The Contract

In continuation of The Change of Heart

The three of them sat for a long time on the bench, waiting for the fire to die down and finally when it did, Ajay was the last person to get up. They walked home. Sneha had never known where Ajay stayed. Of course, she was visiting for the first time. Though it felt that it had been a long time since they had met first, it just had been a few days. Without saying a word, Ajay walked up to his bedroom and Sneha was left alone with Smriti’s father, again.

The old man seemed tired, too. He told her that she should take the guest room while he would sleep on the couch. Obviously, that was not what Sneha could have agreed to. In fact, Sneha felt she should not be here, not now, not like this when Ajay was mourning his wife. True, he would continue to mourn for a long time and true, she would have to be a part of his life sooner than the time he would need to get over Smriti, but right now, it felt wrong. Smriti’s father perhaps understood her hesitation because he offered to drop her home.
“No, I will be fine. I will take a cab.” Sneha said. She had to leave and he did not mind that she had to. “Would you please tell Ajay I left, that is if he comes asking?” Sneha continued and the old man nodded. Both of them knew that he was not going to come out of the room. At least not till morning when it was time to collect what remained of Smriti.
Sneha took a cab back to her apartment. It was lonely and dark as it had always been. Suddenly, she felt very tired. She was physically and emotionally drained. She never knew when she slept. It seemed like it had been just a few minutes but when Sneha opened her eyes, it was morning. She pushed aside the covers and climbed out of bed. Tying her hair into a bun she walked out to the kitchen and kept the coffee pot on the burner. She checked her cell phone for a message and a smile spread across her face when she saw that Ajay had sent her a text. She opened the inbox and read. “Sorry” just one word but that was enough for Sneha to get her going and for filling her day and also her life with a little hope. She knew she could not ask too much from Ajay.

She started her day at the hospital, catering to the orders of the customers in the cafeteria. It seemed to be crowded. Without realizing what she was doing, she looked around the cafeteria, searching for Ajay at his specific table at the specific time. It took a while for her to realize that he would not be at the hospital anymore. Ajay and she had not discussed her job. Would she be working after she went to live with him? Should she quit if he asks her to? Was it not too risky? She questioned herself. How would she continue working in cafeteria and be with Shreya at the same time? The voice in her head questioned back. There had to be a way. Obviously, she could not give up totally on her life! Anyways, it was not necessary that she had to be with Shreya 24/7. She made a mental note of asking Ajay about this. Maybe she should have asked her doubts before agreeing to the whole set up or at least before calling Shreya. It was a little too late now to step back, the voice warned her.

Sneha remember that Ajay was supposed to be at the crematory to collect Smriti’s ashes. On one hand, she had wanted to go but on the other hand she wanted to let him be alone. She tried to keep herself busy in the kitchen. She was on her coffee break when her cell phone beeped. Ajay had texted her saying that he would be coming to the hospital to pick her up at the end of the shift. Sneha smiled and kept the cell phone back in her jean pocket. The coffee break had perked her up.

Ajay was late. She had almost made up her mind to hail a cab when she saw him in the approaching cab. He opened the door and she got it. She expected him to drop her home, instead he took a different route and she realized that he was taking her to his house. She wanted to ask questions but she remained silent and so did he. When the cab stopped in front of his house, he paid the fare and stepped out and Sneha followed him inside the house without saying a word.

“I will drop you home in some time, if you wish but before that I wanted you to be here with me so that we could talk and I could show you a few things.” Ajay explained. Sneha nodded.
Ajay showed her around the house, he showed her the kitchen, the guest room, the prayer room, the lawn and then he walked to the spiral staircase in the living room. He climbed up to the first level and showed her the open terrace on their right. Sneha walked a few steps further and looked out from the open terrace; it was right above the lawn, the lawn extending further than the terrace. The evening breeze played with her hair and she closed her eyes for a while. This place was huge but the best part was that it was filled with positive energy. Sneha knew from where must have that come from. Ajay waited for her to walk back to him and then he showed her the gym, which was straight in front of the staircase, first to the left was Shreya’s room, followed by the study and to the extreme left was the master bedroom, Ajay told her. Neither he was ready to show it to her nor was she ready to see it yet. Shreya’s room was just as she had expected it to be. Neat, organized but of course it had a child’s touch. Stuffed toys were placed on the bed and in a corner. The study table was well-organized and on it was placed a picture – a family picture.
She walked closer to the study table and looked at the frame. Maybe you should have a new picture clicked, a voice in her head said. Sneha hated it. She shut out that voice and promised herself that she would never allow that voice to speak again. Past many days she had been talking more with herself than with other people. Lots of voices were creating chaos in her mind and she had feared she would lose her sanity. But, when she had been in the room with Smriti, all the voices had shut up and Sneha had been at peace. Occasionally a voice or two spoke up in her mind but this one – this one was ugly.

Ajay cleared his throat, bringing her back into the outer world.
“We need to talk” he said and they both walked out of the room. Sneha looked to the right, towards the bedroom while Ajay turned to the left towards the study. Once inside, he walked to the desk and took out a file from one of the drawers.
“I was not sure how you wanted this to be done, I have hand-written a few points for you to take a look at and then if you wish you can add a few points too. And, if you wish, we can get this done by an attorney.” Ajay explained.
Of course there has to be an attorney involved, what if he uses and then throws you out, the same ugly voice raised its head. Sneha shut it off once again and took the file. She read the papers. Ajay had it all covered. He had made it very clear that his relationship with Sneha would only be meant for the purpose it has been set up for. It went without saying that there would not be any physical relationship between the two. Of course, when around Shreya, they would behave like her parents would. Ajay had circled an area that read “occasional hugs and holding of hands” Despite the circumstances, Sneha could not help but laugh about how meticulously Ajay had jotted down everything. She realized she had laughed out loud and Ajay was staring at her. She felt embarrassed.
“I wanted to ask you about my job” Sneha said to step out of the awkward situation.
“I have covered that as well.” Ajay stated matter-of-factly.
Sneha continued reading. He had said that she would have to quit her job for time being and he would arrange for the monetary compensation. Later on, she could either join the same job or Ajay would help her find one.

Later on – these words hurt as if someone had stabbed her in the heart. She did not want to dwell on it but the words of the ugly voice echoed in her mind. He was going to use and throw her. Obviously, he would. What was she expecting? She closed the file deep in thought.
“There is one more point on the back side.” Ajay clarified and Sneha opened the file again.
Tears gathered in her eyes as she read what was written. She had been given an option to choose how this set up would unfold. One option was that she merely gives her consent in written and the attorney is involved to draft the legal document to be signed by witnesses and the other option was that they get married. Sneha knew what she would opt for.