She could call him. Despite all that had happened, he was still her husband, wasn’t he? She honestly didn’t know where they stood anymore.
She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache. And at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.
Oh, it hurts, Ambika grimaced, the events of the previous Saturday night flashing back with horrifying clarity. The amount of alcohol consumed while crying on the bedroom floor, then tripping over the wretched cat who had scratched back in retaliation. Not to mention, the fall had broken one of her front teeth. And Rishi, god, thinking about him was painful.
But she had more immediate things to worry about just then. Her head hurt but her tooth was what gave her the most agony. She got up with some effort, groaning the entire time. How will I drive to the hospital in so much pain was her first thought. This was followed by whom to call? She was not in a mood to see anyone, all the explanations – it was too soon.
The pain had now spread from her mouth to her entire jaw – which felt numb. Thankfully, the cat had disappeared somewhere. When she touched her face, she felt the blood that had trickled out a little and she was sure a glance at a mirror would reveal bloodshot eyes.
She could call Rishi. Despite all that had happened, he was still her husband, wasn’t he? She honestly didn’t know where they stood anymore. She dialled his number anyway and just as she’d expected – it was switched off. Call Uber it was.
She braced her shoulders and booked a cab, while simultaneously popping two disprins in her mouth. Thankfully, the cab reached in the next couple of minutes.
“What happened Madam?” the driver exclaimed looking at her swollen face. Don’t ask, she thought to herself. What didn’t happen – two days and 48 hours later, her life and carefully built world now hung in balance.
The signs had been there from the beginning. Rishi and she had had a tumultuous courtship. When her close friends had first learnt about him, they had all cautioned her against taking the next big step. But they had been in love and that had made her feel brave. And so over the next four years, they had gotten closer – finally tying the knot.
Alisha, Rishi’s teenage daughter had been present too. And Ambika, her heart overflowing with love and the promise of a new life, had decided to make it work with her love’s only child, however hard it had already been.
Rishi’s previous marriage had changed him a lot – that was the first thing he had ever told her. At that time, she had appreciated his honesty. She had fallen a little for his vulnerability when he had confided that she was the first person he’d ever shared this fact with.
Over the course of the many late-night dates that followed, he had slowly shared more – how his ex, Nisha, had never gotten along with his parents. How Alisha had always been difficult. And how within a year of marriage, Nisha decided to take a job abroad and left, leaving baby Alisha to be taken care of by Rishi and his parents.
He told her how the distance had proved too hard, even though in the beginning he had been proud and supportive of his ambitious wife. She had slowly become distant and cold. In Rishi’s defence, he had shared the positives of their short-lived marriage too. The moments when they had the most wonderful conversations and he found himself falling in love again and their long-distance arrangement seemed almost romantic. He even considered changing jobs so they could be together.
But then came the fateful night when he decided to surprise her with a vacation for two. That’s when she had tearfully admitted to cheating on him, admitted that this had been going on for a year. And she was sorry. But didn’t see a future between them, questioning his lack of ambition. The divorce had been ugly, made more difficult by the existence of Alisha. But Nisha had agreed to have her stay with him.
Ambika would be lying if she said that hearing the disgust in Rishi’s voice when talking about his past hadn’t scared her a little. After all, she thought, a man who experienced such disappointment and betrayal at such a young age, would never completely let himself fall in love. Or embrace happiness and trust another person again, right?
Her friend’s warnings then had seemed even more potent – he’ll have women issues, a teenage daughter that’s trouble, he’s older and that was just her friends. Even her parents had been less than pleased.
But despite her biggest misgivings and all the opposition against them, Ambika began to trust him – admiring his strength, his even-tempered nature. Rishi was dependable and being older, more mature than her previous boyfriends. For, somebody who had gone through as much as he had, he was also surprisingly light-hearted.
Her parents had eventually come around. When things got more serious, with extreme hesitance, Ambika made the introductions. And to her delight, Rishi charmed them within minutes. He offered suggestions to her father on a business venture and had a long conversation with her mother about his fondness of Bengali food. Ambika took this as a sign from God that they were indeed meant to be. But there’d been a catch – a big catch.
Alisha made thing hard from the get-go. A 12-year-old, when they first met, Alisha was spoilt and extremely undisciplined. On first meeting Ambika, she had thrown a temper tantrum, lashing out at her father. Even weeks later, left no stone unturned, to undermine their relationship. She constantly made pointed comments under her breath about everything from Ambika’s weight, her dark skin, subtle insults that only Ambika noticed.
Rishi and his parents tried rebuking her but it was clear that Alisha was the baby. She was the poor little girl who’d never had her mother’s love and eventually all was forgotten. Ambika, however, had been hurt and shocked at how easily Rishi gave into his daughter’s demands, especially when it came to her.
Rishi insisted he wanted to ease Alisha into Ambika’s new role in the family, she was just having a hard time and eventually things would calm down. But they only went from bad to worse.
When, after learning of their engagement, Alisha ran away to her grandparents without informing anyone, Rishi’s parents coaxed them to reconsider their marriage. And despite Ambika’s advice that what his daughter needed was counselling, it was decided that postponing their wedding was the better option.
Finally, after 4 years of dating, he’d proposed on Alisha’s 16th birthday. He asked his daughter that since she would be leaving for college soon, wouldn’t she let her dad have this one gift. Alisha had cried, hugged them both and given her okay. So they got married, with Alisha becoming the permanent thorn in their sides.
She decided to take a gap year, constantly fought with Ambika, now that she was officially living with them. Family life now became strained, with Rishi being the only middleman, playing peacemaker with increasing reluctance.
A year ago was when Ambika reached her limit. She was offered an opportunity to join a prestigious foreign writing workshop which would be yearlong. Rishi, normally peaceable was extremely upset when she shared the news. Yet again, Ambika made a compromise for the sake of her marriage and declined the offer.
This time though, she found herself feeling a little bitter, a little let-down. She was worried that their marriage had begun to resemble Rishi’s failed one and even worse was scared that she had begun to resent him. Rishi, stressed from work, wanted peace at home and his daughter and wife’s fights ensured he never got the calm he desired.
Ambika guilty at not providing the peaceful life, Rishi with his previous fraught marriage deserved, kept her silence and stopped complaining. But the thing about keeping things inside her heart was that over time, she had become angrier. She kept feeling unsupported and found herself frequently on the verge of a breakdown. Eventually, she consulted a therapist, keeping the fact a secret from Rishi. The psychologist recommended keeping a diary, using it to vent and not her partner and that helped somewhat. But the true help came later.
One random evening, after yet another disagreement with Alisha which ended in Alisha banging her door to her face, Ambika came across a blog. The blog was run by stay-at-home moms who wanted a space to share their trials. Ambika inspired decided to create her own venting blog.
That blog-‘My Fractured Marriage’ brought back the missing spark in her life. And what started as a hobby, over time became an online success and her big secret. A few months later, she received the now fateful call from a publishing house who was interested in converting her blog into a novel.
Ambika was initially overjoyed for the ray of light in the dull monotony that had become her life. But slowly reality set in. If she chose to go public with her blog, she would have to tell Rishi. She didn’t even remember what her first post had been.
All she remembered was being angry that day and that anger and the power of the internet did not a healthy cocktail make. She remembered also the comments – so many of them, all congratulating her for being so brave. But those were strangers. When truth cut so close to home, it stung. Rishi would undoubtedly be humiliated.
Ambika had talked about Alisha and his ex-wife too – how could she not when they were the two people who dictated the narrative of her life. She had felt empowered writing, every blog post acting as therapy, a slow unloading of the burden on her heart and mind.
Through it all, her love for Rishi never wavered – for all his faults when dealing with his daughter and his lack of attention, she knew he had his reasons. In fact, the blog had helped her become more patient with him – her frustration now having a different outlet. She told the publishers she needed time to think and decided to take Rishi on a weekend trip. A romantic trip, away from the stresses of life, and explaining everything properly when he was relaxed.
That was two months ago. Rishi had agreed and Ambika looked forward to renewing the intimacy that had been missing from their marriage for a long time. But it was not to be. The morning dawned normal enough.
Alisha initially insisted on coming along. ‘It has been so long since we went on a family vacation, Papa!’ He tried to refrain but after much bargaining, sullenly agreed to let them go.
What Ambika didn’t know was that her stepdaughter, ever the sneaky teenager, angry at her had found her laptop, come across her blog and emailed Rishi the details. They had cut short their vacation and Rishi came home angrier than he’d ever been. He read aloud every blog post, asking her what was she thinking, what if one of his colleagues had discovered it, one of their wives.
Ambika knew he wasn’t all wrong-with its growing readership-her blog had now become quite an internet sensation. And despite using different names-her photograph was front and centre and the details of her married life, stark in their accuracy.
But then he’d accused her of hiding more, informing that Alisha found her meeting a strange man at a bookshop once. It was the same man she met many times again. When she had shared, he was just the publisher, he’d told her that she was trying to destroy the family name. Was she seriously thinking of publishing such a book? She had lost her temper then too – telling him she would obviously change names, he should support her.
But it was all in vain. The seeds of distrust had been sown – Rishi had been scarred before. He had told her once he hated liars more than anything in the world and now she was somehow branded as one. Ambika remembered realising that her husband for all his fairness and generosity had big faults. He’d never gotten over his past and never trusted her completely.
Rishi had left that very night, telling her he was moving back with his parents. Ambika spent the entire day, feeling like a failure and thinking of calling him, begging for forgiveness. Something though made her hold her ground, not be the wife she had trained herself to become, lest Rishi ever saw a trace of his ex in her. She’d decided to give him space, believing with all her heart that with time, he would come around see the error of his ways. But he didn’t.
That summer, her favourite season, had only brought an avalanche of anxiety and pain-physical and mental. And this past Friday, two months after their fight, a week before her birthday on July 1st he finally communicated. He sent an email – a few lines, cold and permanent.
‘I don’t know if I can ever trust you. Alisha is not adjusting. I don’t know if I can lose her. And I think we should think of ending it.’ In typical Rishi fashion, there was no question mark at the end. No asking her how she felt, no solutions offered, no talk of counselling.
With him, it was either black or white. He wanted her to understand his past, all his shortcomings. But when it came to her, he couldn’t even bother to give her another chance.
“Madam, we have reached,” the driver called out, interrupting her reverie. Ah right, something thing to look forward to. Losing the tooth had been yet another bout of stupidity on her part. In deep pain after reading Rishi’s email, Ambika had decided for once in her life to be impulsive and gotten piss drunk. Even more rashly, she’d bought a cat!
Facing lonely days ahead, she’d somehow concluded that raising a pet was the answer. What followed was the lost tooth in question and the painful hangover. Another thing to deal with, Ambika thought making her way inside the hospital.
The doctor was shocked at the sight of her face but mercifully refrained from asking too many questions. He did, however, inquire whether she had someone to accompany her home, warning that the post-op pain was bound to be hell. She would most likely need assistance as she would be pretty groggy.
Ambika somehow found the strength to answer that she would manage and that circumstances were complicated. The surgery took long and it was late evening when she finally reached home, seriously reconsidering her decision now, to not ask someone for help.
Her mother and sister would have rushed home if they knew, taken care of the cat who was no doubt running amok alone. She sighed, no point wondering. It was too late to call. Had she even fed the feline before she left, she suddenly panicked, trying to remember through the fog in her brain. Yes, she had.
Tomorrow, she decided – she would make all the difficult decisions tomorrow. She had handled enough for the day. As she opened the apartment door, she was tired to the core and planning what she would order for dinner – something light that would go down easy. God, she was hungry!
She had barely entered and turned to hang her keys, when a voice called out from the dark, startling her. Ambika stumbled, dropping her bag and was shocked to see the last person she would ever expect – Rishi with a book in his hand, standing before her.
“What!” she sputtered, tears streaming down her eyes, taken aback by the joy and relief of his sudden appearance. It had been two long months. Her instinct was to rush into his arms – she had been so sad just a few hours back and it was too much. God, she’d missed him. But she held back, as always wary of expecting too much, letting herself get carried away.
She also felt fragile and wanted to be consoled and apologised to, just this once. Rishi searched her face and noting her silence spoke first. “I read your last blog post. Well, I don’t know why I opened the blog. I had decided to never open it again. But I did.”
“What post?” Ambika asked, still processing him in her house, their house.
“It doesn’t matter, I just wanted to say. I have problems.” Rishi continued.
A laugh escaped her. The whole situation was so ridiculous. Here she was with a broken tooth, standing in front of her husband who had all but distanced himself from her for the past two months. And was now declaring he had problems. Oh, they had problems, all right!
That’s when she remembered the post she’d scheduled to be published today. Three paragraphs listing all the reasons she will still stay with her husband she complained about all the time. All the reasons she will begin again, every day, because she loved him, that life had been hard for him, that without her, he would be completely lost.
She remembered the clarity in her mind when she’d written it – the surety of the purpose of their love. Rishi came closer and held out the book or what she thought was a book. It was a colour-printed A4 sheet affixed to a folder of some sort. And the title read, ‘We Have Problems But We Begin Again Every day.’
“Big gesture, I thought,” Rishi explained noticing her confusion.
“What is in the folder?” she asked reaching out.
“All our memories” Rishi replied sheepishly. “I am sorry. It shouldn’t take a post to change me, to apologise to you. But believe me, I have been thinking, all this while. I didn’t want to approach you until things were clarified in my head. When I sent the email – I don’t know I just wanted a way to connect again. You’ve provided me with the answers, the solutions. I guess I just thought you’d..”
“Solve this for you too,” Ambika completed, looking amused.
“Yes, I did something though. I remember you telling me I never take any stand. So, I had a long talk with Alisha, I told her she needs to get counselling and that she needs to live with Mom, Dad. We need our space,” he told her.
“You did!” she looked at him impressed. “That must’ve been hard.”
She knew Rishi considered Alisha to be the one good thing that had come out of his failed marriage
“I realised a little late that you saved me but I never prioritised you the way I should’ve and I wasn’t being a good father by agreeing with her. Do you think you think you can forgive me?”
Ambika knew she shouldn’t give in so easily. Two months of agony and one apology. But then she glanced down at the book. They could always begin again. She was not the same person she’d been in the past.
Now, she’d toughened up, the blog had given her her power back. And he had done the one thing she’d never thought he would. She made her decision
“Things will have to change a lot. Also, I broke my tooth”
“What?” Rishi asked concerned. How she had missed this caring face, the look he got whenever she was sick.
“It’s a long story. I will require a lot of making up. We’ll have to communicate more. Also, I am will be away a lot – promoting the book,” she looked at him questioningly.
Rishi nodded “I know”
“And you’ll have to trust that that doesn’t mean I’ll leave. So yes, I suppose I forgive you, with conditions.”
“What a weekend huh?” Rishi grinned, holding her close “It ends well though.”
“And we have the rest of the summer to begin again,” Ambika completed, smiling back. Rishi drew her to the couch, an easy intimacy in his touch.
Just then the cat rushed out of nowhere and plonked herself between them, haughtily eyeing Rishi, the intruder.
“Gaaah,” Rishi, jumped startled.
Ambika couldn’t hold it anymore. She laughed aloud, all the pressures of the day tumbling out, hysterical at his incredulous face, the strangeness of the entire day. Then, she pulled him back down.
“We have to talk – there’s just so much you don’t know,” she said between laughs. “This by the way is Mia.”
As they talked and cuddled and cried – the cat made herself comfortable on Rishi’s feet as if she had always been around, like she belonged.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Yeh Hain Mohabbatein
Shriya Pandey is a qualified lawyer with specific work experience in the area of intellectual
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