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The wife, had peeked out then, along with the toddler sitting on her lap, to look at the woman for whom her husband had to leave her side in a strange crowd.
The heels of the new stylish shoes she was wearing hurt her feet, shooting sharp needles of pain each time she took a step. The recently stitched grey pantsuit hugged her not-so-slim body, attracting greedy stares from men walking past her.
Conscious and uncomfortable, she dabbed her face again with an overused tissue. Her make-up had started melting the minute she had stepped out of the office. She tried to wipe it off now. The new receptionist of B&G Consultants needn’t look ‘fair & lovely’ right now.
“Just a few steps more”, she told herself, as she hobbled on…to the bus-stand, carefully dodging the dirty puddles on the road and filthy eyes of men.
The bus, she could see to her relief, was already arriving. Like the good old rickety grandfather, who is always dressed so shabbily that you feel ashamed to acknowledge him in front of your friends, but who is always there nonetheless, on time, to pick you up from school, from work, or from wherever the hell you are, to take you back home, and maybe, buy you an ice-cream on the way.
And so huffing and puffing, the bus came, let out a loud belch, and halted at the exact spot where she stood.
It was filled, but she hopped on anyway. For her, it was just another day. Just another bus journey…back home, from work.
‘Home’. The definition, had changed recently though.
After the routine ‘nudging, shoving and elbowing’, she found what she was looking for. A man sitting on a ladies seat. She stood on his head now, challenge in her eyes, and hands on her hips, the picture of dare, ready to take on… ‘The fight of the day’.
The man, already nervous, looked up at her unsurely, before standing up and giving way…
The wife, had peeked out then, along with the toddler sitting on her lap, to look at the woman for whom her husband had to leave her side, in a strange crowd.
It was the first time she was visiting her husband, in the city. After three years of marriage.
She lived in the village, you see, like a ‘good bahu’, with her husband’s family, taking good care of their failing health and rising egos.
Her husband visited them twice, every year. He would stay for a week each time and behave like a superstar. Like one in the crowd, she would never get to talk to him when she wanted. And otherwise, her mother-in-law made sure that she was chaperoned, always, by her younger sister-in-law. It was only in the nights that he came to her on his own. But of course, she was not expected to talk then.
Six months had passed since her firstborn, a girl, had turned one. And it was her mother-in-law who decided that it was time to try for another baby, a ‘son’ preferably. She was packed off immediately, to her delight, to the city. So what if her short stay had only one defined purpose, procreation.
She had reached the city the day before yesterday.
And it was for the first time, that she had come out like this, with just her husband by her side, and their child. It was special indeed, for it was her first ride in a double-decker bus.
They both looked of similar age…
Her stylish pantsuit was now sweaty and creased after a hard day’s work…
Hers was a glitzy sari – red and green, fit to be worn in a wedding, but looking a bit cheap…
‘She’ had always wanted to study. And to work, like the city girls…The liberty to travel alone, the freedom to dress smartly, and a little love…
But wishes had remained dreams…shackled inside her early marriage and a forced motherhood.
‘She’ had always wanted a child, with her husband on her side, and a little love…
But wishes had remained dreams, when her husband drifted apart for another woman. Leaving her without a mark…or a child, with only a freedom…whose abundance stupefied her now.
As the baby cried out loud, the reverie of thoughts broke.
The mother mechanically, started frantically looking for something in her plastic bags. Seeing the woman struggling, she held out her hands now and offered to hold the baby, and for the first time, they smiled at each other.
“Returning from work?” she asked… “How lucky…” she thought…
“Out with your husband and baby?” she asked… “How lucky…” she thought…
And they both nodded a “Yes”, smiling widely, to hide their enormous envies inside…
The bus, heaved a loud sigh, and moved on…with life.
Image source: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons, for representational purposes only.
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Recently contributed to an international collaborative project of short stories called “She Celebrates”.
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