The rains came pouring as Kavvya left the office. Oh! She didn’t want to be late again. Siddhi would be upset. He had asked her to leave an hour ago but her boss wanted to discuss some issues before she left for her two-week leave.
‘What can happen in two weeks? Surely the office can manage without you?’ he snapped.
After courting for 5 years, they married a year ago. She worked for an advertising agency while he owned an export business. An otherwise happy couple, lately they were having bitter arguments. The disagreements usually centred on long working hours. They hadn’t realised they could hurt each other so much. After one such heated argument, they decided that they had to get away for a few days just to be together, to get their life back on track again. They planned a visit to Missouri.
They were to leave by the evening flight to Delhi, take a train to Dehradun and from there travel to Missouri by hired car. The travel agent had taken care of everything. Kavvya frantically tried to hail a cab when her mobile rang. She half expected it and sweat trickled down her spine.
‘Where are you? Do you realise the time? We should have been on our way to the airport now. There is bound to be heavy traffic today,’ Siddhi yelled.
‘I will be there in a few minutes.’
She disconnected, eventually found a cab and reached home in half an hour. Hurrying up the stairs, she dropped her bag on the floor and ran to pack the last minute things she needed. Siddhi kept grumbling but she thought it best to ignore. Otherwise, a heated argument would ensue and delay them further. She just wanted to leave.
Another half-hour later they were on their way to the airport. The driver sensed the tension and drove as swiftly as he could. Siddhi was quiet while Kavvya closed her eyes and relaxed. She felt drained. At every red signal, Siddhi cursed and become fidgety. They reached the airport just at the nick of time.
On the flight, he calmed down. As their eyes met, he broke into a smile and mouthed, ‘I love you.’
The next day they were two completely different people, very much in love with each other. They sat reminiscing about their courtship days. Thrown back a couple of years they felt young and alive. The problems that looked irreparable were lost in time. The drive to Missouri was enveloped in the midst of greenery and a bright sunny blue sky.
The agent had planned the trip to give them ample time to just be together without too many sightseeing plans fitted in. On the third day after having made passionate love, Kavvya lay with her head cradled on the crook of his shoulder. He held her close running his fingers through her hair. She looked up to him and said, ‘I’m sorry. You mean everything to me. You understand how important my work is to me. Whenever you snap at me for working late I feel let down. Sometimes I want to open up to you, share my workload and take your advice. But I’m scared. I feel you hate where I work and my work itself. It hurts me’.
Placing his hand beneath her chin he turned her towards him.
‘Don’t you think I hurt too? I feel so left out whenever you’re not around. When you return from work, all I want to do is be in your arms and just talk like the way we did before. Things have changed so much. You have changed. You would rather talk about clients, artwork and layouts than about us. Everything can’t revolve around work remember. Your late-night with clients also concerns me. What if someone makes a pass at you? I can’t tolerate that. I worry myself sick whenever you’re not home before nightfall. I am always anxious. I love you’.
She became tensed. The anger came back.
‘But I’m always careful with whom I’m going out. I keep my distance and am reserved. I never spend more time at work than I need to’.
They were now both sitting apart. Voices raised, each tried to convince the other. Neither listened while this was their desperate attempt to do just that!
‘You just don’t understand.’
Siddhi got out of bed, dressed and left the room leaving her crying. The clock struck twelve.
The shattering of glass somewhere woke her up. The room was in darkness. As her eyes accustomed to the dimness she felt her way and lit the bedside lamp. It was past 8 in the evening. She looked around but Siddhi wasn’t anywhere around. She took a long bath and then sat reading the paper. The clock struck 9. He’d been gone for more than 9 hours. She began to worry.
‘Where are you?’
She pulled on a pullover and went outside. The reception hadn’t seen him. She searched the entire hotel but he was nowhere. Concerned, she went in search of him. As it was tourist season there were people on the streets and the shops were open. She walked through the entire mall area peering into every shop and restaurant.
The sudden screech of tires stopped her in her tracks. She ran towards the noise and saw a man shooing away a stray dog. She felt weak and practically fell over the man standing nearby.
‘Are you okay, madam?’
She turned to push through the crowd and walked away.
By now, she was sweating profusely. Tears started welling up. If only they weren’t arguing. Sometimes she wondered if her work was that important. What if he’s gone for a walk on the Camel Back road? It was a long winding road around the hill with a stone, which looked like a camel’s hump and hence the name. She swiftly retraced her step. The winding road looked gloomy and dark. Shivering she wrapped her arms around herself and walked briskly. The road was unlit at places while at others the dim lights made menacing shadows. She thought she heard a voice. She tried to focus on the direction of the sound. Silence.
Then she thought she saw him sitting on a bench alone. Relieved she ran forward calling out his name. The man turned. Seeing the strange bloodshot eyes and sinister goatee she ran away as fast as her feet could carry her.
‘Please God let me find him. I only wish I hadn’t started the conversation.’
After a while, she stopped to catch her breath. That’s when she noticed the railing round the bend ahead broken. Her heart stopped. What if? She looked on for some time breathing hard and then tiptoed towards it. She stretched her hand and holding the cold broken railing, forced herself to look below. Nothing. Just darkness. She shrank back.
‘Siddhi, please come back.’
She heard voices.
Walking ahead, she noticed a family. Someone was talking animatedly, ‘as we were strolling down the road, desperate calls for help made us lookup. You know how the road spirals up that mountain. We saw a man dangling by the end of his jacket from the bark of a tree. Before we could gather our wits to help him, he fell. Hit his head on the jutting edge of a rock and just rolled down like a ball of cotton. Within seconds, the dense ravine below enveloped him. It was terrible. There were rumours that probably a bug bit the horse he was riding or something scared him for he suddenly jumped throwing the man down the side of the mountain. Horses have a tendency to walk close to the edge. There was nothing to stop him from falling. I can still hear his desperate call for help.’
Kavvya stood shaking. The muscles knotted in her stomach. Was Siddhi wearing a jacket when he left? She couldn’t remember. She ran. She was tired. The road was never-ending.
She came upon a lonely shed. Her legs felt like lead. She couldn’t walk anymore and slumped on the bench.
Siddhi’s smiling face flashed before her eyes. She saw a handsome man with an unsure expression.
‘Hi, I’m Siddharth and I’ve just joined the university. Can you please direct me to the Economics department?’
She eyed him keenly and replied seriously, ‘take the stairs to the sixth floor. Turn to the right and walk straight. You’ll find the Maths department. Then turn left and walk straight again and you’ll come upon the Applied Maths department. Turn left again and walking straight ahead you will find the storeroom used by the Physics department. Take another left and just ahead, you will find the Economics department. By the way, don’t take the lift it’s only for professors.’
As he walked away confused she burst out laughing.
‘That was mean. Couldn’t you just tell him that it’s on the left-hand side on the sixth floor? And what was that about lifts being used by professors only?’ asked her classmate.
Kavvya stood thinking, ‘hmmm…very good looking’.
That was 5 years ago. He’d never forgiven her for ragging him but then love happened.
‘I’ve had it. I’m going to stay separately after marriage.’
He had just informed his parents that he wanted to move out after the wedding. He did love his parents but hated interfering relatives snooping around. He lived in his ancestral home, which housed his family and also his father’s two brothers and their families. The relatives, especially the younger brother’s wife always interfered and voiced her opinion about everything. Siddhi’s father was afraid of the outcome if he moved away as they all had shares in the export business.
‘Don’t worry. They do understand you. It’s just that they are worried about people bad-mouthing. They will blame me saying he is a good boy but his wife has forced him to desert his parents.’
She convinced him that they should live with his family.
On their first night together, Siddhi led her to the puja room. There standing before the idol of Durga, their family deity, they prayed for blessings and he slid an immaculately beautiful diamond ring onto her finger.
Cupping her face in his hand, he said ‘promise we will always be together’.
‘Oh god, what was it that they were arguing about?’ Kavvya snapped back to reality.
Was it something so critical that they had to fight over it so often? Wasn’t love all about adjustment, understanding and acceptance?
By now the tears had dried up. Folding her hands she prayed.
‘Please god please let him come back to me. I’m sorry. I cannot live without him. I don’t want to live without him’.
A sudden gush of wind blew over her. She looked up. The rustle of leaves swaying became louder. The skies cleared and moon lit up the road ahead. A familiar smell of cologne wafted through.
She heard her name. She prayed harder. Then she heard it again. Frightened she turned. There stood Siddhi with his hands clenched looking very concerned.
‘What are you doing here? I’ve been practically all over Missouri looking for you. When I returned to the hotel you were gone. The door to our room was open. God, I almost died when I couldn’t find you. The man sitting alone on the bench up ahead said that he had seen a girl like you walking by some time ago. Don’t you ever do this to me again?’
She couldn’t move. Her body felt like a rock. She tried getting up but fell to her knees.
Siddhi caught her. He wrapped his arms around her.
‘Oh thank god,’ she broke down.
‘I love you.’
They said together.
Then looked at each other and smiled. They knew they would always be together.