She paused on the street, suitcase at her feet, crying under her dark glasses.
She had spent an unpleasant morning packing a few rumpled clothes, old photos and a few faded letters, leaving it till almost the last minute, an hour before he was due to return.
She had no idea what she was doing but she knew she could not stay.
Where was she going to go? She could go to the bridge and throw herself into the murky waters, ending her miserable, useless existence. She might throw the suitcase in first and watch it split in indecent haste, exposing the entrails of her forgettable life, her clothes floating up in soggy puddles of black and grey.
The image in her mind nauseated her, but what else was left for her?
She picked up the suitcase and began to trudge through the hammer of the sun, down the noisy city streets. Hardly able to see where she was going, she bumped into someone.
“Usha?” he said.
She blinked at him and then she recognised him. Raghu, her first love, her crush in school, whom she had not seen since the day she graduated. He had hardly changed; older, of course, and expensively dressed.
He asked if he could buy her coffee and she said yes. He took her dusty suitcase. They walked to the corner cafe. She did not take off her glasses.
“You don’t look good,” he said.
Her voice shook when she said, “I’m leaving Anil.”
“Anil? You married him? But he…” his voice trailed off.
“I was a fool,” she said. “You always told me to keep away from Anil, didn’t you? You were right. I was stupid not to listen. He was everything you said — and more.”
“People change,” he said.
“And some people never do. I found a picture on Facebook — with another woman. They had their arms around each other, the way a man and a woman stand when they have shared a bed. I always suspected all those business trips. Now I know for sure.”
“Did you talk to him about it?”
She sighed, “Many times. He always accuses me of being paranoid.”
“And this time?”
“This time I told him it was no use lying any more. He hit me and told me I was the one having an affair. Me. Where do I do anything but work and keep house?”
The coffee arrived. He stirred his cup.
“It should have been you,” she said. “It could have been you.”
He smiled at her, “No, my dear, you were right to leave me. I was too wild and always in trouble.”
“I thought you would never spend a day sober and I thought Anil would give me wealth and security. Look at you now. What happened to you?”
He said quietly, “You did. When you walked out on me I thought my world has ended. Then I took a look at my life and determined to change. I have not had a drink since.”
She stared out of the window at all the people walking briskly as if life meant something. She wondered what her life would be like if she had followed her heart and not listened to all those who said Raghu was a disaster waiting to happen, that Anil was the up and coming one. She had loved them both and gone with Anil.
But then, if she had not left Raghu, would he have changed at all? Oh, the ironies of life.
“Are you married?” she asked him.
He smiled, “Yes, happily married. Two kids. Run my own company. Life is very good.”
Were there actually happy people in the world? He showed her the pictures on his phone. His wife and the children, laughing.
“I’m such a complete failure,” she said, her eyes tearing up again.
“Listen to me.” He leaned across the table. “You’ve taken a very brave step and there is a whole new life ahead of you. He is the failure, not you.”
“Do you really think so?’
There was anger in his tone, “I know him only too well.”
The phone in her purse began to ring. She took out the cheap shiny thing and laid it on the table. It kept ringing then fell silent.
He smiled. “One day you’ll look back at this new beginning. One day you will find happiness again, just as I did.”
Was it possible to ever be happy? There was nothing in her but a great echoing emptiness. Her marriage had scoured her clean of love, of caring, of everything but despair.
Yet, the dark had ebbed a little. “Thank you.” she said, “I needed that.”
“What will you do now?”
The bridge seemed far away. There was a part of her that still clung onto the suitcase, as if there were a thin thread of hope packed among the folded clothes.
She had an aunt who was alone and would welcome her.
“Perhaps,” she said, “it’s not all over.”
“I wish there was some way I could help.”
About to shake her head, she paused. The cell phone in front of her was ringing again.
“This is about all he ever gave me,” she said, pushing it across the table to him. “He bought the cheapest one he could find.”
He looked at it, puzzled, as the ringing stopped.
“I’d be grateful. A ‘hallo’ will do.”
He began to laugh as he understood. “Oh, I can do better than that.”
“Just let it ring a few dozen times,” she said, “He will not give up.”
“Neither will I,” he said.
She imagined her husband’s face when he heard a man’s voice on her phone, and not just any man.
As she stepped out into the sunlight the day seemed pleasantly bright. She stopped, put down the suitcase, and took off her dark glasses.
Rohini Gupta is a writer who lives by the sea in Mumbai, India. Rohini says: “I have published nonfiction and poetry books and am now writing fiction. Flash fiction is keeping me happy while writing longer stories.” Rohini’s blog is at wordskies.wordpress.com.