The Message

©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved

9.25pm Sunday The phone rang six times before she heard the click signalling the onset of voicemail. A deep male voice spoke in a dull monotone. “You have reached Jeet and Siyaa. We cannot take your call right now. Leave us a message and we will call you back”. And then the faint beep signalling it was now her turn to talk.

“Jeet…..” she whispered. “It’s me.. Thank you for the other night. It ….it was wonderful. I will never forget….”. She hesitated, wondering if she should add something more. Her heart was beating so loud, she feared it could be heard at the other end. How would he react? Disbelief? Anger?

She hung up without another word and sat back. The deed was done.

*********** 9.20pm Sunday Twenty kms away, the key turned in the lock with a faint squeak and the door was pushed open. Jeet stepped in, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his palm. He placed his briefcase on the wooden cabinet, and quickly removed his shoes. The door to his daughter’s room was shut. He peeped in and smiled on seeing Simran fast asleep, her dark curls spread on the pillow like a fluffy cloud. Walking in slow motion with the exaggerated step of someone afraid to wake up his child, he bent and gently placed a light kiss on his daughter’s forehead. Just as gently, he tip-toed back out and closed the door with an almost soundless click.

“Siyaa?” he called out. He hoped she wasn’t once again on the phone, gossiping with some girlfriend. He often wished she was the kind of wife who ran out to greet her husband at the end of a long day at work. Sadly, it would never occur to Siyaa to do that. He slipped his hand into his pocket to remove his mobile and felt nothing. “Damn” he thought, wondering if he had forgotten it in the car. But no he hadn’t. Which could only mean one thing.

“Where have you been?” Siyaa asked, walking into the lounge room. She seemed a bit flustered.

“I had a meeting. Those partners visiting from Japan. I told you this morning”.

“Yes, you did”. She paused and stared at him. “Umm….did you have dinner?”

“Some light snacks. What’s for dinner?”

“Umm….what?” She glanced at her watch and then looked back at him.

“Siyaa, are you ok?”. She seemed unusually restless.

“Yes..yes…go have a wash…There’s some pasta. I’ll pop it in the microwave”

Jeet shrugged and then walked into the bathroom. He was just splashing water over his face when he heard the phone ringing. It rang four times before he realised Siyaa had not answered it. “Siyaa” he called in an annoyed tone, careful not to wake his sleeping daughter. “Get the phone”.

He rushed out, just as Siyaa strolled back into the lounge room. They were both too late. The click signalled that voicemail had been activated. A female voice began speaking into the silence.

“Jeet…..It’s me…Thank you for the other night….It was wonderful….I will never forget”.

Siyaa froze. She stared wild-eyed at the phone as her jaw dropped in disbelief. Jeet was rooted to the spot, staring at the phone, a look of pure horror on his face.

For a few seconds which stretched like a lifetime, neither spoke. The answering machine whirred and then clicked to show whoever had left the message had now hung up.

“Siyaa…..” he said finally, his voice breaking.

She turned towards him, her eyes narrowed into thin slits. “You coward!” she said, in a low,angry snarl. She felt a slight dizziness come on, and the room spun drunkenly.Her husband’s face blurred as she fought back tears. “Who….who was that on the phone?

“Siyaa…..I…this is crazy…I don’t know who that is”.

“So this is what you get up to when you stay out late most nights…” she said, her voice rising. Jeet threw a worried glance at the closed door. He took a step forward to touch Siyaa but she pushed him away roughly. “Don’t touch me, Jeet. Dont – touch – me. Who is she?”

“Siyaa….Believe me……I…I…”

*************** ONE DAY BEFORE**************

Siyaa had never been so bored in her life. Bored in her marriage, bored with motherhood….bored with life! “Nothing exciting happens anymore”, she groaned like a petulant child to her friend Ruhi. “Jeet must be the most boring husband in the world. No flowers, no dates, no surprises.He is so…so predictable”

“You need to spice it up, Siyaa.” Ruhi said, checking her freshly polished nails for any visible flaws. She was getting a bit impatient with Siyaa these days. Whine, whine, whine. That’s all she did when they met. She wondered how Jeet put up with her.

Siyaa had been fun during their college years. A string of boyfriends, an overflowing social diary and membership to the coolest clubs in town meant Siyaa was inevitably the belle of the ball. No one quite figured out why she accepted , with only the slightest hesitation, Jeet’s marriage proposal.There had been no dearth of suitors. Jeet was not traditionally handsome, certainly not rich, and not welcomed by her ‘high-society parents”. She had always been a rebel, and her parents curt dismissal of Jeet only served to increase his allure.

Siyaa continued her wild ways throughout the early years of marriage. While Jeet worked long hours to keep up with his wife’s penchant for diamonds and designer dresses, Siyaa partied late into the night. She smoked and flirted and drank. Often Jeet would arrive several hours after the party was in full swing. He would have a quick bite and then seeing Siyaa a bit worse for wear after too many vodkas masquerading as orange juice, would gently lead his reluctant wife home. Ruhi suspected Siyaa had had an affair with an old flame somewhere along the way, although she wasn’t game to confront Siyaa. The affair had died a natural death as soon as the young man in question began using words like ‘commitment’. Siyaa enjoyed the chase and the brush with danger.

When Siyaa fell pregnant in the fourth year of her marriage, she irrationally blamed Jeet for trapping her. “Typical middle class thinking. A man who wants his wife barefoot in the kitchen and pregnant” she snarled at a bewildered Jeet, as she held up the thin tube with the blue line that told her, without doubt, that her carefree life was over.

The imminent arrival of her daughter brought about only the slightest hint of change. Siyaa stopped smoking at the end of the first trimester, chastened by her doctor who warned her about the perils of harming the unborn baby. She gave up the vodka and tried to put behind her her glorious youth. For a while, it seemed little Simran had transformed her mother into someone who was a mere shadow of her former self. But before long, Siyaa went back to the only kind of life she had grown up knowing. She hired a babysitter, and dragged a reluctant Jeet to increasingly regular parties. Afraid to lose the only woman he had ever loved, Jeet went along most nights. His only condition was that Siyaa would be her daughter’s constant companion during the day.

Ruhi was startled out of her reverie when she felt Siyaa’s arm on her shoulder. “What do you mean spice it up?” Siyaa asked.

“Your marriage. You need to…well…do something”

“Like what?” Siyaa demanded.

“Oh, I don’t know….have an affair..maybe?” Ruhi glanced sideways at her friend.

“Nah…”

” I don’t know, Siyaa”, Ruhi threw up her hands. “Do something. You used to play enough pranks in college. You should know. You were always daring us to make those prank calls to your boyfriends”

It was true. Ruhi had lost count of the number of times she had called Siyaa’s boyfriends, pretending to be a besotted admirer.”Ask him for a date”, Siyaa would whisper, giggling like a schoolgirl. As expected, the boyfriend would stutter and proclaim undying love for Siyaa, thus convincing her he was beyond temptation.

Suddenly Siyaa sat up, her eyes gleaming. Ruhi looked back, an unease beginning to creep through her bones. She knew she was not going to like what Siyaa was going to say.

“Ruhi”, Siyaa grabbed her friend’s hand. “Do it again. One last time. Call him and pretend”

Ruhi pulled back her hand in horror. “Are you mad? You want me to call Jeet?. I can’t…He will know my voice…and I…I cant”

“You can”, Siyaa had a wild look in her eyes. “C’mon, muffle your voice with a hanky. He won’t know”

Ruhi stared at her friend.

*****************

9.45pm Sunday

Siyaa stared at her husband and wondered how much longer she could continue this charade without giving the show away. She was going to burst out laughing any moment. Ruhi had been brilliant. Her voice modulation had been so ingenious that even Siyaa had found it hard to recognise.

She decided to give it one last shot before confessing the prank. She was going to pack in the punch.

“You’ve been having an affair?” She let her voice tremble, and was pleased with how she sounded. She had watched enough movies where the wife confronts an erring husband to know the exact tone of a jilted spouse.

“Siyaa, this is ridiculous. Someone leaves a crazy message, and you start acting insane”. Jeet’s face had turned a brick red. He kept turning to look at the phone as if it would ring again and spring another nasty surprise on them.

“Siyaa, I’ll be late today. I’m in a meeting” Siyaa mocked, imitating her husband’s voice. “How often have you lied to me, Jeet? How often?”

They stood glaring at each other across the room like two lone warriors. She was now warming up to the game and beginning to quite enjoy herself.

“Where were you this evening?” Siyaa asked, trying her best to sound outraged. “Who were you with?”

“Siyaa….I have already told you….”

“Oh yes, of course.” Siyaa slapped her forehead as if suddenly remembering. ” The meeting! The wonderful meeting. How could I forget? Silly silly Siyaa.” As she spoke, she jabbed Jeet in the chest with her fore finger. “You’re having an affair, aren’t you?” Her last words galvanised him into action.

“For Gods’ sake….” he yelled, no longer caring about waking his daughter. With a sudden spin, he turned around and stormed out of the house, banging the front door through which he had walked in only a few minutes ago.

The silence was deafening.

Siyaa stood alone and bewildered. The unexpected had happened. Why had Jeet left the house? If only he had waited another minute, she would have thrown her arms around him and confessed.She heard his car throttle down the driveway, crushing the silence of the night with the angry screech of tires.

Where could he have gone? Would he drive around the block, trying to calm his nerves? But…but…why was he so angry?

“Silly man” she muttered, now genuinely upset over what she considered to be pure childishness on his part. “No common sense. No sense of humour. I should have never married him”. She began dialling his mobile phone. In the past, whenever they had argued, Jeet would refuse to answer his phone if she tried to reach him. It was his way of punishing her for having been unreasonable. “Typical” she mumbled into the phone as it began ringing. She knew he wasn’t going to answer. That was alright. She would leave him a nasty message. How dare he simply walk out of the house so late in the night? The phone rang six times. She clenched her fist and opened her mouth to speak.

On the seventh ring, there was a light click and a voice….a female voice….spoke with barely disguised laughter:

“Calling from the residence itself. Darling, is wifey not home today?”

There was a long silence, as Siyaa listened in shock.

“Jeet?” the unknown caller asked, and now there was hesitation in the voice.

With a light click, Siyaa disconnected. She walked slowly to her bedroom, and lay down on her side of the bed.

In the darkness which was faintly illuminated by the reflection of the street light glowing through the window, the wife waited for her husband.

Suite 904, 84 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000

1300 064 232

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