would sing and laugh but after 3 years of that, he made her cry. A lot.
Lost and lonely, she had roamed various cities and continents for years and finally made peace with her solitude. Now, the reins of the past had loosened their hold on her. She could breathe.
She had avoided acknowledging the existence of those two names all these years. Now they were lighting a fire in her eyes. One name of her one and only boy-friend and the other of her one and only best friend. May be this book had absolutely nothing to do with them. There must be thousands of people with those ordinary names.
The book sat innocently on her coffee table. She looked at it as she would an unwanted guest. She looked away, wondering what to do next. She turned on the kettle as if in automatic mode. As two cups of near-boiling water were being infused with Darjeeling tea leaves, she prepared herself for the turbulence ahead. She poured the tea into her Frieda Kahlo mug and sat down again.
Her delicate hands reached out for the book again and casually unfurled the pages like a pack of cards. It sounded like a bird taking flight. A book mark fell to the ground with a soft flick. She fished it out from under the sofa. A pale blue and white visiting card:
Mr Atul Tyagi.
Tyagi and Lal Associates
First Floor. Office number: 133
NKS Plaza. Char Street.
Bangalore. 200 006
Phone: Office: +44 221 63939
Mobile: +44 976146022
Oh no! After years of laboriously moulting out of his skin, here was an invitation back into the darkness of it. An invisible chord lay between them. She knew of it. He did not. Did she have to do anything with it? No. Did she want to do anything with it? Not yet. There was no point blasting an exhaust fan over the dust that had taken eons to settle. The smooth glossy card reminded her of his forehead that she had kissed a thousand times. She held its corner between the thumb and index finger of her left hand and rested her head on the right palm.
Sadness – yes. Regrets – no. Excitement – a little bit. Flummoxed – a lot. Cat-like-curious – oh yes! Was this a psychological mind-game? Were there hidden cameras in her apartment, like the Big Brother House to record her reactions to this? Was this a sheer co-incidence? There were 22 other used books to choose from. How did this one land up in her lap? Destiny? Randomness? Serendipitous?
For old time sake, she had to say hello. They were grown-ups now. They had to let the past sit in the past. Should she call him or send an e-mail? She could always hang-up like a truant teenager if the voice at the other end sounded dodgy. An e-mail might never be answered. She could send him a formal text and arrange a time for a phone call. Less intrusive. Also, it gave him a choice to chicken out. She did not want him to have that choice. Not this time.
Hello. Tyagi and Lal Associates.
How can I help you?
Hi. I am Kavita. Is that Atul?
Sorry. I am Manish Lal, his associate.
It’s ok. I’ll call back later.
Can I convey a message?
It’s okay. Nothing important.
Are you Kavita … Saini? From his college?
Oh. I’ve heard so much about you. Don’t worry. All good. He’d be delighted to hear from you. He’s traveling right now but I can put you in touch with him.
Where is he traveling to?
London. He’s on a business trip. All the work is on me now. That’s how I’m in the office so late. Finishing up. Where are you calling from?
It doesn’t matter. I don’t have any message for him. Sorry to bother you. Bye.
Wait. Please. There is something you must know. I am his husband. Yes. It took him years to admit it to himself. Please forgive him. It wasn’t easy. Sorry.