In continuation of The Routine
They both sat up at the same time. At first Ajay thought he had imagined it because he was thinking about the occasions when Smriti had reached out to her father and Sneha. But, when Sneha said that she had heard the knock too, he pushed aside his quilt and got up. Sneha switched on the lights.
“Dad” they heard a whisper from outside the door. Ajay was about to open the door when Sneha signaled him to shift his pillow and quilt from the couch. Ajay picked up the stuff and threw it on the bed. Sneha pushed the single quilt under the bed and placed Ajay’s pillow next to hers and adjusted the bed cover such that it seemed Ajay had just got up from the bed, pushing aside his side of the cover. Ajay opened the door and Shreya walked in, holding her pillow in her hand.
“I had a very bad dream, can I sleep with you?” Shreya whispered looking past Ajay and straight at Sneha.
“Of course, come on in!” Sneha called out, Ajay closed the door as Shreya stepped in. She walked straight into extended arms of Sneha. Placing her head on Sneha’s shoulder she whispered, “It was a very bad dream.”
Sneha moved her hand over Shreya’s back and realized that Shreya’s nightgown was soaked with sweat. She asked Ajay to switch on the air conditioner and placed Shreya’s pillow in between Ajay’s and hers. Shifting further to the right she gave enough space for both Shreya and Ajay.
Without saying a word, Ajay slid into his side of the bed and faced Shreya who had calmed down and was sleeping closer to Sneha, her face buried in Sneha’s bosom and Sneha was moving her hand over Shreya’s back, trying to make her sleep. When Sneha was sure that Shreya was asleep, she stopped stroking her back and carefully and delicately touching her shoulder made Shreya sleep on her back. She pulled up the cover including Shreya in it and Ajay pulled up his side of the cover and then switched off the air conditioner and the lights. In the darkness of the room, Ajay and Sneha stared at each other in silence. A while later Ajay fell asleep while Sneha continued staring at his face, not as peaceful as it was the previous night.
When Sneha woke up in the morning, Ajay was already awake and so was Shreya. She freshened up and walked to Shreya’s room, she was not there. She walked down to the kitchen and saw that Shreya was already at the dining table eating her breakfast. She was in her school uniform.
“Good Morning! You are late” Shreya said.
“Yeah” Sneha murmured and walked towards Shreya and wished her good morning after kissing her hair.
Ajay handed her the plate and the coffee mug and she joined Shreya at the dining table. She looked at Shreya wondering whether she should ask her about the dream but finally decided against it. She did not want to remind Shreya of the nightmare. Then she turned to look at Ajay, to find some trace of emotion on his face, but as it was most of the times, his face was unreadable. From the corner of her eye Sneha saw that Shreya had caught her staring at Ajay. She took a bit from her sandwich and walked towards Ajay saying, “What’s for tiffin, dad?” She placed her hand on Ajay’s shoulder and stood closer to him, pretending to look at what he was making. She could feel Ajay tense under her touch. After a while Ajay placed his hand around her waist and told her what he was making for Shreya’s tiffin. Sneha kissed Ajay on his cheek before walking towards the dining table and sitting back on her seat. Shreya was staring at her.
“The way you look at dad..” Shreya whispered
“Hmmm?” Sneha questioned taking a sip from her coffee and pretending not to be worried.
“It’s as if you are scared you might lose him” Shreya said.
Sneha coughed out the coffee and then excused herself. “What?” she asked pretending to be surprised.
“You stare at him often, watching him work, watching him eat and yesterday night, you were watching him for a long time after he slept! You love him so much that you feel you would lose him… then why don’t you forgive him for his mistake and make peace?” Shreya questioned.
Though Ajay pretended not to be listening to the conversation, he had heard every word of it and was contemplating a plan to change the conversation but Sneha answered, “That is exactly what I was thinking yesterday night. I think it is time I forgive dad.” And looking at Ajay she said, “I forgive you …”
After a while she added, “Provided you take us out for dinner tonight.” And turning towards Shreya she winked. Shreya smiled and kissed her and Ajay goodbye as she heard the honking of her school bus.
Both Shreya and Ajay disappeared at the same time. Shreya went to school and Ajay went to the bedroom. Sneha walked to the bedroom to talk to Ajay but when she turned the knob she realized that Ajay had locked her out. Unknown feeling coursed through her entire body as she walked away from the bedroom and towards the gym. She sat down in one corner, pulling her knees close to her chest and then wrapping her arms around them. Placing her head on her forearm, she slept.
When she got up she walked out and wondered whether she should walk towards the bedroom or go straight to the kitchen. She decided on latter. She was very good in blocking out her thoughts while she was cooking so that is what she decided to do.
“Where were you?” Ajay called out from the living room as Sneha walked towards the kitchen.
“I was in the gym, since you had locked me out of your bedroom.” She complained.
“You have several missed calls on your cell phone. Someone’s desperately trying to contact you.” Ajay said ignoring her comment and handing her the cell phone.
Sneha dialed the number from the missed call log and found out that it was Daniel’s number. He told her that he had found another job for her; the timing was as per her requirement. When she asked him where the job was, he told her that it was in the same cafeteria. She was supposed to take his place at the counter, where as he was promoted to the account department. Since the job was split into shifts, she had to work for less hours and he had managed to find her the time slot when she could be at the cafeteria as Shreya was at school.
Sneha took a deep breath and asked him when she was supposed to join. He told her that she could start after two days. Sneha thanked him for the favor and before disconnecting the call she said, “I will remember this, Daniel.”
She told Ajay about this job and then walked to the kitchen. She smiled, the earlier sadness forgotten and started making lunch.
In the evening, the maid who was on leave for a couple of days showed up at the door and when Ajay opened the door for her, she looked past Ajay and stared at Sneha. Even as she did her chores, she could not take her eyes off Sneha. Sneha rolled her eyes and busied herself in reading whatever magazine she could find. But when she could not take it anymore, she put the magazine down, stood up and shouted, “Get out!” and the maid froze where she was.
“I said, get out … leave … go and don’t come back again.” Sneha was angry. Ajay tried to calm her down but the look she gave Ajay made him take a step back and he signaled the maid to leave.
“Baya baya kiti ha rubaab parkya gharaat.” the maid muttered as she walked out of the door.
“What did she just say?” Sneha asked Ajay and he said, “Nothing.”
When she stared at him in anger he finally told her what the maid had said. The maid had commented on Sneha’s attitude, saying that she showed too much pride and rudeness in the house which was not even hers.
“Bitch!” Sneha whispered and walked out of the door. Ajay tried to stop her assuming that she was going to pick up a fight with the maid.
“What?” she shouted. “I am going to bring my daughter back home; her school bus will be here any moment.” Saying so Sneha walked away.
Ajay shook his head and then looked at his wrist watch. Sneha had walked out at the perfect time without looking at the clock. That she could tell it was time for the bus to arrive, without knowing the time, just like Smriti used to know, was unbelievable.
Sneha walked back, holding Shreya's backpack and found that Ajay was standing rooted where he had been when she had left.
“Hey! What’s wrong?” she asked. Ajay did not reply. Shreya had walked back to her room already. She waited for Ajay to say something but when he did not she asked him, “Are we going to the dinner or are you going to bail out like always.” Ajay gave her a sharp look but Sneha shrugged and walked away.
Ajay then walked to Shreya’s room where both the ladies were and told them that they were going out for the dinner. Shreya had just finished her Bournvita and was about to do her homework. Sneha was sitting next to her, checking Shreya’s school work.
When they returned home after dinner, Sneha suggested that Shreya slept with them for a few days and Shreya readily agreed. Ajay found it strange that she had taken the decision herself without asking him what he thought about it. How had she suddenly got so comfortable about sharing not only the same room, but the same bed with him?
.. The Passion