This is the second time we’ve had the pleasure of getting one of Sarbari Sen’s stories on SloWord. She is, if you recall, the brain behind “A Chandelier for Vidya“.
If you’ve read that you may have a vague sense of foreboding already. Here we go then!
When they left a party, someone would inevitably sigh and say “How could a man be twice lucky?”
He had been happy once before, before Meera’s fall.
Meera and he had been soulmates. They met as colleagues in the office and the sparks had been apparent almost from the very start. The sparks led to a romance and the romance led to marriage.
It was said that other couples in the town aspired to be like them. They were always in sync, Rakesh, the dashing, successful, finance nerd and his queen. Meera threw the best parties in the town, held the greatest art exhibitions. Her career in marketing allowed her to transition successfully into a career in politics. With his financial nous and her market savvy, they quickly rose to prominence in town as the upwardly mobile couple to watch.
Her rise through the local political arena hadn’t gone unnoticed. She was invited to deliver the introductory speech for the visiting minister. Her rousing and refreshing speech took her away on a whirlwind tour of rallies. As the elections heated up, Rakesh saw less and less of her.
The newspapers provided reports of a smiling Meera on stage with the minister. The minister was only a couple of years older than her. Their rallies were met with enthusiasm.
Rakesh continued to attend parties where he networked furiously. He also started renovations on the new three story house they had just bought. With their ever-increasing public profile they needed the ground floor for the business of meeting people, networking and quiet conferences. The middle floor was devoted to the kitchen and living areas and up on the third floor a fleeting peace could be had in the bedrooms.
It was in this businesslike and highly functional house that the tragedy struck.
Hurrying out of the bedroom, Meera stumbled and fell into the lobby below the stairs and cracked her head wide open. Rakesh’s happiness died the moment bits of her shattered brain spread across the floor.
Blame was laid at the door of the newly installed railings of the staircase. The wooden balusters had just not been strong enough. When she had stumbled and fallen against them, they had given way.
Rakesh’s grief was apparent to everyone. He was inconsolable.
After the appropriate mourning interval he started attending social events again. It was clear to his family and friends that they needed to worry about him. He was moody and prone to drinking quietly in the corner. At work, his colleagues saw him as a much quieter person, given to an oddly uneven performance.
In the autumn of the year following the tragedy Ravi arrived at Rakesh’s house with an invitation.
“We’re moving into the new flat next week, bhaiya”, he announced.
“Congratulations!” said Rakesh, “when is the grihapravesh? I hope you’re having a grand housewarming celebration!”
“That’s exactly why I’m here. We’re just going to wait a week or so to unpack and settle everything in and then we’d like to have you come over. There are going to be a few of our friends and the rest of the family, of course.”
Ravi was Rakesh’s cousin. He and his wife Renuka had recently moved back from the US armed with post grad degrees and well-paying jobs in the major consulting companies.
Rakesh arrived at the event looking surprisingly bright in a pale blue shirt and jeans.
“Thanks for coming, Bhaiya”, Renuka said, “This is such a happy moment for us to be in this new house and have you come to celebrate it with us.”
Rakesh made suitable noises and found himself a drink. Hors d’oeuvres came by at intervals as did family members and friends. He sat in the corner, brooding, nursing his drink. It didn’t seem anything would really cheer or interest him.
Then he saw her.
She was dressed in a brilliant reddish-pink salwar suit, the tasteful sequins matched with tasteful sequins on the oddly matching yellow chunni.
She was laughing at something the young man next to her had just said. She laughed as if the world had no woes, no worries. Rakesh watched her. He noticed the smile never left her eyes.
He was still watching her when Ravi appeared at his side.
“Are you having a good time? How do you like the place?”
He stopped and looked over at the object of Rakesh’s interest.
“Have you met Neelam? She was in school with Renuka. Let me introduce you.”
He brushed aside Rakesh’s protestations and pulled Neelam away from the group and over to Rakesh.
“Neelam, this is my older brother, cousin, Rakesh. Bahiya, this is Neelam. Now you guys are introduced to each other, I have some other guests to look after. Bye.”
He rushed off.
Neelam said, “Well, he was always rushing off. So that’s normal.”
“Yes, he’s a bit,” Rakesh waved his hands.
“Yes. Renu and I were in the same program at Cornell.”
“It’s a lovely campus. Easily the most scenic of the Ivy League colleges.”
“Oh! Have you been there? I do like Princeton, too, but I know what you mean. Cornell is a bit more dramatic.”
That was their first meeting, the first of many in the months to follow.
When Rakesh proposed, it was already apparent to Neelam that it was coming. The engagement was announced and for most people who knew them, it was not a surprise.
They settled in to the much smaller house that Rakesh had bought by selling off that ill-fated house where Meera had met her death.
With the politicians gone from his life and Neelam in it, Rakesh was happy again. Neelam was easy-going and vivacious. Her work offered a constant supply of interesting anecdotes. Rakesh would joke that she should write them down into a book. Nobody would believe these were not fiction.
Their attendance at parties offered a glimpse into a happy married life and thus the sighs when they left.
“How can anyone be twice lucky.”
Their promotions at work gave them more work to do, more disposable income and kept them later in the office.
Their phones always lay close to hand.
It was a Saturday and Rakesh was sitting with his second cup of coffee and reading through the new analytic report. Mentally cursing all Business Intelligence consultants he tried to make sense of the charts, infographics and tables they had distributed with a free and generous hand.
Neelam had gone for her bath. Her phone sat on the armchair next to Rakesh. Rakesh, already irritated by the reports and looking for distractions began to notice the flickering notification lights on Neelam’s phone.
After a while, it began to irritate him. He leaned over and looked at the messages.
It was as if his world had come crashing down. Who was this guy? Where had she met him?
His brain kicked into gear again.
Something would have to be done about her. It had to be something simple. It had to be something easier than sabotaging staircases.
The big question was “Could he be twice lucky?”