“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”
Every time there was a woman, Gayatri had known instinctively—but that was a thing of the past; the time when she still cared. It was as much Gayatri’s natural instinctiveness, as Dr. Bhardwaj’s obvious guilt. At those times, he would look energetic, somehow more vigorous, and youthful. He would be charming, caring, and attentive to her needs. The pattern never varied, and would make her suspicious. She would look for signs of his deceits, instead of prying, which scared her as she could cause untold and grave hurt to herself. She would indulge in imaginary situations where she caught him red-handed, and he refused to let the other woman go. The fear she could lose everything to some unknown, insignificant rival would agonize her for months.
But all of that misery was a thing of the past. She only cared about their reputation, status, and family name. He could die tomorrow as far as she was concerned, provided he died respectfully.
On the way to the villa, she kept wondering about the woman with whom he was involved nowadays. She couldn’t be from Sanover, Gayatri told herself, where one’s business was everyone’s business. She knew he had his reputation and his status to keep intact. He had always been careful in the past, but if he wasn’t this time . . . the thought made her shudder.
Although she had somewhat expected it, finding her husband’s car on the porch surprised her. It was past six in the evening. Despite being aware of her husband’s nature, she had half convinced herself that the note was a lie. She tried to push the door open, but it was locked from inside. That was when she knew with absolute certainty what was awaiting her. She thought about turning back, but her hands already refused to take command from her brain and she fumbled inside her purse to find the keys. Without a thought, she impulsively turned the key in the lock, shut the door behind her, and scanned the pale-white gallery and rooms beyond. She walked toward the smaller bedroom on her right, the only room with the door closed, paused for a fraction of a second, and pushed the door open.
She saw him first, and their eyes met. She saw a look of incredulity pass over his face, followed by shock mingled with shame and fear.
Then she noticed the woman, a creamy-white face framed with black curls, from which a pair of heavy-lidded charcoal eyes lazily stared at her. The room smelled of raw, savage sex—the unmistakable smell of passion mingled with body sweat. Gayatri stood there taking in the sight of the wrinkled bed cover, their clothes lying in a pile on the adjacent chair, and one flowered pillow in winter grey on the floor—part of a set she remembered buying from the handloom khadi bhandar last spring. Next to the pillow was her husband’s hastily discarded white shirt, one of many she had seen Leela kaki carefully iron each morning with precision and tenderness, instinctive to a servant who had lived and served long enough to become a part of the master’s family. The orange glow of the fading evening sun seeped in from the thin partition of the drawn curtain.
The air felt heavy with their collective breathing. Gayatri was aware of the silence that had fallen in the room. The woman looked so young, lying there, naked and uninhibited. Her husband had pushed himself out of the bed and started pulling on his pants. Gayatri was aware of him, shamefaced and embarrassed, as he clumsily put on his shirt.
Gayatri stood frozen, transfixed by the unsurprised stare of the woman’s heavily kohl-lined eyes. There was something about her, in the shape of her face, that made Gayatri realize that she had seen her somewhere, but she couldn’t remember where. As the woman sat there, her beauty—exotic and absolute—disgusted Gayatri. Aware of her husband, who had finished dressing, walking toward her, she felt a wave of nausea and dizziness pass over her. She stumbled forward but steadied herself in time to push her husband’s approaching hand away weakly.
A sense of recognition rippled through Gayatri’s mind; with her eyes closed she tried to remember the woman’s name. She was sure she had met her somewhere, but she could not remember when and where. She tried to think. Could she have met her through her family-run NGO for women, Aasra? He could not have lowered himself to that level. Those women were all from the lower section of society, at the bottom of the social ladder. Could he have found one among them to take to his bed? She opened her eyes and stared at the girl’s face again. It came to her then. She was Devika, Devika Singh, an employee at her husband’s hospital. After realizing she wasn’t from Aasra, Gayatri gave a sigh of relief and laughed inwardly at her prejudiced vanity which she still wasn’t ready to give up.
Her husband mumbled something that she could not understand in her reverie; she saw the woman stirring in the bed, leaning sideways to pick up her kurta from the chair, her breasts as full and heavy as a new mother’s. Instead of putting on her kurta, she got out of bed, stood there unembarrassed, her gaze still intent on Gayatri’s face, her body slightly bent in a provocative position as if in exhibition. She lazily got her other clothes from the chair as well, and started putting them on, finally. Gayatri stood there in a trance, taking everything in as if something unreal was happening and was unfolding gradually.
Finally dressed in a yellow churidar, a short, fitted kurta, and double-died matching dupatta, she took a few steps toward Gayatri and stood facing her. A whiff of lavender blossoms mixed with something lemony caught Gayatri—her scent.
She spoke to Gayatri directly, “It is good you have seen us together. He was about to tell you anyways. Right, Rajinder?” With a hint of half-sarcasm and half-humour, she turned to face Dr. Bhardwaj.
Gayatri, still dazed with shock, looked at her husband, whose face had turned ashen white. She saw a look, familiar and long-forgotten, pass over his face: a look of pain, of agony, and of mournful acceptance of loss, from after she had lost their third and consecutively last unborn child in her womb. The memory, faded and buried long ago, brought back all the pain, agony, and misery of the past she had buried deep somewhere inside her heart. Her wound, old but raw underneath, throbbed with the pain of the resurfaced memories. She did not want to think about that now.
“There is nothing to tell, nothing important that she needs to know.” She heard him addressing the woman, his voice formal, devoid of emotions, but his face still bore the same expression of pain.
“Really? Whatever we had was never important to you? You could not keep your hands away from me during all this time.” A chilling harshness had crept into Devika’s voice. “You thought I had no clue. I saw through your disguise long ago. Why do you think I accepted all the fineries? Not as gifts. You owed them to me. I am sure you are not dumb enough to believe I have been sharing your bed for the sake of my pleasure.”
“I would like you to leave,” he said in a firm voice.
The dark eyes burned with hate. When Devika spoke, her tone was threatening.
“As if I care to stay, but there is one thing left . . .”
She looked at Dr. Bhardwaj with such hatred he flinched instinctively.
“I am carrying your child. Let me know what to do about that.” She almost whispered the last line. Without bothering to wait for his reply, she stormed out—slamming the door so hard that the tapestry fell off the wall.
Too numb to speak until now, Devika’s last few words brought Gayatri out of her stupor. She looked at him and said, “I would have thought you’d have had more pride than to get involved with a woman like her.”
“It was not important, Gayatri. It was nothing.”
“Hasn’t my life been burdened enough with past miseries, Raj? Why did you have to do this?”
“I know I made a mistake. I never wanted to hurt you, but she would not leave me alone.”
He sat slumped in the chair, staring at the floor.
“Really, Raj? Were you born yesterday? For God’s sake, she is nobody. Women like her come to Aasra every day. Let me spell it out for you, goddamnit, A-A-S-R-A. Do you have any idea what kind of homes these women come from? Don’t try to defend your lies, Raj, not now.”
“Don’t be such a stuck-up, Gayatri. And she’s not from Aasra. Don’t talk like that. It doesn’t suit you.”
“Talk like what? What about you, Mr. Righteous? You dared to bring her here, in my home, in my bed, for God’s sake.” A note of hysteria had crept into her voice.
He stayed quiet, which angered her more. “You bought this villa so you could have a place to entertain yourself. How long has all this been going on? Tell me. Weeks? Months? Years? Is she the only one or are there others?” she shrieked.
“Gayatri, please calm down. Believe me. It happened a few times only. I must have been mad to fall into her trap.”
“Don’t you dare tell me that she trapped you—I never imagined you would stoop that low! An everyday tramp like her, and you brought her here in this house, in my bedroom.”
She paced around the room in a manic frenzy.
“Imagine a headline in tomorrow’s paper: ‘Doctor Rajinder Bhardwaj, a Doon School graduate, caught fornicating with a commonplace whore.’ God! You would be a legend in the history of Sanover.”
Dr. Bhardwaj tried to hold her hand, but she pushed him with such vehemence that he withdrew his hand on impulse.
“And what are you going to do now? You will be a father,” she said, laughing bitterly. She kneeled on the floor. “I imagine my respected father-in-law will be brimming with happiness now, sitting there in heaven. He must be proud of his capable son, Doctor Rajinder Bhardwaj who will soon father a bastard, a bastard, with a whore. My father-in-law, who had disowned his other son for marrying a girl from another caste.”
She slumped down on the floor and covered her face with her hands. The humiliation had brought out all her smouldering anger. She had stopped caring about other women in his life a long time ago, but the thought of another woman carrying his child enraged her. She had ignored his unfaithfulness. Today’s confrontation brought out all the anger she had buried deep inside her heart. She always considered herself to be in control of her emotions, but she was wrong. She hated herself now for being so weak and helpless and for behaving like a petty lower-class woman.
He leaned toward her and tried to take her in his arms, but she pushed him away again.
Crying softly, she said, “Please go away. Leave me alone. I want to be alone.”
She covered her face again and heard him close the door. She went across to the window, stood looking out onto the empty road, and watched him walk to his car. He looked diminished, beaten and old. Was he hurting as much as she was? Was he grieving the loss of their unborn children or the child that Devika was carrying, the child who could never become part of his life? Was he sorry that he had to let that woman go?
Time heals everything, that’s what everyone says. Wounds heal and leave only scars behind. But some wounds run too deep to heal, and pierce the deepest layers of one’s soul. They stay there unhealed and ready to ooze blood at the first sign of grief. The hurt she felt today unlocked old wounds. The memory of the morning when she had lost her last unborn child came to her. Strangely, the only thing she remembered was the hospital bed, the room, the distinctive hospital smell of that day. The vivid details of that morning, of those days, weeks, and months afterwards did not come to her. Her mind acknowledged there was a horrible pain, an agonizing affliction, an ache in her heart for months; throbbing and unbearable at the beginning, but dulling gradually with time—yet it never went away completely. Although she couldn’t recall the exact intensity of her grief, the knowledge that this sorrow had shadowed her life at that time was sorted, documented, and locked up somewhere in her mind’s registry with other memories. The mere fact she had suffered that immense loss intensified her existing anguish. She grieved for her past miseries, which seemed extensive compared to her present heartache. And when there were no tears left, she wondered how the sheer despair never failed to surprise her each time she encountered it, and how it felt so raw and shocking.
She could not get Devika’s words out of her mind. Was she lying about the child? If not, what was her plan? Her heart thumped in her chest. She felt anguish thinking about what it could do to her life—their life, their reputation, their prestige. All she wanted was to lose herself in oblivion, forget everything, but she knew she couldn’t afford to mull over his shame and her desolation when the timing was so crucial. Devika couldn’t be allowed to give birth to her husband’s bastard.
She knew something had to be done to stop Devika. She had to know how far along Devika was in her pregnancy. The desperate time called for desperate measures, she knew, and she also knew she had to get herself ready for that.
She walked outside, locking the door behind her, and strode out to her car with determined steps.
Read Chapter 1 here
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