Shilpa Gupte | July 2023 | Flash Fiction |
“She’s just…just a colleague,” you said. Just—a four-letter word that told me I hadn’t been hallucinating all the while. “She will be here tomorrow afternoon to meet me…us…I mean,” Your tripping over the words reeked of jittery nerves even as you tried to appear calm. I heard your heart thudding in your chest—a drum roll.
You cross the threshold and enter my domain. You breathe in deeply and your fuschia lips curl upwards. “Hello!” you chirp as our eyes meet. “Hello,” I croak, my colourless lips starkly juxtaposed with the vividness you carry as your weapon.
Your gaze wanders and stops at the face I have woken up to for the past 10 years. Your eyes meet; a current passes between you two and scorches my skin. I hurry into the kitchen.
She stepped into our world when you started arriving late from work, complaining about your team doing a shoddy job that required you to stay back to clean up their mess.
Her perfume gave you away; it followed you home and took up a permanent residence in every nook of the space I held sacred. Her invisible presence by your side, as you turned your back to me in bed lost in thoughts–her almond-shaped eyes enticing you, her lithe body in your arms—her ghost tormented me. Your phone on the side table buzzed her name in the middle of the night. I turned, too, with thoughts of the distant past, when it was me you held close.
I prayed for a storm, a hurricane, an earthquake. It didn’t work.
“That’s not how it works, Priya,” Ma’s words echoed. “You should be aligned with Him, only then will He hear your prayers,” she would say, her finger pointing skywards, her eyes admonishing me for not being devoted to Him.
But it was you I worshipped.
Your tinkling laughter as he whispers in your ears; the clinking of your glass bangles as you reach over and touch his arm; the secret smiles you share sitting on the couch as I stand in the kitchen, preparing the halwa—the walls of my home tell me all about it.
Ma always said, “Never let your secrets slip. The walls have ears, you know?”
They reveal to me how you gently place your hand over his as I place the pan on the stove and switch it on. They mutter as your kohl-lined eyes look into his, your desire settling on your lips as you smile your lop-sided smile, wordlessly expressing your wants.
I pour the sooji into the pan to roast it to a golden brown. The aroma wafts through the house. Does it arouse his taste buds as it did before you walked in and enveloped him in your fragrance?
The walls moan in despair as you slide your hand into his and your fingers entwine. He looks up to check if I am watching. The walls, my decade-old allies, murmur the goings-on.
They witnessed my crumbling heart when he walked away from my extended arms–the chasm deepening day by day. They looked on helplessly as tears rolled down my cheeks, soothing the angry fingerprints he left behind before storming out of the house. Now, they agonize over my shattered dreams as you lose yourself in his eyes, dreaming about your rosy tomorrows.
“Make it sweet, Priya. As sweet as you, my love,” your voice floats into the kitchen as I measure the sugar to add to the sooji. A titter escapes her mouth.
“I’ll make it as sweet as you, Harish,” I reply, a quiver in my voice as I stifle a sob. A tear rolls down my cheek and mingles with the halwa—a pinch of salt to enhance its sweetness. Ma’s secret ingredient.
Sprinkling a handful of chopped almonds and a few saffron threads, I gaze at the dessert I have prepared for one who dreams of swapping places with me.
I set out two delicate crystal bowls we purchased on one of your shopping sprees ages ago, and serve the halwa. I place the bowls with two spoons on a tray.
Should I share you with her, as one shares their belongings with distant relatives who descend upon them, uninvited?
Or should I move you from the pedestal I placed you on?
I pick up the tray and move toward the living room.
Shilpa Gupte is a freelance wellness writer and artist. Her nonfiction has appeared in Women’s Web, Idle Ink, and Potato Soup Journal. Her flash fiction is forthcoming in National Flash Fiction Day. She lives in Mumbai, India, with her husband and pet parrots.
Connect with her on Twitter @shilpwrites.
Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash
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