Life's Labyrinth - Part Two
Link for Part one - Life's Labyrinth (livealittlelovealot.com)
It was a pleasant summer's evening in Columbia, South Carolina. Vivek found a nice place to sit in the bar on the rooftop. He was tired and desperately wanted to have a chilled pint of beer. It had been a long week since he had left his home in Boston and been away from his wife, Monika. He had enjoyed the alone time, been content yet knackered with his week at work, but he also kind of missed home.
Just then, his phone rang. It was Monika.
'What time do you fly in tomorrow?' Monika asked cautiously.
'I can't hear you,' Vivek shouted, pressing the phone hard to his ear, trying to hear what she was saying. 'I think there is a problem with the connection….Hello…Hello…'
'Wait… I'll text you,' she replied and disconnected the call.
'ETA?... Are you done with work?' Monika texted.
'Flight arrives tomorrow at 17:30. YES! I'm done with work. Currently, I'm at Mirador Gastro Bar meeting some friends. I'll talk later,' Vivek texted.
A few minutes later, Andrew, Vivek's colleague, joined him at the rooftop bar. Andrew called for a beer as they started talking about their work and a whole lot more.
'There are several hot women here,' Andrew grinned a naughty grin.
'Oh, yes! I have eyes on the one on the other side of the bar wearing the black dress,' Vivek replied. 'She's so tall and sexy.'
'Yeah… I got my eyes set on her friend dressed in red,' Andrew replied.
Vivek and Andrew continued drinking and ogling women in the bar.
'Why don't you go over and talk to her,' Andrew suggested. 'Come on! Let's make the most of our last night. Tomorrow we are back to the same boring routine. You'll be there in Boston, and I'll be in New York. Living our same boring lives.'
'You know what… you're right. But I have a better idea,' Vivek smiled wryly and asked the waiter to get two glasses of wine sent over to the women they had been ogling.
The two ladies looked at each other, and put their heads together giggling. They glanced over at Vivek's table and held their glasses up in the air, and clinked it from where they were seated. Vivek pulled out a tall chair next to himself, tapping it, inviting them over.
The two ladies spoke amongst themselves and glided across the bar to where Vivek and Andrew sat. 'I'm Anna,' said the woman in black. And I'm Madison,' they said.
The men introduced themselves and helped the ladies take a seat.
After several rounds of beer, cocktails, and glasses of wine, the quartet decided to call it a night. Vivek paid a hefty bill and staggered out of the bar. Andrew decided to head back to his hotel as he had an early morning flight. Madison, too, left for home, leaving Anna and Vivek standing alone on the pavement.
'Aren't you going to invite me to your hotel?' Anna asked coquettishly, taking a step closer to Vivek as they stood outside the bar waiting for an uber.
Vivek's chest fluffed up like a peacock and he gave Anna a peck on the lips. 'I was a bit hesitant to ask, thinking you would turn me down. But yes. Let's go!'
Soon, Vivek held the door for Anna as they entered the reception area of the hotel and walked towards the elevators. In the elevator, Anna couldn’t keep her hands off Vivek.
In the room, she said, 'I think I could use another drink,' as she kicked off her heels and took a seat on the chair by the window.
'Oh, sure,' Vivek smiled. 'But I can only offer you whiskey. Would that do, or do you want to order from the hotel bar?'
'Of course. Whiskey sounds perfect. I'll get the glasses from the drawer,' Anna said seductively.
Vivek unlocked his suitcase and dug out a bottle of whiskey. Anna walked up to him with two empty glasses in her hands.
'You know, I don't usually hang out with strangers,' she said slowly. 'But there's something so magnetic about you that pulls me closer.'
Vivek smiled and admired Anna's beautiful face as he poured the whiskey into the glasses. They clinked their glasses and took a sip of their drinks. Vivek moved closer to Anna, expecting more kissing. She caressed his face and nuzzled into his neck, 'Hold that thought. I'll just be right back from the washroom.'
Soon, the twosome were enjoying a few more drinks down. Vivek was having the time of his life flirting with this attractive, exciting, phenomenal woman.
Suddenly, Anna received an emergency call from her home and had to leave immediately. She took Vivek's phone number, 'I'll call you, Sweetheart. You better make another trip to Columbia real soon.’
Vivek felt he had been left high and dry and slumped onto the bed and fell suddenly into a deep sleep.
The following day, Vivek got up late. He had a severe headache and was feeling weak and tired. 'Too much alcohol,' he grumbled to himself. He looked at the time; it was past noon, and he realized he was getting late and had to reach the airport as soon as possible.
Quickly, Vivek got dressed, zipped up his suitcase, and rushed downstairs. He cleared the hotel bill and asked for a taxi to the airport. He had just about made it on time and headed to the queue to check in his luggage and go through the mandatory security procedures.
As Vivek stood in line to get a luggage tag, a police officer happened to be on a round along with a big German Shepherd sniffer dog. The dog sniffed Vivek's suitcase and raised the alarm. The suspicious police officer checked Vivek's identity card and flight ticket.
Vivek was then asked to step out of the line and move to an interrogation room. The officer started asking questions and checked Vivek's suitcase. He found two ounces of cocaine tucked in below his clothes. Confused and frightened Vivek followed along.
'Sir, are you sure nobody had access to your luggage besides you. Did you pack this bag yourself?' the police officer asked.
'Yes, of course. I packed my bag myself,' Vivek said confidently.
'Sir, we have found two ounces of cocaine tucked neatly under your clothes,' the police officer stated.
'WHAT? That's impossible! That can’t be mine. I’ve never even seen it before. And I’ve certainly never done cocaine or sold it,' Vivek started to raise his voice in agitation. 'I….I have no idea where it came from. I need to speak to my lawyer.'
The officer began to read him his rights.
'This is absurd! You need to believe me! That cocaine is not mine! I am being framed!' Vivek went on. ‘I think this is all just a set-up!’
'Sir! You are under arrest,' the police officer said as he cuffed Vivek's hands behind his back.
Several hours later, Monika received a phone call from Vivek, explaining his situation. 'Monika, listen to me carefully. You need to get in touch with Jack, my attorney. He is the only one who can help me out of this mess. I've been framed. Call him now.'
Monika breathed a long sigh of relief. 'It's not over yet, but it's a start,' she thought.
Monika got in touch with Jack within the next hour and informed him about Vivek's arrest.
'How much cocaine was found in his bag,' Jack asked.
'I think he said it was two ounces of cocaine?' Monika shrugged her shoulders.
'This is crazy,' Jack replied. 'Well, the first step is to get him transferred to the prison here in Boston. I can't do much if he is all the way down in Columbia. Let me see what else I can do,' Jack said and put down the phone.
A week later, Monika met with Amit at a coffee shop.
'Everything is going as per plan,' Monika said.
'Anna did an amazing job,' Amit beamed. 'I had my doubts, but she played him so well.'
'What's her real name? I'm sure she didn't share her real identity.' Monika said.
'Of course not,' Amit said.
'How did you find her?' Monika asked.
'My darling, Vivek is not the only well-connected person that you know,' Amit boasted.
Monika laughed. 'Now, what's the plan?'
'Now we wait… wait for the hearing. That could take weeks or several months. But the only problem is Jack. He is a damn good lawyer, and I know Vivek will be ready to pay a hefty amount to get his freedom back.'
'I don't think we should be meeting each other anymore,' Monika said. 'What if someone suspects something?'
'We are old college friends and competitors. Everyone knows that,' Amit replied.
'But…' Monika murmured.
'But what? Stop worrying. Everything will be fine,' Amit said reassuringly. 'As per the world, you are supposed to be a scared, worried, vulnerable woman searching for help to free her darling husband from prison. So, just stick to the role.'
Monika nodded with considerable concern on her face.
'It will be over soon. Just give it some time,' Amit said.
Just then, she received a phone call from Jack who wanted to meet with Monika. They agreed on an appointment time for later that day.
Later that evening, she met with Jack. He had many unanswered questions regarding Vivke’s case and he knew the first place he needed to go for answers was the person closest to Vivek - the wife.
'Do you know anyone who might be jealous of your husband? Or anyone who might want to take revenge on him?' Jack asked.
Monika nodded her head tentatively. 'I know most of Vivek's friends and colleagues. They all seem to be such wonderful people. But I can't say if anything has happened in the past. Vivek is a very secretive person. He hardly talks about work or anything else for that matter. But he has this thing of going out every Friday night to meet his friends, which is how I know most of his friends.'
'What about his relationship with his parents?' Jack asked.
'Well, ever since we have gotten married, they have only come and stayed a few times. Maybe just for a day or two. His parents live in Vancouver,' Monika replied.
'And how often do you speak with his parents?' Jack continued.
'Not too often. We share a very cordial relationship but not close,' Monika said.
'And what about your parents? How is Vivek's relationship with them?'
'Well, my parents live in India. I keep in touch with my mother. We talk over the phone every second day. They are well settled and haven't come to visit ever since I got married. But I did make a trip back home a year ago.'
'How is Vivek's relationship with your parents?'
'The same as I have with his parents,' Monika replied.
'Where was Vivek during his last night in Colombia?' Jack asked.
'He said he was at some bar with his colleagues. I tried to speak with him, but there was a poor connection. I wanted to know what time his flight was arriving so I could be at home to welcome him or maybe pick him up at the airport on my way home. But then I guess things got out of hand at the airport …’
'Who was he with?' Jack asked.
'I don't know. Vivek told me he was with some of his friends… from work? I guess. I don't know any of their names,' Monika replied.
'There was a girl who Vivek was with on that night. Do you know who she was?' Jack asked.
'Oh! I would have no idea…I don't know which girl you are talking about? Vivek has many friends; maybe she was his colleague or something?' Monika replied.
'Monika, we have checked the CCTV footage. This so-called girl went back to Vivek's hotel room. She was with him in the room for about a good two to three hours. Then she left around three in the morning,' Jack explained.
'Are you trying to say my husband is having an affair or ...he had a one-night stand?' Monika asked, sounding distraught.
'No… Umm… We aren't sure yet. But we have been on the lookout for this girl. Her face doesn't clearly show in the camera, so we aren't able to find any details about her,' Jack added.
'This is shocking… I'm shocked!' Monika said. 'I had no idea my husband would take a woman home with him.'
'I'm so sorry, Monika, and I can imagine how difficult all this must be for you. But we need you to cooperate with us, so I can find some concrete evidence to prove that Vivek is not guilty,' Jack said.
'So you're telling me that my husband enjoys anonymous sex, and you expect me to be calm and cooperate?' Monika waved her hands in the air.
'I'm just requesting that you cooperate with me,' Jack said softly. 'Do you know which bar Vivek was at that night?'
'No...I don't remember, but I can check my messages..hang on,' Monika said, picking up her phone off the small center table. 'Here, you can see for yourself - Mirador Gastro Bar. This is the last time we spoke. After that, I got a call from Vivek when he was in prison.'
Jack nodded as he listened carefully, trying to put the missing pieces together. 'I'll keep in touch with you. Also, you need to let me know if you have any travel plans.'
'Sure,' Monika replied. 'Also, how is the prison transfer going? When will Vivek be transferred to the prison in Boston?'
'Probably by next week,' Jack replied. 'Hang in there, Monika. Everything will be fine. I will try my best to make sure Vivek is home soon.'
Early the following morning, Amit and Monika met at the park.
'They are trying to find out who this Anna is. They even checked the CCTV footage at the hotel,' Monika said concerned. 'What if everything goes wrong? I'm petrified, Amit!’
'Jack is just trying to do his job. Even if they find out Anna's identity, it will be a dead end because they will not find her fingerprints on the packet of cocaine. Anna played well. Not to mention, she has already left the country.'
Monika listened attentively.
'I think you should file for divorce. Now is the right time. Let's say two weeks down the line, Vivek is back in Boston. Now is your chance to end it and start fresh.'
'I don't think that's a good idea. Maybe Jack will put two and two together and figure out that it was all a plot. What if I show the recordings to the police, and it all backfires?' Monika said, sounding scared and worried.
'Then, let's wait for more time to pass,' Amit suggested.
Two weeks later, Vivek was transferred to the prison in Boston. He was relieved to be closer to home but was dealing with prison life, angry at the unfairness of his imprisonment and desperate for his return to his life of privilege.
Jack offered to accompany Monika when she met with her husband in prison. Although Monika wasn't too keen to even see his face, she knew she needed to portray herself as a caring wife.
Monika sat opposite Vivek in a small dingy room with low lighting as Jack paced back and forth restlessly. There was silence amongst the three. Vivek looked worn out. He had dark circles under his eyes, an uneven stubble, and scruffy, untidy hair. Monika had never seen her husband in such a sad state.
'I WANT A DIVORCE! I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN! I don't want to live with you anymore. It's been so peaceful ever since you went to Columbia. And now you're rotting in prison. You deserve it, you bastard. I hope you rot here for the rest of your life. You've made my life a living hell ever since we married….'
'MONIKA…MONIKA! Where are you?' Vivek shouted. 'I'm pouring my heart out here, and you're not even responding.'
Monika's imagination had been lost in her own thoughts. 'Oh!…Umm! I'm sorry. Too much has been happening lately,' Monika murmured as she felt her mouth go dry. Monika rose from her seat and said, 'Vivek, I'm not feeling too well. I think I'll come back another time.'
Jack looked at her with a puzzled expression and followed her out of the door.
'Is everything alright?' Jack asked, trying to catch up.
'This is just too much for me to handle right now. I just can't,' Monika began to sob. 'I just wanted to have a normal life, Jack. That's all. I'm so tired and fed up with everything.'
'The hearing is going to start soon. I know how hard it is for you. But you can imagine how difficult this must be for your husband,' Jack said. 'Imagine what all he has been through. His time in prison has changed him so much. He's not the same happy guy he used to be. I know he is innocent, and deep down, I know you believe that too…right?'
Monika nodded slowly, looking down, feeling a lump in her throat.
'All we need is time, right now, Jack. That's all,' she said softly and walked away.
On Friday evening, Monika arrived home from work, tired and exhausted. 'It's been such a long week,' she thought to herself as she undressed and changed into a comfy pair of pajamas. As she tied her long hair in a messy bun, she looked at the clothes hanging in her wardrobe. Her Indian suits were hanging in the corner of her cupboard, collecting dust. She ran her fingers through them, touching the soft fabrics, the beautiful vibrant colors, the memories of lovingly picking out each piece from the shop. Each dupatta was paired with each suit neatly hung on hangers. 'What a waste,' she thought to herself.
'Stop wearing Indian attire. You're married to an NRI.. don't behave like a typical Indian woman who cries all the time.' Vivek's harsh words ran through her head. 'How dare you disrespect me. I am your husband…I don't want you to be so friendly with other men. I don't want my wife giving out the wrong messages… Don't portray yourself to be characterless. You are a married woman now. Married to me. And you will do as I say… Never yell back at me again. If you can't obey me, then go back to your parents. I don't want you here living with me anymore.'
'I can't do this anymore,' Monika howled. 'I don't want to go on with this miserable life. Soon Vivek will be proven not guilty, and then what? Then I would be back to square one with his beatings and insults? No! I can’t let this happen to me again.'
She let out a long sigh and got off the bed. She wiped her tears, looking at her clothes in her cupboard. 'Should I just pack my bags and leave?'
Just then, the doorbell rang. 'Who could that be?' Monika wondered, quickly fixing herself in front of the mirror. 'It can't be Amit. He's never come home. Has something happened? Is it the police? Did Jack find out the truth? Am I going to get arrested for being a part of this game plan?'
Monika walked over to the front door and looked through the peephole.
She let out a sigh of relief and unlocked the door.
'Hi!' Monika said as she opened the front door. 'What a pleasant surprise….'
'Hi, sorry we've dropped by uninvited. We just wanted to see how you were coping with everything….' Robert said.
'Come in, come in,' Monika said
'I told Robert about the bad news,' Rachel said. 'And we've been wanting to come and see you but..umm… I wasn't too sure if that was appropriate.'
Monika turned on the drawing-room lights, 'No, no. It's not inappropriate at all. I'm kind of relieved to see you two. We did make a really good connection at Jessica's house that night. I'm still so grateful you dropped us home. Would you guys want to drink?'
'Oh, please! There is no formality with us,' Rachel said. 'We are here to listen to you, and we are here for you. We suspect you are alone in this big city away from your family, dealing with so much and we just wanted to let you know that we are here for you.'
'Oh.. that's so very thoughtful of you,' Monika teared up.
'Come, sit and let's talk,' Robert suggested.
Monika nodded and took a seat on the sofa opposite Rachel and Robert. She finally opened up about her marriage with Vivek and how hard life had been. She also admitted what a two-faced man her husband had proven to be and how ruthlessly he had been treating her.
Shocked, Rachel and Robert offered their support. 'I think you should speak to a good divorce lawyer,' Robert suggested. 'I know one who is the best in town, and maybe now is the right time to file for divorce.'
Monika sighed hopelessly. 'I have told Vivek over and over that I want a divorce. It never ended well.'
'But till when are you going to go on like this?' Rachel asked. 'Marriage is a two-way street. And the way Vivek has been treating you is totally unacceptable.'
Just think about it,' Robert said, getting up from his seat. 'We are here for you if you ever need anything.'
'And believe us. Vivek will never hear about this conversation,' Rachel said.
As the weeks passed, the hearing for Vivek's case had already begun. Close friends, family members, and work colleagues were all called to take the stand to prove that Vivek was not the type of person who would smuggle cocaine.
'The case is going well,' Jack said to Monika over the phone. 'I think in a few more weeks Vivek will be a free man.'
Monika listened carefully, feeling it was time to make her next move. She reached out to Emily, the lawyer Robert recommended. Emily was a serious woman in her mid-forties, strong-headed, efficient, and a go-getter. She was known for consistently winning cases and had agreed to take on Monika as a client. Emily prepared the divorce papers and delivered them to Monika to be signed by Vivek.
Rachel was called to testify during Vivek’s hearing as she and Vivek had worked closely together for several projects. Rachel couldn't help herself and spoke honestly about who she believed the real Vivek to be. She told them what she knew of his relationship with his wife. She also said, 'I have no idea if Vivek would smuggle cocaine. I have found him to be a two-faced man who portrays himself to the world that he is the perfect husband, the perfect friend, and the perfect colleague. But the truth is that he is untrustworthy and unkind. Sometimes cruel. He is messed up in the head, and he needs help. I have no comment about him smuggling cocaine, but I feel that he needs to get his life in order.'
Rachel's side of the story turned the tables. After this, the judge’s opinion was somewhat altered regarding Vivek. Monika visited Vivek in prison with her lawyer Emily shortly after this turn of events. She had him sign the divorce papers. Jack was taken aback by Monika's invisible side of the story. He then wondered if Monika might have been a part of the whole cocaine plot this entire time. By then, it was too late to prove anything.
The following day, Monika was told to take the stand. Her throat constricted and her stomach was in knots. Once Monika was on the stand she froze. She stood in frightened silence before taking the oath. Her mind raced through her horrid moments of bashing and beatings. She had nothing good to say about Vivek but instead gathered the courage and presented her recordings of Vivek's beatings and foul language. She also displayed the signed divorce papers and said, 'Your honor, the final verdict will be yours. But I just wanted to say that I am done with living a life in fear. I don't deserve to be ill-treated in this manner. I don't know if Vivek wanted to smuggle cocaine or what his intentions were. I'm so frightened to even be in the same room with him ... to even have him near... or to even be by his side.'
The judge ruled that the evidence so far was insubstantial. ‘We shall pick up the case next Friday,’ announced the judge.
Monika’s heart stopped beating as she stepped out of the courtroom. The shame, pain, fear, confusion, and all those negative feelings were overwhelming. She felt such a sense of freedom and release. She was finally set free from the cage of her dark and violent marriage. She was finally done with the harsh beatings and abuse. It was time to move on. It was time to start afresh. It was time to feel true love without feeling frightened and insecure.
Monika arrived home and found a white envelope sitting on her doormat outside the front door. She hesitantly opened it and found a plane ticket and a note, 'Are you ready to start a new life with me? Pack your bags, My darling. I'll meet you in Miami. Love, yours always, Amit.'