The house looks completely dark from outside. They’ve all probably slept. It is quite late into the night. Aditi, he thinks, would’ve dozed off in the hall itself, waiting for him. He needs to be careful. He hasn’t eaten a single ounce of food since morning; only coffee has been serving his purpose. Anyway, he begins walking towards the house. Carefully, he clicks the doorknob open. He tries to get in without making a sound. The door however, does not seem to comply with his intentions and creaks when pushed. The creak resounds in the huge dark hall and Areeb freezes in his place. He holds his breath for a moment, and then, seeing no movement, lets it out as a sigh of relief. He tightens his grip on the doorknob and with an air of courage, swings the door to its limit. No sound made. Bravo! He closes the door in a similar way and begins to walk into the house – his bag in his right hand and his jacket on the left.
Damn it! “You’re still awake?” Why does she have to wait for me every day! “Aditi, it’s two in the morning!”
She takes out a bowl from the refrigerator and places it in the oven, places a plate and a casserole on the dining table. Then walking back to the kitchen, she stands by the slab and whispers, “There’s some problem with this species called wives. They’d always want to see their husbands at least once a day.” The astonishment on his face is replaced by an “I’m-sorry-but-what-could-I-do” smile. He puts his bag on the floor, throws the jacket on the sofa and walks towards the kitchen. It’s a sluggish sort of walk, the one that results from exhaustion, but there’s one more job to be done.
“Aditi…” “Your children will soon forget how their father looks! Just the way you forgot that today, no sorry, yesterday was your daughter’s birthday. She kept on waiting for you to wish her, but man, you’re so damn busy! She should’ve understood that trivial things like birthdays don’t appear in your priority list. You’re busy. I understand.” she snaps with a smile of sickness.
“Aditi…” “You’re out of the house before anyone wakes up; you return when almost everyone’s asleep! Have you ever thought what your place in my life, or leave me, in your children’s life is?” Areeb had no answer. He stood there, with zipped lips and a helpless countenance. The oven beeped and she stopped to keep that bowl on the table. “Your dinner is ready, if you have time for one.”
She sat beside him while he ate at a relaxed pace. She holds his hand, now speaking in a way of concern, “The only time that you spend with us is when you’re free from your calls on Sunday. Do we hold any importance in your life?” he looked up as if taken aback. “Areeb, where are you?” His eyes had a million words to say but his mouth was mum. He finished his food and both of them walked towards their bedroom – she with urgency, he with exhaustion.
Areeb changed his clothes and soon went back to bed where Aditi had been lying facing in the opposite direction. He knew that she was angry; but more than angry, she was upset, she was concerned. The gravity of the situation could be well understood by the way he climbed his bed and began to recline; but sleeping was not the motive. She had been lying huddled up, staring at the emptiness. Her eyes were open expressionlessly – as dry as they could’ve ever been; vulnerable too. Tears came streaming down her face when she felt his touch, trying to spoon her into his embrace.
“I’m sorry…” he whispered in her ear. She almost gave in to an outburst of tears; and he could feel it. He sat up in bed, held her hand and began caressing it.
“Areeb, we miss you. I miss you. I love you and all I want from you is your time.” She said sitting up with him. “What is the use of all the luxuries of life if I can’t share them with the person I love the most!” Her voice was emphatic and pleading at the same time. “Do you remember college? I miss those times when we used to walk hand in hand around the campus. I miss those small follies that you committed to have me happy. Your small little gifts were more valuable to me than the entire world. I used to wait for the times when you’d be with me, away from all those projects and your pile of books. I used to hate it when during exams, you were nowhere to be found; but deep inside my heart I felt that that business of yours will carve out a great future for us.” Her eyes were gleaming by this time. Oh how long had he waited to see that gleam, those lightened eyes! “Who knew that you’d become a luxury that me and your family would struggle to afford!”
“I am sorry Aditi. I know that my ambitions have taken me a little away from you all, but I’ll be back! I’ll be back very soon. I promise.” He tried to be as convincing as he could, looking straight into her eyes, urging her to believe every iota of what he had said. They reclined again and Areeb was in bed until Aditi was deep into her sleep.
Sitting in his armchair later that night, with a pen in his hand and a diary in his lap, he looked out of the window into the dead dark world outside. Most of the houses in his neighborhood were smaller than his own.
“When you pour water inside a glass, there comes a time when it is full to the brim. That’s the moment to stop. A split-second of delay can result in an overflow. Today, I just missed that decisive moment. Aditi was awake when I returned from office today. One can easily guess what would’ve happened.
The thing to reflect upon is, “Where am I”. That question by Aditi has been echoing inside the walls of my mind.”
He looked up from his diary to give way to cogitation. He wanted to clarify and make some sense out of all the tumult that inhabited his mind. He tried thinking for some time; but the more he thought the more complex it became. Weary of all the exercise, he reclined on his chair aimlessly looking at the ceiling. He kept on looking at it – initially out of confusion, then out of concentration and finally out of inconclusiveness. But when he had stopped looking was actually when he saw something.
It had happened two days back. Bahadur, a clerk in his office, had been standing on the bus stop while it in rained cats and dogs. It was late in the night and consequently less probable that he’d find a bus anytime soon. Areeb, in his Audi, was just passing by that bus stop when he saw Bahadur. He invited the poor chap in. Bahadur resisted a bit but having no other plausible option, soon yielded. It was a downtrodden area where Bahadur lived. It was dark and the road seemed abundant in puddles.
“Since how long have you been standing here?” he said, only half looking at Bahadur. “It’s nearly two hours sir. I could not manage to exit the office at the normal time and consequently missed the bus I usually take. Maybe that was the last bus for that route!”
“So did you call up at home to inform that you’d be late?” “Battery drained sir. They’d be worried.” “Why don’t you get yourself a two-wheeler or something? You can’t rely on these buses all the time.” “Can’t even think of it sir. I have three kids, all of them in private schools. The fee does not spare anyone. Moreover, there are other family needs. We’re a middle-class family. Dining at restaurants is what we cannot do every second day. We’re better off having our meals together, talking to each other, laughing out aloud and just being good enough at what we do. Honestly, it’s not about the money. Thanks to God, I have this great job which pays me just enough to sustain a family. Just some quality time spent with my wife and children, sometimes gifting each other small things to assure that we matter to each other, small gestures to show we care, Sunday outings and at the end of the day, seeing one’s children sleep with a smile – what more could one ask for!”
“Hmmm…” He had nothing to say, only things to wonder. When was the last time he gifted his wife something she liked? Spending quality time with the family – when did that last happen? What was the most recent token of care that he had given his family?
“I guess I’ve been blabbering big time. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m used to speaking out, expressing myself – either to my wife or my children. Oops, I’m blabbering again! Sorry.” Embarrassed, Bahadur finally shut up.”
The car finally came to a halt in front of a small cottage. It apparently had little comfort to offer. The kids came running as soon as they saw Bahadur get out of the car. “See, the care!” said Bahadur pointing to his wife’s wet eyes. Areeb saw Bahadur’s wife wipe-off her tears giving way to a smile of relief.
“Thank you so much sir”. He drove away. ‘Lucky man, Bahadur.’
As he scribbled in his diary, “Areeb, where are you? Aditi must be asking this every day; just not articulating it. Today, the water just began to overflow from the glass. Today this question was articulated. All that I wanted from my graduation was a job, just something that’ll help me sustain myself and my family. With the grace of God, I’ve attained far more than that. This was something I used to believe until now.
What happened tonight has compelled me to give it a second thought. I’ve been so ruthlessly chasing success that I’ve lost track of time. When was the last time that I read out a newspaper to my father or had the pleasure of my mother’s lap? When was the last time I took Aditi out for a dinner? Or gifted her something she loves? When was the last time I drove my kids to school? Long time… Long time!”
He almost laughed out thinking about how he had proposed Aditi. Thinking of his initial years of marriage, all the outings, the movie dates, those moments of romance and the innocence that accompanied it all, those lullabies that he used to sing for his children, those walks around the park, he had a constant smile of satisfaction on his face. Then, back to the present, and his face is deprived of all of it.
“But then, what if I stopped earning? After all, it is for my family that I work eighteen hours a day! If I stop doing what I do, how will I be able to afford this lifestyle that we have!
One thing is for sure, I’ve become successful – definitely; but am I happy? Have I made my family happy? Somewhere amidst deadlines, presentations, mergers and takeovers lies the answer to Aditi’s question, and that is, I am LOST.”
She is still in bed; almost awake now. She turns on the bed to see Areeb in his three-piece, hurriedly gathering his things and putting them into his bag. Seeing his wife awake, his eyes lighten up. He wishes all of yesterday was just a dream. He wishes that all that unforgiving fragment of his life was a dream. He wishes he could look into her eyes just like this forever and ever more.
“Good morning sweetheart”, he says.
His phone rings. Hurriedly picks it up and with his bag on his shoulder exits the room.