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I want to be number one to someone other than my mother. I want to matter most to someone, to be their first phone call, the first person they think of. And I am not.
9th April, 2017
Riya tried to open her drowsy eyes, pushing back the weariness bearing down on her as the early morning sunrays came filtering through the curtains of her bedroom. She missed the familiar beep of the alarm clock resting on her bedside table for an infinitesimal moment. Then the realisation dawned on her that it being a Sunday, she hadn’t set the alarm the previous night.
She turned over and closed her eyes again. But the recent memory of the previous day’s team meeting flooded her mind. Realising the futility of the attempt to fall asleep again, she got up from the bed.
“Who’s your In Case of Emergency person?”
Riya mulled over the trick question as she sipped her morning tea. Naveen, her immediate boss, had asked her the question in the team meeting. She was working in the creative team of an ad agency and considered all her colleagues in her team as friends. But none of them was her in-case-of-emergency person. She knew how terrifying an “emergency” situation could be and didn’t like the idea of assigning that potential imposition to a friend. Her only emergency person, after the death of her father a few years ago, was her mother who lived alone in their ancestral house at a remote village in Malda, some 350 kms away from Kolkata.
Replying to Naveen’s question, she just mumbled, “I have given these details to HR. I don’t need to share that with you. Sorry.” She knew she had appeared unduly cross to everybody else present in the meeting including Naveen, but she also knew that there was no other way to evade the trick question. She was 36 years old single woman, living on her own. And she didn’t want to let others know how empty her life was.
The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. She didn’t want to feel empty. Rather she wanted to make her moments, big or small, more meaningful. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now. So dear readers, lets see how Riya dived into action to make her life meaningful.
I am 36. And I am still single. It’s not that I don’t crave for that special someone in my life. I look for potential dates in Tinder. But none of my dates have culminated into anything fruitful till date. When I look at my own reflection at the mirror, I see a beautiful, voluptuous woman with long, cascading hair. Then why am I still single? What do I lack in myself? Am I not attractive enough? I feel unloved, uncared for. I want to be number one to someone other than my mother. I want to matter most to someone, to be their first phone call, the first person they think of. And I am not. In the last decade of my life, no one has brought me a cup of coffee, made breakfast for me, put a blanket on me on a cold night, buzzed in a delivery person, turned off the lights before bed, entered my front door using their own key. Because I am nobody’s number one.
I miss the small things that couples do for each other. I feel lonely on Valentine’s day. During Durga Puja, I roam alone in the streets of Kolkata with no one to keep me company. Nobody ever thought, “What should I do for Riya for her birthday?” I am tired of feeling empty. And I don’t want to feel empty.
14th May, 2017
Coconut and Peanut were sleeping blissfully. Riya felt a surge of love everytime she looked at the kittens. She had recently adopted them to fill the void in her life.
It was a Sunday and she had ample time to scroll her social media timeline. A notification popped up informing her that it was Shruti’s birthday. Shruti and Riya were childhood friends. Shruti was now married and mother of two-year-old twins, Rahul and Rohan. Riya dialled Shruti’s number to wish her on her birthday.
“Hello, Riya! It’s a pleasure to hear from you after a long time!” Shruti’s excitement spilled over the phone.
“Happy birthday darling! Wish you many many happy returns of the day. So what are your plans for today? Dinner date with husband or a trip to the spa?”
Shruti broke into a hoot of laughter. “What? No, no. Rahul and Rohan keep me busy all day. Now-a-days an uninterrupted pee is as good as a trip to the spa. Tell me about yourself. Are you seeing anybody?”
This question always vexed Riya. She wanted to scream that whether she was seeing anybody or not was none of Shruti’s business. Instead, she said calmly, “No, I am not seeing anybody. Not everybody is as lucky as you. So how is your marriage going on? Does your husband still take his mother’s side when you fight with your mother-in-law?”
Shruti mumbled something about the children wailing and hung up.
Why do people always ask me whether I am seeing someone or not. They never start conversations with “how’s life”, or “tell me what’s new”, or even “how are you”. This makes me mad. I want to scream at the top of my voice that my singlehood is none of their business. Even my mother accuses me of being too picky. Dear Maa, were you not picky when you chose your life-partner? Did you marry the first person you met? Or the first person my grandparents thought suitable for you?
By the way, I feel less lonely now-a-days. I have Coconut and Peanut now to keep me company.
18th June, 2017
It being a Sunday, the newspaper came with heavy supplements. Riya enjoyed reading the supplements more than the newspaper. One particular advertisement caught her attention. It was about a women-only retreat at Rishikesh, promising to provide complete rejuvenation of body, mind, and spirit. This was exactly what she needed. She opened their website and booked her seat for September. She decided to spend her Durga Puja holidays at Rishikesh.
Riya had kept her kittens at an animal shelter in Kolkata for a few days and come at Rishikesh. Situated on the banks of the river Ganga, the retreat looked picturesque. Away from the hustle-bustle of the crowded markets, the Ashram stole her gaze. From the large glass-pane windows of the spacious Yoga hall, the surrounding mountains looked majestic. Riya was spell-bound.
She shared her room with another woman, Sreemoyee. Sreemoyee was a doctor and she too hailed from Kolkata. She had worked day in and day out for almost a decade to become a paediatric trauma specialist. When she was in medical college, there just wasn’t enough time to meet men. The few men she met, didn’t make her feel interested to settle down. She too, like Riya, was a single woman. She was in her early 40s.
Sreemoyee’s smile was warm and inviting– just like the cup of chai on a misty morning at Rishikesh. To Riya, she seemed like a butterfly without a perch. They discussed about a lot of things, like feminism, relationships, singlehood, books, movies and friends. Riya was thrilled to discover their mutual love for cats. They fitted together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. At the time of parting, they exchanged their mobile numbers and promised to keep in touch.
Riya had come to Malda to pay a visit to her old mother, with Coconut and Peanut in tow.
“Do you plan to spend all your life with these cats? Will you ever settle down or not?” her mother was annoyed.
“No, because I find men less affectionate than my kittens,” Riya retorted.
A few days into her visit, Peanut was seriously ill with a fever running 105 degrees. No veterinarian was available in their village. There was not any diagnostic labs. Riya was tensed, almost on the verge of giving up.
Sreemoyee saved him. She was up with Riya all night on call, checking on his temperature every hour, instructing her what to do, telling her not to give up. She consulted a veterinarian in Kolkata and advised Riya accordingly. Sitting more than 350 kms away, she hand-held Riya into saving Peanut.
13th February, 2018
It was another Valentine’s Day eve. Riya was in low spirits. She too craved for someone to make her feel special. She had Coconut and Peanut, but she pined for the company for another human being. Suddenly there was a call from Sreemoyee inviting her for dinner at a cafè. In these few months, Riya and Sreemoyee had become good friends. So Riya was glad to have company. She took leave from the office early and took special effort to dress herself up. She wore a black dress with a chic jacket.
When she arrived at the cafè at the designated time, Sreemoyee was already there. She looked ravishing in her red dress and fiery red lipstick.
“Hi! Nice to meet you Sree,” Riya said.
“Hello Riya. Please take your seat. How are Coconut and Peanut?” Sreemoyee flashed a beautiful smile.
“They have become very naughty of late. Always keep me on my toes,” Riya smiled.
A table for two was laid out, champagne et al. Sreemoyee wished her for Galentine’s Day. Riya was surprised. She knew about Valentine’s Day, but she never heard of Galentine’s day. Sreemoyee explained to her that this was a day to celebrate female friendship. Soon an array of delicious dishes arrived. They both enjoyed the night a lot.
After dinner, Sreemoyee dropped her home. “Doesn’t this feel like a date night, Riya?” Sreemoyee asked.
Riya nodded in agreement.
“Lets plan more such singles nights. Next time, you decide the venue and the menu.”
They both giggled like truant school-girls.
14th February, 2018
It’s another Valentine’s day and yet I don’t feel empty anymore. Because I have Sree, a friend who accepts me with all my imperfections. I am not anybody’s loving wife or anybody’s doting mother. I am a flawed, messy woman to the outside world. Yet this friendship with Sree shields me from the harsh judgemental eyes of the world. We may not be in the same boat, but we are in the same storm. And if any crisis situation arises, we know that we have each other’s back.
I think I have figured out the answer to Naveen’s trick question. I have found my in-case-of-emergency person here in Kolkata, finally.
This story was shortlisted for our July 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Jane De Suza says “I find the turn this story takes into friendship quite refreshing. The use of the diary excerpts are interesting, as well, though the segues could be smoother/ the information in narrative/ diary plotted out slightly more intuitively. This writer has infused her story with the given excerpt the most effortlessly.”
Image source: pixabay
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An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An avid reader. I try my hand at writing as and when ideas tussle inside my head. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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