Eventually Das found out his wife’s affair from a telephone statement. Any other man would have got suspicious much earlier. But Das had developed an indifference towards life, in the past few years. He didn’t notice the occasional blank calls or her increased stay outside the home.
One Sunday, sipping coffee, he casually looked at the telephone bill lying on the ground, with no intention of picking it up. What caught his attention was the pattern on the statement.
Long back, while he was a Quality Control Engineer, his job was to monitor the assembly line for products not fitting the patterns. The long shifts of early days had a profound effect on him. His mind would look for patterns everywhere.
The statement had one number with a pattern. It appeared at the same time, everyday——during his office hours. The duration of the calls alarmed him.
Soon he hired a private detective to follow her for a week, and to report anything unusual. The detective called the next day itself. They met in a café. “You don’t need a professional,” he said. “She is not hiding anything.” He tossed a few pictures.
Das didn’t recognize the man in the picture——definitely one from her music group. The man looked arty. Not a regular office goer. He had one hand around Vedika’s waist. Das stared at the picture for a long time; it was taken from an odd angle. Except for the couple, rest of the image was blurred. This amplified the effect. The picture was more like a piece of art than evidence.
“I was once interested in photography,” said the detective.
Long after the detective was gone, Das sat in the café, sipping coffee——mentally rehearsing various scenarios, confronting his wife. Eventually his plan was to show the pictures to Vedika, and to wait for her explanation. This plan looked reasonable. Also, it gave the defendant an opportunity to explain her actions.
Once satisfied with the preparation, he went home. Vedika was not in. He waited in the study, patiently. At around 9PM, he called her cell——no one answered.
He went to the kitchen to find anything to eat. He was hungry. That’s when he found the yellow note, pasted on the refrigerator’s door. She had left notes for him now and then: Poetry reading today! or Don’t wait for dinner or No milk in the house. As usual the note was concise and to the point.
I’m leaving for good.
Don’t look for me.
Such a note would have had devastating effect on the reader, not on Das. Instead, his mind noted the pattern in the first two lines: each line had four words; the first words had apostrophe; the word “for” was in the same position.
He was subconsciously expecting something like this, or something more dramatic, from Vedika. At once the burden of facing her was gone. He felt relieved.
She had taken her stuff, which was almost everything. His preoccupied mind had not noticed the emptiness when he entered the house. Her vast collection of music CDs was gone. The shelf stood hollow and plain. A few books remained on the lower rack. They belonged to Das.
He called his daughter at the hostel, not realizing it was quite late. The warden warned him against such late calls. Soon the daughter came on line. “How come you are calling on a weekday?” Amodita asked. He said something.
“How’s mom?” she asked.
So she was not aware yet.
“Amo, don’t come home this weekend.” His mind started preparing for the next bigger task: how to break this news to Amo?
Since he had not taken any leaves in the year, his application for one got approved immediately. Das seldom took leaves, and often resumed to work early from vacation. No such plans this time.
He ate outside——slept and woke up at odd hours. Soon neighbors would start talking about the missing person. Unlike his wife, Das was not much of a social person. His interactions with neighbors were minimum, often limited to monosyllables. He was concerned about the daughter though. How would Amo take this?
Mornings he spent in the park; it was empty on weekdays. Not being in the traffic and, not having the rush to meet the mundane deadlines of the office work, relaxed him. He took out the pictures from the envelope. Vedika looked happy. Das had never seen his wife so content.
“Are you secretly gaping at women’s pictures?”
Das didn’t notice the girl till then. She wore a short skirt and a bright top. His initial reaction was that of a surprise, since no one so attractive had voluntarily stopped to talk to him, in the past.
“She’s my wife,” he said.
“May I?” she sat next to him, without waiting for his approval——snatched the pictures and quickly glanced through them.
“She’s hot,” said the girl.
Das had never heard someone commenting on his wife like that——at least not to his face.
“Who’s the dude? Brother?”
“Her lover,” Das hesitated using the word lover. “They eloped, last week.”
The girl, twisted her lips, and blew a suggestive whistle. The women in Das’s family never whistled.
“Now what? By the way I am Anushka.”
They shook hands. He told his name. She held the picture next to his face. “The dude looks better than you!”
It is true, thought Das. That disturbed him.
“He’s a musician,” he said.
She looked at the picture again. “Looks like a bouncer, not musician; unless, he plays different sorts of instruments.” Das searched for a hidden meaning; but concluded the remark was made spontaneously, without much thinking, hence non- suggestive.
“Did you inform the police?”
“No,” he said; he didn’t have any such intentions.
“Aren’t you gonna look for her?”
Who is this girl? She is asking too many questions. Das gave her the yellow post-it note.
She took a long time to read the two lines.
“Is this her leaving note?”
“Super-Cool! She’s a minimalist,” concluded the girl.
The whole conversation agitated him. “Don’t you have school today?”
The girl took out a small mirror from her bag——started admiring the makeup. Re applied dark lipstick. Everything about the girl was bright and flashy. How did her parents approve all this?
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“Not far. I walk to this place. I have a car; but I can’t drive yet. I prefer walking anyway, because——”
“No. I like to meet strangers. Especially mature men. You can be free with them. No formalities. No secrets to keep.”
Something is wrong here——thought Das. Only in his fantasies such pretty women chatted so openly. Except for them the park was empty. Any other woman would have hesitated to approach a stranger in a lonely place. The girl seemed fearless. Is she one of those wonderful people who see the good in everyone? Or is this the ignorance of youth that overlooks the evil in strangers. He lighted a cigarette.
“May I have one?”
While lighting they came closer. “When was the last time you saw a woman this close?”
Das instantly retracted. She took a casual puff but an endless cough seized her.
“This is my first smoke,” said the girl between coughs.
Das got alarmed——tried to snatch the cigarette from her. “Help! Help!” the girl screamed. “This man is molesting me!” Das let her go at once, as if he had touched a live wire.
“Hey mister, are you taking advantage of me?”
The tough look on her face made him nervous. Palms started sweating. It was a strange, surreal moment. She laughed loudly. “Did I scare you?” She sat back and relaxed. The short skirt was raised a little; she didn’t make any effort to pull it down. The skin was whiter where it was not exposed to the sun. This pattern excited Das.
The girl observed the nail polish——gave a satisfying nod. Then she looked at the toe nails, sighed disapprovingly. Although, looking from a distance, Das didn’t find anything wrong. She took a small bottle of nail polish, and then bent forward to paint the nails.
Das suddenly noticed that she was not wearing a bra; this unexpected revelation made him uneasy——he looked away with guilt.
“How’s it?” she asked.
The question left him speechless.
“How’s my nail polish?”
Is she innocent, or Is she faking?
She held her cell phone right in front of his face. “Let me take your picture.” Once again she didn’t wait for his approval. She clicked a couple of pictures.
“Not bad,” she said. He took the cell phone. He had not seen such an advanced gadget. It was bigger than the one he was using. Unlike his phone, this one didn’t have buttons; somewhere it had a camera. Das looked at it in awe, as if it was an unearthly object——something from outer space. The phone had a pink cover. On the backside there was a picture of an attractive woman.
“Kareena Kapoor.” Das had heard the name, but never seen any of her movies.
“Isn’t she cute?”
Das would never use the word “Cute” to refer a woman.
“Where are your parents?” he asked.
“When did you find out the affair?” girl replied with her own question. When Das insisted on his question; she insisted back. Resigned, Das narrated the events.
“My parents are on a study tour,” she said. “They do research at the university.” The irresponsible academic parents amazed Das. The fools must be researching something interesting, to neglect their daughter like this. The topic of parents had brought a cloud on her face.
The girl said at length: “Do you know what’s common between us?” When Das didn’t answer she continued, “We are two lonely people.”
Das could not look at her face. She had turned to the other side.
“Do you want to come to my home?” she asked.
“We can have fun. You know——”
She crossed her legs——smiled at him, innocently. “When was the last time you had it?”
Das looked at her. She stared, un-flinched. Das didn’t have any physical relationship with his wife in months. They even slept in different rooms when Amo was not at home. Though he had been honest to his wife, she had flirted with a different man. And, here’s a girl openly inviting him. Can I not do the same things my wife does? Or Should I lead the thankless life of a saint?
“I think,” he said finally, “I should leave now.”
“Why so urgent?”
“I remembered something. I’ll have to go. It was nice talking to you.” He started collecting his things.
“Mr. Das, Are you one of those men?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” Das said.
“The ones who prefer men.”
That was the final blow for Das. He didn’t say a word. He kept walking, without responding to the numerous obscenities hurled at him.
Das didn’t go to the park after the incident. One day he returned from one of his idle walks, and found the door unlocked. Vedika might have come back to collect the remaining stuff. Instead, he found his daughter on the couch, her eyes red and swollen.
“Mom called me,” she said.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Das sat next to her. “What she said?”
“Many things. Said she found her music. Whatever that means. She said she’ll be in touch.”
Amo was affected the most. For Das, this was the most painful aspect of this whole incident.
Later in the evening she said: “I always thought you were an odd couple——Mom and you. Why did you marry her?”
He sighed. “Do you want to go out for dinner? Nothing at home.”
“No. I am fine,” she said.
“I’ll get something,” he went out.
When he came back she was watching TV. Das started arranging the dishes on the dining table. He looked at the many pictures of Amo on the wall, at different stages of her life. He was not in many of them——he had taken those pictures. He looked at the daughter fondly. She had more of his qualities than of her mother. Long back, a teacher had remarked in Red ink on the margin of Amo’s picture book, for not maintaining the order. Das had browsed the book casually: honeycombs, flowers, sand dunes, cracks on the ground. He had smiled to himself. The pictures were not random. All of them had patterns! Soon after, she solved her first Rubik’s cube under 5 minutes.
Das noticed something on her hand.
“Is that a tattoo?”
“No. it’s a sticker. It’ll go.”
“Talk to me before tattooing or piercing.”
“Anything else?” Amo rolled eyes. “No wonder it’s difficult to live with you.”
He took the remote and reduced the volume. Something caught his eyes——the girl on the TV. Das stared in horror. It was the same girl whom he had met in the park! Anusha. No, that was not her name. Anu something…Anushka! She was sitting next to a middle aged man. She wore different clothes, but they were short and revealing. Das Froze!
“What’s the naughtiest thing you ever did?” Anushka asked. The man said something.
She giggled. “Are you sure?”
The man placed a hand on her lap.
“Hey Mister, are you taking advantage of me?”
Das turned to his daughter. “What’s this?”
“Candid camera,” Amo said, “She seduces lonely strangers. There’s a camera crew somewhere but the victim doesn’t know that. She convinces the victim to go to her home, she being alone. When they reach home, there’s police waiting and a team of reporters and TV people…”
A cold shiver passed through his spine. “Looks like she’s the one seducing him,” he said, when recovered sufficiently, regretting using the word ‘seduce’.
“Yes. But she’s a teen——minor.”
“Does she tell the victim that she’s a minor?”
“Not directly; she would say she can’t drive or drink. Something not legal for a teen.”
Das watched the rest of the show without any questions. Do you know what’s common between us? When was the last time you were so close to a woman? How’s my nail-polish? Oh God! Everything was a script.
Anushka had convinced her victim to take her to home. The moment they opened the large gate, something like a siren sounded. Many people materialized from thin air, like the characters from a mythological drama. Some were in uniform. The camera zoomed on the victim’s face, which had a look of horror, with many questions. Das switched off the TV.
The next day Das went to the train station to drop off Amo. He waited till the train departed. Last night’s TV episode lingered in his mind. Someone, sitting on the cement bench, caught his eye. They looked at each other at the same time. She didn’t have the makeup and, her hair was cut short.
“Am I on camera now?” Das sat next to her.
Anushka didn’t reply to the question. “I no more work for the TV channel,” she said.
“I have a train in a few minutes,” she said, “I am leaving town.”
A tall man with a heavy build came towards them. Two muscular men were with him.
“Well well well,” said the tall man, “look who’s here?”
Anushka stared at the man. Das noticed her lips quivering.
“Is this is your new victim?” the man asked Anushka pointing to Das.
“You’ll become famous soon,” the man assured Das. “We are all on TV. Or I may be just lucky to find her without her crew. This crowded station is not her usual hunting ground.”
“I think you are mistaken——”
“No. I am not,” shouted the man. “I have seen all your episodes, ever since you sent my brother to jail. First, I thought it’s the right thing for him. Fucking child molester. He called me from jail. Narrated the whole thing. The things they didn’t show on TV. You people have smartly edited the unwanted parts.”
The girl recoiled in horror. The man addressed his mates: “My brother was minding his own business. But the hot- bitch here goes to him. Flashes her mini skirt. Talks dirty. My brother has no mind. The fool thinks he’s a film star. I am going to put an end to this. I am going to make a nice little cut on her cheek with my knife. People will recognize her right away.”
By now Das had recovered sufficiently; he said feebly, “she’s not who you think.”
“Shut up,” said the man, “Did she invite you to her home?”
The man grabbed Das by collar. Already a crowd had gathered around.
“You think I am a fool?”
“You think I cannot recognize the horny-bitch?”
“You tell me who’s she?”
Das remained silence.
“Looks like you know everything,” the man squeezed the collar. “Tell me who is she?”
“She is my daughter,” Das said.
The girl looked at Das.
“I came to drop her at the station,” Das said. “If you don’t believe me, check her purse. She has a pink cell phone and, on the back cover she has her favorite actress…Bobby.”
“Bebo,” corrected Anushka. “Dad always confuses Bebo with Bobby.”
She offered her cell. “Hey mister,” said an old school- teacher from the crowd, “don’t harass these good people.” His age and profession had given the old man the required courage. Someone had alerted the station police and a man in uniform was coming towards them.
“Munna, this is not the time to get noticed,” One of the two men——who was a silent observer so far——warned the tall man. The goons took off. The crowd dispersed. Das started towards the exit. He stopped on hearing his name. Das looked back. It was Anushka. She ran to him and, hugged him tightly.
“I am sorry,” she mumbled, fighting tears, “I didn’t mean whatever I said in the park.” She continued between sobs, “I said all the bad things to you. I got paid only when I trapped someone.”
He patted on her shoulder. “Forget all that. It’s all past.”
The girl wiped off her tears. Das bought her a cold drink from the stall.
“Are you angry with me?”
“Not anymore,” said Das.
“Is your wife back?” she was relaxed now.
“She’s at bigger loss. You are a good man.”
“Well, I’m not sure about that,” he smiled. The train’s departure was announced. “You should go now.”
The girl sipped till the straw made noise, then returned the empty bottle to the vendor.
“Sure, not angry with me?” she said.
“Yes. I am not angry with you.”
She took a step back from him. “Say Mister Das,” she smiled coyly, “Do I look sexy to you?”
She was no more a girl. She had transformed into a woman overnight.
Das hesitated, then said: “You are the prettiest woman I have ever seen.”
She smiled. Waved to him and ran to the train. Das waited till the train disappeared at the horizon; then walked towards the exit.
Note: If you liked this short story, you might like my other short stories as well. Click here for more.
This story was published on Daiji.