It was getting dark and the streets in Mandana Town looked darker than on any other day. Sharmalee looked out of the window anticipating her husband to return home after work. There was something unusual about the atmosphere. It was hot and humid. She also felt a little uneasy. Her husband was late. In fact it was almost an hour past the time that Sharmalee’s husband, Jagath, usually returned from office.
Sharmalee had noticed a phone number which often appeared on her husband’s mobile phone. When she queried about the number, Jagath, responded saying that it was a client who he didn’t wish to entertain. The number appeared too often on the screen of Jagath’s phone and hence she was concerned. This number flashed on the phone screen as a missed call during the last couple of days.
When Sharmalee wedded Jagath, her husband had said on their wedding night that she could have him forever. Jagath started to change after he quit his job as a journalist and joined an advertising firm as a copywriter. When Jagath was a scribe, they never ran out of topics when they conversed. But now they hardly spoke to each other. Getting Jagath to speak, at home, was harder than forcing a stubborn prisoner to talk in a torture chamber.
Shyamalee was lost in her thoughts. She recalled the build up to the wedding day. They tied the knot three years ago. She loved all the excitement which came from booking hotels and ordering flowers and all types of services. For her, the excitement of getting wedded was the air she breathed. These memories remained fresh for a long time. Now, playing the role of wife to Jagath was like going diving without an oxygen canister. When they argued at home, Shyamalee felt like choking.
The cold water from the shower refreshed Jagath. He often recalled the first few months of his wedded life, like he always did, while under the shower. This is the place where he fantasized, like some men do. He recalled their wedding night. He took a shower while she undressed and removed all the decorations in her wedding gown. She was so tender that night
She kept looking at the road. She loved her man and she did it without putting conditions. She looked in the direction of the clock tower in Mandana Town. Just then the clock chimed. It was 9pm in the night. She closed the balcony door and returned to the kitchen. The dinner was getting cold, so she warmed it. She was tired and angry. ‘Why didn’t Jagath call and say he was getting late’ she asked herself.
Shyamalee knew quite well that men from the Southern part of Mandana Town gave little value and freedom to women. She knew well in advance what she was getting into when entering this marriage. She served some rice. The hunger which came from within drove her fingers into action. She ate a couple of mouthfuls of rice with dhal and cooked tuna. She didn’t touch the gotukola (green leaf salad) she made herself because it had the tendency to trigger a bilious attack when eaten in the night.
Before she could go half-way into her meal the bell of the house rang. She figured from the way the bell was rung that her husband had arrived. She went down stairs to receive him. This is what was nice about women folk of Mandana Town. They gave their husbands a grand welcome when they returned home after work, even if they had verbally abused each other in the morning.
Shyamalee tried not to show the hand with which she was having dinner. This was because she had washed it hurriedly and rushed to greet her husband. But Jagath noticed the food stains in her hand. “I am sorry I had to pull you up from the dinner table,” said Jagath. “It’s ok. I can go back and finish it when you sit down for dinner with me,” she responded.
‘Why were you late,’ she queried. ‘I was worried. You know how I worry over you when you get late. You should have called,’ Shyamalee complained. The guilt on Jagath’s face was noticeably evident. He tried to say something, but held back when Shyamalee showed no signs of wanting to hear his explanation.
‘We don’t talk like we used to,’ she said. ‘I am willing to, but then you don’t have the time,’ he said. ‘You are not interesting, like you used to be,’ Jagath responded. He saw Shyamalee’s face turn red. ‘I believe you get interesting calls on your mobile phone,’ she said in a high pitched voice.
There was silence. ‘I want to tell you something about those calls,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to know,’ she responded. The problem with Shyamalee was that she made up her mind too fast. She realized the folly in her decision making, long after she made them. Jagath left his office bag in the living room and went to have a quick shower like he always did.
She watched him go towards the washroom. She still fancied him and admired him. Jagath was her first love. He had taken good care of his body and played tennis in the evenings. What amazed her was that he continued to wear size 32 trousers even after marriage. But all that meant little because of the huge difference in his attitude towards her.
They still hadn’t children and Jagath had often complained about it. In this society a woman who didn’t produce children was looked down upon. She looked a darling on the wedding day, but now there were enough signs of her overeating. The bulge around her waist was clearly visible. But she didn’t care.
The cold water from the shower refreshed Jagath. He often recalled the first few months of his wedded life, like he always did, while under the shower. This is the place where he fantasized, like some men do. He recalled their wedding night. He took a shower while she undressed and removed all the decorations in her wedding gown. She was so tender that night. Now, life had changed. There was still a physical relationship between them, but it happened in a hap hazard way.
Outside the washroom Jagath heard his mobile phone ring. He knew Shyamalee would notice it and get worried. Actually she saw it, but let the rings go silent. The calls came from a dietician whom Jagath had consulted on behalf of his wife. He wanted the dietician to call him when he was at home so that he could pass the phone on to Shyamalee. But life at home changed so drastically that they didn’t even have time to talk to each other, leave alone entertain a call from an outsider.
When Jagath dried himself and entered the bedroom, Shyamalee was in tears. He sat beside her and reached for her hand. ‘Am I not pretty,’ she asked him. Jagath remained silent. She inquired whether the call from the unknown number came from a male or female. ‘Male,’ he said. She managed a smile.
‘It’s from a dietician. I got him to call a couple of times when I was at home, so that I could pass the phone on to you,’ he said. ‘Do you fancy me or my body,’ she responded. He knew he was trapped answering this question like all men are when their wives confront them with this question. The question had the effect of a heavy starter that’s served before a meal. He felt his hunger vanish. He volunteered to clean the dishes and then went to bed.