My mind is numb with anguish as I wake up alone, in a bed that is still new to me.
A month after Ashok’s passing, I moved into this senior living community. But I am yet to reconcile with my loneliness.
Grief isn’t the feeling that you undergo when your spouse dies. It’s what you go through later. It’s the sudden realization that your husband will never be next to you when you wake up. It’s the anguish you experience when you turn to tell him something and encounter a vacuum. It’s the knowledge that he will not be at your side, laughing at your silly little jokes or waiting to quarrel with you when you are ready to pick one up.
It’s not that Ashok and I were a lovey-dovey couple. Far from it. In our forty years of married life, I guess we would have spent at least twenty, quarreling.
But our fights would never last long, and the joy of making up outweighed the bitterness of the quarrel.
I keep reminiscing about our life and continue to mope and lie on my bed most of the day.
Kaushalya, the counselor who looked after the psychological concerns of the seniors in the community, insists that I meet her. I share my distress and heartbreak with her and talk about how I cannot come to terms with my loss. One of the things that she recommends is that I start the healing process by joining the fitness training.
As the trainer does the count, I bend down to touch my toe. It’s pretty tough. My old bones are creaking, and the muscles are responding with protest.
I take a long time to straighten up, and that’s when I notice this ridiculous-looking guy prancing around. His posterior is sticking out at an awkward angle, and his tummy is doing a loutish jiggle. I check his face in the mirror that lines the gym’s wall.
The smirk on his face is priceless. He seems to think he is the fittest person in the room. He has the self-satisfied smile and the swagger of a lithe, well-built younger man. He has no idea how oafish he looks.
I hate his demeanor. I feel like punching his insolent-looking face.
It’s been a month, and I have learned that the guy’s name is Sankaran. He is the bane of my existence. For some reason, he seems to have taken an instant dislike to me, too.
Sankaran pushes past me when we wait in a queue to serve ourselves coffee. I turn to look at the others, but they don’t seem to notice his boorish behavior.
Some magazines lie on the table, and I go to pick one up, and he is right there, flicking shabbily through them and replacing them haphazardly. I have a good mind to tell him off, but I restrain myself.
There is a brainvita game laid out on a table in the recreation room. I still have not dared to socialize, so this is the only game I can play by myself. I sit on the chair and pull the board with the marbles towards myself when he suddenly plonks himself in the opposite chair and drags it to his end.
I have a good mind to start a fight with him, but I stop myself. Instead, I go to the community manager and complain about him.
Five to seven, in the evening, is our leisure time. As if we are too busy otherwise. I smile to myself.
I have found a nice cozy nook under a mango tree, underneath which there is a comfy, easy chair stuffed with soft cushions. I sit here and watch the sunset. So far, my hideout has been Sankaran-free, and I plan to keep it that way.
It is my cozy-nook time. I look around warily and make my way to the garden. But to my consternation, Sankaran is already there, sitting on ‘my’ chair.
I see him watching me with a glint in his eyes. Okay. If he wants a fight, he is going to get one.
I go up to him, stand with my hands on my hips, and yell, “That’s my place. Will you get up?”
“Ha! Is it? Is your name written on it? Go ahead. Show me where?”
“I have been sitting here for one month. So, Yes, it’s mine.”
“If you sit at a place and it becomes yours, then all the houses I rented should be mine.” Sankaran points to another shabby chair lying in the sun. “You can sit there.”
I change tactics and yell, “How dare you talk to me like that…”
We carry on the fight. I feel an old familiar thrill creeping up my mind.
Kaushalya is finishing her work for the day when the manager comes in stealthily, puts a warning finger to his lips, and leads her out of her room. He guides her to a hidden spot in the garden and points.
Kaushalya watches the bizarre scene.
One of the community residents is yelling and gesticulating, standing in front of a chair as if talking to someone sitting on it. But the chair is empty!
The manager explains, “I have been noticing this lady for a month. She always behaves as if she is talking to some invisible person. She even complained to me about some guy called Sankaran. But we don’t have any residents by that name. Today I see that she is yelling at this empty chair.”
Kaushalya looks thoughtful as she replies, “I am not a qualified psychiatrist, but I think she may be hallucinating. I mean, she sees someone who is a figment of her imagination. ”
The manager smiles and replies, “I learned that her husband passed away recently. Maybe she misses her fights with him so much that she has invented an imaginary person with whom she can have daily doses of quarrels.”