Kajal rushed home and shut herself in her room. Krunal had been surprised to see her in a slightly disheveled state, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he went out to his friend’s home for some project work while she decided to wallow in the darkness of her room.
She hugged herself and cried, touching her lips intermittently where his touch still lingered… she could still feel his lingering cologne as if he surrounded her and her sobs only got louder. What had come over her?
In the last three years, Rahul and a few others had tried to befriend her a little more than usual. While others had given up knowing her financial constraints, Rahul had persisted. But she had never felt an iota of attraction or the tsunami of emotions for any of the guys she had come across in college or where she lived or in her office. Of course, she interacted with other good looking successful models whom Rhapsody represented once in a while, but she had been successful in keeping their advances away.
What was it about KB that drove her to him like a magnet to iron… no, she was a moth dangerously drawn to the fire that would turn her to ashes if she didn’t keep her distance. She wiped her face with a cloth and stared at the crimson evening sky from her window. Her life was also changing shades like the sky as she passed from one phase to another.
She sighed… the evening was wasted just like yesterday, and tomorrow maami would return with Poonam. She shook her head and walked to the kitchen, trying to get her bearings together. As she started at the pressure cooker waiting for the lentils to cook, she made a decision. She would tell Shipra to excuse her from anything pertaining KB. She had got the all-important signatures today, so Shipra would cut her some slack. Besides, she was going on a fortnight-long leave for her final exams in a few days, and Shipra had already sanctioned them. After that fiasco with the press last time, Shipra had also decided not to deduct her pay for the fortnight she would miss… everything happened for the best indeed, as her aai always said.
Speaking of aai… Kajal gasped. The folder… she had to read it, and now was the right time when she was all alone. Krunal would be dropped home late tonight, and she had confirmed it with his friend’s guardian. She shut the gas burner and ran to her room closing the door, though she didn’t need to. But somehow, reading about the hidden secrets of her parents seemed awkward to her, and it was as if she wanted to hide away from the world as she dishonored their memories… But she had no choice. Those apparent secrets were like a sword hanging over her head and had ruined her life…
She took out the folder and carefully arranged the tattered sheets date-wise. Her eyes filled seeing her father’s meticulous handwriting when he had started writing… the first page was dated a little over eleven years ago. It was precisely a month before her mother disappeared. That piqued her curiosity as she read the Devanagari script.
‘I followed her to the hospital today… wondering why she needed to go there every day. Who was there? She isn’t in touch with her family except her brother and mine are in the village. But then I saw her emerge in different clothes. She thought she could hide? I could find my Shobha anywhere, even if she were a needle in a haystack. And then she caught a cab and moved into the traffic….’
Kajal halted and tried to remember the period. Her mother did go away for long hours, but she always said she was trying to supplement her father’s income, and she would always cook and clean for them before leaving home. Kajal was always in school, and Krunal played in the neighbor’s house when she returned. Kajal had never bothered about any absurdity in the situation to date. She sighed and continued reading.
The following page was dated a week later.
‘What is Shobha hiding? Is she tired of us? I know she is overworked and had to give up her dreams for me… but what about the children? Does she not care about them? She seems very happy these days. Is it because of… him? Who is he? I saw her phone buzzing today morning. It was a private number, and when I answered it, the person disconnected. I checked her call details… she spoke for hours on the same number… who is it? I saw a few hidden folders too… and could manage to open one of them… it contained her picture on a seashore, and she looked shyly into the camera… who is it? I have requested her call details and location… though it pains me to doubt the love of my life, I am helpless… I know I haven’t been a great husband, but I am working hard to get that promotion to move to a better place… so that my Kajal and Krunal can have the life we have dreamt for them… Oh Shobhna, have you given up on our dreams already…?’
Kajal wiped the tears streaming down her cheeks. She had been so preoccupied with her little life; she hadn’t realized all this unfold. What was her aai doing? It was impossible to fathom her infidelity but was her baba wrong? She remembered a few screaming bouts behind closed doors when her parents thought she was asleep. She couldn’t make out anything then, but did they fight because of baba’s suspicions?
She read the next page written about another week later, but there were so many inkblots and marks on the paper as if her father had been drunk while writing.
‘I am doomed… my life makes no sense. I no longer trust anything. I saw her today… I followed her to that godforsaken factory… and I saw her with him. He deva… I couldn’t believe it, but Ganpat was with me… he was shocked to see her as well… I would have shot that man had Ganpat not held me back. That asshole gave her a peck on her cheek and hugged her before getting into his high-end car, and she waved to the vehicle as it moved along the graveled road. Where did I go wrong in my duties as a husband? I tried to give her everything I could… why the backstabbing? Ganpat says I should talk to her… but what do I ask her? I am distraught… First, this case I am working on, and now Shobha is cheating on me. I am so mad at the world now… If not for my little children, I would have gone ahead and shot that bastard… even if I had to spend the rest of my life in jail’.
Kajal sobbed silently. How could you do this to us aai…? Didn’t you love us?
She took the following paper it was dated a week after her mother had disappeared.
‘Life is a vacant mess. I can’t face my children. From the bottom of my heart, I hated Shobha for cheating on me, though she denied it all along. The Shobha I knew never lied, but I was way beyond trusting her. For all that happened, I never wished she would leave us forever. I feel responsible… I wish she had continued with her rendezvous and I had never known or not fought with her. I should have let her have her way… But the what-ifs shall always remain. I am sorry my children… your aai left because of me…
Kajal felt the life drain out of her body as she lay in the fetal position on the hard floor. She hadn’t switched on the lights. Vivid memories of her father arriving home drunk sprang before her eyes. Her father punished himself and his children too.
Why aai-baba…? Why did you do whatever it was… didn’t you think of us?
The following page had only one line written.
‘Finally, the bastard got what he deserved… God is great. He set everything right. Why don’t you now come back to me, Shobha?’
She read the last few pages, all probably written in her father’s drunken stupor where he only reminisced the life gone by and missed his wife… the handwriting was next to illegible, and the pages were soiled… However, the last paper was better and was dated a couple of days before her baba’s accident.
‘I finally can get my revenge… I found out about the bastard’s progeny. Like father like son. It’s time he reaps what his father sowed… I hope Ganpat gets what I asked of him. He has been suspicious of me off-late… but this is one last favor I ask of him… I will then resign from the force and take up farming… go back to the village with my children. They deserve better than that godforsaken life with my brother-in-law and his family.
What on earth was all this? Kajal’s head reeled, given the emotional roller coaster she had faced today. She gathered the papers and kept them back in the cupboard in their hiding place. She decided to talk to Ganpat kaka as soon as possible. What did her father possibly do? What revenge was he talking about, and from whom?
In her quest for answers, she didn’t know she would be faced with more questions… It looked like a Pandora’s box was about to open.
She only hoped the secrets wouldn’t consume her brother and her…