I read this story at the Caferati meet yesterday. Half way through, I found my hands trembling violently, and my eyes losing focus. It’s this fear of reading aloud to an audience that has kept me away for so long from the Caferati meets, despite the fact that I’ve found the forum a huge help in my writing. Any way, glad to say I conquered that fear yesterday. And had loads of fun. Here’s the story – Their very own room.
That day, Shaku was very excited when she came to office. She hoped that Pamela would be on time today – she had such important news to give her. But she knew that Pamela was more likely to be late than early. As usual.
She looked for her in the queue outside the lift, but Pam was not there. She smiled absently at the others, and waited her turn to go up in the dusty, creaky lift, to her musty government office on the 5th floor.
She put her purse in her drawer, her tiffin under her desk, shuffled some papers in her inbox, and yet, Pamela was not there. The bell on her desk rang. Mr. Jadhav, her boss called her into his room, and then, there was no time to look for Pamela for another hour or so.
Pamela herself came up to her desk with a cup of coffee and opened a pack of biscuits at around 11. The rest of the vast office seemed deserted – everyone had gone for a break. Some were tea people, some were coffee people, but 11 o’clock meant stretching the legs a little, and gossiping for a while.
Shaku scolded Pamela for coming late.
“Hey, can’t you be early even one day? I wanted to tell you something.”
“So, tell me now.”
“Hmm. The fun of it is gone, no. I was bursting in the morning.”
“Oh ho, so burst now. Come on, what’s it?”
Shaku smiled radiantly. “We’ve got our very own room, now. Now we can get married. What?”
Pamela shrieked and clapped her hands, and hugged Shaku. “Wow, what news, men. Lucky girl.”
Shaku shook her head. “Not lucky, ha. You know how much we tried for this. Four years. Four years Tony and I are engaged, you know.”
Pamela nodded. “You have lots of patience. I would have got married by now.”
Shaku grimaced fastidiously. “No, re. I know, na, my brother and his wife. How they do all that. All of us in one room. Chchee! Like animals. I don’t like that. I told Tony I will never do like that.”
Pamela pinched her, mischievously, “Now you will do, na, in your own room? Or any more demands?”
Shaku blushed and smiled.
The marriage was lovely. Shaku wore white. Her bridesmaids wore lilac. Pamela was her maid of honor.
Pamela teased her before the reception, in the make-up room outside the hall, “Hey, virgin woman. Today last day, no. Where you going today, which hotel? No secrets, ha.”
Shaku said solemnly, “No, no, we are going home. Why should we go to hotel? Unnecessary cost. Our room is so nice.”
Pamela laughed, “Did you decorate it?”
Shaku smiled, “Yes, we put up little thermocol hearts, gold and silver, and white and lilac streamers. It looks beautiful.”
“And the bed?”
Shaku blushed, “Shut up, men. You have a one-track mind.”
Pamela snorted, “Oh ho, and what you have in mind for today, then, Mrs. Shakuntala Pereira? Choir practice, what?” They both laughed.
A big photo of Tony and Shaku glittering with tinsel was pasted at the entrance of the hall. “Lilac and white looks lovely, no?” Tony’s mother asked everyone who came in.
Tony and Shaku danced at the reception. The band played long after midnight. Tony’s embrace became hotter and hotter, and Shaku squirmed in his grasp, giggling. She was so happy, that she did not even cry when her mother embraced her, and bid her goodbye. Tony’s friends insisted on accompanying the couple to their room. Tony’s mother went along to keep decorum.
Tony carried Shaku into the house. All of them squeezed into the little room. Lewd jokes were whispered in deference to Tony’s mother being around. She passed remnants of the wedding cake around, and bustled in the kitchen, letting the young ones enjoy.
Suddenly, there was a crash. Tony’s mother had fallen. The young men rushed to her side, Tony lifted her gently and put her on the bed, decorated with lilac and white streamers. Tony’s best man called the doctor on his mobile.
Later, after everyone had left, Tony’s mother, drugged lay on one side of the marital bed. Shaku, stiff in her “bridal trousseau” nightdress, lay on the other. Tony lay near her, but on the floor. In the dark, they could hear his mother breathing. Tony pulled gently at Shaku’s toes, willing her to come and lie beside him. Shaku kicked his hand gently, and stubbornly did not move.
Tony’s mother stayed with them for a month. Shaku and Tony had not planned a honeymoon; they needed all the money they could save to pay back for their new house. They went back to work after 3 days. Shaku shook her head at Pamela’s questioning. Pamela shook her head solemnly.
Tony and Shaku met every evening at the bus stop, like they used to when they were courting. After a couple of days, Tony put his arm around her and kissed her, like he used to earlier. But Shaku pushed him away. “We are husband wife now, no. This looks so bad.” Tony and Shaku went home silently.
When she cooked in the tiny kitchen, Tony would hold her from behind, and kiss her neck. She responded warmly to him, but at the slightest noise from her mother-in-law, she would push Tony away.
Well, Tony’s mother recuperated. She wanted to go back home. She did not say much, but caressed Shaku’s cheek lovingly.
Tony dropped her off home, and then called Shaku at office. “Want to take leave, and come home? I’ll wait, or what?”
Shaku scolded him teasingly, “Very impatient, what? I can’t take half-day now. Unnecessary salary will get cut. You go to office, also. We’ll meet at bus stop. OK?” Tony agreed reluctantly.
At the bus stop, Tony said, “We’ll go home in taxi today. Come.” He dragged her, they sat down in a cab, laughing, exhilarated, finally to be going to their own room. They hurried upstairs.
Outside the door, they saw a suitcase. They looked at it suspiciously. At the end of the corridor, a silhouette smoked a cigarette. The person turned and came forward.
Tony yelled, “Oh, Dino. You. Where did you land up from?” Dino and Tony hugged. Shaku opened the door. Dino said, “I called up Aunty. She gave me your address. I just landed from Dubai, man.”
Dino’s luggage had got stuck in the customs at the airport. He had to get it out, before he pushed off home to Goa. Dino was Tony’s school friend. Of course, he would stay with them, while he sorted out his customs problems.
Shaku got busy cooking. Tony and Dino had a few drinks. Tony and Dino slept on the bed, Shaku slept on one side on the floor.
Dino stayed for a week. While leaving, he gave Shaku a gold bracelet, a wedding present. The bracelet was too large for Shaku, but she thanked him. Tony was going to leave Dino to the railway station. They gave Shaku a lift to the office. Tony told Shaku, “Take half-day today, no?” Dino laughed. Shaku glared at Tony.
Tony was not at the bus stop that evening. Shaku went home. Tony was lying on the bed. She snuggled up to him, thinking he was sulking. He was burning with fever. Tony got chickenpox. Shaku slept on the floor, Tony slept on the bed. During the day, his mother came to give him lunch, while Shaku went to office. Tony got well after 15 days.
Pamela asked Shaku everyday, “What? It happened, or no.” Shaku would get irritated at Pamela’s insistence on knowing. But she shook her head, not being able to lie. Pamela frowned with sympathy. Shaku tried to avoid her as much as she could. Pamela was hurt.
One day, Pamela came to office with a swollen eye. Her stepfather had beaten her again. He was a drunkard and beat Pamela’s mother regularly. Once in a while, Pamela got some of his blows, for being her mother’s daughter, or just for coming in his way.
During lunchtime, when Shaku asked her what had happened, Pamela sobbed and sobbed. She did not want to go back home. Shaku, outraged, asked her to come home with her. Pamela grabbed the opportunity eagerly. “Really, really, I can come? I’ll stay only for a few days, till I find a room of my own.” Shaku nodded.
Shaku and Pamela slept on the bed, while Tony slept on the floor. Tony and Pamela crossed each other awkwardly near the bathroom, or near the kitchen. Tony was withdrawn with Shaku. Shaku would try and hold his hand at the bus stop, but he would jerk it away. He did not even try very hard to get a seat next to her, in the bus, like he used to earlier. Pamela looked desperately for a room, but after a month of trying, she decided to go back home.
After office that evening, Shaku and Tony were alone at home. Both were silent, tired. Shaku slept on one side of the bed, Tony on the other, both turned away from each other.
The next day, Tony hugged Shaku as she made breakfast. She kissed him eagerly. She whispered, “Let’s take leave from office today.” He held her close. The doorbell rang. It was Tony’s mother. Her toilet had got blocked. The landlord would repair it after a week. She could not live there until then.
And so it went on. People walked in and out of Shaku’s very own room. Very often, other people besides Tony and Shaku slept on their very own bed. Tony and Shaku worked hard all day, all year, for many years to pay off the housing loan they had taken for their room.
Shaku learnt to kiss Tony in the kitchen when no one was looking. Tony made Shaku laugh again. Somehow, in a couple of years, Tony and Shaku even managed to have a baby, and then after a few more years, another one. The little room was painted several times, and every day, it became brighter and cleaner with Shaku and Tony’s care.
Batul Mukhtiar, April 2008