“Hey,” said Achal as he pulled the chair out to sit down in Lotus Pond, a Chinese restaurant. His black coatwas darker in places, wet from the rain. He flicked his drenched hair back, splattering water across the table at Mamta.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said hastily as she flinched slightly in her seat.
She wiped a drop of water from the back of her hand and smiled pleasantly.
“It’s okay, some things never change,” she said.
Achalbreathed out loudly and nodded, embarrassed, “Yeah.”
After a few moments of awkward silence, noiseless clicking of fingers and a brief scanning of the restaurant, Achal finally said, “So.”
“So, uh, how… how have you been?” he asked hesitantly.
Achal’s discomfort and awkwardness was juxtaposed against Mamta’s poise. She looked calmly at him, her chin up, in a position of high but polite authority. She was as relaxed and in-control as she had always been. Nothing seemed to pierce her bubble of serenity. Not meeting like this after two years of being incommunicado, not what happened those two years back.He tried to take as much of her in as he could. Mamta’s eyes were lined with black kohl. He remembered teasing her that she looked like a terrifying witch when her kohl used to smudge. Her hair was different. It was tied in a half bun in the back of her head, instead of being let loose like he’d always seen it.
“I’ve been okay. I’m working on starting my own bakery. Kajal’s been helping me,” she answered.
“Wow. That’s… Wow,” he said, happily taken aback by this information. “You ended up doing it. All your attempts at various culinary concoctions and burnt ovens paid off well then,” he joked tentatively, unsure whether the past was an okay ground to touch.
Mamta laughed. Maybe it was okay.
“Yes, those were interesting times,” she said quieting down. The nostalgia stirred something inside her. “You look good. What have you been up to?”
“Nothing’s new with me really. I’m still working with Kapoor. I’m handling the head office now. So yeah, that is… uh that.”
Mamta’s pressed lips broke into an impressed smile.
Embarrassed, Achal scratched the back of his head. He fiddled with him fingers clumsily. He should’ve rehearsed what to say to her better and placed himself in a more realistic setting. In his head their conversation had flowed so well. They had been laughing about their life together in no time. They had been crying about Aditi in no time.
“Does Kapoor’s wife still try to flirt with you?” Mamta asked.
Achal let out a chuckle.
“No, not anymore.”
“She likes her men married, doesn’t she?” Mamta muttered.
“Clearly you had a significant role to play in Kapoor’s wife’s extra-marital life then.”
Mamtanodded smiling and looked into the distance.
“So how come today? Why did you suddenly think of me?” Achal probed.
“It had been a very long while. I wanted to see how you were,” Mamta said straightforwardly.
“Ah, yes, it has been a long time since--” Achal caught himself.
“Yes, it has. Do you want to order food?” Mamta asked.
“Sure,” he said.
That was first time any of them had alluded to marriage. Their marriage. Even if it was just a fleeting reference. But that almost insignificant mention unleashed a dam in Achal. Because their marriage, and its end, was anything but usual. Because there were so many things that he wanted to say to her, so many explained and unexplained emotions that he hadn’t felt in two years that were returning to him. That Sunday morning, that barking of the neighbor’s dog, that whistle of the pressure cooker, that phone call, that relentless thudding, that browned rope in that room.All the things he had tried to block out of his mind were coming back to him.
The change in his expression was very visible for Mamta extended her hand and clutched his tightly.
“It’s okay,” she said rubbing her fingers over his knuckles.
Achal nodded, clenching his teeth as hard as could, anything to keep his emotions from going haywire. Especially in front of Mamta after so many years. Especially that day.
It was Aditi’s death anniversary. Their 17-year-old daughter committed suicide three years back. Achal and Mamta separated soon after.