*Image via hyena reality on FreeDigitalPhotos
As the lift clanged to a stop on the their floor, Rahul already had the key at the ready. But he kept his hand clasped around it, inside his pocket, waiting, watching. Kavya stepped out before him and walked up the five steps to their door. He heard her bag open and the metallic click of the key on the door. So far, okay. He got out, shut the lift door gently and checked to see if it had shut completely. If it started buzzing when they were in the house, Kavya would get annoyed. When he turned to the stairs though, the door was shut. He sprinted up, losing some of the tension coiled in his own stomach and used the key still in his grasp. But he steadied his breath and forced himself to slow down before pushing the door open.
Kavya was sitting on the sofa, taking off her shoes. Her bag was set down carefully on the floor as usual. Putting the shoes on the rack, she looked up sharply at him. He turned away and pulled off his own shoes, still standing.
“I’m going to take a shower.”
she said, moving towards their bedroom for a towel.
Rahul knew she would, the minute he got back. He was counting on it to make the call. But he hadn’t figured out what to tell her as yet. He waited till she was in the bathroom and he heard the shower running, to dial.
“Suresh, I’m not coming in today. There was a death in the family. Yes, yes, Kavya’s father. He passed away this morning. So…yes, I need to finish up the arrangements. No, should be done today. I’ll be in tomorrow”
It didn’t take more than 32 seconds and the shower was still running so he had some time to formulate a plan. Kavya looked okay. The shut door was a little giveaway but maybe that was the breeze. Kavya was normally so meticulous and watchful.
Rahul walked past the bathroom, his ears cocked. But the shower was the only thing he could hear, no sobs as yet. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. Maybe it was though. The bathroom door was latched and it would be difficult to break it open if he had to reach her in a hurry.
Suddenly the bathroom door opened and Kavya stuck her head around. She seemed startled, then suspicious to see him standing right outside but she said,
“I forgot my robe. Can you get it for me?”
Rahul turned towards their bedroom. Another giveaway. He couldn’t leave her alone today. As he pulled her sky-blue bathrobe off the hook behind the bedroom door, he wondered how he was going to hang around home all day. She would get defensive and insist that he didn’t need to. Then they would end up having a fight and he didn’t want that. He couldn’t afford to sleep on the couch tonight. Not tonight of all nights.
She came out a few minutes later and the first thing she said when she stepped out was,
“Go take a bath.”
Rahul used the excuse to buy himself another ten minutes and let himself not think for that duration. When he came out, she was dressed but lying in bed. She looked up at him as he entered,
“I’m feeling really sleepy. Didn’t sleep very well last night. I think I’ll take a nap. Wake me in an hour?”
Rahul nodded and turned away. He knew she wouldn’t fall asleep if there was anybody in the room, even her own husband. Ten minutes later, he checked on her and she was asleep, breathing peacefully. He knew she had been lying. He had lain awake most of the night, checking on her at frequent intervals. Last night had been a rare, undisturbed night. He almost wished she had had a difficult night. She’d sleep better tonight then. As it was, this nap was going to ruin her sleep pattern. There were probably going to be a lot of restless nights for awhile.
“Rahul? Why haven’t you gone to office? It’s 3:30. Why didn’t you wake me up?”
Kavya was shaking him by the shoulder and Rahul snapped awake.
“Huh? Sorry, I dozed off too.”
She was staring at him. Rahul shook his head to get rid of the sleep clogged in it.
“I called in earlier saying I wouldn’t be in today. Didn’t know how long it would take over there.”
She sat down on the sofa beside him. Her face was as expressionless as it had been. But then, it contorted and Rahul reached for, instinctively. She struggled then stopped and stared at him, in horror.
“It’s me, Kavya. It’s only me. You’re okay. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you. You’re okay, Kavya.”
Her eyes still wide with horror, she began wailing, a low moan. Then she turned away and tried to bite his arm. He tightened his grasp but forced himself to keep his voice calm. Pulling her in close, he mumbled into her hair, soothing. She settled down a little later and relaxed into his embrace, eyes closed. Rahul immediately loosened his grasp and studied her face. Her breathing was still laboured so he waited patiently till it settled down. Then, ever so gently, he smoothed her forehead, drenched with sweat and brushed the wet hair strands away from her face. When she had been silent long enough, Rahul laid her down gently on the sofa and let her sleep a little longer. He set up his laptop in the hall and pulled on headphones, playing the music louder then usual to ensure he stayed awake. She slept peacefully.
They watched a movie on TV that night. A science fiction thriller about robots taking the world. Nothing too emotional and just enough sound and action to keep her distracted. She ate her dinner well, with gusto even. Asking the cook to make her favorite brinjal curry had been a good idea. She didn’t read that night in bed but waited for him lock the doors and switch off the lights. He hesitated at the bedroom switch, though. Kavya was afraid of the darkness so he had had a gentle night light fitted in. Tonight though, even that might not be enough. She must have sensed his trepidation and she threw him a lifeline.
“Switch it off. Even the nightlight.”
“Are you sure?”
she said, her voice firm and her eyes determined.
As he got into bed, she reached for him and he held her close. He was drifting off when he felt her shift and turn away. She must have been waiting for him to fall asleep. He opened his eyes wide, preparing to stay awake but didn’t move another muscle. He didn’t want to alert her to his being awake. She would not drop her mask until she was sure she was alone. That’s why she had wanted the darkness, unable to bear the thought of being able to see even herself.
The sniffs came before the labored breathing, surprising him a bit. Yet, he lay still. The moaning didn’t begin till nearly ten minutes later. That’s when Rahul turned and reached out a hand tentatively to her. He couldn’t see in the darkness, having gotten used to the dim visibility of the nightlight. And his palm touched her hip. Immediately she lashed out, hitting him in the nose with her elbow.
The blow to the nose stunned him and left him disoriented for awhile. She thrashed about and the moaning turned to words, low and whispered. She was muttering angry obscenities at him and he listened horrorstruck. He knew she needed to say these things but he had been unprepared for the force of the reaction. Her voice began to rise and he saw her form shift. He edged away, slightly scared. He wasn’t sure that touching her now would not provoke her further but if she hit him anywhere that knocked him out, it would be dangerous.
All of sudden she gave a huge gasp and shot up in bed, the force of her action sending a tremor through the bed. Rahul sat up and put his hands on her arm, tentatively at first, then more firmly.
“Kavya, Kavya. Shh..It was just a bad dream. You’re okay, Kavya. You’re okay.”
“Oh Rahul, Rahul, Rahul…I dreamt…I dreamt that he was back. He was coming for me again. He was putting his hand under my skirt. And oh, it hurt so much. It’s paining, Rahul, it’s paining so much..it hurts so much…make him go away…make him stop..”
She was crying now and relieved, Rahul pulled her to him, pressing her face into his chest. His teeshirt was drenched in a few seconds. This was just the beginning, Rahul knew. The suspicion and the anger had blunted over the months of daily expression. But the pain had not surfaced till today. He feared that the man dying before Kavya had had a chance to confront him would make things harder. But that would just have to be dealt with, in time. For the time being, her tears were a good sign.
He had been brought up to fear women crying. And a part of him wished that he didn’t have to face her tears. But he had made his peace with it long ago, in the nights that he had lain awake next to his new wife. Every couple must learn how to touch each other in ways that are comforting and loving. They were still learning but they were doing quite well, he thought.
She had calmed down now and he allowed himself to drop a kiss on her forehead. Then he laid her back onto the bed and waited till she fell asleep.