It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.

But it wasn’t as though Shradha hadn’t got this feeling before. By now she had grown habituated to it. It was always like this with Rahul. Especially when his wife was not away working. He would quietly slip away after a night of passionate lovemaking. It almost seemed as if he could turn a switch on and off. It was this that irritated Shradha the most. More than being angry at Rahul she was angry at herself for letting herself into this every time.

It had been almost five years since her affair with Rahul began. They had met casually at a common friend’s party. However clichéd it may sound, it was love at first sight for both of them or should she say lust at first sight. There was no time for the ritualistic courtship. Even before she could realize what was happening they were naked together in a hotel room bed. It was as if Rahul had managed to spark a fire that lay dormant in her all these years. Perhaps it was also because her marriage had just ended and Rahul seemed to be there at the right time?

All these thoughts raced through her mind as she sipped her hot cup of green tea, sitting on the porch, staring vacantly at the garden. She wondered where all this was headed. Rahul had no plans of leaving his wife, especially when they had two kids. How long could they go on like this? It was all so wrong, but it felt all so good. Shradha smiled to herself, a naughty smile. She looked up at the sky. Clouds were slowly gathering, monsoon was about to begin, the garden needed a gardener, her hair needed to be trimmed. Oh god, what was she doing? So much to do. Then her eyes fell on the half-grown mango tree.

She remembered how Rahul and she had bought the sapling together and decided to plant it as a sign of their growing love. It was so silly, she felt she was a teenager again. Rahul always managed to make her feel that way. The tree was growing steadily, the roots were strong the branches long and firm. Will it bear fruits? Will the fruits be sweet? She wondered. The tree seemed to grow in the right direction but…. She stared hard at the tree and was again lost in he thoughts.

She glanced at her watch; it was late in the morning. The conversation with Rahul last night rang in her mind. “Rahul, we need to talk.”

“Oh no, this can’t be something good,” said Rahul, lighting up his cigarette. “What is it darling?”

“We can’t go on like this Rahul. I mean, where are we headed? Have you even given it a thought?”

“Oh god, Shradha, haven’t we talked this over so many times? I thought you were ok with the arrangement.”

“Sorry Rahul, I don’t think this ‘arrangement’ is working for me anymore. You know I am getting older,”

“Oh, so I am getting younger?”

“That’s not the point. I just can’t go on like this. I won’t deny l love being with you and you are the best I have had in bed, but…”

Before she could finish Rahul had kissed her lips and shut her up. His lips… they had this sweet thing that she could not resist. It was like sugar, it gave her a high.

But Shradha knew this would be the last time she would be meeting Rahul, at least like this, the way they always met. She had made up her mind to end whatever she had going on with Rahul. Yes, it was all fun and frolic but she knew it would lead to sorrow and depression and she had to bail out while she still had air for her parachute. It was time to pull the string and open the chute and land safely.

She had decided she would just ‘vanish’ from Rahul’s life. That way it would be easier on both of them. There was no leaving ‘slowly’; it had to be a surgical strike, an amputation, which was the only way. So she had made arrangements weeks before the house was already sold. She had already bought a small apartment in another city far away. Far away from Rahul’s reach and influence and he had no clue about all this. Today was the day the movers and packers were coming. Rahul was not coming back for at least a week, if not more. So she had enough time to pack and make a quick getaway. She felt strange doing this, why was she ‘running away’ like this? Was it Rahul or was she running away from herself? A tinge of sadness swept over her mind. But she brushed it away like she always did.

She began packing stuff in boxes that she had carefully hidden from Rahul’s eyes. Thank god she was a ‘minimalist’ woman, so there was not too much to pack. Mainly books and some important papers, it was mostly done by late afternoon. She decided to shower before she ate the lunch that she had ordered from a nearby eatery. Since she was going to leave she had already bid good bye to her trusted maid.

She stepped into the shower and turned on the tap. As the first streams of water made their way over her naked skin she suddenly felt a strange “chill”. It wasn’t the water but it felt as if someone had ‘slid’ alongside her. For a moment she felt weird but then brushed it off as some silly fantasy.

She finished her shower, patted herself dry and stepped out of the bathroom in her robe. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly 4pm. That was a long bath she thought to herself as she dropped her robe and stood naked in front of the mirror, looking at herself and thinking of how Rahul had ravished this body of hers and how she had enjoyed every moment with him and how it would never happen with him again. Or would it?

She smiled to herself and just at that moment a cold draught of air swept the room. It caressed her naked body and again sent a sort of ‘chill’ up her spine. This time it was quite strong. She looked around, she could almost ‘feel’ someone. She never had got this feeling before. She wondered if it was her over active mind that was playing tricks with her or was just the exhaustion. She pulled on her shorts and t-shirt and headed for the kitchen. She was hungry.

She sat on the kitchen table and opened the boxes with her lunch in it. Her thoughts again went back to the time when Rahul had introduced her to Thai cuisine. He was such a foodie, it was thanks to him she even began enjoying food. Otherwise it was just ‘eating for living’ for her. She dug hungrily into the Thai green curry and rice. Even the smell of fresh basil leaves reminded her of Rahul. She wondered how long it would be before she would ‘get over’ him or would she ever? Perhaps she would get desperate and let him know where she was going and he would come dashing in his car and sweep her off her feet again. Was it why she was doing this? To get wooed again?

Mmm … the green curry is so fresh. Her brain brought her back to the food. How long before Rahul would realise she had left for good? Would he search for her? Would he be restless and desperate? Would he know that it was all for HIS good that she was doing this?

Questions were rushing through her mind as fast as she was gulping down the rice. Her mind too seemed hungry for answers, answers which she might never get. Or perhaps one day after many years if they met she would get her answers but would she even care then? She was getting melodramatic unnecessarily but then what’s life without a little melodrama, she thought. She glanced at the watch, it was nearly 5:30pm. She wondered if she should take a short stroll in the path outside her home or take a nap.

But, more importantly, should she call Rahul once more just to hear his voice one last time? Just then her mobile rang, Rahul’s face flashed on the screen. Why was he calling now? Isn’t he with his wife? How could he risk calling her? Did he know she was packing up? Oh no, what will she say? Questions whizzed past in her mind. She decided to pick the call.

“Yes, Rahul?” There was silence on the other side of the line. That was odd, she thought, as usually Rahul seldom kept quiet.

“Hi, this is Rahul’s wife Sapna. Just wanted to inform you that Rahul died in an accident at 4pm today. I was just going through his phone book and informing all his contacts.”

 

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…

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