I have always prized loyalty in all relationships. A disloyal person, whether in friendship, business, or love, cannot be trusted. I was an engineer in a job market full of thousands of engineers produced annually. So when an offer came to teach at a government university located in a mofussil town, I took it up hesitatingly. Better be 31 and a teacher, no matter where, than 31 and broke. My girlfriend of four years had also decided she wanted to move on. So I figured, life in an obscure college as a teacher would give me the peace and quiet I needed.
That couldn’t have been farther from what lay in store. My first meeting with her was quite routine, a basic introduction to staff members I was to share the campus with. The university was our own little world, as not much lay outside.
She was not in my department, five years older, and married with two children, putting her in the ‘not happening’ section in my ‘loyalty is life’ head. We shared a table in the staff canteen. The next semester the schedules changed but I looked for every opportunity to be in the canteen the same time as her.
We bonded over Camus and Derrida, questioned Hegel and argued over Nietzsche. She was the organic river flowing in my technical life.
She had been teaching at the university for a little over a year. Her husband was in the city with their children. She took up this job when her husband lost his and though she missed her children terribly, their future had to be financially secured. But when we were together, nothing else mattered. Not her reality. Or mine.
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Cafeteria discussions turned into late-night conversations walking around the campus, which then moved into our flats. We were quite sure that ours was just a friendship of like minds. But we had to be discreet to avoid tongues wagging in our tiny community.
This did make me aware of her married status. But it also made it more fun. I felt like a student stealing that first kiss, away from parents and teachers. One night, I leaned in and kissed her. It was not planned or thought. I just don’t know what happened. Was that the first time I’d thought of her as more than a friend? Of course not. But I’d previously managed to push those feelings into the recesses of my subconscious. She responded, if only for a second, before pushing me away and walking out.
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The next few days she avoided me, while I tried to apologise. Though if I am honest, I wasn’t sorry. This relationship went against everything I believed in. Yet it felt right. In fact, not being able to be with her seemed wrong. I finally managed to get her to talk to me. She said her husband was a nice man and didn’t deserve this. Neither did her children. I understood, or tried to. We stopped talking. For weeks we pretended to be strangers in the same campus. Then the holidays came and it was a relief to get away. I even looked for jobs elsewhere so I wouldn’t see her every day and be able to move on.
The new academic year began with a heartbroken me. Disappointed in myself for falling for a married woman, in life for making me fall in love with a married woman and in her for being married. But something had changed. One night, she knocked on my door. When I opened the door she hugged me and said she missed me. We started to talk again. After a few weeks I kissed her again. Only this time she didn’t push me away.
It has been over six months now. We’ve created our own oasis. A sub reality where notions of right and wrong are bent. She says she may be moving back to her family, as her husband’s financial position has improved. I don’t question her.
I honestly do not know where I stand in her life. What made her change her mind or what lies ahead. I’m aware of what my actions might seem like. But I didn’t set out to love a married woman, or destroy someone’s family. Right and wrong seem amorphous from the precipice where I stand. All I know is that we are here, together, in this moment. And for now, that’s all that matters.
(As told to Shahnaaz Khan)