‘What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?’ Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.

Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’

‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.’

‘Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.’ She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?’

A long pause stretched between them. It was uncomfortable.

There was something dubious! Maya could sense it. She could be in denial but not oblivious of it. After all it takes immense courage to doubt the man who is the father of your children. It takes guts to question the integrity of man who has fulfilled all your wishes and realized all your dreams even before you knew it was yours. It’s difficult to raze the love and trust that has been built with diligence over the years and which has grown with each passing days in their near three decades of togetherness.

She needed that strength to stand up against her own conviction. A conviction that it happens to someone else and can never happen with her! Her husband can ever think to cheat on her.

“What to say? I think you are over-reacting. Do you think Shekhar will gamble with his reputation and family? Look at his age! He is a grandfather now. He will never hurt you or his daughters feeling. He knows that his daughters will kill him if he ever dared to hurt you.” Sanjay’s words freed the tears from her eyes.

He allowed her to cry. When Maya regained her composure, he threw a question – “If she would have been a happily married woman and not an estranged one, would you have suspected Shekhar’s relationship with her?”

Maya just smiled in response to it. There was no sarcasm or anger in it. She rose, brushing-off the discussions then and there. On reaching the door she turned, “Sanjay, how is it possible that the man is having an affair and the wife doesn’t have inkling about it? Is it possible? Think about it.” She stood there, holding the doors for a few second, staring at Sanjay, as if trying to find the answer, written somewhere on his face.

“Half of my life I’ve lived with him. He is too transparent to hide something from me.” Maya left; but her penetrating stare haunted him for long.

Not every question has an answer.

Trust! The foundation of her marriage was slowly losing its sheen. Love and respect for her husband was crumbling. She realized that her silence was ineffective to check the growing proximity of her husband and the ‘bitch’. The society was soon abuzz with the gossips.

One day she gathered her courage and confronted him. “Maya, how could you even think about it? Do you have any idea how much you have hurt me? You are pointing a finger at my character… I am flustered Maya.” Maya didn’t speak. She just kept on looking at him. Shekhar kept on defending himself. “It is just a humble human feeling for a woman in need Maya. You have never objected to my friendly relationships with other employees, men or women, of our company? Then why the accusation here? Just because she is an estranged woman who needs support to build up her life again and I’m lending that support to her? I’ve never expected this kind of allegation from you that too in this age of our life. God damn it Maya, we are grandparents now. I don’t know what to say… such small thinking. I am ashamed.”

Maya controlled her frustrated laughter with great difficulty. It transformed to an innocent sarcastic smile. His defensive speech was proving his guilt. Maya knew this trait of him very well. It has happened during the nitty-gritty of their long married life. “You tend to speak a lot when you’re at fault to defend yourself. Why just don’t accept it, say and feel sorry and move on?” He would smile at her comment and the debate would mellow down in their laughter.

Today he was expecting his tears to look authentic to her; his fake emotions to feel real. He wished her to ridicule herself for being so foolishly jealous. He made her to feel guilty for distrusting the man who has loved her more than his life. His remembrance of his love, adulation, the delicate intimate moments spent together, his honest eyes and his genuine smile… he wanted her to accept it to be pure even today.

“Then what about the reality Shekhar, which a wife’s intuitive mind is feeling? Is it so unreal?” A thought silently crossed her mind. She knew that it could not be heard even if she shouts it.

History has been a witness to it. It has happened in the past. It happens today! The power and money corrupts even the wise, irrespective of gender. It gives a feeling of being invincible and an arrogance to believe that they can manipulate all.

“I am sorry to distrust you. It was my mistake. Actually you know love is possessive. I can’t imagine of sharing you with anyone else. Even though we are not so young but we are not too old to have a fling. Maya winked at him. “Yes, it was my insecurity. Now, you won’t have any complain from me…”Maya tried to cajole his faith back.

To win back her husband’s time and confidence, Maya started inviting his ‘friend’ to casual dinners, movies, impromptu coffees and picnics. She allowed the friendship and ‘healthy flirting’ which was limited to the parties to silently sneak into her family hours and the periphery of her home. She watched the friendship crossing the delicate line of morality, but brushed it off to be her insecure complex. She hated to see him dancing to her tunes, sharing jokes and gossips, eating from the same plate, often insensitive to her presence. She hated to see him glued to his laptop or mobile when at home, changing the screen in a split of seconds at the whisper of her foot-step. Her heart bled when her husband invited her for the outings she had planned exclusively for the two of them, pretending as if it was just a mistake. “I just mentioned her that we were going out. She had requested your permission to join us. I invited her on your behalf. I hope you won’t mind. After all we should support a friend in need.”

No room was left for her to object. She sat there mutely amidst ‘him and her’ like a stranger, making memories.

Maya even started going out for lunch with her, only the two of them spending time together, enjoying the typical gossip sessions of married women where the centre of discussions are in-laws, husband and children. Soon they became so close that the blabbermouth ‘bitch’ opened up with the intricate details of her past life. Maya, like a true friend patiently listened to her great ‘tragedies’, occasionally giving a friendly advice and willingly lending shoulders for her to cry. Slowly Maya became her confidant. Now the ‘bitch’ had a name too, Jyoti.

“Why are you divorcing him? I would have never done so,” Maya asked over a cup of coffee.

“I don’t love him anymore. There is nothing left in our relationship,” Jyoti replied.

“Your son is there in this relationship. He is a teenager, the most crucial years in child development. He needs a stable family.”

“I know. But I’ve a life of my own. I don’t believe in dragging out a relationship where there is no love left.”

“What is love Jyoti? How do you define it?” Jyoti didn’t answer.

“I feel that in marriage after a few years husband and wife becomes each other’s habit. In our system of marriage, we make the marriage work not for our selfish desire but for the family. When there is kid involved, the responsibility increases manifold. This I am suggesting you from the wisdom I have earned from my age, experience and long years of marriage. The love you see in movies or read in literature is not the reality. It’s fiction. Think about the future of your son. Why only about your son? You will need each other’s companionship when your son will leave your house to make a life of his own.”

The body language of Jyoti was clearly indicating her disinterest. She could sense the annoyance in her manners.

Maya gave a cunning smile and ended up her lecture, “I will never divorce my husband. Even if there is no love left between us; still we have a life behind us which we had shared, two beautiful daughters and now grandchildren too.” She called for the bill.

Maya had nothing to worry. Everyone here was mature enough to know what they were after. She had accepted their relationship as a ‘healthy friendship’ and the friendship basked under her shelter. Maya’s acceptance shut the mouth of all the gossip mongers.

And then one fine day, a bolt struck their life.

The videos and photographs of her husband vacationing with the ‘bitch’ were all over the media. Her husband was sitting in front of her with his head bow. Maya was simply staring him. It was a blank stare, no shock, no pain, no anger…nothing. It was Sanjay who was doing all the talking… “These are all conspiracy Maya, a conspiracy to defame him. She wanted to extract money from him which he refused. She couldn’t find anything else to frame him; hence she came up with this story. Sexual harassment… it has become a new weapon to assassinate the character of a person.”

Maya was not listening to him. She turned to her husband, “Weren’t you on a business trip to Singapore on the days showing in these photographs? I didn’t accompany you because you said that there you will be very busy and won’t have time for me. You had promised to stop over in Singapore during the summer on our way to Australia, right?”

Shekhar didn’t move.

“Why Shekhar? Why did you do this? I had believed your words even though your deeds contradicted them. I trusted you when my conscience warned me about your illicit relationship. I believed in your integrity and the depth of our relationship. Then why?” Maya broke into sobs.

“Maya, nothing could be proved. It is a very weak case. She won’t be able to prove the sexual harassment against him. Even if they had vacationed together, had sex but still…consensual sex between two married adult is not illegal.”

“What about the extramarital relationship? Is it legal or illegal?” Maya interrupted. “What about the breach of trust? Maligning the sanctity of marriage?” Sanjay stuttered something. “Stop your advocacy here Sanjay. This is not your courtroom. Defend your friend in the court. If you want to defend him here in my house then prove to me that those photographs and videos are fake!”

After a few minutes of pause Maya threw a question not particular of any of them. “Would you have advocated for me in the same way if it was me in those photographs, vacationing with some other man?”

An eerie silence gripped their life. She spoke only when unavoidable but the noise reverberated between them. When in public, Maya was a different personality. She remained untouched by the storm that has created turmoil in her life. Or it was what she pretended to show. May be she didn’t believe it, but she made her friends, families and everyone believe that it was just a rumor. She completely showed faith in the investigations, judiciary and her husband.

Her elegant poise and dignified silence was sufficient to fiercely defend him and their personal life in public.

Maya’s greatest achievement was that she could even convince her daughters that this was just a conspiracy of that ‘bitch’ to extort money from their father. It was her lust for power and money which she wants to fulfill through Shekhar. That opportunist woman has always strayed behind money. She had married a man because of his wealth and now since her marriage is falling apart, she needs a more powerful man whose power she can use to get good deal for her divorce settlement. “Since your father refused to help her in blackmailing her husband, she played her tricks on him. What else can you expect from a materialistic woman who is not even ready to take the custody of her only son?”

After all how could she allow the reputation of a father to crumble before his girls for whom he was always a hero?

The months of trials and tribulations that followed showed a different facet of Maya’s personality. There were no grudges, no complaint, and no hard feelings for Shekhar. She stood beside him like a rock. Her burning stares forced the ‘bitch’ to shrink in her cocoon. Her presence gave strength to Shekhar to pick up the pieces of his lost dignity. She fought it as a battle to be won. And over the months of her friendship with her and the trust that she gained of her; she had sufficient evidence to protect her husband and prove her conspiracy. He came out of the scoop unscathed with his reputation intact.

“I told you that the judgment will be in our favor.” Sanjay congratulated them.

“Yes Sanjay. Judgment was obvious. The investigations had to follow the path to reach it.” There were no emotions on Maya’s face.

“Sanjay I want to file a case. Will you help me?”

“Yes Maya, of course!” Sanjay sounded excited. “Yes we should file defamation against her.”

“No, I want to file for divorce. Press the charges of adultery, breach of trust, and mental harassment against Shekhar. It will be a strong case. I’ve all evidences to prove it.”

Maya walked away with her head held high. She didn’t wait for anyone to walk with her.


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