Short story – Only for a few moments till she stepped outside. To become a part of the dark evening.
The windowpane was firmly stuck, refusing to budge. After a few futile shoves, Arun gave up. He was never successful in pushing back windowpanes in buses. He wondered if they were deliberately kept fixed halfway, for reasons best known to the bus people.
It was a sultry afternoon, characterized by the familiar hurry of a home bound metropolis. As his bus picked up speed, Arun saw nameless faces receding on the pavements, fading in the pale hue of the twilight. Trees, humans, animals and asphalt seemed to merge in a colorless vision, as he tried to focus. Deepa’s face and her words, spoken some time back, came gushing onto him, vivid in their intensity.
It was five minutes past eleven when the telephone rang. Arun could recollect the precise hour as he happened to glance at the wall clock then. He wasn’t expecting Deepa to call. They had decided a couple of day’s back, to meet today for lunch. Her call, therefore, gave him a surprise.
“Hi, Arun, its me.”
“Hi, Deepa. Aren’t you coming for lunch?”
“I’m sorry, I’m caught up in something important.” Deepa was apologetic. “But I must see you today. I want to discuss a few things with you”.
They fixed the meeting at four in the afternoon, at a coffee shop close to his office, one of the venues of their frequent rendezvous. And a few minutes past four, they were seated opposite each other, across the table.
Deepa was a little fidgety; Arun noticed that she wasn’t her usual collected self. She had a habit of twitching her sari end whenever she was bothered. She was at it again today.
Arun thought it best to draw her out. “Is something bothering you?” he asked, stirring sugar in his coffee. The joint was famous for its delicious coffee. Arun always preferred to have it without milk so that he could savor the wonderful flavor.
Deepa opted for her customary lime soda. She looked up at Arun and smiled. It was a forced smile, calling for some effort on her part.
“My office wants me to post me to Bangalore.” Deepa sounded tired and agitated at the same time. “It’s a promotion actually, they’re making me Deputy there.”
Arun sat quietly, gazing into his cup. He wasn’t sure how to react. Deepa’s disclosure contained a lot of import. He needed time to absorb it.
“Aren’t you happy?” Deepa questioned, locking glances with him. The ball was in his court and he had to reply. “Of course. But what happens to us if you move?”
“That is what I want to discuss with you,” Deepa leaned forward. “Why don’t you also seek a transfer to Bangalore?”
“Are you mad? That’s out of the question. I’m very happy here.”
“Well, you don’t have to do it, right now. May be, you may ask for it after a while,” Deepa was persistent,
“You were keen to move out, weren’t you? And your company does have a wing at Bangalore.”
“It’s an absurd idea. Why didn’t you consider other things before accepting the offer?” Arun was visibly upset now. “We are to get married in another four months and now you decide to push off. You better think twice about this. If necessary, chuck your job. I’m sure you can get thousand such jobs here.”
“Arun,” Deepa was suddenly calm and assured, “If you had got a lift right and that involved a transfer, wouldn’t you have told me to come with you? Or,” her voice dropped to a barely audible agonized hiss as she clenched the table hard, “Would you have told me to quit my job? Like you want me to do now?”
Arun startled, as the bus screeched to a halt. Dusk was falling fast and the streetlights had come on. He peered outside, trying to make out the place. It was a couple of stops from his destination.
As he walked after alighting from the bus, his mind went back to Deepa. He knew, she was right. Yet, something deep down had held him back, forcing him to argue and not concede. He wondered what it could possibly be.
He turned into the lane leading to his house. It was dark, as he opened the narrow side gate and walked in. The staircase was enveloped in pitch darkness. The landlord, as usual, had forgotten to put on the light. He fumbled for the switchboard and located the button. The bright light dazzled him momentarily. After a few tentative seconds, he began climbing the stairs. As he came on to the landing of his flat and looked up, his feet got rooted to the spot.
Deepa was sitting on top of the stairs. She stood up as she saw him. “I’ve come fifteen minutes back,” she said.
Recovering from the initial shock, Arun climbed the remaining flight of stairs. “You never told me you’re coming. Come inside.” He fished in his pocket for the keys.
“I won’t come inside, I’m in a hurry” Deepa said. “I thought I would come to let you know that I have reconsidered the whole matter. I’m not going to Bangalore.”
Arun stared. He was looking at a slightly unfamiliar Deepa. “I’ve refused the promotion.” There was a decided tone of finality in her voice. “After all Arun, there are so many things which you can do, but I can’t, isn’t it? Particularly when, it concerns both of us?”
Her voice was a strange mixture of conflicting emotions. Disappointment, pain and sarcasm were rolled together into a shapeless muddle. Arun didn’t know how to react. Words didn’t come to him. Thoughts too, had deserted him. He felt small, as he reached out to take her hand in his. Gently, Deepa put his hand aside. “I must leave now,” she said.
Halfway down the stairs, she stopped and looked back. It was a hollow, vacant look. “Things will be okay now.” Her voice resonated the emptiness of her eyes. She turned and continued on her way. Arun saw the trail of her sari, flipping down the stairs. Only for a few moments till she stepped outside. To become a part of the dark evening.
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2003)
Dr Amitendu Palit, is currently a leading Columnist associated with The Indian Express.
Read other writings by Amitendu Palit
Rahul and his T-shirt (Short Story)
The House at the Corner (Short Story)
A Strange Darkness (Poem)
A Poetess and her Innermost Being (Book Review)
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