306. She looked at the apartment number impatiently. Some things didn't come naturally to her. Waiting was the last thing she would learn she thought. She rang the bell again.
The highlights on her coiffure blended well with her persona. Tossed back carelessly- not so carelessly actually- she had the habit of brushing her hair as often as she could. She hated unruly things other than herself. Her make-up was minimal: just a thin black eyeliner and semi-nude lip gloss to accentuate her features. The expensive French perfume had a subtle lingering fragrance. But she wore the expression of a woman who knew that she was gorgeous and that people noticed her. She always let her smile appear lightly on her lips first, reach her eyes next and then broaden on her face. They called it the "billion dollar smile of the Iron Maiden" in the industry.
And yet, she knew that she was not always that attractive. Everything had been practiced to perfection throughout the years- even her smile. Worldly achievements had contributed to her overall sense of well-being and her pulchritude. Success is salubrious- she thought with a smile. And it was exactly then she realized that the door had been left ajar. She pushed it lightly with her French-manicured hands and walked in. And before she could turn back to close the entrance, someone pounced on her from her back.
Three hours later, she was lying beside him. She wanted more but she had to leave. Her husband Siddharth would be awaiting her and she didn't like to keep him awake till late. She looked sideways at the man sleeping in her arms. He had adonistic looks but didn't have much use for his brains. Nevertheless, she liked his tendency to give her surprises. Just like a little while ago when he was waiting for her, stark-naked in his apartment. As soon as she had walked in, he had pounced on her like a hungry animal and had carried her in his arms to the near-by sofa where they made love, and then on the carpet and then finally they ended up in the bathroom. He was always so eager to make love -almost like a prurient teenager. Eager to please, eager to touch, eager not to let her go. He could have been at least twelve years her junior. She didn't know exactly. She had never given it a serious thought.
She lit a cigarette while she walked towards the parking lot. It was dark and there was hardly another soul in the suburban residential complex. Perfect for her. She giggled at the thought of the media digging out this scoop. She could even imagine the headlines: Businesswoman of the year caught red-handed cheating on her husband. Iron Maiden's ironic turn of fate. Eyewitnesses confirm the existence of the much rumored love-nest of Geetanjali Roy... From here, it only got sleazier. She tossed the half burned cigarette and the entertaining thoughts out of the window and drove out towards a place she called home.
It had been fifteen years' since they had been married; Siddharth would still wait for her for dinner. He was told that she had late night meetings every third Thursday of the month to ascertain that every one in the organization was on the same page. He was very proud of her. He had known her six years before their marriage, and had seen her transform from a naive, young girl to a confident, complete woman that she was today.
He didn't mind being the Prince Consort though. All the page-3 parties they attended together evinced the fact that she had a colossal social presence. Reporters would herd up to her to have her opinion on the latest budget or some new tax law and its effect on the economy of the country. Sometimes, they would use words he didn't even understand. He was out and out a Literature guy. Business bored him. But she was an exponent in her field. How she managed the firm's differentiation even with its ceaseless expansion, how it resulted in acquiring the major chunk of market shares in industrial sales, and how she aggressively marketed the products was almost a folk-lore in the world of consumer goods. She always said to him: You have got to keep adding attributes to a product line Sidd. Don't let the customers wink or look away. They should always feel dazed by your innovation.
She followed the same principle in her personal life too- he knew. She was always rediscovering herself or adding attributes. She could speak five different languages fluently. She could play the violin and drive anyone to tears. Her oratory skills were veneered and her advice on business matters was one of the most precious things that money couldn't buy. A rival firm had tried to persuade her to leave her first employer once, even with the non-compete policies between them. She had refused those green bucks when she was only a young thing. Yes, he was proud of her.
She walked stealthily into the living room, hoping against hope that he had gone to sleep. It wasn't really guilt. Repentance is a redundant emotion she always believed. She just didn't like him waiting for her, hungry. He would often cook something for her and she could always discern it among an assortment of other dishes. Even the most professional cook couldn't add the most important ingredient that Sidd always lavishly poured into a concoction: love.
It was eleven years ago when she had the miscarriage. They had married when she was twenty-seven and Sidd was thirty but she didn't want a baby until they were 'settled' in life. Sidd was a struggling writer back then, and he still was. She had tried to convince him to use her contacts to get his maiden novel published. But her negotiation skills faced paucity when it came to him. It is difficult to reason with someone who doesn't work for his own interest. He was adamant, he never resorted to recommendations. Not even from the 'love of his life', as he called her- 'the one' for him. He had scribbled a few poems here and there and got them published in newspapers, magazines and as coffee-table books. But he was waiting for a masterpiece - a novel he believed that would be a chef d'oeuvre, a tour de force that would make him immortal in the literary world. Unfortunately, the spark never kindled. 'Money is nothing but an impediment to creativity. And Geetu is doing so well. Maybe I need to face hardship for a while to provide impetus to my drying pen. I will ask her if she thinks it is a good idea to be away from her for a while' he thought to himself.
She saw him on his favorite reclining chair. They had it since the Adams. It looked horribly out of sync with the living room decor. But she knew that he loved it so much that he would never let go of it. She had tried to put the idea in his mind a few times, but he would simply say: "But I love it" as if it were justification enough. And he would make his face like a kid explaining something to his mother. That is what she adored about him. He was so simple, so unworldly, so child-like in his manners. She knew that he abhorred crowds, but he always accompanied her to parties and social gatherings loyally. The perfect couple. Essential for her public image and a source of frustration for the yellow page journalists who had been trying to get a loose end leading to a delicious scandal concerning her. He was her talisman. As long as he was around, nothing could touch her she felt. She was usually not superstitious, but her belief in him was almost blind and primal.
He addressed her without turning his head: 'You knew I'd be waiting for you love. You needn't have tip-toed.' He was so predictable. And he always knew it when she was in close proximity, almost like an ultra-sensitive radar. She smiled and walked towards him, held his head in her arms and kissed his ruffled hair. Then she stepped into their bedroom to change and get ready for dinner.
Post-dinner, Siddharth told Geetanjali about his new found idea. She disliked the very thought of it. She was so used to having him around that she could not think of life without him. It was almost a habit. Was it ever love? Or passion? It seemed like a long, long, long time ago when he had been on his knees and had proposed her for marriage. She was only a young girl then and she had felt like the happiest person in the world. She was so ecstatic that she had wept. Maybe the last time she had tears in her eyes. After that, life had been a whirlwind of activities : innumerable names, business contacts, launch of new products, strategic planning, business trips, meetings, meetings and more meetings ... She had lost count of the variety of professional duties she had most efficiently executed to reach where she was.
She had seen the market change; even the most loyal connections could turn hostile for trifle business reasons. But she had always thought a step ahead of her competition and a breach of trust meant death in the books of Geetanjali Roy. People knew her by her maiden name. She was earning the royalties on her several published works under the same title. Somehow, she didn't want to part with the name she was born with and had begun to love fiercely. Siddharth was very understanding in this matter. He never tried to impose his last name on her. Only when they were young and he'd get super-romantic, he'd call her "Mrs. Shome" and kiss her. She liked it that way. It was his exclusive right.
Siddharth pressed on the matter again before going to sleep, but she suggested: 'We'll talk about it tomorrow', hoping that he'd forget all about it the following day. In the morning, however, he kept urging her like a child keen on an idee fixe and she started wondering what to say. She stated , "Okay, we'll have to arrange for your stay first. I will let you know in the evening when I get back from work." Gleefully he bade her goodbye.
Sometimes, she had that odd feeling that he knew everything. He could always read her mind before, speak aloud what she was thinking. But over the years she had learned to keep a passive countenance. It was essential for her everyday dealings. Siddharth had given up trying long back. Or had he?
Her cell phone beeped once and flashed Siddharth's number. She picked it in the middle of a presentation from a young chap she prided upon recruiting herself personally. She knew a winner when she saw one, and schooled properly, he could take her place when she finally retired.
A quivering voice gave a message in fragments which sounded like : Siddharth saab.. accident.. hospital She listened intently and suddenly her calm, composed attitude changed. In years, she felt a panic attack and feared that she might pass out. She excused herself from the meeting and asked someone else to preside over it and give her the reports later in the evening.
On reaching the hospital that Siddharth's driver had mentioned over the phone, she inquired about him at the help desk. Suddenly, a sense of loss was overshadowing her thought processes, "It's all too sudden.. all too unanticipated" and then she kept saying to herself: This isn't a time to feel weak Geetanjali Roy. .. Buck up Geetu.. buck up Mrs. Shome... and she felt surprised at having used the appellative. When was the last time she had thought herself to be the wife of Mr. Siddharth Shome? Not that she could remember.
However, things weren't as bad as she had feared and in a few days' time Siddharth was back home; though the doctors said that his broken bones would need some time to recover fully. Geetanjali had been working mostly from home lately and taken up to cooking one or two of his favorite dishes. She was making porridge today. Milk, sugar, vermicelli, walnuts, raisins, cardamom .. what was she missing? Saffron. He liked the tint it gave to the milk when she used to cook for him years ago. Hope he still liked it.
He was sitting upright on the bed, browsing through a poetry book he used to read to her sometimes when they had just married. She asked him to recite a piece for her, and he acceded with a smile. When he had finished , he asked: "Don't you have your Thursday meeting tonight?"
"Not anymore" she replied.