Based on a True Story
Nina and Roli huffed and puffed as they climbed up the slope in the park. The morning sun was reluctantly making its way out from under its blanket of clouds when Roli’s smartwatch showed them they had walked 3 kilometers.
‘2 more to go, girl!’ exclaimed Nina, looking at hers, ‘let’s do this!’. The women upped their pace as they crested the slope and reached the flat walking track of the park.
‘I am leaving Nikhil’, Nina dropped this statement as casually as she would say ‘I need to buy milk’.
Those words caused Roli to stop in her tracks abruptly, making the fast-paced walker behind her bump into her. After apologizing profusely and helping the walker regain his balance, Roli ran ahead to join Nina.
‘What did you just say?’ she asked when she finally caught up.
‘Exactly what you heard, I am leaving Nikhil.’ answered Nina, with the same nonchalance.
‘But why?’ asked Roli, confusion writ large on her face.
‘C’mon, Roli! You know we haven’t been having a great marriage since forever now!’ Nina and Nikhil had been married for 15 years. While everyone thought they were the perfect match, lately Nina had been hinting at otherwise. She has once shared that Nikhil had hit her, and after he lost his job last year. He had become ‘insufferable’, she repeated.
‘But this step? Have you spoken to Nikhil? What does he say? Has he agreed to the divorce?
‘Are you crazy? Of course, I haven’t spoken to him! He has no clue! I have spoken to my lawyer though. Got the guidance to safeguard my assets. Setting the paperwork for that in motion before I start the divorce proceedings’.
‘So the decision is final then? Yours at least?’ Roli asked.
‘Don’t you know me from school, Roli? I am very sure of what I want. I am done with Nikhil. Period’.
‘What about Rohan?’ Roli asked.
‘What about him? He has seen Nikhil raise his hand on me. At 10 he is old enough to understand, don’t you think?’.
Roli did not know what to say. She knew Nina wasn’t happy in her marriage and hadn’t been for a long time, but a decision of divorce was the last thing she expected.
The two women walked the next few rounds around the park in silence, each deep in thought. As soon as their smartwatches displayed ‘5 km’ they stopped, cooled down and parted ways.
As Roli walked home, she kept replaying the conversation with Nina in her head. She couldn’t believe how cool Nina was as she told her about getting a divorce.
Such a huge, life-changing decision. What would Rohan think? He was such an adorable boy, but he had become very subdued in recent times, hadn’t he? Deep in thought, Roli slid in the key into the lock and opened the door to let herself into the house.
She immediately winced at the blaring sound of the television that greeted her. Her father in law was glued to the screen but took a moment’s break to turn his head to glare down at her.
‘Roli!’ came her mother in laws voice, ‘Roli! Where are you? Why are you late? Scrape these coconuts and give me. Immediately! ’
Exhausted and sweaty from her morning walk, Roli silently carried the coconut halves from the kitchen and sat down to scrape out the flesh. She was almost done with the last of the 6 when her husband walked out of the bedroom.
‘Where is my Tea?’ Adi glanced around as if the tea would magically appear. ‘How many times have I told you that you must shower immediately after your walk, Roli? But you don’t listen to anyone do you?’ he walked away with the morning paper tucked under his arm.
‘Good Morning to you too’. she mouthed silently as she finished scraping the last of the coconut flesh.
The day went by much as it did every day, with the television on full blast and her mother-in-law shouting instructions over that volume. Endless chores kept her on her toes the entire day long. It was only as Roli set the alarm for the next morning did her thoughts go back to Nina and their conversation and that was the last thought she had before her weary body lost itself to sleep.
‘Did you really mean what you told me yesterday morning, Nina?’ asked Roli, as soon as they met at the entrance of the park next morning.
‘What?’ asked Nina, as she adjusted her headband.
‘About getting a divorce?’
‘Of course, I did! I am dead serious! I am meeting my lawyer this week.’
‘Also, I think you should go ahead and get one too!’
Roli winced. On one of the days when her heart couldn’t contain the pain her disappointing life had doled out to her, she had poured out her heart to Nina. After all, they had been friends from school and Nina knew her better than her husband of 6 years did.
Nina had been shocked to hear of the trials Roli had been going through and murmured ‘But I thought you guys had a fairy tale marriage going. We all privately call you’ll the Honeymoon Couple’.
Roli had thought the same too, till her in-laws had come to live with them. That is when she saw a new side of her husband. He was nothing like he had been with her when it was just the two of them living together.
The care, love, and respect she had got so used to, had evaporated into thin air. He was brusque, called her complaints her imagination, and the warmth she had so loved him for had turned to a coldness she wasn’t used to.
Even though her rational brain knew how difficult it was to influence an adult, she couldn’t help but attribute this change, and rift, to the dominating presence of her in-laws. The in-laws knew what to say and do, knew the right buttons to push, to get her husband to flare up and morph into someone unrecognizable, in the blink of an eye.
Once her bewilderment at this change had worn off, she decided to stand up for herself, When she finally did, Roli realized she was fighting a losing battle. In the eyes of the world, her in-laws were 2 senior citizens, and they played the part so well. The moment there was a third person around they became these weak, helpless seniors, nothing like the vicious fire-breathing dragons they were with her when she was alone with them. Her parents lived abroad and though they were the rocks she leaned on, she wanted to make a decision about her life on her own.
Talking to her husband didn’t help either and he lectured her on learning attributes like kindness, patience, and compassion instead. She finally gave up, broken. Till her in-laws traveled to their native place and their stay there unexpectedly extended to almost a year.
That one blissful year she got her husband back. The same caring, warm, and loving man she was so in love with. She began chiding herself for thinking disrespectfully of him and reveled in the security her caring husband bought. They were back to being called the ‘Honeymoon Couple’
‘Get a divorce, Roli. You deserve better’. said, Nina.
Yes, she certainly did deserve better, isn’t that something she told herself every day lately too, mused Roli.
‘You are doing the lions share in this marriage. What’s with a husband who can’t seem to make up his mind on whether he wants to be a husband or wants to go back to being just a son?’ said Nina, as she upped her pace
This was another question that haunted her every day, remembered Roli as she matched her pace with Nina.
‘Life is too short, Girl! Don’t waste it fretting over people not worth your time!’
Nina’s words wove their way into Roli’s thoughts throughout the day. As her mother-in-law ordered her around. As her non-communicative father-in-law glared at her. As her husband ignored her. As she felt, yet again, that she was part of the furniture and not a member of the household.
Before they knew it, the Summer holidays were upon them. Roli was counting down the days to the upcoming holiday she and her husband had planned. She was so looking forward to traveling again, to being with her husband again, to just being herself again. Their holiday was one week away when her mother-in-law woke them up in the middle of the night. Her father-in-law was complaining of chest pain.
Roli and her husband swung into action immediately. An Ambulance was at their door in no time and before long her father-in-law was at the hospital being examined by doctors. The Doctors concluded it was indigestion and medicated him for relief. However, they advised Adi to admit him for a full-body check-up and to be kept under observation, given his age. Adi did just that, and before they knew it, 4 days had gone by.
‘Roli, let’s cancel the holiday’ Adi told her, as they were driving home wearily. Even though it was something she expected would happen, her heart sank. Her father in law was fine now, he was home. The doctors had given him the all-clear. She silently nodded.
The home to hospital routine had consumed her and she had missed her walks, missed calls, messages from friends, and generally been out of touch.
She messaged Nina but there was no response, even though Nina had seen the message. A few days later she called her, hoping to start their walks again, but Nina didn’t answer. Roli thought that was strange, but before she could think further, the housework engulfed her.
Even though her father-in-law seemed to have recovered, he still wanted to stay in bed. He had been given a special diet to follow and that meant more hours spent in the kitchen for Roli. Thank God, she had taken a sabbatical from work, she thought to herself every day.
Relatives dropped in to see her father-in-law. The days went by in a blur, attending to the visiting guests, preparing endless meals, snacks, and innumerable cups of Tea. It was only after a fortnight when the flow of guests ceased to a trickle.
One evening Roli decided to surprise her husband. While he was at work she decorated their bedroom with fairy lights, lit a soothing essential oil, and picked up his fav dessert on the way home from the grocery store. While Roli was in the kitchen preparing dinner, Adi walked into the house later than usual and headed straight to the bedroom.
Roli waited with bated breath and a smile on her face, for him to call out to her, curious about the new changes. He didn’t. When she walked into the room with his mug of Tea she saw him sitting on the bed, laptop in hand. She was puzzled, did he notice or not? It would be hard to ignore the twinkling lights, the lavender oil scenting the room.
‘Here is your Tea, Adi’ she handed him the mug. He took it without a word.
‘What are you doing, so busy on the laptop? Planning our next holiday?’ she quipped.
Maybe it was the wrong thing to ask. Maybe he was having a bad day, but Adi just exploded. He raved, he ranted, he yelled. Stunned at his volatile reaction that she simply froze, but words like ‘only yourself’, ‘selfish’, ‘holiday’ embedded themselves into her psyche. The final nail on the coffin was when she turned to leave the beautifully lit and fragrant bedroom room, she saw her in-laws, even her till now bedridden father in law, standing outside her bedroom door, taking in each word with a smirk on their faces.
Days went by but Adi gave no explanation for his behavior nor was there an apology. Something about that incident had drained Roli. She called Nina once again, and there was no answer this time too. Nina was the only friend Roli had confided in, about her marriage, and so wanted to update her on so many things.
Adi’s remorseless behavior had cut deep this time. For how long would she continue to be treated so, Roli wondered. I think it’s time I stood up for myself and took a decision about this marriage, she told herself.
Nina taking such a monumental decision so calmly gave her courage. When Nina could do it, after so many years of marriage and a child, why could she?
Roli decided to think about it for the next few days. Her in-laws and Adi’s indifferent behavior towards her just strengthened her resolve. She had made up her mind.
She called Nina to talk to her. She wanted Nina to be the first one to know. She wanted Nina to be proud of her. But first, she would apologize to Nina for not being there for her. For being an absentee friend and not asking how she was.
Nina didn’t answer, yet again. Exasperated Roli logged into school friends WhatsApp group Nina and she was part of, something she hadn’t checked for a while.
If Nina hadn’t posted there too, it meant she was busy or troubled, or both about her impending divorce. As Roli hadn’t checked the group for a long time now a slew of messages opened up along with the chatbox. Among them was an invitation from Nina, ‘Save the date for our Housewarming Paartayyyy!’ with Nina, Rohan, and Nikhil smiling at her from a happy photo.
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