Ajay Patnaik, a young lad of twenty was bad at most of the things people expect a person of his age to be good at. He was disinterested in studies, was not very athletic thus not good at sports either, had no interest in extra-curricular activities either, had no significant hobbies that society finds as meaningful. He was not good in relationships either – young girls did not find him interesting, elderly folks found him irritating, his friends found ways to avoid him. He was good at being bad, but he was not a bad guy. He lacked any ambitions and his mental construct was such that always stayed in the present – he lacked the ability to work hard for a better future and hardly did he ever repent.
However, he’d one trait that made him remarkable. He found married women interesting, that is still not very unusual for a bachelor of his age, but he had this special ability and inclination to forge the good friendship with their husbands as well. He imagined the horror when he thought of being associated with unmarried young girls of his age. He did not have the special skill some men have to be able to handle more than one woman at the same time, anyhow he did not have any interest or endurance for multi-tasking.
There was one especial favorite woman, who’d impinged upon his heart at that time, Maya who stayed just a few doors away from his house. Maya was buxom with long, black hair that cascaded down to her knees and that gave a clear impression that she was not tall. There was something about her eyes, even with her spectacles on, which Ajay found very charming — her glances were like a gentle drizzle, endless, softly soaking and leaving him longing for more. It gave the young lover a relishing thrill merely to hold her hands. It’d be redundant to comment here that she was married because otherwise, she’d not have caught Ajay’s attention.
The inherent attraction that Ajay had for this married woman was duly reciprocated by Maya. Her quick consent had given him an easy access to her life, which was further aided by her husband’s job which demanded that he spent at least two-thirds of the month traveling to the villages in the state. Natta Sahoo served as an ‘Inspector of Schools’ for the state education department in Kalahandi, a remote district of Odisha. He’d been allotted government quarters at Bhawanipatna, but Maya was not too willing to move there leaving the comforts of Bhubaneswar, the state capital. Natta had no heart to disappoint his wife, who was already leading a depressed existence.
Though married with Natta for almost eight years, Maya was still childless. This kept Natta constantly sad and worried. He would visit all kinds of people and places, supposed to have healing powers, hoping for a miracle – Tantriks, astrologers, godmen, temples in tough terrains, Pir babas – but never a proper medical practitioner. It may be for a reason that he was apprehensive of his own shortcomings, his weaknesses.
To his great satisfaction, Ajay found everything that a man seeks for in this arrangement; love, companionship, bed and board, even marital bliss without actually getting married. He also found respect, which none else had ever given to him. And because they were not husband and wife, there was nothing to fight over. In short, Maya pampered him more than anyone else he ever knew.
The few days when Natta would be home deprived Ajay of his pleasures on which now he had a major share. That did not mean that Ajay would not visit Maya. Owing to his special attachment that Ajay had with both Maya and her husband, he’d still spend a lot of time at their home even while the man of the house was in the town.
Natta a bald man in his late thirties was an intellectual to the fault, well read and informed of what was happening in the world around, though not completely aware of everything within his own house and provided him with good company. Ajay was careful not to poke his nose in their familial affairs, especially when the couple quarreled.
In this iniquitous triangle of relationship, the married woman had more experience than her young lover and far more adventurous than her husband. She had a way of relating to Ajay that no one ever knew —that was not mere seduction — not even her spouse.
In this bond between of forbidden desires and pleasure, though the roles were not clearly defined yet there never was an element of friction. Maya’s wish invariably was the same as her lover’s wish. When Maya wanted it, that something was always done or gotten, Ajay always obliged, never forced anything. A mild hint was a good enough guiding communication. When Maya would take off her glasses to cover her eyes with a look of naughtiness, they would do it. When she bit her nails, it meant a license for crossing the forbidden line. In the first few months of their affair many times, she felt the extreme urge of biting her nails and at other times she would do it with a sense of guilt as if she had done something wrong.
Then she would say to her lover in a low tone:
“Leave the house now.”
And he would leave, she walking quickly would bolt the door behind him trying to shut him out of her life. Then she’d look for him through the window as he got into the street with sadness. And then she would heave a sigh of relief as if she just escaped an unknown crisis.
Sometimes she would ask him with a look of a strict warden of a ladies hostel as if catching a girl-student red-handed late in the night trying to stealthily enter the building premises:
“What if you’re caught with me? What do I say to your parents?”
Ajay would look back at her sheepishly, shamefaced searching for an answer to a question which never warranted an answer at the first place. He’d turn anxiously to her with a nervous smile, expecting help from the more experienced partner:
“You tell me. I have no clue”
Then she would burst out with a sinister laughter, that’d even scare the devil:
“Why I would defend you, you scoundrel”
He would reply without words, just shaking his head helplessly like a beggar who’s been refused alms.
And she would hug him to console him, as an elder does to a kid, with reassurance, perhaps also with passion, craving, and nervousness. She knew it well how being insecure feels like.
This convivial phase of their lives went on for a few months.
Once it happened that upon entering Maya’s room, Natta noticed a bright new appearance to the place. It was unmistakably cleaner now. Her room, an attic containing two chairs and a bed, was filled with strange objects never seen before – pink bedsheets and quilts printed with animation characters, toys which only kids can play with, a framed photograph of a smiling kid clinging to his mother, bunches of good smelling herbs and neem leaves hanging from nails and lots more.
Natta noted: “Our house wears a new look, Maya”
On hearing Natta’s voice Maya, almost fainting with a mixed emotion of fear and dismay, settled down on a chair and blurted:
“Oh, dear, there is a piece of good news.”
Now, it did not take much of a guesswork to find out the obvious. Natta was visibly elated with the news; it was more of a relief. There was no space left for suspicion in his brain, filled to the brim with excitement and other joyous emotions.
Still, for the sake of continuing with the conversation, he asked:
“Why don’t you tell me that? I want to hear from you”
She blushed and replied:
“Natta you are going to be a father soon.”
This was the news Natta had been hoping for all his married life. He gave her a long kiss and said in an endearing tone:
“I love you, Maya.”
Maya, still in the embrace, was devising ways how to avoid Ajay, in fact how to throw him out of their lives – her life and Natta’s life.
Two days later, the door knocked, few minutes after Maya’s husband left the house. The door opened and Ajay appeared. At once, even before Ajay could speak a word, she cried:
“Listen, you better stop meeting me!”
Typical of a man who’s suddenly deprived of his rights on a woman, he protested:
“But this is not done. You have to tell me a good reason why we should separate. Did I ever reveal anything to others? Did I ever try to take advantage of you? ”
Ajay had the advantage of being a man in a world dominated by men, but a woman always has the right of refusal. Maya interjected:
“I think it was a mistake. That is all I wanted to say to you. Now I daresay, you don’t ever meet me again.”
This difficult conversation, which lasted for some more time with many demonstrations by the male lover, ended with a big stretch of silence and the lovers decided to separate. Maya, all tears, was convinced that this was the best thing to do. It was a strange feeling that she had; it made her wretched to part from him and yet she was relieved when she could extract a promise from Ajay to separate. Ajay left the town, his parents as soon as he was able to in search of better opportunities and Maya had no communication with him for many years. Maya was not exactly sorry to see the last of him.
This was more than six years ago. In these six years, time did not exactly fly away but somehow continued as is the nature of this world.
Rearing of Tarun, the wonderful creature of love had added a new fundamental dimension in Maya’s life. Motherhood kept her busy. It was this turn of event, from which Maya developed a new meaning to her otherwise stodgy existence. Not that she complained much.
It was Tarun’s birthday. He’d turned six. Maya was a proud mother, but there was something about how he looked, which bothered her. The traits were unmistakable. With time, it’d grown more apparent. Even at this young age as he was, the resemblance was hard to ignore: his coloring, his eyes, his mannerisms and hair as silky as Ajay. Tarun looked the same as Ajay would have when he was six. There was nothing she could do to stop this. Obviously, she could not turn back time but she could at least take control of the present. It was time for Maya to act.
Tarun’s parents had arranged a small birthday party in the evening for him, which was now over. The night had fallen, unsure and silent, and Maya’s anxious mind treaded back into both horizons of time – past and future. She was smart enough to suit her actions in the crisis of the condition, but she wanted a long-term solution.
It’d been a busy day for Natta. Relaxation for him meant, retiring to his room. Since Tarun’s birth, he’d been sleeping in a different room. He entered the room to find books littered about. The litter also included newspapers and magazines.
Maya’s restless eyes finally rested upon Natta, who was busy cleaning his room. Walking slowly into his room, she joined Natta in cleaning up the room.
“The kids have created this mess, Natta,” Maya said, joining her husband.
Natta nodded gently “It’s ok. Is Tarun off to bed?”
She continued, thinking loudly:
“Oh dear, you look very tired. The touring nature of your job is taking its toll and
I know you are not getting any younger. Why don’t we relocate to Bhawanipatna?”
This was music to Natta’s ears.
“If you say so, Maya” Natta replied with a satisfied smile, altogether ignorant of his wife’s undisclosed intention and motives.
In a week’s time, Sahoo family had shifted to the new place, some 450 km away. The disaster had been averted, if not prevented, by the remoteness of the new place.
Debasis Tripathy always passionate about words, rhythm and rhyming, started writing seriously a little late. Since then, within a short span, he has had his writings featured with several reputed journals. To make a living he is stuck in very crowded city called Bangalore, where he is a married man with a clever son who asks difficult questions.