MEHRU JAFFER | 1 JUNE, 2018
A short story
On hearing the doorbell ring he stepped out of the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He patted his hair and straightened his clothes. He had a feeling he knew who was at the door. Taking a deep breath he put his hand to the doorknob and turned it.
He opened the door wide.
“Thank you so much for coming Inspector. Yes! Let me tell you exactly what happened. Please sit down Inspector. This is exactly why I did not want her to be alone. I know that she could hurt herself. She was found unconscious in the bathtub. The doctors are telling me something else. That she is no more. Now you tell me…Why did she want to stay alone in a hotel in the first place?”
He admitted to the Police Inspector that even after she had insisted that he go home with the children, he had stayed back in the city.
How could he even think of leaving her alone here? It was so difficult for him to understand why she wanted to be by herself in a strange city after all these years? She had never been on her own. She was so utterly dependent on him.
Especially in public places she seemed to freeze if she did not have his hand in hers. I mean, he would even advise her on what clothes to wear, on which occasion!
Last night he had taken the children aside and talked to them. They were young adults after all. Of course they had no problem flying back home without him. The next morning he drove with them to the airport. On the way they had exchanged jokes.
When he asked the children why they thought their mother wanted to be left alone in a hotel, the daughter teased him. She said that her mother was probably trying at last to slacken her strings that were tied so tight to his apron for over two decades.
“Come on Dad give her a break,” the son added.
The family of four had enjoyed a long weekend here. The children were full of laughter. They taunted him some more. But he could not help wondering all the while about things.
At the airport they located a café. They had one hour to kill before check-in time. Over cappuccino and chocolate cake they had guffawed some more. His son reminded him to pick up the gorgeous shirt that he had liked so much at that darling of a shop.
After tight hugs they blew flying kisses to each other before the children disappeared into the belly of the airport, out of his sight as the crowd of travelers swallowed them up completely.
He turned away from the airport in deep thought, to return back to the city.
She never went anywhere ever, alone. Why now? Why does she want to be by herself now? He could not stop asking this question of himself.
He was not sure why he had returned. He should have just gone with the children and waited for her at home.
What should he do now? He had no clue.
He found another hotel in the vicinity to where he had left his wife. He got his suitcase to the room. He washed himself and changed his clothes. He bundled the stale set of clothes into the laundry bag and hung it outside his door. He combed his hair and generously splashed after-shave lotion on himself. Hands in both pockets. First on one leg and then on the other, he stood there staring out of the glass window. He looked, but did not see anything. His thoughts distracted him.
He flopped down on the bed, one arm over his eyes. He tried to imagine what his wife might be doing in the hotel room by herself. The mind drew a blank. He walked back to the glass window that overlooked that other hotel. He tried to concentrate on what he saw. He thought he might see her step out of the hotel, and follow her. After that thought, his imagination drew another blank.
He watched the world outside go by for over an hour and found nothing there to attract his attention. He checked the wristwatch. The children must have reached home, he thought.
He messaged them a throbbing heart, and a kiss emoji on WhatsApp. They replied immediately with a thumbs-up.
Some ideas played on his mind. It was only noon. He will go down for lunch and decide what to do next.
He went to the coffee shop on the ground floor. It had the best view of the sprawling garden surrounding the hotel. The air conditioning suffocated him. He stepped out of the door that opened beside a swimming pool. He found a place to sit beside the turquoise blue waters, dancing under bright sunshine in tune to a light tropical breeze.
He ordered beer, and a plate of Caesar salad.
He watched four children play in the pool, quite indifferent to their constant chatter and loud laughter. They chased each other around the premises. They dived into the pool without warning to throw up waves of water in the air and splashed each other with more water. He also noticed how each one tried to dunk the other under the water.
He checked the time and it showed 15 hours. He had two more hours to kill. At 17 hours he had decided to call her number. His wife answered.
She thought he was calling from home. She began to question him about the children the cook, the driver and the gardener…
He did not want her to be too worried so he told her that he had gone home and made sure that all was all right. Then he had taken the next flight back to be with her. He also told her that he stood outside the door of her hotel room and if she could please open the door and let him in.
She did not believe him. She questioned him why he had not stayed home with the children?
Because I wanted to surprise you, with a dinner date tonight. Just you and me, that is why, he said.
That is when the door opened. She disconnected the mobile and flung it on a nearby table. She continued to smile a very big smile, and crumbled into his arms. He could not help but notice how happy he had made her. He felt he had done the right thing in having returned to her this evening. It was difficult for him to imagine her spending time away from him.
They walked to the sofa and sat down. She cuddled up beside him. She told him how she had missed him.
They cooed about this, and about that.
When it was 19 hours, he asked his wife to get ready for the special dinner. He wanted her to freshen up and to wear something pretty like the black dress she had bought yesterday.
She was reluctant to get up from the sofa. She clung to his arm. She made sexy fuss. She hummed and she hawed and said that she did not want to be away from him even for a minute.
He got up and lifted her off the sofa, and into his arms. She garlanded him with her arms as slender as seaweed.
He walked with her to the bathroom. Putting her back on her feet he plugged the tub and after testing the temperature, he allowed the water to flow. She let him undress her. He collected her robe and under garments and put them into the laundry bag. He pulled down the bathrobe from the hanger and helped her to wear it.
He opened her toilet kit and looked for her toothbrush, then for the toothpaste. He unscrewed the cap of the tube of the toothpaste and spread it across the toothbrush. He asked her to open her mouth and placed the toothbrush in between her teeth.
She giggled as he brushed her teeth. Then she pushed him away gently. The handle of the toothbrush was now in her hand.
She brushed her teeth on her own. Side ways and up and down, seduction streaming down her eyes. He could not stop to smile. He felt the water in the tub. He poured some jasmine perfumed soap and salts into the bath water and turned off the tap.
He caressed her neck and lifting hair out of the way he kissed her just below the ear. It was ecstasy to inhale the flavor of mint from the toothpaste she had just used.
With her free hand she caught his shirt. He pressed himself closer to her. Without having had his fill, he reluctantly released himself away from this love of his.
He wanted her to get dressed quickly so they could open the chilled bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne, waiting in the living room in the silver ice bucket. Later they had plans of walking across the street for dinner at the Italian restaurant.
Still smiling he left her to her toiletries. He also left the bathroom door half open and walking through the bedroom he came into the living room. He sat in the same place on the same sofa. Throwing away his slip on shoes he rolled the socks off his feet, and parked both his legs on the center table.
He looked for the remote control to the TV and indulged in mindless channel surfing.
He must have fallen asleep for a while. He checked the clock on the opposite wall and read 20.30 hours.
He muted the volume of the TV and called out to her. On getting no reply he sat up on the sofa and called again.
So he got up and walked through the bedroom back to the bathroom. The door was ajar. He called her name softly and peeped from behind the half open door. He saw her soaking in the tub. He walked closer to the tub and lifted her out of the water. He put her on the bed and called the hotel reception.
The doctor came, and now you the police is also here Inspector...
“And I am here too”.
When the two men heard a third voice in their midst, they turned around to see her walk towards them through the bedroom door.
She came wearing a plain crimson chiffon sari and a matching blouse. She turned around the furniture looking for a place to sit near the Inspector.
The expression on her face screamed for an opportunity to be heard. She had heard him tell the inspector his side of the story. Now it was her turn.
The Inspector turned his back on him and breathlessly waited to listen to her side of the story.