(As told to Neeraj Chawla)
For the second time in the week, Rahul asked me to put in paneer for his next day’s lunch box. He missed that I, Rakhi, his wife of seven years, stood stunned, feelings somewhere between disbelief and amazement. Amazed that he forgot that I knew how much he hated paneer and disbelief that he thought I wouldn’t guess the reason for his request.
I knew the reason.
I met her once at one of his office parties last year. And was, of course, stalking her on social media. My husband’s ‘friend’ in office. Naomi.
I hated that name.
Naomi. Saying it out loud painted the picture of a beautiful woman, savvy, worldly, lovely and a few other -ly adjectives that every woman hoped would apply to them.
I had a few -lys as well.
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It wasn’t that I was a pushover. I mean, any woman who tried to sink her tentacles into my husband would find that I was as good with a sword as I was with the soup ladle. But this was different. She was his friend. Rahul saw the tentacles as pillars of strength.
I’m not an insecure woman, and I trusted Rahul, wanted him to have friends. But for the past month or so, the doubts had come, largely because of his changing behaviour.
His aloofness, his attitude towards her and the fact that we had stopped talking. Like I was no longer interesting enough to talk to. Boys are so easy to predict, particularly when they have a new toy.
Cheating is a relative term. There is physical cheating and then there is emotional cheating. If he physically cheated, I was clear that I would leave him. That was unacceptable and where I drew the line. The problem was deciding where to draw the line on emotional cheating. The problem was that he was unaware that he was cheating on me. The problem was the unacknowledged feeling that started in my gut, held my heart in a fist, squeezing it and making me feel cheated on. The problem was he now wanted paneer twice a week even when he hated it.
I had visualised many times, how I could call up Naomi and ask her to have coffee with me and for days, imagined this conversation in my head.
“We’re just friends.”
“Just stop spending time with him.”
“I think you should speak to your husband rather than me on this. Don’t you trust him?”
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In all scenarios, I felt I would get the short end of the stick. My husband would look at my insinuations with suspicion and distance himself. Naomi would know what was going on, of course, women always knew, but there was no way for me to prove anything and a sneering small smile from this woman would burn in my ego for a long time and torture me for an even longer time.
How had I come to this? I knew Rahul was friends with Naomi and had been fine. Then what changed? What was bugging me to the point that I felt cheated? I finally figured out what it was.
He had stopped talking about Naomi to me. He had stopped sharing what Naomi said or didn’t say over the last month.
The stage in a relationship when a man stops talking about the woman he spends time with outside and cannot share this at home with his wife is when the line was drawn. But it wasn’t me who had drawn the line. It was Rahul. The line now had extended between us and threatened to take over our life.
“The curry is ready, madam. It will burn,” said my maid, quickly shutting off the gas.
I looked at the paneer that was now ready for his lunch box. I looked at myself and the curry with detachment, an emotional void and found a link that filled me with dread and hope. And suddenly I was filled with a clarity of thought that elevated my burden.
I picked up the pan with the paneer and threw it into the dust bin. Then I took out yesterday’s dry potato curry and packed his lunch box.
He came home in the evening a bit irritated.
“I asked you to put in paneer today, didn’t I?”
“Then nothing. I didn’t feel like making it,” I said to his stunned face.
Then I smiled and asked,
“Tell me about Naomi…”