Wednesday, June 16, 2010

THE PROPOSAL Short Fiction – A Love Story

Short Fiction – A Love Story



I look at myself in the full-length mirror.

I like what I see.

Yes. I am beautiful, very beautiful, very very beautiful indeed!

No doubt about it. I always was a great beauty.

They say that a beautiful woman often has a tragic life.

Does tragedy always come from being a great beauty?

I don’t know whether this is universally true, but certainly, I have had a very tragic life. But I will not tell you too much about it right now and spoil my mood.  Now I will look into the mirror and admire myself, my exquisite body.

Not many women close to forty can stand in front of a mirror with so much pride and assurance. A woman in full bloom. I admire my perfect body; almost fall in love with my own body. Like Narcissus.

Suddenly I experience a tremor of anxiety as I see the first signs of the process of ageing. Infinitesimal. Almost indiscernible.  But indisputable.

Two minute furrows on my forehead, the slight coarsening of the skin below the eyes, the almost unnoticeable heaviness of the abdomen with its suggestion of fold….

I can easily cover them up. With make-up. And the right dress. But for how long can I wear a mask?

Time is running out for me. Sameer could be my last chance. I’m already regretting that I had put the matter so lightly the last time we had met, and before that. Tonight is my probably my last chance – I have to go in for the kill.

Love Trap. 

What a phrase to use.

But that’s exactly what I’m going to do – ensnare Sameer in my Love Trap and move in for the kill.

Like a predator.

For the first time in my life I would use my beauty to my advantage, not to be taken advantage of – like it happened all these years.

I was just 19, a fresh graduate wondering what to do in life, when my elder sister Nisha died in childbirth, leaving behind a newborn girl and a young heartbroken husband, Ashok.

We, my mother and I, went to stay with Ashok in Mumbai to nurse the baby girl and after a few months named her Smita – as she was a cheerful smiling baby.

From time to time, especially on weekends, my father, who was still working at that time, would come over from Pune, and I could see that he was getting quite irritable having to stay separate from his long-married wife though he didn’t say it.

One day Ashok proposed to me – actually he asked my mother for my hand in marriage.

My mother was overjoyed. She put lovingly her hand on my arm, looked into my eyes and said, “Ashok loves you, wants to marry you. He’s still young, only 27. He needs a wife. And Smita needs a mother.”

“Yes, Smita needs a mother,” I said tightly holding the baby wondering what would happen to the hapless baby is Ashok remarried someone else.

My mother spoke to my father. He agreed – to him it seemed quite a logical thing to do and maybe he was relieved that his much-married wife would be coming back to live with him.

So I got married to Ashok and I put on hold all my immediate dreams of higher studies, a career.

How should I describe my marriage?

No expectations, no disappointments, no role-ambiguity, a cordial relationship, a happy family, a blissful marriage – at least from the outside.

Children? Our children. Ashok’s and mine.

It just didn’t happen. With Nisha’s death, a little something in him had died. He must have loved her very much, intensely.

I accepted the situation with grace and tried to focus on being a good wife and a doting mother. As Smita grew older Ashok encouraged me to study, do an MBA, and start a career.

Ashok was married to his job. Things were fine, till one evening Ashok came home and broke the news that he had been passed over for promotion.

Ashok was shattered. He had worked sincerely, slogged hard, given his life for his career. He had remained loyal to his company without getting loyalty in return.
He felt terribly betrayed. For Ashok, after Nisha had gone, his career meant everything, and he just couldn’t take it, being sidelined in his career, having to work under his erstwhile juniors.

He just could not cope with this setback, so he tried to find solace in alcohol.

Within months he slipped into the abyss of alcoholism.

From a workaholic he became an alcoholic, bitter, cynical, and one day my world disintegrated. 

Ashok died in a car accident, driving home drunk.

I wish he had died in some better way.

So after eight years of marriage I found myself at the age of 27 with an 8 year old Smita, the light of my life, single, but not helpless as I was doing quite well in my career as a bank executive.

And now, Smita was 20, already working in my bank, and doing her MBA in the evenings, earning and learning, and I was so proud of her.

And then I fell in love – for the first time in my life I had fallen in love.

Let me tell you about it.

I still remember the day Sameer breezed into my office announcing that he would be working with me. “Hi, Nalini, I am Sameer, your new Deputy,” he announced superciliously, sitting down and lighting a cigarette.

“Put off that cigarette!” I shouted, “And don’t you dare come into my office unless I call you.

“Hey, Sweetie, you look red hot sexy when you are angry. My wife is going to be real jealous when I tell her how stunning my boss is,” he laughed mischievously.

“She won’t, when you tell her that your boss is a thirty five year old widow with college going daughter,” I retorted in anger and stormed out of my office to protest against his appointment for which I had not been consulted.

“Sameer is a genius,” my boss said, “the directors head-hunted him and managed to lure him over from our biggest rival with great difficulty. He’s going to rejuvenate your department…”

I got the message. This new man was a threat, and if I wasn’t careful it wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t leap frog over me or even ease me out.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, I didn’t know the culture was so formal out here,” Sameer was contrite when I returned; “I’ll maintain decorum in future.”

“It’s okay,” I said, and began to tell him about our work.

Sameer was extremely intelligent, knowledgeable, supportive, open, sincere, affable and great to work with, but initially I kept my distance, treated him with forced geniality, tinged with wariness.

It was only during his painful divorce with his wife living in Delhi, the seeds of which seemed to have been sown much earlier and maybe the reason why he had relocated to Mumbai, that is when we became close and I often lent him my shoulder to cry on.

It was inevitable that we fell in love – lonely buddies with a thirst for life, soul-mates, attracted to each other, office-spouses who now needed to become real spouses.

Normally a man is supposed to make the first move, and I waited for Sameer to propose, but maybe he was shy, being seven years my junior. But I had waited long enough, maybe he too had waited long enough, and…I shuddered to think…if I lost him…I was thirty nine…Sameer was my last chance…my only love…soon my daughter Smita would go away too…I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like a loveless lonely maid. 

I looked at the wall-clock. 7:30. Sameer would he here any time now to take me out for dinner.

Normally we take Smita out with us too, but tonight I had insist that only the two of us, Sameer and me, would go, and surprisingly Smita doesn't protest.

I put on the final touches of make-up, generously dabbed on my favourite perfume.

The door-bell rang. “Mummy, Sameer is here,” I heard Smita yelling.

I gave myself a final look in the mirror – I looked really gorgeous – yes, truly stunning, dressed to kill; I couldn’t have titivated better than this.

“Wow!” Smita said with delightful surprise in her eyes, “You look dashing!”

Sameer looked at me mesmerized.

He desperately tried to stop his eyes rove all over my body, even to places they it would be considered naughty.

“Hey, what’s with you two? Aren’t you going to go out fast and let me enjoy my TV and popcorn?” Smita teased.

Soon we were driving on Marine Drive towards our favourite restaurant, the best place for an unhurried romantic dinner.

“It’s a beautiful evening. Let’s sit by the sea,” Sameer said spontaneously, slowing down the car.

“I’d love to,” I said.

We sat close to each other on the parapet, facing the placid waters of the Arabian Sea, the lights of the ships in the distance, the twinkling stars in the clear sky above us, the sea breeze pure, refreshing.

“I want to say something…” Sameer hesitated.

“Say it!” I urged him.

“I wanted to ask…” he faltered.

“Ask. Please ask me,” I beseeched him.

Sameer looked at me, into my eyes, and said, “I want ask your permission to marry Smita. We love each other. We want to get married. I told her to tell you but Smita said I must ask you. She’ll do as you say…I promise I’ll keep her happy…” 

Sameer kept on speaking but his voice trailed off and his words did not register as my mind went blank...

Short Fiction – A Love Story 
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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