The road meandered lazily, tall Copper Pod trees accompanying the black tar, their yellow flowers floating down and dotting the blackness, heralding a change of season. The road rose up to what once might have been a mini hill till man took over and stamped his presence. Her life seemed like that, meandering on its way, rising up and down but without clarity. Shashi had admitted a few days, or was it a week ago, that there had been a mistake on his side. He had owned up to it, she hadn’t pushed and now the ball was back in her court to play as she could.
Just at the top of the ‘her baby hill’, as she called the point where that rising road peaked, was a speed breaker. She always wondered who went fast on this hill when there was so much beauty to enjoy along the way–it was a road that asked life to take a back seat and a moment to take the front. The rise, coupled with the narrowness of the road and that you didn’t know vehicles were climbing up from the other side, made it a notorious spot for accidents. What actually transformed the speed breaker into a complete stop was a deep pothole that ran along its length. People would drive over the speed breaker with caution then sink into the pothole, negotiating it like a slow elephant swaying from side to side, leading to a chaotic mess of cars, autos, buses and cuss words that trailed down the hill.
It had taken Shashi a lot of time to come around and tell her.
She had seen the signs long back, hawk-eyed as she was. At an office party, the last one she attended, he insisted that they wait for a female colleague, with more enthusiasm that he usually did for others. He looked her in the eye when he spoke, and paid her more attention. Shashi wasn’t a considerate man; he was a typical hard-nosed male who wanted women to flock to him, not vice-versa. So this was a deviation. She didn’t want to be one of those insecure wives, so didn’t mention it then or during their next fight. A part of her thinking, or hoping, that by not talking about it maybe the deviation would stay within the boundaries of flirtatious conversations. “Everyone needs to have some fun”, her friend Meku said. Maybe.
The pothole, the one that ran along the speed breaker, was a big part of her daily commute–a jolting reminder of reality. Local corporators had been told, influential people called, but that pothole had settled down like a squatter, expanding its hold in length, breadth and picking up rubble as if this was home. Once in a while, a few enthusiasts got together and filled the pothole with broken brick and stones, the big dip evened out. But every wheel that ran over would grind those fragile brick pieces till it was reduced to red dust spreading across the black tar. Every time she’d drive over the mess she’d wonder, either fix it well or don’t, why such half-baked solutions?
The phone rang; the bluetooth giving it an all-around effect, convenient but intrusive, another voice eating up her silence.
“Haan Ma, what’s up?”
“Nothing much Beta, all fine here. All fine with you?”
“Ok… So… ”
“Ma I need to go, lots of work on my mind… Got to go.”
“Ok..ok… Sorry, didn’t want to interrupt. You already at work?”
“On my way. Bye ok? I’ll call later.”
“Call me…I… ” Ma’s voice chopped into silence as she disconnected the call.
There was something in Ma’s voice that made her believe she’d suspected something long ago; maybe those ‘hawk-eyed’ genes came from there. The day Shashi told her she’d almost had an accident. She’d left for work as usual, urging life to continue, to move forward. A car had tried to beat the trailing queue on the slope, attempting to overtake in a narrow road. On seeing the speed breaker and an approaching bus from the other side, it slowed down and tried to get back into the single-lane road. She’d honked furiously, her anger and frustration apparent at people who drove so badly with scant respect for fellow travellers on the road. At the cost of scratching her car, she’d pressed on avoiding eye contact with the driver resulting in a screech to her right. As she drove by, the driver of the other car looked surprised and held up his hand almost asking what that was about. She’d continued without a word or show of anger.
When had the marriage begun disintegrating? They’d had their fights, bitter ones, each an insult slinging match of who could drag out more skeletons from the five year old closet and throw at the other. All relationships had fights, she was certain, hers wasn’t special. The new jobs, they both took up in the same month, had meant lesser time with each other as they struggled to prove their worth in a new organisation to a new boss. Or maybe like a river that slowly ceases to exist, bits of their life together had evaporated overtime, with no catchment area for moments that make a marriage. The ball had been in her court for a few days or more now, and time didn’t make the decision easier.
It took her 25 minutes to office every day. Today she reached the top of the hill, crossed over without a pause, continued down the slope before realising there had been no traffic. No pile-up. Where was the speed breaker? And that large cavernous pothole? By then she’d moved further down but looked into her rear view mirror, searching for that familiar full-stop. The area at the top of her hill was smoothened, as if nothing had ever existed there, not even a tiny crack to hold onto the past. Could life be like that too? Those very things you thought you’d miss removed without creating a vacuum, at best, a tiny pause to take note that they were indeed finally gone.
She’d never had a fracture in all her life. “You left home with all bones intact”, her mother would proudly state. She’d fallen from her cycle once and gotten a large gash on her elbow – big enough to hurt but not enough to warrant stitches. “A waste of a wound’, her brother pronounced with a smirk. Her father cleansed and redressed her wound every morning till it healed. The plaster hurt as it was peeled off.
“Close your eyes tight.”
“But it hurts.”
“I’ll be gentle.”
Their daily conversation followed the same pattern. Then he would proceed to rip it off. The tears would appear in her eyes, piling up at the rims, threatening to fall over. She knew his ways yet she preferred the quick rip to Ma’s slow removal.
She looked around. She was parked at her favourite spot in the basement of her office building, holding onto the steering wheel with both hands, her foot firmly pressed on the brake. She reached for her phone and dialled.