Flash Fiction: The Other Woman
I spotted a familiar face from the corner of my eye. I craned my neck to get a better view when the face turned to meet my gaze. Her lips twitched and I pulled my eyes away. My legs continued to tremble as Sheela, the other woman in our life, walked to the next table holding a drink.
The party was in a Vintage-style banquet hall with tall ceilings. Ram and I meandered through groups of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues towards our table.
It was a foreign trip, light banter, and being away from home and prying eyes that had opened the door to Sheela twenty years ago. Our marriage saw cracks. Lesions, wounds, and scars ravaged my soul. It had taken years to breathe, heal, and smile. I stumbled. We fell. I staggered. We rose. I limped. We walked. It was a long arduous journey for the tracks to align.
A man in uniform handed us a glass of fresh juice with ice. I took a huge gulp to soothe the rising temper and turned to my right towards Ram, who was holding an orange juice in his right hand. His eyes crinkled in the corners and grey hair graced his forehead.
“Tired?” Ram caught me staring at him.
“No.” I said, shaking my head when the vision appeared again.
She laughed cupping her mouth, sitting next to a tall man in a smart white T-shirt. “Could he be the husband?” I ran a finger over my chin. “Don’t gawk,” I told myself and glanced around our table to check if anyone was watching me. But, inevitably, my eyes were drawn to her again ten minutes later. “Would she know who I am? Would she care?” At that thought, my fingers instinctively tightened around Ram’s elbow.
Over the years, I had harbored many devious ways to confront her. Arm wrestle her, stab her with words, prick her with a needle, or close my fingers around her neck and watch her suffer. Those devilish ideas and thoughts resurfaced and taunted me when I saw the figure walking toward us.
Sheela stood at our table. Her thin necklace sparkled in the dim lights and her perfect smile greeted us. I put my hand on my thigh to stop it from shaking.
“Hello, Ram.” Sheela’s voice was soft.
My world stopped for the second time. I didn’t look at her, but I couldn’t look away either, letting my eyes wander when I heard Ram’s voice. Pushing back his chair, he stood up.
My stomach churned and I could feel the bile surge.
“This is my wife, Janvi,” Ram said, his eyes on me.
My hand felt my chest and the lights around me dimmed. All the years of preparation went up in a puff of smoke. Somewhere I heard a burst of laughter and a strong scent of biryani tickled my nose. I could feel some sweat on my brow but my hands continued to shake and everything around me began to move. I was pressing my temple when I heard Ram ask me if I was all right.
“Here, drink this.” Ram handed me some water. I gulped the water down and looked up. Sheela’s eyes were burrowing into me.
“Should we leave?” Ram said, and I could feel his hand on my back as I got up.
He squeezed my shoulder and rubbed it. I took a few steps. I could feel Sheela’s eyes prick my back and my feet refused to move. My hands felt Ram’s fingers as he traced the edges of his fingertips—and for the first time, I knew what nagged me. The clouds had finally cleared and I chuckled at the new insight. Ram turned, his brows narrowing. I took a long deep breath. Here I was, with the man who had wronged me. Yet, there were many birthdays, anniversaries, and many other milestones. I don’t know what Ram would have done if I had strayed. As for the woman in question, I had no relationship with her. I hadn’t even met her.
I moved away from Ram. Even as my heart throbbed, my legs shook and every inch of me felt insecure, I had to do this. No, not to confront her or display my triumph. All I wanted was to finish a conversation.
Sheela stood rooted to the spot. Our eyes met and I dragged my feet towards the woman who had made me feel worthless. My feet felt heavy but this was my only chance and I didn’t want to lose it. My fears played havoc in my brain—my marriage, my child, my love, my peace . . . everything was at stake. It was easy to turn away and pretend that everything was well. But a good night’s sleep is never easy to earn. No. I wasn’t angry with her, and didn’t find her guilty either.
Sheela’s eyes were soft and her lips were pursed.
“Hi,” I said with a forced smile, my voice sounding hoarse. I cleared my throat.
Sheela, her eyebrows raised, looked at me. But she didn’t speak.
“It is good to finally see you,” I said, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
“I wanted to meet you too,” she finally said in a choked voice, her eyes searching the floor. We stood in silence. She looked up to meet my eyes for a brief moment, and then looked away. “I . . . I have to go now.” But she didn’t leave.
I waited, silently.
Her fingers played with the edge of her silk sari. “I am sorry,” she whispered. Her eyes were misty. I didn’t need daggers, knives, or words. She turned around and left without looking back.
As I watched Sheela walk away, a huge lump in my throat gave way to tears. A weight lifted off my chest and an unexpected smile spread across my face. I dabbed my tears. I wasn’t shaking or scared. I was finally liberated, because this apology swept away the gloom that had darkened my soul. I could now let go.
Sudha Subramanian is an Indian writer living in Dubai. She writes for newspapers in India and the UAE. Her words have appeared in many publications. When she is not writing, she speaks to plants, watches the birds, and hugs trees. She also tweets at @sudhasubraman
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