by Parth Pandya
The lamp at the end of the street flickered as if it was about to be snubbed out. Vibha walked briskly towards the house that was standing as a sanctuary right behind the lamp. She was walking quicker than usual, the thoughts in her head prompting her to take her strides at a faster clip. Her job wasn’t much to write home about and it was her well-cultivated habit to leave out any thoughts of work once she took the train back home. She was however finding it difficult to do that today.
“Good news”. The phrase was ringing in her head with a volume larger than the combined sound produced by the bells of the local Shiva temple she visited every Thursday because she had been asked to do so by her mother-in-law’s sister. Vibha was in a foul mood.
It all started with a team meeting at her office in the morning. Her boss had walked up to the front of the room, addressing his troops as he did each Monday. After the initial hurrahs and reprimands, the weekly summaries and salient points, he decided it was time to celebrate some individual triumph and turned his attention to Vibha, who was halfway into a yawn she could no longer contain. He gestured and said, “Vibha has some good news to share with us.”
There was a moment of audible silence and then a deafening roar broke out. Vibha, whose yawn was in its waning phase, was caught unawares like a cartoon character who had been flattened on the middle of a road by a fast-moving truck. A poor choice of words by her boss had obliterated what could have been a moment to celebrate on her successful delivery of a project.
“Good news”. In an office where the boundaries of humour were always stretched thin, this was a red carpet laid out with an invitation to come and join the party. Vibha had no children. That little fact was wrapped up in the guise of a guffaw and presented to her by people who she wouldn’t normally term as malevolent. Through the entire day, they ribbed her and she had taken it on the chin the best she could, but now that she was on her way home, a storm was simmering in her chest.
She walked in the door, turning an errant key with great force, flinging the door open like a hurricane, disrupting the peace. Kavish came running out of the bedroom. Manchester United was biting the dust for the fifth match this season but his devotion to the team had him glued to his television. He was so startled by the noise, he assumed a burglar had broken in. A burglar was something he could handle. Vibha in the mood she was in was a much tougher proposition.
He circled around her cautiously and wordlessly, waiting for her to settle. Vibha washed her hands and came and sat on the table.
Nervously, he asked, “How was your day at work?”
There was no answer.
A query for “Dinner?” was followed by silence.
The lack of clarity meant that he had to take the safer option. He brought the dinner out. He breathed a sigh of relief when Vibha started eating. The silence was punctured by the scraping sounds of spoons and forks on the plates.
Twenty minutes later, they were both in the bedroom, leaning against their pillows, laptops propped in their laps like mollycoddled children. That analogy occurred to Vibha and instantly she regretted it. She shut her laptop down.
It had been seven years since their marriage and every cosy nook of her house reminded her of the lack of a child who could have made it his or her own. It wasn’t for want of desire or trying. However, by now, her fatalism had convinced her that some things were simply not meant to be.
She wondered whether she should tell Kavish about what had happened today, but seeing him staring at his code on his laptop with the intensity of Arjuna trying to hit the eye of the bird made her change her mind. It wasn’t going to do either of them much good anyway.
She reached to the drawer in the night stand by her side and pulled out the novel she was reading. Books were her refuge but on days of dull despair, nothing brought her out of the troughs of depression than stories of a dystopian future where robots or zombies or aliens had taken over a post-apocalyptic world in the throes of a nuclear winter. The despair of the stranded humans gave her an odd sense of sadistic pleasure. She wanted them to lose, for the race to be eradicated, for them to suffer the ignominy of childlessness and then vaporise away without a trace.
Vibha read fifteen pages of the book and decided that the day was beyond salvaging. She shut down the book, closed the lights and tried to go to sleep. Kavish got up from the bed and left. She noticed his absence. A series of lights leading up to the kitchen went up in the house. Attributing it to his sweet tooth and a propensity for a midnight snack, she closed her eyes and continued her attempts (in vain) to fall asleep.
“What is it Kavish?”, she asked squinting her eyes against the light projecting from above his shoulder from the kitchen.
“I got us a cake.”
She realised in that moment that it was past midnight and that the clock had turned over to signal the start of 4th of January. That epiphany punched her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her.
Kavish added with a dreamy smile, “She would have been four today.”
A tear rolled down her cheek, encroaching on the little space between her heavy heart and her denial. She had tried to lock away the date she had lost her child, a premature baby lost to the wiles of illness. She had tried to consign that memory to the fires of a monotonous life, but Kavish brought it up each year like the blessing he believed it to be.
The irony of this did not escape Vibha. No one at office knew about her past tragedy and they brought up this topic. Kavish knowingly drudged it out for her to endure. Vibha could not fathom why he thought it was a matter of celebration, but had resigned to the fact that he saw a way forward in his healing by doing this. And oblivious to her disagreement, he expected her to heal the same way.
“One day at a time,” he said to her, his optimism and hope only matched with her resigned acceptance of that. Through this veil of pain of the past, he saw some hope.
His hope perplexed her. His hope strangled her. And yet, his hope bound them together.
She cut the cake with the butter knife he had brought along and fed him a piece. Kavish smiled. In between munching the piece, he repeated his question, “How was your day at work?”
“Oh, nothing special,” she said.
The smile that he expected to see was reluctant to come to her lips. The cake looked ready to crumble but had miraculously held on.
After a few eternities had passed, staring at the ceiling, she muttered, “I had some good news to share.”