November 12, 2010

Chapter 2 - The Dark Night

The story continues here. For new readers or for a quick refresher, start here - scroll to the bottom and work your way up)

Chapter 2. Now.

And he hadn’t. He trembled as he got up and used the wall for support as he walked towards their bedroom. Surely he was mistaken. Shalini wouldn’t do this. She wouldn’t be in there.  He willed her not to. He could hardly breathe as he reached the bedroom door. It was ajar. Neither open nor close. What did that mean? Was that how it was everyday? Why couldn’t he remember simple everyday details that had probably remained the same for the past 3 years and more? Trembling, he pushed it open and with a sudden burst of adrenaline, he flicked on the lights, his eyes glued to where he knew their bed was. It was empty. His heart was drumming like crazy and he felt faint with relief as he drank the scene in. The bed was slept in. So she’d slept here last night. Or at least she’d gone to sleep here. He sank down to the floor as this fact washed over him.

Had she made the bed yesterday morning? He couldn’t remember. The bed was always made when he went to sleep at night. As a creature of habit he supposed it was reasonable to assume that she had gone to sleep here. So why hadn’t she made the bed this morning? Was it because she hadn’t slept all night?  After what seemed like eternity, he realized that he was still clutching on to the ridiculous note in his right hand. He re-read it for what seemed like the 100th time. But no, there was no secret clue emerging from those meaningless words inked in. Half-crumbling it, he got up abruptly and put the note on her side of the nightstand. And that's when he saw it.

The shut bathroom door beyond the length of the bedroom.

His pitiful heart that had just slowed down started drumming again. Could it be? The bathtub? His razors? Kitchen knife? He walked slowly, willing all the mental images away as he walked to the door and paused for a microsecond. And while his mind struggled to banish those images, he realized that the bathroom light was on. His heart stopped and then renewed its beating with crazy vengeance as he kicked the door open. He felt faint as he looked wildly around the onyx-tiled master bath. It was empty.

“Shalini – where are you???” he whispered to the air.

He had to get a grip and do things methodically.  He realized he was behaving like a madman. Or perhaps he was just behaving like a man who realized that his wife may have been driven over the edge. The clock on the dresser glowed 18:57 in large green digits. He had been home just over a half hour and he had already almost lost his mind. He had to be logical if he had to get to the bottom of this. It was too soon to start thinking of calling the police. There was no premise and he had to cover his bases if he had to be reporting anything. He pushed these ominous thoughts to the back of his mind. He hadn’t even done the first thing he had to do logically to find out where his wife was. He hadn’t even called her office yet and he was ready to pee in his pants from a note that made no sense whatsoever. He had to check the rest of the house. He quickly went around opening doors to all the rooms in their 1750 square feet apartment. After about five minutes, he was sure that Shalini was surely not in the house.

He quickly walked to the living room. And it surprised him that the TV was still on. He’d forgotten all about it. Watching the news felt like 24 hours ago. He ruefully wished it was 24 hours ago. He wouldn’t be dealing with this turmoil then.  He reached for their phonebook near the landline. Since most of their numbers were on their cell phones these days they’d contemplated even having a phonebook at home. It had been his decision finally. And that too for his parents who often stayed with them. They preferred the old-school ways of keeping in touch. Hoisting the small book onto his lap, he flipped it over where a huge PostIt had been stuck on the back flap.  Shalini had scribbled both their work numbers and cell phone numbers for his parents’ ease of use. He picked up the receiver and fervently dialed her office number concentrating all his willpower in urging her to pick up. He counted the rings upto 8 before he hung up. He waited 30 seconds and dialed again. This time it was picked on the second ring.

“Shalini?” He began without waiting to hear the voice on the other end.
“I am sorry. This is Mekala. Shalini isn’t here today. May I help you with something?” her colleague asked.
Bharath barely heard anything after “Shalini isn’t here today”.
“Oh? Is something wrong with her? Didn’t she come in today?” he asked urgently.
“I’m sorry, Sir. She took a personal day off this morning. May I know who’s calling and how I may..”

Bharath hung up. Personal day? Shalini had never once taken a personal day on the whim ever since he’d known her. Every vacation day was accounted for weeks in advance. He planned all their vacations together and would give her explicit instructions on which days she had to be off if their plans indeed included non-holiday working days. On the bright side, someone who was going to commit suicide would hardly call the office to request a “personal” day. It seemed pretty unlikely. Thanking his logical soul, Bharath brightened a bit for a moment. But just as suddenly there was another dark thought. What if it had just started with wanting to take the day off and then aggravated into a moment of weakness? He had no explanation. The first thing he had to do was to see if her car was still in the garage. As he walked to the doorway, he glanced at the entrance cubby. Were her keys there? No they weren’t. Fresh hope fueling him, he grabbed his own house keys and looked back at the vast empty house. Everything looked so normal and he hoped they stayed that way. He reached for his chappals just as the doorbell rang. His mind went numb for a split second. Shalini? He wondered.  Then it struck him. She had her keys and she wouldn’t be ringing the bell. He threw the door open instantly and didn’t see anyone out there. Perplexed, he looked around till he saw the small bundle of jasmine flowers strung into 3 mozhams and wrapped in a lotus leaf left on their door latch by the young poo-kari. That’s right. Tuesdays were poo days. He slammed the door shut and made his way to the parking.

To be continued........
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Until next Friday then. Opinions welcomed as always.