“Won’t you ever shut up?” she grunted and said scornfully, “Let me do my work. You go and freshen yourself up.”
“I was just asking you to put my fresh pair of socks and also my daily crea—”
“Don’t tell me what to do! I know what to do. Go! Get out,” She said, her hands constantly folding and working. “This man doesn’t know how to stay quiet. It’s been more than fifty years with him and he still thinks he has to tell me everything. Oh God, grant him some brains!”
She zipped open a small, red suitcase and put inside a pair of dark pants and four light colored shirts. She rolled his socks and fitted it in one corner, and folded and piled four pairs of fresh underwear inside the case. Her bangles clinked every time her hands worked their way toward the suitcase from the bed and on and on until she zipped it and packed his bag. Then she walked to the kitchen to prepare his breakfast.
Her black slippers stuck to the soles of her feet when she stood and her feet pushed it down and it stuck back up again as she moved to and fro in the kitchen. Turning to watch the clock strike 9:35, she started getting the table ready for him. Five minutes later, when he arrived and sat on the table, she placed his medicines and a glass of water in front.
“Did you put my medicines in the bag?” he asked.
“Of course I was going to. What makes you think I’ll forget it?” she said without looking at him. He started laughing to himself, knowing very well that she had forgotten.
She got the box of medicines and put it inside the side pocket of his suitcase.
“What are you still laughing at?” She asked. “Eat quickly! They will be here soon.”
“They’ll be here in 20 minutes. And I will have plenty of time to catch some highlights of yesterday’s match. I had slept watching it an—”
“Yes, yes. Well if you don’t stop talking you will not only miss the highlights but you’ll also miss the train.” She said while she poured herself some yogurt in a bowl and placed two pieces of bread in her plate.
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay,” He said. “You worry a lot. I will be back in no time. You’ll not even know I was gone…”
“Why will I miss you? Someone please make this man stop talking,” She said as she began nibbling on her breakfast.
They ate in silence and as soon as he was done, he washed his hands, wiped them and walked across the hall in his pale yellow shirt tucked inside his brown pants that stuck around his stomach with a broad, black belt. He almost had no belly but enough protrusion to contain and soak drops of daal that fell from his spoon almost every night whenever he ate. Today the spherical stains were of yogurt. He reached for the remote and turned on the TV and sat there with his feet up on the table and right index finger changing the channel.
He almost slept again while watching the highlights of the previous night’s match; his loose, saggy cheeks fell from his still face as he slumped low and the loose muscles of his neck formed layers that were non-existent when his posture kept erect. But he couldn’t quite drift into smooth slumber for he was startled up in a second by her shrilling voice.
“Oh God! Look at the time! They’ll be here in a minute! Go get your socks on and shoes. What are you doing there? Are you sleeping? Tell me you’re sleeping and I’ll not spare you!” she said as she came closer to look at him. His spectacles reflected bright flickering lights from the TV and as she leaned closer, she saw big, grey eyes staring back at her.
“Put your shoes on and I’ll get your bag,” She said as she walked across the hall to their room.
Few minutes later, they were in their backyard. He was carrying his little suitcase and she carried a small bag of food and cold water bottles.
“I will get Prasad for you. I will also get some for our daughters…” he said while they walked.
“Yes, okay. Don’t stand for long else your knees will start disturbing you. Don’t be out in the Sun for too long else you will get sick. Don’t get lost in the crowd, hold their hands when you walk. Don’t miss your address book at any cost. And don’t talk much or you will ruin the whole trip,” She said while they reached outside where four of his friends were waiting for him in a white van.
“Okay, okay. I will be back soon,” He said as he climbed into the rear seat and she stood there and almost whispered, “Stay safe…”
And so they drove away. He’ll be back soon, she told herself.
She went back upstairs alone and on her way, she picked his favorite mogras from the garden below and soaked them in a bowl of water and placed it on their bedside table.
She began with her chores of the day and it wasn’t until later that afternoon that she got it all done.
It was Friday and she remembered that a special one hour episode of her favorite soap opera was going to air that day and so she sat in the living room watching TV in her loose, faded night-gown that she wore in summers. She watched it all while having lunch and she kept watching until she fell asleep.
At night, before retiring to bed when she pulled out the bedside drawer to keep her spectacles in, she remembered that she had forgotten to put his daily creams and oils in his suitcase. She sat down, motionless, for a few minutes. How could she have forgotten?
That night, she slept restlessly.
So, the days passed with her daily chores occupying her all day and different soap operas keeping her mind busy. And then came Sunday. Sundays were like holidays for them both. He used to watch TV all day and she used to spin woolen dresses next to him, or cut raw mangoes for pickle, or sew the hems of her old dress, or something or another.
This Sunday, however, she embraced the silence of the house. Sitting in the same sofa now with red wool in her hands, she looked across to the empty seat. Emptiness filled the voids in her heart. She had never realized how these years had passed only because of his long, tiring conversations. She had never known how much his unnecessary dialogues were so much necessary to her. She had never fathomed how his quirks were her essentials. Over these years, this was the first time they were separated for these many days and she had never realized how his presence had always and always filled the blank spaces and the silences in her heart. She was engaged in her thoughts when the shrill sound of ringing telephone cut through the silence of the house.
She walked towards the telephone to answer. When she picked up the receiver, she heard his voice on the other end. She closed her eyes and let a sigh out and listened to him. His absence had enunciated her love for him and now her silence was doing the part.
After a while of talking, when her voice didn’t interrupt him or ask him to shut up, he stopped mid-sentence and asked her, “Hello, can you still hear me?”
“Yes, yes, I’m listening, go on,” she said.
After a moment of silence, he said, “Don’t miss me so much, I am coming soon…”
With a crack in her voice, she somehow said, “Oh, shut up!”