‘If given a choice between a world without you and death. I would choose death.’ said Tanav hugging her tight.
‘Awww…Tanav, you say the most sweetest of things. I feel like hugging you to death.’ said Marsha with a laugh as she hugged him back.
‘I am glad you said yes. You have no idea how scared I was. Thank God!’ said Tanav as they broke apart and strolled together along the beach.
‘You don’t believe in God yet you thank him and not me for saying yes.’ teased Marsha.
‘Okay. Thank you.’ said Tanav with a broad smile.
‘It took you 3 long years to propose to me is it?’ demanded Marsha indignantly as she playfully whacked his head.
‘If you really loved me then you could have proposed to me first! Why do you always expect the guy to do everything?’ protested Tanav rubbing his head.
‘So that if things don’t work out I can say that it is you who chose me and not the other way around.’ mocked Marsha.
Things looked rosy at the moment but it did not stay the same for long. Marriage is not a matter of just two hearts in some places. It is more a matter of two families. And the two families here simply did not see the love here. Divided by caste, divided by status, divided by wealth…the divide was just too far across to reach for either one of them. The only bridge possible was love but that bridge was too rickety for their liking. The couple were heartbroken. To have come so far and be doomed at the end due to the fancy of others was not what they had anticipated. Marsha was the most affected as she was held down by so much emotional blackmail and restrictions that she felt she would drown in all the tears.
‘Tanav! I don’t know what to do. I tried explaining so much but my Dad just won’t listen. My Mom is talking of marrying me off to someone else soon.’ cried Marsha one night over the phone to Tanav. She had snuck out from her room to the terrace at the dead of night and was crying her heart out in misery.
‘Marsha. Do you love me?’ asked Tanav firmly.
‘Of course! Till the end. Till my last breath.’ replied Marsha strongly.
‘Do you trust me?’ asked Tanav with the same firm tone.
‘With my life.’ replied Marsha.
‘Then there is only one way. Let’s run away. Someplace far away. Let’s start a new life together. We don’t need these people. They are selfish and just don’t respect our feelings. We are old and mature enough to decide. We are not their little kids to control. It’s time we lived our lives. What do you say?’ asked Tanav.
There was silence. Marsha was subjected to an inner conflict. The guy of 3 years or her parents of 23.
‘Hmmm…’ she mused unable to make a decision.
‘We’ll go far away but I am not sure where. It doesn’t matter as we’ll be together.’ said Tanav with a hint of desperation in his voice as he tried to convince her.
Marsha wiped away her tears. The moon chose to hide behind the clouds and the night was at its blackest.
‘Fine. Let’s go.’ she said determinedly.
They planned it for a week. Secretly gathering all their resources and deciding where they’d go to. She managed to find a job through her friend at a city far off and that was where they were headed. Once they finished their preparation she waited and waited patiently for the right moment. Her window of opportunity opened when she had gone shopping with her family. She managed to sneak away in the pretense of trying out a new dress and hurried back home to get her things while her parents frantically searched for her. In another hour she was with her love in a train holding a one way ticket to her freedom. They had a very private marriage. Just the two of them and no one else.
‘Till death do us part.’ swore Tanav as he held out the ring. Marsha smiled and let him slide it onto her finger. And that was it. They had finally realized their dream.
The dream continued. Everything seemed to work out. They found a nice house for rent. Her job paid well. He would wake up everyday to a cup of coffee and a kiss. She would come home everyday to a massage and an attentive listener who asked about her day. Every day seemed to be a day for romance. They had no regrets that their families disowned them.
However, dreams are not eternal. Sooner or later you will have to wake up to the reality and reality is not always a pretty place to be in. He still had not got a job. Se had found one easily as she had a college degree whereas he was a high school dropout. He had to satisfy himself with a few odd jobs, the latest of which was doing courier delivery. He had pestered her to use up their savings to buy a bike so that he could get the job. She ended up not only emptying their savings but also reaching into the coffers of loan sharks. He became irresponsible and lax being dependent on his wife’s earnings. His salary was just enough to pay half the rent. The spark that existed earlier had lost its fuse. He woke up everyday to make his own coffee. She came home everyday wishing that the next day for office came soon. Then came a day which she thought would finally help them rediscover their lost spark. She felt it would make him more responsible.
‘Tanav.’ she started while they were both having dinner.
‘Huh?’ he responded his attention fixed on the T.V. .
‘I am pregnant.’ she announced.
That really caught his attention. He immediately switched off the T.V. and gaped at her in surprise but yet there was no smile.
‘What??’ he exclaimed. ‘ Are you sure? I thought we were careful.’
Little did he know that she had stopped taking the birth control pills as she secretly craved for a child.
‘Yes. I got the test results yesterday.’ she said trying to smile.
Tanav did not return her smile. His head was swimming with guilt, terror and panic.
‘Marsha. You know what’s the best thing to do now?’ asked Tanav with a grim face.
‘Yes. I have it all planned out. There is enough in the savings. I can take a maternity leave. It will be perfect.’ she said beaming all over.
‘About that. The savings. I had to use our savings for something else.’ said Tanav looking down at the floor.
The world came crashing down for Marsha. She had planned so meticulously for this and saved every single penny. She was torn between rage and hopelessness. Rage for not being informed of the expenditure and hopelessness at the future that loomed ahead.
‘What did you do with it?’ she asked weakly.
He reached into his bag and pushed a parcel towards her across the table.
‘Happy Anniversary Marsha. Sorry I couldn’t gift wrap it.’ he said with a sheepish smile.
It was two tickets to Paris complete with coupons for accommodation and entertainment. She was furious. She wanted to throw it at his face and yell. All her hard earned savings wasted to buy a dumb gift to celebrate a day which she came to regret deeply. This “gift” was the pinnacle of her failure in marriage. She wanted to cry but no tears came. She wanted to yell but no words came. She simply got up and went to sleep as she always did hoping that the next day would come soon. She did not wish him a happy anniversary either as she did not want to lie about being happy. The next few days were very quiet. He felt like he would be smothered in the silence and hence he decided to break it. Though what he broke was not only the silence but also her heart.
‘Marsha, I was thinking about the baby.’ he started hesitantly.
She merely looked at him as she was getting ready to leave to office.
‘I think we should do abortion.’ he said rapidly as if hoping she would not hear him properly but she did.
Disgust filled her and the wound that she wanted to heal in their relationship started to bleed profusely again. She walked up to him and faced him with a look of contempt.
‘You want to kill your own child?’ she asked him with anger resonating off every syllable.
‘It’s for the best.’ he said not meeting her eyes.
She slapped him hard and left him without a word. She cried in the few minutes of solitude she got in the lift.
Months later the man who wanted to kill his own kid became a father. It was a beautiful baby girl. Marsha was overjoyed as she always wanted a daughter. She kissed the baby’s forehead and promised to take good care.
‘She looks beautiful just like you.’ remarked Tanav as he cradled his daughter in his arms.
‘She has your eyes.’ said Marsha looking at her lovingly.
They both locked eyes and at that moment it seemed as if that old spark was still there. They named her Aditi. But the spark never turned to light. Things got worse. Tanav was laid off as he became inconsistent with his job. He took to drinking his problems away. This only took a toll on his medical problems and in turn burdened Marsha’s finances more. She had to work at office and at home. Added to this was the task of raising a baby. She was at wit’s end. Sometimes she would wonder if it would just be easier to runaway again but then she would look at Aditi’s face and think that this phase shall pass. She had run her bank balance dry and the loan sharks were circling closer and closer.
‘I need a little money.’ said Tanav one day as she came back from work.
‘I don’t have any.’ came her swift reply.
‘Ofcourse you do. You are earning!’ exclaimed Tanav.
‘It’s high time you earned your own money.’ retorted Marsha slamming her handbag onto the table.
‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ yelled Tanav getting up from the couch in anger.
‘I wouldn’t if you didn’t sit around doing nothing.’ she snapped back.
‘I look after the house and Aditi while you are gone!’ he snarled inching closer to her.
‘Yeah, right! You should listen to what the neighbours have to say about you.’ she smirked trying to get out of the way but he was blocking her.
‘What do they say?’ he asked.
‘They think you are a sore loser.’ she replied cooly.
‘As if they know any better.’ he retorted clenching his fists.
‘I do. And I agree with them. You are a sore pathetic useless loser.’ she shouted in disdain.
He lost his temper and hit her hard in the face. He was shaking all over. He grabbed his coat and stormed out of the house.
‘I would have done so much better without you.’ he hissed before shutting the door.
‘You chose me. Remember?’ she called back bitterly while licking her bloodied lips.
The bitterness grew like cancer. They stopped talking to each other. She cut him off the money. He grew more and more resentful. It had been two weeks since he had first hit her.
It was well past midnight and he had still not returned. Aditi had gone to sleep ages ago unaware of the turmoil that enveloped the house. Marsha lay in bed with anger and rage oozing out of every pore in her body. She had had enough. He usually never got this late. She could not tolerate it anymore and she was going to have a word with him tonight. He finally came home drunk.
‘You had no money and still managed to get drunk? Have you been borrowing money again?’ asked Marsha the moment he entered.
‘What do you care?’ he muttered back.
‘I care because I have to pay off your freaking debts.’ she said raising her voice.
‘Do I ever ask you questions??’ he retorted back.
‘And what questions would you have to ask anyway?’ she demanded angrily.
‘Like your “late night” shifts doing part time jobs. Wonder what jobs you get to do so late in the night. Wonder with whom you’ve been sleeping with? No wonder you are so distant.’ he growled with a venomous glare.
She simply let out a delirious laugh in response.
‘You are lucky that I am still faithful to you. I had my chances but I always chose you.’ he said with a slur in his voice.
‘Chances? With whom? Some whore in a strip club? No one would have you even if you paid them. I happen to be the unlucky one.’ she yelled in fury.
Alcohol and anger is one of the the worst combinations. In a fit of murderous rage he grabbed the first thing that he could reach and lunged towards her but missed. He lost his balance and fell as he was dizzy from all the liquor. He looked at what he was holding in his hand, it was a knife. He remembered a moment few years ago where he held a ring and had said “Till death do us apart.” . Now as he looked at the knife in his hand he thought “Whatever it takes.” .
‘Kill me!’ shrieked Marsha hysterically, ‘That’s the last thing you could do to me. Literally. Kill me!’
But he never did so. He started to sober up as she sobbed hysterically seated on the floor. He had no words to say but felt a mixture of remorse, regret and guilt. He pulled himself to bed and let the alcohol put him to sleep.
Marsha sat on the same spot brooding over what just happened. The love of her life almost tried to kill her. The knife laid just a few feet in front of her. She had never been so close to death. God knows where this would end. Maybe not today but what if tomorrow or the day after? She no longer trusted him with her life. He no longer trusted her. She was hurt beyond grief that he would accuse her of being disloyal. To accuse a woman of her loyalty is the ultimate insult she could get. She had to do something. An end to all this misery. Survival for the fittest. She picked up the knife and started examining the edge. Just one swipe. Or one stab. Nothing to be scared of. It will be over in a matter of minutes. Then peace at last. She held the knife firmly and got up. She proceeded to the bed room where he was sleeping. This is going to be very easy she reassured herself.
The blood curdling scream was intense. He awoke to find red sprayed on the floor. Marsha was writhing around in pain near the bed. The knife was protruding from her chest. Tanav was shouting for help. He cried in distress cradling her body. She was hurt beyond agony and was flailing in pain. She had told him that she would love him till her last breath and here she had taken her life as she could not love him anymore. A poetic stab to the heart, though there is no poetry in her death. She laid in his arms as her death throes echoed across the room. The aethist prayed for the first time. God answered him as he was spared going to jail. The case was a long fight and gaining the custody of Aditi was a battle too. He won both of them. There was not much evidence to suggest the truth. The neighbours had heard her scream and he came crying to them for help. They did testify that they had fights but then which household didn’t. The only instance of domestic violence where he hit her never reached anyone beyond the walls of the house as she covered it up. Marsha had no friends with whom she confided her problems with, the friend who got her a job in the city had moved out a long time ago. She had to be diplomatic and not personal at the office as she was in a managerial role. The forensics did not show his fingerprints on the knife as he had wiped them due to the fear of being convicted. The verdict was that the pressure got to her and it was a clear case of suicide. He did not mourn the loss for long. The minute her parents came to know of their daughter’s death they were grief-stricken. They had disowned her but never wished death upon the girl they raised with so much love for 23 years. They immediately blamed him and fought hard to gain custody of their grand-daughter hoping that at least they can save her from him. He was not going to let go so easily. He was flawed but wanted to make it up by taking care of his daughter. He may have been irresponsible but he loved Marsha in parts. A few years after he was proved not guilty in Marsha’s death. He was soon remarried and with the marriage came a steady job and wealth courtesy the dowry from his in-laws. Reshma was a sweet and charming woman who fell for his sugary words. She was aware of his past life, not the truth but a watered down defensive version from his perspective. She really believed that he can change and deserves a second chance. Moreover she had never met a man who could make her laugh like he did. She was blinded by love despite people around her speculating that he was only after her for the money. She was also understanding enough to accept his fight for Aditi. Having a decent job, a little money, a home and a wife who can look after Aditi like a Mom he had a very strong upper hand in Aditi’s custody case. Eventually he won leaving her grand-parents distraught. He got rid of every single last trace of Marsha not wanting to ever think about her again. He used to have nightmares and hallucinate seeing her but after he chose to forget her completely it all went away. He was happy with his new wife and kid. Aditi was a clever girl who was pretty like her mom and was quite the performer at academics. Reshma who initially was open to having Aditi however couldn’t later on really love her wholly as Aditi reminded her of her husband’s previous relationship which she tried hard to forget and ignore. Nevertheless she looked after Aditi’s every need and saw to that she got what she wanted as she grew up. Many years rolled past and everything seemed like just a nightmare to Tanav. He was tucking his 10 year old into bed one day after just reading her a bed time story.
‘Dad, can I ask you something?’ asked Aditi.
‘Sure sweetheart.’ said Tanav with a smile.
‘I know you don’t like to talk about Mom but can you tell me how she died again.’ she asked a little quietly looking at the ground.
‘I have already told you. She died when she was asleep. A heart attack. She felt no pain at all.’ he replied with a heavy sigh.
‘Are you a bad person?’ asked Aditi with tears in her eyes.
‘Who told you that?’ asked Tanav taken aback and feeling hurt.
‘Some people told me but I didn’t believe them. But then my friend too told me and that’s why I asked.’ she said sniffing her nose and wiping her tears.
‘Which friend?’ he asked concernedly.
‘Well, she is tall, fair, has brown eyes and curly hair.’ she said.
‘Ask her to meet me? I will talk to her.’ said Tanav, ‘Don’t believe what others say.’
‘She is standing right next to you Dad.’ replied Aditi laughing that her Dad was so oblivious.
The hair on his neck stood on its end as he heard that. Tall, fair, brown eyes, curly hair…surely not…it can’t be. He turned around and saw her standing right in front of him wearing the same clothes from that night, the only difference being that the top was red instead of the white it should be, it was stained in blood. He could see her and feel her as finally his thoughts started racing around her.
‘Hello darling! Do you miss living in a world without me? I feel like hugging you to death.’ she said with a delirious laugh…