It was three years. Three years since that hot rainy day in October when he left her. Well, three years and nine days to be accurate. That’s one thousand one hundred and four days precisely. Not that she could change anything. Not now, not then. She had seen it coming for years. The habitual drinking, the ensuing fits of anger, the ricocheting pressures, and the strokes. After twenty years in the marriage, she was more sure of the sun rising the next day than him waking up. So when it happened, she wasn’t shocked. When the doctor said there was no pulse, when the nurse inched a little closer to her just before the doctor broke the news, she didn’t feel a thing. She was composed. More normal than anybody alive. They waited for a reaction. But there wasn’t any. Well, they do expect the drama, the sudden burst of tears or anger, and everything in between. But they weren’t used to the silences. They thought it better to leave it there. Leave her there. Little did I know that she was still there in the hospital lobby after all this time.
I don’t know how or when it started. But I’ll tell you how I found out about it.
As it happens, we gather each year under one roof for her husband’s death anniversary. He was a good friend and it feels like a personal loss even after all this time. This time I flew in a few days prior to the designated day. I hadn’t had the time to be with her properly since the husband and kids usually came with me. This year however, I traveled alone. I was relieved to see that the dark bags under her eyes had faded; she is sleeping well at least, I thought. For a really long time, she would lose track of conversations; she would just vanish from the spot mentally. Now, she spoke well and without pauses. A good sign. So she is eventually making progress. I even found her talking jovially over the phone. I could bet she was smiling on one of those calls. For someone who has been blessed with tragedies, consistently, a smile is a rare blessing. So you can imagine my joy.
On the day of the anniversary, the rituals started as usual and she was a part of all of them. Rather willingly. Time does heal wounds. For a friend of thirty years who’s only had life’s misfortunes, I couldn’t ask for more. Slowly we get there, I reminded myself. The day was draped in melancholy but not her. She was calm, playing the perfect host, offering refreshments to one and all. Soon they all left, and we were left to each other. She made us the customary ginger tea. It had a hint of cardamom and I remembered that’s how he always liked his tea. Never her. As if sensing my thoughts, she said, “It’s a part of the remembering him thing.” It is astonishing I think, how enormously death changes a person than life ever can. I looked at her with awe and wonder. Was this the same woman I knew? She had changed more in these three years of solitude than in all those twenty of marriage. A woman of strong beliefs and here she was sipping the tea she’d never liked.
A few days later, I saw her walking on the verandah. Slowly caressing the overgrown roses across the hedge as she passed them. She looked happy. Like a teenage girl fresh in love. Like a child with his favorite candy. What was this place where her heart had taken refuge? Where her sorrows had been swallowed whole? I should’ve been happy. Happy for her. Why then did it feel like the sea was suppressing a storm? What was that unsettling feeling about my friend perhaps, finally moving on? I watched her from a distance and felt guilty for judging her. I walked away rather sullen. It was something about that restrained smile that had leeched upon my conscience, that I couldn’t shake off.
The next morning, I found her sitting on the porch, writing. When she saw me coming, she shut the diary with a flair I hardly knew she was capable of. There must be some clue in there. What was it about her changed behavior that had challenged my peace so? It was like a mystery that evaded me, and God, I wanted to get to the core of it. I was craving to put my appalling Sherlockian wits to test and discover the big secret. I went and sat next to her. She started fidgeting with her phone. The woman was all of forty eight and was acting sixteen. There must be something. If only I could get that diary. I immediately felt guilty about wanting to pry into my friend’s personal matters. But as her only long-standing friend I deserved to know, wait, it was my duty to know if she was all right. Of course, she will hide for the fear of being misjudged but I was dismayed and this torment had to end.
Not having been presented with any opportunities to pursue my diligent passion, the day before I had to fly back, I made my mind on confronting her. I just needed the right moment. The moment that would change my life forever would present itself so, when had I thought about that. It was just before I was about to start the packing, she walked into my room and sat on the bed. I could tell from her calculated walk that she had something on her mind. I paused and came by her side. Here comes the moment of truth, I thought. “Is everything all right, Kim?”, I asked. After a moment, she breathed out, “It’s the kids.”
I was taken aback. “What do you mean?” She went over and sat by the window looking out. “I think they are avoiding me.” “But they’re right here, aren’t they?” “That’s the thing they are just there. They never talk to me. They think…” By now I could see tears pooling her eyes. I went close to her and prodded her to go on. “They think what?” “That I am going crazy. I can see they are running away from me. I was going mad… you know… his sudden… for over a year I didn’t know what to do with my life… but now… I am all right. I can promise you I am not going insane.” She was crying by now. I held her hands between mine. “Hey, hey, listen to me, you are not going insane. You are definitely misreading them. They’ve lost someone too. It’s natural to feel lonely in your own way. You won over it. Now give them the time too, okay?” The stream had dried up but I could see them working up again. Ready to burst any minute.
“No, it’s not that. God, how do I tell you? I can’t explain without you thinking that I’m totally bonkers.” “Kim, I know you better than anyone. What is it, you can tell me? It’s us.” She looked into my eyes as though searching if I meant that from my heart. Maybe she was convinced with what she saw and she said, “I can talk to him, Shan. He isn’t gone. He’s right here. Can you believe that?” I had watched a lot of movies where a significant half is convinced that their departed partner’s spirit is around them and it all serves good fodder for scary bites. But this was real life, how was I supposed to react? “Look Kim, it is natural to still feel attached to him. But you have to accept the reality.” “Reality? Then what is this?” She picked up her phone and opened the messenger. And what I was about to see would make me question my whole belief system for a very long time.
She scrolled past a few screens and handed the phone to me. There it was. Sometimes life gives you moments of utter shock and some of utter foolishness. Right then I couldn’t decide this was which. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled. It took me four and a half minutes to get to the top. One thousand, one hundred and four messages for each of the days since he was gone. I started reading them. Gradually I realised, these were not just messages but love poems, poems of longing, of desperation, of true passion, sent as a token of undying love for another. And she sent them everyday. Forwarded each time to the lost husband’s number. After I had read each and every one of them, it dawned upon me what she was trying to hint at. Each of those messages had the tick that meant it was seen. I was stunned beyond belief. It felt like a lump stuck in my throat.
“What does this mean?,” I stammered. “It’s clear, isn’t it?” I wasn’t shocked any more than I was angry. Someone surely was pulling a prank. What else could it mean? Some insensitive person had to be doing this. What else was the explanation for something as bizarre as that? But the bigger question that posed me was in the form of the expectant look from my friend. Surely, she deserved a nod affirming that it was true and that would ascertain she wasn’t losing her wits. I just couldn’t do that to her. She searched me for a reply but when I didn’t supply one, she started to leave. I was fast being an incompetent, unreliable friend, and I needed to salvage my position. But she didn’t give me a chance. Just before she left the room, she said, “You know he doesn’t think that. We talk for hours and I’m convinced only he understands me.”
It was turning out to be a day of cruel adventures; one that won’t let my mind rest for days to come. First the dead-husband-is-around story and now the mysterious confidante. Obviously he’s the one who she’s been talking to. But who is he? And how was I to find out? The answer was right in front of me. I activated the phone my friend had left behind. I reached for the call logs. There were more than a few logs everyday under one name – Dr. Nealey, Psychiatrist, Aster Hospitals.
I knew the next stop before my flight. Only thing I didn’t know was if I was ready for what awaited me there.
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