Part II – The Homecoming
“Of course Su, I was just thinking how lucky I am to have you with me. Good night, I have made your bed. I still have some work to finish. You go sleep”, Shruti released him with a small peck on the cheeks.
Disturbed with the turn of events, Suhail tossed and turned in bed; his mind a cauldron of thoughts. His next layover wasn’t until next week, coinciding with Anchal’s Christmas break. His promise of taking Shruti & Anchal to Europe needed a rethink now. Rachel kept turning up in every plan he mulled. How long before love and fate collide?
Slowly, sleep and jet-lag overcame him, morning rays of sun blanked out by thick drapes Shruti had carefully chosen for the bedroom so he could get his rest after red-eye flights. She also removed his mobile phone to let him get his rest while preparing for the day ahead. It was a Saturday and Anchal won’t be up till late. She settled down with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. Suhail won’t be up till 11 AM and she was quite used to it.
Life wasn’t easy with an airline pilot. It was like being wedded to a time traveller. But with abundant patience and wisdom that came from being a second generation fauji’s daughter, Shruti knew enough about flight duty, fatigue and the pilot’s life to care. She knew there were sacrifices to be made, and – more importantly – who needed to make them.
“Missing you, Su”…Shruti noticed as a new notification from ‘Racy’ scrolled across Suhail’s phone screen. Another notification followed, hidden behind the keypad-locked screen.
Shruti felt a small uneasy feeling welling up in her throat. Who was this? Surely, it can’t be his parents who had only recently learnt how to use a smartphone she only gifted them last Diwali. It couldn’t be any of his colleagues. They were all so young; usually dating if not already married.
“Wait a minute. How can I be so sure of that?” Shruti recoiled involuntarily at her own thought.
Many girls would have loved to enjoy time with Suhail, she knew. Shruti had lovingly poked fun at Suhail many times that he could always keep somebody else on the ‘other burner’ if he wished. Suhail in turn would tease her back that he would take the advice soon as he transitioned onto wide-bodied 777s and started flying the international routes. This would soon be followed by a hearty laugh after Shruti pointed out that at his age, he would only get ‘wide bodies’.
About Suhail’s loyalty and fidelity, she never had an iota of doubt. In her eyes he could do no wrong. He was like the proverbial horse who can be led to the well but will never drink.
Sometimes, relationships work in strange ways. Trust built over years of living together shouldn’t be shaken by a few lines of text scrolling on a phone’s screen. Funny how it does though. Shruti tried unlocking the phone with the numeric lock she remembered. “Wrong pin. You have 3 attempts remaining”, scrolled across. She recalled their constant sparring over who was more tech-savvy. She always lost that one.
The pin had been changed. More doubts. Anchal would know. She was more used to his phone, not having one of her own yet. Shruti carried the phone to Anchal’s room, her heart beating a few notes harder than normal.
“Sweetie Pie, I want little help”, Shruti whispered into her ears.
“Mmmm, what is it mama?”, Anchal murmured groggily.
“I want to use papa’s phone. What’s the code to unlock the screen?” Shruti whispered.
“4328”, Anchal replied softly, “Papa changed it. Wake me up after half an hour”, she turned away, exercising her snoozing rights.
“Ok baby, sweet dreams”, Shruti left for the living room as the phone vibrated in her hands with some more messages.
Shruti unlocked the phone with trembling fingers. There were three more messages from ‘Racy’
Missing you, Su
Come back soon
Think about us. You & me together in Darmstadt ❤️
Shruti dropped the phone. It suddenly felt all cold and clammy in her hands; as if holding the phone and thinking clearly was mutually exclusive, which indeed it had become.
“This can’t be true”, she thought as her mind cast scary scenarios. Strange thoughts threatened her idyllic existence as a happily-married homemaker and mother of a pre-teen.
“I need to know. This is not Soo.” Involuntarily, her eyes welled up.
With trembling hands, she swiped across to the phone’s gallery, thumbing through recent photographs. There she was, arms across Suhail in a selfie, from last weekend’s dinner at The Mandarin. No Racy.
She opened Facebook next. ‘Racy’s photo was right up there under Suhail’s timeline. She clicked on Racy. Her latest update read “Love is in the air” with 60 ‘Likes’ and 45 ‘Comments’. The last comment read “Love was in the air. Just landed Heathrow”. It was Suhail.
She ran into the bedroom and sat next to Suhail, lips pursed tight, eyes straining hard to hold back tears that were welling up. Soo was deeply asleep. She thought about how her friends’ husbands snoring disturbed them. Suhail always slept silent like a baby. Now strangely his innocently asleep form left her even more angry. What dreams must he be having? Is Racy in his dreams? Who is Racy? Why did you do this?? What was missing between us that drove you to a stranger? She was angry, hurt, confused and disturbed. “When pilots sleep after flying to their limits they sleep like babies”, Soo had told her once.
“Maa”, Anchal’s sleepy drawl from the other room shook her out of her thoughts. “What’s the time?”
“I am coming, darling”, Shruthi called out softly as she picked herself up and stepped away, still staring at Suhail. There’s time to discuss this, she thought, Anchal won’t be back from music class till 1PM. She went about her morning routine, preparing breakfast, getting Anchal ready for the class, her mind conjuring up intimate scenes where a stranger Racy played spoilsport. A dull headache was slowly building up; the kind that usually wrecked an entire day. This time, she thought, what was left to spoil?
“Bye, Ma. Can you come with Dad to pick me up?”, Anchal asked beseechingly as she turned around before entering the class.
“Sure thing, babes. We’ll have fun”, Shruti called out, unsure for the very first time.
“Suhail, wake up. We need to talk”, she shook him hard, something she had never done when Suhail was resting before or after flying.
She was sitting on the sofa, staring out of the balcony when she felt Suhail’s hand on her shoulder. “Chai time”, Suhail murmured, still groggy, his salt & pepper hair all tousled up from the short nap of two hours. She got up and walked into the kitchen without saying anything. The usual peck on the cheek missing today, Suhail thought. Maybe I overslept into her weekend, he thought. Ever since he started spending more time in Europe, weekends had turned a new meaning. The sleep deficit had to equalise itself somehow. Maybe it was time to take a break, he mused.
Part 3, the outcome, will be shaped by YOU. What do you think are possible outcomes. This is fiction. But who knows. Anything’s possible in 2019, right?
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. This is purely a work of fiction. All resemblances to people, names or places are purely coincidental.