She hadn't moved since the previous night. Hunger it seems did not bother her. After all, she was to be a mother soon. And once the baby arrived, food would be one of the first few things she would compromise on, smiled Shalini.
Sighing, she took another sip of Green Tea. Something she had recently discovered. Not that she liked it. She wanted to banish her caffeine addiction and a colleague suggested she try Green Tea, and that very evening, on her way home from office, she'd dropped in at the 'frequented by firangs only' supermarket to pick the tea. She'd also read somewhere that it would help in clearing the complexion. Truth or fabrication, she didn't care. She really DID need something to remove the bags under her eyes. If drinking Green Tea didn't help, she'd try placing the tea bag on her eyes she thought and smiled to herself at the mere idea.
Peeping into the bare refrigerator, she contemplated on what she could give the young mother. What do pigeons eat anyway? There was some left over spaghetti, and rice, and some dal. Shalini scooped a bit of everything, placed it on a tissue and gingerly opened the window to place the offering on the ledge.
The pigeon seemed petrified. She tucked her winged body into the furthest corner of the ledge, uncertain at the purpose of this unwelcome intervention. Isn't it strange, thought Shalini, that I can see the fear in a pigeon's eyes, and no one can see it in mine? Am I too perceptive or is the world around me just totally blind?
She scanned through the morning paper gulping down the remnants of the pale concoction. Trash, she thought as she read that hell had broken loose in Brangelina heaven ultimately. Although she didn't really care about celebrities and their lives, she'd often marvelled at their ability to walk away.
What did they do first? Pack their clothes, like all of them? Including the sexy lingerie? Or did they pack just enough for a few days, returning later for more? How did they decide what footwear to take along? What about stuff like the expensive China…or the antique bedside table gifted to them by a dear friend? Or even the coasters that she just could not do without? Or her prized possessions, the World Book set she had paid an exhausting EMI for?
Walking away in a huff is easier when you’ve planned what you want to take with you, she thought. The first step is to KNOW what you want. In a three bedroom apartment, where every piece of furniture, wall hanging or painting, had a story to tell, deciding what is important would take a lot of deep thinking.
Perhaps, that is why I’ve failed so far, she mulled. Because I can’t make up my mind if I want to take a couple of suitcases or leave with a backpack.
And then, the bigger question, where would she go? Move into a nondescript apartment and pay prohibitive rentals? Or suffer the Paying Guest rigmarole to save precious money?
Under the shower, as she soaped her recently-waxed legs, her mind raced back to the pigeon again. I must leave her a bowl of water, she thought. The weather had turned ugly that Summer and although the eggs would hatch any day, Shalini knew that the bird would not venture away even if the heat killed her.
Picking the keys, she slung the satchel over her shoulder before she bent down to stir Karan. I’m leaving she said. Ok he responded. He’s going to have a hangover I’m sure she thought. These so-called office parties, late nights on a weekday, she sighed. He is so goddamned lucky!
An uneventful day progressed slowly. Not a single call or visitor. I am a customer care exec in a Bank and I’ve counted the minutes today, she thought wryly. Sign of the times perhaps. A career that was going nowhere and a relationship that seemed to be gathering steady momentum, downhill.
There was a time when thinking of him felt like a whiff of gentle breeze on a hot, sultry and still afternoon, refreshing yes, but also calming. Now, when she forced herself to think of the ‘good times’ she could barely smile. Lately she’d had to turn up the volume of the car stereo to distract herself, fearful of the mad thoughts that momentarily possessed her. And isn’t that all it took? A fleeting deviation to ram head-on into a speeding luxury bus…?
Photographs hung carefully under canopied lights ‘for the right effect’, covered pale white walls, showcasing images of Karan and her, laughing over a joke, watching the sunset, taking para gliding vacations and posing at numerous weddings…the perfect couple. Okay. Maybe not perfect. But near perfect.
How sad it would be to break the charade. And moreover, camouflaging her real feelings was easier than tackling the Oh-I-am-so-sorry-for-you looks.
Troubled by her unending silences, her sister had asked her, but she’d been too reticent to say anything. Is it another woman? Does he hit you? What is the matter? Tell me Shalu, she’d begged.
And Shalini had remained transfixed by the absurdity of her situation. None of the above, she’d have answered in response to the multiple choice barrage.
Back home that evening, she headed straight for the window and noticed that the food had gone. Satisfied, she placed a bowl of filtered drinking water for the mother to-be and stood watching the winged being for what seemed like an eternity.
Madam, I am going, called the cook, but Shalini didn’t hear.
They never found her, dead or alive. What they did find was a list of favourite articles in her handwriting and a couple of randomly noted numbers of PG accommodations near her workplace. She hadn’t visited even one of them, informed the cops. She was planning to move out. Maybe she just ran away with a lover or friend, they added, eager to close the case. They had better things to do than track a woman who did not want to be found.
Karan could not protest. There was no other ‘logical’ explanation. Maybe she did take a lover. She just wasn’t herself recently, he thought. He shook hands with the PI and thanked him for his help.
He’d have to take down all the photographs, and move her clothes to the guest room. Her sister had promised to drop by and sort through her stuff. He was too distraught to do it himself.
He walked to the window and saw the two babies, featherless yellow creatures, with the pink of their skin showing through the soft yellow hair, black beaks and frail limbs, breathing deep. My God they’re ugly, he exclaimed aloud. Just as he turned, he saw a pigeon swoop down into the nest.
She made herself at home and turned to face him. And then he saw them. Through the glass. Her eyes. Unmistakable.