The woman came closer to Nikhil. She walked as though floating on air. “Shall we go?”
Nikhil could not answer and only stared at her. Had it not been for her fragrance, he would have considered it a dream. Why else would such a lovely girl talk to a stranger like him so sweetly? He stood mesmerised by her beauty. Her long hair fell on her face in the evening breeze. Her lips were pink, without any trace of lipsticks.
Is she talking to me? He answered, looking around. ‘Do you know me?’
‘I am Nina.’ She extended her right hand. Her fingers were long and manicured. Her transparent nail polish shone. ‘And you are Nikhil, nuclear physicist, working at DRDO.’
He didn’t waste a second in grabbing her ultra-soft palm.
‘I do not remember meeting you!’ It was a yell, inadvertently, which he regretted the next moment.
‘Congratulations, on completing four happy years of marriage,’ she said. She still wore the smile. Dimples appeared on both her cheeks, amplifying her beauty.
It was the seventh of May, Nikhil’s wedding anniversary. That was the reason for his early return from the office. He had stopped at “Flora” to buy a bouquet. He had been browsing the array of bouquets. She was in another aisle that contained costlier arrangements.
He could see her each movement from the corner of his eye. But, unsatisfied with that, he had turned his head to look at her repeatedly in the pretence of checking the bouquets. He understood that she had noticed this when she walked towards him.
How would I know she saw me staring?
‘Shall we go?’ she asked.
Her question startled him. ‘Where are you inviting me?’
‘I stay in 42, four houses ahead of you.’
Nikhil fell silent.
‘I thought you had completed your shopping. Haven’t you selected anything?’
‘I am confused,’ he said, trying to regain his stability. I can say that I was hoping that she would help me. ‘I am unable to select a bouquet for Rita. Could you please help me?’
‘Even after four years together.’ She pretended to surprise and then chuckled.
Beautiful. Nikhil gulped.
‘This one is ideal.’ She controlled her laugh and picked up a bouquet made of pink and red roses.
“Rose Rupture.” He read the name. ‘Beautiful!’ he exclaimed looking at her rather than the bouquet. ‘Good selection.’
‘Shall we?’ Paying for the bouquet, he invited her to his car.
They walked together to his car. Her car had broken down on the way and she had to call the mechanics to tow the vehicle to a workshop. She got into the front seat of Nikhil’s car. The fragrance of her perfume filled the car.
‘You were staring at me,’ she said in a serious tone, putting on her seat belt.
Nikhil tried to concentrate on driving. ‘I did not stare.’
She laughed. ‘We can see everything without turning our heads. Our bodies and senses are developed in that way.’
‘Could you explain?’
‘If we look at a boy he will misconstrue it as love and might start following us. The Indian mentality no?’
‘Are you not Indian?’ He asked inwardly.
‘So we are forced to avoid doing that. It becomes part of us as we grow older.’
‘You are too beautiful for me to avoid looking at you,’ Nikhil said. ‘If anyone doesn’t notice that, he should be blind.’
‘My husband is not blind.’ She laughed again.
She was beautiful and she knew it. But listening to it said repeatedly made her ecstatic. Nikhil knew that he was flirting. What is the problem if she is enjoying it?
‘He has tasted it enough. There won’t be anything much left.’ Nikhil looked straight ahead at the road. He felt that he had moved a tad fast in saying such a thing.
She looked out the window. She was also going through the same feeling. His dialogue definitely alluded to her sexual encounters with her husband. To hear that from a stranger, with whom she was speaking for the first time, was awkward.
‘Dr. Kishore is my husband’s colleague,’ she said, as though to change the topic. ‘He was his classmate too.’
‘Oh, is that so? You were at the party? I did not see you.’
‘But I saw you. You seemed lost. Your heart was not present. I think you loathe parties.’
They were approaching her home. He slowed the vehicle. A middle-aged woman wearing a salwar suit passed the car. She stared at the vehicle, trying to get a view of the passengers. The sun-film prevented her from having a better look.
‘I do not remember seeing your husband,’ he said.
‘You may not have. He is always busy with work. Very much a workaholic!’ she said in a voice that was devoid of feeling.
‘Oh, that’s good,’ Nikhil said. He realized at the same instance that it was not good, really.
‘Is it?’ She stared at him questioningly. ‘I doubt it. It is definitely bad for the family. I have to look after everything on my own, from sending my child to school, taking her to doctors when she is ill, buying groceries, taking her for movies and outings.’ Her eyes moistened.
She is tired. Nikhil could see it in her eyes. Tired of these unending problems.
He pretended not to notice it. She was crying silently. Teardrops rolled down her soft cheeks. She was venting her emotions, forgetting the fact that he was no one to her.
‘Life is like that,’ Nikhil said softly. He didn’t know what else to say. He was not good at consoling people.
A thick cloud of silence materialized between them. It was invisible but heavy.
It was the beginning. Beginning.
This is an excerpt from the book Those Naked Lies by Shine Syamaladevi