Tell Me Your Story

9 min


2

Part 1: Introducing Natasha 

 

I was desperately in love. And on top of the world – literally, too. 

I leaned out the window of the high-rise and sighed. The indigo sky was splattered with the colors of the sunset. The Creator made sure that His every masterstroke was different from His last. But how does He do it?

It was this hour that I loved as much as I detested it. Why? Because this was the very hour at which we had first met. We had locked eyes and the world had come to a standstill. Those piercing, dark eyes. Damn! They had held me captive. He had, then, walked over to me and introduced himself. 

Ma, you were so wrong. See, I am WORTHY of being loved, even desired.

Oh, how I missed him. No, I was delirious with desire for him. Stupid girl. Get back to work!

The hours ticked by until it was time. Grabbing my satchel, I sprinted out of my cubicle, almost colliding with the stocky security guy.

“Oops, sorry…!”

As the elevator doors closed, I admired my svelte frame in the mirror. 

Never mind having to chow down only salads for weeks now – woman, you look amazing!

The self-discipline he had instilled in me was commendable. I couldn’t wait to see him that night. As I settled behind the wheel, I remembered a few errands before heading home.

Let’s see. Restaurant reservation confirmation, then, outfit pick-up from the Dry-cleaners. Hmm, do I still get the time to hit the gym? Heck, yes!

“Terence and Tony’s? Yes, this is Natasha Mathews. I have a reservation for later, tonight…”

As I drove out the parking lot, I saw a sleek, black Sedan frantically pulling behind me. Hmm, cool car. I blew a whistle under my breath.    

I had just changed into my gym clothes when he called. Butterflies in my stomach began flapping their iridescent wings. The sound of his voice injected euphoria into my veins. This man had an inexplicable power over me I did not know existed.

Ma, you are STILL wrong! I am loved.

I was driving back home a couple of hours, later – when I saw her. The woman behind the wheels of the black Sedan. She had been tailing me. All day, today. Yes, I remember having seen her as I drove off for work in the morning. Then at the office parking, she had been there, as well. As we waited at the signal, now, I caught a glimpse of her in my rear-view mirror. As I looked at her, our eyes met. I thought I saw her smile with apprehension as she turned on the ignition when the light turned green. I didn’t think much of her after that

Cool, a woman admirer.

Back at my apartment, we crooned together, Bryan Adams and I: Do I have to say the words… Unless to prove to you… how good we are together? Just a couple of hours later, and we would be meeting at the restaurant. A deluge of imageries of the two of us, together, flooded my senses.

The doorbell rang, interrupting my train of thoughts.

Who could it be, now…?

I opened the door and stared. 

The occupant of the black Sedan was standing at my door. She stretched out her hand and smiled at me. 

“Hello, I am Sandhya Sharma. I am the wife of the man you are sleeping with.”

Now, my mind is a funny thing; it conjures up images out of nowhere. I saw my mother, then, in my mind’s eye. She was sprawled on the bed, looking beautiful and oh-so-lifeless.

 

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Part 2: Introducing Sandhya 

 

I thought that I would be beside myself with fury when I would meet her. But when I saw her crestfallen face after my startling revelation, my wrath mildly dissipated. 

She doesn’t know, I realized. 

I did loathe her in the very beginning; a river of intense resentment had flowed through me at the realization that my husband had decided to share his life, his body with someone else. Pangs of jealousy had followed soon after. And then seemingly innocent questions had begun to prey upon my mind. Questions like:             

What was she like? Tall? Fair? Wavy or straight hair? 

What was it about her that made my husband seek solace in her arms? Why had he felt the need to be drawn towards this stranger? 

There was only one person who could have answered these questions. It had not taken me long to find her; where she lived, where she worked. 

My sweet husband thought I was too naive and trusting to detect his deceit, but my suspicions had begun ever since his lies began. 

“Sorry, I can’t come home early, today, Sandhya. Urgent meeting…”

“I have to finish this report by tonight….”

“I didn’t want to trouble you with the dinner…” 

“It’s just my project partner; we need to be in constant touch…” 

My world was caving in. The white lies pulled tenaciously at the delicate threads of our shared lives.

I knew that I could not find the “courage” to face him – not without evidence. So, when I had heard him whisper into his phone, that day:

“Of course, I’ll meet you tomorrow, silly. Our usual time and place. I love you, too…” – I had decided that it was time to confront my nemesis.

Myriad thoughts had crossed my mind as I had followed her around.

Is this what she’s going to wear tonight?

Is her body better looking than mine? 

Is she better at dinner-table conversations than me? 

Does she even have the slightest idea that he likes just one spoonful of sugar in his ginger tea?

And now, I stood at her apartment gate, feeling foolish. My heart pounded in my chest as I told the elevator guard, “Fifth floor, please.” Upon reaching it, I froze. I could hear the tunes of a love song through her door as I struggled to move my feet. My hand trembled as I lifted them to ring the bell. My head spun and my mouth went dry.

“Hello…” I began. My voice sounded void even to me.

“I don’t understand,” she said, later. She had invited me inside and offered me a glass of water. She was very courteous.

“I knew it would be hard for you. Look, I have proof.” 

I began showing her photographs. I had brought along the wedding album to show her. Our silly, smiling faces now looked back at us. I watched her closely. With each photograph, her face fell. I began expounding the details of my husband’s deception as a doctor would explain the extent of an infection to a patient’s attendant; calmly, carefully. 

“You must believe me: I had no idea. We met at this conference a few months back, and…”

“There’s no need to explain,” I said. Then I said something that I never thought I would.

“It’s okay. I understand.”  

She looked up at me, surprised. She began to nod her head slowly, as if with each nod she understood, too. She looked as if she wanted to cry.

Grief is a private affair. All my life I have been conditioned to conceal it, afraid it might spill over into other people’s lives.

“Are you alright?” she asked me, suddenly. I considered her question. I felt odd. I felt like a dismembered torso.

“Ever seen a Siamese-banana…? You know, the kind that are joined in the middle? Well, I kind of feel like someone ripped me apart and ate the other half.” I smiled at the outrageous analogy. 

She did not smile. 

We talked for hours. But neither of us cried.

 

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Part 3: Being Natasha 

 

If you ever bump into me, you wouldn’t know. I try very hard, but some days I seem to give in. You see, I have become my mother. 

Now, my mother killed herself when I was just seven. The doctor declared it a “suicide with an overdosage on sleeping pills”. She thought – my father later told me – that she wasn’t “good enough”. Now I am not sure if she ever was, but when something like that ever happens to your seven-year-old self, well, what can I say? It’s like something begins to strip away from places deep inside of you until you become empty at the core.

I loved my mother. I thought she loved me, too.

I sat waiting, now, alone, fidgeting at the coffee shop. I gulped down the coffee in distaste. Not that it didn’t taste right; I was busy spiraling down… down into the abysmal depths of my own making.

He didn’t show up. He had called an hour back to explain that he would be stuck in the meeting. I had smiled through the disappointment and wished him a “great” evening for later that day.

But now as I watched the orange sun dying on the horizon, I drew in a long-drawn breath and sighed. The weight of this sigh is directly proportional to the oncoming darkness of the night.

Thoughts of Sandhya drifted into my mind. The evening we first met had haunted me since then.

What kind of a woman does it take to come apart every night before she pulls herself back together again, every morning? A woman with a spine made up of stainless-steel?

I envisioned her, then, with a rod of steel sticking out of her back. Ghastly but intriguing, just the same. The image of her lingered before she looked into my eyes and smiled. She looked surreal, like some kind of a gothic angel hovering above me, even when she wasn’t bodily present with me.

And what kind of a woman does it take to still want to want a man? And not just any man – a man who couldn’t even stay true to his own wife? 

I saw myself, then, in my mind’s eye. My body doubled up upon me, bent over at the hip. No spine? I chortled aloud at my imagination, much to the amusement of the elderly man sitting across from me. He peered at me from above his horn-rimmed glasses and gave me a wink, before returning to his evening paper. I sat, red-faced.

“Anything else, Ma’am?” The waiter attending to me at the Café looked at me with what could be described as a mild concoction of commiseration and disdain.

As I opened my mouth to speak, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the windowpane; I was famished.

“Yes… I mean, no…”  He raised an eyebrow and a slight curve appeared at the corner of his mouth.

“I meant… I am done with coffee, thanks.” My stomach rumbled as if in cue. “May I have the extra-large hamburger with a side of chicken wings, please.” He beamed at me.

“Sure!”

Right in the middle of taking a bite of the succulent wing, my cell phone rang. 

“Hey, babe. I am finally done with the darn meeting! Say, how about I come over later, tonight…?”

My heart broke

Have you ever wanted something so despairingly – while being absolutely certain – that it wasn’t good for you? 

“Darling! You have absolutely no idea… this chicken tastes so good…”  Munch, munch. “Oh, by the way… we are done!” 

I don’t mince words when I am talking – even when I am talking with my mouth full.

“Wait… what did you say? I don’t understand…” 

I swallowed the chicken. 

“I thought I would tell you this, over a fine cup of coffee. But since that wasn’t to be… Go home, darling!

I hung up on him. Tears stung my eyes. I squeezed them shut. Then I saw the figure of the woman who was doubled upon herself, begin to stand up straight. I gasped.

Oh, Mama!

I fought back tears. The woman opened her mouth and began to mouth the words, “I love you, my baby girl…”

My heart gave in and I wept with abandon.

 

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Part 4: Being Sandhya 

 

The sharp “ping” of my phone made me jump. I ignored it as I put down the cup of tea on the spotlessly clean bedside-table and contemplated the letter that lay before me.

I picked it up gingerly between my fingers and held it to my nose. Even the crisp, white sheet of paper had his fragrance. I slid out of bed and walked around our bedroom, inhaling his aroma and reminiscing old times. 

Sometimes when you live long enough with a man, attending to his duties, Sandhya, he invades your entire being. He fills up your senses and even the objects in his house begin to reek of him.

I laughed at my own statement.

“Do you think it was a good idea to get married to one another?” I had asked him the night before, as we lay next to each other. Naturally, he was taken by surprise.

“Of course! What a strange question…” he had begun and then stopped and grinned at me. 

“Why? Have you met someone?” A mischievous smile. I had looked away, at once alarmed and embarrassed. The irony of the statement had not failed on me.

“No, seriously. Tell me, why did we get married?”

“Hmm, because we fell in love with each other?” My husband had ventured.

“And do you still love me?”

A guffaw. “What’s gotten into you, tonight, Sandhya!” His voice had then grown a notch lower, deeper, tender, before he replied with a smile.

“Of course, I love you.” He had looked me in the eye as he had lied through his teeth.

I had said, “Okay.”

But later in the night, unbeknownst to him, I had climbed into the shower. I had spent a reasonable amount of time trying to wash off his lingering scent from my skin. My skin had begun to redden from the scrubbing; his smell seemed to have seeped into my bones.

Now standing in our bedroom, I studied the old, perfectly-framed photographs, adorning the walls of the room. The memories seemed to belong to another couple. Not us. We have changed.

Cry, Sandhya. Why don’t you cry? The husband you loved and adored has left you for someone else.

No tears came. Instead, I felt disencumbered. Even the knotty ache at the bottom of my neck seemed to have alleviated.

These are strange times. These are strange days.

The ringing of the phone penetrated my thoughts.

“Yes, Natasha! I have been expecting you… Oh, you will be here in five minutes? Great, let me meet you at the door. Oh wait… you got the camera, right?”

I put down the phone on the bed-side table and my eyes fell upon the portrait of our marriage, resting amicably upon it. I saw two, loony love-birds laughing, completely unaware of what might lay ahead of them in the years to come. I was possessed by a sudden surge of emotion, alien to me. My hand reached out and struck at it. The frame enclosing the photograph fell, breaking into large, jagged pieces.

I went back to the letter I had been writing. Wording it to precision, painstakingly, had taken most of the morning. But it needed to be perfect. Something needed to be perfect.

Dear husband, it began.

 

I am left with no other choice. I am leaving you.

I don’t know how to say it, so I will say it outright. I am afraid I don’t love you anymore. 

Yes, dear, you were right. I met someone.

 

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Epilogue

The balmy breeze plays havoc with their hair. There they are, enjoying bottles of beer on the terrace. The golden, evening sun casts its glow on everything it touches. Like Midas’ Gold. They take a sip every now and then, talking. They look like old childhood friends.

“Explain why…” enquires Natasha, “Why in the world did you not simply confront him?”

Sandhya shrugs. 

“I just didn’t think he was worth it.” She adds softly, “Anymore.”

Natasha looks at her and makes a whimsical face. 

“Oh, shut the heck up, Sandhya! You planned it so elaborately. I knew how deeply you hurt on the Day of the Polaroid, darling. Trying to make it appear as though we were lovers, romping in the bed that you and your husband shared…” 

She pauses to look at her new BFF in the eye. 

She looks beautiful. This woman, so calm, simply sitting with the sun in her hair and fire in her eyes.

Natasha continues, “Cheating on a husband with his very mistress… Woman, that’s downright sneaky!”

Sandhya raises an index finger to correct her. “Not cheating, Natasha. Just getting even. I needed to give him the taste of his own medicine. Thanks for playing along.”

“Ah, what would I have given to see his expression… You know? When he found the pictures with the letter.” She pauses before saying, decisively, “You destroyed him.”

Sandhya wears a triumphant smile.

Natasha shakes her head as she says, “Oh well, all’s fair in love and war – or so they say – All’s fair!”

Sandhya stays silent. She only lifts her wrist to her face and scrunches her nose. She then speaks with a quiet conviction, “I think his odor is almost fading.”

 

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Team name: The Zainney Ones

Team members: Anne Adarsh and Zainab M. M.

 

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AnneAdarsh

3 Comments

  1. Unusual end. Who is the character from the prompt who turns her life around? The mother? Would have loved to read more exchanges with the mom n natasha. Couldn’t follow the flow perfectly, got lost some places trying to place the pieces together . Love the strong women in the story
    7/10

  2. Ah, an interesting read. Both the characters are unusual in the way they deal with the situation. I loved that part. Although I didn’t understand how the mother’s death at an early age would affect the protag in the way it did. When I read about her, I thought they were estranged because maybe the mother had put too many expectations from her.
    Anyway, it was a fun read overall.
    My rating 8.
    #rulfied

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