It was 2 am in the night when his phone rang.
‘Sudha..please..attend it’ he commanded, half asleep. The phone kept ringing.
Sudha lay silent. And the truth dawned upon him.
He opened one eye and threw his hand on the bedside table to grab his spectacles.
No one replied.
He banged the phone and returned to his deep sleep.
It rained heavily the next day. It was Sunday and Sunday rain reminded him of her. She would prepare a hot cup of coffee for him while he read his favorite book. There was a comfort in her presence. Something magnificent about the silence. Only this time, the silence pinched him. He wished someone would prepare him a steamy cup of coffee just like Sudha did. With less milk and extra sugar. He wished he had thanked her for that cup.
‘Thankyou Sudha..’ he whispered. She would have smiled. The same smile when she had served him tea for the first time in her maternal house. Oldage did many things to her but never dared to touch her smile.
The ringing phone disrupted his memories.
‘Hello. Col. Vimal Rai speaking.’
‘Helloo Vimal!’ said the jolly voice on the other end and he instantly knew who it was.
‘Col. Singh! How are you..’
‘I am good Vimal! My wife and I are throwing a party on our 25th anniversary day after! It would be a pleasure to have you there!’
‘Ofcourse! The 23rd you mean?’
‘Yes yes! Do bring Sudha along! My wife wishes to meet her!’
This part was the most arduous of all. Gathering the right words, repeating the incidence and hours of condolence.
‘Sudha..Sudha passed away four months back Singh’
‘Oh! We are..we are shocked Vimal..we are sorry..we couldn’t be there for you..’
‘That’s ok Singh..Will see you day after’
‘Sure! See you Vimal..’
Short and crisp. Just the way he wanted this conversation to be. He immediately noted down the date and the event in his diary. Without Sudha, it was hard for him to remember things.
He returned to the balcony to drown in his thoughts. He took his chair along by lifting it. No screeching noises. As soon as he held the chair to sit, he found his fingers buried in dust.
Oh, how he hated dust. The mere sight of it would bring out his worst temper. Dust in His house was absolutely unacceptable!!
‘Sudhaaa!!!!’ he yelled.
Later, he cleaned the chair with his old pair of undergarment. He hated this task. Even the dust missed Sudha. She would keep the entire house as clean as a rich man’s boots. In that moment, he sighed and whispered..’Thankyou Sudha..’
The doorbell rang. Foola ushered herself inside the house. He wanted to complain about the untidy mess all around but he didn’t know how to. Talking to maids was too shallow to him and these were Sudha’s matters to handle. Her department. But, he had to survive.
‘Ahem..Foola ji..its been two days and I have observed that..that the house is very dirty..especially the corners..and the floor below the table..and the bathrooms’
Foola stood aghast. He had never said a word to her in five years. She was so scared that she swallowed her pan as it is.
‘Sahab..I I don’t clean bathrooms. Sudha Madam knew it…And I can’t bend too much..you see.. I am a patient of arthritis.. Sudha Madam..knew..I will clean the corners carefully..’
Even the servants missed her.
He wore his favorite black suit for the party that night. Just the way Sudha would have liked it. She would have worn that red saree with golden borders. Once she was ready, nobody could believe it was Sudha. Not even him. She would look marvelous in those gold earrings he had once gifted her. She would compliment him while wearing the black bindi in front of the mirror.
‘Looking nice Vimal’
And he would smile proudly.
‘You look beautiful Sudha..’ he murmured as he stood there staring at the bindi stuck on the mirror.
The party was monotonous. Everybody thought of him as a poor pig and offered their sympathies because everybody loved Sudha. He wished she was around so that he could tell her how Mr Dubey’s son was hogging on food. That Fat Goblet. She would have giggled.
‘Vimal! You musn’t say that!’
He locked the main door and changed his clothes. The bed desperately needed a new bedsheet. The yellow pillow begged for a new cover.
‘Vimal! Wait wait wait!’
‘Don’t you see how yellow it is? Let me change it.’
‘Not now Sudha..do it tomo..’
Even before he could complete, she would have snatched the pillow and changed the covers to shining white.
‘Now you may sleep’ she would smile with pride.
‘Goodnight Sudha..’ he chanted as he slept off.
The phone rang. He woke up in frustration. This time he knew there was no escape. He threw his hand on the bedside table and wore his spectacles.
Vimal was taken aback. He lost hold of all the words. Of language. Of senses.
‘Sudha.?’ he questioned.
‘Yes..how are you?’
‘Sudha?? Who is this???’
‘It is Sudha..calm down Vimal..’
It was her. He knew it. It was Sudha. Only her words had the power to silent his storm.
‘Am I dreaming??’
‘Maybe’ she smiled innocently.
‘How are you Sudha..?’
The leap of formality had never escaped. Even love couldn’t kill it.
‘I am fine Vimal’
‘I am happy to hear that..I missed you tonight..’
‘Yes..Mr Dubey’s son you remember?’
‘Oh yes! That sweet boy!’
‘He isn’t so sweet anymore. He has grown enormously fat and eats like a bear!’
‘Vimal! You mustn’t say that!’ she chuckled.
He was afraid the dream might come to an end. He didn’t want to lose this opportunity.
‘Sudha..I miss you..I miss your face..I miss your presence..’
‘I miss you too Vimal..I am always around you..’
‘No one cooks baingan ka bharta like you used to..’
‘I will cook it for you tomorrow’ she assured him.
‘How is Niketan?’ she asked.
‘Niketan is fine and so is Aditi..they returned to America last month itself’
‘Are they happy?’
She breathed a sigh of relief.
‘I have to leave Vimal..will see you tomorrow’
‘Sudha! Sudha!!! Sudha???’
‘Yes I am here!’
‘Oh.. I wanted to say.. That.. I wanted to say.. Thankyou Sudha..’
He heard her smile. The very same lovely smile when they had gone out for their first dinner.
‘I have been ringing the bell for the past half an hour Madam Ji!! I am worried ! He usually opens the door in the first bell itself!! The milk! the newspaper..everything is kept outside!!’ said Foola frantically.
The neighbours ran to break his door.