The words reverberated in my soul. I saw them in the curtains of my bedroom, written brazenly, and was surprised that my husband could not see them. I saw the words in the dark grey ink headline of the newspaper I looked at but did not see. I mumbled these words brushing my teeth and wrote them on the glass condensation as I showered.
For a year now, I had clandestinely chatted with this online stranger. The chats had moved to emails, terse and formal at first, long winded and confessional next. This man was an echo of my soul. Someone who understood me, my emotional needs and whose soul also sought some of the balm that I could provide.
I had always believed growing up there is someone out there just right for you. In this togetherness, every emotional moving part fit together and the emerging picture of life made sense. I knew early in my marriage, my husband wasn’t this person. A decent man, my husband, who loved me in his own special way and cared.
But this online stranger made love to me with words.
I looked down at the email from last week, one para still haunting me. I had read it hundreds of times in the last few days.
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I stopped in the middle of the office today and smiled. Do you know that moment when you look around you and feel you don’t know where you are? Then a need hits you, to run away from the world. But where do you go to hide from yourself?
I feel you sometimes around me, in the folds of the bedsheet around the side of the bed I do not sleep in. Sometimes I smell you, the whiff you take atop the cup of the first hot coffee of the day and sometimes I see you, in the shape of the shoulder of the unknown girl in a large crowded place…
I beg you.
Come some day when I am sleeping if only to run your hand lovingly atop my brow and then kiss me on my neck…
Then I looked back at the last email received yesterday and the world thudded back.
Do you want to meet?
There was nothing in the world that I wanted more at that moment then to reply with a yes.
“You’ve burnt the toast” said my husband, startling me, “Must be an interesting email.”
The breath ran out of me as guilt coursed through my body and then indignation followed, as I had done nothing wrong.
“I’ll make more,” I snapped.
“No” he said, “I’ll eat this one. It’s fine. I am late for office.”
And there he sat, under my eyes that watched, sipping coffee and trying to eat the badly burnt toast. The bread had turned a dark orange with blackened ends and it was tough to chew. Probably horrible to taste as well, I knew.
But he sat there, chewing it.
I look at him and tried to see him fully. This husband of mine, who saw me naked but did not see what I truly was.
Why, I thought, does he eat burnt toast he does not like, does not want and that tastes horrible?
He smiled too when he saw me staring.
The question tumbled out of me before I could stop it.
“Why what?” he said.
“Eat this burnt horrible toast?”
“’Cause…” he pauses, chewing.
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“Because you made it,” he answers, smiling adoringly.
“What does that mean?” I ask seriously, “That I made it? Why would you eat something horrible just because I made it?”
He’s about to make a flippant remark but pauses, because I am serious, intent on his answer.
“It means nothing,” he says softly, “And everything.”
I sit at the dining table after he has left, staring at the empty plate. He managed to eat the whole toast but the crumbs still dot the plate. Much like my life, I mused.
Do you want to meet?
“No,” I wrote back to the online stranger, “Because I burnt the toast today.”
(As told to Neeraj Chawla)