October 27, 2010

The prologue – The dark night

This is a story I am working on. Needless to say, it's "copyrighted". :)

Now. 6 :15pm.

The steel-grey Maruti Suzuki Swift pulled into the parking space 1312A in the underground parking of the multiplex at Gandhi Nagar, Chennai.  Bharath killed the headlights and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, reluctant to leave the comfort of his car and go home to his 13th floor apartment. Shalini and he had had their worst fight yet. It was the first time in over 3 years of marriage that they’d gone to bed angry and without making up. When he’d gotten up in the morning she was gone. She was the one to make up with him usually, no matter what and no matter whose fault it was. And it surprised him that she hadn’t called him all of today. What was worse was that she hadn’t answered his calls either. He felt unsettled. He knew to deal with the part of his wife that he knew – the part that yelled and screamed. He was a lot less sure when she clammed up. And she had hardly ever left anything unsaid. Audibly cursing the day he decided to get married, he reached for his briefcase that was thrown carelessly on the passenger seat and reassured himself. It was going to be okay. They always got through this kind of stuff. They had their share of infractions in the whole marital bliss package and he wondered briefly what the neighbours might’ve heard and if that changed the way they perceived them as a couple. But who were they to judge? Everyone fought. It was like the global vein of similarity in every marriage. And last night’s fight was downright stupid now that he reflected on it. Shalini had interrupted him for a second during one of the key moments of the foreign movie on TV that he’d followed for the better part of 2 hours. And he’d flown off the handle and yelled at her, blaming her impetuousness and her disregard for other’s preoccupations. He was just caught up in the moment and typical as it was, she just wouldn’t let it go. She screamed and ranted her side of the injustice of it all and it’d blown completely out of proportion ending with him slamming the front door of their apartment on her and leaving to get a smoke and some silence. When he’d returned, the lights were turned out and she’d retired to the bedroom. He himself had slept in the guest bedroom, not wanting to share a room with her that night. Now that he thought about it, it was downright stupid and he couldn’t wait to go back home and make up. There wasn't much a hug and kisses couldn't accomplish. Well, at least between married couples. He reached over to the backseat and picked up a single slightly shriveled red rose that had been carefully cellophane-wrapped by the flower-wala, which he had had the forethought to buy just outside the front gates of their apartment complex.  Small penance. He swore to himself to try to keep his temper under check thereafter. But he knew it was easier said than done. Hindsight was 20/20.

The ride to the 13th floor from the basement parking by the lift took just over a 50 seconds. He remembered timing it with Shalini once when she had remarked that it was lucky that neither of them was claustrophobic. A wry smile appeared at the corner of his mouth. And suddenly he regretted spending the night in the guest bedroom without so much as a goodnight to his wife. He supposed she was pissed off because of that and would be unforgiving for a while just to punish him. Ah well, tonight would be a better night. He’d make sure of it.  The lift doors eased open on the 13th floor, jolting him out of his reverie. He walked down the right-side hallway towards their apartment.

1312. Their home. Bharath & Shalini, the wooden name board proclaimed. It had been a wedding gift from one of her friends. He reached for his keys and unlocked the door. It was all quiet and dark in there. There were no cooking sounds or smells, typical of Shalini wielding her exceptional skill at the stove.

“Shalini?” He called out tentatively. No answer. Ah well, she was probably out at the Nilgiris nearby buying vegetables and such. Was her car in the garage? He hadn’t noticed. Or maybe she was working late to avoid him. She would come around. She always did. He turned on the lights in the hallway and the hall, ditched his briefcase on the sofa while reaching for the TV remote to turn the TV on.  While the evening news blared on, he washed his face, hands and feet and went back to the sofa. He missed the hot cup of chai that Shalini usually had ready for him when he got home. He went to the kitchen to make some for the both of them. It would be a pleasant surprise. He busied himself for a few minutes hunting for the ingredients while marveling at how his wife, who worked full-time as an IT programmer additionally nurturing hopes as a writer also found time to cook every evening, stock the supplies for their house and keep everything so organized and spic and span (with the help of a once-a-week maid, but nonetheless). As the tea brewed, he went to check the answering machine on their landline. No new messages. Sighing audibly now he went back and filtered the tea into two freshly washed mugs. And suddenly he got a bit restless. This whole incident was completely out of character for her. To not keep in touch the entire day. No email. No SMS. No calls. Nothing. When she was too pissed off to talk with him she usually SMS-ed or IM-ed him. And regardless of what disagreements they had those SMS messages reminded him that she cared and that it would soon be ok. He settled on the sofa and set his tea mug on the settee. He reached over for the Time Magazine issue that had arrived in the weekend and mindlessly flipped pages while lending an ear to the news. Just as he was reaching back for the mug of tea, the landline next to it rang.

“Shalini?” he asked as he picked up the phone eagerly.

“Hi. No, this is her friend, Gitanjali. Hi Bharath, how are you?”

“Oh hi Gitu. I am fine. How’re you?” Bharath said mechanically, his spirits deflating.

“I am doing good! I am guessing Shalini isn’t home yet. She isn’t answering her cell phone either. Could you have her call me when she gets back? I don’t know if she knows yet but Priya had a baby boy today!”

“Oh that’s great! I’ll let her know when she’s back and have her call you.” Bharath said hanging up.

Babies. Sure Shalini and he had talked about it. But with his MBA aspirations and her wanting to change careers, they’d decided to put it away for a couple of years. And suddenly he was irritated with his wife. He had called her 4-5 times to try to make up although grudgingly after lunch (he’d expected her to call by then) and she hadn’t bothered to answer. Granted he was wrong, but weren’t they supposed to put this behind them now and just carry on? They were happy in general, he figured and which marriage didn’t have its hiccups? He pulled out his Blackberry and checked for missed calls. There were none. She probably wanted him to grovel. He sighed and speed dialed her once more, willing her to pick up. To his surprise, he heard the phone ringing on the little cubby in the front hallway, where they typically left their keys and stacked their mail. Oh. That explained it. Picking up his chai he walked over to get her phone. It was one of those old fashioned flip phones. He’d begged her to get a more savvy phone but she firmly shot him down each time. He could hear her voice echoing in his head even now– Why do I need a fancy phone? All I do is make calls and receive them. And the most I do is text. This is more than enough for all that. Besides if I get an all-in-one something, how will I use the ipod that you got me or the camera that Appa got me?

The phone was battered almost beyond recognition and the ‘Samsung’ was barely visible under the scratches and dents from the thousand drops and the brushes with all the junk in her handbag. Shaking his head with disbelief, he flipped it open. Sure enough -

8 Missed Calls

He clicked on ‘List’ and saw his own name listed 6 times with the various times that he had called. Gitanjali was the seventh. And Priya was the eighth. He sighed. His temporary surge of anger at her not answering the calls was now unreasonable, he realized. She’d just forgotten her cell phone at home. And with her memory, or the lack of it, for phone numbers in particular, she probably didn’t have his number memorized to make a call even if she’d wanted to. She could’ve emailed, he supposed, but he would let that be.  He left her phone right where he found it. His eye caught a stack of yesterday’s mail. He figured he should check the mailbox today. But that was 13 floors down and normally Shalini brought in the day’s mail. As he reached to stack the sloping pile of bills and general junk, a paper with a scrawl of his wife’s handwriting caught his eye. It was among the bills and some other papers, not hidden but neither particularly visible and was tucked underneath a framed wedding picture of theirs. He tugged at the leaf and it came out loose. He got an ominous feeling as he shook it straight to read it. It was a note. It was brief. It had no date. It had no signature.

It’s been good but I don’t think I can take it anymore. This isn’t about you. It’s me. I am the weak one. I am sorry.

What was this? What was the meaning of this piece of paper? Bharath was hardly breathing. When had she written this? Was it a suicide note? Or was it just goodbye? Was it meant to be found or had she changed her mind after writing it? Suddenly he felt very weak. There were too many questions and as unlikely as any scenario was, here he was but where was she? He held on to the wall for support and sank into the single faux-leather chair in the hallway. Where he wore his shoes. The chair she picked out from Kalpadruma after painstakingly verifying that it wasn’t real leather. Because she was against animal cruelty amongst her many other principles. But she was ok with killing herself? And suddenly his mind wandered to last night. After he’d slammed the door on her and left the house, he had no idea what had really happened back at the apartment. He had assumed that she’d gone to bed when he returned. He had assumed that she was still in the house. He’d never checked. He’d not even said goodnight. He’d not even walked near their bedroom. What if she was still… in there?

To be continued.........

Opinions welcomed.


Gayathri Rao said...

Nice piece... cant wait for the entire work !!

Vasu said...

Wow...I'm really hooked on to it now...please put up the next chapter soon.

Anonymous said...

Megaserial in the making :)

Neena George said...

‎:). Definitely waiting to see where you are going with this. Hopefully you wont go with the ending where his inconsideration, immaturity and taking her for granted behavior is all "forgiven"! Waiting for the twist!

Rat Krish said...

Liked the build-up. Is it going to be a thriller or a romantic drama?

Jaya said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. I was in fact planning only to put the prologue and see if it generated enough interest to carry on and finish the story, etc. But now I guess I'll consider releasing it chapter-wise here in some time. As for the story, its going to be short and probably a thriller (remember it's a work in progress?) And the whole idea of posting it on the blog was for motivation to complete it :D

Arjun Arumbakkam said...

Very nice. Sounded a bit like Alai Payuthe at first, but I guess the letter by Shalini changes things :) Keep writing and post the rest.

UmaRam wants u to have a nice day said...

very nice. eagerly waiting for the next post.

Jaya said...

Arjun-> Thanks AK! Will post the rest shortly :) watch this space! Thanks for the comment and keep visiting!

Uma aunty-> Thank you!! The rest is coming soon. Keep visiting!

Sangeetha said...

Very nice. Can't wait to read the rest. Pls don't keep us waiting for too long. :-)

Dilip said...

Really very well written. The best part about it was that it was realistic and seemed plausible. Going to read the next chapter now :)


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