(As told to Saheli Mitra)
(Names changed to protect identities)
I first met Mili when we were in the second year of college. She played Desdemona, the breathtaking beauty killed by her suspicious husband Othello. She gave perfect shape to the character on stage during our college fest. Little did I know that almost two decades later she would drive me to the pinnacles of suspicion.
I loved her honesty
[restrict]Mili was pursuing a degree in literature at Jadavpur University, while I was doing engineering. It was not just her beauty that attracted me but her infectious personality. Everything about her seemed to be honest. The more we got to know each other through common friends, the more I realised she was someone who spoke straight from her heart and never tried to hide her feelings or emotions. I told myself, if a woman were this frank, she would always make the best and honest life partner. I was open to her thoughts and respected her views and honesty.
Related reading: I didn’t want to be his dirty little secret
Then why did Mili hide her affair with the man she met on a trip almost ten years after our marriage? I have no answer. Was it because she felt guilty deep down, that she was regularly sleeping with this man while still married to me? Or was it that she felt who she sleeps with was not a husband’s business but was more about her freedom? Whatever she felt, she cheated on me.
We took vacations, we had mind-blowing sex, we laughed together, we made plans to start a family soon, yet I never had reason to believe that all along she was also meeting another man.
An accidental discovery
Until I accidentally discovered cards, letters, even gifted lingerie in our cupboard after returning from an official trip. Mili was not home, she had gone out with friends; at least that’s what she told me. I had returned after almost two months, completing an assignment in USA. While putting away my wallet, my hands touched that packet. Even today I regret that. If only I hadn’t touched that. My whole make-believe world crashed in a second. I won’t say my male ego was hurt that my wife was physically involved with another man. I was more hurt because she couldn’t reveal it to me or even leave me. To believe that my Mili was no longer honest, was itself a shock. That very open frankness and honesty of hers that had attracted me in the first place was just a farce today.
Coming to terms with this while behaving normally was a Herculean task. Should I confront her or allow her to continue? I chose the latter. I couldn’t afford to let her go, or reveal to the whole world that my wife left me for another man. It was my pride that hurt. A few close friends I spoke to felt it was a crime to love more than one man, and share beds with both. I could have easily ended the marriage on charges of adultery, I had enough proof. We still had no kids, hence no reason to feel guilty.
Love deserves a chance
Yet, I wanted to give it a chance. Love can never be snatched or forced. Like a stream unbound, it touches one when time comes. I decided to try out something new in our second innings. Embarking on a journey of self-assessment. I realised a deep void had developed between us unconsciously all these years. For months, I had stayed away from home on projects, working almost 12 hours a day. I hardly ever read the poems she wrote, I no longer asked her about her creative workshops.
I took our marriage for granted, never allowing it to evolve for lack of time. Instead of giving any hint to Mili that I knew about her misadventures, I started investing more time at home.
Related reading: The bait
At times, she got jittery as constant phone calls came in at hours when I was usually away. I realised it was the other man calling. Gradually she started ignoring the calls. I no longer played golf, but took her out for breakfast, gave a patient hearing to all her creative ventures.
And then one day, Mili broke down. She revealed she had cheated on me. But she didn’t love that man. It was for sheer physical pleasure. I just held her in my arms and said: “I knew all along.”[/restrict]