Someone to Love
Indrani Rai Medhi
So, on this brilliant April afternoon, when the wind rustles in and scatters the papers, they gather in the Common Room. Amidst chairs scraping, coughs, low murmurs, one by one, his colleagues mouth eulogies. Scholarly, other-worldly, bibliophile, not one to suffer fools gladly. Then Maya, the new teacher in the English department, hands him a large bouquet of hideous yellow crepe roses. Others line up to drape gamochas around his shoulders, press gifts into his hands. He makes a brief, awkward speech, thanking everyone. In deep embarrassment, he agrees to let some students take selfies with him.
Then they see him to the car, laying the gifts and bouquet on the back seat.
“Come and see us, Sir,” Maya smiles, waving.
Roma is waiting at home. “You aren’t sad, are you?” She eyes him quizzically. “You hated teaching…”
“Yes,” he nods. “Enough to do it for 30 years.”
“Oh look, a table cloth. A complete set of Roald Dahl. And coffee mugs.”
“I’d like some coffee.”
“Of course. And Ankur called. From Spectrum.”
“What did he want?”
“They are having some Rongali Bihu lit fest. He wants you to speak on love.”
“Love? What on earth for?”
“Because it makes the world go round.”
“Roma, don’t be facetious.”
“I’m not, whatever that means.”
“Love is just Nature’s trick to make us procreate.”
“Here you are.” She sets the coffee down. “You can’t turn down Ankur, you know, he will have a nervous breakdown. He’s always jittery.”
“Why make me talk about love?”
She lays a hand on his arm. “Because that’s what everyone is looking for. Someone to love, someone to love them back. So quote Neruda, Coelho. Work up their feelings. It’s Rongali Bihu.”
He sips the coffee. She puts away the ribbons and wrapping paper.
A Spring night. A sudden thunderstorm. The windows lit up by lightning. Roma is not in bed. He finds her in the balcony, watching the storm, surrounded by it. Her face is wet. She comes back to bed, refuses to say anything.
The next week, it is clear Roma is up to something. She goes shopping, stocks the fridge with frozen peas, chicken wings, sausages. There are three varieties of breakfast cereal, fruit juice, cans of tuna, sauces. The gas man is called to check the cylinder pipe. The plumber comes in to carry out repairs on the cistern. She rearranges his closet, folding his clothes neatly. Then he finds her packing a suitcase in the guest room.
“What is this supposed to mean?” He asks testily.
“Call Arhi.” She hands him her phone. He dials.
“Baba!” Her trilling voice comes on the line. “I was about to call you. Look, I want Ma to come down to Mumbai for about two weeks.”
“Just mother-daughter time. No, no, just Ma. I’ll invite you later.”
So, a mother-daughter thing. He is redundant at work, and then in the family. And Ankur wants him to talk on love.
“Never love anyone who treats you like you are ordinary.” Oscar Wilde. And Roma has done that, packing her own suitcase, making her own plans. For the two days before she leaves, he barely talks to her, and when he drives her to the airport, there is silence between them.
“I just want you to be comfortable.” She pats his arm. “That’s all.”
For four days after that, as he gets used to living alone, with the maid coming in to cook the meals, he prepares his take on love. He rips love to shreds, scorning its self-indulgence, its rhetoric, its bravado, its blindness. The more he thinks of Roma’s cosy little vacation, the harsher becomes his indictment. He is rude to her on the phone and then comes a day when she does not talk to him anymore.
“Ma’s out shopping, Baba.”
“Alone, in Mumbai?”
“Murli is with her.”
“You know, my boyfriend.”
For two days, Arhi comes up each time with a different excuse. Ma is cooking. Ma is sleeping. She is talking to a neighbour.
On the seventh day, Roma calls.
“You must be angry. It’s not good for your blood pressure.”
“Since when did you become so concerned?”
“Don’t be like a little boy. I will be back. And there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Murli. Her boyfriend. Murli stays with her. They are getting married. I want them to marry next month.”
“I don’t see what’s the hurry.”
“Murli is a good boy. I can’t tell you how much he has helped these last few days.”
“Taking you shopping?”
“No, being there when you feel you are the loneliest human being in the world, when you are told what you have feared all along.”
“I don’t have time for this,” he mutters. “What are you getting at?”
“I’ve always tried to make things easy for you. I would have hated to see you go into so much trouble for me.”
“I don’t think I can come soon. Will you come?”
“Me? In Mumbai? Arhi doesn’t want me to.”
“Of course Arhi wants you to. You have to be there for her. You and Murli. What I have is stage four. The chemo is for next week. Come, Ranojoy, maybe you can read to me your speech on love.”
Ranojoy stands still in the silent house, feeling love surge back into his heart.
Indrani Rai Medhi is a journalist, columñist and author. She has won the Kunjabala Devi award for investigative award for women issues and the Yamin Hazarika award for excellence. She has authored 12 books.