Naina woke up early in the morning with her mind racing with unwanted thoughts. The digital clock on her bedside table flashed five. She sighed, sat up in bed, and ran her fingers through her hair.
'I still have time,' she thought to herself. 'Maybe I can get some more sleep….'
She pondered and fidgeted as she reached out for her rubber band. She slowly tied her thin, soft salt and pepper hair in a tiny bun.
'Bullshit! There's no way I'm going to get more sleep. I have too much going on right now. My mind isn't going to let me sleep a wink.'
Naina slowly placed her swollen feet on the floor and slipped into her bedroom slippers. Feeling tired and frail, she dragged herself out of bed and made her way to the kitchen. She turned on the electric kettle, switched on the water pump, and headed to the bathroom.
Soon, Naina was sitting on the balcony on a cane chair with a hot cup of moringa tea, watching the grey sky change to pink. Slowly the sun played peekaboo, rising gracefully behind the clouds.
'Aahh!! There you are. Good morning sun!' She whispered to herself and sipped her tea. She picked up her phone, checked the time, placed it on the small center table, and took another sip of tea. She thought, 'It's still too early to call Samaira. She must be busy getting my grandkids ready for school. But I have to go for that stupid engagement function. Should I even go? Maybe I shouldn't. But it won't look nice if I don't. I will have to go alone. Sanjay extended his work trip for some odd reason. Even though I had repeatedly told him about this engagement function which we would have to attend together.'
After breakfast, Naina loitered around the house, contemplating her choices. She decided to get some clothes ready just in case she changed her mind. Naina ironed a beautiful light pink chiffon saree, a baby pink blouse, and a light pink petticoat. She dug out some matching jewelry for her attire and a fancy pair of rosy pink bellies from the shoe rack.
After a long hot shower, Naina stepped out of the bathroom wearing a white towel robe with her wet hair dripping over her shoulder. She checked her phone and read the text message from her husband, Sanjay, again.
'Bloody idiot!' she mumbled, chucking her phone on the bed. 'What is he thinking? Ditching me at the last minute. Coming up with some cock’n bull story. How is his head so high up in the clouds? And the worst part is he thinks I'm ignorant!'
About half an hour passed as Naina sat feeling numbness and anxiousness overpowering her mind and body. She snapped out of her stupor when the doorbell rang. It was Shanti, the house help. Shanti was a short, sweet woman in her late thirties whose life was dedicated to making ends meet.
'What happened? All okay?’ Shanti asked as she began to clear up the dining table. 'Saab didn't come? Weren't you supposed to go to some function today?'
Naina nodded slowly, fighting back her tears, and said, 'No…he said his work trip has been extended.'
'Oh!' Shanti said slowly, looking at Naina's miserable face. 'Well, why don't I make you a nice cup of tea? Maybe that will make you feel better..'
This wasn't the first time Shanti had seen Naina in such a plight. It had become a regular affair.
Shanti entered Naina's room with two cups of tea a few minutes later. She gently placed the tray on the side table and saw a pink chiffon saree neatly lying across the bed.
'Oh!! So, you are going to the big fancy engagement party!' 'You've picked out such a pretty saree.' Shanti exclaimed and handed a cup of tea to Naina.
Naina sighed. 'I don't know if I should go… Everyone will ask me so many questions about Sanjay. And knowing me, my face will show it all.' She inhaled the steam of the hot cup of masala tea Shanti had prepared. Her tea was much loved by many.
'What nonsense! You should go. Why are you holding yourself back? For what? And for who?' Shanti asked firmly.
Naina was silent as, deep down, she knew the harsh, bitter truth of her marriage, her life, and her being.
'Don't mind me, Memsaab, but we both know about the extended work trips and late nights. The secret phone calls and lovey-dovey messages. I have been working here for the past fifteen years I have seen how your relationship has changed over the years.’
Naina listened silently trying to keep her emotions in check.
‘These days, all of this is very common,’ Shanti continued. ‘Every second or third couple is going through it. I know how it is. Why do you think I didn't remarry after my husband passed away? He also had affairs with many women. He was much older than me. Now my children have grown up, they lead their own lives, and I live mine. My family was after me to remarry, but I just couldn't. I was so happy with myself. Being by myself. Not depending on anyone for anything. It would help if you did the same. Disconnect yourself from him. And get on with life. Every month he goes to meet her. Nothing has changed even after you repeatedly confronted him. Close this chapter and get on with your life.'
Naina quietly finished her cup of tea. She slowly got off the bed and watched Shanti leave the room to get on with her chores. She reread Sanjay's message and shut her eyes tightly, hoping it would all be a bad dream. Hoping that she would go back to the way life was before. Naina sat still, thinking about Sanjay.
'Memsaab. You've got a delivery from Amazon,' Shanti said, stepping inside her bedroom.
Naina nodded slowly.
'If you don't feel like going, don't. I'll cook you a nice meal, and I'm sure it will make you feel better.'
Naina took a deep breath as Shanti placed the parcel on the small table in her bedroom. She closed her eyes and began to count to ten, trying to calm herself and ease her mind. Finally, Naina slipped into her blouse, petticoat, and sandals. She then draped her chiffon saree and neatly made her pleats.
Naina sat before the dressing table and looked at her haggard self in the mirror. Her eye caught sight of the photograph she and Sanjay had clicked at their daughter's engagement.
'Look at me,' she thought to herself. 'The old Naina. So young and so alive. Not a single wrinkle on my face. Not a single worry. Hell! The people who didn't know me thought I was Samaira's older sister.'
Naina picked up the photo frame in her hand and looked closely at her husband, Sanjay, grinning ear to ear with a cocky smile. 'Who would have ever imagined we would end up like this? Who would have ever thought that our thirty years of togetherness would vanish into thin air? Who would ever think that someone like Sanjay would cheat on his wife with another woman and have the audacity to tell that very wife to get on with her life, to move on!?’
'Enough!' Naina exclaimed as she chucked the photo in the dustbin beside her dressing table.
'Enough crying! Enough sacrificing my happiness for his. Enough picking up after him. Enough doing his laundry and ensuring he always has a hot meal waiting for him when he returns home. Enough trying to fix everything when it isn't worth it anymore! Enough being the loving, dutiful wife.’'
'I'm not going to cry anymore.' Naina told herself firmly. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw the handsome woman she had once been. She saw her great bone structure. She saw her beautiful, shining brown eyes. And she said to herself, ‘I can work with this!’
'I've wasted enough time and energy trying to make our marriage work.'
'Enough of me feeling vulnerable and insecure. To hell with him!'
'This is my time now. My time to love me and feel loved again. It is my time for me to do whatever I want to do. It is my time to at least think about what I want. For me to hope. For me to even figure out what my dreams are. For me to at least live a peaceful life,' Naina said to herself.
'Shanti!' Naina called out as she stepped out of her bedroom half an hour later. 'I'm leaving. Come and lock the front door.'
'Wah, Memsaab!' Shanti grinned as she appeared from the kitchen. 'Yeh hui na baat!'