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Pradeep, agile for his 70 years, ran to his wife’s bedside. Her bleary eyes seem to have sensed him, for they opened briefly and closed. He crashed down on the chair beside her. He could not believe that it was just that morning his wife of 50 years, kissed him goodbye at the door. He had been reluctant to leave for a business trip that day, with the mood of their 50th wedding anniversary, still hanging thick in the air. But Vasundhara had persuaded him to go. After all, he would be back before nightfall, she had said. At the doorstep, she brushed her lips against his and had stood to wave goodbye, until the car disappeared from the driveway. Now, he instinctively touched the lips that felt her for the last time, as if she lingered there. He called out to her, hoping she would hear him. 
He could hear his maid opening the door and letting the paramedics in. The maid summed up the situation for them.
‘She is not waking up from her nap.’
‘Just opens her eyes and searches for something.’
At the hospital, he waited in the hallway of the emergency ward, tired and broken, as the doctors hurried in and out of the ward. He was surprised to find himself hungry and realized he had missed lunch. But he lacked the energy to pull himself up from the chair. When the senior doctor approached him, he knew what to expect.
There had been a massive haemorrhage in her brain. She was beyond acute treatment due to her advanced age. In fact, her mind was drowning slowly, as they spoke. He felt numb and his legs almost gave way as he came close her bed. He held her limp hand, staring at her pale lopsided face. He wiped away a string of spittle from her chin. He had a thousand things to say but can she hear him? He knew it did not matter and he would have to do with what was left of her. He would have to cramp all his love in these last few hours before she fades away.
‘I will inform Priya right away. She will have to fly down’, he told her. He looked at her as if expecting a reply. A small lump rose in his throat, which broke down into sobs, then soon turned into convulsions of despair.
The time had come to deliver the truth, and Vasundhara had dreaded the moment for a long time. She had secretly expected that it would never arrive. But now it was there, staring at her and mocking her to pay up her dues. The act, that was done decades ago, in a moment of weakness, demanded redemption now. Then, she had convinced herself that, for the sake of her daughter, the betrayal needed to be kept in the dark. But guilt kept gnawing her and to assuage it, she had made a devil’s pact and had promised that she would confess all to her husband soon after their 50th wedding anniversary. With their anniversary approaching, she had rehearsed her apology many times, substituted one word for another, desperately trying to mellow down the blow that might land on Pradeep. But betrayal was exactly what it was and no amount of polishing would wash away its stain of deception. It wrenched her heart to see Pradeep, blissfully looking forward to their anniversary.
On their anniversary, he woke her up with 50 red roses. He had her favourite cake delivered. With great effort, he had purchased the DVD of the first movie they watched together. It had gone out of print, but it was Vasundra’s favourite movie and Pradeep had hunted it down, after a long search. They scanned through their old photographs; their first picture together, full of young love, photos of their first tiny rented house, their daughter’s arrival, Vasundara’s graduation photos with Pradeep flanking her proudly, their daughter’s miles stones. Each picture spoke a thousand memories. Vasundra was aware that once she confesses, things would never be normal again. Throughout the day, she held him close to her. When Pradeep kissed her good night, Vasundra caught him, pulled his face to her and looked into his eyes. Shouldn’t she spare him the pain? But she could hear the devil’s chuckling and she could not let him win. She could never go to her grave with the pain of the truth, bearing her soul down. Tomorrow would be my deliverance, she thought.    
The next day, she was actually relieved when an early morning call made Pradeep leave for work immediately. When the call woke them up, her head felt heavy. After she saw Pradeep off, she sat down with her coffee, when she noticed that the photo albums that they leafed through yesterday, had not been put away. She flipped a few pages, when she came across a picture of her, rolled into a ball, sleeping next to her newborn daughter. Pradeep had drawn a heart over the photograph. A sudden wave of remorse choked her throat. She felt as if she could not prolong her agony anymore. She would confess all to Pradeep, on his return. The heaviness in her head had mutated into a splitting headache now. Leaving her coffee untouched, she went up to her room to lie down. The soft duvet smelt of Pradeep which made her feel strangely comforted by it. She imagined his arms around her when she slowly slipped into sleep.
‘Your roses are withering, Vasu. Come back and put them in the vase’, he said.’I am hungry, Vasu ma. I want to taste your pulav’ he continued.’I want to listen to your voice, dear’, he randomly let words come out his mouth, hoping something would jolt her back to him. But when they had no effect on her, his tears flowed freely, wetting her gnarled hands. He wiped it away with his shirt.  A sudden wave of helplessness left him drained and he slumped into sleep, with his head resting on her hands.
She was aware of the fact that she was in a new environment. Her eyes laid upon the figure slouched beside her bed. She might have murmured something because the person holding her hands woke up with a start. She recognized her husband and remembered that there was something that needed to be conveyed. She knew she was running out of time as she could feel her senses going under one by one. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on that inner voice, which urged her. She kept her consciousness against the tide, trying to remember the last thing she wanted to communicate with her husband. After some effort, she found out what she wanted to tell him. The word finally found its escape from the depth of her being. ‘Sorry’ she whispered, ‘I betrayed your trust once. I love you. Please…forgive…’the last words trailed into silence. But her eyes were still searching and yearning for atonement. Pradeep hurriedly replied with conviction,  ‘I know, dear. I knew it all the while and I love you and still love you, just as on the day, I fell in love with you’. Vasundhara should have comprehended the words, for she felt light as a feather and closed her eyes for the last time, finding immense comfort in the fact that she was truly loved all through her life, warts and all.
Unconditional Love
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