250 likes and 100 comments later Maya felt like punching Mark Zuckerberg in the face. Two faces tilting at an angle close to each other, were staring back at her, it didn’t matter that there were 2 spoons and a lemon between those frozen faces, one of her husband and another of “that bitch”.
Maya and Madhur were married for five years. They had met in college and were poles apart, but as the saying goes – opposites attract- so did they. Maya – extrovert, impulsive and romantic. Madhur, in plain words, Geek. What brought them closer in college was their friend Sanjay who had decided that Madhur was ruining his life over books and made it his mission to set him up with someone “unlike” him. The trio was inseparable, Maya the student president and the most famous girl, Madhur- the university topper and Sanjay, Tennis champion. They had a copy of a photograph clicked on their convocation ceremony which they promised to cherish forever – Sanjay giving out a toothy smile, tightly gripping Maya and Madhur around their neck with both his arms, as they stuck their tongues out.
Madhur and Maya got married 3 years later. Madhur’s work took them places, switching roles in India, Argentina and Uzbekistan. Madhur’s promotions kept on rising and so did Maya’s frustration. “At least select a country where I don’t have to carry a dictionary to ask for a ladies restroom!!” she would yell at times. Eventually Madhur decided to return to India for good. Madhur’s new work in India reunited him with Sanjay. They worked closely on marketing and client acquisition for the in house developed products of their IT firm.
The doorbell rang, playing Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’. Maya logged off from Facebook and answered the door. Madhur and Sanjay were in unusually high spirit. Maya managed to fake a smile and asked, “Well, at least someone is happy, care to share the joy?”
“We clinched a deal today with a big client, finally, after months of persuasion.” Madhur squealed as he made a drink for Sanjay and himself.
“No No No, not we, it was all her. She can make an atheist like me bow down in devotion.” Sanjay interjected.
“Who are we talking about?”
“Our colleague, Shaheen Awasthi. She recently joined our firm. A remarkable woman. Her spirit drives everyone at work, from the janitor to the Director. She can be a guy with the guys, a lady among the ladies and a brat between the kids. She…”
“Yeah, Madhur had mentioned her couple of times.” Maya cut Sanjay in mid-sentence. “She is the one on Facebook doing the rounds, am I right?”
Madhur shifted on the couch feeling uncomfortable about the direction the conversation was moving in.
“Guilty as charged. That picture of Madhur and Shaheen was too funny to be ignored. I had to post it.”
“Food is on the table. Goodnight.” And she left abruptly.
That night Madhur and Maya had yet another argument. Maya accused Madhur of being insensitive to her feelings by allowing the “inappropriate” picture of his gain hype on the social media.
“You knowing that I don’t like her, I don’t like that you are friends with her. She is eating up the space in my personal life. What will our relatives think? And my friends? I am a laughing stock all because of that stupid picture.”
“Exactly my point, Maya. It’s a STUPID picture taken while playing a STUPID game. Why are you making this a big deal? I didn’t post it. And I am not going to ask anyone to take it down, because that would again be a STUPID thing to do. Talking of her occupying your personal space- it’s an absurd idea considering you have never met her. So let’s end this STUPID argument and go to sleep.”
Maya called Sanjay the next day and confessed her insecurity and asked for his advice.
“I think Madhur is right.
You have never met her. I think you should meet her. She is a very good friend of Madhur’s and can be yours too. Why don’t you invite her to dinner or something?”
“Are you crazy? I can’t stand imagining her and you want me to meet her?”
“You’ll be fine. Besides Madhur and I will be there to make sure you don’t kill her.” He joked.
Maya wore the most expensive perfume from her collection. She wore a bright red evening dress and a matching red lipstick. She viewed herself in the mirror, tucked in her tummy a little and was confident that she could easily take on that bitch.
‘Fur Elise’ called again, as she took her time to answer it.
“What took you so long?” Madhur planted a kiss on her cheek and entered. Behind him she could see Sanjay and a woman, slender, big eyes covered by glasses of thick black rim, a faded lipstick, wearing a white shirt, two buttons down, half tucked in her blues jeans, the other half hanging out, holding a wine bottle. Attractive. Definitely attractive. Maya forced a smile and said, “Welcome, I have heard so much about you.”
Maya was conscious of herself. She felt she was overdressed.
“I am sorry Maya, I didn’t know this was a formal party, else I would have dressed better. We headed straight to your place after work. I am a mess.” Shaheen unclutched her hair which untwined down to her waist leaving behind layered curls.
“Oh you are fine. This is not a formal party. Just a personal get together. And by the way you could look gorgeous in rags.” Madhur’s words burned Maya’s skin under her silk dress.
“Look at you Maya” Sanjay, sensing the need, drew everyone’s attention, “you look dazzling. Have you been working out?” Maya’s mood lightened.
The evening progressed with the jibber jabber about work while Maya coordinated with the cook in serving the exotic delicacies she had prepared to show off her culinary skills. There was a spread of Humus, home-made mayonnaise and salsa served on the side of barbecued veggies, Nachos and Pitta bread.She observed Shaheen closely, the way she spoke, the way Madhur responded or did not respond. Did she see a kind of restraint between them, she wondered. And suddenly she heard her name “Maya!!”
“I asked, what do you do?”
“Well, nothing as of now. I had a stint in Event management, but not anymore.”
“Not anymore. Why?”
“We moved a lot.”
“She is an excellent cook by the way” Madhur added “which takes care of her hobby, and very independent financially. She is the master of stock trading. So she doesn’t really have to go to “Work” for a living.”
Sanjay cringed with the last gulp of his third glass of whiskey and said, “but every woman, no matter how independent she might be, every once in a while needs her hands to be held firmly, reassuringly, to be told that you are not on your own.” There was silence… The three looked at Sanjay astonished at his new found wisdom. Then the laughter burst. Tiny droplets of tear gleamed in Maya’s eyes, invisible to all.
Shaheen’s phone beeped. “Guys, I would take your leave now. It’s my lawyer. My husband has agreed to the terms of divorce, finally. I need to think all this through.”
“Yeah. Its late, we must leave now. I will drop you.” Sanjay stood up with a stagger.
“Sanjay, you are not driving. I will drop her. And I will book a cab for you.” Madhur was concerned.
“It’s really not necessary. I can go by myself. I will book a cab.” Shaheen protested.
Madhur theatrically held Shaheen’s hands and quoted “You are not on your own!!!” he winked at Sanjay. All of them had a good laugh except Maya. And Madhur left with Shaheen.
“What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?’ Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
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?’
“You are overthinking. It doesn’t happen that way.”
“You think so? Did you forget what happened on our last day of college when in a weak moment we almost…”
“Maya! It was a mistake and we promised we will never talk about it. Why are you bringing it up today?”
“Because my husband is on the verge of committing the same mistake and ruining my life.”
“Why is everything about “your husband”? What about Maya, where is she? Cooking? Or probably glaring at her monitor watching the crooked lines go up and down? Maybe you have made it easy for him to take you for granted by revolving your entire life around him.
Sanjay’s phone beeped. “My cab is here. Take care of yourself.” He wiped her tears and left.
The next afternoon Sanjay found Maya walking out of his office building in tears. He took her for coffee in a nearby café where Maya regained her composure.
“I wanted to surprise him with a lunch date. He said he had back to back meetings, which he would have cancelled if I had informed him in advance. It was so humiliating, in front of her…”
“I am sorry Maya. It’s my fault. Forget what I said to you last night. You are best as yourself; you don’t need to try so hard. Never mind, to make it up to you, shall we go for a movie? ‘Queen’ has good reviews.”
She hesitated and spoke, “I should ask Madhur as well.”
She began dialing the number on her phone and then abruptly kept the phone in her jeans pocket.
“Let’s go. But don’t you have to resume work?”
“I think I’ll call it a day.”
For the next few weeks Maya avoided thinking or talking about Shaheen. She started working out and got in touch with her girlfriends. There was no surge of love between the couple but the arguments did come to a halt.
One fine day Sanjay called Maya to tell her that the office is issuing passes for Salsa competition at Club Exotica.
“Do you want one?”
“Are you kidding? Who do you suggest I go with? Madhur? He declared yesterday for no reason that he is going to be busy this month. And you remember how hard we tried to persuade him to take the classes with me in college?”
“Yeah, I remember how instead I ended up taking the classes with you. Well, you may want to ask your friends. It’s a good opportunity for you considering you dance so well.”
“You are my friend, are you willing to?” There was a hint of mischief in Maya’s voice.
“I don’t know, I am so out of practice, I am not that flexible anymore.”
“Whatever happened to ‘you are not on your own’ philosophy?”
Maya and Sanjay were surprised to find out that they still had their moves. The practice sessions were full of fun and laughter. Maya wore her old salsa costume which still fitted and shoes that accentuated her moves.
“Maya you were amazing today. Graceful, full of energy, it’s like you are straight out of college.”
Maya still had droplets of sweat on her brow from the practice as she sipped her cold coffee. “I don’t know what I was doing all these years Sanjay. Why can’t I have such fun with Madhur?”
“That’s for you to think. What I can tell you for sure is that I couldn’t have had this much fun with anyone else but you.” The intensity in his eyes gave Maya goose bumps on her neck and butterfly feathers in her gut. She tried to control her smile which made her lips quiver. How could she smile through the guilt of feeling happy with a man who was not her husband?
“Take it easy Maya.” He gave out a confident, seductive, omniscient smile. “Let’s go. Oh, I think I left the car keys in the training room.”
There was sound of another session going on. Sanjay knocked on the door and entered and almost immediately turned back and closed the door.
“What’s the matter?” Maya asked concerned.
“You might not want to go in there.”
Maya peeked through the door fearing what she might see. She saw Madhur and Shaheen engage in the perfect Salsa of hammerlock and embrace positions. For just a tiny moment Maya felt proud of her husband making that smooth transition and in the next moment of realization, blood rushed back to her face.
“What are you gonna do Maya.” Sanjay asked in plain, serious demeanor.
“I am tired of feeling angry and insecure, tired of playing hard to get when no one is pursuing, tired of the bursts of guilt stained happiness. I just want happiness.”
And with that she threw herself in Sanjay’s embrace.
That night when Madhur returned home after his practice session, he found that Maya’s things were gone. A note lay on the pillow which read –
“It’s nobody’s fault. You didn’t need me anymore, and I admit I don’t need you anymore either. Happy dancing to you – Maya”
The glittery black salsa costume that he bought for her, lay on their bed, still covered by a transparent plastic sheath wrapped around by a ribbon. Madhur’s phone beeped. There was a message from Shaheen – “I hope she likes the dress. You owe me big time for being your accomplice in this surprise-wife-with-salsa-moves conspiracy. She is lucky to have you.”
That night as he waited for Maya to knock on the door, Sanjay picked up the magazine “Men’s Quotient” and opened the dog-eared page which ran an article titled “Everything’s fair in love and war, especially when it’s both.”
The article was summarized in bullet points at the bottom right corner of the page; each bullet point tick marked with pencil except the last.
√ Point out his weakness without criticizing him.
√ Make her “think” she is taken for granted
√ Sympathize with her husband/boyfriend.
√ Alienate the husband/boyfriend by giving her options.
√ Complement her. Let her know how much fun she is.
° Wait for her call.
“I should email a thankyou note to the editor.” He muttered. The doorbell rang.