“I wish!! Not a fan of this shitty life, either.”
Nandini was dumbfounded when Manik looked into her eyes straight and said this. She had just tried to scare him quoting how people around her died mysteriously. But his reply stunned her. She didn’t say anything to him, but after a moment’s silence, she moved away taking the change of her nightwear inside the washroom.
When she walked out of the washroom, after getting rid of her wedding dress and odhani, and wearing the nightie her aunt had bought for her, she was skeptical of going inside the bedroom, worried about Manik’s reaction to her.
The nightie was beautiful, red in colour with lace at the bodice, hugging her at all the right places, making her look pretty. The spaghetti straps let the nightie stay in place on her shoulders. The satin fabric fell down to her ankles, feeling soft all over her silky skin. She took her hair behind and tied them at the upper back in a loose bun. In this process, she became aware of her open shoulders, open upper back and lace and satin around her. Inwardly, she cursed her aunt for trying to make her look sexy.
Nervous, she slowly opened the door of the washroom and peeped inside the room. Manik was already on the couch, eyes closed, rested on a single pillow, covered under a duvet and he appeared to be deep in sleep. Nandini heaved a sigh of relief. She slowly walked in, without making any noise, went to the huge, king-size bed that Manik had cleaned after removing the flowers, slipped inside the duvet, and tried to get some sleep. It was a new place for her and she couldn’t deal with her anxiety about the unknown.
Within the next few moments, her heart was beating hard and she could feel the bed sucking at her body, numbing her soul. She couldn’t breathe properly and noticed goosebumps on her forearms and arms. Suddenly, she sat up on the bed.
Should I walk around? Should I go to the window to catch some fresh air? Should I try to sleep?
She couldn’t decide. The darkness from the window scared her and she couldn’t step outside her duvet, even when she was desperately craving for fresh air. Her throat was dry and she could feel her lips chipping off because of the dryness and because of the stupid lipstick that she had applied for the first time in two years and couldn’t scrape it off even after vigorous rubbing and washing inside the washroom. The mehendi in her hands had started itching and she could feel her palms getting red because of that. All the parts of her body which were adorned in jewellery today, felt itchy and painful too.
Feeling suffocated and trapped, she once again lay down on one side of the bed. She was afraid of switching the lights off, so she didn’t care to do it. The room was bathed in glorious white and yellow lights. Manik was asleep already. So, there was no one who would insist that she switched off the lights.
She nestled inside the duvet and threw a cursory glance at Manik. He was sleeping like a baby on his side, with one hand folded and his head rested over the folded elbow settled between the pillow and him.
She had heard that he was a doctor. He was not even living in India. She had no idea about his reasons for marrying her, but they must be really strong. Otherwise, why would a man marry a woman at a short notice of 2 days, someone with a problematic past and who had tried her best to scare him before the wedding?
She wondered why he was not deterred even when she told him that she was a lesbian. She twisted her lips and closed her eyes when her tired mind and body refused to think anymore. She didn’t even want to know his reasons. Nor she was ever going to pester him to share them with her. It was none of her business. It was a great relief that this guy was not looking for a physical relationship.
She sighed and started counting sheep to get some sleep. The last statement from him unsettled her again.
“Not a fan of this shitty life, either.” – He had said. She kept thinking about this sentence that he had said. It was weird of her to meet someone this troubled. Sad and disturbed guy, who was not fond of living this life, anymore.
Just like her!
In the morning, Manik’s mom, Superna, knocked at the door of their room and woke them up. Nandini’s sleep was disturbed. It was early morning. 6:00 am. She had just caught sleep, hardly an hour back. She must have been in the middle of a vivid dream that she was jolted out of her sleep. She sat back on the bed, baffled and astonished.
“Relax! It’s mom.” She heard Manik speak, while he moved around the room, dumping his pillow and duvet on the bed, near her.
He was not even looking at her but Nandini was immediately conscious about her bare shoulders, holding a very thin strap of the nightie on each side. Her back was clearly visible and the nightie had a plunging neckline, with lace accentuating the bodice at her front. She lowered her eyes and carefully, she pulled the duvet around her, to cover her. This time Manik noticed her doing this.
He didn’t say anything and walked towards the door to open it slightly, and peeped out through it, “Haa, ma?”
Superna rolled her eyes, “Open the door.”
He moved aside and let her come in. Nandini was immediately conscious of her mother-in-law entering the room and moved to step out of the bed when Superna stopped her, “Stay there, beta. Don’t come out. I’m sorry, I disturbed you so early in the morning.”
Superna was pleased to see Nandini ducked inside the duvet around her and the other set of pillow and duvets on the bed beside her. For a mom, it was a reassuring sign. She kept the dresses she had had in her hand on the table, and said, “I wanted to be here before other relatives got up. There are a few ceremonies to be done today. So, wear this saree and this jewellery after you take a bath today. We need to go to our kuldevi temple today. We have a tradition of seeking the blessings of the Goddess before a newlywed couple begins the journey of a lifetime.”
“Ji…” Nandini nodded and made a small sound over a dry throat.
Manik observed the shirt and trousers, Superna had brought for her, and said, “Ma, you know that I have a flight today.”
“Temple visit will not take a lot of time. Later, you can avoid interaction with relatives and leave after lunch. But this is necessary.” Superna touched his cheek with her palm and gave him a long adoring look filled with motherly love and wondered when she was going to meet him again. He came so sparingly to India and was deeply involved in the work that she missed him and regretted sending him abroad for studies and work.
Manik understood what she was thinking. He said, “Don’t worry, ma! I will come early next time.”
She smiled sweetly and patted his cheek, before smiling on her tears, and sighed, “Mothers will never have enough of you, even if you stayed with them all the time.”
He chuckled. Nandini quietly observed them interacting this sweetly and stayed still. Superna patted her head and left.
When they were left alone, Nandini asked him, in one small word, “Flight?”
“Hmm… yeah! I didn’ t get time to tell you,” Manik closed the door and sat on the couch facing her, “Actually, I was on a short leave only to attend Aman’s wedding. The cousin who got married yesterday, with us. I didn’t have any idea that I will be convinced to get married too, otherwise, I would have planned it in that way. Anyway, I have a flight, to go back to Innsbruck today evening. I need to join the hospital tomorrow.”
Nandini was staring at him, astounded out of her wits. She had no idea about it. She murmured, “Were you planning on telling me about it? Or you just wanted to disappear?”
He rolled his eyes, “Of course, I would have told you. Listen, I didn’t have to hide. The wedding was planned at such short notice. We didn’t even talk or meet before that. And I didn’t know that this will happen. I need to go today as I have important surgeries lined up from tomorrow. Dad has said that he will get your formalities done – Schengen visa and travel documents, insurance, etc. It will take a week or 10 days’ time. You can board a plane to Innsbruck, after that.”
She stared directly into his eyes and gave him a long, blank look. No words. No change of expressions. No exchanges of any other kind. For quite a long moment. making him wonder what she was thinking. He waited for her to say something. But she had only a look. Just a long look. For him. And then, she asked –
“What if I don’t come?”