When had she first met him? She tried to remember. Well, that was a day neither of them would ever forget. So she needn’t try to remember anyway, the date was etched in her memory. It was the day of fresher’s party hosted by her colleagues and he also had been a newcomer, though not a fresher, he was her senior by 2 years. He was introduced as her colleague’s friend and in a new city/new office and new work culture looking out for friends and weekend getaways. She had taken to like him almost immediately. There was nothing professional about their relationship, right from the first day. They were ‘friends’, from the minute they had met and not ‘colleagues’. The next few months saw them going for outing with each other’s friends, colleagues. New people, new place, new friends. Absolutely no worries! Life had been blissful.
When she realised that he had left her, forever and never come back, she had been brave - very brave in going about the formalities; never once showing her real feelings to anyone outside. The usually emotional ‘she’ was missing, gone with him. All that her parents and friends saw was the hardened ‘she’. They were getting worried if she would do anything drastic. But they knew better, she may be an emotional person but not foolish. They knew she would cope with everything that she faces.
Their friendship slowly developed. They were so much ‘like’ each other and so much ‘unlike’ each other. Like every relationship theirs too had its own share of petty quarrels and petty reconciliations. They had never realised when they had fallen in love. It was just that they had so much got used to each other. And then came his travel. He was travelling abroad for 3 months. It was a world of IM’s and e-mails. They would be in touch. He would tell her the places he visited, he would send her pictures, she would keep him updated on his latest crush back in office, she would come online to chat with him everyday – so that was the deal! But, a week into his stay abroad and they both started missing each other. IM’s and e-mails, pictures and updates could not stop the unavoidable. They had both not known it, rather not acknowledged it. But it was coming. They were in love. It was just one month since he’d left her; but that’s when they decided they wanted to spend the ‘rest’ of their lives with each other.
Even when she had seen signs that he might leave her, some instinct had kept her going. ‘He cannot leave me. He will not leave me.’ She had been going about the daily chores with the same ease but taking extra care of him. He was after all her life! He was her everything! If he overslept one day or didn’t have appetite for his favourite puri channa or if he coughed a bit too much or anything slightly out of the ordinary, she got panicky. Was this some sort of an indication for the impending grief? She didn't know. Back then she did not want to know! But now, she realised that she had been too naïve not to foresee what was imminent.
When they told about their marriage plans to their parents, they had only been more than happy. As friends, their parents had known them. They approved of their children’s choices and the wedding was fixed. But there was one thing that was troubling her. When she realised that she loved him with all her self, she also realised that she can’t tell him to change. How could she tell him to stop something which he says he likes? When he realised that he loved her with all his self, he too realised that he didn't want to change. After all, he too liked it. He could pretend having stopped his habit, but he could never lie, at least to the one person he loved! And she knew it was his addiction and she firmly believed that she would change him, for his own good but right now there was no point forcing him. She believed that her love would change him – slowly, steadily but inevitably.
Why had this happened? Something had been missing in her love; otherwise he would not have left her just like that. Where had she gone wrong? She looked at her boy, the elder of the two, he had taken after his dad; every one said that he was a replica of his dad during his childhood. Everything in the house reminded her of him. Relatives, friends who had come to console her had all gone. Her younger sister and her parents were with her. It had been hardly 2 days since he’d gone and she had already started missing him. She wanted to tell him how efficiently she had handled his departure. She wanted to tell him how tactfully she had broken the news to the kids that their father is no more with them. She wanted to flaunt to him in her own childish way how well she had managed this adversity. But now there was no ‘he’ to share her thoughts! Her world had become hollow - slowly, steadily but inevitably!
He did change, at last! For her; for his own good! It was a habit which he had contracted during his teens. But he still did quit. He stopped smoking. Not suddenly, though. From 7-10 cigarettes a day, it was down to 5 in the first 2 years, then 3, and then 1 cigarette in the last year and none for the past 3 years. He had to fight the temptations, but their mutual love kept him going. He had a family to tend to. Now that she had quit her high-profile, well-earning job and took up the job as a teacher in a school nearby (a job which she had always wanted to do!), he knew his responsibilities had increased. Not that they were in financial crisis, but they would still save on the money he was spending on the cigarettes, she had joked. So when he completely stopped smoking, she had thought it was just a matter of time before the damage caused due to his habit could be undone. He will be hers fully and not lose 5 minutes of his life for every tobacco roll he smoked. But she didn't know that the irreparable damage had already been done, the oncogens had started their play. He would no longer be hers fully; their future would never be the same again!
As she sat alone in their room, now it was just ‘her’ room, there was no ‘he’ to share it, she saw the good times they had had together. When she had confirmed her first pregnancy to him, the excitement in his eyes that he was going to be a proud father; when they had decorated their room in anticipation of their first child, his child-like enthusiasm, it was a time when he had become a kid and she was his mother; when they had both fallen asleep on the couch tired looking after the kid, she had woken up a couple of hours later to find the child lying awake quietly in its cradle; when she had announced her second pregnancy to him, he had wanted a girl child now ‘just like her’; the girl child had arrived and her family had been complete. The weekend getaways to the nearest sea-shore places, the birthday parties and anniversaries; the holidays in hill stations; the list could go on; his smiling face looking at her from the picture frames hanging in this room bore the testimonial of their happy past! He seemed to be calling her, talking to her, smiling at her, ready to give the reassuring hug that so much used to soothe her.