The morning after Karwa Chauth, Pammi woke at the same time she normally did. There was one big difference though; where she normally woke at the edge of the bed with at least a two foot distance between her and her husband, this morning she lay on Tej’s chest, his arms locked around her and with no space between them at all.
The feel of his hot skin along the length of her body was a sensation she wished she could savour but she was aware that soon the household would be rising; the new relationship she shared with her husband didn’t change her duties, nor would it be something to publicise. After all, they had been married for five years, it wouldn’t be decent to act as if they were newly-weds.
She tried to slip out of his arms but they were too tight around her; after a few moments of trying to get away without waking him, she realised that it wasn’t going to be possible. Leaning down, she whispered in his ear “Ji, aap mujhe chod dijiye, warna Beeji utth jayengi”
His arms contracted around her, holding her even closer for a moment, before Beeji’s name penetrated his sleep-drenched mind. His eyes opened and he looked at her for a moment, before saying “Beeji”
“Ji, Beeji. Agar maine Beeji ke liye chai nahin bheji to woh dekhne aajayengi”
His arms loosened and she managed to stand up, feeling an unfamiliar ache in various parts of her body. He lay still; for a moment she thought he had fallen asleep again then she noticed that his eyes were raking over her body. She blushed as she turned away; a moment later she noticed her dupatta lying on the floor so she picked it up and wrapped herself in it whilst she looked through the wardrobe and selected something to wear.
As she did every day, she left her clothes laid out on the bed ready to wear, then went in to bathe. When she came out wrapped in a towel a few moments later, she found her husband sitting on the bed next to her clothes. As she drew close, he put out an arm and drew her to stand between his legs, looking up at her for a moment before speaking
“Lagraha hai jaise aaj sab badla hua hona chahiye. Magar dekho; kuch bhi nahin badla. Tu jarahi hai chai banane, aur main jaaonnga kaam pe”
She smiled as she looked down at him “Nahin Ji, sab badal gaya hai. Aap nahin samjhenge ji, ke kitna badalgaya hai. Ab chodiye Ji, warna Beeji yahan tak aajayengi”
She drew away, blushing slightly as he watched her dress; as always she sat at the dressing table to comb her hair and tie her choti, but just as she was about to sweep her hair up to begin, Tej stepped up behind her and lay his hands on her shoulders.
“Choti banana zaroori hai kya? Itne din pehle maine tujhse kaha tha na, rehnde, main Beeji se baat karloonga. Magar tu phir bhi roz choti banati hai”
“Ji, itne kaamon mein baalon ko sambhaalna bahut mushkil hota hai, choti hi theek rehti hai.”
Before she could return to her task, he stepped round to her side forcing her to look up at him. Before she could say anything, he simply ran his fingers through a stray lock of her hair before moving away, saying “Aaj pata nahin mujhe kitni der hojayegi, kaafi sara kaam hai. Agar zyaada der hojaye to sojaana, khaana maine waise bhi bahar khaana hai”
She looked up at him, wondering if he even realised how much he had changed. Never once in five years had he told her what he was doing or when to expect him, always expecting her to be there to welcome him, a meal ready whether he ate it or not. Deftly finishing her choti, she said “Jaise aap kahen Ji”
Expecting him to start getting ready for his day, she looked at him questioningly as he watched her get on with tidying the room. Normally, she would have left all these tasks till he had left the house, but the bed was in such a state of disarray that she blushed to think what Lacchi would make of it.
As she finally completed all her routine morning tasks, he stood and watched her; finally she turned and said “Aap ko tayaar nahin hona hai Ji”
He stepped close, just enough for her to be able to feel the heat coming from the hard wall of his chest “Tu poore din kaamon mein lagi rehti hai”
“Nahin Ji, aisi koi baat nahin hai, ab to Lacchi ke saath aur bhi hain, pehle to pareshaan hojaati thi ke sab kaise karna hai”
She spoke without thinking, then stopped as the tension in his body communicated itself to her. Looking up into his glowering face she stammered “ab aisi koi baat nahin hai Ji, ab sab theek hai”
He shook himself slightly, trying to erase the anger from his face “Main tujhse nahin, apne se naraaz horaha tha. Itne saalon tak.........................”
Pammi knew he needed reassurance, but couldn’t bring herself to lie and say that she hadn’t minded or that everything had been fine; that wouldn’t have been fair to either of them. Instead, she took a breath and stepped close, leaning into his chest.
The unexpected sensation of his wife’s body resting against his stopped Tej’s mental self-flagellation. His arms encircled her and he rested his head on hers. A moment later, Pammi’s voice sounded in the silence “Ji, aap ko yaad hai na, aane waala kal accho ho, to beete hue kal ko yaad karne se kya faida”
He exhaled, then released her as she drew away.
“Chal, phir tu chal. Naasthe mein apne haath ke paraathe khilaayegi?”
Smiling she looked back as she walked towards the door “Aur nahin to kya Ji, aap ko kissi aur ke haath ke paraathe thodi na khaane doongi ab”
When he came downstairs a little while later, everything was the same. Beeji sat at the breakfast table with yet another cup of tea in front of her, all the other family members in their usual places around the table. Pammi stood as always, serving the others. As he walked towards her, she smiled; he almost smiled in response before he noticed that Lucky was staring at him and ended up glowering instead.
Her smile wavered, then vanished, and she fled into the kitchen, wondering what had happened. He watched her go, aware that she was hurt, wishing that it wasn’t so easy to fall back into bad habits. He turned and glared at Lucky, who immediately dropped his eyes, but before he could vent his anger, his phone rang; it was one of his foremen with some information that required his immediate action.
After a few curt questions, he rose, saying “Beeji, mujhe jaana hoga”
“Magar puttar, tu ne to naashta bhi nahin kiya abhi, khaa to le jaane se pehle”
“Beeji, mera jaana zaroori hai”
From the corner of his eye, he noticed Pammi emerging from the kitchen; their eyes met and held for a moment before hers dropped. For a moment he wished he could stop and talk to her, but he realised the whole family’s eyes would be on him if he did something so out of the norm so he turned and walked out of the house; the sight of her forlorn figure standing with a platter full of parathas stayed with him for the rest of the day.
As Pammi watched her husband walk away, she tried to remind herself of the night that had just passed, of the many promises (both spoken and unspoken) that had passed between them. She tried not to think about the fact that whilst she was falling ever deeper in love with her husband, he probably had no idea that she dreamed of having his love. She tried hard not to think about the many years where Tej had left the house in the same way, without a backwards glance towards her or seemingly even a thought of farewell.
Walking towards the table, she deposited the parathas and watched as they rapidly vanished (Lucky ate about 6, making her wonder when he was ever going to stick to a diet). She’d slaved over the hot tava with a smile on her face that day, aware that he’d asked her to make something for him for the first time in their married life; that smile had faded now. She sat and pretended to eat something, though the paratha tasted like ash in her mouth, listening to the chatter going on around her whilst wondering what was to come.
Beeji looked at the pensive face of her daughter-in-law and sighed; she wasn’t a sympathetic woman but there was something pathetic about the look in Pammi’s eyes. It was probably the same look that had been there many times over the past five years, though she had never paid any attention to it in the past. She sighed inwardly, aware that the tender emotions were an area where she had little experience (and if she were honest with herself, she didn’t really want to delve into her son’s married life). Keeping busy was how she dealt with all her own problems and stresses; with that in mind, she said “Pammi puttar, aaj bahut saare kaam hain, Diwali mein ab nau din hain, dekh sab tayyari acchi tarah se karni hai”
She began listing all the things they needed to do over the next nine days; after a moment Pammi joined in with some of her own ideas and by the time the breakfast dishes were cleared away, Pammi had a list of things that needed to be done that was enough to occupy her for the next few days without a break.
The day passed busily for both Tej and Pammi, both engrossed in their respective tasks. If Tej occasionally appeared slightly distracted, none of the people he worked with had an inkling that it was because he was thinking about Pammi more that day that he ever had before, most of them scrambling to correct the errors they thought he had seen. Pammi on the other hand was well versed in hiding her thoughts; she’d had years of practice hiding hurt and despair and frustration. She turned that experience to hiding her confusion and longing, carrying on her work whilst her mind went over and over what had happened over the past few weeks and what might happen in the future.
By the end of the day, they were both exhausted. When Tej returned home, he found the house shrouded in darkness. He walked past the kitchen on his way upstairs, aware of the gnawing hunger he’d been ignoring for hours; he could almost smell the parathas Pammi had made for him that morning.
As he approached his bedroom, he wondered if Pammi would still be awake, then shook his head as he realised how selfish a thought it was; it was well after midnight and he couldn’t expect her to stay awake when he had told her himself to go to sleep.
He opened the door as gently as possible and quietly walked in, then stopped dead as he saw Pammi asleep in the chair. Some of his exhaustion melted away as he looked at her, his gaze taking in the hair flowing down her back and the bare ears and neck. He walked forward and gently scooped her into his arms, feeling some of the tension leave his shoulders as he felt her soft warmth close to him. He turned and started walking towards the bed when her eyes opened.
“Ji aap, aap kab aaye”
He stopped as she spoke, enjoying the feel of her in his arms.
“Bas abhi aaya. Maine tujhse kaha tha na, sojaana. Tu abhi tak baithi hui kyun thi”
“Bas, aap ka intezaar karrahi thi.” Taking in the exhaustion on his face, she brought a gentle hand to his cheek. “Bahut thak gaye hain?”
He’d never realised before how good it could feel to have someone talk to him with such tenderness, never realised how a gentle touch could soothe away so many tensions. Turning his face into her palm, he closed his eyes for a moment, then said “nahin, kuch aisa khaas nahin, nahaaloonga to sab thakan door hojayegi”
As he started to walk towards the bed, she said “Aap ne kuch khaya?”
He opened his mouth to tell her that he had eaten, but before he could utter the lie, his stomach growled loudly. Realising that he could hardly deny it, he said “thodi bhook lagi hai, magar.......”
Before he could go on, she started trying to get down; his arms tightened around her as he said “Pammi, dekh tu pareshan mat ho”
“Dekhiye, aap nahaalijiye, mein itni der mein kuch laati hoon aap ke liye.” Before he could protest further, she gave a half smile and said “nahin to aap ka bhooka pet mujhe raat bhar sone nahin dega”
He let her down, realising that he wasn’t going to win this battle (and to be honest, he was hungry enough to not want to win). She whisked out of the room, leaving him to bathe and change into a crisp white kurta pajama. By the time he was ready, she was back bearing a tray with parathe and an omlette.
He sat and started eating; after a few moments he said “subha tere haath ke parathe nahin khaasaka; ab accha lag raha hai”
She gave a half-smile as he looked at her; he could see the questions in her eyes.
“Pammi, tujhe pata hai na, main apni baatein sab ke saamne............aur woh sab.”
She smiled as she realised that he was as uncertain as she was about exactly how to behave; the only difference was that Tejinder Singh couldn’t show any uncertainty to anyone, least of all her.
“Nahin ji, aisi koi baat nahin hai. Aap ko kaam se jaana pada, aap der thodi na karsakte the”
As he finished eating in silence, she stood to get him a glass of water; when she handed it to him, he held onto her hand before she could move away.
Without looking at her, he said “Pammi, dheere dheere aadat padegi mujhe. Thoda waqt lagega”
She looked down at him, aware of how difficult it was for a man like him to change such ingrained habits.
“Aap ko jitna waqt lage Ji, main to yaheen hoon. Bure mein bhi yaheen thi aur acche mein bhi yaheen hoon.”
He finally looked up at her, struck anew by the realisation of how much power he had over her and how great his responsibility towards her was. She withdrew her hand from his grasp and carried the tray out of the bedroom as he watched.
The thought crossed his mind that he still couldn’t read her, couldn’t tell whether she was just grateful because he had started treating her like a human being rather than a slave He couldn’t tell whether she actually felt any attraction towards him as a man rather than just as the man she was bound to whether she liked it or not. He’d hoped that she had some feelings for him, that it wasn’t just obligation that had brought her back, that it wasn’t just a need for human warmth and desire that made her respond to him the way she had the night before. But now he wasn’t sure.
He laughed to himself, wondering whether he’d let his own press go to his head—the great Tejji Singh didn’t expect to need anyone, didn’t expect to have to wonder whether his wife cared for him, didn’t expect to have to work to make her love him. He shook his head as he stood and walked to the bathroom to wash his hands.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, he looked into his own eyes as he admitted for the first time that he loved his wife; that he’d fallen for her hard and fast once he’d actually bothered to think of her as a person, not just an appendage. At least, he assumed this was love; he’d never felt anything like it for anyone else before, so he wasn’t really sure. All he knew was that he needed her smiles, her warmth, that he needed her.
But wasn’t it too much to expect her to love him too; after years of mistreating her, how could he expect her feelings to change from fear to love in a matter of weeks. Looking at himself in the mirror, his features obscured by darkness, all he could think was that he had to have her love. He couldn’t bear being this dependant on someone for his happiness if she didn’t need him as much too.
And so Tejji began plotting and planning; his new goal in life a simple one- to woo his wife into loving him.
As Pammi walked back into the bedroom, she breathed a sigh of relief as she realised Tej was still in the bathroom. She couldn’t quite understand the mood Tej was in; ever since she’d woken in his arms, she hadn’t been able to grasp what he wanted from her.
She jumped as he walked back into the room, missing the regret that crossed his face as he noted her slightly nervous response. He watched in silence as she turned back the bedspread, then walked over to the dressing table to brush out her hair.
A few moments later, she felt a gentle touch on her hair; her hand stilled as her eyes flew open to see him standing behind her.
“Mujhe itne saalon tak dehaan bhi nahin tha ke tere baal itne lambe hain” he said as he stroked a gentle hand through the weight of her hair. She shivered as his fingertips grazed her neck, her eyes closing again as she felt his breath tease at her ear.
All he said was her name, but she could hear the need and the heat. As she turned into his arms, she would have been shocked if she had looked at his face; she would never have thought that he would for one moment ever imagine that she would turn him away. But her eyes stayed closed; all she felt was the strength with which he drew her close and the hunger with which his lips sought hers. After a few moments there was no room for any other thoughts in her mind.
That night, Tej set out to use his body as a weapon in his fight to make Pammi love him; he forgot that he was a husband who could use his wife as he saw fit, instead following his instincts to worship the woman he had mistreated for so long. He wasn’t a practised lover, never having bothered to think about a woman’s pleasure before. But that night, as he had the night before, he ignored the clamours of his own body to listen to hers; paid attention to what made her sigh and what made her moan, persevered where she trembled and lingered when he made her gasp. He wasn’t a polished lover and any woman of experience may well have laughed as he learned his way around her body, but to Pammi who had never before experienced anything similar, it was as if she had been transported to another world filled with joy. Her absolute vulnerability to his touch was a revelation, every gasp of pleasure making him feel like a king. By the time she reached her peak, he had been driven to the brink of madness; when he finally reached his culmination, it was more intense than anything he had experienced before.
That next day was almost a repeat of the day before—Tej spent the whole day away from home, dealing with business, whilst Pammi spent the day dealing with preparations for the upcoming Diwali celebrations. The night again passed with them locked in each other’s arms; it was as if Tej was determined to make up for every moment of pleasure he had denied her over the past five years. He held onto his control whilst driving her over the edge again and again, hoping against hope that her control would falter and he would miraculously be able to see the love he craved in her eyes. Little did he realise that Pammi was fighting as hard as she could to keep her emotional shields in place- her husband may have suddenly realised that the way he had treated her was wrong, that life could be infinitely better than it had been, but that didn’t mean that he loved her or that he would welcome any declarations of love from her. It was much likelier that he would retreat into his shell, revert to his old behaviour if he felt that she was going to start clinging or expecting things that he wasn’t willing to give. So she buried the words deep, expressing her love through every caress and kiss she gave him instead. When sleep finally overcame them, their dreams were remarkably similar- if only they had known it.
The third morning after Karva Chauth, Pammi woke as she had for the last two mornings; wrapped in her husband’s arms. It was odd how easily she had become used to sleeping plastered to his hot body; despite years of being used to at least a foot of distance between them, she’d become accustomed to his embrace ridiculously quickly. (A quiet voice inside her head told her that it was because this was how she had always dreamed he would hold her, a prince guarding his beloved even whilst she slept).
She woke before him as always, but this morning she was aware that it was pain that had woken her, a heavy crampy sickening pain low down in her abdomen. As she realised what it was, a pang went through her as she realised that her brief period of revelling in this new physical proximity to Tej was at an end.
Pammi lay there quietly, hoping that the discomfort would ease enough to allow her to stand but within a moment or two, a wave of intense pain shot through her, bad enough to make her gasp. The small noise penetrated Tej’s sleep-drenched mind, and his eyes flew open to the sight of his wife’s pale face. Her lips were tightly compressed, as if to stop any moans from escaping.
“Pammi, kya hua? Tu theek hai” he rasped, his voice still husky with sleep.
“Nahin Ji, sab theek hai, bas aap mujhe utth ne dijiye” she said.
The urgency in her voice got through to him and he loosened his hold, then watched as she ran to the bathroom and proceeded to vomit violently. When she emerged a few minutes later, he saw how she was clutching her lower abdomen and got up quickly; walking over to her, he scooped her off her feet and brought her over to the bed.
She gave a wan smile and said “Ji, aap ko thodi zyaada hi aadat hogayi hai mujhe uthane ki, main bilkul theek hoon. Ab chodiye mujhe, main jaake Beeji ke liye chai banadoon, warna woh mujhe dekhne aajayengi”
“Tu kya kehrahi hai Pammi, teri tabiyat theek nahin hai, dekh mein tere liye doctor ko bulata hoon, tu bas yahan araam kare”
“nahin ji, koi doctor ki zaroorat nahin hai. Yeh to hota hi hai, kal tak theek hojaoongi”
He grimaced as he realised what the problem was (he was a farmer after all), then continued frowning as he wondered how he had been blind enough to not know that she suffered this way every month. Cursing himself, his actions and even his mother for the lack of care that had been taken with the pale woman in front of him over the last five years, the scowl on his face growing deeper and deeper until Pammi stammered “Ji, aap ko koi pareshaani nahin hogi. Aap..............aap naraaz mat ho Ji, aap ko koi kasht nahin hone doongi”
Realising that she had misunderstood and thought that he was angry at her rather than at himself, he looked down at the woman he still held in his arms and tried to change his expression into one that appeared a little less intimidating.
“Main tujhse naraaz nahin hoon”
Placing her gently on the bed, he watched as she curled into a tight ball in an attempt to combat the pain, then strode over to the door; opening it briefly, he shouted for Lacchi then pulled on jeans and a kurta. Walking over to the bed, he stood looking down at Pammi until he heard Lacchi at the door. After giving her brief instructions about Beeji’s chai and then telling her to get on with things without troubling Pammi at any point during the day (he ignored the shocked look she gave him), he went to Pammi’s side and sat next to her on the bed.
“Pammi, tere paas koi dava hai”
She nodded, saying “Ji, woh daraaz mein hai, magar mein leloongi, aap ko der hojayegi”
Without a word, he went over to the drawer and retrieved the tablets he found, then poured a glass of water to hand to her. When she slowly sat up in bed, he gave her the tablets; as she swallowed them down he said “Pammi, main ab woh Tej nahin raha jiss ne itne saalon tak tere dard ko nazar andaaz kiya. Teri fikr hai mujhe, teri tabiyat kharab hai to main pareshaan hoon-naraaz nahin.”
When she didn’t say anything, he sighed softly, aware that it was unrealistic to expect her to trust him so quickly.
“Aaj araam karna, main Beeji se kehdoonga ke teri tabiyat theek nahin hai”
Leaving her curled on the bed, he showered and dressed; as he retrieved his keys and phone from the dressing table, he saw in the mirror that she had fallen asleep. Trying to make as little noise as possible, he crept out of the room then made his way to his mother’s sitting room.
Beeji was sitting reading the day’s newspaper whilst waiting for her morning tea. She looked up with surprise when she saw that it was Tej carrying in her tea “Arre Teji puttar, tu yeh kyun laya, Pammi aur Lacchi donon kahan hain”
He put the tea down where she would be able to easily reach it, then sat next to her “Beeji, Lacchi to kaam sambhaalrahi hai, Pammi ki kuch tabiyat kharaab hai to maine usse araam karne ko kaha hai”
“Tu ne doctor ko bulaya, puttar, Pammi ki tabiyat kabhi pehle to aise kharaab nahin hui”
“Nahin Beeji, ussne mana kiya, uss ke paas jo dawaaein theen maine dedeen; magar agar shaam tak theek nahin hui to main uss waqt bulaloonga. Agar hosake to ussko zara ek do dafa dekhlena, maine usse aaj araam karne ko kaha hai”
He stood, looking irritable “Main chalto hoon Beeji, kuch zaroori kaam hain”
As he stalked out of the room, Beeji finally let her inner amusement show on her face. How much difference a short time could bring. The same Tej who only a few months ago couldn’t have cared whether Pammi had any rest or whether she worked for twenty four hours non-stop, that same Tej didn’t want his wife to be disturbed today. Beeji laughed, glad there was no one to see her reaction; she was glad that there was some tenderness entering the family, some of the softer emotions- it seemed that her initial purpose in bringing Pammi into the family was finally being fulfilled.
It was good that Tej had changed; looking at him now, at the difference in him, she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t seen it before, hadn’t seen how close he was to becoming another version of Brij Handa. Babaji ka shukr tha, that Maan and Geet had come when they had; their presence had changed so much, had shown them all that strength in a man didn’t have to mean harshness or constant anger.
Beeji smiled as she sat down to savour the tea and the newspaper; just before she started to read again, she laughed out loud- the image of Tej trying to act the stern father to a tiny daughter who was in the process of wrapping him around her little finger had just popped into her head. She took a few moments to savour the thought of the future before she shook her head and returned to the newspaper in front of her.
That evening, when Tej returned home, he stuck to his normal routine of sitting with Beeji for a while, talking to her about how the days business had gone and how the farms were progressing. He worked hard to hide his need to see how Pammi was; he assumed she was still resting and was less than pleased when he saw her walk into the dining area from the kitchen. He listened to Beeji with half his attention as he surreptitiously watched his wife; she looked pale and occasionally her hand crept to her lower abdomen as if to hold in the pain.
Tej stood abruptly, the movement drawing Pammi’s eye. She hadn’t seen him till then, and a smile started to cross her face, only to fade as she took in his scowl.
“Pammi zara kamre mein to aa, maine tujhse kuch baat karni hai” he said as he stalked past her towards their room.
As she walked in behind him, he turned to face her “maine tujhse kaha tha araam karna, tu wahan neeche kya karrahi thi” he shouted “ek choti si baat nahin maan sakti tu” He went on and on, his anger taking over his mind as always.
Pammi looked at him in surprise, then an hitherto suppressed anger reared its head. She waited until he’d finished his shouting, then said “Ji, yeh koi nayii baat nahin hai, yeh main picchle chaudha saal se har maheene bardaasht karti hoon. Aap ke ghar mein aaye hue mujhe paanch saal hogaye hain, un paanch saalon mein bhi har maheene bardaasht karti aayi hoon. Main na pehle kabhi iss wajha se poore din bistar mein aaraam karti thi, na aage karoongi.”
After a moment’s pause, she continued “Khaana tayyar hai, main laga deti hoon”, then turned and walked out of the room, leaving her fuming husband standing alone in their bedroom.
As he saw her turn her back to him, Tej’s first reaction was to be enraged that she dared to walk away from him when he was talking to her; she had never dared to do that before. As he opened his mouth to shout her name, to insist she come back and listen to him, he caught sight of himself in the mirror-the sight stopped him in his tracks. At the sight of his rage-filled visage, he realised what he had done- he’d reacted the way he always did, with anger. He cursed himself, wondering how he was ever going to win her love if she was constantly wondering when he would revert back to the unfeeling brute she had lived with for five years? The underlying guilt that was at the root of his over-reaction reared its head- guilt that he’d ignored her pain for five years, guilt that she’d been in pain and he’d never cared.
He stood for a moment more, then walked over to the wardrobe to retrieve some clothes; as the cold water sluiced over his body, his temper cooled and he realised he was going to have to give his wife some explanation; if he didn’t say anything it would be too similar to all the times in the past when he had lost his temper and then just carried on as before. As he wondered how best to approach her, he made his way downstairs to eat with the rest of the family.
As Pammi watched her husband come downstairs, she tried to keep the hurt from her eyes; it shouldn’t have been hard, she had years of practice of hiding her unhappiness at the way he treated her but somehow now the hurt was worse. She’d believed his promises, believed that he was trying to change, but instead the first time he felt his will had been crossed he had reacted as always, with anger and accusation.
She served the food, avoiding his eyes and making quiet conversation with Nandini whilst Beeji kept Tej busy with questions about what was going on with the business. At the end of the meal, she pretended not to hear his quietly spoken “Pammi”; she took much longer than normal to clear the table and then waited until Tej was busy with a surprise visitor before she made her way to the bedroom.
Alone in the quiet of their room, she sat in the dark for a little while, thinking about what had happened that day. Perhaps she was over-reacting, perhaps it shouldn’t have affected her so much, but to have him shout at her in that way after everything that had passed between them had hurt her more than she had thought possible.
She sighed as she stood and began taking out the spare blanket and her night-clothes; she took them to the room she used every month and left them there then made her way downstairs to make tea for the visitors.
It was late when she quietly made her excuses to Beeji and made her way to bed; sleep evaded her for a while as she turned over the days happenings in her mind, but eventually she drifted into an uneasy sleep.
A while later, Tej made his way to the bedroom. He opened the door quietly, not wanting to wake Pammi, but within moments of entering he realised that the room was empty. He stood still, unable to think. He wheeled out of the room, wondering where to start looking for her; a moment later he saw Nandini quietly closing the door to her room and making her way toward the stairs to the roof. She jumped when he saw him, her hand moving to hide her phone beneath her dupatta. The surreptitious movement would normally have snagged his attention, but he had more pressing concerns
“Oye Nandini, tu ne kahin Pammi ko dekha”
“Haan Veerji, woh neeche waale kamre mein hain, kabhi kabhi woh waheen so jaati hain” she said, looking at him as if to ask how it was that he didn’t know this.
He looked at her, slightly embarrassed, wondering what to say; after a moment, realising that there wasn’t anything he could say he nodded his head and moved towards the staircase. Things had changed so much between Pammi and him that it would be impossible to keep things completely hidden from the rest of the family, no matter how much he hated having his personal business out in the open, but he wished he hadn’t bumped into his sister when he had to go looking for his wife in the middle of the night.
As he reached the door to the guest-room, he stopped, not quite sure what he wanted to say. A moment later he moved forward; even if he didn’t know quite what he wanted to say, he knew that he didn’t want to sleep away from her. A rueful smile crossed his face as he realised how much he had changed; the smile faded as he entered the room and saw his wife curled into a tight ball on the edge of the bed.
Tej walked over to her side of the bed and crouched down so that he was level with her face; as he brought his hand up to stroke away a lock of hair, Pammi’s eyes popped open.
“Pammi, meri baat tujhe itni buri lag gayi?”
“nahin ji, aisi koi baat nahin hai. Main to har maheene yaheen aake soti hoon. Aapi ne to kaha tha”
“Maine kaha tha, Pammi? Maine kab kaha tha ke tu yahan soye”
She smiled at him, unsurprised by the fact that he didn’t remember “Ji, humari shaadi ke thode hi din hue the, main raat ko so nahin paarahi thi to aap ne kaha tha ke aap ki neend kharab horahi hai. Uss din ke baad mein yaheen soti hoon, taake aap ki neend kharaab na ho.”
He blinked as he tried to make sense of the fact that he had apparently exiled his wife from her own room just so that his sleep wasn’t disturbed
“to har maheene, jab bhi tu dard ke maare so nahin paati hai, tu yahan aake akele soti hai, taake meri neend na kharaab ho”
Inwardly, he was cursing himself. What a hard, unfeeling man he had been. How could he ever hope to make Pammi care for him when he had 5 years of cruelty and lack of care to overcome?
He was shaken out of his self-flagellation by the sound of her muffled whimper of pain. As he watched her curl in on herself, he came to a decision; he could beat himself up for part idiocies as much as he wanted, but later. Now the most important thing was demonstrating to her how he had changed. Standing, he pulled back the blanked and proceeding to scoop her up into his arms; as she opened her mouth to protest, he looked down and quietly said “Chup kar Pammi”
Pammi looked at him for a moment before deciding that she was in no fit state to get into a discussion; she closed her eyes and lay her head against his chest as he silently carried her back to their room. No words passed between them as he placed her on the bed then lay down next to her. For a moment she didn’t move, then as if compelled she turned towards him and lay her head on his chest, the quiet thump of his heart beneath her ear infinitely soothing. Tej held her close, wishing he could comfort her in some way.
It took some time, but eventually she drifted off to sleep in his arms; it was much longer till he slept. Every time Pammi woke that night, he woke with her; every time she came back to bed, his arms were there to welcome her. Neither of them slept well that night but despite that, when they woke in the morning, Tej felt more at peace than if he had had 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.