‘I don’t have any privacy here. Nothing I can say ‘my own’. Always I’ve to seek permission to your family members for everything. Why? Don’t I suppose to have any liberty?’ Kritee was arranging their dresses in the wardrobe as speedily as she was speaking. Rupayan was not a kilometer away from her. He was going through the newspaper lying on the bed.
‘Why are you shouting?’ Rupayan threw his glance on her.
‘What else can I do?’ Kritee shook the trouser heavily in the air.
‘What do you mean by ‘what else you can do’?’ Rupayan lifted him from the bed and sat straight.
‘I’m speaking politely as best as possible. If it hurts your ears, put balls of cotton into them’
‘What hell are you talking, Kritee? Are you mad or what …’ an irresistible irritation chocked his voice.
‘Don’t know if I’m already mad … But sure, if such an atmosphere continues to prevail, I’ll definitely be mad.’ Kritee slammed the door of the wardrobe.
‘I can’t understand.’ Rupayan looked straight to her.
‘You’ll never understand.’
Rupayan ran his eyes over Kritee’s face.
‘You people never try to understand; never think women are worthy to be heard of. You men are equal … all are same.’ Kritee heaved a sigh.
‘What do you mean?’ Rupayan asked at the top of his voice.
‘Why are you shouting?’ Kritee shrugged her eyes to Rupayan.
‘You’re compelling me to shout, your nonsensical words …’Rupayan struck the match to lit a cigarette as if he was to burn the bush.
‘Yes! I also shout as I’m compelled to do that, Okay!’ Kritee waved herself toward the door such a way that she gave the right blow at the right hour.
Silence loomed large in the room. Rupayan sat on the bed bowing his head down, looking at the cracks on the cemented floor.
The day ended.
Another day began. Kritee woke up and found herself closely entwined (knit) with Rupayan’s right leg and right hand. She looked at Rupayan’s face. It was moisturized with uninterrupted peace. Not a single mark of complain was there. She tried to free herself from his unconscious clutch, but every time she tried, his face contracted and reflected the colour of reluctance. He embraced her tighter than earlier and within seconds his face turned tranquil again. It gave her pleasure beyond words. She enfolded him, and felt sorry for yesterday. She closed her eyes.
‘Forgive me Rup, please.’ Drops of tear dropped on the divan.
‘It’s already 8.30, Rup, … wake up’ Kritee shook him thrice, ‘you’ll be late at office, wake up quick …’
Kritee felt embarrassed after finding her age-old mother-in-law already cooked rice, daal, vegetable; and the fish curry was boiling on the oven. Anyway, the chronicle continued. It had been continuing since her marriage for she woke up late on an average. She knew well, if her mother-in-law did not do the same, Rupayan must be late to his office everyday. In spite of that she felt discomfited.
Every Saturday they go to any shopping mall; sometime to Pantaloon, and otherwise to City Centre. This week they planned to go to HOME TOWN. Whenever Kritee goes to any mall, she buys little; walks more, and does window-shopping the most. Rupayan used to get irritated initially. As the time went by he became use-to in all these. The only thing he already understood that such practices like going to malls, handi-craft fairs etc keep peace in family life. Needless to say, he recently started catching any damn offer in grocery items because they are comparatively cheaper than the retail market. Things there, being well packaged and fresh in look, it offers a kind of satisfaction, and moreover, Kritee likes to carry the bags with brands like Pantaloons, Food Bazzar etc.
HOME TOWN they reached by 6.30 p.m.
Oh! The escalator! It turns into disquiet to Rupayan. In every mall Kritee spends at least ten minutes on it. She rode it twice. Then they heeded for crockery and cutlery. Almost every item she held upward with a smiling face; then looked for the price-tag. Oh! God! Her smile turned blurred, and she looked at Rupayan with a compensating smile on her lips as if the rates of all the stuffs were unjustified. She spun to the subsequent shelf.
Rupayan loved to see all these things, especially Kritee’s body language. Her way of taking things from the shelf and keeping them back to the shelves were well enough to bring mirth (laughter). He enjoyed it very much. The way she strolls in the malls, draws things and plants them back in the shelves suggest that she could buy any one of them if she wishes; but she is not buying for she is not happy with their quality and price.
‘Hei!’ Kritee beckoned Rupayan to her.
‘Why!’ Rupayan asked her with his eyes.
‘Come, come here… please.’
As Rupayan came nearer she showed him a photo-frame.
‘Nice one. … Really nice,’ Rupayan eulogized its beauty after holding it with his hands. It was a crystal frame, studded with sparkling multihued bubbles. Bubbles were crafted in such a manner that it tended to manifest our budding emotions in a framed panorama.
‘So nice, na? Kritee smiled.
‘Really nice … commendable one’ Rupayan admitted.
‘But it is of Rs. 750,’ Kritee continued, ‘if it is of Rs. 250, then I must buy it. But 750 are too much. Isn’t it, Rup?’
Rupayan nodded his head, gaping at it. In the mean time (meanwhile) Kritee went to the next window (slot). It was of Feng Sui. She passed on her look over each and every idol of laughing Buddha. There was a huge collection of Buddha. The one that arrested her attention was the biggest one. It was the same Buddha that Sanjeev Kapoor showed in TV show last week.
‘So nice na?’ she whispered. Finding no reply from Rupayan, she held out her left hand, and tugged the sleeve of his shirt, ‘So nice, na?’
‘Excuse me madam,’ an unfamiliar voice she heard of.
She turned her look to the voice, and found standing beside her a gentleman whose sleeve she was tugging. Kritee felt embarrassed and begged sorry, ‘Sorry … I thought you were Rup, my husband, sorry again…’
She made her way to the previous window; and discovered Rupayan standing there looking at the photo-frame, ‘What happened? I’m looking for you there.’
‘Oh! Sorry. I’ve been looking at the frame. How nice it’d be if your photo is placed inside it.’
‘Hmm!’ Kritee held his right hand palm tightly.
‘We’ll name it Eternal Moment.’ Rupayan smiled from the core of his heart.
‘Come, there is a great collection of fabulous laughing Buddha, just the one Sanjeev Kapoor displayed on TV.’ Kritee almost dragged him towards the Feng Sui corner. But, out of the blue, she found the man whose shirt she mistakenly tugged, carrying her emotion right to the cash counter.
‘Which one, Kritee?’ Rupayan ran his eyes on the mammoth collection of Buddha.
‘That one, the man carrying to the counter,’ her voice lacked its life and lure.
‘It’s Okay dear! Now look at the mirror, the one in the oxidized frame. Look, how beautiful you look there, Rupayan tried to divert her from distress. Kritee looked at it. Her face filled most of the part of the mirror. Her hair was rippling like cascade. She looked really spectacular there. She twirled herself towards Rupayan, and found the Buddha laughing there.
About 9.30 pm they came back home with a jumbo pack of bread, cheese, two pet bottles of sprite in buy-one-get-one offer and a red coffee mug for Rupayan. Asking Rupayan to make the sandwich toaster ready and slice the bread for sandwich, Kritee went to toilet, throwing her stole (Pashmina) on his face. As soon as she entered into the toilet, Rupayan decided to take a nap, considering fifteen minutes minimum for Kritee to come out from toilet.
Coming out from the toilet Kritee found him reclining, letting his legs dangling from the bed. She immediately became annoyed.
‘It’s very bad, Rup… It’s not fair.’ Kritee took her overcoat from the hanger, and continued, ‘I really don’t like all these. You people never wants to take part in household chores and …’
Rupayan lifted himself, ‘I’m feeling tired, Kritee. Unless why should I …’
Kritee interrupted him, ‘Me too … We’ve been doing the same thing since evening …’
‘I had to do my office job, you know …’ Rupayan grumbled.
‘Hmm! Who has done all the household chores? Your maid servant?’ Kritee looked straight at him.
Rupayan sat on the bed bowing down his head for a few seconds. He then hastily went to the cupboard; took out the toaster; dusted it off, and placed it on the kitchen slab. He was breathing heavily as he was slicing the bread, the onions, the tomatoes, and the green chilly for salad. Next he took out the pressure cooker and three potatoes from the basket; placed the cooker on the oven to boil the potatoes. He came back to the bed room; took the towel; pulled down the jeans, and then went to the toilet.
The cooker whistled for the second time as soon as Rupayan came out of the toilet. He found Kritee in the kitchen, ‘leave me. I’m to prepare the sandwich …’
‘I’m making coffee and it’s to help you.’ Kritee hid her face to hide her smile.
‘No, thanks. Please leave me alone. I’ll see it.’ Rupayan stood at the kitchen door.
Kritee came out from the kitchen, smiling and thinking how tempted Rupayan had become.
Rupayan cooks really very well. Whenever he invites their friends, he always cooks himself as he never gets confidence that Kritee may satisfy their appetite. It is a fact that their friends can differentiate who cooks what. His way of preparation is really different, and taste also differs.
Anyway, within twelve minutes everything was ready. Everything — the toasted sandwich, the salad, the coffee and she too. She hugged him from behind, and kissed on his bare wet back, ‘My sweet hubby …’. She placed her ear on his back. Now she could hear the throb inside his chest. Whenever Rupayan gets affronted (insulted), his breathing problem starts, and sometimes it reaches to abnormal label.
Last year, right six months ago, she had spent a strenuous time when they decided to quit and split up from their joint family, after being beleaguered with everyday’s complain of Kritee against his mother, and his mother always being against Kritee. None of them was ready to leave room for each other; no sense of compromise, no intention to adjust, no tendency to put up with each other, and moreover, no minimum mental make-up of staying together. The day he decided to split up, his mother, brother and even his sister-in-law hurled him words of their choice. Therefore, he took her to this flat, ten kilometer away from his home. That night Rupayan could not sleep; walked throughout the night; not even he spoke a word with Kritee. At the wee hour his breathing problem started, and gradually it reached to such a fatal state that he had to be hospitalized. Kritee had no one there to help her, except two childhood friends of Rupayan, who looked after all the formalities in the hospital. Rupayan had to spend eight hours in ventilation.
Kritee held Rupayan tighter than earlier, ‘I’m sorry, Rup.’
Rupayan heaved a sigh. They enjoyed the dinner together from a single plate. Rupayan retired to bed, and waited for Kritee to come. As she came, he took out their albums, ‘Come, Kritee, let’s find out our eternal moment.’
‘I’d like to freeze it’ Rupayan smiled a little.
‘What?’ an anxiety tried to chock her voice.
‘Just kidding. Please, opt for the moment that we can say ‘eternal.’ Rupayan started turning the pages of the album one after another. He then halted on a snapshot that was taken on last July at Mandarmoni. Kritee went a long way on the beach at the setting sun. It looked as if she stood in the middle of the sea; and the sun approached to kiss on her forehead.
‘No, no … choose a joint photograph’ Kritee proposed.
‘I’ve taken the snap myself, darling.’ Rupayan added.
‘No … no … just a joint photograph I want.’
They sorted out twenty photos and at last they finalized a photograph. It was the warmest moment in Chhangu Lake, Pelling. Amitavo really took the snap at the right moment. Kritee was bitterly shivering in cold. It was -4° Celsius then. Snow fall was at full range. Kritee sat on a chunk of snow-stone, rested right at the edge of the lake; and Rupayan was feeding her Vodca. Oh! It was their first trip to hill after marriage. Oh! It was the first time she consumed alcohol. The credit definately goes to Amitavo.
They both concurred in that photograph. Now, Rupayan pulled out the drawer of the bedside cupboard and placed the crystal photo-frame on her hand. Dumbfounded Kritee held it between her pink palm and gazed at it. She stared at him, as if it was all but a dream. She could only say, ‘Rup …’ (in a long and almost inaudible voice).
Next Saturday they went to the mall again, but a little late due to the hassle of the shuttle cab. Anyway, Rupayan had to accompany Kritee in the escalator course. Several times he tried to persuade her not to ride the escalator twice or thrice simultaneously as it looked bad; but never succeeded in telling her anything as he hardly wanted to impede Kritee from having such juvenile pleasure that she gets in riding the escalator.
They bought six curtain fittings, a pair of ceramic vases, two pairs of cup and saucers; and had had fountain Pepsi with two veg patis. They came back home and went busy in adding up the expenses of the evening; and chalked out the plan how they got to spend the rest of the month.
To visit the mall became a routine to them. Almost every Saturday they went. Lately, they carried Vodka mixed with Sprite in a water-bottle. Amitavo tutored them the art of boozing inside the mall. Three successive Saturdays when he had been to Kolkata, he used to pick them. Sitting inside his car Amitavo mixed Vodca with Limka in the pet bottles and went into the mall. Rupayan hesitated initially, but Kritee enjoyed it very much.
Inside the mall they spent almost an hour sitting on the displayed luxurious couch, kept in a demo drawing room, and enjoyed the giant LCD TV screen in front of them and enjoyed the Vodka stealthily there. The staffs there used to doubt something, but never told them anything as they pretended to have water, and moreover, Kritee’s body language was too confident to let anyone tell her a word, as if she deserved the right to sit there and enjoyed her Vodka.
This Saturday was no exception. They took a shuttle from the Bengal Chemical stoppage to New Town, Rajarhat. There they walked for ten minutes to the mall. This Saturday they had no budget for anything; only window shopping was their plan. No hurry was there; they walked casually and limply here and there; and were planning to materialize their dream-home some day. They both encountered in every demo flat; sometimes criticizing the arrangements of it, sometimes arguing each other over the best fit according their choices. By the course of their discussion she stood spellbound in front of a demo bed room. Surprisingly it fitted with her imagination. The same black wooden finished bed with a fixed corner table, an adjacent triple-door wardrobe of her dream, an unfamiliar and mind-blowing back wall painting…
‘Just the one I always dream of,’ Kritee could not split her gaze from it ‘Rup, when we’ll have such a flat?’ Rupayan found an ocean of cry running on her eyes. Her face ran dull. She touched every wall and tried to feel its texture; and opened the wooden-finished wardrobe time and again. Every door of it she opened and stood there for minutes. Standing before the mirror, adjusted with the triangular dressing table, she attended her hair and reset the hair-clip; intentionally she let her locks hang casually by the side of her temple; twisted her waist back and forth, and enjoyed its reflection on the mirror, the contours (curves) of her body.
‘Come, Kritee, come, and let’s have some snacks.’ Rupayan tried to distract her from there, ‘come on, Kritee.’
‘Please, wait a little.’ Kritee begged him.
Rupayan paused for moments; stretched his neck at the back.
‘Okay! I’m coming within a short while’ he stressed on the words.
Rupayan with flickering steps went outside in the lawn. He lighted a cigarette. He felt sorry for he could not buy her a flat; not even furniture of her choice. But he had rented the flat at the rate of four thousand rupees per month. Last month he had to buy her a pair of gold earring from P C Chandra. It took thirty three thousand that was nearly of his two months wages. Kritee had to understand all these. If she could adjust with her in-laws, Rupayan could manage to save a handsome amount. He pleaded her to adjust with them for another three- year’s tenure so that he could be able to make a separate establishment; but all in vain. He had to split up from his family, and thus to send three thousand rupees per month to his mother for her establishment too. Now, in stead of budgeting, Kritee started flapping her wings in pleasure of being independent. She should understand Rupayan as well as his income potential.
Rupayan threw the burning fagot on the lawn and smashed it with his shoe that it caused wound on the earth. Limply he stepped into the mall and looked for Kritee. She was not in the coffee stall. Expecting her in front of the giant TV screen, he went there; but she was also not there. Rupayan was ringing her as he was looking for her; but every time it ended with no answer. He felt a bit puzzled. He sped up toward the escalator. No, she was not there too. He rode on the escalator and went upstairs. Heeding toward the corner of the demo flats, he felt somehow fishy. Three salesmen were peeping inside and laughing among themselves making vulgar gestures with their tongues, hands, mouths, hips and so on.
An unavoidable clutch drew Rupayan toward them. He slowly stepped forward. As he approached, they whispered and looked at him. He hesitatingly went into the demo bed room, and out of utter suspicion he found Kritee there sleeping soundly on the bed by hugging a pillow.
Rupayan stood there as dumb as a plateau. Tremendous tempest tormented him and tried to tear him asunder on the floor. Blistering heat tried to gush out from his ears. His hands and legs trembled. He could only utter, ‘Kritee … Kritee …’
They came out of the model flat finding the salesmen teasing at them smiling. Rupayan dragged his feet heavily toward the exit as if the corpse was being dragged from the coffin to the grave.
Now, Kritee has a well furnished flat at Lake District. Now she does not have to wait for a long time for any shuttle for she has a Maruti Zen of her own. Now she has enough jewelry to maintain her souvenir status in any party. Now she goes to the malls and buys whatever she needs and likes, hardly looks for the price-tags. Now she uses escalator, not for fun but for going upstairs effortlessly. Needless to say, she has now almost everything she dreamt to have; only Rupayan is not there.