No, no. No. My heart sank with a thud and I instinctively tried to avert my eyes. But they stayed defiant and helplessly I looked on, like a fool.
Dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans, and wearing those Kolhapuri’s. The ones we picked out at the market that day. That day, a measly few months ago. The smallest size available at the store.
“You need to shop at a kid’s store”.
My constant taunting and finally that one pair that fit. When I cradled it into her fiendishly little feet, her squeal of joy.
The gut-wrenching memory, a kick in the nuts and my body quivered for a brief second. My tongue shot out, shocked at the distasteful memory and sudden nausea. But I kept looking. Any moment now, I thought, my throat dry and my eyes waiting.
Without a care in the world, sporting those sandals as she stomped on the ground between us, a fairly pleasant aura surrounding her. I stood my ground unmoving among the raucous crowd.
She saw me and her face, midway through a laugh, discolored instantly and she stopped dead.
He had moved a step forward but she yanked him back. They were joined by his long sinewy arm, a cord of containment between them. I looked on, quietly triumphant at accosting the couple. A sense of dread filled inside me eclipsing this brief triumph, dread for the dark days ahead, when this moment would play out again and again.
He was inquiring while she looked around for escape. I was meters away. I could not have done anything but she could not pass me by, not with him in hand. She knew.
Sri Sai Manikanta Supermarket stood like a beacon of escape, twinkling neon lights, fresh vegetables and fruits flanking its entrance. She steered towards it, still not entirely sure of herself, with him in tow, a perplexed expression on his face and a black plastic cover in hand.
The supermarket’s giant mouth devoured them in. With the steady stream of people walking in and out, huge shopping bags, squealing kids, the sound of unlocking cars, the black plastic cover was soon out of sight.
I hadn’t moved yet. I unclenched my fists hoping for a sliver of sense to invade my head. But it was no use. I knew what I was going to do. I stepped up to the familiar mouth of the supermarket and let myself in.
I let my eyes adjust to the riot of color that I stepped into. Huge blinking white lights and rows and rows of goods stacked. And the jostling crowd. I let myself get pushed around, willing myself to turn back.
Instead, I looked at the signboards above me. Cleaning and household. Beauty and Hygiene. Fruits and Vegetables. Masalas and Spices. On a hunch, I stepped into the spices row, my eyes darting furiously, looking for a couple in flight. And that black plastic cover.
Like a vengeful ghost, gliding over the people around me, I slid in and out of sections, and around peoples bodies. Over fallen boxes and around wheeling carts. I had to spot the white of her shirt or the black of his cover. And then I saw her. She looked concerned, that achingly familiar brow creased with worry. He was nonchalantly looking up shelves for something. I immediately knew what it was.
The black plastic cover, it all made sense now. A lazy Sunday night. Picking out half a kilogram of the choicest Chicken from Mastan’s meat shop that I introduced to her. A romp in the bed while the chicken marinated and the spices settled themselves into the meat. Cooking semi-nude in the kitchen, the kitchen with the runny tap I could never fix and where everything was always neat and in place. The large kitchen with the old fashioned shelves. Ones with doors that had nets on them. Where the shelf directly above the stove always held Ginger and Garlic paste for whenever the fancy of chicken curry took her.
He was looking at Masala’s and mixers. She looked a little less concerned now, she probably thought sense had prevailed. How little she knew the new me.
He picked out the packet of paste and they turned the corner. Overcome by a sudden urge, I ran back, all the way of the aisle we were in. There were no bewildered eyes. Running is common. People forget things at the counter, they always run in supermarkets. I ran like a crazed idiot. I wanted to be the first thing she sees as they idly turn the corner. I darted into the next aisle and was met by triumph again.
Her eyes shot out wide. Her lips almost curled into a scream before she checked herself. He was oblivious, checking out masalas for the curry they planned to cook.
I stood with a sneer on my face. My mouth twisting into a snarl, I bore my eyes into her and guided them down to her feet. She followed my stare and I saw her pretty neck overcome by a wave, a silent gulp. A shopper with his cart rammed into my legs but I didn’t flinch. He bellowed in my ear but I was enjoying the gulp too much. He finally veered around my triumphant frame hurling insults at me.
The yanking began again. She wanted to go back, but he wouldn’t relent this time. What could she say to him? I started moving, my heart thumping fast. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I was filled with glee, for this, the brief moment, in the Food Grains and Pulses aisle. I ran my hands over the variety of basmati in store as I looked forward to savor the moment.
She looked up to see me as she passed. It rankled me, that brief second. With hurt and disappointment at my sorry self, she looked at me with undeniable pity at my miserable state. The sneer drained out of my face as I stood there my head down, ashamed and wretched.
Write Club Hyderabad – March 2020