Ananya was thinking that she should have taken a taxi to Mumbai Central. She came here to Mahalaxmi Station only to save 3 to 4 rupees and now she would have to board a slow train that would stop at all the suburban stations. She was so unwise sometimes.
The train came to a screeching halt at Mahalaxmi. Ananya swiftly stepped in the first class ladies compartment of the slow suburban train. The compartment was quite empty at this hour; it was late by any standards. It was 9 p.m. and she thought that it would take exactly an hour and 23 minutes to reach home. That is, if she got a shared auto. She looked at her watch, and then sighed wondering whether Ramesh would have arranged for the dinner.
Clotilde, who sat just opposite, next to Ananya’s outstretched legs, was watching her carefully. She was a middle-aged lady in her early 40s. As both women eyed each other, Clotilde spoke.
?Where are you going???
?Oh! Mira Road. Well, then I have a company, I am going there too!? she smiled broadly, showing yellow teeth between thin lips. She had dry skin, wrinkled and rubbery due to age.
Ananya nodded, smiled proudly at her diamond ring and reached for the Economic Times she had bought in the morning but had not read. She bought the paper everyday but would not read any more than the headlines. She had the notion that the Economic Times would keep her updated on current market trends, but somehow she failed to understand most of the financial policies and practices discussed in the newspaper.
?Are you married?? Clotilde asked, trying to catch Ananya’s attention, who was trying hard to concentrate on the editorial about the ‘Falling Economic Growth in the Country’.
Ananya nodded ‘yes’ and looked up with an annoyed face, chewing her gum with a smacking noise, trying to convey that she was in no mood for conversation of any kind.
The train crossed station after station.
Clotilde said, ?You see, I work as a receptionist. All day long I listen to calls coming in and out, and then sometimes I also get to hear the private conversations if people forget to switch the tone out. But usually I don’t listen to what people have to say to each other. I am too busy, you see — I have the additional work of handling travel arrangements. But, today I took a day off. I was helping my sister’s son make up his mind to leave his wife.?
Ananya could not resist responding to the last bit of information. She looked up from the paper, and asked, ?Why??
?His wife is a nuisance? what a female she is. My sister asked me to help them, as I have seen more of the world than her — I know all sorts of women who work and think that they can get away with any kind of behavior,? Clotilde’s lips twisted with each word and she jerked her head from side to side while she spoke. Her mushroom-cut hair bobbed each time she jerked her head.
Ananya’s questioning glance was enough for Clotilde to continue.
?His wife is also working in some big company, you know. And she doesn’t ever care for James, poor James. Never comes back from office on time in the evenings. And on top of that, she expects James to do all the cooking and cleaning. Bechara James, he has to come early and do all the house work, and give company to his own mother too.?
Ananya recalled that for the last few months, she too had never left office on time. Almost everyday she reached home late. Her office timings were from nine in the morning to five thirty in the evening. But she reminded herself that she managed to cook almost two to three days in the evening and didn’t expect Ramesh to do the cleaning. Pushpa Bai, her maidservant, did a good job. She remembered that it was a month since she had cooked Ramesh’s favorite chicken curry and gajar ka halwa.
?She must be having a lot of work at office,? she said wanting to know more, though she didn’t really want to know the details. She always feared that gossiping about other peoples’ marriages and breakups might affect her own marriage and her relationship with Ramesh.
Clotilde said immediately, ?What work she did, always wearing transy clothes and short skirts, and humming around men like a bee. I have heard a lot about her from other people. She was a complete flirt and she and her boss are having something.?
Ananya looked down and noticed that the blouse she wore revealed more of her cleavage than was normal. She adjusted her pallu bashfully. She was worked all the time with men and today she had shared glances with her boss. She knew her boss was weak about women and her promotion was imminent. But it was all for work, she assured herself, all for work. She loved Ramesh and was not adulterous.
And she also remembered that six months ago it was Ramesh who had insisted on her wearing a short skirt and a figure-hugging blouse. She had worn those clothes as a special favor to him inside the trial room of the mall, but had not bought them because she thought that it would be a waste, she would never wear those kinds of clothes to office. She congratulated herself now for that decision.
First Bandra, then Khar Road went by.
Clotilde wanted to tell somebody about her achievements and Ananya was the first person she had come across after a long day of convincing James to finally file for a divorce.
?She never took care of his mother. Always, fighting, shouting? tch tch tch,? Clotilde said shaking her head. ?I always told Paula, that’s my sister, that she would never fit into our family. She earns more than James but that does not mean that she can bully him, and treat him as if he was her servant. Always telling him to leave his mother and buy a new apartment. She is mean, very mean.?
Ananya sighed and mused on the fact that the wife earning more the husband. She thought that she could never earn more than her husband. She never treated Ramesh like a servant. She was a good daughter-in-law. Her frown relaxed, as she felt happy that it was she who insisted that they visit Ramesh’s parents and she also remembered her mother-in-law being happy with all the gifts that she had taken for her.
Santacruz and Ville Parle passed by.
She looked at her long chiseled fingers and well-painted nails. She was happy that whatever little flirting that she did with her colleagues was only to secure her job and she convinced herself that Ramesh wouldn’t mind her doing that as he always wanted a working wife.
Clotilde continued, ?Drinking and smoking. Never ever going to church to attend masses. Making fun of James whenever he went to church. Is this the way, tell me??
Ananya said, ?Oh no! No, that’s not the way, one must always remember God. I always pray before leaving home. I light a diya before Laxmi and Ganapati and only then step out of the house. My husband does not like my doing all this, but I do. And I always go to the Mahalaxmi temple while coming back home.?
Clotilde was happy that Ananya had spoken so much in her favor. She beamed and her eyes lit up, and she said pushed closer to Ananya, ?Her chakkar was bad, you know, she even traveled with her boss. I toh think that there was something really bad. I once caught her red-handed with him in a restaurant. The boss? good-looking man from decent family, he must be married too.?
Andheri, Jogeswari, Goregaon went by. For some time there was a grim silence.
Ananya wondered what was wrong in having lunch with one’s boss. She justified all her lunches as power-lunches, they gave an edge to her career. She was convinced that she was getting confusing herself unnecessarily.
?Her hair was nice and long as yours and she cut it off. Huh? I had told her not to? and she said ‘Clotilde, you do not understand, short hair is the current fashion statement?’ Calling me Clotilde! By my name? not ever Auntie. I am 18 years elder to her?? Clotilde’s mouth twisted and turned with anger as she spoke.
Malad and Kandivili passed by.
Now Ananya did not listen much, she just nodded to whatever Clotilde had to say, sometimes aping Clotilde’s action unconsciously. She knew that she looked better than a lot of women and felt happy. She mechanically took the lipstick out from her purse, applied it on her lips, looked at herself in the mirror and shaded it a bit more, shaping the edges.
Clotilde smiled at her. Ananya said, ?My husband does not like to see me sloppy, so I always try and look fresh.? She smiled, looking for sanction from Clotilde and then wondered why should she do so.
Clotilde straightened herself and said, ?Yes, yes, it’s your age. A woman should look attractive for her husband? that female, she did not like the dress that James gifted her from the UK. She said that no one would wear that dress here. What an insult to poor Jamie, he said nothing? kept quiet. But how can anyone refuse a gift from abroad? He loves her too much? He cried a lot today, I told him he has to be brave now. I don’t understand, I just don’t like people who do not care for the sentiments of other people. I cannot see a man weeping.?
Ananya wondered whether Ramesh would ever cry for her. She imagined Ramesh crying into her sari and smiled mischievously, but she could not picture the scene clearly in her mind. She hated the way her thoughts were trespassing certain limits.
Borivilli went by.
?I told Jamie that these kind of girls are not good, they never want to stick around, they are always looking out and always wanting more from life. What a nice husband Jamie was, used to bring her flowers from office, light candles for dinner? how romantic. And she was just the opposite? came late, talking on her mobile all the time.?
Ananya wanted the conversation to stop, but Clotilde wouldn’t. ?For the past few days it was height of everything, you know, she was gone for a trip for four days but there was no trip. She had lied? she had gone to her mother’s place without telling us? to Goa. She had already planned a divorce and asked her lawyer to file the case. Smart she is? but today I told Jamie to throw her out of the house when she comes back. James asked her to leave and what she did you know? Did not cry at all? Just walked across, packed her clothes in a bag? called someone on her mobile? and ?and??
?What?? Ananya asked curiously.
?Left? I asked her where she was going? she kept quiet and said that she would talk only to James and then we had to leave the room and go. Poor Paula was in tears? I asked Paula to keep quiet so that I could listen to what James and she were talking in the next room but Paula wouldn’t stop. They had latched the room from inside.?
?It’s taking so long today.? Ananya said voicing her anxiety.
Ananya just wanted to be with Ramesh soon. Her insecurities were growing and she was thinking superstitiously about the fact that she was indulging in someone else’s misery. She closed her eyes so that she would not think on those lines again. The darkness in front of her drew a desperate picture of something that she did not want to think. She hurriedly opened her eyes.
?Come, come. Next is our station,? Clotilde said, stretching her legs and shaking the mud off her shoes.
?By the way, my name is Clotilde. What’s yours??
?Ananya? Anu for short.?
?Mine is Clotilde but everybody calls me Clotill, ha, no one really can pronounce my name the right way. Where does your husband work??
Ananya mumbled the name of Ramesh’s firm as if swearing under her breath, not wanting to talk any further.
?Same company as Liz — you know, James’ wife,? tap came the reply from Clotilde.
?There are more than 4,000 employees working for the organization.?
The train stopped and Ananya and Clotilde alighted.
?Where do you have to go?? Clotilde asked Ananya, who was still trying to compose herself.
?RNA Colony,? she said absentmindedly.
?Oh, I too have to go there. My brother lives there, I am visiting him today.?
?Then you can come with me,? Ananya said without really wanting to.
They hailed an auto-rickshaw and all the way Ananya was quiet, thinking about Ramesh and whether he would have arranged dinner or not. She had left a message on the phone and had also emailed him. His mobile was off the whole day. He must have been in a meeting, she thought.
?You can ask your husband about Liz. He will tell you about her??
?My husband’s workaholic, he won’t know many people,? Ananya said.
They reached RNA Colony in ten minutes, both of them got off and Ananya paid the money. Clotilde handed Ananya a Rs.5 note, which she did not refuse. She hurried up to her house.
The elevator ride took 3 minutes and she was home by 10:24 p.m.
She opened the door with her key.
Ramesh was in. Soft music was playing and the lights were turned on dim. Dinner was ready on the dining table. Its aroma reached up to her.
?Hi Anu! We have a guest. Meet Liz, she works under me. She will be with us for sometime till we arrange a place for her??
Author: Anitha Lewis- India