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The last two words stung her ears like a sharp knife. Yes, that was the reality and she knew it quite well. She had moved on. Yet it was hurting. This was what Mamoni had advised her years ago.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Sreeparna Sen is one of the winners for the December 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Ranjani Rao commented, “What happens when a marital relationship breaks but one of the heart continues until death?”
The elevator of the building seemed to be out of service again. This one had always given trouble. Mitali started climbing the stairs. Everything looked unchanged. The flickering light bulbs, the damp on the adjacent walls, the red spit stains. There was no improvement with the building management. Nothing had changed, yet everything was different.
Mitali remembered the day she was leaving this place exactly seven hundred and fifty days ago. Then also the lift was broken. She had tried to drag her luggage down the steps all by herself. Carrying the baggage of three long years was not a mean feat. As usual, Alekhya was oblivious to the problem with his eyes glued to the computer screen. It was his mother, Sumitra Devi, who made Alekhya schlepp her bags down. Mitali used to call her Mamoni. That wondrous woman had always amazed her. She had shown Mitali the real meaning of respect and relationship. If not for Mamoni, she would have never returned here today.
Lost in the past Mitali did not realize when she had reached her destination. The plethora of shoes in front of the door and noises from inside was already announcing the presence of a crowd in the flat. For a second she noticed the pots of indoor plants lined outside the door. She had placed them in that space, years ago. Nobody bothered to remove them, nor to properly groom them. They were just there like some old, forgotten relics.
Taking in a deep breath she pushed open the slightly ajar door and walked inside. She could feel the stares and the uncomfortable murmurs that rose amongst the gathering. Ignoring the buzz she strode ahead towards Sumitra Devi. Mamoni seemed to smile at her from the photo frame amidst the heavy garlands and the glowing ember of incense sticks. Mitali bent forward to place her bouquet. Her bunch of chrysanthemums looked out of place among the deluge of tuberoses overflowing the makeshift dais.
“Thanks for remembering Ma’s favourite flower.”
Mitali turned around to find Alekhya standing there.
“I have not forgotten anything. That is why I am here.”
Mitali looked around the rooms as Alekhya became busy with the other guests. She recognized some of the relatives but, did not bother to interact. It was not worth it. Instead, she focused on the house.
The family had shifted to this flat just before her wedding with Alekhya. It was she who had finalized the design, colour and interior decoration with Sumitra Devi. Alekhya never showed interest regarding these matters. Each furniture and showpieces were hand-picked by Mitali. The terracotta wall hanging from Bishnupur, the beautiful bamboo worked shoe rack from the handicraft fair, the designer curtains from a boutique. All were in the same way Mitali had set out, except for the wedding photos on the wall. The photo frames hung at the same place but the bride was replaced in the images as a harsh reminder of the present.
It was surprising that Alekhya’s wife never wanted to revamp the flat. Perhaps Mamoni did not allow it. She adored Mitali’s aesthetic sense of decoration. Whenever someone praised the beautiful flat, she would start describing Mitali’s hard work behind it. Alekhya used to joke that his mother was her number one fan. Now, that she was no more, perhaps the house would experience a renovation.
As she walked across the kitchen, she saw someone struggling to fetch the designer glasses from the top rack. It was her idea to put it there to give the cabinet a sophisticated look. On a closer look, Mitali realised it was Shikha, Alekhya’s present wife. She recognised her from the photo Mamoni had sent her. It was one of the many discussions they shared daily. The divorce with Alekhya never made her cut ties with his mother.
“One relationship should not define the behaviour with the other connections. We met, because of our relationship with Alekhya. But, we bonded because we liked each other. Now that you two have decided to separate, why should I be a partner to the estrangement? Why should it affect our friendship?”
That was what the lady had said when Mitali decided to leave this house. The disagreement between the couple was reaching a dead end and they had decided to end the relationship amicably before things become too ugly. Mitali was surprised when her mother in law who was so involved with her and the household decided to stay neutral.
When they announced their decision of annulment all that she said was, “Marriage is a work of the partnership. The decision of the partners should be final. No third party should interfere. Listen to your heart and do what makes you both happy. A happy separation is much better than the burden of an unhappy companionship.”
True to her words, she never made her motherhood come in between her relationship with Mitali. Neither she ever gossiped about her daughter in law with Mitali. It was that wonderful trait of the woman, which set her apart. Today all those memories were coming back to pain Mitali more than ever.
The stares and the whispers had begun to creep up. An uneasy feeling gripped Mitali from all directions. She walked up to the small balcony behind the kitchen for some respite. Long back, she had started an organic garden there. Mamoni had excitedly shared photos of those endeavors with all her friends. Today nothing of that existed. The over-enthusiastic home-maker wanted to utilise each corner of the house. But sometimes too much leads to void.
The place gave her much-needed solace as she shut down all the noises from inside. Only for a few minutes though. Soon somebody opened the door to disturb her serenity. Mitali turned to find the intruder. Alekhya.
“Still smoking cigarettes?”
Mitali asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Bad habits die hard dear.”
Alekhya replied with a wink as he lit the fag. For the first time since her arrival, Mitali took a close look at him. He looked surreal with his head all shaven and white get-up. She tried to reimagine him with the unkempt stubble, long hair and quirky t-shirts, the way she had left him. These days all the old images were getting blurred in her head. Or, perhaps the heart. She could not be sure.
“Heard you are going to Germany for your research.”
Mitali gave a curt nod.
“Mamoni told you?”
A part of her was happy that he still kept a track of what she was up to. Another part felt it was unwise to have a conversion in such seclusion. It could raise questions.
“Whatever happened was for good Mitu. You were sacrificing such a bright career in academics for the family. I am happy that you have at last found your calling.”
Mitu. The name evoked so many fond memories. The initial warm days of their short marital bliss, the unreal dreams, the unadulterated happiness.
“Ma was so happy for you. She loved you. The bonding that you had with her, Shikha could never recreate.”
Alekhya rambled on.
“Never thought Ma would leave us so early. She did not give us any time. We were in our room only, working from home. Meetings and everything, you know. The door was locked from inside. We did not hear a thing. And then when we noticed, it was too late.”
After a point Mitali realized, she did not listen to half the words Alekhya spoke. But, she did not want him to stop either. She was getting drowned in an uncanny jaunty thought.
Suddenly a voice from behind broke the daze.
“Are you busy, Alekhya? The guests are asking for you.”
A lash from the rude reality jerked Mitali out of the trance.
“Yes, coming. By the way Shikha, this is Mitali. Mitali, she is Shikha, my wife.”
On the surface, all may seem calm, but things move forward exactly as they should, in tandem with an unseen natural rhythm. The past and present never blend in with each other seamlessly. So you build a new future, a future so strong that the past cannot deride it.
And thus coerced her into academics once again. Mitali suddenly missed her like never before.
Shikha waited for her husband as her eyes scrutinized his ex-wife. Without any reason, Mitali started feeling guilty. Her eyes were burning. She fought the tears vehemently.
Before turning around Alekhya added, “The lunch is ready. Do not leave without having food.”
The cue was clear. The final goodbye should ensue now. It was time to furl up the bundle of memories of this homestead in the furthest corner of mind and remember them only as the dream from another life. Mitali dragged herself towards the main door before pausing for a second in front of the portrait of Sumitra Devi. A lone tear escaped the duress of her eyes. She took a last look at the bunch of chrysanthemums. A complete misfit in the arrangement. It was not her place anymore.
“Rest in peace, Mamoni,” Mitali whispered as she took long steps towards the exit.
Image source: a still from the film Piku
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Sreeparna Sen, Banker by profession, finds her solace in writing. A Computer Engineer by education, she is a voracious reader. When she is not dealing with the loan documents, you can mostly find her nose 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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