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“We sleep in each other’s arms every night and spend quality time during the weekends. Why is it necessary for me to be free and with you, every time that you are?”
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Smita Das Jain is one of the winners for the October 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Himanjali Sankar commented, “The title of the story is self-explanatory and explored interestingly through the life of a woman who refuses to feel apologetic for being more successful than her husband. The way the story is told, skillfully through a flashback, also provides a little twist in the tale which is dramatic and well-done.”
Sanjukta was in the middle of yet another exciting day at work. The new product range she had launched for her apparel company was flying off the shelves. She felt the usual adrenaline rush while trying to balance the frenzied demand with the production constraints.
The mobile rang, disrupting Sanjukta’s thoughts.
“Sanjukta Ghosh?” The voice at the other end asked.
She hesitated before replying, “Yes.”
“Dr Sunil here from MyGate Hospital. Your husband had an accident and is here.”
Sanjukta felt the world collapse on her head.
“How…what happened…how is he?”
“Don’t worry, he is fine now,” the doctor replied soothingly. “Just a few external injuries that would heal with time. He is in a state of shock, though. A bus collided with the auto he was travelling in, killing the poor auto driver. I found your photo and visiting card in his wallet and called you.”
Sanjukta listened, perplexed.
“You may come to pick Mr Abhay from here and clear the bills,” he concluded.
“Sure. MyGate hospital, did you say? I will come right away.”
Sanjukta took a long breath and called her manager. “I need to leave now for a family emergency, an accident. Yes, yes, I am fine, but won’t be reachable for the rest of the day today.”
She dashed to the building’s basement parking and knocked at her car window, waking up the chauffeur.
“MyGate Hospital. Fast.”
The car sped ahead with Sanjukta in the rear.
Abhay was Sanjukta’s MBA batchmate ten years ago. Sparks had flown thick and fast between them, and the two were inseparable after the first three months of college. By the end of the second semester, they had decided to marry.
Marry, they did, immediately after post-graduation, despite Sanjukta’s brahmin parents objecting about the ‘fish and mutton eating Bengali.’ It helped that both of them secured five-figure salary placements from their institute in a city far away from their respective hometowns.
After the initial wedding bliss, the pressures of setting up their home amidst their hectic careers crept in. Troubles, teething ones that grew serious over time, mounted.
“You never have time for me in the evenings,” Abhay had, as usual, complained one day, six months after marriage. Sanjukta was working from home late in the evening.
“My consulting work is more strenuous than your IT job. I cannot consider it as a 9-5 fixed hours government job, and need to work hard at this early stage of my career.”
“What about us?”
“We sleep in each other’s arms every night and spend quality time during the weekends. Why is it necessary for me to be free every time that you are?”
“I didn’t know that you were such a career woman.”
“What is wrong with being a career-oriented person? Can only men have the liberty of being career-focused?”
As the arguments increased in frequency and intensity, Sanjukta immersed herself all the more into her work.
Two years after their marriage, Sanjukta got promoted. Her salary, perks and responsibilities increased. So did the bickering at home.
“Your salary is more than mine. You are the man of the house now, so you can come and go whenever you want,” Abhay had lashed when Sanjukta had come exhausted at 9 pm one night.
Two empty beer bottles lay on the floor. The food was untouched.
Sanjukta ignored him and went to bed.
The days went by. Sanjukta didn’t know that her husband had taken to alcohol with a vengeance until she got a call from him in the middle of a busy day.
“I have been fired,” he said.
“I had a peg too many in the morning and messed up an important client presentation.”
“Apologise to your manager. He would understand.”
“This is the third instance. Boss doesn’t believe in my apologies anymore.”
Sanjukta was dumbfounded. Feeling guilty, she had taken the rest of the day off and rushed home to be with her husband, only to be greeted by empty bottles inside the front door.
“Abhay, please,” she pleaded, “It will be difficult for you to find another job unless you sober up.”
He looked at her with disdain. “Why do I need another job? Your salary is anyway more than mine was. You can continue to sleep with your bosses and progress more.”
“Abhay! I work hard to achieve what I do. When a woman does well in her career, why is credit given to her beauty or attributed to other insidious means?”
Her husband had emptied a bottle and rolled it on the floor towards her before picking up another one.
She had grabbed the bottle from him.
“Give it back.”
“No way. You won’t drink anymore now.”
“So now I have to do what you say. You bitch.”
Sanjukta had kept a poker face till the slap landed on her cheek.
The impact sent her reeling to the floor. The beer bottle fell from her hands and drops spilt on the floor.
Blinded by tears, she waited for her husband to apologise before turning around.
Abhay was licking off the alcohol drops from the floor, without a care for the world.
Sanjukta felt sick. She went to their bedroom and emerged with trolley bags in each hand.
“Where are you going?” Abhay asked, inebriated, upon seeing her walking towards the front door.
“To a new life, away from you. My set of keys are on the table.” She had slammed the door without looking back.
They had gotten divorced, and Sanjukta had not heard from, or about, her ex-husband for the past five years.
“Ma’am, MyGate Hospital.” The chauffeur’s words brought back Sanjukta to the present. She walked inside.
“Abhay Ghosh. I have come for the discharge formalities,” she said to the lady at the reception.
“Room No 201. The outstanding is a lakh,” the receptionist replied. “Cash or Card?”
Sanjukta completed the formalities, ascended the staircase to the second floor, and knocked on the first door to her right.
She looked at the two contrasting faces inside the room.
The person who smiled at her had an authoritative but pleasant appearance, his white coat and stethoscope revealing his identity.
The other man stared blankly at her. His forehead was covered with swathes of white; the brown eyes were overshadowed by the dark circles beneath them. The unkempt long beard rounded up a shabby appearance.
“I have completed the discharge formalities,” Sanjukta said.
“Great. Your husband is fine to go home,” the doctor declared.
“Ex-husband, Dr Sunil,” Sanjukta corrected him.
“Uhh…I didn’t realise…I am sorry….” Dr Sunil looked from Sanjukta to Abhay and back.
“No problem. Why don’t you explain your prescription to me?”
Abhay listened wordlessly to the ensuing conversation.
The two were ensconced on the back seat of Sanjukta’s car.
“Where to?” Sanjukta enquired.
“Home, the same place,” Abhay replied.
“Wembley Estate, Sohna Road,” Sanjukta instructed the chauffeur and turned to the window.
The one-hour drive passed in silence.
Sanjukta gasped as they reached the society’s main gate. The once enticing neighbourhood bore a decrepit look. The sprawling garden was full of weeds. Prominent patches of white shone from all the cream-coloured buildings. The roads were desolate in the late afternoon hour as the car pulled up in front of Abhay’s tower.
Sanjukta took the staircase to the third floor. She waited patiently as Abhay fumbled with a bunch of keys from his pocket before opening the main door.
She was horrified at the state of the living room inside.
Paper cups, cigarette butts, vomit. There were even a couple of broken flower pots, the mud spilling out, oddly angled flowers with broken stems. And then, because it was all so depressing, the overturned plastic chairs and food half-eaten on Styrofoam plates, she knew in that moment that she would have to make up her mind about it all. “Did she really want to be here?”
“How can you live in this mess, Abhay???” she asked.
“I had no one to clean this for, and there was no one else to clean it,” Abhay said.
“Please rest in your bedroom. Let me clear this.”
“You don’t have to do it,” Abhay protested feebly.
“I know. I will do it anyway.”
For the next two hours, Sanjukta got busy. By the time she was finished, the floors were spic and span, the curtains were in place, and a delicious aroma filled the 2BHK house.
“Abhay, come and have your dinner,” she called out from the dining room.
He came and took the chair beside Sanjukta.
Sweat glistened from Sanjukta’s forehead, a frill of her wavy hair partially covered her left eye. Abhay started to move his hand towards her face to move it back into place.
“Don’t touch me!” Sanjukta got up.
Abhay pulled back his hand and pretended to concentrate on his food.
“Having a delicious home-cooked meal after long,” he said after a minute. “Your culinary skills remain excellent.”
“I have put the meals for the next two days in the refrigerator. You may microwave them and eat.”
“Won’t you have something?”
“I will go home and eat.”
“This is your home, Sanjukta.”
“No, Abhay. This was my home once, not anymore.”
Abhay finished his meal in silence.
“Your medicines are here,” Sanjukta pointed to a corner at the table. “I have labelled them. Take them if you want to recover. Get well soon.”
“Must you go, Sanju?” Abhay asked. “I am sorry for my past mistakes and want to give us another chance. Please stay back.”
“It is five years too late. You didn’t even try to stop me when I left this house. You needed alcohol then, so that was important. You need me today, so I have become important,” Sanjukta said.
“You didn’t care about me then, Sanju. All you were worried about was your work.”
“I did care about you, Abhay, as well as my work. Can’t a married woman have other interests in life, apart from her husband? If a woman is ambitious and focused on her career, why is it perceived as neglect towards her family obligations? A married couple need not have the compulsion to spend every free minute of their time together. I was happy doing some things on my own. If you had tried to not be jealous of my success, things would have been different.”
“I am ready to change now, Sanju. You still have feelings for me, else you wouldn’t have come to the hospital and then here.”
“I am human and couldn’t ignore the emergency call pertaining to a person who was once a very important part of my life. I realised that there was no one else who could have helped. And I couldn’t leave you in the mess that I witnessed here. However, I have no desire to get entangle myself in your mess. My husband is waiting for me at home,” Sanjukta said.
“Husband? You have remarried?” Abhay asked, shocked.
“Happily married for the last two years. As a matter of fact, when the doctor called in the morning, I thought he was referring to him when he called in the morning till he mentioned your name.”
The whirring noise of the ceiling fan was the only sound to be heard for the next few seconds.
“So, you have moved on. I do odd jobs without a career, have no money and friends, while you are enjoying your life. Why did you do this to me?”
“You did this to yourself, Abhay. I refuse to feel the blame that you conveniently attribute to me. I will take your leave now.”
“When will we meet again?”
“I don’t plan to meet you. Can’t say for serendipities, like today.”
Sanjukta stepped out and gently closed the door between them.
She hurried down the stairs to her car.
“To home, Bansi,” she instructed the chauffeur.
Sanjukta took a deep breath and gazed at the outside world, at peace with herself.
Image source: a still from the film Dum Laga ke Haisha
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Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and 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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