It was dusk and she had finally managed to finish all her household chores. She walked out into the balcony and looked up at the pink tinted sky. The sun had set and the moon was peeking from behind the clouds. She sat down, with a mug full of frothy coffee, and started to pour her heart out to a stranger… the one who lived in her diary. The understanding, compassionate, lovable stranger. It was truly love-at-first-sight for her.
Or rather, love-at-first-read.
She smiled shyly. She picked up the diary from the coffee table and moved her hands delicately along the solid leather cover. It felt smooth to touch. She opened it carefully as if she didn’t want to disturb the words scrawled across the ivory leaves. As she turned the pages, she stared at her angst-filled entries and his considerate replies. He moved her fingers over the shining words and he could feel him whispering them in her ear. She wondered, constantly, what would he look like? What would he sound like? How would he smell? What will happen if they touched? Will sparks fly or will it be as soft as touching a petal? She smiled and opened a blank page.
She had found the diary, some weeks back, buried deep in her husband’s old cupboard full of his junk. She was cleaning it and making some space for herself when she had pulled it out. It looked new so she decided not to throw it away. That night, she wrote her first entry describing the hollowness she felt. She had been married for just a couple of months. It was an arranged match and it took her away from everything she held dear... her family, her friends, and her job… to move in with a man she had barely met. She didn’t know her husband well enough to form any kind of bond and he, well he was always busy with work. He was up for a promotion apparently which meant early mornings, late nights, and no weekends. They never went on a holiday and even after three months he felt like a stranger she was forced to share her bed with. Adding to her misery was a new city where she didn’t know anyone. In this new town, with no family and no friends, she was slowly but steadily losing her mind. She had tried to look for a job, but hadn’t found anything suitable yet. The walls of the house seemed to be closing in and she felt claustrophobic. She busied herself with household chores, mundane tasks, re-read books, and watched reruns of Hindi soap and English sitcoms. She was trapped in a loop and life was not good, not at all. She thought many times of calling her parents and urging them to take her back but she knew that was not even an option. She belonged to a conservative middle class family who believed that after marriage, her husband’s home was her own and she has to adjust, compromise, and settle into this routine life.
The diary had become her solace in this new unrecognizable world. Carefully hidden, she poured out her heart in it. She wrote about everything that bothered her from the drab shades of the walls to her dull husband. She wrote about her dreams and her wishes. She wrote how she wanted to travel the world, become a writer, and have many babies! She wrote with a careless abandon that comes with the knowledge that her words will never be read. They were just hers… until he started replying back. It happened around three weeks ago. As she had sat down to pen her thoughts, she saw an unfamiliar scrawl. Just a couple of sentences telling her it will all be fine. At first she thought, her husband had found the diary. But, that was impossible. He was hardly home, and when he did come, he was so tired he ate his food and fell asleep almost instantly.
But, what if he did?
She read the sentences again trying to identify the handwriting. She couldn’t. Then, she realized that her husband had left a post-it for her where he had scribbled couple of things he needed from the market. She ran and retrieved the note. She matched the handwriting and realized it was different. She didn’t know, whether to be relieved or scared. The diary was replying back to her. The thought made her laugh.
How is that possible?
She remembered thinking. Maybe she was losing her mind. But, there were the words written in a slanting hand for her to see. Honestly, she was intrigued. What if she had found some magical diary? Something that linked her to the future or to the past? She was bursting with excitement. She wrote another post and hid the diary as usual. Next evening, there was another reply… and that’s how it started. The correspondence, the communication, the friendship… call it what you must. He was the pen-pal she never had; the best-friend she missed dearly; the companion she longed for.
She turned the page and read her last entry about the growing frustration with her unemployment. His reply made her smile. It always did.
You are my soul mate. The one who truly knows me. I wish I could meet you.
She took a sip of her coffee and began writing.
Before you appeared so suddenly, so mysteriously, and so magically... my days were dark and the nights silent. There was so much I wanted to say, but no one was there to hear me. I felt stifled. I had forgotten how to smile. My life was in a rut and there seemed no way out. My husband was and still is more interested in his career than he is in me. I can’t tell my family that I am suffering. I had no friends. I was dying inside, but then I found you. I don’t know who or what you are but you make me happy. You are the spring to my winter, the sunshine to my rain… You are my rainbow, my petrichor, my soul mate. Today, I have no complaints to share, I just want to say thank you… for being there, for listening, and for understanding.
She read what she wrote, plucked a rose from one of the many potted plants, and carefully placed it on the page before delicately closing the diary. She went into her room and hid it deep inside her closet so her husband would never find it.
Even if he did, he will not be interested.
She smiled wryly and went about her work counting off the hours, when she would be able to read his reply. She couldn’t explain what was happening with her. It was truly a mystery… It was magic!
As she opened the door, he smiled warmly at her. She responded with her usual tight smile. She went inside the kitchen, without saying a word, to warm up his food. After changing his clothes, he sat down on the dining table. She served him and sat down next to him. As usual, she had already eaten but out of habit, or what she had been told, she always sat next to him as he finished his dinner.
He tried to make conversation, “How was your day?”
“Fine,” she replied. And then, as an afterthought added, “how was yours?”
He wanted to tell her about his new project but he knew she would not be interested. He also replied with a ‘fine’ and took a spoonful of rice.
“The food is really nice. You are a great cook,” He said.
Lost for words, he silently ate his dinner while she stared stonily at the television. After ten minutes, he got up and washed his hands as she cleared the table. It was almost midnight. She went into the bathroom to change. He stared at their wedding picture on the wall. They were not smiling in the photograph as well. She came out and lie down next to him.
“Good night,” she murmured.
“Good night,” he replied.
As he lay down on his side of the bed, he checked for the alarm. It was set for 4’o clock… four hours from now. He closed his eyes and sleep swept over him instantly. Exactly four hours later, he got up and tiptoed to her closet, looking back lest he wakes her. He opened it slowly and extended her hand inside. After a little groping in the dark, he found the diary… The one he had got for her as a wedding present, as soon as he had found out that she liked to write, but had forgotten to give it to her.
He stared at the leather-bound journal and smiled sadly. He sat down on the floor, with the support of the wardrobe and turned the pages to the latest entry. The first thing he saw was the rose. Unintentionally, and without warning, his eyes pooled with tears. He was jealous and it was absurd but the heart has a mind of its own. He pocketed the rose and started reading. Her words had the power to make him smile as well as to hurt him beyond measure. As he continued to read, his heart broke into a million little pieces. If only, he could tell her that it was him all along. If only, he was not afraid to show his real self to her. If only, he wouldn’t have to hide behind a nameless, faceless entity to let her know that he was there. If only…
He remembered clearly the night, three weeks ago, when he had first seen the diary. He was a little surprised. He had come home late, as usual, and when she didn’t open the door after repeated doorbells, he had used the key to enter. He had found her sleeping with the diary open on her lap. He had intended to just put it aside, when he happened to read a few lines. What he read shocked him. The realization that she was so unhappy… with him, with their life... hit him like a huge wave that swept him away with itself.
Why didn’t she ever say anything?
And instantly, the answer popped into his head… because they were strangers. Theirs was an arranged match and as luck would have it, they never got to spend much time together, either before or after their wedding. He truly regretted this fact. So, when he read what she had written, he couldn’t stop himself. He needed to comfort her. He needed to tell her that she is not alone, he is there. She was his wife… who had left everything and everyone behind to be with him. He remembered standing in their dimly-lit room, still dressed in his formals clutching his bag in one hand, the diary in another. As he stared into her expressionless face, he knew what he had to do. It was a little far-fetched, but it was worth a try. He will write back to her, he will be the friend that she misses, the family she longs for… and that’s what he did. He sat down on the floor, took out his pen and started to write when another thought stuck him.
She will recognize my hand writing.
He decided to modify it a bit and replied to her… just a couple of sentences, just to say it will all be fine. He placed the diary as it was on her lap and went out again. This time he called her so as to wake her up. She came hurriedly and opened the door. She mumbled an apology at falling asleep and went into the kitchen to heat up his food. She didn’t seem to have read the diary yet. After finishing dinner and cleaning the kitchen, she slept instantly. He, on the other hand, tossed and turned the whole night. He had a dream... a wildly vivid dream. He was standing on the edge of a cliff from where he pushed her off carelessly. He could see her eyes open wide as a silent scream escaped her lips. Just as she was about to fall into a bottomless abyss, he held out his hand and grabbed her will all his strength. He couldn’t see her face but knew that she was safe. He woke up drenched. The dream seemed symbolic of their current situation and strengthened his resolve. The next morning as he woke up, he could see confusion on her face. She was looking at him differently as if trying to read his mind. He deliberately left a note – a grocery list - with his original handwriting to throw her off.
And that is how it started, their growing intimacy. As he read her soul-baring entries, he couldn’t help but feel guilty for her predicament. The thought that her loneliness was making her fall in love with the words on the pages of a diary shook him up every time. Her frustrations, her disappointments, her dissatisfaction made him strive to comfort her and that is why he replied every night… with complete honesty, compassion, and truthfulness. He wrote exactly what he felt, poured out what he couldn’t say to her on her face.
Deep down, he knew what he was doing was wrong. He didn’t know how she would react when she found out that she was complaining to him about him. The irony, the ridiculousness of this whole charade was not lost on him. But there was no other way. He would do anything to shoulder her burden, anything for her smile. It was no mystery… it was no magic. It was pure unconditional love.