We chose my birthday on purpose. To elope. “A new year will begin, and so will our new lives together,” Rishi had told me. I sometimes imagine I can still feel the night breeze that had caressed me in his terrace all those years back. I blame it for carrying away any practicality I might have otherwise had. I was trapped willingly.
Two months preceded our set date and I spent the remaining days in relative calm. It didn’t bother me much when Manoj came back early one day to announce he had been kicked out of yet another job. I couldn’t remember the number of jobs he had found and lost in the six years we were married to each other. I didn’t react this time. We were not talking these days. Not much at the least. Food, announcements such as these, my monthly salary cover and the never faltering call for sex from him were the only leftover conversations between us.
But, between Naveen and his father life was never better. It seemed like they were born for this relationship. The hero worship was unmistakable in my five year old’s tiny eyes. For his part, Manoj loved our son and spent all his free time enacting stories to much applause and approval. They were a team and I often felt out of place. While I sat yearning for a hug from him, Naveen would constantly want to know if he looked like Manoj; if he too would grow up to be like his dad.
“No, you must never grow up to be like him,” I wanted to tell him. But I never did for fear of being considered the enemy.
On the night before my birthday, I drugged Manoj’s glass of milk and watched him fall asleep on the sofa. I picked up the money I had saved over the past several months and the shoulder bag in which I had clothes to last three days. I had packed for me and Naveen — yes, I was taking my son along. In fact, it was Rishi who thought taking Naveen with us would be a fitting rebuke for my sloth of a husband. I had agreed.
It was nearly midnight when Rishi came to pick us up from near the fish market in our area. He had brought a friend along to take us to the station, like he said he would. Soon, we were on our way. At the station, I got out first and picked up Naveen. While Rishi seemed to be talking to his friend, I scanned the thin crowd for familiar faces.
A car drove away in my moment of distraction, with the best of my clothes, my hard earned money and his promise for a better life.
I walked the fifteen kilometres between my past and the terrible present, weighed down by my son who slept throughout. When I entered the house, my world was just beginning to wake up. Manoj was still fast asleep.