Nivi entered the cabin. She knew what it was about.
One of her colleagues was already there, discussing something. She sat next to him. Her manager smiled at her acknowledging her presence and continued listening to the other colleague. Nivi’s mind was blank. She looked at her manager, at the sapphire blue cufflinks, at his silk tie, his face skin that showed mild wrinkles, his greyish hair roots; may be this weekend he would dye his hairs again, she thought. All of a sudden she wanted to imagine him with fully greyed hairs; she tried but she couldn’t. By then her manager looked at her again, slightly conscious of her continuous stare, she shifted her glance down. Nivi looked at her shoes, she loved the way they looked on her feet. She tilted her feet twice and smiled at her shoes as if she was appreciating them for the way they looked. Nivi looked up again and took a deep breath, glanced at the quiet space, white walls everywhere except for the glass wall on one side, facing the lake, the chestnut brown wall clock with white digits and black hands; she took a deep breath again. The other colleague moved out and her manager looked at Nivi.
“How was your day so far?”
“It was good, I guess,” Nivi replied.
“I’ll come to the point; this is the third time this month I am receiving a negative report about your behavior. I did not want to call you but…”
Nivi kept looking at him without saying a word.
“I guess you don’t have anything to say,” her manager spoke after waiting for a couple of seconds.
“I don’t know what to say,” Nivi responded still looking directly into his eyes.
Her manager shifted his glance away from her and spoke, “Why don’t you consider taking a break, looks like you are going through a phase of stress; refresh yourself, you may get a clarity on what you want..”
“That’s very kind of you, even I had been thinking of the same,” Nivi lied.
“I will intimate the HR and accounts, you can contact them in case you need any help. Good luck,” he offered a handshake.
Nivi shook hands with him and walked out. Her colleagues were silent when she went back to her cubicle. She made a call to the HR, packed her things, exchanged a few formal words with her colleagues and left.
Nakul picked her up downstairs. Nivi remained silent the whole 40 minutes they were in the car. She opened her shoes as they entered the house, threw her bag on the table and rushed to the washroom. Nakul opened his shoes and waited. She came out, washed her face, which she usually never did and went into the bedroom and lay face down. Nakul followed and sat next to her and stroked her hairs.
“Do you want to talk?” he spoke with a concerned tone.
“Let us watch an episode of Friends?” he suggested.
“Yeah, we can do that,” Nivi responded trying not to cry.
It’s been a month and a half since Nivi was asked to take a break. Nakul finally managed a holiday, and they both went on a vacation. Nivi had been complaining of Nakul not having enough time for her. Nakul couldn’t get accustomed to this new lifestyle all of a sudden and wasn’t prepared how to react to it. To add on to what’s already burning, Nivi’s mom and her mother-in-law were periodically suggesting her to plan her pregnancy. She started alienating herself from everyone and Nakul thought it was high time they actually took a break.
Nivi and Nakul went to Andaman, a destination they had been planning to visit since three years. They did not plan an elaborate itinerary; booked a resort in Radha Nagar beach and planned to stay there for a week. Nakul rented a scooty and they roamed around Havelock Island, spent their evenings in beach till sunset and dined at one of the cafés that had music on. Three days went like this.
When they woke up the fourth day, it looked like it was going to rain. Nivi suggested that they explore the resort instead of going outdoors. They finished their breakfast and decided to play Table Tennis. Nivi plays well but Nakul plays better and they competed like they were siblings. But this time Nakul deliberately let Nivi score a few points. Nivi lost interest.
They returned the racquets and the ball and strolled the narrow path, one after the other. The gloomy sky darkened.
“Coffee?” Nakul paused to ask.
By the time they got their coffees served, there was a heavy pour. The occasional thunder breaking the monotone of the clattering rain brought Nivi back to reality. She appreciated the space Nakul gave her, she wanted to say something but words failed her; she took another sip and smiled at Nakul as they watched the rain together.
The bitterness of reality and the fear of facing it made her want to run away and lock herself in a dark room. But then reality is cruel; it’s like the light ray that would seep through a peep hole in a dark room; a peep hole that could never be closed nor be hid. The darker the room the more evident is its presence. It will slowly but eventually reveal every single thing one wanted to be hidden and forgotten in that darkness. What’s more threatening? The reality or the process of revealing it to oneself?
Nivi saw Nakul reading a newspaper when another thunder brought her back to senses. She went back to losing herself in her maze of thoughts. The search continued.
Nakul folded the paper and looked at Nivi who had fallen asleep in the couch. He could see her eyebrows still frowning. The rain had mellowed down. Nakul watched the rain drops jumping as the hit the puddle of water. Something was very cheerful about it; something that made him remember his cheerful Nivi who jumped like that at the very sight of rain. He looked at her again, lost in her sleep, lost in that imaginary world of hers; Nakul felt the desperation to bring her back, but he chose to just stroke her hairs.
Nivi woke up to the pleasant sound of drizzle and the mild touch of sun rays. Nakul was having another coffee. She stretched and turned around to look at the clock; she had napped for an hour, almost.
“Do you want to swim?” Nivi asked Nakul.
“It’s still drizzling,” Nakul replied.
“Okay, let’s get our costumes then.”
They walked swiftly, changed into their costumes, carried their sunscreens and towels to the pool side and took a shower.
“The water’s gonna be cold,” Nivi spoke while she vigorously rubbed sunscreen on her arms as if the rubbing will warm her skin to combat that cold.
“It will all last only till you dip once,”
“Not for me. I feel it even after that,” Nivi replied.
Nakul dived into the deepest point and swam to the shallow side from where Nivi entered the pool. Nivi stood there shivering, and she knew what Nakul would do.
“Don’t,” she yelled but before she could finish water splashed her face, and she swallowed some. She splashed water back at Nakul to stop him from moving towards her. He walked straight up and dipped her head into the pool.
“Don’t do that. How many times have I told you not to do so?” Nivi came out yelling.
“See. You don’t feel the cold anymore..”
“No, I still do,” Nivi dipped once again and started to float.
Nivi loves being in water but she can’t swim. She can float and all but can’t co-ordinate her breathing while swimming. She practices every time she finds a pool but still hasn’t mastered it.
Nakul went back-and-forth swimming while Nivi repeatedly attempted to breathe in between swimming. The only thing she was getting better at was holding her breath for a longer time. She came out and climbed up the wall and watched Nakul swim effortlessly wishing she could do that.
Nakul came near her and tried pulling her in.
“Don’t,” Nivi spoke in a dull voice.
“What happened?” Nakul asked as he sat next to her.
Nivi was silent watching the way her legs looked stout inside water; Nakul moved his legs, creating ripples to catch her attention.
“I can’t swim,” Nivi spoke as she leaned on Nakul’s shoulder.
“I can’t, how much ever I try I can’t. Something is missing, I am missing something, basic. I am usually good with coordination but this is not happening. It is not happening because I am lying to myself that I enjoy doing this. Whereas the truth is I feel suffocated, and when I want to get some fresh air, I lose balance. The worst part is that this whole thing reminds me of how suffocated I am with my life now, how I am fooling myself telling I enjoy what I do; how I show to people I am totally in control but in reality I am not. What I do in fact is a fight for fresh air and balance, but I don’t how to get them both like you do. Your presence makes me realize my failure even more. I am always competing to be you and, I had forgotten what it is to be me. I want to prove that I am as good as you are in everything you do so I would be treated the same way they treat you. In this whole process I had forgotten to respect my identity, my uniqueness and my choices. When I am not respecting myself, how would others?” Nivi spoke out with tears brimming her eyes. She looked up, closed her eyes and swallowed that tear drop in.
“I want a break from everything. I heard about this French and Culture course offered in Paris, I am thinking of applying,” Nivi paused and looked at Nakul.
“It will start in three months,” she continued.
The gloom on Nakul’s face overcame the bright shining sun. He pressed her arms mildly and looked into her eyes. He knew it’s too late to pull her out now.
“I want you back, promise me I will have you back,” Nakul spoke.
“I promise,” Nivi replied.
One can’t ignore the existence of reality for long. All that the dark room gives us is some time; it’s like closing our eyes and letting the light seep through our thoughts, letting the hidden be revealed slowly for us to sort and accept;
“Au revoir, bonne nuit..”
“À demain, bonne nuit,” Nivi bade goodbye to her friend who dropped her at her apartment. She had to walk past the common swimming pool every day. After her Andaman trip, she never swam. It was a tough 5 minute walk for her even now, the swimming pool bringing so many memories back. She changed into her pyjamas, finished her dinner and took the novel to resume. She couldn’t concentrate so she put the novel back and browsed through Facebook for a while as she listened to some songs. Facebook showed her a memory from one year back, their Andaman trip album that Nakul posted. Nivi closed her phone, plugged out the earphones and changed into her swimming costume. After standing and staring at the pool for a couple of minutes, she entered.
Nivi feared falling backwards, she once climbed a hill but was scared to death to rappel down backwards. Falling backward was like venturing into an unknown path which she was scared of, the same reason she never tried to float with her face up. With face down, she was more comfortable as she saw what she was falling into. But today was different; today she decided to make that fall. She went inside a couple of times, breathing in some water and eventually after a few attempts she managed to float. After a few more attempts, she started getting better at balancing and learned the knack to pull her legs down on losing balance and not going head in first. She did not have to feel suffocated anymore, she gazed at the starry sky as she floated with her ears under water, the sound of her own breath was the only thing she heard; she let the tears flow down, realizing how light can letting go feel. Even though she couldn’t hold her balance for a long, she got better at letting herself fall into the unknown and as she did, she realized that it revealed some beautiful dimensions to her she hasn’t perceived so far.