Sita slowly drifted back to reality, her face clouded in tears, as she reminded herself of the harsh reality.
Beside her, Arjun slept on, his face serene and calm.
Sita had been completely nonplussed and benumbed when she heard her mother’s words. For a few minutes, she felt completely devoid of any emotion. She had been too shocked to react. She had sat there for a while, staring at the ground, her shoulders slumped, her hands on her lap, while her parents were crying uncontrollably.
Then she had simply got up, her head reeling, and had walked to her room, and had fallen on the bed, tears fast slipping out . She had felt hazy, confused, and completely shattered.
She had been too exhausted to think. “This is just a bad dream”, she told herself, and slowly drifted off to sleep, her pillow still wet with the tears.
She had woken up only the next day in the morning, her eyes puffy and burning . She had had a very disturbed sleep. For some time, she sat on the bed, her eyes closed, her fingers entwined at the back of her neck, as the previous evening came flooding back to her.
Tears held in her eyes. She could not cry anymore. She had sat thinking.
Her wonderful parents, their problems, and their lack of money . To her, they were the best people in the world, but to them, she was still a responsibility. She thought of her sister, happily married, to a nice person she had liked. She thought of her sister’s baby, something she would probably never have if she got married to this man. She thought of her younger sister, Mani, who was studying, in a hostel. Her parents needed money for her education, too.
She thought of all the years she had waited for her marriage. She thought how she had waited for a husband, a friend, a companion who would kiss her after he came back from work. Her fantasies of making love, fighting with her husband and patching up over cuddles, a shoulder to lean on to, had come down to this now, crumbled to dust.
She had listened always to her parents. She had studied well, had not put a toe out of line. Did she deserve a plight like this? It was not a marriage or a union, it was her life. But her parents would benefit. Her parents, who had given their lives for her and her sisters.
In the tenderness, she had waited, but after she had blossomed, she had withered.
She had come to a decision. She immediately had gone to her father, and sat before him on the floor.
Taking a deep breath to dispel the grief in her chest, she tried to smile, and had looked at her father in the eyes.
“Appa?”, she said. Her father shook his head repeatedly and turned away dejectedly.
“Appa, please listen”, she said firmly. She had to get it over soon. She had no more energy left.
Finally, after a lot of coaxing, her father looked at her, his eyes ashamed, as her mother came out of the kitchen to see what was going on.
“Appa, amma…please listen to me” she said. She took a deep breath. “I will marry him “, she said, as her parents’ eyes of anguish turned to shock.
“Yes, appa, I will”, she said again. “God wants me to go through this, appa. It is for a reason that he does anything. And is every girl bound to be lucky? Not everyone will get a great life”, she sniffed.
“And amma, haven’t you taught me well that life will never be full of happiness. There will be hardships too. I’ve had my share of happiness, living with you both. You’ve given me a beautiful life. Now it’s my turn. Your daughter is a big girl now, isn’t she? She has to go out and face life, how it’s thrown at her, right? “she convinced them.
“I’ll be happy. I will still have you three to be with! I will keep coming, and will share everything with you, and..and…” , her voice broke.
She hurriedly brushed her tears away, and with an effort, made a brave attempt at a smile. It was ironic that despite she was the one going through distress, she was the one comforting her parents. But that was who Sita was.
In spite of feeling lonely with no one but Arjun to talk to, she never complained. She never left Arjun for a moment. She looked after him like his own mother.
Arjun was not an easy person to live with, due to obvious reasons. Sita’s parents in law had gone to the U.S to visit their daughter. They would not come back for another six months. In the meanwhile, Sita was meant to cope up with Arjun all alone.
With these thoughts on her mind, Sita slowly fell asleep, and it was only in her sleep that she finally got some peace. But that too was extinguished by the warmth of the morning, evoking a coldness inside her.
There was no change in her life. She had stopped hoping and praying for one too. She went about her life, indifferent, yet with a heart which yearned to share and be loved.
After a few days, in the evening, as Sita was going out to buy some vegetables with Arjun, she saw a little rush in the house next door. She asked the watchman what was going on. He replied that someone was moving in to the house. Sita walked away with Arjun .
After buying the vegetables, they went to her favourite little meadow. This was one place that Sita loved. There was no one to look at her, and it was one place outside home, that felt like home. It was peaceful, with the soft rustling of the grass and the trees, and the soothing smell of fresh earth. It was the only place she could be alone, free from her duties for a while, leaving Arjun to be.
As they went to the meadow, the sun was setting slowly, a pleasant orange. It was a beautiful sight, and the beauty seemed to mock her, inviting her to embrace her.
They walked back home, and as Sita was opening the lock to her door, a sudden cry of “Sita?” made her jump and spin around. In front of her, on the other side of the common wall that separated her house and the next house, was standing a tall, broad shouldered man. His eyes were lit with recognition, and his mouth was spread in a surprised smile.
Sita could not recognise him. Instinctively, she moved closer, but she only vaguely remembered him. “You haven’t changed at all, Sita. Just the same. That’s why I could recognise you even in the dimness”, he remarked softly.
“I’m so sorry, I haven’t recognised you”, Sita said apologetically, racking her brains. He seemed very familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on who he was exactly.
“I’m Ram”, he said. “Do you remember me, Sita? We went to the same school, remember? We studied together until we were 17.”
Slowly, Sita could connect to the Ram from school, the tall, gangly boy who had always cracked jokes. Now he had a small stubble, a wide smile, and looked oddly beautiful.
“Yes, yes” Sita replied. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognise you. It’s been a long, long time. How are you? And what are you doing here?”, she asked.
“I’m great, Sita”, he smiled. “I’m moving in here. It’s nice to see someone here who I know. I was so excited to see you…”, he trailed off, as a noise behind Sita interrupted them.
Sita looked behind her, as Arjun stood near the door, banging the door, out of irritation, a childlike frown on his face. Without even bothering to explain, Sita ran to Arjun, and immediately unlocked the door, and led him inside, rubbing his shoulders to make him feel better, murmuring her apologies.
“Sit here, Arjun. Sita will come back in 2 minutes? Okay?” she told him kindly, fondling his face. After he had calmed down, she ran out to find Ram standing for her in the same place, waiting for her.
She ran up to him, and stood before him, on her side of the wall, breathing heavily. “I’m so sorry. I had to go”, she said looking at the door repeatedly, to see if Arjun was fine.
“Yeah, sure. Are you busy?” Ram asked, noticing Sita’s restlessness. Sita replied that she was not . “And who was that? I couldn’t see clearly in the darkness.”
Sita heard him, but did not speak, as Arjun lumbered out slowly, crying for his Siccha.
“Siccha!” he cried, his voice hoarse, his hands waving wildly, as Sita ran to him, and held his arm firmly.
“Arjun! I’m so sorry”, she said, and held him close to her.
When Ram saw Arjun for the first time, he was standing beside Sita, his face drooping, his eyes half closed, in exhaustion. “He’s tired”, Sita smiled softly, as she allowed him to slump on her shoulder.
Sita looked at him for a while, then smiled, patted his hair, and turned to Ram, who was watching astounded. When Ram had heard Arjun’s insolent bangs, he had assumed him to be a child.
“Who is this, Sita?” he whispered.
“My husband”, she said, a note of sadness in her voice, as Ram’s astonishment mingled with pity and curiosity.
“Why, Sita?” he asked finally, his eyes troubled.
She sighed.”I’ll see you around then, Ram”, she said, and before Ram could say anything, she had gone into the house, supporting her husband.
Ram came back to his new home, a troubled expression on his face. He had been exceptionally tired, with his long journey, and had wanted to sleep badly, but now, no sleep would come. The faces of Sita and Arjun flashed in his mind, and he wondered about a million things.
He tried to remember the Sita from school. She had been beautiful, calm and collected. She had been a good student too. “Would anyone have expected this to happen?” he thought. Would she have wanted this? She was definitely not happy with the marriage. A beautiful life wasted, he thought as a wave of pity washed over him.
Even Sita was thinking. It had taken Sita a moment to stop herself from blurting out everything to Ram. She didn’t know whether she was desperate or she just needed someone for herself. She had to be more careful in the future.
Ram saw Sita almost every day. Sometimes he was fortunate to talk to her, sometimes he would just get a glimpse of her. But everytime he saw her, her beautiful face was marred by a masked sorrow inside. He could feel it. He wished someone would free her from her tortuous burden.
He knew deep down that he was capable of doing that. He decided to do it.
He would go to her house and stay there for a while. Sometimes, it would extend to a few hours. Even Arjun slowly got used to this new visitor. For a few months, he persisted, to the point of irritating the unruffled Sita. Whatever he did, he tried to show Sita that he was there for her. A few times, he would take Arjun off Sita’s hands as she did the work or relaxed herself for a while, as he engaged Arjun.
In the beginning, Sita had been apprehensive regarding Ram coming to her house, and taking care of Arjun. What would people think when they saw some man coming into her house and staying for hours at a stretch? She did not want to burden her parents with unnecessary rumours. People there came to conclusions easily, and she was scared.
So, in the beginning, she had resisted a little, but she felt too exhausted and emotionally drained to fight anymore. She just gave in after a few months. She had to admit, she appreciated his company.
He brought in a warmth to her life that had been missing all these months. Thinking about him brought a small smile to her lips and a grateful tear to her eye. She thanked god for the help.
A sudden, screeching noise outside the house made Sita jump violently. She hurried outside to see what had happened. To her shock, she saw Ram fallen on the road, a few wounds and scratches on his arms and knees with a motorcycle beside him, whose owner was bending over Ram, trying to help him up, muttering apologies.
“Ram!” she cried, running to Ram’s side. He was fine except for the fact that he was struggling to get up.
“I’m sorry, ma’am”, the biker said, awkwardly. “By mistake.”
“That’s okay”, Sita replied, not unkindly. “Be careful on the roads in the future”, she said.
“Sure, ma’am. Thank you ma’am”, he said, relieved, and sped away on his bike.
“Ram?” she cried, now that there was no one watching. “What happened?” she asked, helping him get up.
“Nothing happened, Sita. I’m absolutely fine”, he said. Sita was paying no heed to his words. She was dusting him busily, and checking for his wounds.
“Come with me”, she said and he dutifully allowed her to take him inside. As she supported his slightly limping form, he looked at her, and smiled inwardly and embraced their proximity. He loved the warmth of her touch. He inhaled deeply. Never had he thought that the sight of a mere woman could make him that happy. He felt like never letting go.
“Now sit here”, she sat as she made him sit on the sofa, and returned with an antiseptic and a ball of cotton, and began tending to his wounds, gently.
“Couldn’t you have been a little more careful?” she said, busy. Ram was paying no attention to her. He was looking at the beam of beauty who was sitting in front of him. How much he loved her, he thought to himself. Could there be anyone this beautiful?
After ranting to herself for a while, Sita grew quiet and dressed his wounds, absorbed in what she was doing.
Impulsively, he slowly leaned in closer, and kissed her forehead. Sita could not move a muscle. She sat there, shocked, not able to digest what was happening.
Ram moved back and gazed at her face. Slowly, he picked up her hands, and entwined her fingers with hers, and pressed his forehead to hers.
Sita closed her eyes, and tears rolled down her eyes. Hundreds of emtions coursed through her. How long she had waited for this touch. Pure, clean and magical. How long she had resisted the temptation.
They sat like that for a few minutes, neither of them saying a word. After a while, Sita sighed heavily, her face wet with tears. She pushed him away deliberately, and walked to a corner, and began crying piteously.
Ram walked up to her, and put her arms around her and kissed her hair. It felt natural for her to lay her head on his shoulder. The shoulder she had been waiting for all her life.
“I’m a married woman, Ram”, she wailed loudly. ” I can’t do this. Arjun, my parents! What am I doing? ” she cried, her head in her hands.
“Sita, Sita”, Ram said squeezing her shoulder. He led the weeping Sita to the armchair. He made her sit down. Her hands were trembling violently. He sat in the floor in front of her and held her hands in his. She would not look at his eyes.
“Listen, Sita”, he said firmly, but gently.
“Ram, I am married, Ram! I am a married woman! I have a husband! I am …” she cried harder.
“You are married to someone who doesn’t and cannot take care of you. There is nothing wrong in what you did, Sita. Shall I tell you what you’ve done now? You did what YOU liked Sita, for the first time. All these days, you’ve sacrificed so much. And for the first ever time, you’ve stayed true to your heart, this is not wrong, dear. This is beautiful, Sita. Haven’t you felt it?” he said, softly.
“I owe my parents so much, Ram. They needed the money. I am not happy with my marriage, Ram. That is true. But I can’t betray them this way. I can’t do this. ”
“Did you…did you ever consider getting divorced, Sita?” he asked, hesitatingly. But he knew the answer before she replied.
“It would break my parents’ hearts, Ram. And besides,…..” She looked to the room where Arjun was sleeping. Fresh tears poured out of her eyes. “Besides, I love him too much to let him go. He’s like my child I will never have. I can’t leave him like that”, she said.
Deep down, Ram knew that. That was the beauty of Sita. She had all the love to give in the world. All she wanted was a little in return. Very little.
“Sita, look at me, please”, he said.
With a great effort, Sita finally looked back at him, her eyes glazed with tears, her lips pressed together in sorrow.
“I am in love with you, Sita”, he said. There was a gentleness, and yet an underlying fervour in his statement.
Sita simply looked back at him, as he locked his eyes with hers. Words that she had been waiting for. Words she had given up hope for ever hearing. She looked at him for a long time, as a tear rolled down her cheek. She nodded, and looked down at her lap, and exhaled loudly.
She looked back at him again. Flashes of thoughts tingled through her. Her parents, who had done so much for her. What would they say if they knew about Ram? Arjun, her husband. He needed her. He had to be with her. The society. What would they say? Such a disgrace to her family. Her sisters would probably never be able to go about with their heads held up high. Did they deserve this? Was it because of her wrong doing? But then, was this wrong to give in to someone who cared? Was needing someone to hold on to wrong?
She shook her head, and dispelled all the thoughts. Or rather, pushed them away to the back.
And for the first time, Sita thought about herself.
“I love you too”, she whispered, and slid to the floor and buried her head in his chest and sobbed long and hard.
Ram wrapped his arms around her tightly, and placed his chin on her hair. He did not try to stop her. He knew that she needed to get it all out. He let her cry.
After two hours, Sita finally ran out of tears. She could cry no more.
“Do you want to go back home?” she asked, finally, looking up at him. It was already past midnight. He glared at her and hugged her tighter.
And after many, many months, Sita smiled her first true smile.
“Sleep, Sita. I will be here until the morning. Go to sleep”, he whispered. “You don’t snore, right?” he chuckled.
Sita giggled softly, and snuggled deeper into his chest. She knew she had many, many things to think about. But, she stayed true to her moment. She smiled to herself, and slowly drifted off to sleep. She slept soundly, the warmth of him around her and in her heart.