Sneha, the protagonist, goes about her routine life with clockwork precision. She gets up at the crack of the dawn to prepare breakfast for Ayushi, her adopted daughter, and to send her to school, like most Desi Moms, in the US. Ayushi was her first cousin’s child, born out of wedlock. Her cousin lost the battle of life during childbirth, while the father, Arjun, was MIC (missing in action). Ayushi’s mother let out her last breath whispering his name, and Sneha was sure that Ayushi’s father must have done the same. What happens when Arjun suddenly reappears? Would he bring about a storm in Sneha’s life? Will her world change forever? Find out more in this interesting story by Anumita, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Sneha is usually up long before the blush spreads in the sky. Her soft footsteps head to the kitchen as she opens the refrigerator and automatically gets things out and places them on the counter top. She coos and talks in a whisper as Jasper, her two-year-old lab, rubs along her legs. “Hold on buddy just let me get Ayushi’s breakfast started.” The persistent lab gets on his hind legs and nuzzles on her thighs, Sneha giggles and bends down to give her pet a good back rub.
She feeds the dog and heads towards the kitchen window and slides the window up. Her lips curl up as the stream of morning breeze fans the escaped tendrils of hair off her face.
Sneha’s routine is very mundane, according to her. She gets the kitchen gadgets working for her so that breakfast is ready for Ayushi and her husband Karan. The thought of Ayushi always made her feel good, and worthwhile. Since her kids have left the nest, Ayushi was her refuge.
She was not her biological child, but Sneha loves her with every fiber of her body. Ayushi was her first cousin’s child, born out of wedlock. Her cousin lost the battle of life during childbirth, while the father was MIC (missing in action). Ayushi’s mother let out her last breath whispering his name, and Sneha was sure that Ayushi’s father must have done the same.
Placing the sandwich in the lunch box, she hurriedly looked at the clock. Tucking the tendril of hair behind her ear she heads up the stairs, with Jasper leading the way. Before she could switch on the light Jasper had climbed in bed with Ayushi and was nuzzling her cheek. Sneha kissed the little girl’s forehead, “wake up princess, school time.” Ayushi turned; her still eyes closed and stretched almost toppling Jasper off the bed. She murmured an inaudible good morning and dragged herself out of bed.
The rest of the morning passed in a blur. Soon the house was quiet and Sneha fired up her laptop to answer all the queries that have piled up during the weekend. The news channel’s drone was like background music as she worked on her assignment. Sneha chose to work from home, as a response representative to questions regarding insurance plans.
Typing through the mirage of question and answers, she heard a ping from her own email messenger. Ignoring the sound she continued her work. The ping sounded again, then again and again. A series of pings sounded one after another. Frustrated by the sound, she opened the window of her personal email and froze as she saw the name on the screen.
The messages were from Arjun. Arjun, Ayushi’s biological father. Thoughts rushed through her mind at million miles per hour. Where was he so long? What is he doing now? Why is he communicating with her? Does he know about Ayushi? What does he want?
Sneha got up from her work table and walked to the kitchen filled a glass of water and gulped it down. He hand was shaking and her feet felt like wood. All she could think was to bring Ayushi back home and keep her hidden. Hidden from what? Hidden from whom?
She slowly sank down on the kitchen floor and sat there for long. Jasper anticipated her state of shock and distress and sat down beside her with his head on the crook of her arms. Absent-mindedly Sneha stroke the dog’s head and her own thoughts calmed down.
After thinking through she decided to answer the messages. Drinking another glass of water, she sat down in front of the computer. She typed a “hi” and waited for the reply. She blinked and a “hi there” appeared on her screen. Biting her lips she typed, “Who is this?” The answer came back, “I think I got the right person, you are Smita’s sister, right?”
Nodding to herself, Sneha typed, “yes, but Smita is no more.” There was a long pause. Sneha was sure that the person on the other side of this connection had logged off. Then a number came through, and a message saying that, he knows all and that this is his number. He mentioned, “He would like to get in contact with if it was ok.”
He said he knew. What did he know? Does he know about Ayushi? Did Smita tell him when he was deployed in action about her pregnancy? How Sneha wished she had been closer to Smita when she was going through all this alone in Los Angeles, while Sneha was settled in North Carolina.
Sneha had no intentions of calling Arjun. She logged off. Calling up her supervisor, she said that she needed a two hours break to get some emergency sorted out. She will be back and finish up the emails. Her supervisor reminded her that she will need it to be done by 4 o’clock today.
Accepting the time limit she took her keys and headed towards her car. Jasper bounded up to her thinking it would be a ride time for him. Sneha shooed him indoors and backed her car from the driveway.
She drove around aimlessly and then bought chicken and few grocery items. She was going to cook chicken just the way Ayushi loved. Once home she fed Jasper and got to cook. Cooking was therapeutic for her and it helped her to think. She tossed with the idea of if she should tell this to her husband, Karan. She decided to keep it to herself for some time now. Karan was very attached to Ayushi, she was the daughter he never had. Our three boys were now grown and on their way to make a living for themselves.
On an impulse, Sneha picked up the phone and dialed, a very throaty “hello” sounded from the other side. She swallowed and squeaked a “hi”. Silence, then an auditable sigh, Arjun spoke, “Hi Sneha, we need to talk. I know that it is awkward for both of us to be talking like this, but it is very urgent.” Sneha wanted to disconnect the phone but the sound of Arjun’s voice kept her transfixed. She could mutter a single agreeing sound. Arjun kept talking, “I am in North Carolina now, as a fitness instructor to the high schools. I will be traveling to different cities and be conducting seminars. Can we please meet? I need to talk to you, please.”
His voice had a magnetic effect and she was getting drowned in his baritone. She mentioned that when he is in or near Wilmington, they could meet. He said that he would let her know, and the line went dead. Sneha pulled the handset from her ears and stared at it as if it was going to transform into something else.
A bit bewildered and a bit in awe, she continued her cooking. The reminder on her phone brought her back to reality. She had to finish her work on the emails. The evening seemed to go in its usual routine, classes, homework, dinner and then bedtime. Still feeling a bit guilty that she did not mention Arjun’s message and telephonic conversation to Karan, Sneha drifted off to sleep.
Next morning the early routine went as usual. Sneha settled down to her usual work of answering emails while sipping a cup of black tea. The phone rang. Without looking at the phone she picked it up and settled it in the crook of her shoulder and said. “Hello.” The voice on the other end resulted in her dropping the phone. Arjun was calling her. She picked up the phone and managed a small “yes.” Arjun was saying that he was in Wilmington and he wanted to meet her today. Today!
Clutching the phone tight Sneha’s mind raced with tons of excuses. How can she meet him? Where and that too, today?
Sensing her hesitance, Arjun said, “Let us meet at any coffee place you want. I just need to know and say something.” Mustering enough courage, and the fact that she has Ayushi, Sneha agreed. They were to meet a Starbucks not too far from her home in another hour.
Sneha showered and chose a pink dress and applied a light makeup. She was not sure why she was doing this, but it made her feel good. She reached a few minutes early and got out of her car. Walking into the star bucks she scanned the seats. And her eyes rested on the broad-shouldered brown man. He was sitting faced away. For a split second, Sneha thought of bolting back to her car. But then the man stood up and turned and smiled. She walked up to him with her heart pounding. He pulled up the chair for her to sit and she smiled. He extended his hand and said, “We meet at last, Sneha.” Sneha’s hand was small in his firm warm grip, his eyes lingered on her dainty fingers then her eyes, as if he was confused. Then it cleared.
With a nod and a ghost of a smile, Sneha sat down and clasped her hands on her lap. Arjun’s lips curled from one corner, and Sneha’s eyes followed it. She blushed as she released her own line of vision. Arjun did not notice or pretended not to, and leaned in. He asked if she wanted coffee. She said she would like Mocha with a dash of cream.
With her fingers curled around the cup, she tried to steady her heartbeat and the shake of her hand. She felt his hands over her fingers and her eyes flew up to his. He just smiled and said, “It is ok, Sneha. I am not going to take your little angel from you. She is yours in every possible way.” He moved his hands away. Sneha felt a strange feeling as if she did not want his hands away from hers. Her eyes clouded with confusion. Arjun thought she was still worried and he reassured her that his intentions were not to hurt her and the little girl’s life in any way.
He told her the story of how he was captured and all that he went through to escape. He knew of the pregnancy but his deployment was so sudden that they could not make plans. But he was sure he would be back in a month and they would get married. He loved Smita and he was going to be the happiest man on this earth. His eyes changed colors as he spoke of his pain and his love lost.
Sneha looked at him hypnotised. Such eyes, she thought. She had only seen a small photograph of Arjun with Smita long time back. She watched his lips move and how his eyes crinkled as he smiled talking about the future he and Smita had envisioned. Pulling her thoughts together, Sneha rebuked herself, feeling ashamed of the physical attraction she was having.
A beep on his phone sounded. He looked at it and asked if we could meet again soon, as he needs to attend an emergency. Sneha could not find a reason why she did not want him to go. She mumbled something. He stood up and gave a gift bag to her. He looked at her and said, “Want you to give this to her, your Ayushi. Just make some excuse for the gift. But, if you think that it would not be right, then trash it.”
Sneha bade him goodbye and walked out of the door. Clicking on the door opener on the remote she walked in trance towards her vehicle. As her fingers touched the door and she heard her name being called. She turned and there he was so close to her. “Arjun,” escaped from her lips.
He hugged her and turned and left. She does not remember how the rest of the day went. It all seemed a haze. Only his voice and his warmth were real.
Before going to bed Sneha cuddled with Ayushi and took out the gift bag. She said, “Baby, you have been such nice little girl, so mommy got a little surprise for you.” Ayushi’s eyes sparkled and she opened the bag and pulled out the most beautiful jewelry box. She looked up a Sneha and her face was such a beautiful picture. Inside was inscribed “A&S”. She touched the filigree and whispered, “Ayushi and Sneha.” She lunged at Sneha and hugged her tight and kissed her mother’s cheek. Sneha’s eyes brimmed and she felt love for this angel and pain for the Smita and Arjun’s love.
After some time of kisses and hugs, Ayushi drifted off to sleep. Sneha picked up the box and put it on her daughter’s dresser, switched the light off and closed the door partially. A strange want spiraled through her. She could not ignore the being physical attracted to this man; neither could she explain the reason.
The next few days just went packed with work and social commitments.
It was a Friday; Sneha finished her chores and showered. She was not going to go out today, so she pulled out a soft silk dress went makeup free. The door bell rang. She pulled her hair from her shoulder and put a hair tie over it and walked barefoot down the stairs. Thinking it to be the neighbor, she smiled and opened the door talking, “hey Jess, are you out of milk again?”
It was Arjun. She said his name but nothing came out. He was looking at her. He was walking in the door. He closed the door. And she stood frozen, her whole body aware of this man in front of her. She followed his eyes, realising that she did not wear a bra. There were two distinct points formed on the front of her dress.
They were in each other’s arms in no time kissing. Hunger so intense filled their being. The whole air around them enveloped them into a high charged attraction. He picked Sneha up in his arms and carried her to the couch. He never took his mouth from her lips. He whispered her name in between, the nagging thought that he was seeing Smita in her evaporated.
His fingers felt every inch of her. He pulled his tee over his head and a big scar on his chest showed. Not sure how Sneha would react, he held her. Sneha’s eyes widened and she bends her head and rubbed her soft lips along the healed gash. Arjun let out a guttural gasp and pulled her head and kissed her.
He whispered over her lips, “Sneha, I do desire you, but I respect you a lot more.” He pulled her hand and put on his bulge on his zipper. “This is the evidence of my body, but I do not want you to feel as if I am pressuring you. I would be there for you, whenever you need me. No obligations, no commitments from my side. I felt this the moment I saw you enter the Starbucks few weeks ago. I cannot take you out of my mind.”
Sneha felt moisture gather between her legs and her heart was beating so fast. All she wanted to have was him in her. She pulled his hand and guided it to her wetness. He obliged and gently and then not to gently let her reach her climax. He kissed her tenderly and stood up and left.
Sneha sat up on the couch and felt torn. She knew this was wrong but why did it feel so right. He did not force on her when she was practically begging. She got up and a small box fell from the couch. She picked it up and opened it; there was a single crystal pendant on a delicate chain. Inside the box was a little note. “I will wait, as that is what my life is all about,” was inscribed in a neat handwriting.
©Anumita Chatterjee Roy
Pix from Net.