The Game We Call Love
On hearing the bell ring, she sprang up. She realised that she had been asleep for quite some time now. The cheap vodka had done its job. It had put her off to sleep, ensuring she could silence the million restless voices in her head. So far, the morning had been terrible and as she walked towards the door with hesitant steps, she was certain it would only get worse.
He stood there with a smile on his face. Twelve years ago, when Aisha had bunked high school, bought a cheap black dress from the dusty markets of Khidderpore in Kolkata and effectively lied to her parents about a friend’s birthday party to meet Hamid for the first time; he had had the same smile on his face. Hamid had been pleasantly surprised at her audacity to ditch the burqa on her very first date with him. “What if I was a really conservative guy?”, Hamid had asked years later to which Ayesha stroked his hair, planted a kiss on his forehead and had replied, “I had a gut feeling you were different”.
“Please come in. How was your day?”, she enquired.
“Just usual stuff”, he sighed. Upon entering the apartment, he untied his shoelaces and carelessly threw away his pair of shoes (one of the many things Aisha disliked about him but had learnt to ignore in twelve years of knowing him) and switched on the television. Aisha knew the usual drill. He loved sipping steaming coffee while impatiently changing television channels, stopping every now and then to hum a familiar tune and move on. Normally, Aisha would have prepared his coffee by now but today was different.
She tried to plan the entire script in her head. She had made up her mind ever since she had found the pendant wrapped in a Bengali newspaper in the rightmost corner of his almirah, the place where he usually kept his emergency cash, chequebook and Chinese replicas of famous French perfumes. Aisha never bothered much about his things. Just that the little red ATM outside their home was out of cash and she desperately needed some money to buy minced meat for preparing the kebabs that Hamid loved breaking his fast with.
She had read the words, sobbing and shaking her head vehemently like a child does, trying to disassociate herself from the fact that Hamid had been seeing a woman apart from her for quite some time. She was also certain that Hamid had casually mentioned her name once, as the accountant who worked in the same private firm where Hamid was employed. The words inscribed on the stone of the pendant were screaming straight at her face, probably even enjoying her misery. “Aditi, you are the light of my life. I promise to stay with you forever”, read the inscription. Hamid had never been profoundly good in oration, neither did he possess a rich vocabulary. He always kept it simple and effective. But then again Aisha knew it, Hamid always meant business.
She had been livid. She had wanted to call up Hamid at that very instant and tell him that he was a spineless human being, meet this Hindu woman and rip her apart, call Iqbal, Hamid’s friend who was a civil lawyer by profession and file for divorce. She had wanted to demolish everything around her with Hamid’s old cricket bat lying underneath the bed amidst cobwebs. From the second hand LED TV which she had purchased online last summer to the washing machine which Hamid was not too keen on buying (“I would rather visit my hometown in Assam”, he had mentioned). She had wanted to smash them all and burn her house down. She had wanted too many things at once.
Instead, she had pulled a wooden chair and sat down. After probably eight years, she had lit a cigarette. “I am sorry Aisha. Your reproductive system has gone for a toss it seems. Unless you quit smoking right now, I don’t see how you can conceive”, she remembered the passive look on the doctor’s face as she had broken these words in a winter afternoon at the Islamic Medical Hospital and the sheer anguish in Hamid’s eyes. She had never touched a cigarette since then. Not that it had helped though. Hamid’s mother who had passed away three years earlier had refused to see Aisha’s face even when cancer had set in and she had a few days to live. She had cried to the mullah claiming Aisha to be a barren woman and a bringer of misfortune.
She had coughed for five minutes straight after the first puff. The evening had been setting in and the sky was orange, with patches of red scattered at places like wounds in a warrior’s arm. Her brown eyes glinted in the sunbeam while the wind did things to her hair tossing a few locks all over her forehead. “In my darkest days, I have always found solace in your pretty face”, Hamid had once mentioned. She had chuckled to herself on that thought. Were all men pigs? Naima’s husband had divorced her in the first year while Fatima was burnt alive by her in-laws. Aisha had had a fairly good life, taking that into account. And until this afternoon, she had madly loved her husband and had considered herself a privileged woman who enjoyed her husband’s undivided attention. In the narrow, littered lanes of Khidderpore where misery and monotony are parts of everyday life, she had apparently been living the Indian middle-class dream.
“Dear Aisha, where is my coffee?”, Hamid asked courteously. Hamid had always been a generous man. Twelve years into marriage and he had never raised his voice over trivial issues. He had always been gentle and loving. Aisha thought of Fatima yet again. Razzaq, Fatima’s husband had tied her hands and feet in a tight knot before getting some petrol from Aziz, the cab driver who also sold hashish to students from the Arts College.
“I want to ask you something”, Aisha mentioned as she offered him the cup of coffee.
“I am all ears”, Hamid smiled back, thanking her for the coffee and gently playing with her fingers.
Aisha looked at him. He was 36 years old but did not look a day older than 27. He was lean and always well dressed. He had something wrapped in a gift paper next to him on the sofa. Aisha wondered if it was a gift and whether it was even meant for her. She sighed. “It’s for the accountant”, she spoke to herself.
“Aisha? What are you thinking darling?”, Hamid asked with folded eyebrows.
“I want to get out of this city”, she replied.
“What? Are you out of your mind?”, Hamid was stunned.
“I know exactly what I am talking about”, Aisha replied with enough conviction in her voice.
“Have you completely forgotten the fact that we have bought this house on a loan? You know how difficult my job is right? Who the hell wants to buy water purifiers anyway? I make less than thirty thousand a month at times. I don’t even have a college degree. I won’t be able to get a job anywhere else. This is all we have got. Don’t you see? Come closer. Listen to me. Wait a second. Have you been smoking? What is wrong?” Hamid’s eyes were fixed on his almirah as he finished his sentence.
Aisha held his chin and turned his face towards her. She fixed her gaze on him. “You know how much I love you right? I have never asked anything from you ever. This is the first time I am asking something from you. I stay all by myself over here. This city suffocates me. I have lived this life for the last eight years but I cannot keep doing this anymore. Can we please go back to your hometown in Assam? We will start a business. We will figure out something or the other. But I can’t stay here anymore. I am tired of seeing the same view every morning when I open my eyes. I will resume my teaching career. You will certainly get a better job there. I am certain darling; you will be valued even more for all your experience. Maybe we will even adopt a kid! It will be our very own heaven sweetheart like you have always wanted. Just let me out of here, please. In the name of Allah, the merciful let me live like I want to. Won’t you do this much for me, Hamid? You claim to have found solace in me, so prove your gratitude to me today. I know I am all jittery right now, but I will calm down and everything will be alright baby. Just trust me on this” Aisha stopped. She was clutching Hamid’s shirt tightly. Her tears were glistening like pearls on his unbuttoned chest.
Hamid held her tightly to his chest. “I have often cursed myself for not giving enough time to you, but I never knew things had gone this far. You should have told me earlier. I will send my resignation mail tomorrow. They will keep me on the payroll for three more weeks. After that I guess…. we are definitely getting out of here”.
In his arms, there was absolution. Meanwhile, she had to bury that pendant.
“Can I have the room the room to myself for five minutes? I needed to grab a few things from the grocery store.” She whispered in his ears.
Rupajyoti Dutta | PGDM 2016-18