“Nothing like that happened”…. Abhishek said, in his calm and quiet voice.
A calm and quiet that Natasha couldn’t tolerate right now. A calm and quiet that was just making the storm within her more furious, the waves of guilt crashing louder, more vehement than ever before.
“But I remember…not remember…remember…but I have these visions….”
“Must be your medicines….did you take more again? You were prescribed 2 in a day, come show me your bottle…” Abhishek started walking towards Natasha’s room where she kept her sleeping pills and antidepressants and what not. He opened the drawer on the side table next to her bed and checked the bottles. They were almost empty.
He ran his eyes around the tiny room on the 18th floor of a high-rise in Bangalore.
The room looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Clothes strewn on the bed, photo albums lying open everywhere, coffee mugs and wine glasses, stained, stinking, sitting on table tops, in shelves, under the bed.
Abhishek ran his finger through the layer of dust that had picked up on her once unusually stocked bookshelf and carved an ‘N’, subconsciously, staring into the wall ahead.
After a silent two minutes, a silence with Natasha’s staccato sobs, Abhishek spoke again, a tense edge finding it’s way into the otherwise quiet tone.
“Ok….let’s start cleaning this place…cleaning always quietened you down, helped you sort your thoughts.”
He began by gathering the wine glasses, clanking as he picked each up, clanking as Natasha sobbed on the bed.
“We were on the trail…. You , me, Neha and Roxy…. We were climbing Kudremukh as we did so many times before… the sun was about to set….”
Abhishek started walking out of the room with the glasses and Natasha followed…talking…rambling..
“Say something…Weren’t we on a trek to Kudremukh last Saturday… Didn’t we go in your car, the three of us and Roxy…sweet little Roxy…oh I miss him…his tiny bark for that big body…and his smiling eyes.”
“No we didn’t Natasha…Last Saturday we were working for the London clients with our heads steeped in our laptops, like donkeys. That’s what did this to you. The stress of work. I shouldn’t have recommended you for this client. Not with all the treatment you’re taking and the pills you’re on”
Abhishek continued to pick up the coffee mugs and kept walking, bringing stuff from the room into the kitchen…Natasha kept following him..
“Wasn’t that Friday? Late Friday night when we were doing that. Finishing the deck for the London clients? I remember it was Friday. We ordered pizza from the pizzeria across the street. It has an “eat all you can” scheme on Fridays. So we …like… ordered two medium pizzas, veggie delight for me with extra cheese and chicken tikka for you…and our favourite garlic bread.”
Abhishek didn’t comment…he was now opening drawers looking for something..
“Where do you keep your dusting cloth?…Come on, stop thinking and find it for me.”
Natasha, like a programmed robot opened the last bottom drawer and picked out two nicely folded fresh smelling pieces of cloth and kept them on the kitchen counter.
“ I ordered the pizza so I’ll have the receipt…somewhere…I never throw away the receipts of food we eat together…ha ha ha ha…” she laughed, high pitched and nervous…a laughter that didn’t reach her eyes
“Cheesy right? But you see… the meals we share….they’re special.”
Saying so she opened her purse that was lying on the sofa and turned it upside down, creating a pile on the sofa.
Abhishek continued cleaning in the next room. Shuffling here and there, dusting, wiping.
“Did you find it?” he called out, when the rummaging sounds stopped from outside
“…huh…find what”… murmured Natasha
Abhishek went out to find her holding a keychain that was buried deep somewhere in her purse and was seeing the light of the day only now.
“Neha gave this to me. On our trip to Bhutan last year. We were buying souvenirs for everyone back home. And….and she saw me looking at this one…it was so cute…with the bells and the chant written in all these colors….
I shouldn’t have pushed her. I shouldn’t have killed Neha.”
Abhishek stopped his well paced and quiet dusting, came out and put his hand on Natasha’s drooping shoulder..
“You didn’t kill Neha…. You didn’t push her. Neha is in Dubai and she is mad at us for having kept our relationship from her and so she’s not picking up our calls. Roxy is in the shelter. No one is dead.” Abhishek repeated …like he had done for the past five days over phone and web-calls.
Natasha was now staring at the keychain, lost, eyes moist but no tears finding their way out…as if they were dried up and tired as well.
“We were on a trek to Kudremukh….we knew the trails…we have gone there a gazillion times. And then…at the landing…while taking pictures of the sunset…I kissed you…first time in front of her…”
“That didn’t happen Natasha. We were working our asses off on Saturday. Let me show you the presentation and the time it was saved. Will that convince you?”
“You have the presentation? “ Natasha asked, a jump in her voice, hope…that her visions were really just imagination…hope…as the guilt ebbed a microscopic inch.
“Yes of course.” Abhishek unzipped the backpack he had flung near the corner of the room and took out his laptop and opened the presentation, went to the information segment in files and showed the time of saving and his name.
“ See, if we were taking pictures on Kudremukh at six thirty pm then how on earth could I have saved this here? Or did we start carrying laptops to treks now? Maybe in your visions laptops don’t have weight. Check that next time for me will you?” he said smiling now
Natasha grabbed his laptop and checked again. She went to the folder and checked other presentations. She opened the clock and compared it to hers.
And finally she smiled. First time in days…like a weight had lifted from her shoulders…as the cave in her stomach began closing. Her mind was letting the alternative narrative make way
Abhishek left her there and went back to the cleaning. He ripped off the sheets and called her out
“Hey, can you get me new sheets and throw these into the machine? “
Again, as if on autopilot, but lighter now, Natasha left the forgotten keychain and her upturned purse and went to the storage to get the sheets.
Abhishek, hearing her ruffle through the storage, quickly went out near the sofa and rummaged through the pile. He carefully checked every piece of crumpled paper that looked like a food receipt till he finally found the one from Friday.
He heard the cupboards click shut and hastily pushed that receipt in his pocket. And with his calm and composed demeanour, picked up a pair of shades and said, as Natasha walked in to find him near her purse.
“Listen, aren’t these mine?”
“No ! You cheat…I love them! They cost me a fortune. Don’t you dare lay claims on my fancy stuff. The meds can make me crazy and a murderer in imagination. But nah huh…they can’t make me forget my shopping list”
And she playfully threw the folded sheets at him as he caught them and walked over to give her a tight hug.
A tear streamed down his eyes, as he embraced the love of his life and wondered what future crimes will he have to save her from.
**This story was written as an exercise on Write Club Bangalore’s session on Malleable Memory.