The phone rang. Thrice.
With her slender fingers , she picked up the receiver and put it to her ear. When the man at the other end started speaking she squeezed her eyes shut. The slim wedding ring on her finger caught the sunlight as it spilled out of a gap in the curtains. The gold band shone brilliantly, unabashedly almost. As soon as the line at the other end went dead, she rushed out of the room, closing the door on her way out.
Out in the street, the sun was almost setting. The sky was dyed pomegranate pink with a hint of tangerine. She watched with an unwavering gaze, as a fiery red orb of light slowly sank beneath the horizon.
A quick tap on her shoulder.
Almost immediately, she turned back and saw him. His face – high cheekbones and symmetrical. The same deep brown eyes and tanned skin that she had seen the week before. He was still slender, despite his years. In his hands, he held a manilla envelope.
“Your tickets”, he said as he handed over the envelope to her. She glanced over her shoulders several times.
The adrenaline flew over her veins like a carp through the river, but she couldn’t move a single muscle. It took a lot of effort on her part, to grasp the envelope. He took her hand, gave it a slight squeeze and quickly kissed her on one cheek.
Then a slight wave of the fingers. With that he turned back and strode away quickly in the direction he had come from.
She stood there, in the street for a few good minutes. Then, as if someone had jolted her back into reality, she woke up with a start and started walking.
The daylight had dwindled to a barely perceptible lightening of the gloom. Each wall of concrete seemed identical to the next. Standing in what could be any part of the labyrinth, she folded the envelope and placed it inside her purse.
She walked steadily down the pathway and turned the key. She was greeted by her daughter. The little girl tugged at her skirt and as if this was signal enough, she crouched down and picked her up in her lap. She felt the child’s soft skin against her own cheeks.
“Mamyyyyyy homeee”, the toddler screamed from her lap. Her husband appeared in the hallway.
The hug was a perfunctory gesture mandated by social etiquette and colder than day-old oatmeal. It was short, where it should be long, rigid instead of soft and it ended as abruptly as it had begun. Though his legs moved slowly, he was still walking away as each stride carried him further.
At dinner, she could hardly eat. He was sittting on the other end of the table. She watched him gobble down his food, in a hurry. Normal, she thought. Suddenly she felt cold and tightened the pull of her sweater over her shoulders.
The next morning when she woke up, he wasn’t there. He had already left for work. She woke up her daughter, gave her a bath, fed her breakfast, packed her lunchbox, plaited her hair, dressed her up , and walked her to the bus stop. As the bus rolled away, she walked back home .
The house somehow felt calmer. Stiller. She looked at the clock on the wall. 9 o’ clock. She had to get ready. She went up the stairs. On the way to the bedroom, she peeped inside her daughter’s room. She took a good look at the bed, at her toys. She left the door open. Walking into her bedroom, she grabbed a duffle bag from the wardrobe and tossed in a bunch of clothes randomly into the bag.
Next, she stood in front of the mirror. With the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, she twisted the wedding ring on her left hand. She glanced at her face on the mirror. Her eyes blinked several times. She tossed back a few stray strands of hair from her shoulders. Picking up the duffle bag from the bed, she crossed over to the windows and pulled the curtains shut. With a last look at the ruffled bedsheets from the night before, she closed the door behind her.
She hailed a cab from the street. She paid the driver and took out the envelope from her purse. With her bag in one hand and the envelope in the other, she walked inside the terminal. For a few minutes she stood outside the first class lounge.
Someone embraced her in a hug from behind. The familiar scent…it was him. He kissed her passionately on the mouth. Her throat burned. He handed her a small bouquet of roses. Then he grabbed her wrist and pulled her through the throng of people.
“Come”, he said.
In the mad rush of the platform, her hand slipped away from his clutch.
” Amyyyyyy, Amy”.
He called to her to follow. He got up on the train. She stood among the swaying crowd in the station, tickets still in her hand. Her cheeks felt cold and pale. Out of distress, she prayed to God to direct her. If she went with him, tomorrow she would be in a different place, in a new city. She felt nauseated. Her hand clutched the bouquet in a frenzy. She looked at him like a helpless animal, passively.
Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition. As the whistle blew and the train started to move, she gave a cry of anguish. She dropped the tickets on the station floor. She looked down at the roses in her hand, hanging heavy on their stems.