The Gift!

What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?’ Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.

Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’

‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.

Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.’ She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?’

(This was Ravi Subramanians’s prompt for the month for the TOI WriteIndia contest)


 

CUT! The director’s voice made everybody on the set turn to him for a reaction. Paritosh Sinha, the young director was living his dream with his debut film. He had  chosen a special day for the release. He wanted to make something ‘different’ than the usual thrillers, or romcoms, something closer to life. His scriptwriter, Prateek, has done a decent job. A story of relationships entangled in love, betrayal, passion and emotion. But, he was still looking for something more ‘real’.

One of the greatest influences in his life was his strikingly beautiful wife, Sayani, currently a Creative Head in an advertising firm. They met at the University. Though, they were a lot different, they chose each other. Sayani was quite a heart-throb in college, but Prateek’s ‘refined’ personality and charm lured her into a 4-year old steady relationship, and a 5-year old marriage. Both of them were not ready for a child – they had dreams to fulfil in life. So, they mutually decided not to discuss the issue among themselves or with family. They thought, they will ‘know’ when the time is right.

Paritosh glanced at his watch. It was almost 5 pm. He cannot be late for this. He shouted- PACK UP. He had to rush to the airport to receive Sayani. She was coming from Bangalore after a week long conference. She was supposed to come three days back, but she extended her stay.

He was all excited to tell her how the script has shaped up. As he was about to start the car, he got a message from Sayani,

‘Just boarded the flight. My colleague will drop me off at home. See U soon.’

A speck of disappointment clouded Paritosh’s face, but soon it turned into a glow, when he had something else in mind. He drove out of the car park, took a bunch of flowers and few scented candles. He was in a hurry to reach home to make the set-up. He tidied the drawing room, downloaded few old romantics, and looked up a few places to order food. The flowers, the fragrance, the candles- all went into their proper places.

He thought of taking a quick shower; he rummaged the cupboard for a Kurta, which Sayani had gfted, but never got a chance to wear it. He knew it was there somewhere, but he had no clue where.

Suddenly, a bunch of papers, fell from the cupboard shelf. He thought, what a mess at this time and started gathering them. He saw the VIP invite of the seminar, which Sayani had gone for. He thought, why did she forget the invite and how did she attend the event? Must have been some other arrangement.

He was about to put it back, but something caught his eyes. It mentioned that the seminar was on 2nd and 3rd Oct, whereas the Sayani had mentioned it was 3rd till 7th so she left on 2nd night. Might have been some change in the schedule or she had to attend Day 2. But, it was just for 2 days? What kept her there for almost a week?

Since, Paritosh has started working on his movie, he has developed an investigative side like his characters. He casually, dialled the number of the hotel, where this event had taken place. He inquired about the event and what he heard on the phone was alarming and shocking. The event got cancelled and everybody was informed on Oct 1st regarding the same. He thought, there must have been some kind of a mistake. There must be a logical explanation for this. Now, he was growing impatient for Sayani to arrive- in a turmoil of trust and disbelief.

Paritosh checked his watch, Sayani’s flight must have landed. He dialled her number. “Paritosh, yes I have just landed. Have you reached home?” The same heart-melting voice, which had no sign of infidelity in any shade.

“Yes, Sayani, I am at home, eager to see you. How was the seminar?” The apt question to calm down the waves of disbelief in his heart. He knew Sayani will surely tell him the real truth.

“The seminar was nice. Will tell you all about it once I reach. Ok bye, about to get down from the flight.”

The phone line went dead. Paritosh knew there was something she was hiding- something, which will answer all his questions. He got dressed but was unable to pacify the increasing discomfort in his mind. He wanted to dial a few more numbers. But, he stopped. What am I doing? I can’t be suspecting her. How can I doubt her?

But, he DID and he wanted to KNOW. He dialled Anita, Sayani’s colleague, gossip companion and keeper of her secrets. They are like ‘inseparable’, when it came to parties, fashion and office politics. Sometimes, their closeness made Paritosh insecure, but he happily adjusted. Anita is still un-married at 30 and willingly boasts her ‘single-ready-to-mingle’ status and flirtatious, womanly instincts. She can almost smell a single or married man, who is looking for adventure.

Sayani keeps warning her, but enjoys listening to her stories as well. According to Sayani, Anita was also supposed to be at the seminar. Paritosh was sceptical whether she will give him the right information. Anita picked up, it seemed she was with someone. “Hi Anita, how are you? How was your trip?”

Prompt came the reply, “Which trip?” Then, a moment of pause. Paritosh sensed that Anita hesitated as if she said something forbidden. Anita corrected, “Oh, the seminar. It was tiring, but nice, just got back home. Did Sayani reach?”

Paritosh was not interested, “Not yet.” He disconnected the phone. Anita was scared.

Just one more week to go for their anniversary and  Paritosh had planned a surprise. Suddenly, a message from Sayani broke his thought. It read, ‘Just near CCD, lot to tell. Coming Soon.’

Paritosh thought, the feeling is mutual – a lot to hear. He made the final touches, ordered food from a nearby Chinese joint and waited eagerly for Sayani. He stood near the window to see when she arrived.

A few minutes later, he saw a car driving in. Paritosh saw a man coming out of the car and helping her with the bags. He wondered, but controlled his thoughts. At the same time, he felt a bit awkward doubting his wife- the love of his life.

He saw her wave goodbye. He took a yellow rose, Sayani’s favourite, and waited for the doorbell to ring. What if she caught him, what if everything was true, what if nothing was true?

He opened the door. Sayani threw her hand bag inside and hugged Paritosh like a little girl. She saw the yellow rose that he was hiding. She always loves his attempts to make her happy. She kissed him hard. That moment of passion almost made Paritosh forget everything.

“How have you been Padi? I missed you so much. All these days were so boring without you. Did you miss me? How is the movie going?”

Paritosh seemed to not know any of the answers, but bluntly asked a question, “You said, you had something to tell me?”

Sayani was a bit taken back, but controlled. “Yesss, I do, but OMG, someone has made some amazing arrangements, I see.” She was flattered as she entered and saw what Paritosh had done. She smelled the aroma and wanted to go wild.

She said, “Just 5 minutes, Padi, I am all excited.” She disappeared into the bedroom and immediately under the warm shower. She shouted, “Padi, please keep the suitcase in my room, I want to show you something.” Padi (alias Paritosh) dragged the bag, kept it on the side table and closed the door.

He started to pour wine and raised the volume on the music system. He was about to get excited. He couldn’t wait to ask and hear. He saw her handbag lying on the sofa. He thought he would keep it int he room. As, he picked it up, he had ‘that’ urge to look into it. He resisted, but he still did.

Boarding passes, regular make-up, cards pack, blah-blah and a white packet with something inside. He was tempted to open, but then Sayani appeared in a red, lacy outfit, which exactly fitted the contour of her well-maintained figure. (She must have purchased it recently, or did someone else gift her.)

In her sexy, husky voice, “Hope I am not late.” Paritosh hurriedly kept the envelope back in the bag. He turned back and was spellbound to see her – beautiful, seductive and ravishing as ever. Sayani noticed her handbag and came out of her seductive mood. She quickly took the bag and said, “Let me keep all this junk in the room.” Paritosh noticed her locking the cupboard, where she kept the handbag. She has never locked any of her cupboards before and she had a habit of throwing her handbag on the bed.

The night was full of passion, yet full of apprehensions on both sides. Both had to tell each other a lot, but guess today was not the right time.

Next morning, life started as usual. Sayani left for office. Paritosh got a call from his unit manager that the cast was waiting and they had to edit the final shots. Paritosh realized that he was late. He went inside the bedroom and saw the keys hanging from Sayani’s cupboard. He was inquisitive, so he opened the cupboard and started searching for something. When he was about to get give up, he saw a white envelope, looked similar to what he had seen in Sayani’s purse. He opened it, but it was empty. He wondered about the content.

He closed the cupboard and turned. Suddenly, his eyes fell on something in an unusual corner. It was an envelope with pictures.

The pictures had Sayani and a guy in ‘intimate moments’. Paritosh couldn’t believe his eyes. The guy looked familiar, Sayani’s office colleague, Aryan. And, Sayani looked happy in the pictures, not deliberate. His world came tumbling down and he wanted an answer. He sat numb for sometime. His heart screamed WHY? He wanted to call up Sayani and ask. But, as a creative person, he thought of something else. He grabbed his script and sat down to make some changes.

He rushed to his shooting set, called up Prateek and narrated the changes. Prateek was a bit shocked, but agreed to make the changes as per his director’s will. The cast and crew were called and told about the changes. Everybody was a bit surprised, but no one protested. Unit Manager, Prakash, said, “But, Sir, it is almost going for the final edits.”

A look from Paritosh answered all his questions. Scenes were shot again, over the next few days. The edits were done. Finally, Paritosh’s surprise gift was ready – a reality in reel life.

Just to mention, over the last week, their relationship was normal, no one spoke about anything, especially the current things in their lives. Sayani tried to ask about the movie, but Paritosh said, it’s a surprise. Paritosh tried to ask about the thing that Sayani wanted to tell him, but she also ignored.

Finally, the day had come, when both were ready with their surprises. Sayani got her favourite flowers in the morning, along with an invitation. An invitation to watch Paritosh’s movie, The Gift, as the first audience. She was elated. She hugged the flowers and thought about her surprise too. She took out an envelope and a small wrapped gift packet.

Paritosh had booked an entire movie theatre for the sceening. She waited for Paritosh, but the movie started playing. Soon, the scenes started to look familiar. She started getting goosebumps. It showed exactly how things happened a week back- her trip and all that followed.

Sayani figured out that Paritosh knew and she tried hard to hold back her tears. Then, the lights were on for Intermission. She turned to face Paritosh, with eyes full of questions and a heart full of pain.

He asked, “WHY?”

Sayani struggled to answer, “I can make you understand. It is not how it seems.” He repeated his question.

Sayani broke down and sat with her head down. “It all started one year back, when you were struggling to make a mark in your career. Your confidence level was going low and you were so disinterested in everything. I was at the peak of my career and wanted to enjoy. It started as a healthy, attractive fling, but then we both took a bit seriously. But…”

Paritosh was listening patiently and said calmly, “But, you decided to be unfaithful and continue your affair. I am such a fool, that I took so long to figure out. And, I am sure this is what you wanted to tell me – all about your healthy, extra-marital affair.”

Sayani, “No, Padi, I didn’t want to tell you how my affair started, but I wanted to confess and tell you how it ended. I went to end everything with Aryan and get our pictures back. I realized I just love YOU and only YOU. I wanted to wait for the release before I tell you about this.”

Paritosh, “Oh really, then why did you extend your trip and who is the guy who came to drop you that night?”

Sayani, “Actually, Padi, I met an old friend, who is a big shot in your business and I discussed about the promotion of your project. She asked me to meet this guy in Mumbai, whom I met that day and he dropped me off. And, what I wanted to share, is this letter, which is the contract to showcase your movie in the International platform. I really wanted to help you. It was my repentance.”

There was silence, both did not have the courage to accept each other’s GIFT. Both of them knew what went wrong, and NOW, what they have to do.


This short story was an entry for Ravi Subramanian’s prompt for the month in the TOI Write India Contest.

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