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The Conflict

About Vani Menon

Vani Menon is a writer based out of Bangalore. She has previously been published in 'The Bombay Review','The Bangalore Mirror' and as part of an anthology. Besides travelling,she loves visiting ruins and museums.

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‘What is it? Why are you avoiding me? Tell me, please. Is it because of him? Or is it because you don’t find me attractive?

‘Suchi, please. Please don’t do this. Dont make it difficult and don’t create a scene’.

‘Answer me, Vivek. Just answer me, damn it’.

He stood still, unwavering.

‘You know why’, he said finally. ‘You are just a tease’.

She hit him hard. The marks of her fingers on his cheek were slowly turning it into a bright shade of red.

‘You ..you bitch. How dare you? You frustrated bitch. What do you want? Just get lost.’

Vivek was screaming now, in anger and something else.

Suchitra turned and walked away. She was trembling all over. She felt deeply humiliated and degraded. Didn’t she ever learn, she thought to herself. She should have known better than to make a fool of herself so publicly. This was all so horrible.

As she walked, another thought struck her. Now he would know and her humiliation would be complete. Vivek wouldn’t spare any details. That bastard. Seeing him now, all self righteous anger and prudish, one would assume he was revolted by the very idea. Of making love to a married woman. She knew him better than that.

The bastard, she thought again. She didn’t want to go home, not now. She needed a drink badly. She needed some time to think.

She walked into a pub nearby. It was late afternoon, the harsh October heat was slowly giving way to a more mellow and pleasant evening. ‘Happy hours,’ the signboard announced in neon green.

How ironic, she thought. She ordered a pitcher of beer and looked around her. The pub was nearly empty. It smelt of food and leather and cigarettes.

It brought back painful memories, of her childhood, of Uncle Samuel. She started crying. It had all started long ago.

****************************************************************************

She understood humiliation much before she understood anything else. It all began when she was five. Maybe six years old. She didn’t actually remember when. But she was definitely a child. He had mocked her the first time in front of their guests, a select group of his friends. She hadn’t known how to react so she had fled the scene.

The next time it happened, there was a larger crowd. The bigger the audience, the greater the mockery, the harsher the insult.

‘These days don’t expect gratitude from anyone. All of them the same’, he had said. He then looked at her and smirked ‘She is another one of them. Ungrateful wretch’.

Gratitude was a word foreign to her until then. Wretch she understood. Some in the crowd apparently understood ungrateful too. They smiled their sympathetic smile at her. She smiled back, her shy, sad smile. Her wretched smile.

Then it started happening so frequently that she lost count. She almost waited for an insult when his friends came home, when relatives visited. When a coffee mug broke. When the tiles got scratched. Later, when the cat died. When the milkman came late. When the rains were early.

Everything was her fault, the wretched one, she was the cause for all misfortune, said Uncle Samuel, her stepfather.

****************************************************************************

The waiter came to clear the dishes and refill her glass. She became conscious of a man watching her. One with a salt and pepper beard and a canary yellow T shirt. The way he looked at her reminded her of Rohan and that first time.

****************************************************************************

Rohan had walked into her life when she had least expected him to. A chance meeting at a café. That first time, he had looked at her as no one else had till then, with interest and appreciation. She was swept off her feet .She was beautiful and elegant, he was charming and rich. It was a perfect match.

They dated for a year and when he finally proposed she was more than willing to accept. Their marriage had ‘Happily Ever After’ written in bold all over it.

****************************************************************************

But that was ten years ago. Ten years is so short a time, she thought, staring at her drink. Ten years is a lifetime, she said aloud. Like the beer, life falls flat after a time. The initial headiness vanishes, the fizz goes out. It turns bitter.

At forty five, she had almost nothing to call her own. Her body no longer felt her own, the wrinkles, the flabs of flesh and the dark circles belonged to someone else. Not her. She had no children. Her job, which she had loved and which she was very good at, had long been given up. She had no friends. Her only friend had died last year.

She missed her mother now. Mom ,whom she had never forgiven for marrying again after Papa died. Mom, who did not stand up for her when Uncle Samuel insulted her, Mom who she hadn’t met for the past ten years. Not after the abortion.

****************************************************************************

It was shortly after her thirty third birthday that she had known that she was pregnant. They were in the US then. She was thrilled and so was Rohan. A baby would complete the family, he said, it was about time too. Both of them were doing very well in their careers and Suchitra was ready.

The first few months passed by without event. She spent hours reading Dr.Spock, hearing advice from her colleagues and dreaming about the baby. It was to be a boy.

Then one day, all of a sudden and without any apparent reason, Suchitra began to bleed.

She was rushed to the hospital but it was too late. The baby could not be saved.

Suchitra was shattered. She wanted the baby though all there was, was a bloody mass. ‘Just give him to me’, she cried. She wanted to see her unborn.

That’s it? That’s what he would be called? She thought often. A fetus. Always a fetus. That was so cold, so without any name or form. Just a fetus.

She had consulted a psychiatrist at Rohan’s insistence.

It did not help. She wanted to return to India. She had dreams of the baby being gunned down. Of dinosaurs devouring her baby. Of the baby being eaten up by a menacing giant shark, its pale body hanging between its teeth. She could always smell the blood.

Rohan and she had moved to India within the year.

India with its smells and sounds and crowds and dirt and excesses of everything and dearth of many other things had a calming effect on Suchitra. Rohan and she started setting up house. She decorated it in the most tasteless way, with bright and gaudy prints and wall hangings bought from the streets and garish wood work. She wanted to feel warm and earthy and at home, she explained. Rohan did not understand.

Everything was fine for a year. Then they began planning a baby again. It didn’t happen however. Suchitra did not conceive. Rohan was patient at first, and then he put it down to her inability to get the dead baby out of her mind. The fights soon followed. Their marriage started showing the first signs of collapse. At first, like someone trying to conceal their first wrinkles or their few strands of grey, Suchi tried to ignore the silences and the yelling, the banging of the doors and the unoccupied bed.

She started losing interest in her work. Suchitra Nambiar, child nutritionist. It almost seemed like a mockery to her. What child, which children. Frown lines started appearing in her once smooth face, her laugh lines were now going southward, as if obeying gravity.

And then some months later, there was this party they had attended. Rohan was drunk at the end of the evening and was in a great mood for sex. Suchitra was tired. It was way past midnight. After the act, Rohan had just one word to say before he fell into a slumber beside her. ‘Dry’.

She thought of that one word the rest of the night. Dry. Not ‘Oh you are so wet, baby’, anymore. Just dry.

She felt like a twig, dry and brittle, about to break. About to burn if lit up, like a stack of firewood.

Like the cliche, she was the last to know. Naila; her neighbor told her about it. Rohan was having an affair. With none other than Sushmitha Das in the ‘A’ block. Sushmita Das, young, single and pretty. Definitely not dry, she thought to herself.

She had confronted Rohan with the news. He did not deny it.

‘Suchi, it will not affect anything. This is something that just happened. It has nothing to do with you, believe me. Nothing at all. Sushmita is going away to London in a month. She is getting married. So you see, it will not make any difference to us. I’m sorry, I truly am.’

She didn’t wait to hear the rest. She locked the door and pulled her nightdress off her.

Who would want this, anyway? She thought ,staring at herself in the mirror. She laughed hysterically at the pathetic reflection.

****************************************************************************

Then she had met Vivek, a couple of months ago. Vivek, the celebrated doctor. Vivek, the eternal bachelor and Rohan’s best buddy. He had returned to India after years abroad. They had a lot in common and soon Suchi knew their relationship was bordering on something quite illicit.

Vivek and she began to meet often, in cafes and pubs, for lunch and coffee.

They discussed books and theatre, art and music, life and losses. She had a smile on her face when she thought of him and suddenly the world was brighter and exciting.

Suchi began to fantasize about Vivek in her dreams, she had erotic ones of them together, his body wrapped around hers in tender lovemaking.
She wanted to see if they could come true.

She wanted Vivek.

A week ago, she had put forth her plan .They could go to a resort for the weekend. Just the two of them. Rohan was out of town anyway. And then Vivek had started looking uncomfortable.

This afternoon at the café, she had wanted to know why he had been avoiding her calls. She had wanted to know if he had made up his mind.

****************************************************************************

The waiter arrived with the bill. She looked around her. The bar had started to fill up.

She picked up her phone and called Vivek.

The phone kept ringing, she was afraid he would never pick it up.  He answered finally.

‘I’m sorry’, she said. ‘I know it’s true. What you said about me.’

‘Let us not discuss it, Suchi. I’d rather we didn’t.’ He replied. ‘It wasn’t easy for me’.

‘I know. I understand.’ She responded. ‘I will call you later’.

After she hung up, she reflected a moment about what she had just acknowledged. She was, just that. She was who she was; she would never have the confidence to take it all the way through. She was just a tease. That is what she could be at the most. Some flirting some snatched laughter and caresses. Nothing more. He had ruined it for her, forever, she thought. Or perhaps she was always like this. Afraid.

She walked out of the pub into the fading light of the evening.

On the way home, she stopped at the sex shop she had never visited before and bought a toy. A small, sleek vibrator. And a brand new swimsuit.

There are teases and then there are teases, she thought to herself.

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