For days Smita wasn’t her usual self. She thought of Saurabh and her loneliness grew and she felt more unloved by her husband, than she had ever felt in the past.
She had met Saurabh only once in the real world, but they had met hundreds of times in her imaginary world. They would go for long walks on the beach. Hold hands, their shoulders brushing against each other, wind ruffling her long open hair, driving a strand or two down her face. He would gently move the strand of hair from her face and look in to her dark and deep eyes. In her dreams he would find it difficult to take his eyes off her. He was a true romantic and she felt very close to him. He was becoming as real a person as any living person in her life.
But if he was real why couldn’t she meet him at will in flesh and blood? When this thought arose in her mind, Saurabh became a distant illusion and unreal. She couldn’t bear this reality. One fact she had regretted numerous times, not having exchanged mobile numbers with him. She often flew back in to the past and rewrote life, especially that day at the mall. He had said at the exit of the mall, ‘Why dont you come tomorrow, around the same time. We can have a cup of coffee together’. She had been caught off guard by his invitation that day. But when recreating her past, she imagined that she had quickly recovered and agreed to meet Saurabh and his daughter Riya at the mall the next day. Then Saurabh asked her for her mobile number. She gave it, he fed it in his mobile and dialled. Thus she got his number.
But in reality she didn’t have any clue about him. Not his number, nor address, nor his whereabouts. She thought about searching his number on Truecaller. But there were too many Saurabhs and she didn’t know his second name. She couldn’t possibly call up all Saurabhs. It would be very embarrassing. In fact they would get her cell number and some would probably stalk her on the phone or send lewd messages if she didnt answer their call.
She wanted to meet Saurabh but the irony was that she could no longer go to the same mall. She didn’t want to go to the mall’s cafeteria and once again not find him there. She had waited long enough in the cafeteria on the day they were supposed to meet and had left very depressed in the end. Why didn’t he come ? Maybe his wife returned from her business trip ? Or his daughter Riya had changed her mind about coming to the mall and she had seen Riya’s stubbornness on the day they met. Saurabh was completely in control of his five year old daughter, she smiled at this thought. Maybe she should once again go to the mall, if only to get over her demons. Have coffee there, as she used to before meeting Saurabh and Riya. That could bring back normality and help restart her life. Her mundane life, that is. But in that mundaness at least her heart did not hurt as much.
Throughout this phase Abhijeet did not once notice her inner turmoil, nor her depression or her need for love. As long as there was food on the table and sex in bed, of course as and when he wanted it, he was oblivious to any other emotion that arose in her. As far as he was concerned his life was filled with happiness and did not lack anything. Smita thought, ‘How paradoxical ! Two people living under the same roof, sharing the same walls and bed, were leading diametrically opposite lives’.
She got off at the metro and began to walk towards the mall. She felt a strange fear in her heart of falling back in to the dark hole of her mind once again. This feeling was mixed with anticipation that she might meet him again, though the chance of his being in the mall at the same time as her were one in a million. She tried hard not to look at anyone in the mall, lest her eyes start searching him. She headed straight to the cafeteria. She took a table, her eyes still downcast. She kept her bag on the table, picked up the menu, began to read it. When she looked up she saw Saurabh sitting with his daughter Riya at a table in the distance. He was already looking at her. She felt like a dear, who on seeing the headlights of a hunter’s jeep stands rooted to the ground, frozen. She did not know how to react as Saurabh’s smile widened. He got up and came to her table. He stood towering above her, looking in to her eyes just like he did in her dreams. For her time had stopped ticking the moment she had seen him. She heard his voice coming from a distance, ‘ Riya and me have been coming here almost every other day to check if you have come. You see the day we were supposed to meet Riya fell ill and we could not come to the mall. I am sorry if you came and waited. As you know we hadn’t exchanged cell numbers, so i couldn’t call you to cancel’. ‘ Thats alright’ Smita heard herself say. He took her to his table and she shook hands with Riya. As if to support her father Riya gave her a peck on the cheek. Smita smiled and the entire mall was bathed in sunshine, so she felt. Riya kept chatting after that non stop. From time to time Smita looked at Saurabh, whom she caught looking at her warmly and smiling. Saurabh who was formal in their first meeting, today appeared warm and intimate to Smita. She wondered if he could see her dreams of the past few days, which still lingered in her eyes. Saurabh appeared completely captivated by her eyes, which at the moment could light up the whole world with their sparkle. Riya insisted on going to an amusement park. Saurabh persuaded Smita to go with them. Smita said, ‘ I don’t want to spoil the father- daughter fun by tagging along’. But Saurabh insisted and Riya followed. ‘ Auty for my sake please come’. Smita was only too happy to tag along.
They drove to the amusement park in Saurabh’s car. They took Riya to different rides in the park. In the end they entered a hall of mirrors. It was maze like. Soon the three got lost, then started calling out to each other and trying to find one another. But it was created like a maze so that you could get lost. Smita loved loosing herself in the maze. It appeared so akin to her own life. Saurabh was the first to find Smita. They looked at each other and then around, there were hundreds of reflections of the two of them in the surrounding mirrors. They laughed. Suddenly Saurabh held Smita and he kissed her. In this dream-like world Smita felt his kiss penetrate deep in to her being, just like his kisses in her dreams. Time stopped for her and she stepped in to the timeless. He kissed her passionately and for very long. She lost touch with reality and started to float between the real and the dream like world. He was the first man to have kissed her so passionately in life and her childhood fantasies came alive after years. Her childhood dream of a man sweeping her off her feet came true in the moment. Saurabh after kissing her, looked in to her eyes. He kissed her eyelids, then her forehead. He whispered, ‘ I missed you. I felt we may never meet again. I had liked you in the cafeteria. But when you got Riya out of the washroom, i fell in love with your deer like innocent eyes. Now I am not going to loose you again. I want to see you everyday’. Smita could feel her heart melt as he spoke these words. She hugged him. Her soul left her body and flew like an eagle, soaring high in to the sky.
That night when her husband was brutalising her in bed, she felt lost in a far away land. Saurabh, Riya and she were on a white sand beach. They were having a great time, running, chasing each other and wetting their feet. Suddenly she felt two shadows approach in the distance. One of them was the figure of Abhijeet, her husband. The other figure was unrecognisable. Of course how could she recognise someone whom she hadn’t met, as yet. It had to be Saurabh’s wife.