As I waited for her outside in the small, cramped lobby filled with the utility items my mom gave me for my wedding I felt resigned. I wondered what my life had come to and if I could ever be okay with this lot life had dealt me. I was young, wasn’t I? My life was not supposed to be like this, no one’s life is! As if to find a testament to my situation I glanced through the doorway and let my eyes run over the small, stuffed but prim and proper room adjacent to the small bathroom outside which I waited. It got over even before it began and I saw the old man in the corner trying to tie his lungi, I immediately averted my eyes. That’s not something I wanted to see, but then again there were so many things that were not supposed to happen. I had seen and heard too many bizarre things in the last two years, but now all this seemed too difficult to handle as if I had reached some breaking point.
I thought about the poem I came up with last night. That was dark, the poem I mean.
Legs flapping wildly,
hands a flurry of movements,
eye trying to glimpse the sun.
The only savior,
the water keeps pulling into the depths,
deeper and deeper.
Now the breathing stops.
Limbs, limp flail around.
Silence of death engulfs the dark waters.
Suddenly a ray of light hits,
the eyes now closed,
reviving the will to survive.
A fresh struggle ensues,
between ‘Will’ and the tired body,
as the head resurfaces
soaked with golden light.
Just keep the head afloat says a voice,
Just keep the head afloat
Well, giving in seemed easier sometimes. I heard the aldrop creaking and out came my only joy, my five-year-old daughter smiling, so pure and innocent. I wonder how she would do without a mother… I suddenly came back to my senses and stopped that train of thought! Of course, she needed me, and I needed to stop fantasizing about ending this miserable existence but that was difficult to do with everything that had been happening of late.
I just could hope and work towards making sure that she would never face something like this, I thought as I dried her hair with a towel and helped her put on her uniform. Then we rushed down to the square so that she could catch her school bus on time.
Things were so amazing six years back, I had just got married and was promised a cosmopolitan urban life in Pune, but the pandemic changed everything, my husband – I wonder if I can even call him that now- lost his job and we had to shift back into his childhood home in these dirty Mumbai suburbs, where even if you tried to gaze at the sky out of the small, louvered window, your gaze would be broken by clothes drying on the lines and you would end up looking into another house where the situation mirrored yours closely. I sighed. I plated the fried egg I was making and started on the chapati when I felt the old man’s eyes burning a hole in my back, I readjusted my dupatta and continued cooking, disgusted and repulsed, thinking of the times when my husband did that and how it would spice up our lives but now there was no spark left, we were like an old married couple.
I made a beeline for the bathroom and washed up and got ready for the office. I tried to dwell on something happier as I boarded the bus and almost succeeded, then I entered the office with its numerous cubicles, and I felt my heart sink again. I saw Anita and waved back to her, trying hard not to give in to the envy I felt- well I had just been to her house last weekend. She lived with her in-laws as well, but they had a 2 BHK, and her father-in-law seemed so nice and cultured, fun to be around, and definitely not sleazy. Her husband and she were still in so much love despite being married for nine years, and I could not help but be a little jealous. I had not had a moment alone with my husband for the last two years except when the old man went to meet his friends and then I would send my daughter off to play with her friends so that we could have some quality time. But it was not the same as earlier. Maybe it never would be.
I wonder when I became so claustrophobic, I pushed the bile down and tried to start work which was not very creative either, I felt so tied down in every aspect. I was tired and ready to give up, so resigned. Then I remembered, it was Saturday, a half day! I smiled. This was my best-kept secret, but I will tell you. Every alternate Saturday I would have to work for just half a day, but no one at my place was privy to this information. As the clock struck 3 pm I went to the spacious washroom – well, relatively spacious- and put on some makeup, pulled my hair into a stylish updo, and walked down to this coffee shop on the adjacent street. Beautiful, luxurious, and air-conditioned, this space was my oasis. By now everyone here was familiar with my routine, and I smiled as the barista asked me how I had been. I felt like royalty here and oh so free. I sat down in a corner with the latest romance novel by my favorite author and got easily caught up in the whirlwind romance between the characters as I sipped on the cold coffee I had ordered. That filled my weekly quota of romance.
Soon, it was time to leave but I felt better now, recharged, and rejuvenated, ready to face another two weeks of my life within the boxes. One day I would be free. One day I would figure things out. But today I had to be nonchalant, I needed to be indifferent, and I would be until I could.