Neil’s head was reeling from a tiring work day. His hands ached and legs cramped from the long drive, amplifying the stress. The fragrance of lavender filled his senses as soon as he opened the door. That was the one of her remembrances that somehow refused to leave the apartment. Over the last month or so, he had become workaholic, an attempt to stay away from the recent memories. However hard he tried to forget, incidents of the last few months failed to evacuate his mind. His tears had dried up. Though it never showed on his face, inside him the skies were falling.
“This was once used to be our home”, he thought in distress and slumped on the couch.
Neil and Sara had atypical arranged Indian wedding and a quick one as well. The families believed that there was no auspicious occasion for the next two years. Neil purchased an expensive city apartment for them to stay. He let go of his choice of a modest suburban apartment when he saw how awed Sara was by the joie de vivre of the city. He put in all his savings and stretched the limits of his home loan. The apartment was closer to Sara’s workplace and where her parents lived. He didn’t care if it took him two hours to drive to work. This little trouble was nothing for him compared to the magnanimity of love that he showered on her.
Together, they custom-made the sophisticated furniture, handpicked the elegant paintings, carefully chose the regal wall paint, selected upholstery that breathed fresh air, and thematically designed each of the three bedrooms to convert the apartment into a perfect love nest. Neil was submissive to every choice Sara made to make her feel contended. He found sublime happiness in giving in to her demands. Each room of their apartment was enveloped with their memories of togetherness. Her shapely figure, his brawn appeal. Her giggles, his smiles. Her coy glances, his flirtatious talks.
Slowly, they fell into their daily routines. Both resumed their work after the honeymoon. Somewhere amidst the wheel of monotony, her love for him faded away and restrained emotions took its place.
One Sunday, while Sara was sleeping, her phone buzzed and Neil’s eyes latched onto a text message from her friend unknown to him, Riya.
“Are we on for today?”
The language of the message sparked his curiosity and made him unwillingly snoop on her phone. There were many sleazy messages and emails from Riya. Minutes passed by as he gathered his wits. He quickly marked the messages unread and shared Riya’s contact with himself. But Neil couldn’t muster up the courage to confront Sara on this. What if he was mistaken? It was out of his scope to believe that Sara would be bi-curious.
Next day, when he called on Riya’s number, a man answered. The ground beneath him shook. The messages and emails explained how deeply she was in love with another man, cleverly disguised as Riya.
From that day onwards, Neil began to lose trust in Sara. He discerned that they were growing apart in different directions. He used to look into her eyes, she used to look into his and quickly lower her gaze and start fidgeting with her phone. They smiled. They used to talk about the weather, places, people, things, just like strangers would do. When he tried to come close to her, she either faded into a deep slumber or complained of a headache. He could sense a self-protective wall around her.
Neil lived a solitary life, for a purpose, unknown to him. He followed a routine like a robot. Wake up, go to work, return from work, eat dinner, drink, sleep. Their love nest had become a desolated apartment.
Another lonely night awaited him. When he closed his eyes, he could still feel her lips on his. Then, the picture of her in their bed, with a stranger. Then, she laying dead in the same bed.
Neil had come home to grab his id card he had forgotten to take to work, but what saw was his worst nightmare. His wife was with another man, under the sheets, in their bed, naked. He wanted to scream and shriek, but his voice was buried under his shattered heart.
‘How could things turn so drastically worse? Did she never love me? Was she two-timing me all the time? Was he same guy disguised as Riya on her phone?’, he wondered in broken thoughts.
As Neil introspected more, he was able to join the dots. Sara took advantage of his simplicity, honesty, unconditional love and belief. Perhaps she knew this man before their marriage and her parents never approved of him. There used to be occasions, before their wedding, where Sara wouldn’t answer Neil’s calls or suddenly cancel their dates. Many times, Sara’s phone would be busy, but Neil never questioned. His love was blind.
Neil was possessive about Sara. He never imagined her to be someone else’s. After that fateful day, Neil maintained the distance and never spoke a word to Sara. His wounds ran deep.
Sara asked for a divorce, in remorse, as if she knew somewhere in her heart that she cheated him. Their love nest had fallen.
Neil informed Sara via a post-it note that he will be away on a business trip for a two days. When he returned, he saw her dead, asphyxiated. The apartment had been ransacked. The cash and jewellery were missing. Neighbours and relatives were shocked to see such an end to what they thought was a fairy tale marriage.
Forensics were not surprised to find Neil’s hair in her nails and Sara’s bites on his hand. They just dismissed it for the quirkiness of a newly wed couple. Neighbours also gave an impression that all was well between the two.
The police ruled robbery as the motive and carried out investigations but came out, clueless about the thief and killer. Neil was stoic through all the inquiries and didn’t mention anything about Riya. He didn’t want to tarnish Sara’s image even in her death.
The love nest was irreparably crushed. What remained was a miserable apartment. The sophisticated furniture rotted, the handpicked elegant paintings were stained with cobwebs, the regal wall paint withered and upholstery gathered mould.
Another sleepless night tortured by her thoughts awaited him. His memories of the day when he last saw her flashed before him. He started the car and pretended to drive towards the railway station. Longing lust, lasting hate and persisted anger weaved a sinister plot in his mind. He parked the car at some distance. Leaving his mobile phone in the car, he walked back towards home. He knew the CCTV was under repair. He used his keys to enter. He made love to her one last time and strangulated her with her scarf. He rummaged the apartment and took the cash and jewellery, walked back to his car, drove back to the train station, and boarded his train. He disposed of the scarf somewhere along the journey. When he returned two days later, he raised an alarm.
Every day, the agony and guilt made him feel like a thousand snakes biting from within. That night he relieved himself of the despair with an overdose of sleeping medication. At least his soul could now wander peacefully.
Could the wounds have healed? Would anger have ceased to exist? Could the hearts be repaired?
The apartment was never destined to become a home. Instead, it shook and trembled under a quake of betrayal, deceit, and wrath, to finally become a grave.