Entangled illusionsSometimes Jivan wondered how inappropriate it was to adore a woman who was already married, but he couldn’t control how he felt about Mrs Joshi.
Right after finishing his morning ritual, Jivan hurried to his window and drew the curtains to peek down the street. Mrs Joshi was passing by the road visible from his room, as always,on her way to her office at Kupondole. She was an attractive woman in her mid-thirties with a symmetrical face and blonde hair who drew appreciative glances as she walked around the colony. Jivan liked her smile the most—her orderly teeth glistened when she broke into a full smile. Apart from that, he fancied her tall frame, snazzy outfits, polished nails and how put together she looked.
Sometimes he wondered how inappropriate it was to adore a woman who was already married, but he couldn't control how he felt about Mrs Joshi. As he observed her from his window, his wife would cook in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and boiling eggs. Jivan knew his wife would not come to check on him as he waited for Mrs Joshi to walk past his residence.
A few moments after Jivan went by the window, Mrs Joshi would appear on the street, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and maintaining a delightful smile. Mrs Joshi had never noticed that someone was spying on her from the window. Jivan wondered how she would react if she found out about him. Would she smile or frown at him? Though they lived in the same colony, Jivan never got the chance to talk much to Mrs Joshi. On the few occasions when they had run into each other on the street, they exchanged pleasantries, but nothing happened beyond that. Her smile had left a lasting impression on him. Even after they had parted, Jivan's earlobes would be hot out of nerves.
Jivan knew she worked at an educational consultancy, but he had yet to learn which one it was. He would have asked her when they had met, but he was always nervous in front of her. It had been three months since Mrs Joshi shifted to this colony. She lived three blocks away from Jivan's residence. Mr Joshi had been serving as a senior government officer in Manang, so he was denied spending much time with his wife. He would come to visit only on long vacations and festivals. Jivan had never seen the Joshi couple together, leaving him wondering how their relationship was. What surprised him the most was that the couple had no children, and he doubted they would have them in the future, too, as Mr Joshi looked well past his forties. Looking at Mr Joshi's balloon-like belly, Jivan could tell that he was not into fitness and exercise. A lazy fellow was what Jivan called him.
Jivan had read somewhere that couples having no children are more likely to cheat on their partners. When he thought of the Joshi couple, he wondered if one was cheating on the other. He couldn't help but imagine Mr Joshi dating a young girl in Manang, the young girl resting her head against Mr Joshi's chest as they made promises. Jivan envisioned Mr Joshi running his fingers through the girl's long, black hair and caressing her face in delight. She would ask whose hair he liked the best, and Mr Joshi, without hesitation, would say, "You're far prettier than my wife, dear." The girl would blush and kiss his forehead, thanking him for his compliments. They would talk late into the night, sleep intertwined, and wake up next to each other.
Jivan then thought of Mrs Joshi, and he couldn't tell if she was cheating on her husband. Jivan couldn't picture her with any man, not even Mr Joshi. He guessed this must be because he was in love with her. He could have lied to the world, but he couldn't lie to himself—he definitely had feelings for Mrs Joshi. 'Everything is fair in love.' He had heard this phrase many times since childhood, but it was only now that the sentence began making sense to him.
"Where have you gone? You're getting late for the office," screamed Mona from the kitchen. Jivan glanced down at his wristwatch. He had spent most of his morning wondering about the Joshi couple. Mrs Joshi had passed his residence a long while ago but lost in his thoughts, he hadn't moved from the window.
"I'm coming," Jivan said and paced towards the dining room, where different varieties of fruit and food lay on the table untouched. He pulled a chair and sat across from his young son, who was still yawning.
"Why don't you join?" Jivan asked Mona who was occupied with her kitchen chores.
"I'll eat later," she replied without even turning to face her husband.
Mona always said she would eat later, and Jivan never objected. As he tore a chapati, his eyes fell on Mona's back, and he started comparing her skin with Mrs Joshi's shiny and smooth one. He loathed himself for comparing his wife with someone else, but he just couldn't help it.
Jivan felt guilty about his growing fondness towards Mrs Joshi. He knew he wasn't being loyal to his wife. He started finding her ugly and scrawny compared to Mrs Joshi.
After finishing the meal, he went to his room and put on a tie. He re-entered the kitchen to say goodbye to his wife. Mona pointed out that his tie was out of place and leaned forward to adjust it. Jivan noticed for the first time how short she was. In actuality, she was not that short, but Mrs Joshi was definitely taller than her. Mona's height had never bothered him before, nor had the giant mole on her forehead. Jivan started doubting if he had made the right choice. He was becoming very judgemental of his wife and spent hours admiring Mrs Joshi instead.
Jivan played a song as he made his way to the office in his car. The lyrics led him to visualise an imaginary world where he and Mrs Joshi walked side by side, swinging their clutched hands, along the Goa beach. Before developing feelings for Mrs Joshi, he dreamed of his wife whenever a song touched his soul. Things were changing rapidly in Jivan's life.
In the office during recess, when no one was around, a strange thought crossed his mind. He wondered if his wife, too, had a secret crush on someone. He'd never given it a thought. If he could secretly admire someone, then why couldn't his wife? The notion left him unsettled.
It was true that he liked Mrs Joshi more than his wife, but he couldn't imagine his wife cheating on him. Everyone has their own set of preferences. What if Mona didn't like his pointed nose, bony face and wheatish complexion but had never said this out loud to him? By the end of the day, Jivan was convinced that if he could have a crush on someone, then it was possible that Mona also liked someone more than she liked him.
Every night after dinner, Jivan was the first to go to bed and having worked in the office all day long, he would doze off as soon as he closed his eyes. He would never wait for his wife to come to bed and wrap her arms around him. Now he wondered what his wife was up to after he fell asleep.
Had she been cheating on him? Was she in a secret relationship with someone? Questions like these swirled around his mind and prompted him to discover the truth about his wife. He decided to check on her at night, pretending to be asleep.
As usual, after dinner, he went to his bed and feigned that he was asleep. His eyes were tired, and he wanted to sleep, but he had a task to complete. Occasionally, he squinted his eyes at the clock hung on the wall. An hour passed, but his wife didn't come to bed. The clock showed 9:40 pm. He could not even hear the clinking of utensils, so he was sure she wasn't cleaning the dishes either.
Perhaps she was in the living room, lying on the couch and flirting with strangers on the phone. He had never checked her phone, for he believed she was a loyal housewife. But now, as his own feelings were changed, he grew suspicious of his wife.
Jivan tiptoed to the door and darted his eyes across the living room. Mona was lying cross-legged on the couch, smiling as she typed something on the phone. She looked so happy typing away like that that she resembled a young girl who had just fallen in love. Seeing her like this confirmed Jivan's suspicions, and he returned to his bed, convinced that his wife was in a secret relationship.
As he closed his eyes, he pictured Mrs Joshi by his side, their bodies entangled in a hotel room far away from his house and his cheating wife. This image filled his body with a warm sensation, and soon he drifted off to sleep.