This is going to be a long story. It all started when I received this phone call in the morning. Hearing the sweet voice, which I immediately recognised, I was over the moon. I would call her Vineetha. We agreed to meet in the evening.
A few hours later, we were together – after three years to be precise. We were together, laughing, chatting, drinking coffee @ CCD. Yes, there was nothing remarkable or unusual about it. Yet there was. I had butterflies in our stomach and I was sure, it was the same with her too. Understandable since we had spent the flush of youth together at a middle-level software firm in Kerala, until she got married. Now I feel we both have an urgent desire to impress each other and here we were across the table. Coffee with Vineetha.
There were very few pauses in our conversation. Then suddenly her mobile chirped. Excusing herself, she started talking. There was a furious hushed conversation and she smiled at me as she got up from the chair, apologetic, walked out of the glass door, silently mouthing “the cell phone reception inside is quite poor and I’ll be back in a moment”.
I wondered why she was behaving like this now. She never had anything to hide from me. We used to spent many an evening together talking about what to wear, even discussing subjects which are taboo, and of course our plans for our future (our separate futures, of course). I smiled at the memory of those carefree days, when life was full of challenges and promises.
We had both wanted love on our terms. Dedicated, unconditional, committed and non-complicated. Still love never happened to us and with each Mills and Boons book that we exchanged, it was proven that love was happening to less deserving people, all over the world. When she got married, neither of us doubted, our lives had quite a nasty turn.
Soon she became a mother to a beautiful baby. I went to see her baby and drifted apart again. All these times, I expected mails from her, but she was busy with her (not so) handsome husband and her beautiful princess, while I grappled with life, falling in and out of disappointments, and those moments – my job, some mean friends, I had everything to live a great novel.
She was back in my life today, fast forwarded like a movie. Now while Vineetha returned back to the table, she looked tense. Still she smiled. But her eyes were not smiling as she apologised. “Sorry that was Pradeep, he’s still such a baby even after four years of marriage”. Her laugh did not seem to be natural.
I was ready to concede defeat and I said, “You know dear, you are so lucky, and I envy Pradeep, for his being a child. You are there for him for everything and you must be really lucky to have him depend on you so much. You have a perfect life, Don’t you?”
“Prasanth, you are jokin’ aren’t you? I thought you never needed anyone. You are so independent (little did she knew, anyways).” She continued, “It was me who messed up big time. Not even a graduate, unable to do anything, unable to be independent. I landed up with a child when all I wanted was freedom. I never could enjoy college life like all of you. I missed out on all the fun. I had a difficult time, believe me.” Her eyes were moist.
“How can you say that? Pradeep loved you, and loves you today. The college days were not by choice, but because it had to be done. As for the hanging out with friends which you so much missed, all was a bunch of nonsense causing only heartaches and nothing else. Not everybody was like you. And now comes career, I have to fight all the way. No amount of hard work brought anything for me, what others got so easily. Now if I end up marrying someone, it won’t be out of love, but just to avoid being a bachelor. I do believe, you found your love, and kept it, while I am still a loner.”
For a moment, we sipped coffee thinking how foolish we were, and how ungrateful life was now, for all the good things we had on a platter, in our life, I wanting her life, and she wanting mine.
After a pregnant pause, she reached out and touched my hand. “Well, you are a loner, but today, you are on your terms. You have a job to support yourself and today you are not answerable to anybody. No wife or anyone else to bother you during a coffee with a friend you met after three years.” With her wry smile, she made her point again.
“It is easy for you say that. No wife to bother me, when I am sitting with another woman. But then I don’t have a wife to cuddle and hold me either when I am unwell.” My voice was cracking as emotions got the better of me.
“Prasanth, look at me.” And while I looked at her, all her pretences had melted away. This was the face of a wizened woman. She said, “My husband didn’t call me because he cannot manage without me or wants to cuddle and love me. He called because he is alcoholic, who needs to be monitored. I can’t leave him alone because he rushes out to sneak in a bottle or just brings strangers into my home, to have a drink with.”
Without making eye contact, she continued, “My daughter, when she grows up, she will think that her mom is an uneducated idiot who couldn’t stop her dad from being a fool. I have no independence, nobody cares what my opinion is. My husband just won’t care if I had a thousand affairs. I mean, I want to.. Believe me…” she was fumbling with words now.
The years, the mistakes, the envy, the struggles, simply washed away in that moment when we held our hands over the table. Just then a couple came and sat beside us.
We looked at each other and smiled, before getting up and walking out of the coffee shop. To live the rest of our lives, our choices, our victories, our defeats and of course, shine through our ordeals.