Shalini woke up to excitement bubbling out of her. It was the day. She jumped out of bed. She started her morning regimen. It wasn’t so different today as any other morning. Only more vigorous. She carefully dried her long wavy locks. It were more of a headache than an accessory to beauty for her. Yet, that is how Deepesh liked them. She brushed them carefully till they shined. Phew! now that is done. She lined her big round chestnut brown eyes brimming with anticipation. As usual her excitement got the better of her and she found a raccoon staring back at her from the mirror. She quickly fixed it and got ready. He is coming. He is coming He is coming!!!
It had been four years, more than excited, Shalini was scared. How is it going to be? Will it be the same? Would he even remember me?He had promised to send letters, but she hadn’t received any. The post is very unreliable Baba used to keep on saying to ma when she didima(grandmother)’s letters got delayed. Didma is only in Darjeeling. Deepesh on the other hand was in England. So the mail had a lot of places to get lost. But he was coming today. She had heard he was. How come his letters to his Baba and Ma never got delayed?
She wore her favourite lilac cotton saree. The softness of the lilac set off against the bright fury of her cheeks. She sneaked out before Baba and Ma could notice. They of course would have noticed the heavy noise as she pulled the Fiat 1100 out. She stepped on the gas and drove out for Dumdum airport. it was a humid Saturday morning. Hawkers stood fanning themselves under the mercy of the trees lining the road. The drunken lovers of the alley were just waking up. As Shalini waited at the signal, she observed a slum boy and his dog playing, laughing, barking, totally oblivious of their own misery. As she passed the Saturday shoppers and retailers, she suddenly wondered whether it was just her or was there a strange hum going around in the city. Her heart was becoming louder than the Fiats engine as she neared the airport. Even the protesting Marxists seemed so much at peace.
She finally reached the airport. She must have parked oddly because a man getting out of his Imphala remarked,”Women driving. What is happening to this country?” Or he was just one of the many who did not like seeing women empowered. Usually Shalini would have a sharp retort for such people, but today, she wanted to be as graceful as possible and ignored him.
She straightened out the pleats of her saree and run her hand through her hair to look presentable. Soon she noticed Deepesh, with his thick short brown hair, deep-set dark eyes, his brows furrowed as they always used to and his neat mustache. She smiled to herself. It was like nothing had changed. Like when they were still in Presidency College arguing about Marx and Kant.
He hadn’t noticed her yet so she started moving towards him. He suddenly stopped and turned around and extended his arm. A pretty girl in trousers and a jacket took his extended arm and he pulled her towards him. Shalini stopped in her tracks. The girl seemed bengali with her soft features and beautiful dark hair, but something indicated that she was not from here. Shalini suddenly became aware of cool tears trickling down her warm cheeks. She turned around and started slowly walking back to the car. Her face now would be traced with tears and kohl, she thought. She revved up the car, trying to drown the voices inside. The strong independent woman in her that she had so lightly brushed of a few minutes ago was suddenly crumbling all around. She suddenly felt like being carried to bed as Baba used to do when she was little and she slept off on the divan. She took a deep sigh and pulled herself together and started pulling out from the airport. She drove back through the same streets. The hum was definitely melancholic this time. It was just her. He was gone.
After a bit of driving rashly, Shalini felt a little better. But only little.
She got home. Ma had made some shorshe batar jhaal ( fish with chilli and mustard) and rice. There was Chomchom(coconut flaked milk based sweet dish) and mishti doi ( sweet curd) for dessert. That made her feel much better. She smiled a sad smile. Although she had a million questions and accusations for Deepesh, she knew that it was going to be alright. But not tonight. She held her long hair in one hand stretched as she ran the scissors through them. She sighed. That’s one headache less.