Monday, October 10, 2005

Short Story - The Alibi (Part III)

The Alibi (contd...)

Chandrashekar watched his son climb the stairs and sighed. He grimaced at how hard he had tried to push Ravi away. Not a day went by now when Chandrashekar did not rue those lost years when he so foolishly thought that he could push Ravi away and therefore not feel this hurt Ravi was feeling now. He had been selfish, but Chandrashekar realized over the last few years that his aloofness had been futile. He could still remember the pure terror he felt when Ravi had asked to go away to college. He had begged Ravi to stay. He could not afford to lose him too…

Chandrashekar had not intended it at all, but Ravi had ended up suffering more than the share of his pain – the loss of his mother, the loss of his father’s affection, the loss of an unborn sibling, and now this greatest loss of all, the inability to have children. Ravi’s pain brought back memories. Memories he never succeeded in repressing. Memories of his own father explaining to him why he was adopted, and why Ravi would never know the pleasure of fathering his own flesh and blood. Chandrashekar had not believed it when he first heard it and he could not now. This was the 21st century for heaven’s sake!

He got up from his easy chair and walked over to the mesh that enclosed the verandah. He laced his fingers in the mesh and let his body rest on the strength of his fingers. He looked like a flea plastered on the wall. He stared out into the garden, his eyes taking in everything, but his mind seeing nothing. What should he do? Should he tell Ravi what his own father had told him? What purpose would that serve, wondered Chandrashekar.

* * * * *

She walked back into the bedroom and sat at the edge of the bed wondering how she had gotten herself in this predicament. Ma and Papa had relived the pain when it was time for Suman to get married. The marriage proposals came, unsolicited, from well-meaning friends and family. No one knew. Suman remembered how scared she had been. What if someone found out? Ma and Papa seemed to be at a loss. Should they entertain these proposals? Should they put them off? But for how long? Tongues would start wagging if Suman was not married soon.

When Papa’s close friend came with a proposal, Suman had wanted to go forward with the process if only to change her surroundings. She had wanted to put an end to this. She was tired of walking on egg shells. Living in the same house with Ma and Papa never allowed her to forget. For Ma and Papa, she had turned into a constant reminder of an ugly episode in their lives.

Suman let her body fall on the bed and closed her eyes. She had been naïve. Forgetting had not been that easy. The egg shells were all around her, challenging her to navigate them. Now, she had two other lives to worry about. Two lives she was about to crush with her story.

She knew it was time. Ever since she and Ravi had tried to start a family, she had approached every visit to the doctor with a combination of trepidation and hope -- afraid that her secret would be revealed, and hopeful that the doctor might give them the good news that she had conceived. It had to be done. Ravi had to be told the truth.

* * * * *

The visits to the doctor always drained him. Ravi had been thankful to have found a doctor that didn’t seem to find anything wrong with him. He resisted Appa’s attempts to have them switch doctors. But Ravi could no longer bear the crushing disappointment he was sure Suman and Appa must be feeling. He could see it on their faces. He felt responsible. He could not find any other explanation. The doctor said Suman was fine. She was young and healthy, and there was no reason she could not conceive. Ravi felt certain he was the cause. Another doctor at another place and another time had been certain too.

Fifteen years of keeping that secret was fraying his nerves now. Even at the height of the crisis, he had not told his parents, relying instead on his friends to pull him out of the morass he had found himself in. Amma’s illness had made things worse…

Ravi pulled himself off the back of the chair and bent forward, hiding his face between his knees and hugging his legs. His best friend Shekar – had he been a friend or a curse? In high school, where Ravi first met him, he had seemed like a god send. They had moved on to the same college. Shekar was self-assured. He never seemed to feel any of the inadequacies that Ravi always seemed to be feeling. Ravi leeched on to him. Shekar didn’t seem to mind Ravi tagging along. They did everything together – or, Ravi thought disdainfully – Shekar did everything and Ravi just followed. They studied together, they went to the movies together, they played together, they drank together, did drugs together.

Ravi quickly learned the comforts of drinking and doing drugs. It didn’t seem to matter anymore that Appa was distant, nor that Amma was sick all the time. The images were all fading into one another in Ravi’s mind. Nothing else mattered but the next snort or the welcome pain of the syringe.

The trip to Ooty during his final year of college brought the starkest images to Ravi’s mind. Maybe the drugs were spurious or maybe it was the fact that they had mixed alcohol with drugs, but Ravi and Shekar found themselves at the hospital the day after they arrived in Ooty. A hotel attendant found them passed out in a corner of the garden.

The doctor at the local hospital there had not minced his words. “You’ve been at this a long time, haven’t you? Do you know what drugs do to you?” Ravi turned his gaze away from the doctor. The doctor had launched into a lecture anyway. He talked about how drugs ravaged the body and the mind. He talked about impotence and sterility. Ravi just wished he would go away. Did any of this really matter?

Now, he was tired. He just wanted it to stop – the visits to the doctor, the dread that invaded his days and nights before the visits and the guilt that followed. He did not know what coming clean would do to him, or his marriage, or his relationship with Appa. But, surely, anything would be better than living like this! It had to be done. He would tell them today. After dinner.

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