The imperfectly perfect secretary
It was one of those long regular working days for Rajveer with the usual demands of dealing with clients, endless phone calls, and an inbox filled with emails that needed his immediate attention. After a long exhausting day, Rajveer left his office and mentally prepared himself for the long ride home. He knew his wife, Priya and their twins, Sanya and Sanjay, would be patiently waiting for him to come home.
Rajveer ran his own software company. He had a knack for dealing with clients and was doing very well for himself. Five years ago, Rajveer had set up a compact office where a handful of employees worked under him, but at times the pressure took a toll on him, making it difficult to handle so many things at a time.
‘Oh! You’re finally home,’ Priya said, sounding relieved as she let her better half through the door. ‘How was the traffic?’
‘The same Priya,’ Rajveer grumbled, kicking off his shoes, rolling his socks into a ball and tucking them inside his shoes. ‘The same treacherous traffic.’
‘Every day, you tuck your socks in your shoes!’
‘Rajveer grinned, ‘Who wants to go all the way to the laundry basket? And I’m not that type of a man who would hand his wife his dirty socks. You know me better than that, right?’
‘Of course! I’ve put up with your sock habits for the past eight years now,’ Priya rolled her eyes and grinned.
‘Are the children asleep?’ he asked.
‘Yes dear, they knocked off an hour ago,’ Priya said, sounding relieved, but at the same time, she felt sad that their father kept missing that special moment of hugs and good night kisses.
‘Again? But I thought I made in good time today,’ he said, glancing at the clock hanging on the wall in the drawing-room. ‘Oh! It is past their bedtime.’
‘Maybe tomorrow you might make it on time.’ Priya said, tilting her head. She squeezed Rajveer’s hand, trying her best to comfort him.
‘Did they go for karate class this evening?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I took them. The kids really enjoyed their class today and guess what...the coach said they are picking up pretty well,’ Priya said excitedly.
‘That’s great!’ Rajveer smiled. ‘They are growing up so fast. They going to be seven years old in a few months. I sometimes miss them so much when I’m at work.’
‘Why don’t you freshen up, and I’ll get dinner set on the table,’ she lovingly suggested.
After dinner, Priya got ready for bed and slipped under the covers next to Rajveer. She rested her head on his shoulder and said, ‘What if you get someone to help you at work?’
‘Like a secretary?’ she suggested. ‘Just think about it. A secretary can help with so many things. It would make your life so much easier.’
‘I agree, but...’ he said, sitting up in bed.
‘So we can start hunting,’ Priya said excitedly. ‘I think it’s about time, Rajveer. It’s been so many years that you have just been struggling with everything.’
‘Well, I can, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea...but then I’ll have to run behind someone all the time. And I’ll have to double-check everything to make sure it’s done right. I think I’d rather do it myself,’ Rajveer replied, getting out of bed feeling restless. ‘I mean, how do I find the ideal candidate?’
‘Well, I’m sure you can find someone who is efficient and works hard… someone who would be up to the mark,’ Priya said as she watched Rajveer pace the room.
‘Let me think about it,’ Rajveer said and headed towards the door.
‘Where are you going?’ Priya frowned.
‘I still have some emails I need to reply to. You should get some sleep. I’ll take a while,’ Rajveer said, gently closing the door on his way out.
The following weeks went by with the usual routines, Rajveer busy at work and Priya somehow juggling her job, the twins, and everything at home. Rajveer almost always arrives home after their kid’s bedtime. But one day, Rajveer seemed to be happier and more relaxed on his arrival home.
‘Priya! Guess what? I have hired a secretary,’ he smiled.
‘Really?’ Priya said excitedly. ‘This is amazing news!’
‘I know...right!’ he said, hugging Priya tightly. ‘Now, hopefully, I’ll get to spend some more time with you guys.’
‘The twins are going to be delighted to have you home on time, Rajveer,’ Priya grinned. ‘Especially Sanya, she’s such a daddy’s girl.’
‘So, how did you manage to find the perfect candidate? Priya asked curiously.
‘Oh well! It was hard at first. Remember how much I grumbled every day about how pathetic the interviews have been going.’
‘I know, every day you met some weird candidate,’ she rolled her eyes. ‘You’ve been going bonkers.’
‘But I finally found her through Sohail, the guy who used to work for me, remember?’
‘Oh, yeah! I remember Sohail. That’s great! I hope everything works out,’ Priya said, crossing her fingers.
‘And you know what impressed me?’ He added.
‘What?’ Priya replied.
‘Her command of the English Language,’ he said, unbuttoning his shirt and slipping into a t-shirt.
‘Wow! I’m so relieved. I’m so, so looking forward to having you around more often,’ Priya said, wrapping her arms around Rajveer, and holding his close.
As time went by, Aparna, the new secretary, got the hang of things at the office. She took an instant liking towards her new boss, Rajveer, who fastidiously delegated her job responsibilities. Aparna was bright and more proactive than the rest of the team. She had a pretty face and a radiant smile that lit up any room.
Since things were going as planned, Rajveer started to come home earlier. He was available to take his kids to karate class in the evening and managed to spend quality time with his twins, who doted on their father. Priya’s life became a lot more easier.
Rajveer’s professional life finally started to take some shape after so many years of hardship. Aparna got the ball rolling and cracked many deals. She turned out to be more than a secretary. It was not long before Rajveer depended on her for many things. They also became good friends who got along simply fine. Soon Rajveer became aware that Aparna’s marriage was falling apart.
One morning, Aparna came to work feeling disheartened. She looked dull and lifeless. These gloomy days went on for more than two weeks. Her productivity went down, and many meetings were either postponed or didn’t work out. Seeing Aparna in this state, Rajveer told her to take a week off work to sort things out as she and her husband were going through a rough patch. Soon enough, Rajveer was back to long hours in the office and less time spent at home. Aparna managed to twist his arm and take more time off work.
One evening, Priya called Rajveer to ask about his timelines.
Rajveer cut the call and sent Priya a text message, ‘I’m in a meeting. Will be home at the same time.’
Hours flew by but there was no sign of Rajveer. Priya began to worry as it was already past midnight and she had called Rajveer several times. But there was no answer. Finally, she heard her phone ring. It was Rajveer.
‘I’m on my way home, Sweetheart...Sorry, I’m running really late today,’ he said.
‘Are you ok? You really had me worried. I called you so many times.’
‘When you texted I was just getting out of the car and heading inside for a meeting. But I accidentally left my phone in the car. I have so many missed calls I need to respond to,’ he said.
‘So, where are you now?’ Priya asked.
‘I’m about forty-five minutes away. I have so much to tell you, Priya... Don’t fall asleep.’
The following morning, Priya woke up earlier than usual, and she stayed tucked in bed, disturbing thoughts running through her mind. ‘Why didn’t Rajveer tell me over the phone he was with Aparna last night? Why did he cut my call and say he was in a meeting? Why did he have to play cupid and try to sort out a bickering couple? Maybe they have just become good friends? Or is it more? Or am I overreacting? Or Overthinking? I’m sure he would never cheat on me, and I’m sure he wouldn’t do this to his children.’
Priya’s thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell. ‘It must be the milkman,’ she thought to herself and dragged herself out of bed.
‘Priya...Make me a cup of tea,’ Rajveer muttered with his eyes half-closed. Rajveer never stepped foot out of bed without his morning cuppa.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were with Aparna when I called you last night? Why did you message me saying you were in a meeting?’ Priya asked as she poured Rajveer a cup of tea.
‘Because I was in a meeting, Priya. I went to Intercontinental Hotel for a meeting, and on my way out, I bumped into Aparna and her husband, Shekar. He seems like a nice chap, but they really have too many issues to sort out.’
‘Why do you have to sort out their issues?’ Priya frowned. ‘And what were they doing at the same hotel?’
‘I was just trying to help. Sometimes people get really stuck in sticky situations. I just thought I would try to clear up the mess,’ Rajveer explained. ‘And Priya, we can bump into people anywhere, right?’
Priya was quiet. She felt something was fishy, but she was hesitant to speak her mind.
As Rajveer sipped his cup of tea, Priya fidgeted with the packet of rusks. Feeling restless, she got up and started clearing up the room. Priya just couldn’t take the suspense any longer and said softly, ‘I think you should maintain your distance from their relationship. It’s none of your business. Let it just be between the two of them. I don’t want you to waste your time and energy on this sad broken love story. I know it is hard for her and him too but please just leave it.’
Rajveer nodded, sipping his cup of tea. ‘Don’t worry, Priya. You know how I am. Don’t overthink so much. Aparna and I are just friends.’
‘I know, that’s why I’m telling you,’ she said. ‘But she is also your employee. I’m going to prepare some breakfast. Maybe you should get ready for work. You have a long drive ahead of you.’
‘Uff! Don’t make me think about the traffic first thing in the morning.’
As time went by, Rajveer started to take extra care of Aparna at the office. They would go for meetings together and grab a bite to eat on the way back. They had a mandatory coffee together, along with a lot of chit-chatting about various details of their personal lives. Aparna started to spend a lot of her time in his office. Slowly the cheer and laughter brought life back on Aparna’s face. Rajveer thought things were improving between Aparna and Shekar. Rajveer never intervened as he listened to his wife’s words of advice. The more time Aparna and Rajveer spent together, the stronger their relationship became.
One morning, Aparna walked into work with puffy eyes. She was on the verge of tears but controlled her emotions. Rushing into Rajveer’s office she closed the door behind her and started to sob.
‘Shekar and I got into another fight,’ she wailed. ‘You wouldn’t believe how low he has stooped this time.’
‘What’s the matter?’ Rajveer asked, jumping up from his chair. He wrapped his arms around Aparna, trying to comfort her and stop her tears. ‘Tell me, what’s wrong?’
‘Shekar is a possessive, jealous pot!’ she sniffed.
‘Calm down. Why don’t you sit down and tell me everything,’ Rajveer suggested.
‘Shekar thinks something is going on between you and me,’ Aparna rolled her eyes. ‘I mean, come on, we are all adults here. And can’t a man and a woman be good friends?’
‘He thinks there is something between you and me?’ Rajveer laughed. ‘Tell Shekar I’m a happily married man. I have two beautiful children. And a wife who I love very much.’
‘I know. I told him, but Shekar just needs a reason to fight and create a scene,’ Aparna grumbled. ‘It’s always been like this. It was the same case with my previous job and the one before.’
‘It’s ok. Maybe you need to understand why he is like that. What triggers it. Maybe you should sit down and have a chat about it to understand him better. Shekar seems to be a good guy. Give him some time. Give him a chance,’ Rajveer explained.
‘Yeah, I guess you are right,’ she sighed.
Later that night, Aparna decided to give her relationship a chance and sat down with her better half after dinner to have the conversation Rajveer had told her to have. Unfortunately, the discussion didn’t go too well.
‘I don’t want you to work so closely with Rajveer. There is something about him that I don’t like,’ Shekar said.
‘But there is nothing going on between us,’ Aparna explained. ‘Please calm down. You’re getting upset over nothing.’
‘I don’t know Aparna. I don’t know what you want? I don’t know what you expect from me. I don’t know why we keep fighting,’ Shekar said.
Aparna listened patiently, trying to get her anger under control.
‘I’m done Aparna. I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore. Our relationship is effecting my life, my work. I don’t even remember the last time I had a good nights sleep.’
‘What do you want to do?’ she asked softly.
‘I was us to be over. I’m done Aparna. I can’t do this anymore,’ Shekar said calmly.
‘Shekar...wait, where are you going?’ Aparna asked.
‘It’s either me or your job Aparna. The choice is yours,’ Shekar said softly and walked out the door.
The following morning, Aparna poured her heart out in Rajveer’s office.
‘Give it some time. If you feel this is the only way to make your marriage work, then I do suggest you put down your papers,’ Rajveer suggested.
Every day, Rajveer would talk about his day. Priya would listen attentively. But there was something that made her feel extremely uncomfortable every time he brought up Aparna’s name. When she heard about Shekar’s take about Aparna’s job the warning bells started to ring in her head.
Priya gazed into her husband’s eyes, looking for answers, clues, hints, anything. Her mind was racing, and without having any second thoughts, she confronted him. ‘Is there something I don’t know about? Think about it Rajveer. Why would Shekar have a problem with Aparna working for you? Do other women not work with men? I’m sure there is more to the story.’
Rajveer sighed and held Priya close. He kissed her on the forehead and looked directly into her dark brown eyes. ‘I swear there is NOTHING going on between Aparna and me. We are just friends. Please understand. I love you and our children. I would never do anything to hurt you. Don’t you trust me.’
Priya nodded slowly, ‘I do trust you Rajveer.’
Many things changed over the next few months. Aparna had separated from her husband and moved to a small apartment. She wasn’t ready to accept the role of just the dutiful little obedient wifey. She felt her husband was never happy with the idea of her working at all. She put her foot down and refused to put her career on hold for her marriage. Rajveer and Aparna continued to work together. The business had shifted to a bigger office. Work was picking up.
Priya’s hands were full with looking after the twins, the house, her job. Now and then her mind filled with questions and insecurities.
It so happened that on Rajveer’s birthday, Priya and the kids decided to go out for dinner to celebrate. After arriving at the venue, Aparna showed up wearing a backless red dress flaunting her beautiful smile. She gaily introduced herself, charmed the children and ensured she manipulated in a seat beside Rajveer. The dinner and drinking went on till late The children were exhausted. On their way out, Rajveer offered to drop Aparna home. Luckily, she declined and took a cab instead.
‘How could you offer her a ride home?’ Priya questioned on the ride back.
‘Why not? It’s almost midnight,’ he explained. ‘She’s a woman…She shouldn’t go home so late by herself should she?’
‘Who the hell told her to stay for so long when she knows she has a long ride home?’ Priya replied. ‘And the kids are so tired. They needed to get to bed.’
Rajveer was silent. It was the first time Priya had taken a stand about Aparna. ‘Look, I know she’s your friend, ok? I have guy friends too. But you need to know when to draw the line.’
‘I didn’t think of it like that,’ Rajveer admitted. ‘I’m sorry Priya.’
‘I do have concerns about Aparna,’ Priya said.
More months flew by. Life improved for Rajveer. Work picked up. Sales increased. There were satisfied clients. Rajveer felt Aparna was an asset to the company as she performed very well. Priya got a promotion at work and was feeling more confident about herself too. The twins were incredibly happy to spend quality time with their father.
It was an average day at the office. Rajveer was glued to his laptop. Aparna let herself through the door, flaunting her radiant smile and taking a seat opposite Rajveer.
‘So, the deal went through. The client just called. They are ready to sign the contract.’
‘Really?’ Rajveer said.
‘Yes. I just got off the phone,’ she smiled.
‘I can’t believe it Aparna. I’ve been after these guys for over a year now to sign with us. Rajveer said. ‘This calls for a celebration.’
‘Absolutely! Why don’t you come to my house after work. We can open a bottle of wine and celebrate.’
Rajveer was quiet.
‘And maybe we could nookie after getting drunk. Now that Shekar is out of the picture. I have to admit Rajveer I’m so attracted to you.’
‘WHAT? Rajveer gasped. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ You know I’m married. And I’m your BOSS for god’s sake.’
Apana felt her ears go red. She didn’t know where to hide her face. ‘I just thought…’
‘Don’t speak another word and I need you to leave my office right now.’
The following day Aparna submitted her resignation.
Priya was thrilled when she learned that Aparna the devil was gone. She felt as though a heavyweight had been lifted from her shoulders.
‘Next time I am going to hire a male secretary,’ Rajveer said.
‘No darling, you don’t need to,’ she chuckled. ‘You just need to find a more perfect secretary.’