Her wings..

“You add constraints to everything… and I cannot do this anymore…”, he said.

“How is this a constraint? Anything I say is a constraint now… I think I should just stop talking…”, responded Neena.

“Yes, that’s better. You open your mouth either to say no or restrict something. I want to be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, not as per your will…”.

“You should have thought about that before you got married…”, said Neena sternly.

Shiv flung the TV remote across the room and stood up from the couch to leave the room.

Neena knew there was no point in explaining anything to him, still she tried. Maybe he would understand if she tried to use his words or phrase the sentence better, maybe lower her tone, she still wanted to give it a shot.

“I have tried enough and it won’t work Shiv, I don’t want to set myself up to be hurt again…”, Neena tried to explain. She was sitting at the dining table finishing dinner. Wasn’t it an hour ago that they laughed at an old movie dialogue? Where did that go? How did they even get to this conversation?

Shiv stomped out of the living room and turned to the bedroom when the kids came in with a cake in their hands, candles lit.. singing.. “happy anniversary to you.. happy anniversary to you.. happy anniversary mamma and papa.. happy anniversary to you..”.

Neena and Shiv looked at each other, a long look, of a thousand silent words…

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A cold December evening…

As she got out of the car, he handed her a jacket. It was a cold December evening. She hadn’t seen him in months. She knew he was happy to see her. She was never sure about him. He was a pro at shielding his inner thoughts. Had he wanted to see her before today, maybe, maybe not. Her face had always been a canvas to her thoughts. She tried hard to guard what she felt for him. She handed her purse and keys to him, while she wore the jacket. A few seconds outside had turned her cold, longing for warmth. In another world, he would have simply put his arms around her. A familiar look passed between them, like they were reading each other’s mind. 

They walked side by side to the restaurant across the street. He chose a table for two and held the chair for her. He was a perfect gentleman that way, she had noted in her previous rendezvous’s with him. He always opened the door for her, seated her first and made sure she was comfortable. She sat down, happy and bubbling on the inside, calm and poignant on the outside. She had wanted to spend time with him. The last time had been magical. They had talked into the wee hours of the night, until dawn, like there was no tomorrow. Sleep did not daunt them, neither did time. It just felt right, to be with him, talk to him, listen to him. Sitting under the stars and sharing incidents from their childhood, circling the commonalities and drawing out the differences while the world slept on. 

This evening was like every other evening she had spent with him. A little bit of teasing, pieces of advice, stories about his travel, that she loved to hear. She longed to go on one of those trips with him. She knew it would never happen. She told him about her work, her art, the classes she was talking and her upcoming lecture at the museum. He listened intently, and with keen interest, offering inputs. He didn’t judge her and always encouraged her to flap her wings a little harder so she could soar higher. He liked to listen to her stories and everything that went on in her life. He offered less insight into his, which didn’t bother her much. Spending time with him was enough. 

They spoke through appetizers, main course, dessert. In the blink of an eye an hour had passed. She had to leave. She had to tell him. That was why she had asked him for dinner. It had been a perfect evening. Should she ruin it, she thought. She knew he cared for her and didn’t want anything to change between them. She liked him, a relationship she couldn’t name. He existed as a part of her life, somewhere in a cozy corner, she could turn to. She had no idea what he thought of her. Maybe the same. In another time, in another world, she would have written the story a different way, she knew that. Time was running out. He knew she had to get home. He asked for the check. She was contemplating between telling him inside the restaurant or outside. It was too cold outside. He knew she wanted to say something. He just waited, that was his demeanor. He never made the first move. 

They paid and got up to leave. She didn’t say anything. He opened the door for her and walked her to the car. She took off the jacket and handed it back to him. As he smiled and said bye, she put her arms around him and hugged him. He asked if she was okay. She didn’t say anything. He wrapped her in his arms and held her there. After a brief moment, she stepped back, looked at him, turned around and left. 

She knew, she probably would never see him again, after that cold December evening.

At the coffeehouse…

“You really don’t share anything with me, do you?”, I asked.

After many years Akash and I went the coffeehouse we frequented before we got married. The cashier chuckled and winked as we walked hand in hand, eons ago. The place had changed significantly and so had the people…

Akash put down the cup on the table and stretched back in his chair. He folded his hands behind his head and looked out through the window. I sat looking at his face and thinking, this is the man I chose to marry twenty years ago. He looks the same, then what changed between us?

He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He fiddled with my bangles for a bit and looked into my eyes.

“Nandu, I am moving out. There is someone else…”, I sat in silence, my eyes were welling up, why do they do that? Why can’t they wait for the right moment, maybe when I am alone? I looked up, in an attempt to send the tears back to where they came from.

I withdrew my hand. Gathered my purse from the table, my phone and the keys. Why don’t I put everything in a bag instead of carrying fragments, why ain’t I whole? My sunglasses, where were they? Oh they were on my head, holding my hair in place. As I stood up, my saree got stuck under the chair. I chose to wear a saree he got me for my birthday, a beautiful pastel green and now it was stuck. Can I make a clean exit?

I finally walked out… of the coffeehouse…