The raindrops pinged off the dirty windows of the darkened bedroom – the last refuge in a city which was slowly being washed back into the sea from which it had been stolen. Powerful gusts of wind cut through the narrow alleys and produced an eerie shrieking sound that drowned out the sounds of the city altogether.
Inside, the atmosphere was just as foul. The two of them lay in bed together – him on his back and her chest pressed into his side as she laid an arm across his midriff. She loved the quiet time that followed their lovemaking, but today was different. Gone were the lingering smiles and the way he’d trace the path that the beads of sweat took as they rolled off her chest and slid, down her side, onto the crumpled bedspread. These loving gestures were replaced by a sullen silence devoid of any warmth. She had first spotted trouble when he was above her – that faraway look that crept into his eyes when his mind was elsewhere.
“Do you really have to go?” he finally demanded of her.
She felt his body tense up against her. The subtle plea in his question hadn’t escaped her notice.
“Babe…” It was almost a sigh. She had almost fooled herself into believing he wasn’t going to say anything.
“Look, baby, can’t you just tell the boss that you’re not up for it? That you want to remain here?” He turned his head towards her and she could feel his hot breath on the top of her head. She heard the “With me?” at the end even though he hadn’t actually said it. He didn’t have to.
“You know how much I want this!” she said, “I’ve been waiting for this promotion for over a year. Don’t I deserve to be rewarded for all the hard work I’ve put into this job?”
“Of course you do,” he conceded “but does it have to be all the way over in Calcutta?”
“If that’s where the job is then that’s where the job is!” she said brusquely and pulled away from him.
She propped herself up on an elbow. His expression was one of abject misery and, despite everything, she felt sorry for him.
“Baby…” she cajoled him “Calcutta really isn’t that far away and with this promotion I’ll be able to fly down here at least once a month to see you. It won’t be as bad as you think.”
He turned his face away from her and stared up at the ceiling. “One measly weekend a month. Thanks. So generous of you.”
His sarcasm stung and she felt her eyes well up despite herself. “If you were going to be a dick about it, why did you even bother to pretend to be happy for me when I gave you the news?” she burst out.
“Because you were happy! It was the right thing to do! I fucking want to be happy for you, but this fucking sucks, okay?”
It was the same tone of voice he used when he complained about work.
“No,” she replied in as steady a tone as she could muster, “the right thing to do would be to actually be happy for you. Because you want to be. Not because you think it sounds nice.”
He continued to stare upwards as though he expected to find answers hidden in the cracks spanning the ceiling of his crumbling apartment. She hated it when he behaved like this. It was like talking to a child.
The evening had gone so well. Better than she expected. That morning, when the email popped into her inbox, her joy was short-lived. All her excitement and the congratulatory messages from the colleagues milling around her in the aftermath of the announcement were quickly forgotten when she thought about how he’d take the news.
She spent the rest of her day agonizing over how to tell him that she would have to shift to Calcutta. There was no way in hell that she was going to decline it; she had put too much of her time and effort into turning herself into a valuable asset to the company. Her only hope was that she’d be able to convince him that this wasn’t the end of the world.
She knew that he loved her and that he wanted the best for her. The problem was that she was also knew he thought of distance as a death sentence to a relationship. Two years together and the most time they had spent apart was the week of her cousin’s wedding. Even though it was only a week apart, he had received her at the airport upon her return and behaved as though he hadn’t seen her for an eternity. He showered her with compliments and told her how hopelessly lost he had been without her. She had found it flattering at the time. But now his helplessness wasn’t charming anymore.
“What if –“ he mumbled into the dark, shattering the gathering silence, “What if I moved there, too?”
She reached across and placed a hand on his chest – “I can’t let you do that, hon.”
“But why not? I could find another job there. I’m sure agencies in Calcutta would love to have a copywriter with the kind of experience that I can bring to the table. I’m great at what I do!”
“And that’s exactly why you can’t leave Bombay. You’re at the centre of the nation’s advertising scene and moving anywhere else would set you back. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew that I was holding you back.”
She dug the tips of her fingers into his chest and tried to steady his pounding heart.
“Well, maybe that isn’t your decision to make” he countered, “If moving with you is how I get to keep what we have, then so be it.”
“But Calcutta is temporary!” she protested, “It’ll only be a few years at most before I get promoted again and shift base to Delhi. And when that happens, you can move there with me. Delhi is the only other place in this country that can match the kind of work you get in Bombay.”
“Who wants to move to Delhi?” he asked with an ugly sneer on his face, “Do I look like I have a death wish?”
“You’re fucking impossible!” she said through gritted teeth, exasperation writ large on her face. She pulled her hand away and turned her back to him.
He knew he should have held his tongue, but sarcasm was his coping mechanism. It was the only way he knew how to deal with difficult situations. He looked through the window and saw that the downpour had subsided. Overcome by the urge to smoke, he sat up and swung his legs off the side of the bed. His feet landed in a little puddle of rainwater that was seeping through the ceiling and collecting in this tiny pool. He frowned and rubbed his feet on the floor by the side of the puddle. He hated living here, but copywriters can’t afford the same life of prosperity they’re paid to promote.
He picked up the box of cigarettes from the side table, ambled over to the sliding windows and slid one of them back. The flame from his lighter briefly bathed the room in its warm, amber glow. He spotted her turn her face ever so slightly to give him a look of disapproval. He lit his cigarette in defiance and took a long drag. The smoke warmed his insides as it rushed into his lungs and cleared his head. He exhaled forcefully and sent the smoke racing towards her. She angrily snapped her face away and buried her head in a pillow.
He put the cigarette to his lips and took another drag. Things weren’t usually like this between them. He couldn’t even remember the last time they had fought. Their relationship had been perfect from the very beginning. He had met her on the rebound and spent the first few weeks with her on edge, waiting to see when things would fall apart. As the weeks turned into months and the months into years, he fell madly in love with her. It wasn’t fair that he would have to give it all up now that things were going so well. He had been toying with the idea of asking her to marry him, but those plans would have to be put on hold for now. It’s like she was testing him with this shit.
He felt the tiny hairs on the back of his fingers being singed by the cigarette which had burned right down to the butt. He quickly stubbed it out on the wall outside the window and threw the butt over the compound wall for his neighbours to find and complain about the next day. He slid the window shut and turned back around to look at her. The light from the streetlamps outside passed through the rain-streaked window and produced an intricate web of dappled shadows across her naked back. How could he not be madly in love with her?
Kneeling by her side, he watched her for a while and, only when he was certain that she was faking sleep, he gently flicked her nose. Her brow was still lightly creased in annoyance when she opened her eyes, but at least she didn’t seem as angry with him as she’d earlier been.
“I’m sorry” he said sheepishly, “I’m just really afraid that I’m going to lose you.”
“Don’t be silly, baby. I love you!” She reached out from under the blanket and caressed his face. “That isn’t going to change just because I move to another city.”
“I know that. And you know that” he admitted, taking her hand in his “But there’s always that little voice in the back of my head going ‘What if…?’ And I don’t care to find out, you know?”
When she looked at him the way she was now – a curious mixture of love and sympathy – he was never too sure how to feel. He felt like it had become all too common over the past few weeks.
“Look,” he laboured on, “just promise me that you’ll do everything you can to keep things the way they are, okay?”
“It won’t be exactly the same, hon, but I’ll try my best” she said, sounding apologetic.
“Don’t give up before you even try” he said defiantly, thrusting his chin out at her.
She sighed softly.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow, please? I really need to get some sleep.”
He tried not to look like she had slapped him. And failed.
“Fine” He spat the word out and climbed over her to get into bed.
As he listened to her snoring gently beside him, his head spun and he turned his mind upside down searching for a solution. His best friend had been in a long-distance relationship for three years now and he was doing just fine. And there are a million ways to stay in touch these days.
He began to work out a schedule for her so that she could stay in touch with him when she was away. He went over a mental checklist of all the apps they’d need to stay in touch – Whatsapp, Viber, Snapchat, Facebook, Skype. He considered signing up for Instagram so that he could follow her feed. He was going to tell her to set aside an hour every night so that they could talk to each other every day, preferably on Skype so they could look at each other for a while too. He checked his calendar for long weekends and browsed travel websites for fare prices. He trawled the internet for a list of unsafe places in Calcutta that she should avoid at all costs. He thought about all the people she would meet there and how he’d have to make friends with her new friends so that he could make sure whether everything was alright whenever he couldn’t get through to her on the phone. He wondered if the rains in Calcutta were half as bad as they were in Bombay.
Everyone waits patiently through the summer for the monsoon to grant them a little respite from the heat. When the first drops fell from the heavens, the city rejoiced. They danced and screamed and jumped for joy. The first rains washed away the dust and grime of summer. It fell upon upturned smiling faces and brought laughter to children dancing on the streets.
Then the downpour continued for two more days. It was relentless.
All activity came grinding to a halt. Nobody was smiling or dancing anymore. Sheets of rain battered the city and washed away all the joy it had brought with it. The wind howled through the streets. It sounded like the city was begging the monsoon for respite, so that there could be joy again when they were reunited next.
And through it all, he slept beside her. Oblivious.