"How do you manage to look so beautiful all the time, Darling!" Siddhant said and planted an obligatory kiss on Avani's cheek.
Avani looked at him straight and asked, "For how long are you going out Siddhant?" He looked at her again, a little perplexed.
"Avani my work profile demands travel, dearie. I can't help it. And you know i can't afford to take you to all the places i visit for work, don't you? Why do you always complicate things for me? Look, you knew this even when we were dating, right? I need my space. I need my sanity to work in peace. Avani, be the girl you were ya! You had this spark. You were vivacious, naughty, full of life, you were MY Avani. What changed for you so drastically yar? We are married. But that's about it. Why have you changed so much? I am getting sick of this Indianised, archetypal feminine self in you!"
Siddhant slammed the washroom door and left the bedroom to Avani, as cold as the dead stones on a winter night. The sky had begun to embrace the bleeding early morning sun on the horizon. Avani got up and made her way into the kitchen. She had to finish off with preparing breakfast and fixing up lunch for the day before Siddhant could drop her to her college on his way to the airport.
"Avani, i forgot ya. Take Maa for her routine check-up today. And yes on your way back from work, ask my secretary to hand over to you the file for a collaborative project with Sanders& Brothers. Yar, i am sure you could write a really decent proposal for the same. And mail me the same by late evening. The success of this project has the potential to make us the best service providers in the country. Avani, i am so happy ya. You indeed are the best." With this Siddhant placed his hand on her hands and lifted it to kiss her. Avani moved away and reached out for the steps on the college gate."
Siddhant reached for dinner that night. "Hey sweetheart! I am sorry i was rude today. Took the last evening flight to catch you for dinner. Well, i shall take the early morning flight to work out the rest of the stuff there. I am at the door. Dying to see you." Siddhant beamed through the call.
Avani opened the door with her enchanting smile. She hugged him and muttered a muffled 'Thank You' in his ears. Siddhant was greeted by the party in progress. He just figured out it was Avani's birthday he completely missed out on. Any probability for a shop being open at this unseemly hour was an impossibility. By then Shashwat, Avani's best childhood friend and her colleague now had opened the wine for the night and raised toast to Avani's beautiful charm. Siddhant stood enraged. He stomped off to his room making a hasty retreat from the party. Avani got back in a short time winding up the party soon.
She snuggled close to Siddhant. "I knew you would come today. Somehow i just knew you would".
Her doe-eyes filled with the mist of her unending love for Siddhant. She hugged him tight. Siddhant harshly pulled himself away and said, "Stop playing this emotional drama now. Why the hell did that bastard turn up? Just because i happen to be out for business tours, you presumed the right to compensate for my time by calling him over in my absence? Avani, since how long have you guys been doing this? I know i was late, i know i was negligent. But in that case how does that good-for-nothing lover of yours have the right to give you a surprise celebration in my absence? He could have collaborated with me, right? We could have planned things together, right? Do you think i am a fool, Avani? Tell me, for how long have you been sleeping with him? "
Siddhant held her arms so tight that they began to hurt. Avani could barely speak. Tears flowed down on her cheeks incessently. Just then, one of her glass bangles broke and tore her skin on the wrist. She got up and left. The next morning Siddhant left without a word to return a week later as scheduled.
Avani realised she was pregnant. She was happy. Very very happy. She waited for Siddhant to return for lunch, prepared his favourite meal and draped his favourite saree. Siddhant came over late and on learning of the news took her in his arms and together they weaved dreams on the fabric of the life to come. Suddenly, his phone rang. He hung up in a while and said," Avani, yar go for the check-up alone. I know you are a strong, independent girl and anyway would have desisted me from doing this. I am sorry but i am out for another month now."
Avani gaped at his face and nodded. She kissed him a goodbye and cried the whole day, cancelled all her classes and drowned the house with her wails and moans after Siddhant left. Something had snapped in her today.
The days stitched and unstitched similar patterns on their marital trousseau for two years now. Avani asked Siddhant for a divorce. She said she will take care of Maa but does not wish to continue in this house. She said something had failed to keep the home they made in this concrete alive. She said she wanted to shield Mrinal from all this. She said she wanted her own life back. She said because Siddhant is busy, she would take all responsibilities of Maa as long as she is alive. Avani said she wanted her space. She said she wanted to breathe out of love. She assured she would fulfill her roles as a mother and a daghter-in-law without seeking any response and assistance from Siddhant. She said she wanted to be freed of his 'love'.
Siddhant looked at this new Avani. As beautiful as ever. Her mauve saree carefully draping the sleeping Mrinal. Her unkempt hair loosened all over her waist.
"Avani, you have changed. Why are you talking like one of those feminist women from your goddamn novels and recommended movies? I love you Avani. I am sorry. But don't look at me like that. Don't seek divorce. I would crumble without you. Please come back, Avani. I would love you more than Shashwat. I would keep you happy Avani. Please don't go away."
Avani looked at Siddhant with an icy cold, detached yet compassionate look. "Siddhant, i am moving out from the place. I have left the job and have decided to settle in the hills and work with the tribals. Do me one favour. Attend Shashwat's wedding on my behalf today evening. He has decided to solemnise his live-in with Gauri after six long years of togetherness. I am taking Maa out for her check-up before we move out tomorrow. Sign the divorce papers and leave it with the advocate. I am leaving to never come back. But take care of yourself.
She said this and gave him a a lingering look. There was care, there was calmness, there was responsibility, there was compassion, there was honesty, there was HIS Avani's confidence. However hard he searched in those beautiful eyes, he could not find love. It seemed as if he was never there with her ever. It seemed he was not what he had been.