Wednesday, January 30, 2013

THE WALLFLOWER - Pure ROMANCE

THE WALLFLOWER 
A NOVELLAPure ROMANCE 
A Long Short Love Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE


A Long Short Story from COCKTAIL - my anthology of short fiction. 

Please take your time reading it.

If you like this story, do tell me.

And do get a copy of COCKTAIL - Stories About Relationships - the links are given at the end of this post.   

THE WALLFLOWER

         “I don’t want to marry Manisha,” I told my mother.
 

          My mother looked as if she had been pole-axed. Suddenly there was a metamorphosis in her expression – a distant look across my shoulder followed by a smile of forced geniality.

          “Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.

          I turned around quickly and saw Manisha entering the wicket-gate and walking towards us.

          She wished my mother and smiled at me. “I want to come and see you off at the airport.”

          “Why bother? I’ll go on my own,” I said. “The flights are quite unpredictable. They never leave on time. And how will you come back all the way?”

          “You two talk here in the garden,” my mother said. “I’ll go inside and pack your things.”

          “I am sorry about last night,” Manisha said, with genuine regret in her voice.

          “It’s okay.” I looked at Manisha. Plump and full-faced, with small brown eyes and dusky complexion, hair drawn back into a conventional knot – there was only one adjective to describe Manisha – ‘prosaic’; yes, she looked prosaic – so commonplace, unexciting and pedestrian.

          “I’ll go inside and help your mother,” Manisha said, and went inside.

          ‘Last night’ was the fiasco at the disco. Manisha and I - An unmitigated disaster!

          “Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.

          “No,” Manisha was firm.

          “Come on. I’ll teach you,” I pleaded. “Everyone is on the floor.”

          But Manisha did not budge. So we just sat there watching. Everybody was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Many of my friends and colleagues were on the floor, with their wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Among them Sanjiv and Swati.

          “Who is this wallflower you’ve brought with you?” taunted Sanjiv, during a break in the music.

          “My fiancée, Manisha,” I answered, trying to keep cool.

          “Your fiancée? How come you’ve hooked on to such a Vern?” Swati mocked. “Come on Vijay,” she said derisively, coming close and looking directly into my eyes. “You are an Executive now, not a clerk. Don’t live in your past. Find someone better. She doesn’t belong here.”

          If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have been easier to endure than these words. It always rankled; the fact that I had come up the hard way, promoted from the ranks.

          “This is too much” I said angrily to Sanjiv.

          “Cool down, Vijay,” Sanjiv said putting his hand on my shoulder. “You know Swati doesn’t mean it.”

          But I knew that Swati had meant every word she uttered.

          “Let’s go,” I told Manisha. “I’ve had enough.”

          When we were driving home, Manisha asked innocently, “What’s aVern?
  
          “Vernacular!” I answered. And at that moment there was a burst of firecrackers and rockets lit up the sky to usher in the New Year.

          That night I could not sleep. I thought of my future, trying to see both halves of my future life, my career and my marriage, side by side. I realized that my career was more important to me than anything else. I had to succeed at any cost. And a key ingredient in the recipe for success was a ‘socially valuable’ wife. It mattered. It was the truth. The blunt truth – whether you liked it or not! Swati was right. Manisha just didn’t belong to that status and class of society of which I was now a part. I had crossed the class barrier; but Manisha had remained where she was. And she would remain there, unwilling and unable to change.

          In marriage one has to be rational. Manisha would be an encumbrance, maybe even an embarrassment. It was a mistake - my getting engaged to her. She was the girl next door, we had grown up together and everyone assumed we would be married one day. And our parents got us engaged. At that point of time I didn’t think much of it. It was only now, that my eyes had opened; I realized the enormity of the situation. I was an upwardly mobile executive now, not a mere clerk, and the equations had changed. What I needed was someone like Swati. Smart, chic and savvy. Convent educated, well groomed and accustomed to the prevalent lifestyle, a perfect hostess, an asset to my career. And most importantly she was from a well-connected family. I tired to imagine what life would have been like had I married Swati.

          Sanjiv was so lucky. He was already going places. After all Swati was the daughter of the senior VP.

          Suddenly I returned to the present. I could bear my mother calling me. I went inside. Manisha was helping her pack my bags, unaware of what was going on in my mind. I felt a sense of deep guilt, but then it was question of my life.

          “What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked after Manisha had left.

          “Why were so rude to Manisha, so distant? She loves you so much!”

          “I don’t love her,” I said.

          “What?” my mother asked surprised, “Is there some else?”

          “No,” I said.

          “I don’t understand you.”

          “Manisha is not compatible anymore. She just doesn’t fit in.”

          I could see that my mother was angry. Outwardly she remained calm and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.

           “Who do you think you are?” she said icily, trying to control herself. “You know Manisha from childhood, isn’t it? For the last two years you have been engaged and moving around together. And suddenly you say Manisha is not compatible?” My mother paused for a moment, and then taking my hand asked me softly, “What happened last night?”

          I told her. Then we argued for over two hours and till the end I stuck to my guns. Finally my mother said, “This is going to be difficult. And relations between our families are going to be permanently strained. Think about Manisha. It will be so difficult for her to get married after the stigma of a broken engagement. Forget about last night. It’s just a small incident. Think about it again. Manisha is the ideal wife, so suitable for you.”

          But I had made up my mind, so I told my mother, “If you want I’ll go and talk to her father right now and break off the engagement.”

          “No,” my mother snapped. “Let your father come home. He will decide what to do.”

          The doorbell rang. I opened the door. Standing outside along with my father were Manisha and her parents.

          “I have fixed up your wedding with Manisha Patwardhan on the 30th of May of this year,” my father thundered peremptorily in his usual impetuous style.

          “Congratulations,” echoed Manisha’s parents, Mr. and Mr. Patwardhan.

          I was dumbstruck. Manisha was smiling coyly. My mother was signaling to me with her eyes not to say anything. She was probably happy at the fait accompli. I felt trapped. I excused myself and went up to my room. I locked the door. Someone knocked.

          “Give me five minutes,” I said. “I’ll get ready and come down.”

          “Come soon,” said Manisha from the other side of the door.

          I took out my notepad and wrote a letter to Manisha:


          Dear Manisha,

                             Forgive me, but I have discovered that I can’t marry you and I think that it is best for us to say goodbye.
                 
                                                                             Yours sincerely,
                                                                             Vijay


          I knew the words sounded insincere, but that was all I could write for my mind had bone blank and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible; just one sentence to terminate our long relationship. I knew I was being cruel but I just couldn’t help it.

          I sealed the letter in a postal envelope, wrote Manisha’s name and address on it and put it in my bag. I looked at my watch. It was time to leave.

          Everyone came to the airport to see me off. Sanjiv and Swati had come too. They were located at Pune and I was off on a promotion toDelhi.

          “I’m really very sorry about last night,” Swati apologized to us. She took Manisha’s hand and said tenderly, “Manisha, please forgive me. You are truly an ideal couple – both made for each other.”
         
          As I walked towards the boarding area Manisha’s father Mr. Patwardhan shouted to me jovially, “Hey, Vijay. Don’t forget to come on 30th of May. The wedding muhurat is exactly at 10.35 in the morning. Everything is fixed. I have already booked the best hall in town. If you don’t turn up I’ll lose my deposit!”

          I nodded to him but in my mind’s eye I smiled to myself – the “joke” was going to be on him!  Then I waved everyone goodbye, went to the waiting hall, sat on a chair, opened my bag and took out the letter I had written to Manisha. I wish I had torn up the letter there and then, but some strange force stopped me. I put the envelope in my pocket and remembered my mother’s parting words: “Please Vijay. Marry Manisha. Don’t make everyone unhappy. Manisha is good girl. She’ll adjust. I’ll talk to her.”

          During the flight I thought about it. I tried my utmost, but I just could not visualize Manisha as my wife in my new life any more. Till now I had done everything to make everybody happy. But what about me? It was my life after all. Time would heal wounds, abate the injury and dissipate the anger; but if I got trapped for life with Manisha, it would be an unmitigated sheer disaster.

         
I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of Delhi Airport. Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never.

I walked towards the red post box and stood in front of it, indecisive and confused. I took a deep breath, took out the envelope from my pocket and looked at it – the address, postage stamp – everything was okay.

I moved my hand to post the letter. A strange force stopped my hand in its tracks. I hesitated, and in my mind I tried to imagine the severe ramifications, the terrible consequences of what I was about to do.

At first Manisha would be delighted, even surprised, to see my handwriting on the letter. And then she would read it…! I dreaded to even think about the unimaginable hurt and distress she would feel… and then her parents… and mine…the sense of betrayal and insult…relationships built and nurtured for years would be strained, even broken, forever. And poor Manisha…everyone knew we were engaged…how tongues would wag…the stigma of broken engagement…the anguish of my betrayal of her love… she would be devastated… may even commit…

Suddenly my cell-phone rang interrupting my train of thoughts. ‘Must be Manisha monitoring me as usual,’ I thought getting irritated at her – Manisha’s suffocating familiarity and closeness seemed like manacles and I was glad I was getting away from her. I decided not to answer, but my mobile kept ringing persistently, so I looked at the display. It wasn’t Manisha, but an unknown new number.

“Hello,” I said into my cell-phone.

“Mr. Joshi?” a male voice spoke.

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here. Who is it, please?” I asked.

“Sir, we’ve come to receive you. Please come to the exit gate and look for the board with your name.”

“I’m coming,” I said and looked the letter addressed to Manisha in my hand.

No. Not now in a hurry. Providence was giving me signals to wait, reflect, and think it over, not to do something so irretrievable in such a hurry. So I put the envelope in my pocket and walked away from the post box towards the exit.

I settled down well in my new job and liked my place in Delhi. Every morning I would put the envelope in my pocket determined to post it in the post box outside my office on my way to work but something happened and I didn’t post the letter to Manisha. Meanwhile I rang up Manisha, and my mother, every evening, and made pretence that everything was okay. The stress and strain within me was steadily building up.

Every time I looked at the envelope I felt as if was holding a primed grenade in my hand. With every passing day, the 30th of May was approaching nearer and nearer. Time was running out, and I knew I would have to unburden myself of the bombshell pretty fast. So one day, during lunch break, I decided to post the fateful letter and get it over with once and for all.

As I was walking out someone from the reception called out to me, “Hey, Mr. Joshi, is Mr. Gokhale in his office?”

Gokhale was my boss, and he was out on tour, so I said, “No, he’s gone on tour. Anything I can do?”

“Sir, there’s a courier for him,” the receptionist said.

“I’ll take it and give it to him when he comes,” I said, signed the voucher and took the envelope from the courier.

The moment I looked at the envelope an electric tremor of trepidation quivered through me like a thunderbolt.

I cannot begin to describe the bewildered astonishment and shocking consternation I felt when I saw Manisha’s distinctive handwriting on the envelope. Beautiful large flowing feminine writing with her trademark star-shaped ‘t’ crossing, the huge circle dotting the ‘i’… there was no doubt about it. And of course her favorite turquoise blue ink. There was no doubt about it but I turned the envelope around hoping I was wrong, but I was right – the letter to my boss Mr. Gokhale was indeed from Manisha; she had written her name and address on the reverse, as bold as brass!

My pulse raced, my insides quivered, my brain resonated and I trembled with feverish anxiety. At first impulse I wanted to tear open the envelope and see what was inside, but I controlled myself, tried to mask my inner emotions, put on a fake smile of geniality for everyone around, gently put the letter in my pocket and began retracing my steps back to my office.

I discreetly felt the two envelopes in my suit pocket – one, my unposted letter to Manisha; and the other, a much fatter envelope, Manisha’s unopened letter to my boss Mr. Avinash Gokhale.

I locked myself in my office, sat down, calmed myself with a glass of water, took out the two envelopes and put them on the table in front of me. My unposted letter to Manisha would now have to wait – I thanked my stars that some mysterious hidden restraining force had stopped me from posting it every time I tried to.

I picked up Manisha’s envelope addressed to Avinash Gokhale. It was sheer serendipity that I happened to be at the reception when the courier arrived – otherwise I would have never known.

I looked at the envelope. The whole thing was incredulous. Why on earth should Manisha write to Avinash Gokhale? What was the connection? How did she know Gokhale? What had she written to him?

Had my simpleton mother blurted out something to her – told Manisha or her parents what I’d said – that I didn’t want to marry her? My mind went haywire with strange thoughts. Revenge! Yes, revenge. Stung by my betrayal, Manisha had somehow found out the name of my boss, from Sanjiv or Swati most probably, and was out to ruin my career – wreck vengeance on me for ditching her. Written to Avinash Gokhale what a jerk I was. These things mattered in my company. My heart skipped a beat. I felt a tremor of trepidation. I suddenly realized that I had to swiftly interrupt this pernicious line of thinking and insidious train of thoughts.

No, No! It was just not possible. No chance.  Manisha was not the vindictive type. She would never do such a thing. Especially to me. She always loved me so much. And I was sure my mother would not have been so indiscreet and would have kept our conversation to herself.

But then anything is possible. I couldn’t take any chances. Dying with curiosity I desperately felt like tearing open the envelope and reading the letter. I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. It was simple. I would open the letter in the privacy of my house. Steam-open the envelope very carefully so no one would even discern. Then I would read it and accordingly decide the further course of action.

I wondered why Manisha had sent this letter so indiscreetly to the office address with her name and address written so blatantly. Was it on purpose? She could have spoken privately to Gokhale, or even e-mailed him. Why this bold as brass missive? Was it on purpose?  She wanted me to know…No. No. It was too bizarre!

I had an impulse to call up Manisha then and there and get it over with once and for all, but I stopped myself. I had to know first what she had written in that letter before I could do anything.

The suspense was killing. I felt restless and uneasy. When I feel tense I go for a long walk. That’s what I did. I went for a long walk around my entire office, each department, making pretence of MBWA [Management By Walking Around]. When I returned to my office it was four, still an hour to go. The next hour was the longest hour of my life.

The moment it was five, I rushed out of my office. The moment I opened the door I ran bang into the receptionist. “Mr. Joshi, Sir. That letter for Mr. Gokhale – you want me to give it to his PA?”

“No. No. I’ll give to him personally,” I said feeling the envelope in my coat pocket.

She gave me a curious questioning look so I hastily said, “Don’t worry, I’ve locked it carefully in my drawer,” and hurriedly walked away.

I rushed home to my apartment. I put some water in a pot to boil and then carefully held the envelope over it. I had to steam it open very meticulously and delicately – no tell tale signs.
 
Soon I had Manisha letter in my hands.

Dear Avinash… she began.  Oh … great… Dear Avinash indeed!

Already on first name terms – Thank God for small mercies it wasn't Darling Avinash,  Sweetie-pie or something even more mushy!      


Dear Avinash,

The suddenness with which you popped the question left me so dumbfounded that I am still recovering from the shock. Shock? Maybe that’s the wrong word, but the swiftness of your proposal, out of the blue, on our very first date – well I am a simple girl and it really left me dazed.

You called once. I didn’t answer. You didn’t call again. I really appreciate that. That was very gentlemanly of you.

You sent me an e-mail. Explaining your feelings. Apologizing for what you did at the spur of the moment. Said sorry for having hurt my feelings. Please don’t say sorry. You haven’t hurt my feelings at all. Maybe outwardly I didn’t show it, but in fact, inside, I felt so good, so happy, that a suave man like you found a simple ordinary looking girl like me so attractive.

Avinash, please try to understand. I also feel the same way about you. I can’t exactly describe the emotions I experienced when we were together. Is it love? I don’t know. It’s the first time it’s happened to me that I’ve  felt so attracted to someone. I really feel like being with you, forever, spending the rest of our lives together. Thanks for proposing to me, Avinash – I accept.

What I want to say now I don’t want to say over the phone, or e-mail, so I am writing this letter. I am writing this because I believe that there is no place for secrets between husband and wife. Please read it carefully and destroy it. For my sake. Please. Read what I have written, think about it carefully, and I’ll wait for your reply.  

You know Vijay, don’t you? Vijay Joshi. Of course you do. He works with you in Delhi. You are his boss.

In fact, I came to Sanjiv and Swati’s party in Pune just to see what Vijay’s boss looked like. Of course, I’d also come to help out Swati, but I was more interested to know how Vijay is doing in his new job in Delhi and maybe say something good about him. But the thunderbolt struck and we ended saying sweet nothings to each other. I hope Swati didn’t notice, as she seemed the busy hostess most of the time, and I haven’t told her, or anyone, about our hush-hush dinner-date the next evening in that lovely romantic garden restaurant.  

Now, let’s talk about Vijay. Vijay and me were neighbors ever since I remember. Our families are very very close, deeply bonded to each other. Vijay and I are the dearest of dearest childhood friends, inseparable buddies who grew up together. Vijay has always been my most intimate confidant. I have always told him everything. Except about you – about us. It’s the first time I have hidden something from Vijay. And I’m feeling so guilty about it.

Avinash, I really love Vijay. But not in that way. Vijay is my friend, yes; buddy, yes; even soul mate, yes; but I just can’t imagine Vijay as my lover. Like I can visualize you!

Now brace your heart, Avinash!

I am engaged to Vijay. And our wedding date has been fixed on the 30th of May. Everyone knows about it.

This was fixed long back by both our families. My marriage to Vijay – a foregone conclusion and implicit happy culmination of our friendship. I too was happy. Till I met you. Now it is different.

What do we do, Avinash?

I just can’t bear to tell Vijay myself. To him it will be a terrible betrayal, a stab in his back. I can’t break his heart. He will be devastated.

I don’t have the guts to tell my parents; or his, either. They will be shattered, the hurt very painful and relationships will be strained forever.

So what do we do, Avinash?

I have an idea. It may sound bizarre, but let’s give it a try. Why not make Vijay fall in love with someone else?

Avinash, why don’t you introduce Vijay to some nice girl out there? Someone smart and chic, like Swati. I think he likes girls like that – I’ve seen him stealing canny glances at Swati when he thought I wasn’t looking. Right now he is lonely, vulnerable, and I am sure you there are many lovely, mod, savvy, attractive women out there in Delhi who are also lonely and vulnerable. You’ve just got to match them and hope for the best.

Avinash, try to understand. I want Vijay to call off our engagement. I want him to “break” my heart. It will be better that way, isn’t it? For me, for you, and for all of us.

Avinash. Am I asking too much of you? You like the idea, or is it too weird? Or can you think of anything better?

I am waiting for your reply. Please send me e-mails only. Don’t ring up or write – we have to very careful of hidden ears and curious eyes.

And remember to destroy this letter right now.

Yours lovingly,
Manisha.

  
I read the letter once again, slowly, carefully, word by word, till the last line – And remember to destroy this letter right now”.

It was unbelievable – this bolt from the blue from Manisha. I laughed to myself. I thought I was smart, but it was Manisha who was playing the double game.

I put the letter on the table, closed my eyes, and tried to think clearly. It was crazy – a classy snob like Avinash Gokhale falling for a pedestrian Plain Jane like Manisha Patwardhan! Yes, Love is blind – Love is truly blind! Or, is it?  

Instinctively I picked up my cell-phone and called Manisha.

“Hi, Vijay,” Manisha said, “what’s up?”

“Just thought of you, so called to say Hi,” I said.

“How’s life out there?”

“Good. I like Delhi. You’ll like it too – when you come here.”

“Come there?”

“You’re going to come here and stay with me in Delhi after we get married, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” Manisha said smoothly – so smoothly, so slickly, so effortlessly, so glibly, without even the slightest demur or trace of dither, that, for a moment I was struck dumb.

“Hey, Vijay, what happened?” Manisha asked.

“Nothing,” I answered, “everything okay out there?”

“Oh, yes, I’d gone to your place this morning – everyone is fine.”

“Your parents?”

“My Mum and Dad are fine. Everyone is okay – just waiting for you to come. When are you coming to Pune?”

“I don’t know. There’s lots of work.”

“Come on, Vijay. Don’t tell me you can’t come for a day or two, at least on a weekend. I’m sure there’s not that much work that the heavens will fall if you are not there.”

“It’s not that – my boss here is a funny guy.”

“Funny Guy?”

“A painful killjoy called Avinash Gokhale,” I said, and listened carefully, but I couldn’t even detect even the slightest gasp or tremor in her voice as Manisha continued talking smoothly and glibly as ever, “Never mind, Vijay, you just work hard,” and then she effortlessly changed the subject to the latest happenings in Pune and started off with mushy ‘sweet nothings’ about how much she missed me.

Listening to her, for a moment, I thought the letter in front of me was a forgery, but then I knew Manisha’s handwriting too well. I was too flabbergasted to continue the conversation so I quickly said bye and kept the cell-phone on the table.

I never imagined Manisha could be so secretive, so mendacious.

It was strange – how close one can be to a person and yet know nothing about her.

And Avinash Gokhale? I worked with him every day, spent hours together, yet knew nothing about him, except that he was brilliant workaholic and a recluse – a most boring and private person who always kept to himself, never mixed around, never socialized or attended parties, a pain in the neck who everyone avoided and the only thing he ever talked was about work.

Made for each other – two secretive loners – Manisha Patwardhan and Avinash Gokhale.

But why was I so bothered? Good Luck to them! My problem was being solved. I had to just quietly wait and watch, do nothing, till my boss found some nice smart chic girl for me. Can anyone be luckier? Life was going to be exciting!

I carefully put Manisha’s letter back into the envelope and resealed it meticulously with a glue-stick. No one could have suspected that it had been steamed open. Now all I had to do was to quietly put it in the mail folder of Avinash Gokhale before he reached office on Monday morning.

Suddenly, I was jolted out of my thoughts by the ring-tone of my cell-phone.

“Hello!” I said.

“Is that Mr. Joshi?” a sweet mellifluous feminine voice said.

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here,” I said.

“I’m Vibha speaking.”

“Vibha?” I asked surprised. I didn’t know any Vibha. 

“Oh I’m sorry Mr. Joshi, we haven’t met. I’m Vibha Gokhale. Avinash Gokhale’s wife.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry Mrs. Gokhale. I didn’t know Mr. Gokhale had a wife,” I mumbled.

“Well, Well, Mr. Joshi! Of course your Mr. Gokhale is a much married man and has a Mrs. Gokhale and you are speaking to her right now,” she said playfully, and added, “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“No. No. Ma’am. It’s not that. I didn’t know he was married. He’s never told me anything about you.”

“Really? That’s curious,” she said, “Because he’s told me everything about you.”

“What? He’s told you everything about me?” I blurted in surprise.

“Oh, yes Mr. Joshi,” she said mischievously, “I know all about you. And what I don’t know, you can tell me yourself when we meet.”

“Meet?”

“At the airport.”

“Airport?” I asked, totally baffled.

“Yes, Mr. Joshi, Delhi Airport, I’m just about to board the direct flight from Singapore,” she said matter-of-factly.

Singapore?”

“Yes, Singapore. I live and work here. You don’t know? Of course you don’t – he hasn’t even told you he’s married. Well, I was on my way toLondon for a conference, and, on the spur of the moment, thought I’ll stopover at Delhi and spend the weekend with Avinash.”

“How sad?” I stammered, “Gokhale Sir is on tour to Chennai till Monday.”

“Chennai? You’re totally clueless aren’t you – don’t even know where your boss is?”

I was at a loss for words, confused.

“He’s already left Chennai this morning. And right now your boss Avinash is in Pune.”

“Pune?” I exclaimed incredulously.

“Yes, Pune. I wanted him to finish off his work in Chennai and come back fast to Delhi today itself, so we could meet up, but he told me he was already in Pune as something very important and urgent suddenly came up and he wouldn’t be able to make it. So he asked me get in touch with you. He’ll be coming back to Delhi on Wednesday now.”

“Wednesday? Urgent work in Pune?” I uttered like a zombie.

“Don’t tell me he hasn’t told you!” she exclaimed in amazement.

Overwhelmed by the maze of confusion, my mind went numb, and I was struck dumb.

“Mr. Joshi, Mr. Joshi. Are you there? Please Mr. Joshi,” Vibha Gokhale said rapidly with hint of impatience, “I have to board now. It’s a six hour flight. Just find out the arrival details and make sure you are there on time. You don’t want your boss’s wife to be left high and dry, do you?”

“I’ll be there Ma’am,” I said, “but how will I recognize you?”

“Don’t worry. Just be there at the arrival lounge. I’ll recognize and find you,” she said and abruptly switched off.

I keep my cell-phone on the table beside the two letters [my unposted letter to Manisha and her shocking letter to my boss Avinash], close my eyes, and try to analyse the mystifying happenings of this most eventful day of my life.

First Manisha’s letter asking Avinash to set me up with some chic girl in Delhi so that I call off the marriage, instead of her, become the villain of the piece, take the rap from family and friends and look like a dirty jilting philandering rascal in everyone’s eyes, while Manisha looks the poor victimized wronged all-suffering sanctimonious goody-goody, besides saving her a guilt conscience.

And at the opportune moment our gallant knight in armour Mr. Avinash Gokhale rushes in to rescue the devastated inconsolable innocent damsel in distress and magnanimously proposes to marry her.

Only, this Mr. Avinash Gokhale is a dirtier rat one up on her. He’s married, and is obviously hiding this from Manisha, at least till now. And he’s not told his wife about Manisha either, or has he?

And what’s this sudden urgent work in Pune which no one in the office has a clue about? Devious cheat, making a jackass of everyone while romancing in Pune at company expense!

Suddenly I feel a premonition – that at this very moment they are together – at some secluded place, having a romantic dinner, or maybe…

I stop my train of thoughts and ring up Manisha. “Out of coverage area,” says the recorded voice. My worst fears are confirmed. Scheming scoundrels – both of them! And why the hell did Avinash give his wife my number, without even bothering to tell me? 

In a flash, comprehension dawns on me. Avinash is setting me up with his own wife Vibha! In connivance with his wily lady-love Manisha. It’s truly disgusting! How low can anyone get?

“Okay friends,” I say to Avinash and Manisha in my mind’s eye, “you want to play a double game? I’m game. Let’s play!”

I reach the airport well in time and take up a strong tactical position where I can clearly observe the passengers coming out of the arrival gate without being easily seen myself.

I recognize her at once without ever having seen her. Stunningly attractive, a real beauty, smashing, sophisticated, elegant; truly chic – my type of woman – optimally designed, precisely engineered and finished to perfection. She looks so extraordinarily exquisite, so tantalizing, so sensuous, so temptingly inviting, that I cannot take my eyes off her. Suddenly she looks in my direction and realizes that I am feasting my eyes on her. At first she gives me stern look, then seeing the frank admiration in my eyes, she melts, her lovely, dark, expressive eyes begin to dance and she gives me a smile so captivating that I experience a delightful twinge in my heart.

“Excuse me,” someone is tapping my shoulder form behind. Exasperatingly I turn around, glare at the podgy pedestrian suburban unpretentious looking homely woman who has disturbed me and snap angrily, “Yes. What is it?”

“Mr. Vijay Joshi?” she says grinning like a Cheshire cat, “I am Vibha Gokhale. I told you I’ll recognize you, didn’t I?”

My Dear Reader, I have no words to describe my feelings at that moment. I’ll only say this. Deflated. Yes, deflated! I’d never felt so deflated before – or since!

Vibha Gokhale peeps past me at the object of my attention, arches her eyebrows, and says naughtily, “Aha, Mr. Vijay Joshi. So you thought that sexy dish over there is me, is it?”

I swivel round, then back, all confused, and stammer, “No, actually…”

“It’s okay. You’re not the first one to wonder how a handsome hulk like Avinash Gokhale married a Plain Jane like me,” she says, adjusting the hair pin in her bun.

“No, No…” I stammer in acute embarrassment.

“IIT,” she says.

“IIT?” I ask, confused.

“Avinash wooed me when we were classmates at IIT.”

I say nothing; try to conjure up a contrived smile of polite geniality.

“You know how ‘dry’ it used to be out there in IIT, isn’t it? The mirage! The mirage!,” she says as if it is some secret joke, “When you are starved, and thirsty, even a Plain Jane like me looks as if she is a Cleopatra…” she laughs with such frank innocence that I instantly take a liking to her.

Now I break out into a genuine friendly smile, amused in my mind’s eye about Avinash Gokhale’s penchant for Plain Janes.

“Hey, what are you thinking?” Vibha says, “Come, let’s collect my baggage and go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I say, remembering she is my boss’s wife.

“Hey, don’t ‘Ma’am’ me!” she commands, “My name is Vibha. And I’ll call you Vijay.”

Soon we sit in my car and I ask her, “Where to?”

“Where to? What do you mean ‘Where to’? We’re going to your place, of course! I’m staying with you, isn’t it?” she says with childlike naiveté.

Probably seeing my shocked expression on my face, she says, “You don’t want to take me home? I thought it would be okay with you if I stayed over! Or should I stay here, at the airport, or in some hotel? I don’t want to go all the way to Avinash’s empty flat in NOIDA…”

“No, No. Of course you’re most welcome to stay with me,” I say, “Only thing is that I’m a bachelor.”

“I know,” she says matter-of-factly.

“I stay alone…” I stammer.

“Come on, shy boy, drive on. I won’t eat you up,” she says vivaciously, and I begin driving towards my house nearby in Vasant Vihar.

We reach my apartment and I open the door. I look at the wall clock – it’s almost three in the morning. She looks around my small one room studio apartment (an erstwhile decked up Barsati) and says, “A comfy, cozy bachelor’s den – I like it!”

“If you want to sleep you can sleep on the bed…”

“Hey, I’m dying for a cup of coffee, then I’ll bathe, and then we’ll see – we’ve got the full day ahead of us,” she says, walking towards the kitchenette.

“No, No, please…”

“Come on, Vijay, trust me. I make a decent cup of coffee, and I too live all alone like a bachelor girl in Singapore. Just tell me where the things are.”

Together we make coffee.

We sit down and talk. She is easy to talk to and my words come tumbling out. I tell her everything about myself, well, almost everything!

“Any love life?” she asks with a naughty conspiratorial look in her laughing eyes, at once inviting and taunting.

“No,” I say, “And you?”

“I told you – Avinash, Avinash, Avinash! Thst’s all. And a long distance marriage, pining for him, hoping that absence makes our hearts go fonder!”

I remain silent, not knowing what to say.

“Vijay, I like you,” she suddenly says with undisguised affection in her eyes.

“Like me?” I say nonplussed.

“Yes. After a long time I’ve met someone with whom I can be myself.”

“Me too,” I say, and I genuinely mean it. I feel a soft tenderness for her, a warm feeling of elation, but I quickly check my thoughts and hastily say, “You’ll like to have a nice hot shower, won’t you?” for I believe that thoughts can transmit themselves if they are strong enough.

“I’ll love to,” she says, and I show her the bathroom.

She comes out, freshly bathed, wearing a slim nightie that is so revealing that she might as well have worn nothing, but she conveys such innocence that it is obvious that she has no inkling of this. She looks so pure, so pristine, so desirable, and I realize that she’s not that plain looking at all, in fact, she is quite appealing, sensuous in a natural sort of way.

By instinct, and almost against my will, my eyes linger, travel all over her body. The transformation in her is amazing. Now she looks so wonderful, so feminine, so tender, so alluring, and so new – a woman in full bloom.

“I’ve become a little plump sitting on my haunches all day,” she says candidly, without a trace of coyness, throwing away the towel wrapped around her head, letting her luxuriant hair fall on her shoulders. She looks so tantalizing that I feel a moment of alarm. Maybe we are unthinkingly beginning something dangerous…so I blurt out, “I’ll have a shower too,” and rush towards the bathroom.

I have a soothing hot shower, and when I come out of the bathroom in my dressing gown, I see Vibha reading Manisha’s ludicrous “love letter” to Avinash Gokhale.

Oh, my God! I curse myself. What a careless fool I have been to let those letters lie on the table.

As she reads, I stare at her, dumbstruck, not knowing what to do.

Suddenly she turns and looks at me in incredulous despair.

“I can’t believe this,” Vibha moans, “It’s horrible,” she sobs, “Everything’s collapsed like a pack of cards,” she cries, “I invested my life in two things – my marriage and my career –and look what I’ve got in return? My marriage is a sham and my job – the two things I banked on, both have jilted me, and all I am left with is myself.”

“Your career? Your job? What happened?”

“It’s terrible,” she says, “I’m going through a very bad patch. Last week I was demoted, my junior promoted over my head,” she pauses, wipes her nose, “And I this so-called conference at the Head Office inLondon – it’s all a masquerade. I have a feeling they are going to fire me, give me termination letter, have an exit interview, settle my dues and tell me to go home.”

I listen silently, say nothing.

“I’m feeling so down,” she weeps. “I thought I’ll stop over, talk things over with Avinash, find some solace in his arms, plan our future, and see what happens! He does this!” she sobs holding out the letter.

“Maybe you can talk to him, patch up…”

“Patch up…?” she scorns mockingly, “A relationship in which the seeds of distrust have been sown – such a relationship, I think it is better to sever it, break it, terminate it permanently, than try to patch it up, isn’t it?”

I move my hands, wanting to take her into my arms, console her, but hesitate, not knowing what to do.

 “I’ll never forgive him for this, for betraying me so terribly when I needed him the most,” she screams, and then suddenly her flaming red eyes look at me with such furious distress that I think she has gone raving mad.

“Please…”I say.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks hoarsely, waving the letter. I see tears trickling down her cheeks. She covers her face with her hands, wildly shakes her head, disheveling her hair.

I want to comfort her. I touch her shoulder. She flashes her eyes at me through the tangled strands of her hair, and suddenly the blazing fury in her eyes collapses into incredulous despair.

“I loved him so much! Why did he do this to me, why did he do this…?” she sobs hysterically, wildly clutching my arms, totally breaking down, her knees giving way.

I grab her, hold her tight, and she slumps forward into my arms. Then she looks up into my eyes, yearning, thirsty, ravishing. And suddenly, naturally, instinctively, it happens. The most spontaneous, natural, beautiful and passionate experience of my life. Spur of the moment, unplanned, unforeseen frenzied love. Like a volcano.

It’s wonderful, lovely, exquisite. I feel good, cherished. But what about her? Vibha? Is it spontaneous love? An explosion of fiery pent up passion? Or is it an act of frenzy, rage, expiation?

I gradually come into consciousness, my eyes heavy, my body overwhelmed by the pleasurable sensation of lethargy in the aftermath of passion. Everything looks blurred and slowly Vibha’s face comes into focus.

“Vibha. I’m so…”

She gently puts her hand on my mouth and says, “It was lovely.” Then she lovingly ruffles my hair with her fingers. I close my eyes, snuggle up to her, and let her ruffle my hair. The emotion that comes to me is compassion for what we have done; never before have I felt such tenderness.

It’s almost noon by the time we are ready. We’ve still got most of the weekend ahead of us.

“What shall we do?” I ask Vibha, “Movie, shopping, sightseeing…whatever you want...”

“Let’s disappear,” Vibha says roguishly.

“Disappear?”

“Yes, Vijay, let’s just disappear, vanish into thin air, where no one will find us.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere, far away from this suffocating life,” she says, “Come Vijay, let’s head for the hills, breathe some new pure fresh air, cleanse the cobwebs, the demons from our minds.”

“Your flight? London?”

“I’ll cancel it.” She calls up, cancels her flight to London.

Then Vibha gives me her cell-phone, and says, “Switch it off and lock up this leash somewhere. Your mobile too. We don’t want to be tracked down, do we?”

“But…?”

“To hell with world - let them stew in suspense.”

I put the mobile phones in a drawer.

“What about these?” I point to the two letters lying on the table – My unposted letter to Manisha, in the envelope, and Manisha’a pathetic love letter to Avinash, tear-stained, crumpled.

Vibha opens my unposted letter to Manisha, reads it and just tears it up, shreds it to pieces.

“What…?” I shout, taken aback.

“This flotsam and jetsam; memories of betrayal – better get rid of it,” she says, shredding the other letter too. “No point carrying useless painful baggage of the past.”

 “Come,” she says taking my hand, “Let’s get away from all this. Be free. We both need to breathe some fresh air.”

And so we disappear.

At sunset we sit together, all by ourselves on the precipice, relishing the breathtaking spectacle of the delightful dance of the panoply of colours on the awesome vista in front of us as the soothing orange sun plays hide-and-seek behind the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, and then disappearing below the horizon and lighting up sky with vanishing crimson rays, streaks slowly dissolving in the enveloping grayness of twilight.

I feel wonderful, my spirits uplifted, my head in the clouds after savoring this inspiring soul-elevating feast for the eyes, I turn towards Vibha, cup her face in my hands and drown myself deep into her eyes. I can sense her finger-tips caressing the nape of my neck. The debris of the past has disappeared and a fresh new life is about to begin. I know that I have discovered my true love, my enduring love.


VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.


Did you like this story? 
This is a story from my anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL. 
I am sure you will like all the stories in my recently published book COCKTAIL comprising twenty seven short stories about relationships. 
To order the book please click the links below:
COCKTAIL ebook
If you prefer reading ebooks on Kindle or your ebook reader, please order Cocktail E-book by clicking the link below:
AMAZON

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005MGERZ6
SMASHWORDS
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/87925

About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and he is currently working on his novel 
and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines. Vikram has published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now he devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
Vikram Karve Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/vikramkarve
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
Email: vikramkarve@hotmail.com         


© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
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