What the hell is going on between my husband and that horrid woman?' Maya's patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. 'Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I'd say.'
'Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .' she rolled her eyes in disgust. 'That's what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.
Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.' She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, 'Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?'
‘I know men. They boast of their conquests to their closest chums. Getting a woman to warm their bed for even one night is nothing short of an achievement for them. The funny thing is, I never thought, not even in my wildest dreams that Ravi was like that. Hell, we have spent 18 glorious together as man and wife and another five before that. We decided not to have children because we wanted to celebrate life together at all times.’ Maya was pacing up and down the room now and toying with her curls, a habit she had when she was unsure or nervous.
This was the first time that Sanjay had seen her so animated, so excited about something, even if in a negative way. He could not help admiring the grace with which she moved, even when she was not in her best element. There was something rather ethereal about her, something that made people want to reach out and protect her. Many years ago, when Ravi and he had still been close, before Raina came into the scene, Ravi had confessed that it was this same quality about Maya that had made him weak in his knees. He swore to protect her at all times, to guard her from worldly worries and to keep her away from anything that was too real. She was so dainty and delicate like an unreal, colourful butterfly. He had confessed again to Sanjay a few years after, that he was too scared to impregnate Maya. Like her name, she herself seemed like an illusion, a delicate shadow that could not endure any worldly pains.
Ravi was a very reserved guy. There were no more confidences after that.
Sanjay looked at her now as she moved around the room, her tiny feet hardly touching the ground as she paced up and down.
Maya had herself never shown any inclination towards motherhood. She never said anything about this to Sanjay or to any of their mutual friends. It had been Raina who told him about Maya Bhabhi’s uneasiness when children were anywhere in the vicinity. ‘Children make her very uncomfortable and she tries to be away from them as far as possible,’ is what Raina had said. Come to think of it, Sanjay remembered how Maya had never, not in all these years, spoken about his children or asked about them, or bought them a chocolate or playfully ruffled their hair. After the Raina episode, when Vidhi had taken the children and left, Sanjay had sensed a relief in Maya’s demeanour.
For public consumption, everyone, including him, was told that Ravi and Maya wanted to keep their romance alive, which was why they never had children. Sanjay had seen the love Ravi pampered his children though.
‘Maya, I …….errr, I really cannot say that I have been party to Ravi’s confidences in a very long time.’ You know what happened with his sister has left a strain on our friendship, don’t you? I think, where friendship with me is concerned, that mantle shifted over to your shoulders many years ago. Even before I met Raina.’
‘Sanjay, I know that we have become very close as friends and that is why I ask you – do you know if Ravi is having an affair with that whore Darya? I am not a fool and I refuse to allow anybody to make me into one. Not even Ravi, you hear me?’ The excitement in her voice had risen a pitch but not too much of it reflected on her face. It remained impassive, seemingly calm even to those who knew her intimately.
Sanjay reached out for his whiskey, on the rocks as he liked it, or rather just one rock. Maya had made him his drink with one cube of ice as always and placed a plate of cheese next to him. She knew his tastes. The glass was empty and he got up, walked over to the bar counter and poured himself another Patiala peg. He did not bother to reach out for the freezer beneath the counter for his ice cube. He sat down on the nearest chair, almost as if the walk to the armchair he had occupied previously was too long. Almost mechanically, Maya drifted to the bar area, fished out a cube of ice and dropped it in his glass. He sipped quietly.
Sanjay’s thoughts were creating their own speeding paths. They seemed to have a mind of their own now. Several episodes and conversations started cropping up in his mind.
Vidhi and he had been married 12 years before Raina had descended on their marriage. Oddly enough, Vidhi was not the sort of woman that any husband would want to cheat on. She was beautiful, accomplished as a woman, a mother and as a homemaker. She had that beautiful laugh that had always reminded him of wind chimes dancing in a storm. No matter how his mood was, he would always cheer up when he heard her laugh. They took long, leisurely holidays together, had a weekly date night, had fantastic sex and still he had cheated on her. Raina was very different. She was reserved like her brother, hardly spoke, was not very beautiful, had never made a career for herself and was generally in no way as accomplished as Vidhi was. They had hardly spoken to each other those few times and even if she did it was invariably about Maya. She was nowhere near perfect as Vidhi was. Maybe that’s why?
Too late now. Vidhi was gone. The children were gone. They had blamed him, and rightly so. Raina was gone too. And Ravi had distanced himself too. There had not been any bitter arguments or recriminations from any of the quarters. They had all just left in some way. But Maya was here, right in front of him, as real as her ethereal self would permit her to be.
He had often wondered what sex with Maya would feel like, especially after the warm energies Vidhi exuded and the submissive shyness that Raina had. Somehow making love to an ice maiden or someone so unreal did not quite appeal to him. And then suddenly, it occurred to him, how did Ravi feel about it?
Darya was Ravi’s boss. She had been a very close friend of Vidhi’s. They had studied together, worked together and then when Darya went from strengths to strengths as a career woman, Vidhi had devoted herself to him and the children, while still balancing a freelance career. Not that she was not successful. She earned as much as he did and was very well known in her circles. Darya, on the other hand, had never married. She was a lot like Vidhi in her ways. ‘I wish I had met Ravi first’ she would say to Maya every time their paths crossed, only half-jokingly. She would meet Maya’s icy look with a loud laugh, turn around to face Ravi, hook her arm into his and ask him for a dance. Maya would stand there with an icy look on her face. Sanjay could not remember a time when there was any other look on her face.
She was looking at him now.
Sanjay looked up, shaking himself out of his caging thoughts.
‘Maya ……I do not know how to say this, but I think Ravi….well, the entire office talks about it openly……..I know you will be very hurt, especially after what you and Ravi meant to each other, but…….’
‘You know nothing!’ She threw her head back and laughed and suddenly she did not seem like an illusion anymore. There was a sudden life in her face, in her entire being, an energy that was not really ethereal anymore.
‘You have known Ravi for 30 years and me for the past 23. Don’t tell me that you did not even suspect? Vidhi has always known, though she never alluded to it, at least not verbally.’
The iciness on her face now seemed like make up that a clever actor wore. Her feet were firmly on the ground and a wild look tore through her eyes as she blazed through her tirade.
Sanjay had, unwittingly, stood up by now. He was watching Maya, fascinated at the transformation. There was a ruthlessness that surged through her that made him believe that these 23 years that he had known her were a big lie.
Ravi had always been very reserved.
He had never spoken to him and shared his sorrow when his parents had died in freak accident.
He had never confessed to him that his sister, Raina, was a lesbian.
He had never told him that he had wanted protecting from the world when his parents had left him without a penny.
He had never told him that he had been too scared, adult though he had been even then, to get away and make a fresh start.
He had never told him that all these years of courtship and marriage had not been his, they had been Raina’s and Maya’s to celebrate.
He had never told him that he had secretly slept with Darya for many years now and that Maya had always known about it.
He had never said that for the first time in all these years, he had felt the urge to break away from their pact.
He had never said that it had been Maya’s way of punishing him for wanting to break free, that she had sent Raina to me.
He had never spoken about how Maya couldn’t look at Raina anymore after that and had sent her away.
He never ever cried about how everyone had left him in some way or the other.
He never said anything about the fact that Maya had wanted to punish him for coming out into the open about Darya and that she would use me once again to do so.
I am sure that he would have never confessed what it felt like to sleep with an ice maiden, probably because he had never done it before.