Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Mini and Me - 2

I made my way to my office, the headquarters of a software company with offices in many countries. I wasn’t sure how I landed up here. I had taken computer courses along with my graduation, while Mini was attending music workshops and debate competitions. After college, while Mini attended her teacher’s training, I enrolled in an advanced computers course while I looked around at what I wanted to do next. In a year, before I had decided what exactly I wanted to do with my life, I got a job. The salary was twice what Mini could have hoped to get in her first job. I would have been insane to refuse. Besides, I was in a hurry to get married.

We got married within a few months, as soon as Mini had completed her exams. Then she found herself this job. The only hitch was that it took her an hour to get there every morning. My delicate, anaemic Mini changed two trains every morning and then walked a kilometre to her school. For the first few days, I was anxious, even driving her there and picking her up a couple of times. But she got into the rhythm, and never complained. While I was away, she enrolled in a driving class, got her license, and started driving to school. It took even longer, but she told me she enjoyed being by herself in the car with her thoughts, sheltered from the bustle and the crowds. I felt slightly guilty about driving to work while she must be struggling to find a seat in a crowded, filthy train.
Mini has been somewhat distrait ever since I got back. She has cried, more than once, telling me how lonely she was while I was away. last night, she got upset over the clothes that I’d left scattered over the sofa, neglecting to put them away. She flung them all into the laundry basket, placed my shoes in the shoe rack and complained tearfully of missing the space she had had to herself while I was away. I was too stunned to apologise. After some time, she snuggled up to me and cried, and said she had missed me. I held her until she fell asleep.

I had a great day in office. At the team meeting, the boss praised the work I had done with the client and held me up as an example for our new team members. I also heard after the meeting, unofficially, that I was being nominated for the company awards.

I called up Mini to tell her I was leaving work a little early, and wanted to pick her up. She was already leaving, though, and asked me to meet her mid-way. When I had left in the morning she’d been in the shower, and I hadn’t seen how pretty she looked in that new pink kurta. She stood by the street, the wind blowing her hair while she held on to her bag with one hand and shielded her eyes from the sun with the other.

I took my gorgeous wife to dinner at a posh new place I had learned about, and told her the news. She was excited and chatted happily. She told me the stories of some of the kids in the afternoon classes. Heartrending, inspiring stories. I looked at my smart, courageous wife and wondered what I had ever done to deserve her.

Mini wants to leave me.

I find this so impossible to believe that I have to write it down. She told me she wants to move out. She has even found a small flat to move into, near the school and the children she loves.

She is not leaving me for another lover. I asked, fearful of the answer. She said she only wanted to leave me, that she had become used to me staying away. That she had discovered she likes it. When I am home, her life revolves around mine, she said. She doesn’t care about my work, my clients, my projects. I bore her when I talk of all that. She wants to not have to think about it so that she can think more of her work, her children.

Mini is bored with me. The same girl who used to sit with me for hours in college, talking and debating.  But I am not the same person, she says. I don’t talk about such things any more.

I have things on my mind, I said. I work hard, I try to make a good life for us. We have bought a house, and I need to get a raise to keep up with the loan payments. We need the money I earned abroad.

She smiled. “And I’m leaving all this to go live in a tiny shabby rented flat,” she said. “Don’t you see that all this matters to you, not to me?”

I was silent. I thought she had wanted this too. She had looked at a hundred flats with me, had been so excited when we had found this perfect flat we wanted to buy, she had put in time and effort into making the flat a nest for us. I stammered as I tried to explain all this.

“Don’t you see, Swapnil? All that was just… just a game. It wasn’t important.”

I asked her what was important to her. I was staggered that I didn’t know.

“My work, my children – they are important to me. All those things that we used to talk about back in college. Those are important.”

“But that was so long ago. We were young and immature then. I have grown up now.”

She had a lopsided smile on her face. “I was grown up then. I knew what I wanted. I haven’t changed, Swapnil.”

I don’t know why I never realised this before. All those things about her that I thought was her naïveté, her youthfulness… it was really who she was. Idealism, for me, had been an adolescent phase. I had wanted to change the world, to improve lives. But then I grew up and I cared about my life, and Mini. I wanted to provide a good home for her, for the children we would have. To ease my conscience, I had encouraged her involvement, her volunteerism. I had never voiced the thought, even to myself, that she was doing enough good for the two of us. I had even offered money to help her work. I had spread the word around among friends and colleagues, some of whom were generous enough to donate, perhaps to ease their own consciences.

But I suppose my wife cannot take on my burden of goodness. We are two separate people, something I had been refusing to acknowledge. My wife has a will of her own, and she wants to leave me.

She cried. But she seemed to cry out of pity at leaving me alone. I offered her the car – she said she didn’t need it. She said she would move out in a couple of days. I asked if she wanted a divorce.

She bit her lip. “Not right away. I’m not sure what I want right now. I just want to be alone for some time, and think. Give me a few weeks. I might decide I want to be with you after all. I might want to remain married to you, yet live separately. I might want to just stay friends, nothing more… Of course, if you want a divorce, anytime, I will agree to it.”

She came over and cupped my face in her hands. “You are my best friend, Swapnil. I have shared the best years of my life with you, you have understood me better than anyone else. I’m sorry for hurting you, but somehow that doesn’t seem enough any more. Earlier I used to want nothing better to do with my time than to spend it with you. Now when I am with you I am often thinking of other, more worthwhile, more interesting things I could be doing.

“I don’t think a marriage should be like that. I can’t stay with you and resent you. I’d rather be a good friend than a bitter wife.

“Give me some time. If I stay with you, I want it to be because I want to, not just because we made some promises to each other or performed a religious ceremony in the presence of a hundred people.”

I nodded. I was afraid to speak.

“Thank you for being so nice about this. I’m sorry.”

If this had been a movie, there would have been dramatic music as she left me. She would storm out of the apartment and I would be left behind, forlorn and lonely.

This being life, she stayed on for two days while she settled on her new home. She slept in the guest bedroom, insisting on not letting me leave. We tried to work out financial details – that is, I offered some support, and she refused it. She refused to take the car either. I said it was unfair for me to keep both the flat and the car. She laughed and said it definitely was, I got saddled with the loan while she got out free.

She had dinner ready when I got home from office. It was awkward. She made pleasant conversation. I thanked her for dinner. She said it was hardly more work to cook for two people than for one.

“You can wash the dishes,” she said.

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