It’s been 2 months since they found each other. Rohini now felt comfortable enough to sit on VC’s lap when he narrated his war stories. For most of the first month she hid herself whenever she saw VC’s jeep approaching the camp. She could never understand why her amma’s face looked so happy and yet she kept brushing off tears at the same time. That image seemed to haunt her for days.
It was only after a month had passed, that Leela sat Rohini down to talk. “I want to speak to you about something important Rohi”, she had said. Rohini remembered that night vividly. She had just finished her dinner. Her mother sat beside her on the balcony of their small apartment. The mid summer breeze felt warm on her skin. It looked as if the fireflies had come out earlier than usual. “Maybe they are all curious like me”, thought Rohini.
Her mother was silent for a long time. “Why are you not saying anything amma?”, Rohini broke the silence. Her mother looked at her. “You are sooo little my darling, but..you have to know. There is no simple way to say this..VC is your appa Rohi”, Leela held her breath as she said that. A minute passed in silence. “Like Raki’s appa?”, Rohini asked. “Yes…just like that. Your appa, VC, was fighting enemy airplanes when he was captured by the enemy. Else he would have….you would have met VC when you were a baby Rohi”, Leela cradled Rohini’s face looking into her eyes.
“Can I call him VC too?”, Rohini asked abruptly. “Sure…it is fine. What do you think, shall we let VC stay with us?”, asked Leela . “Um..I don’t know”, came a prompt reply.
Leela couldn’t stop smiling. It’s been three months since VC wriggled back into her life. And here he was sitting beside her, holding her hand, smiling that smug smile of his. She was in heaven. ‘VC had come for me! Just for me!’ Leela felt delirious. Not a day had passed when she didn’t dream about the life they could have had together. And now that she had told Rohini about VC, her heart felt full.
“Are you still in love with me Leela?”, VC asked suddenly. “Still?”. “Yes,still”. Leela looked at him. “I was in love with you from the moment I read about you. I knew we were meant to be together when you came to be my patient. And when you smiled at me, my world just stopped. I don’t think I can ever stop loving you VC..”, Leela snuggled closer to him. She would have given him anything he asked now. VC had that effect on her. He was her opium.
“I am a lucky guy then”, VC laughed. “That..you are. My lucky guy”, she said into his shoulders. Every time she inhaled his presence, she wasn’t herself. A familiar feeling came back to her…a feeling of helplessness…of total surrender..She sighed contentedly.
VC grabbed her face in his hands. “Let’s get married Leela”, he said. Leela blinked. “Why VC? Because of Rohini?”, she inquired. “No, you know it’s not because of her. A bit for her yes, but mostly because I love you. Every single day I was in prison, I wanted to kill myself for not getting married to you the day my eyes met yours. Please, please, …please say yes. You are my life…my soul…my reason to live. Marry me and let’s live our dream life Leela!”, VC’s eyes spoke more volumes than his lips.
Leela let her herself be swooned to his music. Again.
Rohini was happy to see her mom so excited. Her mother looked more beautiful than ever in the red and white garland. VC looked nice in garland too, she thought. Reena paati made her sit beside amma for what seemed forever. “Why do they have fire going in front of you amma?”, she asked curiously.
“Making sure nature is there as a witness when your mother agrees to be with me Rohi”, VC winked at her. She clapped her hands in glee as her mother made her sit on her lap, while everyone showered flowers at them. “We should do this everyday amma!”, she said. Everyone laughed.
The car ride had been a long one. “Where are you taking us blindfolded VC? VC always likes to surprise us Rohi. Don’t be scared”, Leela sounded worried as she staggered out of the car holding VC’s hand. “I like this! You lead the way VC!”, Rohini’s voice boomed over VC’s laughter. “See my 2 week pondatti, our daughter is way bolder than you!”, boasted VC.
“Ok guys, I am gonna open your folds now! Surprise!”, shouted VC. In front of them, Leela could see a bungalow decorated with flowers and a banner with words “VC-Leela-Rohini’s Palace of dreams”. Leela’s mouth hung open. “Come in, Come in, it’s our house..your home Rohini!”, VC dragged them in.
Leela noticed Rohini squealing in delight as she ran from one room to another exclaiming how big it was. “Why? How VC?” Leela finally asked. “I bought this house for you. And for Rohini, Leela. Do you like it? Come on, how much longer will you both stay in that tiny apartment of yours! We are gonna live the life of our dreams here Leela! Say you love it my queen! ” VC’s voice was excited as he lifted Leela and swung her around.
“But..but my work VC..This house is two hours from the camp..how will I work?”, Leela voice faltered. “Aha! That’s why this house was the best! I searched high and low to find a big house near a hospital that you could work for! Ilyas already found a job for you there. How awesome is that! And look at Rohi’s face Leela, she loves it! The universe wants us to be together here Leela, I can feel it, can’t you?”, VC’s euphoria was evident in his voice.
Leela laughed as VC took her by her waist and swung her around the room. “Haha..Stop! Stop! My head is spinning!”. “Well?”, he asked. “Well..I like it. VC could have asked me before buying it though”, she hesitated a little before saying it. “I could have but then it wouldn’t have been a surprise! “, VC added as he brought Rohini into a family hug. A squeal escaped from them both while VC try to spin them around for the second time.
The radio was singing her mother’s favorite song. ‘It’s been a while since I heard amma sing…she is not even humming nowadays…’, Rohini thought. She glanced at her mother who was standing near the stove. It’s been six months since they moved into this new house. For some reason, her mother seemed to be around the house a lot more. Not that she had any complaints.
“Your favorite song amma”, she called out. Leela continued to stand still staring at the boiling curry on stove. “Amma!!!!”, Rohini raised her volume. Leela jerked, turned abruptly to her, and asked “Rohi? What happened? Is something wrong?”. “No. You are very quiet..Are you angry with me?”, Rohini was almost afraid to ask. “No, my darling! No no, I…I was just busy..busy thinking about what the other doctors are doing now.”, Leela replied under her breath as she switched off the stove and came to sit beside Rohini in the dining room.
The answer seemed to satisfy Rohini. “Why aren’t you at the hospital amma? Who will treat the injured?”, she asked with innocent eyes. She didn’t understand why her mother turned her face without answering. She opened a coloring book that VC bought her yesterday and selected a green crayon to color. She liked that her mother picked a red crayon and joined in.
It was silent for sometime, except for the sound of crayons scratching the paper. “Do you think…have I been a bad amma for leaving you with Reena paati when I went to work Rohi?” Leela asked slowly. Rohini looked up from her book. She remembered the quiet fights that her mom and VC had when they thought she wasn’t listening.
“Did VC say you are bad amma?”, she asked. “No..no! VC..appa loves us both very much. Actually, he loves you so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of you staying alone with no one to play. That’s why he told me to spend time with you instead of at the hospital. !”, her mother hurried to soothe her.
Rohini looked at her mother. “I liked it when you hummed”, she said and went back to coloring her tree. “Kaatril.. enthan geetham..kaanaatha ondrai theduthey..”, Janaki’s voice filled the room. Leela sighed as she breathed in the song.
“Rohini has grown up so much! The last time I met her was when she was 2 years old”, Ilyas paid a visit to their house, along with some of Leela’s friends. Rohini gave a shy smile. Leela was talking about her old patients, when she heard VC’s jeep come in. VC entered with gusto. “Hey guys!! So nice to meet you! Ilyas! How are you man! You didn’t come for our wedding too! Leela can you get me some coffee?”, VC dropped into the seat beside him and smoothed into the conversation.
“So how’s Beena? Looks like you have put on 5kgs after marriage Ilyas, right Leela?”, VC jabbed Ilyas in the arm as he said that. “Yeah yeah…it’s all fine and dandy! More responsibilities too! I am thinking of buying a house but Beena doesn’t want me to put a loan on it now..She wants to wait for a year at least, so that we could settle down on a particular place instead of travelling all the time. She is right in a way, but houses’ price keep going up..and..I..”, before Ilays could finish, VC cut in.
“You are crazy to have brought your wife into this! You shouldn’t let your wife make the big decisions in the house. Everyone knows that! Always make the big decisions, you know on stuff that matters, yourself man. And let your wife make the small ones..like what to cook for dinner or what kind of shirt you should wear for the party or what movie to go to…huh? This way she will feel as if she is running the house.” VC poked Ilyas in the arm and laughed.
Ilyas winced a little as he noticed Leela listening to their conversation from the kitchen. Her eyes spoke what his heart was feeling.
Thursday evening. Leela was teaching Rohini to read while she heard VC’s jeep come in. “Hello my lovelies! Leela what’s for dinner? I can eat a horse. Please show me some food!”, she heard VC’s voice and saw him plop on the sofa and switch on the TV to see the 8pm news. “VC. I just sat down with Rohini. There’s dal and veggies that I cooked for lunch on the table”, Leela replied. VC seemed to ignore the strain in her voice.
“No dinner? I go work just for your guys and you didn’t even cook fresh dinner? What do you do then for the whole day? “, VC spoke while we watched the TV. Leela continued teaching Rohini to write letter M.
“At least be a darling and bring me some food Leela. I can’t miss the news”, VC called out. Leela couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You can hear the news while you get the food VC. Rohini write letter M properly”, Leela’s voice sounded angry.
The next minute Leela saw the TV remote flying and hitting the wall. “Should have had dinner with my friends. Serves me right for choosing to come here. I will have my dinner where they know how to treat a man right”, roared VC as he grabbed his jeep keys. Leela continued to stare at the broken remote as she heard the main door slam shut.
Rohini had looked forward to this day the whole year. Amma had decorated the house with balloons and streamers. Everyone she knew and met were there.
All her friends loved her dress, and she couldn’t wait to cut her birthday cake. For some reason, amma kept telling her to wait. But she could see the sky turning black. “Amma, when can I cut the cake??”, she wailed. “Just a few more minutes Rohini. VC will be here soon”, her mother’s friend said.
Rohini was in her third game of tag when her amma finally called her to cut the cake. She rushed to the table with glee. “Where’s VC?” she inquired. “Let’s cut the cake darling”, her mother replied in a voice devoid of emotion. Rohini laughed as she blew out the candles but didn’t fail to notice the hurt on her amma’s face. She didn’t know why, Maybe I blew out the candles wrong?, she wondered.
VC entered the house only when Reena paati was taking down the decorations. Rohini saw VC’s eyes go big as he saw the balloons and he rushed to her with a thousand sorrys for forgetting her party. She didn’t understand why amma took VC to another room and closed the door immediately. There’s going to be loud voices again, she thought. She hugged her Reena paati a little tighter.
Leela just came out from her bath, looking simple and fresh in a house dress. VC blocked her way. “It’s been three weeks. Come on, come to me. I told you I was busy at work, and time flew by so fast..Even Rohini forgave me, it’s just you. Don’t over react to this, give some love to your husband”, VC started. “Over react? Don’t you realize how big a day it was for Rohini? For me? For us?”, Leela snarled at him.
“Don’t you dare raise your voice at me, okay Leela dear? I love you to the moon, but come on, no more raising voices ok? Just do your job as a wife..”, VC shouted back. “Oh. Is that my job? To be your wife? Is that why you made me quit my job? So that I could do your bidding all the time?” Leela’s face turned red.
“Yes. That is your job. Enough? Now let’s see you do the job right”, sneered VC as he caught both of her arms and pinned her to the wall. “Let me go VC”, Leela said as she tried to break free.”Nope. I had been patient for the past 3 weeks…but this is too much! Getting upset over nothing. You are my wife. Husbands will be busy at work, you have to adjust. Just like you adjust during other times..”, VC smiled as he brought his face closer to Leela’s.
“Don’t. Don’t you dare touch me”, Leela said between clenched teeth. “Oh? If I don’t touch you, then who will?”, VC kissed her nose playfully as he tightened his grip. “Tell me. Who?”, an ugly smile curled up his face. Leela hated when VC got this way. “Stop VC! You are hurting my arm now. I am not in the mood for your..your games”, Leela struggled to get her arms out. “Let me go VC”, she stated.
“I would like to. But I can’t”, VC said, as he sniffed the area around her neck. “My wife smells lovely. I can’t help myself”, he pinned her to the wall with his chest as his hands roamed freely. “Stop. VC. I said don’t do this. Let me go VC!”, Leela pleaded as she noticed VC remove his belt, and then his pants. “Come on Leela..you are my wife..And you know I love you!”, she heard VC say as he brought his rough lips down on her. “You should have let me go VC”, Leela sobbed.
Rohini saw her mother hug VC. She saw her wiping away VC’s tears and her own as she said goodbye. She kept saying it was for their own good, that both their happiness and child’s were at stake. “Are we going away from VC amma?”, she asked when Leela finally boarded the bus. Leela looked at Rohini. “Yes Rohi. I should have done this long back. I should have listened to the sane voice in my head. I should have learned to say No to him. Well…you learn from me. Love should not be an excuse to emotionally and physically abuse another person. Don’t lose yourself to that kind of love..it will end up causing more pain than happiness…”, Leela spoke more to herself than Rohini.
“Where are we going now?”, Rohini asked. “I found a nice apartment near the camp I was working for earlier..it’s not big, but it’s good..definitely good for us”, Leela answered with a new spring in her voice.
As Rohini looked at the cars moving alongside her bus, she heard her mother hum “Nilavinai nambi iravugal Illai..mmm mmmm mmmm..Oru vaasal moodi maru vaasal vaippaan iraivan…”. Rohini smiled and rested her head on Leela’s shoulders.