She got down from the floor, amidst the sounds of loud clapping and silently went back to her seat at the judges’ table, with a perfunctory smile on her face. She had been invited to the School for a writers’ workshop followed by a small competition for story writing by young kids that she was judging. Despite writing novels for Young Adults, she found that it was these competitions with the young that she never minded being a part of. Simply because, right from the time when she herself was a teenager, she had bonded the best with kids… And the same was true even today.
Somehow from the time a kid hit teens, they slowly started losing the innate innocence and compassion that came as a part of being human. There was no point dwelling over it, she was happy the lectures were over, the competition won and speeches done with. All she wanted was a glass of wine, a bubble bath and a Mills & Boon. Clichéd, she knew, and also unattainable given the man waiting for her at home, but she didn’t mind dreaming!
It was on her way back, when she was trying to sneak in a nap that her phone buzzed.
“Hello… hi mom! How are you?”
“Yes yes the event went well, just heading back home; yes will drop you a text when I reach. Goodnight ma! Take care!!’’
The daily ritual, it had never changed in the past 27 years and it sort of gave her a sense of comfort. She reached home, dropped in the text to her mother, and got in the lift willing it to hurry up and let her sleep in her room peacefully.
Suddenly she heard a sound, “Hi… wait up…. Please!” She reluctantly pressed the door open sign and waited for the hurried voice to enter. And boy was she glad she waited!
He was a young kid, 21 at most, all out of breath, college bag slung across the shoulder, and a small beard- probably the evening stubble-gracing his face.
“Hi… Thank you… I just didn’t want to wait for the lift! Sorry to have made you wait!” He said, still a little out of breath!
She smiled and replied “No Problem!” And then just thanked her fate that at least she’ll have a good thing to think about in her dreams.
“I’m Yash, just moved in, 12th floor…. The building is a little out of my budget, but with my dad pitching in and well… the view… it just makes it worth it!” He said all this with a smile, still looking at her expectantly. She was actually reminded of an over excited puppy dog. She really was.
She smiled back politely, courtesy kicking in, and replied “ Well yes, the view certainly is worth it… but then any sea-facing, reputable apartment in Mumbai would cost the same dear”.
“Yea yea… absolutely, I agree!” And then blessed silence… or so she thought till the kid piped up again and said “So I never really got your name.”
At that moment several thoughts went through her head… how he was good material for her dreams till he started talking 1000 words a mile, how the lift really was unbearably slow, and how the young kid was either flirting with her or being too curious for his own good!
“I am Shaina…. I am a writer and this is my floor” she said, getting out of the lift and thanking her stars that the conversation had come to a stop.
“I live in 12b… If you ever come up…. Or I… sorry!” he stuttered as the lift doors closed.
Ha! The kid was actually trying to flirt.
She entered the house and saw her husband sleeping on the sofa, the TV on, a half-eaten pizza in front of him. She smiled an indulgent smile, took of her heels, and went up to wake him and get him to bed, and then suddenly she stopped.
She knew the routine that would follow. She would wake him up, they would hug, maybe kiss discuss their day and then hit the sack for sex or sleep depending on how tired the two were. And so, she silently slipped on her heels back again, grabbed the unopened bottle of wine lying on the kitchen top, slowly closed the door and waited for the lift to take her to the twelfth floor.
She rang the bell to 12B, and when the kid opened up the door, all she said ‘I just want some company to share the wine, you are old enough for that, I hope!’
He smiled as if he had been given a free pass to his fantasy land. “Uh yea yea, sure, please come in, sorry the house is in a mess, let me tidy up a bit…”
“Why don’t we go the terrace instead?” “Huh? yeah sure…. Let’s go!”
She climbed up the last floor (why the lift did not go up to the terrace was a mystery to her!) and she could feel him staring at her the whole time. Up on the terrace, they both sat on the bench; she smiled at him and said “why don’t you tell me something about yourself?”
That was all the encouragement he needed as he went over his life history, occasionally trying to flirt and inching closer to her on the bench.
She kept smiling throughout and giving small murmurs of encouragement and in about half an hour the bottle was halfway consumed, he was a little tipsy, and she was, back in her element.
So she got up, cut him mid-sentence, and said “Let’s finish the rest of the bottle the next time we meet”
“There will be a next time?”
“why do you think there won’t be?”
“Maybe because of my failed attempts at flirting tonight”
“Ha, so you do agree you were flirting!!!”
“Ha-ha, that’s nice to know, well why don’t you practise a little flirting till the next time we meet! For now, I have to go!”
And with that she picked up her dress, took her heels in her hands, smiled at him and went back to her husband.
This wasn’t the first time she had indulged in harmless flirting or just spending time with someone just to look at them. She liked good-looking men, where was the crime in that. And she liked flirting!!
But that was all there ever was…. she knew she had a good husband, who loved her, who was handsome, smart, kind and nice and who made efforts for her too. But it was just something about marriage that made her hands sweat and she felt trapped. She hoped over the years the feeling would go away, it had been just 2 years, and yet she felt this harmless flirting made her more committed than anything else. She had never wanted to get married. And it wasn’t because she didn’t believe in marriage as an institution, on no she did! It was just that she didn’t believe in marriage for herself.
Of the many books that she had read over the years, this one quote from one of them had stuck by her always “I never want to get married, because I know that love will place chains on me, and above all else, I want freedom”.
Well she hadn’t got her freedom…. Bowing to the societal norms and family pressure she had gone ahead and gotten married. Surprise of all surprises, most of all to herself, she had even fallen in love with the guy. But she knew herself! And she knew the late night wines with her neighbour on the twelfth floor, the coffee evenings with her neighbour on the ground floor, the dinner casseroles shared with chef on the second floor, the computer help taken from the next door neighbour, well more than love, this was what kept her marriage alive!!
“Hi Darling, you’re home! How was the workshop?”
“I’ve missed you!”
“So have I… so have I!”
<The quote has been taken from the book Summerhouse by Jude Deveraux>