Hey…So how was your day?’ Payal smiled as she held the phone tightly to her right ear. Her excitement could be measured by her tone.
‘Good. Yours?’ replied Randeep in an incredibly dull tone from the other side of the phone.
‘Great but I missed you so much! The best thing today was the girl I met..I…’
‘Payal…Baby can we talk later?’ Randeep interrupted Payal, ‘The head has come.’
‘Yeah sure…’ Payal’s excitement dissolved at once and now her tone matched that of Randeep’s, ‘ I’ll call you later’. Payal kept the phone on the dining table, finished the noodles she was eating, washed the dishes and went to her study. Her study was a small room with thousands of books and even more number of spiders and webs. The room was not at all well lit and had a layer of dust on the floor. But Payal never bothered to work in that space or else never bothered to clean the space. There were a bunch of papers lying on the study table. Payal sighed. She put on her spectacles and started counting the papers.
‘Sixty five? ‘, she uttered to herself, ‘But there are Sixty seven students in the class right? Payal count again!’ she counted them once again and this time seemed satisfied with the result.
Payal was a girl in her early thirty’s. She was a teacher by profession and was married to Randeep since the last five years. Payal and Randeep met in a matrimony portal. Randeep’s parents liked Payal a lot. Though before the marriage they never actually met each other in person they talked quite a lot on phone. Still after their marriage while Randeep worked out of the country and only came to his home once in a year, most of their ‘precious’ moments happened over the phone. Randeep worked for a hospital as a psychiatrist and was most of the time stressed due to the work load. Payal on the other hand was in love with teaching. She thought it as a way to express herself to people, though the people being ten years old but still this was her only way to be happy.
Payal while assessing the answer scripts suddenly looked at the wall clock. It was 1o’clock. It was already the next day. Payal wrapped the bundles, kept them at the corner of the table, she absentmindedly as other days forgot to switch the lights off and went to her bedroom. When she entered the room , the first thing she saw was the wedding picture. The wedding photo of Randeep and her wedding, framed in a beautiful wooden antique work. She purposely hung the picture in that wall so as to see it first when she enter the room, so as to feel that she is not alone, so as to never feel upset that she still after five years of marriage lives alone. She wanted to feel the warmth, she wanted to be loved, she wanted Randeep badly. The days were passing with a very little difference each day. She would write in her diary every day about her monotonous life but that day was different.
She took her diary kept under her pillow and started writing.
‘Simmi … That’s the name of the girl I met today. We shared the cab to work. She said she worked in the office opposite the hospital. There was something so charismatic about her! The elegance, the look on her face, the smile…She was so nice and the way she talked! I could talk to her for hours. After so long I felt that I actually connected to someone. Someone I could talk my heart out. Someone as lost as I am. But there was someone as annoying! Aggh…The driver. He kept looking back through the mirror. He kept staring at Simmi like a stalker. Except for the ride nothing interesting happened today. I hope I get Simmi again someday and if I do……’
The most unusual thing happened. Payal fell asleep while writing. She fell asleep without her sleeping pills. She fell asleep without setting the alarm. The next morning when she woke up the diary was still in her hand and the pen lied on the ground. She looked at the clock. It was exactly six in the morning. This was the first time in the five years that she woke up felling fresh and charged up. She felt as if she had completed her sleep which was incomplete for a very long time.
The first thing Payal would do after waking up was check her phone for any messages from Randeep. And everyday she would be upset seeing the inbox empty. Payal still managed to stay in a good mood after doing her morning yoga while listening to the morning radio show. She would get ready for the school. She had a good collection of bright coloured salwar suits from which she would choose her outfit after her bath. She would apply the vermilion in a hefty amount on her partitioned scalp and put a small bindi in the centre of her brow gap. The bindi would be in a matching colour with tag of the salwar. After packing her lunch and books, she would book a cab in share to her school.
That day she followed the same routine. When the cab arrived she was a bit surprised to see Simmi again sitting in the car.
‘Hey! Good morning!’ Payal greeted Simmi.
‘What! It’s you again. Good morning! Get in.’ Simmi was equally amazed.
The ride started and so did their talks.
‘How is your child?’ Payal asked. Simmi told about her four year old daughter the other day.
‘She is good…A little upset when mummy leaves for office.’ Simmi smiled at Payal. ‘What about you? Aren’t you planning to have a child? Five years is a long time. With age the complications of having a child would increase.’
Payal sighed, ‘Yeah I know but…Actually my husband…’
‘He is working abroad…You told me. Why don’t you go there then? I mean you can work there too, right?’
‘I am too afraid to go there.’
‘Why? Its just another country… Moreover you would be with your husband. You two would get chance to spent time together.’
‘Thats what I am afraid of…Spending time with him, knowing him. We have been married for five years now but we still haven’t talked much. When he is there he is so absorbed in his work and when he comes to visit me once or twice in a year, we usually spend time with his parents and seldom get any quality time.’
‘So basically you two are still strangers to each other?’
‘Sort of’ Payal shrugged. Payal noticed that this driver was also staring at Simmi like anything.
‘Sir…What are you staring at?’ Payal shouted at the driver.
‘I am sorry madam..’ the driver apologized.
‘You should ignore them,’ Simmi tried to pacify Payal. ‘So you don’t love your husband?’
‘I do but I am not sure he loves me or not…Sometimes it feels as if he agreed to marry me for his parents satisfaction’.
‘So you are afraid that if you found out that he doesn’t love you…You…’
‘I will be shattered. I am not ready for this. My parents separated when I was very small. I heard that they loved each other before marriage but I fail to understand what changed after marriage so I decided to go with an arranged marriage but here I am thinking…What if my marriage fails?’
‘But if you don’t try to get it sorted, your marriage will definitely fail. You..’
‘Enough of me!’ Payal interrupted Simmi, ‘Tell me about your marriage. You seem happy with your life!’
Simmi laughed to it, ‘The grass appears greener the other side. We have your school look!’
‘Oh! I again lost track of time talking to you. Hey! Can I have your number? I love sharing with you. We might not get lucky in cabs another time.’
They exchanged their numbers and Payal then went to her school. Payal as usual called Randeep after reaching the staff room.
‘Randeep …I have reached school. Have you had your breakfast?’ Payal asked while she took out the answer scripts from her bag.
‘Not yet…I will have it from the canteen. Did you sleep well yesterday? How are the new pills working?’
‘Actually I…’ Payal stopped for a moment, ‘Yeah the pills are great. When will you come home Randeep? I want to…’
‘Payal we have had this talk hundred times now…You know how important my work is! I am almost…’
‘I am getting late for the class. I am sorry to bother you ‘. Payal hang up the phone with frustration.
Payal went home early that day. She didn’t feel good. The way home she thought about her parents over and over again. She felt as if her fear was taking the shape of reality. Her marriage was failing. She went home, took the bottle filled with pills, opened the cap and poured all the tablets into a glass of water kept at the dining table. She looked at the pills. She looked at the pills settling one above the other. She saw the pills dissolving slowly and slowly with time. She took the glass and placed it near her lips. She was about to sip it but suddenly her hands seized to move. Her grip was loosening and she felt the glass slipping from her hand. The glass fell on the ground with pieces of glass scattered all over the floor. She sat on the floor for a while and then she suddenly stood up to reach her bag. Her fingers trembled as she searched for her phone. The tears were blurring her vision but she didn’t bother to remove them. She called Randeep who was the only person on her speed dial. It rang for seven-eight times but was not answered. Then she tried to call Simmi. The phone was unreachable. Payal tried to call them again and again hoping she could talk to someone or anyone. She finally fell on the ground unconscious.
The next day when she woke up she found the phone held with a tight grip in her hand. Her hands had some minor scratches due to the pieces of glass. When she checked her phone she saw 23 missed calls from Randeep. She looked at the time. She was amazed to see that she again woke up at 6. She wanted to call Randeep back but she didn’t. She didn’t know what to say or how to explain all the things she felt. She feared Randeep would not understand her.
She got a hold of herself and convinced herself to go to work. She wore a gorgeous salwar suit with matching gold jewelry. So wanted to feel good about herself with those glittery things. She skipped her breakfast intentionally and booked the cab.
Simmi was again sitting inside the cab smiling at Payal.
‘How is this happening?’ Payal got inside the car and tried to put on a smile on her face.
‘Hey…I tried to call you yesterday but it couldn’t connect.’
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with my network..You are not the first to tell me this. You seem stressed…Is every thing alright?’
Payal sighed and looked outside. She knew she needed help but wasn’t sure if she should tell Simmi everything. ‘Yesterday I …I fell…On the ground…’
‘Oh you have scratches too! Are you okay now?’.
‘I guess…So you didn’t tell me about your husband yesterday…How is he?’
‘I have a baby Payal but not a husband.’ Simmi smiled at Payal. She smiled as her eyes became moist. She tried to hide her pain with the smile.
‘What are you saying? Simmi you can tell me anything you want. I am listening.’ Payal forgot all her suffering for a while.
‘We were in love Payal…We were happy together…But not married yet. Then one day I came to know that I was pregnant.’
‘Did he not want the baby?’
‘He doesn’t know it yet.’
‘Why didn’t you tell him? I am with you Simmi. What happened? Did he do something wrong to you ‘
‘When I got to know that I was pregnant I wanted him to marry me. I had no other option. I didn’t want to abort the child nor did I want to pressurize him…He too wanted to marry me but…But his parents were rigidly against the marriage.’
‘Did he not ….’
‘He fought for us Payal but I backed out. I never wanted to separate him from his parents. I went away and gave birth to my daughter. When my daughter was born I heard from a common friend that he had got married and this time the girl was chosen by his parents.’
‘So he still doesn’t know about your daughter. She’s five now. What’s his name Simmi? Maybe I could…’ Payal looked at the front mirror of the cab the driver was staring at her with astonishment. Then she looked at the road. The car was about to hit a truck. Payal shouted at the driver to look in front and hugged Simmi as tight as she could.
Simmi whispered to Payal’s ear, ‘His name is Randeep.’ Payal felt a thrust and fell unconscious.
Payal woke up at the hospital. The first person she saw after waking up was Randeep. He was sitting next to her bed with his hands placed on her head.
‘Where’s Simmi? Is she okay?’ Payal asked with a trembling voice. She had bandage over her head and right hand.
‘Simmi? Is she someone from your school?’. Randeep asked holding Payal’s hand to calm her down.
‘She was with me when the accident happened. How is she?’
‘But I was told that you were alone except for the driver. The driver survived but still is under critical care.’
‘No Randeep. I shared the cab with Simmi. You know her Randeep!’
‘Calm down Payal. I saw your booking history. You booked the cab and it wasn’t on share. The company showed me the details. They are investigating into the matter.’
‘You loved Simmi very much… Didn’t you Randeep?’ Payal sobbed as she talked to her husband.
Randeep was taken aback. He didn’t know what to say for a moment.
‘Who told you about Simmi?’, Randeep asked impatiently.
‘Simmi herself said me that how deeply you two were in love with each other. You are a father Randeep. You have a lovely daughter. She is five now. Her number is saved in my phone… Please call her and talk to her!’
‘Your phone was destroyed in the accident…Why didn’t she tell me…’, Randeep looked at Payal. He knew how much pain Payal was feeling. He hid his past for five long years. He could not believe that he had a child. He wanted to meet Simmi and his daughter but he felt terrible that he took Payal for granted all these years.
‘She told that you two had a common friend. She knew about our marriage. I want to know if she is okay. Please call your friends Randeep.’
Randeep went out of the cabin and called all the common friends he had with Simmi. None could tell about her whereabouts except for one. He listened to his friends quietly and then went inside the cabin again.
‘Did you get anything? Randeep! Tell me…Why you seem so upset?’ Payal tried to sit straight with all the strength she had.
‘She named our daughter Preet and kept her with her aunt.’
‘Randeep please marry Simmi. I would love to step aside. I know you never loved me and you only loved Simmi. Randeep…Say something…’
Randeep came close to Payal and sat on his knees,’Simmi died a month ago…Payal..She is dead!’ Randeep kept his head on Payal’s lap and cried like a child. ‘She had a car accident and was bedridden for a month. She wanted to meet you and wanted you to own the child but before my friends could find me…She left! I was so obsessed in my work that I didn’t care to check on my friends or call them back when they called. I even ignored you…Payal I am so sorry.’
‘Randeep…I want to be the mother of your child…Please get her to me. Simmi was in immense pain and insecurity even after her death. I have seen her, talked to her ,felt her. She loved you so much!’
Randeep held Payal’s hand tight and took her into her arms.
‘I love you…Payal.’