The alarm woke him at an ungodly hour; he turned his head to check whether his wife was still sleeping (why did his brain insist on thinking of her in that way, why couldn’t he just call her by her name-Geet- or her, why was it that whenever he thought of her, he reminded himself that she was the woman he (or at least one version of him) had promised to protect against every sadness or hurt?).
The other side of the bed was empty. Surprised, he sat up; in the past
fortnight he had sometimes found her sleeping in the chair by the window or simply sitting looking into the distance. Today however, she wasn’t in the bedroom at all, nor was she in the bathroom.
He washed and dressed, then grabbed his case and swiftly made his way down towards the breakfast area. He didn’t have time to look for his wife now; once he was on his way he would phone and ask Dadi to find her and make sure she was alright.
“Nakul” he called “Nakul, coffee laao”. He looked at his watch, irritated by the
delay—Delhi traffic would be hideous if he didn’t leave pretty quickly.
As he looked up, ready to call Nakul again, she walked out of the kitchen towards him, a cafetiere and mug sitting on the tray in her hands. He watched as she walked towards the table, noting the shadows below her eyes and the way her clothes hung slightly loosely, as if she had recently lost weight. Her eyes were clear though, thankfully; for some reason he didn’t think he would have been able to handle her tears at this time in the morning.
Falling back on formality to get him through a situation which made him oddly
uncomfortable, he said “Aap ne takleef kyun ki, Nakul hai na. Itni subha aap ko utthne ki kya zaroorat thi”
She stilled at the sound of his voice then replied, clearly making an effort to
speak normally “nahin, aisi koi baat nahin hai, mujhe aadat hai”
Busying herself with preparing his coffee, she waited until he sat in his normal chair then placed the steaming cup in front of him. After a momentary
hesitation, she sat next to him; the silence which should have been oppressive was instead just slightly awkward.
She sat still and quiet, her eyes fixed on her hands as they rested on the table. He wasn’t a man who made small talk or irrelevant conversation, so he too remained silent, drinking his coffee as fast as he could without burning
himself. (Dammit, his coffee was exactly the way he liked it, she’d added just the right amount of milk and sugar- why did everything keep reminding him of how well she knew him, knew his habits, likes and dislikes?)
Once he’d finished, she moved to clear things away, but he stopped her with a
gesture “Nakul ke liye thoda kaam chod dijiye,aap ko ye sab karne ki zaroorat nahin hai”.
She paused then nodded silently, moving away from the table. There was a
moment where neither of them was sure how to behave- over the last fortnight, he had spent most of his time ignoring her, but today after their conversation and the decisions that had been taken, it didn’t seem right to just walk away without a word. He searched for something neutral to say, coming up with “I’ll be back in a week” before picking up his bag and starting towards the way out.
Her voice followed him, the words sounding as if they were wrenched from her “Apna khayal rakhiyega, main…………………..” She stopped abruptly, but
as he turned to see what she had been about to say, he saw that she was almost running towards the stairs.
Realising that he had no idea what to do, he continued on his way; he hoped that by the time he returned, she would have fully accepted the new realities of their life together.
The week passed quickly in Mumbai- several consultations with the neurologist
interspersed with MRI scans and EEGs and psychological tests took up a lot of time, whilst he spent the remaining hours at the Industry Conference, meeting and greeting rivals and acquaintances.
On his sixth evening in Mumbai, he attended the gala dinner to signify the end of the conference. There was probably nothing he hated quite as much as
these gala events; the news his neurologist had given him (that there was nothing more that could be done to return his lost memories) did nothing to make him feel any happier about having to spend his evening surrounded by arrogant bores.
He managed to get through most of the evening without verbally annihilating
anyone, even though he was more than irritated by the way every man he talked to asked after his beautiful, young wife; by the end of the evening, he couldn’t help but wonder whether those men had spent as much time looking at their own wives as they had thinking about his. He was trying to not think about her, and they seemed to be determined to make sure he thought about no-one else.
The next day, he left Mumbai early arriving in Delhi tired and with a headache pounding behind his eyes. According to all the neurologists he had seen (all five of them) the headaches were nothing to worry about, just a lingering reminder of his head injury. With time they would become nothing but a bad memory but for now, there was little sign of the headaches abating. By the time he’d reached their bedroom, the pain was severe enough to make him feel like he was going to vomit. Entering, he flung his case to the floor and sat on the edge of the bed, reaching blindly into the drawer of the bedside table in search of the tablets he had left there.
He groaned in frustration and anger, unable to open his eyes long enough to be able to see what he was doing. As he clenched his fists and pushed them
against his eyes, he felt a cool hand against the back of his neck; a moment later he heard her voice saying “Aap goliyaan le lijiye, main paani deti hoon”
He felt the tablets being pressed into his hand; as soon as he had placed them in his mouth a glass of water was pressed to his lips. The pain in his head wouldn’t let him think- he found himself helpless as she pressed him back onto the pillows.
Seconds passed before he felt her remove his shoes and socks, then loosen and remove his tie and undo his shirt. The last item of clothing she removed was his belt; he felt her stand and put his clothes to one side before she sat next to him on the bed. The last thing he felt as he succumbed to sleep was the feel of her gentle fingers soothing his forehead.
When he woke the next morning, the headache had mostly gone; only a little residual heaviness remained. As his mind cleared, his memories of the night before came flooding back. He looked around, wondering where she was, but the room was empty apart from him. He got out of bed slowly and went to stand under a hot shower; as he stood there, hating the fact he had been vulnerable, he reacted the way he always did- with anger. She had better not try to take advantage of his momentary weakness; he hadn’t needed her help last night and he didn’t need her.
It was in that belligerent frame of mind that he emerged from the bathroom; he was almost disappointed that she wasn’t there, ready to listen whilst he gave her a piece of his mind. He made his way downstairs, wondering where she was, then gave himself a shake and reminded himself that it didn’t matter to him.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, his grandmother walked into the main hall; when she saw him, a smile spread across her face “arre bete, aap jaag gaye; Geet jab office ja rahi thi to uss ne bataya ke aap raat bahut thak gaye the”
So she hadn’t shared his weakness with the rest of the family; he relaxed a little at the realisation that his wife knew how to be discreet.
He talked briefly to his grandmother whilst she forced him to drink some orange juice then made his way to the office and got down to work; within half an hour he was engrossed in business plans and discussions with Adi and the rest of the executive team. His wife had involved herself with a project he had very little to do with, ensuring he wouldn’t have to interact with her at the office leaving him able to concentrate on his own work without being distracted. It wasn’t until his stomach started reminding him that he hadn’t eaten all day that he looked up; it had been 7 hours since he started his first meeting. Realising that enough was enough, he called a halt.
He felt an ache behind his eyes and realised that he was on the verge of
developing another one of his skull-splitting headaches- as he closed his eyes to try and control the ache, he felt cool fingers glide over his forehead and settle at the back of his neck.
His eyes popped open, his lips parting as he prepared to blast his wife for daring to touch him so intimately in front of the office staff, when he realised he was sitting alone in the conference room- the last member of the team had just closed the door behind her.
Closing his eyes again, refusing to think about the fact that he was dreaming about his wife’s touch, he sat quietly for a few moments before he heard Adi’s
“Bolo Adi, kya chahiye”
Geet ne aap ke liye kuch dawa bheji hai”
Opening his eyes again, he took stock of the tablets in Adi’s left hand and the glass of cold water in his right. He had almost forgotten that she was here in
the office, but even though she hadn’t been near him all day, she had somehow known that he was in pain. Fighting the urge to reject them purely because she had sent them, he sat forward and took the tablets, feeling the cool water soothe him as it slid down his throat.
“Aap se koi Mr Omkar Nath milna chahrahe hain Sir; kehrahe hain ke aap ne hi aaj ka appointment diya hai”
The investigator. Here. Now. With all the information about his wife. Now.
He closed his eyes again for a moment then said “Adi, unko mere office mein
bithaado, main aata hoon”
It was another ten minutes before he stood up, another five after that before he made his way towards his office. By the time he opened the door, the
painkillers had started to kick in- hopefully the hammers wouldn’t start pounding on his head the way they had yesterday.
The man sitting in front of his desk stood and waited as he walked in.
“Mr Khurana, my name is Omkar Nath. I have the report you required. As
per your orders, I didn’t approach any of the members of your family; all of the information has been obtained from media reports, police reports and also from discreet interviews with staff members.”
As his client gestured for him to continue, the detective said “If you like, I can
go over the main points of the report with you- the first three pages of the report contain a summary of the information and the rest of the file contains the details and cross references which give you an idea of how we corroborated all the main points”
His client finally spoke “Thank you Mr Nath, that will be all. As always, I
am sure the information will be accurate. Your fees will be dealt with forthwith.”
Omkar Nath had been in the business for a long time; he knew when his presence was required and when it was unnecessary. This occasion was definitely one of the latter. He proffered his hand again; after it was firmly shaken, he quietly left the room.
The man he left behind looked at the thick file of papers in his hand. There
were so many questions he needed answers to; he hoped some of those answers would now become clear. He gave his secretary strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed, not by anyone, then sat back and opened the file to the first page.
To be continued……………