Sanjay knew that she was serious. “Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I'd say.”
“Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .” she rolled her eyes in disgust. “That's what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.”
“Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.” She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, “Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?”
“Well, you know as well as I do that he would never think of any woman other than you, don’t you?”
All men seemed to be experts at ducking uncomfortable questions. But she was too wise to the ways of men. She wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily.
“Did I ask about thinking? I asked about sleeping.”
“He has never mentioned any such thing to me.”
He was still trying to evade her. But she had not missed that slight hesitation in his tone.
“But you suspect he does, don’t you? I want to know. Tell me.”
“You should see from his point of view. You know how his job is like. He works eighty hours a week, traveling all over the globe meeting clients. Don’t you see how it must be for him? Being away from his loved ones all the time! Doesn’t he also need some relaxation?”
“So he gets his relaxation by sleeping around with every random bitch that comes his way? You admit that he is sleeping with her, don’t you?”
“How am I supposed to know? I am not his harem manager.”
“So it is not just her? He has a whole harem, eh? The filthy slime! I knew.”
“Why do you always draw such meanings from my innocuous words? I was just speaking in a general sense.”
“You and your generalities! Damn you! I am his wife. I need to know. He is sleeping with her, right?”
“Can’t you just let him be? Why unnecessarily subject him to the fidelity test all the time? He has been a good husband to you and a good father to Ajesh and Nandini. And as his friend I can tell you one thing - from the time of our college days, his love for you has not wavered a bit.”
That, of course, was something that she knew as well. Otherwise she would have left him long back. But then that was definitely no excuse for his dalliances. Men, however, always tended to stick strongly to each other and tried to find some reason or the other to justify each other’s follies.
“Are you saying I am the one who is being suspicious and paranoid all the time? And he is the incarnation of the God Rama? Not just you and I but the entire world knows what happened ten years back.”
“Why are you raking up old history? Haven’t you both put all that behind you? I thought you had forgotten and forgiven everything.”
She had forgiven him that time. But definitely not forgotten. Only a fool would forget and she was no fool. And given his history, for all his talk of healthy flirting, Sanjay also, in all likelihood, suspected that something was afoot. Or more likely he knew for sure. How could something like that escape the attention of someone who spent so much time with him? That was probably why he was avoiding any categorical avowal of his friend’s innocence, she conjectured. After all, he was basically an honest man. But then he probably did not want to betray his friend either. She could not blame him for that. However it was clear to her that how much ever she probed further, she was unlikely to gain any further information.
He tried to move closer to her and put his arm around her shoulder. But she recoiled away from him. “I don’t need any of your advice or sympathy. You leave at once!”
* * * *
His heart was heavy as his hands reached for the doorbell. He wondered if she had heard the news. How was he going to face her? She looked quite her normal self as she opened the door – the same calm, serene face that had been his strength and succor during all the ups and downs of life over a decade and a half. He walked straight to the couch and slouched down, burying his head into his hands.
She walked up to him and put her hands around his shoulders. “What happened, dear? You look completely devastated.”
He did not reply. She sat on the arm of the couch and gently stroked his hair. “Something wrong at work?”
He slowly raised his head and looked at her. The news clearly had not reached her yet. “I don’t know if you will ever be able to forgive me.”
“Me? Forgive you? What are you talking about?”
She had been so kind and understanding last time. But he had let her down all over again. How could he even expect her to forgive him?
“I have once again let you down.”
“What? Not a woman again? Don’t tell me. How could you? “
He didn’t know what to say. He had been really sincere in his repentance the last time around and had intended never ever to be unfaithful. But then somehow things had just happened and he was back in the same soup all over again.
She stepped away from him and turned her face away. “So who is it this time? Another of your East European office assistants?”
“You have the full right to completely disown me for what I have done. I am too ashamed to even ask you for forgiveness.”
“Indeed. So what is it this time? Again a law suit?”
“There is no law suit – just an article in the local tabloid by one of those busybody journalists. And those ungrateful wretches in the board acted real fast and evicted me from my own company.”
The thought of the company board members replaced his feeling of regret and shame with that of righteous rage. It was he who had worked day and night without rest over the last ten years to build up this company from scratch. He was the sole cause for the company’s success. And yet, the traitors had forgotten all his contributions and treated him like garbage, ejecting him unceremoniously without even giving him a chance to explain himself. As far as the company was concerned, he had not done a single thing that was wrong from a professional stand point. They had still cynically misused a small point in his contract to do him in.
How he had been wronged! How the whole world he had built with his blood and sweat had come crashing down like a pack of cards! Tears suddenly welled in his eyes and he leaned against the couch, hiding the copious flow from his eyes.
She turned and took a few steps towards him. “Well, if it is of any comfort to you, I would like to let you know that I am still with you as always. Whatever you think of our marriage vows, they matter a lot to me. And I won’t let you down in this time of distress.”
He hugged her tightly and continued to weep on her shoulder. “You are an angel. Truly! A selfless angel you are!” Despite all his betrayal she was the one who stood by him in the hour of need.
* * * * *
The café was in a part of the town that was unfamiliar to her. She had to stop the car and ask the way twice before she finally got there. There was no parking space. So she pulled the car in at one of the side roads and walked up to the café.
Sanjay rose to welcome her with a slight stiff smile
“I am glad you could make it.”
She felt strange meeting Sanjay in secret like this. What did he want? She had been surprised by his request. When she had asked the reason for the same, he had sounded cryptic. If it had been someone else, she would not have not even entertained something of this sort. But Sanjay was different. He was her husband’s best friend since MBA days and in some ways her friend too.
She nodded and proceeded to pull a chair, a quizzical expression on her face.
“Shall I order a Cappuccino for you?”
“A Mocha, please. So why did you want to meet me so secretively? You planning to divulge the country’s top defense secrets to me? The suspense is killing me.”
She gave an affected laugh to hide her nervousness. She had this strange ominous feeling about the meeting.
“Not a state secret – a personal secret. Let me straight away get to the topic. Bhaskar suspects that there might have been some foul play involved in his being exposed so suddenly and the way the board moved so quickly to expel him. He found some uncanny similarities between the set of incidents that happened last time and this time. So he asked me to investigate this matter for him.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “And you want to share the finding privately with me? Why?”
“I think you know why.”
Was he trying to blackmail her? “You bastard! What do you mean? That I am somehow involved in a conspiracy against my husband? I did not come here to be insulted.” She rose up with a jerk.
“Now, now, Maya. Relax! I could have directly gone to Bhaskar. But I chose to exercise discretion and have a word with you first. “
“So what do you want?”
“Nothing. I just wanted a quiet word with you.” What the hell was his game? It was not like him to play mind games. But then one could never be sure about anyone.
“Don’t speak in riddles. I have no time for all this nonsense. Get to the point.”
“Please sit down. I assure you I have always been a friend to you and Bhaskar and I have your best interest in mind too.”
She paused a bit and finally sat down.
Sanjay looked into her eyes for a few seconds and spoke. “I have clear evidence that you were the one who paid the reporter to write about his affair. Also, my people have hacked Wienman’s e-mail id and we have also found the anonymous mail you have sent him. We were able to trace the IP address to your home. The whole idea of using that minor clause in the contract to wreck his career was your brainchild, wasn’t it? “
So he had not been bluffing. What was she to do? What would Bhaskar do if he found out? Why had Sanjay come to her instead of straightaway taking the evidence to Bhaskar? He surely must be having something in his mind. She must put on a bold face or he would play on her fears. “Hacking is illegal. None of your evidence will stand scrutiny in court.”
“And I have no intention of taking anything to court either. I don’t even want to take it to Bhaskar unless it is absolutely necessary.”
“Fine! Spill the beans! What do you really want?”
“I just wanted to understand why you did it.”
She could sense his characteristic sincerity in his tone. “He was cheating on me. I was furious.”
“But you could have just left him?”
“Yes. I could have.”
She had planned to leave him. Not just leave him but file an expensive divorce suit and ruin him completely! But then….
“But you didn’t?”
“I felt sorry for him.”
Her heart had melted at the sight of him completely devastated. Despite all his failings, she knew in his heart of hearts he still truly loved her. She could not bring herself to rub salt on his wounds and add to his woes. Also she had felt guilty having been the cause for his downfall.
“Despite what he did to you?”
Tears streamed down her eyes. “But I still loved him.”
“I think I kind of understand what you are going through. I am convinced that I did the right thing by coming to you.”
“So what are you going to do? You don’t plan to share the result of your investigations with your best friend?”
“If I had wanted to do that, would I have had this meeting with you?”
“You will not tell him then?”
“No. I shall not.”
“Why? Would you deceive you best friend?”
“I would. Precisely for the reason that he is my best friend.”
She paused and looked at him for a while. An understanding nod passed between them. He called the waiter to pay the bill and they got up to leave.
“He loves you truly you know. Despite all his faults! I hope for your sake and his own sake, he will never stray again.”
“I hope so too,” she replied.