In the early days of marriage, Philip, though away from home most of the day, used to call her on the phone several times. Eventually, the calls became few and far between and finally stopped. She called him, and he her if there was a need to do it. With this chilling distance growing between her and her husband, Shikha soon found that she was shying away from keeping in touch with her friends, or even her mother. She seemed dazed and was aware that something was happening to her. She was becoming a recluse, who dreaded the company of even her husband. It was with a terrible shock that she discovered that thought of her husband coming home early made her panic, and she was immensely distressed to find that it was a matter of great relief to her that he came home after she fell asleep and left soon after breakfast.
And then, after a month, he asked her for money again. Shikha felt a queer sensation in the pit of her stomach. She wanted to know what the money was for this time.
“You know daddy gives me a salary which is wholly inadequate. I haven’t the powers to take money from the company”.
His explanation sounded strange. She told him she had to think about it before she gave him the money.
There was a plea in his eyes when he looked at her but he didn’t push the matter.
Shikha called her mother after he went out and confided in her. A couple of hours later, mama called up her mother-in law and said that she was visiting them the next day.
“Did you tell your mom about the money?” Philip sounded anxious when he heard that his mother in law was coming.
“No” she lied.
“Please don’t tell her. You can give me the money after she leaves”.
Rani came with her cousin Ittichen who lived in Bangalore. After lunch, she was in private conversation with Philip’s parents behind closed doors.
“What’s happening?” Philip asked her.
“No idea’, Shikha replied, counting the silver cutlery and stacking the crockery.
Rani and Philip’s parents emerged from the room, and daddy called Philip into the room. His mother told Shikha to go with Rani to Chennai to spend a few days with her.
“What’s wrong?” Shikha asked.
“Pack up, my dear. I’ll tell you once we reach home.” said Rani. Shikha stood her ground, looking back and forth from her mother to her mother in law. Both said nothing, but they both looked drained but wore wooden expressions on their faces. Something told Shikha that if she insisted on explanations, she would be creating a situation that might get out of hand.
She went to her room and packed up most of her clothes and other belongings, moving like a zombie. She had a feeling she would not come back to this house again.
“Don’t forget your certificates” told mama just as Shikha was reminding herself about them.
Before Shikha left she asked for Philip. He was nowhere to be seen. “It’s ok, my dear”, said daddy. He looked infinitely sad, she thought.
“Will someone tell me what’s happening?” she burst out, looking in turn at her mama and her in-laws and Ittichen uncle. The silence that greeted her outburst was deafening. And then her father-in –law looked her in the eyes and said, “Philip has got into wrong company. He has been betting and having a small drug problem too”.
Shikha felt as though someone had kicked her in the pit of her stomach. The room spun around her. She put her hand on her forehead and felt someone holding her and leading her to a chair. Somebody gave her water, which she drank and then threw up.
“Relax, Shikha”, said her mother. Rani’s voice was unsteady. “You’ve got to get a grip on yourself”.
Shikha looked at her mother with unseeing eyes. All on a sudden, she felt an intense fatigue gripping her, and began to slowly fall sideways out of the chair. Ittichan stretched out his hand and gripped her above the elbow and then, without wasting time, helped her into the car. They left soon after.
Shikha slept through the journey. Tension always put her to sleep. It was her defence mechanism. It was dark when they reached Chennai. She went straight to bed in her old room and went back to sleep.
Thank God papa is not here to see this day, she thought before drifting off to sleep.