The three friends were sitting together at their favorite table, waiting for the fourth one to join their weekly lunch date. After ordering starters and drinks, they started talking about the events of the last week. The ritual that had begun in college had been going on for almost a decade. Now, all of them were married and were busy with housework, kids and their respective careers but they always managed to take out time for their weekly meeting. This was a stress buster for all of them where they shared their most intimate thoughts, feelings and secrets.
“Here she comes,” Mehr waved at Chitra who had just walked in with her smart-phone attached to her ear. She seemed to be angrily telling off some poor intern.
“I do not care. Do whatever, I want that story on my desk by the time I come back,” she disconnected and looked around the table, “Hey ladies. How are we all today?”
“I still haven’t been paid, you know. Your accounts department is one lazy—‘Sunaina began.
“I know, I know… but we ran your story just last week. These things take time. You have been freelancing for so many years, I thought you would know by now,” Chitra waved over a waiter and ordered for a cocktail.
“What happened to your wrist?” Mehr asked gesturing at Chitra’s bandaged hand as she lit a cigarette.
“Oh, nothing. I just fell from the stairs. No big deal,” Chitra shrugged.
Meera returned the smile and took a sip of her water. She was the quiet one who rarely spoke, preferring to listen instead. How she handled a classroom full of rowdy toddlers was anyone’s guess.
Mehr started regaling them with an office story amidst blowing rings of smoke from her mouth.
Halfway through, Meera interrupted her, “Could you not smoke please.”
“Why? I always smoke. You know that.”
Meera just looked down timidly at her hands – her fingers were entwined with the thumbs moving in circles around each other… a nervous habit she had since school.
“Well, what was I saying…?”
Another puff of smoke blew across Meera’s direction.
“Can you please stop?!”
“Why,” asked Mehr, agitated, “Are you pregnant?” She jokingly said.
Meera, after a minute, just nodded with a small smile on her face.
Sunaina, who was busy with her phone up until now, looked at Meera with an amused smile, “Well… congratulations then!”
“What? How’s that even possible?” Mehr asked, putting out her cigarette, a little confused.
“Mehr, sweetheart, when a man and a woman love each other very much--” Sunaina started explaining, in a baby voice.
“I know that, Suni,” Mehr interjected. She faced Meera and said, “I meant didn’t you say last week that you were troubled because you haven’t been intimate with your husband since the miscarriage… eight months ago? That you don’t feel like making love anymore?”
Meera just nodded again meekly. Her thumbs moving faster now.
“Then how did you get pregnant?!”
“Is it someone else’s baby?” Sunaina said lightly sipping on her drink.
Meera looked at her with angry tears in her eyes. She spoke calmly, “I can’t believe you would say something like that. I am a happily married woman. I can’t even think about someone else. It’s his only,” she looked furious at the suggestion.
“Okay, okay relax. I was kidding.”
Mehr kicked Sunaina from under the table, who in turn just rolled her eyes.
“How far along are you? Are you sure that you are pregnant? Have you got tested?”
“Two months. I am absolutely sure. Here see this,” she fidgeted in her bag and pulled out the doctor’s report, “I missed my period last month and this month I was over ten days late, that never happens with me. I thought maybe because of the miscarriage there is some hormonal imbalance so I went to the doctor to get a check-up. But, this,” she pointed to the report and took a deep breath, “this is something I didn’t expect.”
“I don’t get it,” Mehr shook her head, “Did you tell your husband? How did he react?”
“He was…” Meera took another deep breath, “Overjoyed. He was delighted, actually.”
“Really?” droned Sunaina, her interest spiking.
“Okay… what is going on?” Chitra, who was silent all this while, finally spoke up.
Meera looked at all her friends who were looking at her expectantly waiting for an answer to solve this mystery. She knew she had to tell them. She wanted to tell them, but how? Will they understand? Will they judge her husband? Will they judge her for being a little relieved that she doesn’t have to fake it anymore? Will they judge their relationship? She decided it’s better to pull out the bandage in one go. She closed her eyes and without thinking blurted out, “Apparently, he has been drugging me every couple of nights and having sex with me… to put it simply.”
“What?!” Mehr was dumbfounded.
Meera opened her eyes to see Mehr’s mouth hanging open, Sunaina sipping her drink with her eyes wide, and Chitra, as was her nature, staring at her expressionless. She decided the women needed some more explanations.
“There is this date rape drug that he puts in my milk every other night and I kind of pass out. I don’t remember what happens in the night and he proceeds to do… you know...’
“We know,” Sunaina said, nodding furiously.
“But, recently I had these vague visions, of us being intimate. I always assumed they were part of some dream, but now I know they were memories… repressed memories. A kind of side-effect of the drug. I still don’t remember everything; I don’t feel anything when he is doing it… just vague recollections…”
“Oh my God! That is awful,” Mehr’s hand automatically covered her shocked face. She looked at her other two friends who were sitting rather passively, staring at Meera with sympathetic eyes.
“You should report him,” Mehr said after a moment of silence.
“For what? For making love to his wife,” said Chitra, coolly.
“This is not love, this is marital rape. It’s called a date ‘rape’ drug for a reason, girls. This is not right! How can you both be okay with this? Why are you not more enraged?” Mehr was disappointed with her friend’s reaction.
“Believe me, a man can do so much worse than drugging her wife and sleeping with her when she’s unconscious,” Sunaina said, chewing on a chicken piece.
“What is wrong with you?! What is worse than raping your wife while she is passed out?”
‘A lot of things!’ thought Sunaina.
“Meera…” Chitra began but was suddenly distracted by something in her bag. She started fumbling and pulled out her phone. The phone vibrated once and then fell silent. She checked she had 8 missed calls – 2 from Suhana’s school and 6 from her husband.
She broke into a cold sweat. Her hands were shaking as she tried to dial her husband. All the three women were looking at her intently.
“Is everything okay?” Meera asked touching her arm lightly.
Chitra looked up. She cleaned the sweat on her brow and got up, “It’s Suhana’s school. I have to call them. I’ll be back in a second.”
She moved to a secluded corner and dialed her husband. He picked up on the first ring.
“Where the hell are you?!” he barked into the phone, “I called your office, you are not there.”
“The phone was on vibration… I am sorry…” she trailed on.
“You are with them, aren’t you?! Your good-for-nothing friends… bitching about me.”
“They are not good-for-nothing,” she said curtly.
“Don’t you dare answer me back! I guess you have forgotten yesterday night. Let me come home tonight, you need to be taught a lesson that you will never forget,” he thundered.
Chitra shuddered involuntarily as she remembered the feel of a cold belt buckle on her bare back… and the unbearable pain it brought with it.
“I am sorry. I am sorry… I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I am sorry, forgive me. If you want, I will leave immediately. I am going back to the office right now, just please not tonight, not anymore,” she sobbed.
“No, no I am sorry. I don’t know what happens to me. Don’t cry. I am sorry. It’s just that I was trying to reach you and you were not answering, I was just worried about you. I am sorry. Say you forgive me? Say na… Please?”
“I forgive you,” she whispered.
“Great! Now listen, I was trying to reach you because Suhana’s teacher called me to say that there is some extra practice for the annual day, so they have to stay in school till six. The driver can’t drop her so, you will have to go and pick her up.”
“Her school is closer to your office, I am in the opposite side of town… why don’t you pick her up?” then added hurriedly, “It would take me at least 45 mins to reach there and that is without traffic. At 6, the roads would be jam-packed...”
“Now you will tell me what I should do?! I would have gone myself but I have an important meeting at 7. Unlike you, I have serious work to do. Get your ass out of your useless magazine office and go pick up our daughter from school at 6,” he disconnected without saying another word.
Chitra took a deep breath to calm herself down. She was fully aware of this frequent fluctuation of her husband’s moods… loving and caring one second, ad brutal and hurtful, the next.
It’s my fault only, I need to stop making him angry. I know he doesn’t like when I don’t answer my phone, I shouldn’t have put it on silent. He must be worried about me. His anger is justified.
She returned to the table and heard that the girls were still discussing Meera’s unplanned pregnancy. Sunaina’s words echoed in her ears.
‘Believe me, a man can do so much worse than drugging her wife and sleeping with her when she’s unconscious.’
She shivered as she remembered her nights, the hair-pulling, the pain, the humiliation, the scratches, the bites, the punches… She wanted to tell her friends about her misery but never had the courage.
They would never understand why I take it, why can’t I just leave… He is my husband, my daughter’s father… He is also a monster, but that’s by burden to bear. Like everyone, he has good days and bad days. He is just more passionate than others… When he is happy, he’ll shower me with love; but when he is is angry… I just have to make sure that I don’t make him mad. I need to stop making silly mistakes that make him angry. As mother says, if I could just be a little more aware of his moods, a little more considerate of his mood swings, I am sure he will stop. Tonight I will make his favorite dinner, tonight I will try and explain to him, tonight he will understand, tonight he will not hurt me, tonight…
While Chitra was lost in her own world, the other three women oblivious to her suffering sat in a
gloomy silence. Mehr looked from Sunaina to Meera to Chitra and back to Sunaina. She couldn’t understand why her friends didn’t react the way they were supposed to. To break the awkward silence that lingered over the usually lively group like a dark cold storm cloud, she asked Meera,
"It doesn’t matter what we think but are you okay with this? Being raped every other night?”
“It doesn’t feel like rape. I told you I don’t remember anything. I really don’t know…”
I am just kind of relived that I don’t have to have those awkward conversations with him about when I would be ready again.
“You should be glad that he doesn’t go to other women to satisfy his needs,” Sunaina said matter-of-factly.
“Are you insane? You are justifying his drugging Meera?” Mehr was flabbergasted.
“You know Mehr, men have wants… and if you look at it from another point of view, he is not doing anything wrong. He wants sex, she doesn’t. So, with these pills, he is just lowering her inhibitions so they can make love. It’s a win-win situation. He doesn’t mind and she doesn’t remember anything… what’s the harm?”
“Are you even listening to yourself? That is the worst reasoning ever!”
“I kind of agree with Suni.,” Said Chitra solemnly, sipping on her scotch.
What would I not give to be drugged every night and not remember anything in the morning.
She kept checking her watch every 5 minutes. Even though it was only 2 in the afternoon, she didn’t want to be late to pick up her daughter and bear the brunt of his anger.
“You both are crazy… Men have needs?! Are you seriously telling me that this argument validates the fact that he rapes her every night! What about her will? Her desires? He can’t wait for a couple more months?! Is that what marriage is all about? Sleeping together?!”
“Mehr marriage is about compromises and adjustments and sometimes you have to agree to things that you don’t believe in for the semblance of normalcy. You follow a textbook definition of love and marriage. You have to take off those rose-colored sunglasses and see the grey areas.”
“That is bullshit! This is not a compromise or an adjustment, he is forcing himself on her. He doesn’t care for the fact that she is not ready for it yet. Don’t you see how sick this is? How perverted--”
“I would not tolerate you talking about my husband like this,” Meera, who was silently listening to her friends’ debate about her situation, interrupted.
“I can’t believe you Meera. You are still taking his side?”
“He is my husband and now he is going to be the father of my child, what else am I supposed to do?”
“Get help! Leave him… you don’t know what other perversions he is capable off. The fact that he doesn’t even care if you are responding or not while he sleeps with you doesn’t bother you! This is just his animalistic need that he is fulfilling by rendering you incapable of even voicing your wishes. This is a sign of a sick debased person. He needs medical help, you need help. Think of your child. What kind of a father is he going to be? I say, leave him.”
Meera, not very good with confrontations, just gulped a glass of cold water and looked down again.
“When kids are involved it’s not so easy to just pack your bags and leave,” Chitra said softly, “A kid needs his father.”
“What? So, you are saying for the sake of her yet unborn child she should keep torturing herself? How is that going to help the baby?”
“You don’t have children yet, you don’t know how important a father is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mehr asked.
Sunaina took a long breath and narrated a story.
“I have this friend, her husband forces her to indulge in couple-swapping. He is a very nice man otherwise, doesn’t hurt her, loves the kids, and is a great father. He nurtures the kids and motivates them to aspire higher. If you forget this one bedroom fetish, then he is perfect in every other department. So, my friend adjusts to this lifestyle choice for the sake of their kids and family.”
“Couple-swapping? What kind of a society are we turning into?!” Mehr asked with her eyes wide.
“you are so judgmental,” Sunaina said downing her drink.
“I am sorry? I didn’t know you were okay with this… This couple-swapping business?” Mehr was beyond herself.
Sunaina was silent for a while. She pursed her lips together thinking of an appropriate response. She could feel everyone’s eyes boring into her… trying to look into her soul.
“It doesn’t matter what I think. All I know is that it’s not my place to pass judgment. I am sure she is doing what she thinks is best for her family. I just know that your family comes first. We can’t be selfish and let our children grow up without a father.”
She saw Chitra nodding along with her. This tiny gesture overwhelmed her and she wiped a single tear pooling on her eyelid threatening to fall down and reveal her secrets.
“I can’t believe I am friends with you people. I need a drink,” she waved the waiter and ordered for another drink.
“To each her own,” Sunaina gulped her drink down.
Mehr looked at Meera, the tiny timid Meera, who absent-mindedly was cradling her tummy. Mehr knew that her miscarriage had devastated her and now this new baby was like a ray of hope for her… but at what cost?! She looked at Chitra, her strong iron-willed friend, who right now was a bundle of nerves glancing at her watch every few seconds. Mehr had managed to sneak a peek at her phone before she left the table and knew that the call was not from her daughter’s school, it was from her husband who was prone to temper tantrums. She knew Chitra had problems in her marriage, but she had never shared it with them , guarding her family life with everything she had. But, the friends had noticed the cracks in the wall she had created around herself. She never invited them in and they had decided long back not to pry. Mehr believed Chitra would one day open the door, or even a window into her life and that is the day they would know… till then she was happy with whatever little her friend shared with her. Mehr glanced at Sunaina, the flighty giggling Sunaina, who looked morose as she sat holding her phone in her hand… and the sudden realization dawned on her.
Are we as close as think we are?
Sitting by Mehr's side, oblivious to Mehr’s internal monologues was Sunaina, reading a text from her husband.
‘I hope you remember today is the party. Wear that black low cut mini dress you have. You really look sexy in that. Can’t wait for the evening. See you, love you.’
Sunaina smiled sarcastically at the text.
‘You really look sexy in that.’ Yeah, right! Sexy enough for other men to sleep with me… to agree to let their wives sleep with you. That’s what you want right? Variety is the spice of life.
She sighed. This is the line he had said over and over again as he persuaded her to accompany him to one of the swinger parties. She still remembered the night as clearly as if it had happened yesterday… when her husband had shown him the secret invite to one of the swinger parties being held at a posh farmhouse.
“It’ll be fun.”
“Fun? So, you don’t mind that I am sleeping with someone else?”
“You are thinking at it from the wrong angle. Just look at it as an experiment to spice up our love life.”
“You just want a license to sleep with other women.”
“Su you can’t do this little thing for me?”
“Sleeping with other men and giving you permission to sleep with other women? No, I can’t do this.”
“You are such a drama queen. I am just asking you to come to the party with me. We’ll just go and see what the fuss is all about. We don’t have to do anything.”
“I said no.”
“You are such a prude! I am asking you nicely and you are showing me attitude? From next time, I won’t tell you anything. You say that I want to sleep with other women? Yes, I do! What is wrong with that? I am not like those old-fashioned husbands who want their wives to sit at home cooking and cleaning while they are out having fun… I want to include you too. And who’s going to stop me from experimenting without telling you? At least this way you know everything.”
This way I do know everything.
That was six months ago. Now, every weekend they are at a couple-swapping party where her husband sleeps with someone’s wife and she has to return the favor by sleeping with the man. Sometimes, all of them sleep together too. She doesn’t like it… not one bit. She had voiced her opinions many times, but he always persuaded her… emotionally blackmailed her by telling her all that he does for her. When that doesn’t work, he threatens her that he would find some other way to satisfy his needs and she would be clueless. When she had told him that being clueless would be better than doing all that she was expected to do, he dared her to leave him and live on her own, raise their children on her own.
‘What will you tell people? Why did you leave me? Because I am a swinger? Are you ready to answer all their probing questions? What if I told them, you have tried it too…?”
In her frustrations, she had thought numerous times of leaving him, but he was right… what would she tell people? That her husband had a sexual fetish? What will they think about her? What was wrong with her that he needed to swap partners? How will they look at her children? And what off the questions that they will ask?! And what about her children’s questions? How will she explain that why is she leaving their father, breaking their family?
He is such a wonderful father… and barring this one anomaly, he is a wonderful husband. He takes care of me, provides for me, loves me, and he is so good with the kids. It’s just once a week. I can handle this… for the kids, for the family. My kids, like me, will not come from a broken home.
She took a cigarette from Mehr’s pack and lit it, taking care to face away from Meera.
Mehr, looking at the troubled faces of her friends, was perplexed. She couldn’t believe her friend’s thought processes… she couldn’t believe they were okay with Meera husband treating her like an unemotional doll; Chitra staying with her abusive husband; and God knows what was bothering Sunaina. Mehr knew she only smoked when she was stressed.
How well do we really know each other?
She closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer for all three of them. Her phone pinged, it was a text
from her husband.
‘Movie tonight? Your choice…?’
‘Yes, thank you and I love you.’
Her husband pinged back after a couple of seconds.
‘I love you too. That’s quite generous for a movie date!’
‘Thank you for telling everyone you don't want a baby when in reality you know I can't conceive. Thank you for being patient and kind.'
‘Always. Besides , we can always adopt but for that you have to be ready first.’
‘You are so great.’
‘I know ;)’
The four friends sat in silence thinking about their respective lives… About the good, the bad, and the ugly.