A day out in PameRukmini had everything Raju wished to achieve in his life. He had the family she always wanted.
As she looked out from the car window, Rukmini noticed a tall couple standing in front of a plush restaurant exclusively catering to rich tourists. Once, Abinash, his late husband, had booked a seat in that restaurant for dinner. She remembered it was the time of winter, and the thin piece of clothes she had put on didn’t help to ward off the chillness, so Abinash had removed his blazer and passed it to Rukmini. She had found this little act so charming. It was different today—she was heading to Pame with Raju.
Lakeside was abuzz with different sorts of music emanating from the restaurants. The gem shops and clothing stores were pleased with the crowd—they wished the tourists would flock in all seasons of the year. However, Rukmini wasn’t in the mood to step into the lively part of Lakeside; she was craving a peaceful space to spend her day. And she knew Pame was the best option.
During the drive, Rukmini was either possessed with the animated nature of Lakeside or the questions she wanted to ask Raju. Raju seemed so focused on the road ahead, so she never mustered enough guts to hurl the barrage of questions. When the street dog attempted to cross the street, it almost collided with the car, and that was when Raju spoke. “These stupid dogs!” he sputtered. Raju, getting furious with the poor little dog, took Rukmini by surprise, and she let out a giggle. “So, you get angry as well?” Rukmini asked in a clipped tone. Raju smiled as he looked in the eyes of Rukmini. “Madam, your mascara is running down your eyelids.”
Rukmini should have checked the mirror and adjusted her makeup, but she chose Raju for help. “Can you please remove what has come down my eyes?” The moment the words escaped her mouth, she realised she had asked a bold question. Her heart thudded in her chest until Raju stopped the car and strained sideways to do what she had asked of him. When Raju’s fingers grazed through her face, her body seemed to merge together with the common energy. She couldn’t recall the last time such a wave of warmth had washed through her body. But she must not forget that Raju conceived of her as a mistress. Just like Rukmini, Raju was indulged in getting to touch her beautiful face. He had never thought of Rukmini in that way, but after his fingers made contact with her face, he couldn’t stop but admire her.
“I think we should park here,” Rukmini suggested as they reached a spot where the children were playing a swing, probably built during Dashain. “Ok madam. I’ll remain seated in the car.” Rukmini sneered and added, “The kids will not be able to push me forward.” Raju faithfully slipped out of the car. The children were adamant about not letting Rukmini play the swing, but when Raju reproached them, their weak voices faded away. When Rukmini put herself on the swing, Raju faced her back and began to push her forward.
He noticed Rukmini had put on some weight from the time when he first saw her. The first day he’d seen her, her face looked pale, and her eye bags were prominent. Now, with proper sleep and a healthy diet, she had become the beautiful woman she was before the tragedy that ruined her happiness. After about half an hour, Rukmini suggested they go to a nearby lake and take in the stunning landscape. Raju almost pinched himself because he thought he was dreaming. How could a woman so rich take him for an outing and ask him to spend time with her? He repeated to himself that he mustn’t get the wrong idea.
In his mind, Raju warned himself that there was nothing to think about—Rukmini took him to Pame because she couldn’t drive. They sat adjacent to each other, watching the stillness of water. Their shoulders were almost pressed, and both of them were aware of this. Raju envisioned his family back in the village, where her wife must be tending to cattle at this hour, and his small daughter must be doing her classwork.
Rukmini had her gaze fixed on the other side of the lake. She thought Raju would begin the chat, so she stayed silent. But as she figured out that Raju was not a great talker, she decided to break the silence. “So tell me about your village. Who else are there in your family?” Raju cleared his throat. “There’s nothing special to tell about my village. Ghachok is a small village. Everyone knows everyone, unlike here.” She flashed a smile upon hearing this witty answer. Raju realised that he’d forgotten to reply to the second question asked by his mistress, so he added, “I have a wife and a small daughter in the village. My daughter goes to a government school in the village.” How foolish Rukmini was to guess that Raju had no family! Forcefully, she had convinced herself that Raju was an unmarried man. Raju’s confession crushed her swelling hopes; she understood she was wrong in the first place.
Her delusion weakened, tossing her to the ground reality of life. “Oh! You never told me about your family,” Rukmini said, sounding a bit upset. “Madam, it’s because you never asked me about my family. I thought you would not be interested in hearing my family stories.”
“Raju, you have no idea how grateful I am to you. I was really in bad shape until the day you came knocking on my door. You have done more than what a family member could have done to me. You don’t have to think that I’m superior. We live together, and we are like a family now,” Rukmini said and stretched her legs, which had begun to hurt from sitting in the same position. Raju was flabbergasted by the generosity of this city woman. He’d assumed all the rich people ill-treat the village people, but Rukmini proved him wrong.
“We are poor people. Growing up, I couldn’t attend a good school and left it before I passed my 10th grade. Now, I want to accumulate money and send my daughter to a good school as she grows up. Perhaps some school in Pokhara.”
Rukmini pondered over his revelation—how modest his dreams are. Everyone in the world is fighting their own fight. Rukmini had everything Raju wished to achieve out of his life but he had the family she always wanted. In Rukmini’s eyes, Raju was lucky enough that he had at least someone to call his own. The wealth possessed by Rukmini lent Raju the impression that the woman was fulfilled. Little did Raju know the void in her life. She had begun to feel comfortable in his presence; she had begun to feel that the good days were not far ahead.
She debated whether Raju would hate her if he knew she had developed feelings for him. She had come to know him now that they had talked in great detail. What she had felt earlier must be the fantasy, not love. But if it were just a fantasy, she would have felt it with other men who always hit on her on Facebook. No! What she felt for Raju was something deep that she could never express in words. “Everything I have done in this city is for my family’s good,” Raju said.
“You’re lucky that you have someone to love. The woman sitting with you now has no one to call her own. No parents. No husbands. No children. No siblings. Just in-laws, but I don’t really count them after my husband’s demise,” Rukmini choked. A pearl appeared out of the blue in the corner of her eyes. Her cheeks were damp before she could control herself. Raju didn’t mumble a comforting word. This time, he leaned in and cradled her head. Rukmini not only rested her head on his sturdy shoulders but all the burdens of her life. Unlike before, her heart didn’t pound in her chest and neither did his. Without their knowledge, the impulsive force led them to clasp each other’s hands, and both wished time would stay still like that forever.