By Murali Kamma
Mohan first saw the bundle of neatly wrapped papers ? which looked like letters ? when his wife opened the drawer to get her jewelry. They were in their bedroom, getting dressed for a party that he wished he could have avoided. He watched her as she quickly took out a necklace and shut the drawer, leaving a black key in the hole. Their eyes met briefly in the mirror on the dresser.
"Letters from your mother?" he asked casually. Mohan knew this was unlikely since she called her parents every weekend. He tried to appear calm, although his pulse was racing.
"No," Priya said, lowering her doe-like eyes. "They're from a friend."
As she continued with her makeup, Mohan stood watching her quietly, hoping she would offer more information. However, these days, there was a distance between them that made normal conversation a little difficult. Why did it have to happen? Mohan wondered. Their relationship had been so close when they were newly married, even though it had been an arranged match. After carefully adjusting her sari, Priya quickly walked past him, leaving an enticing trail of fragrant perfume. He resisted an urge to stop her and speak again, more lovingly.
A matrimonial ad had brought them together about two years ago. After hesitating for a long time, Mohan had reluctantly let his parents place it in an Indian newspaper. They sent him a clipping of the ad from India.
Suitable alliance for personable and caring IT professional, 30 years. US permanent resident. Seeks a kind, well-educated girl with good family values. No bars. Visiting India shortly. Box No. HB221.
Mohan's initial misgivings about the process vanished when he received Priya's photo and brief biographical details. Instantly captivated by her, he disregarded the other prospects and left for India after informing his parents.
Almost two months ago, soon after Mohan lost his job, Priya informed him that Sanjay had offered her a job at his company. Mohan had met Sanjay in Atlanta while they were working for the same employer. Even after Sanjay left to start his own business, they'd stayed in touch.
"I don't think you should accept it," he said, unaccountably angry that Sanjay hadn't spoken to him first.
"Why not?" she said, astonished. "It's very nice of him. The salary is decent. This job will help us pay our bills."
"Don't you want to get your graduate degree?"
"Let's be realistic, Mohan. That will have to wait. Besides, the job will give me some work experience in this country." It was the end of their discussion and, shortly afterward, she started working.
They drove silently to the party at Sanjay's big house in an affluent suburb. As a very successful entrepreneur who'd started rather modestly, Sanjay seemed to revel in the ostentatious display of his newly acquired wealth. His demeanor could be a little smug, even overbearing at times, but Mohan disliked him more because he liked to flirt with Priya.
"Come in, come in," Sanjay said effusively, holding a glass of Scotch. "Priya, as always, you look beautiful. Mohan, how did you ever manage to find such a wonderful wife?"
Gritting his teeth, Mohan made an effort to be pleasant. As the evening progressed, however, he relaxed and started enjoying himself. Despite being tipsy, Sanjay or Jay (as he sometimes liked to be called) turned out to be an affable and entertaining host. His boisterous manner, Mohan felt, was a mask that hid his unhappiness stemming from the recent separation from his wife. He began to see why Priya was more sympathetically disposed toward him. The job offer could be seen as a kind gesture, done out of a genuine desire to help.
Although tired, Mohan was in a better mood when they returned home that night. He was eager to make up with Priya, but she was quiet and withdrawn at this late hour. After changing quickly, she mumbled goodnight and went to sleep. Mohan lay awake for a while, wondering about Sanjay and Priya. Was there anything going on between them? She seemed to like him, but was it nothing more than that? Torn by despair and longing, he finally fell into a restless slumber.
The following morning, when he awoke later than usual, Priya had already left for work. As he slowly got dressed to begin another dispiriting day in his search for a job, Mohan noticed Priya's handbag on the dresser. The previous evening, shortly before they left for Sanjay's house, he'd seen her put the key in the bag. Despite being ashamed, Mohan couldn't resist the urge to open the drawer and take a peek at the letters. Overwhelmed by his need to know if she had a lover, he moved inexorably toward the dresser.
His hand trembled when he found the black key. Quickly, without thinking and before he could stop himself, Mohan opened the drawer and took out the bundle. As he untied the ribbon with his sweaty hands, his heart thumped painfully. Then, with surprise, he noticed that the letters ? penned in fading black ink ? were somewhat creased and old. A boy named Arun had written them in India. Mohan was suddenly overcome by guilt. Opening the drawer to look at the letters had been a terrible mistake. Still in shock over what he'd done, Mohan hastily retied the bundle, without reading the letters, and put it back in the drawer.
The rest of the day passed slowly as he impatiently waited for Priya to come home. Although curious about these letters from her past, he felt wretched about what he'd done and was anxious to confess and offer his apology. When Mohan finally heard the car on the driveway, he went to the garage to meet her.
"Is everything okay?" she asked, looking concerned.
"Yes, fine," he said, taking the bag from her. "How was your day?"
"Not bad. Things are picking up." She smiled on entering the kitchen. "Nice aroma, Mohan. Did you cook today?"
"Yes. I hope it's good. Priya, I've something to tell you."
"What's the matter?" she asked, turning toward him.
As Mohan told her, he could see the color drain from her face. "I'm sorry, Priya . . . I don't know what came over me."
"You wanted to know if anything . . ."
"Yes," he said, looking down in embarrassment. He did not want her to complete the sentence.
"Well, there's nothing going on," Priya said, sighing. She sounded tired but did not seem angry or offended. "Mohan, I should have told you about those letters. It happened a while ago . . . I just kept them. Arun was a boy I used to know in college. We were in love, but . . ."
"What happened?" Mohan couldn't help asking.
"He died in a scooter accident."
For a moment he thought Priya was going to cry, but she recovered quickly and gave him a wan smile. Stepping forward, Mohan put his arms around her. She did not resist. It was comforting to hold her again and feel the warmth and softness of her body. As she tightened her grip and drew closer to him, her dark scented hair caressed his face. Mohan was at peace, knowing that their marriage would remain strong.
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