Lather | By: Shamoil Ahmad | | Category: Short Story - Love Bookmark and Share

Lather


Lather                                                            Shamoil Ahmad

                      

 

 

It was just a chance meeting with her, on the road….

 

And just as the water in the puddle gets dirty the moment you put your foot on it, the same way…

 

In the same  way the colour of her face underwent a change. She was taken aback by my sudden appearance before her, and so was I…nearly forcing me to ejaculate, “oh, you…” or words to that effect. She dragged the hem of her saree to her nape with an intent to cover it, I stole a furtive glance at her…she was certainly at that stage of her life where women first try to conceal the emerging wrinkles around their neck…from the withering complexion of her face and from the attire she was wearing, I quickly observed that she was not very happily placed. Her chappal too seemed old and worn out and did not match the colour of her saree. Toe portion of her chappal had completely lost its original colour and shape because of constant use. It then occurred to me that I was better placed than she at that moment and it sort of made me happy to see that I was better off than she, or that I was sort of happy to see her in this discomfort. My being happy at her lot was certainly not in good taste, but I could not help realizing that the relationship that could not fructify between me and her— the pangs of unfulfilled love—had left some fire still crackling within me for the last twenty years.

 

It appeared to me that she was reading my mind. She once again straightened the hem of her saree over her  shoulder, and greeted me with a smile that seemed wan like a dry leaf fallen from a tree…she had enquired of me if I lived in this town…to this I had responded with the nod of head in affirmative and hurled back the same query on her. She too had responded with the nod of her head. As she nodded ‘yes’, she betrayed on her face sign of an unspecified pain. Perhaps, she was not ready for this kind of unexpected meeting; or may be she did not think it proper that I should know about her living in this town. As for me, I did not find it wholly unexpected…I’ll readily admit that I had always been inquisitive about her all these years…where she lived…how is she…or how good was her married life…?

 

Relations may wither….they do not die…

 

Speechless, she was twisting the hem of her saree and I too was silent. I was baffled at my own silence. At least, we could have been doing some formal talking…like questions about home….about children…but my lips were sealed and she too remained silent…then it occurred to me that I should invite her to a cup of tea in a restaurant nearby; but thought, perhaps she will not like it.

 

In fact, restaurant is my weakness…if I happen to meet any friend somewhere on the road, I definitely make one such proposal. Seated in a half-lit corner of a quality restaurant, joy of sipping tea while talking is immense. But we had continued to be silent in the middle of the road. Standing in the middle of the road without any purpose looked really very odd…perhaps I am making a wrong statement here…the fact of the matter is—standing there silently in this manner was actually producing a pleasant feeling.

 

May be, I thought, she was passing through some kind of a depression; but when on an occasion or two she looked up towards me, I thought she too was keen to spend some time with me. It was then that I had alluded to restaurant. She had not given immediate consent. First she looked around, almost stealthily. She had smiled softly and had queried as to where she had to go. I had then hurriedly indicated towards a restaurant that was close by.

 

We went to the restaurant. There was an unoccupied table in one of the corners. On being seated, I observed that although there was no sign of depression on her face, yet she seemed to be somewhat diffident. In the meantime, as I straddled my feet under the table, I touched upon hers…it was not done intentionally…but I remembered having once done that in the past.

 

Those were the early days then when buds would sprout; fragrances had missives contained therein and the waves in the river would lead to the ocean. I vividly remember having had the opportunity of being seated with her in this manner in a restaurant and I had deliberately straddled up my feet to get the feel of her touch…she had at once recoiled and her eyes had betrayed a tinge of passion…her lips had puckered into a thin smile and had looked at me stealthily…but now…

 

Now having traversed through the long passage of spent years of our lives, we were at the stage  where touching of feet can only be construed as a mere coincidence rather than a planned event. It was not my intention to have the feel of her person…it was just an accidental and a worthless touch devoid of any feeling at all…and we sat as nonchalantly as we could. She had not withdrawn her feet, nor did I make any effort to withdraw mine. We continued to sit in that posture: no bud had sprouted, nor any ants had weaved webs around, nor for that matter she had covetously looked at me to make any magical impact .  Having crossed the bridge of twenty years, at this juncture of life where we stood now even the rustle of dry leaves was also not discernible.

 

When the waiter came I asked her what she would like to have: tea or coffee. In reply, she named my favourite snacks. It surprised me no ends that she remembered it all so very clearly that I …

 

Coffee arrived. We began to sip it slowly. She was peering down on the table while I was surveying vacant space in front of me. In the meantime, I once observed her closely. She had taken care to comb in a manner that an occasion grey or two was visible and on the temple on both sides birds appeared to have made signs of claws. Finding me watching her closely, she recoiled a little and a flicker of smile emerged on her lips like thin ripples on water and then subsided…

 

I enjoyed it all….seated together side by side, sipping coffee quietly and occasional attempts to furtively look at one another, thin lines of smile flickering in and flickering out…

 

Our legs were still in contact and no one made any conscious effort to sit properly. It seemed to me that our past was trapped moribund between our legs and despite our efforts we were not able to disengage ourselves…as though we were in need of this touch…this moribund touch indicative of our past…there was no thrill in this touch…no mystery…just an illusion…the illusion of living in the past…illusion of re-living those moments of the past…the illusion of a relationship that never was…my eyes fell on the cup. There was very little coffee in it…., one or two draughts more and the end of the story…we will pay the bill, rise from there and from under the table our past will fall like a dead bird and will be buried….just a few draughts more…the illusion of reliving those moments of the past was scheduled to terminate at this point of…

 

Gulping down the last draught of coffee she asked whether rooms were available in this hotel….I nodded in the negative and said this was only a restaurant… and my flat was close by…

 

Suddenly it occurred to me that I had given an absurd answer…she was not asking anything about where I resided…she had merely asked if rooms were available here and I volunteered information about my flat which was uncalled for…these days I was living alone in my flat…wife had gone to her father’s and all the three children lived in hostels.

 

I then remembered. In one of the earlier meetings while sipping coffee, I had tried to touch her from under the table and had enquired from the waiter whether or not rooms were available… but it was an indiscreetly made enquiry…there was no design, no selfish intents and today she had repeated those very words and I had immediately told her about my flat…perhaps it had some relation with the past and somewhere in our subconscious we were feeling a pang of it…to me a room in the hotel and a lonely flat were two ends of the same rope and my desire to get closer to her was nothing but my own unrequited love that was spread out like dirty linen on this rope…

 

It surprised me that she had a clear imprint in her heart of every detail of our past. The yawning gap of twenty years had not been able to erase the memory of those days; for that matter, none of us had been able to erase out anything…

 

When we emerged on the road after paying the bill, she asked who was in the flat with me. I told her, I was alone these days…my flat is not very far from here…if she wanted…      

 

And she agreed.

 

We boarded an auto. She had moved aside to a corner and I had maintained a respectable distance…then I could not help thinking that we were so comfortable and easy in the restaurant, sitting close to one another; but here, in the auto, we were taking extra care to avoid any possible physical contact. But when another passenger boarded the auto at the next crossing, I had no choice but to move a little closer to her in order to make room for the new passenger and in the process we came in bodily contact. I realised this contact was not meaningless; rather, the arrival of another passenger proved to be a blessing in disguise for both of us.

 

When auto stopped, I paid up. The flat was barely a few steps from there. We walked up to the flat and upon entering the drawing-room, she busied herself in surveying the room. On the cabinet in a steel frame was the photograph of my wife. She perhaps guessed it as to whose picture it could have been. She queried with the movement of her eyes if she was right in her guess. I nodded my agreement and sat on the sofa by her side. A pall of silence descended on us…she was, involuntarily may be, with her fingers trying to draw some lines on the sofa. Suddenly, the hem of her saree slipped down from her shoulder exposing the upper part of her chest…her chest appeared to have sagged on the upper side and collar bones had a protrusion akin to a pit. Wrinkles too were visible around her neck …to me it looked ugly…I marveled at my idiocy…why did I invite her in the first place…and she also came along…! And both of us were sitting through an  irrelevant silence…at long last I decided to break the silence and asked her whether she would like to have tea or coffee…My voice was somewhat indifferent…I thought I was not asking her for tea, rather I was expressing my exasperation…and when she nodded her head in disapproval, my exasperation grew by several notches….when I proposed to show her the remaining parts of the flat, she rose from sofa. I took her to the kitchen first, showed her the balcony next, and then the bed-room…

 

Once in the bed-room, she began to survey it the same way…there was a nail on the wall facing the dressing table. On the nail hung a bangle with a black thread tied to it. She minutely watched the bangle and asked what was the purport of the thread…? I answered with a chuckle that it could be my wife’s magical protection against evil. Whenever she goes out, she removes a bangle from her hand and hangs it there with a black thread tied to it. She thinks this way she could prevent another woman from entering her home besides reminding me about her whenever I looked at it…

 

She laughed heartily and said sarcastically that his wife was of suspicious nature and that she did not trust him…I did not like her laughter. Answering disagreeably, I said that it was not a question of trust or distrust…it was just a matter of faith and belief and no woman would ever want that her husband should have relations with any other woman…

 

Continuing to speak sarcastically, she said that faith meant fear…my wife had a fear in her mind that I could do such a thing…and to dispel this fear from her mind, she has tied this black thread with this belief that this will,,,,

 

I was not all enjoying this intellectual intercourse. But I remained silent…

 

Then she gave a swirl to her body and lied on the bed resting her head on the elbow, then fixing her gaze on the bangle hanging on the nail with black thread tied to it asked me teasingly if his wife could protect him from the evil designs of other women…? How the poor thing would know that I was such a flirt…? It angered me. I strongly objected and said why was she calling me a flirt…? Then she sarcastically reminded me about what I had done to one of her friends…she reminded me about the incident of that party night when the lights had suddenly gone off and … I remained silent…in fact, I have a weakness. I am sensually drawn by a woman’s hip…the meaty area just above the waistline …

 

That night the lights had suddenly gone off and her friend was seated by my side. My hand involuntarily travelled down to her waist. I did not withdraw my hand and she also remained seated thus…and what you do when your hand probes the body of a woman and she does not object to it…

 

I found it strange. She had told these things to her friend…I was unable to meet her eyes…

I looked askance at her. There was a thin line of mischievous smile on her lips. Then she suddenly bent over me and with a swift movement of her hand she fished out a comb from my back pocket. In this process of bending over me, her breasts came in contact with my shoulders. Then she said with laughter that earlier he parted his hair on the right side and used to proclaim that it was his speciality and that Hitler too parted his hair like this…

 

 

 

It amazed me. She remembered every detail. She began to comb my hair. Her fingers were touching my forehead. It felt good…her bending over me, fishing out of comb from my pocket and combing my hair…she was standing very close to me…gap between her breasts was right in front of my eyes and I was clearly feeling her breathe on my person. Her shoulders were regularly touching my chest. Then she put the comb back in my pocket in the same manner and with the twinkling of an eye asked me to look at the mirror…

 

I turned to see…my face had undergone a change. Hair was parted on the right. I could not contain my smile. She began to smile too and then her smile looked bewitching to me…then suddenly I realised that after all life had not quite slipped out of hands yet…hair parted on the right …a smiling woman…and that central milky line between breasts…we were definitely reliving our past at the moment, where there was sound of the flowing river and the mild roar of the ocean…she was happy and….I too was overjoyed….

                                           

In this moment of joy, my hand suddenly slipped to her waist and she too uninhibitedly clung on to my shoulder…her lips half-opened…and it is precisely this that I find highly seductive…hands on the waist and half-open lips!....

 

I enveloped her into my arms. Thus coiled around me we moved to the bed and I unbuttoned her blouse…

 

Her eyes were closed and I too was sinking deep…slowly and slowly she had begun to breathe heavily…and then she advanced towards me and grabbed me by my arms; softly whispered something into my ears which I could not understand…but this act of whispering appeared nauseating to me…the joyous moment immediately petered out into a moment of distaste. My eyes settled on the wrinkles around her neck that had emerged more prominently then…I felt disgusted…formation of a ditch like shape under the protruding bones of her neck…the sunken area in the upper part of her chest…her breasts dangling like leaking balloons…it appeared to me that her body was like a mound where I had mounted like a crab….I looked at my hands. My fingers were clinging to her breasts like leeches…I was filled with intense despondency and I at once disengaged myself from her and sat upright.

 

She opened her eyes and looked straight at the bangle hanging on the nail. The thread tied to the bangle was swinging slowly….a mysterious smile surfaced on her lips…she kept lying on the bed for some time, then arranged her dishevelled attire and stood up before the mirror.

 

Despondency inside me was spreading like mist. I was repentant. I had not brought her my flat with this intent. She had just about moved in with me and so long as we remained seated on the sofa, I had no inkling that no sooner we entered the bedroom than we will immediately…perhaps this part of the age passes through a dangerous terrain. A woman in her forties and a man crossing the threshold of fifty-five, both try to run away from the reality  that life has actually begun to slip out of their hands. We too had chosen this path that traversed through the hair parted on the right and the central milky line passing through breasts. While I was remorseful, she seemed happy…her happiness surprised me. I looked at with intense dislike. She was combing her hair and that mischievous smile was clearly discernible on her lips. And when she removed the mark of vermillion from her forehead and pasted it on the mirror…it incensed me…I detected this act of hers…that meant she wanted to remind me about her being even after she was gone. She wanted to show that men are like this only: loafer! No thread can tie them! I looked cravingly at the thread wherein was weaved the innocence of my loyal and committed wife. I thought there was a conspiracy against me. This jealous woman trapped me into a despicable net of lust and raised a finger towards faith…and she will laugh gleefully all her life…indeed, I was equally responsible for the defilement of this thread…a sad wave of repentance rose from within me. Perhaps, repentance is another aspect of life… just as waves are contained in water so also in our activities are contained sins—sins that we have committed directly and sins that we have contributed to unwittingly—, for which we must repent both as doer and facilitator…for the last twenty years  there was this regret of having failed to give permanence to a relationship that never was; and today after her submission, I thought I had profaned the sanctity of the sacred thread…I had destroyed the trust of a faithful and committed wife…

 

She was ready to leave and was continuing to smile mischievously. I too wanted that she left the place at the earliest. I did not ask, where do you live…? She herself told me that she was here to attend a function at one of her relations and that she would leave the following morning…

 

The silence suddenly intensified after she left. I lay crestfallen on the bed and shut my eyes…the image of my wife floated before me…I had never craved for her presence with this earnestness ever as I did now…I felt a strong urge for her at this moment…

 

I opened my eyes like an obsessed patient and looked at the dangling bangle on the nail,  and the thread tied to it swinging softly in the air.  

 

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