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He wasn’t used to being dominated and was conspicuously caught off guard, that day!
A career in the Indian Civil Services, had taught Joseph, the art of persuasion. He took great pride in the fact, that he was a smooth talker, but his efforts had been thwarted very cleverly, so far. The ripples created on the waters of the lagoon, by the dogged drizzle, was mysteriously adding to the tension, because at the other end, was a worthy opponent, who had traveled the world, and seen life and its complexities, as an established writer.
“You look disoriented?”, asked Rosanna.
“No, I am fine”, assured Joseph.
The boat slowly drifted, through the narrow passages of the shallow lagoon, into the limitless expanses of the Arabian Sea. It was a sight to behold. However, there was an uncanny strain in the air.
“You seem to be in search of something?”, enquired Rosanna.
Joseph looked a bit startled. She seemed to be reading his mind, hence he was lost for words. Amidst the confusion, the much-awaited prawn curry arrived at the table. Rosanna buoyantly, dug into it with a fork.
“This is nice!”, she exclaimed, licking the gravy off her lips. Joseph’s eyes were firmly on her, but he was still in a daze. This mischievous provocation felt unbearable and strangely alluring at the same time.
“You’ve still not answered my question. Are you the Joseph, I once knew?”, asked Rosanna, in a teasing tone.
“Yes, I am! Why do you ask?”, replied Joseph, peevishly. The grumpiness was more out of helplessness than aggression.
Rosanna chuckled and said gleefully, “You are miffed, are you? I’ve, been trying to take the mickey out of you, but you my friend have turned out to be such a bunny”.
Joseph felt like a cornered tiger, who was being strangled by a slow-moving noose. Something had to give.
“I have the same question for you. Are you the same Rosanna, I once knew?”, he argued, trying desperately to get back into the game.
“What did you expect, a demure girl, who would easily succumb to your manliness?”, asked Rosanna, letting out a cheeky grin.
Pic credit: saathi art
Sensing a tipping point, Thankappan mischievously interrupted their conversation and asked, “This is a good spot for fishing. Are you both interested?”.
“Later!”, replied Joseph, sternly. His body language suggested that he wasn’t pleased by the sudden intervention.
“I am sorry Sir!”, pleaded Thankappan, timorously. Rosanna giggled.
Thankappan resumed his duties.
“What unfathomable torture was meted out to your wife, by you?”, asked Rosanna, taking another wicked pot-shot.
“How can you say that? I loved her, from the bottom of my heart!”, yelled Joseph, visibly annoyed.
“I am sure you did”, replied Rosanna, in a mellowed tone.
“Don’t you dare cast doubts on my love for her”, contended Joseph, saying which he got up from his chair in disgust, took a few deep breaths and then sat back on the chair, infuriated.
No words were exchanged for the next few seconds, instead only furtive glances were traded. But strangely the uncanny strain, that was felt, so far, had disappeared.
Despite all the nervous energy, the prawn curry was too tempting to be ignored, hence Joseph advanced to taste it. The subsequent smile on his face, after taking a bite, suggested that it was a taste he was familiar with. Wiping the gravy off his lips with a piece of tissue paper, he said,
“We humans have a strange relationship with our mortality. At different stages of our life, it takes different meanings. A child thinks of death as a dark fantasy, juggling concepts of heaven and hell, a youth thinks of it as an eventuality, which he believes he can fight and prolong, and an old man accepts it as a reality, trying desperately to make the most of the time he has left”.
Rosanna smiled and nodded in agreement. Her expression suggested that she was familiar with this kind of discourse. But it was also evident from her body language, that she had let her guard down. Joseph felt comforted.
Pic credit: Juxtapoz Magazine
“I loved Oindrilla immensely, but I must concede, that she loved me more than I could ever love her. She was my best friend with whom I could share my darkest secrets. However, I was passionate about my work and was always busy. I never seemed to have enough time. But, never once did she complain about it.
I had secretly vouched to myself, that I would compensate for the time I was unable to give her, by taking an early retirement and giving her all that she ever wanted. I had meticulously planned for it. But as luck would have it, one year into my retirement, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and I couldn’t save her. Her death taught me an important lesson, that there is no greater tomorrow. What you need to do; must be done now.
But her passing away taught me another lesson…”, said Joseph, letting out an endearing little grin.
“And what’s that Mr. Philosopher?”, enquired Rosanna.
“That I am an obstinate old fool!”, replied Joseph.
Both stared at each other for a second and then broke into laughter.
“Poor girl, she must have suffered a lot”, sighed Joseph, after regaining his composure.
There was silence.
The quirky thing about houseboat cruises is that, despite being in the open, you get privacy, and that too in the middle of a lagoon. Perfect for secretive conversations.
Pic credit: nikifineart.com
Joseph gestured with his hands and eyes, inviting Rosanna to take the stairs, leading to the upper deck of the houseboat. Rosanna obliged. The view from up here was spellbinding. It was unhindered, secluded and peaceful. Except for the pitter-patter of rain drops, there was no other sound, causing any kind of disturbance.
“It’s your turn now. Tell me, how did you treat your husband?”, asked Joseph.
“I met Mathew in the US. I was touching thirty. We worked for the same company and it wasn’t love at first sight by any means, but we gradually grew a fondness for each other. He was more like a friend, mentor and guide to me. The decision to convert this friendship into a life-long relationship, was a well thought one.
He is the one who encouraged me to quit my stable job and become a writer. When I became one, I had to travel the world, and not once did he stop me. He continued with his engineering job, while I traveled the world in search of new stories. Our daughter spent more time with him than with me. Hence, she has his qualities.
I can’t thank him enough for what he did for me”, said Rosanna, her eyes were brimming with tears. Joseph didn’t utter a word and let her continue.
“But… we had to separate”, sighed Rosanna.
Joseph looked startled.
“Loneliness is a cruel thing. Sometimes, even love cannot save you when you are lonely. It makes you do crazy things.
I got attracted to another man during one of my travels. It was a brief affair, but it ended up killing our marriage. It was the biggest mistake of my life”, said Rosanna, giving off a low moan of despair.
Pic credit: abstract.desktop.nexus.com
Joseph looked perturbed. This revelation was a bit overwhelming.
“Five years down the line, Mathew decided to get married to a lady, he knew from his college days, and I was happy for him. But as luck would have it, that marriage couldn’t last very long either. I have a feeling that his past came in the way of that marriage. In that sense, I am to be blamed for that debacle as well.
But we continued as friends, despite the divorce and spoke to each other, quite often. In the beginning our discussions, were mostly centered around our daughter, later when she got settled in life, we spoke about our experiences, mistakes and learning. This brought us closer, once again.
Eventually we moved back together, in our mid-50’s. But chose not to repeat the mistake of marrying each other. I tried to undo my wrongs by taking care of him during his last days. But it was too little, too late!”, said Rosanna, letting out a sarcastic giggle.
Joseph too let out a nervous grin. At that precise moment, he realized, what was drawing him towards Rosanna?
She wasn’t the demure and submissive girl, he once knew. Her life experiences had transformed her into a more sorted and mature woman. In a strange way, despite her frailties, she’d become more powerful than him.
“Sometimes committing mistakes is important. It gives you a better understanding of what is right”, said Joseph, apprehensively glancing at Rosanna.
“True! But I am dying to have another drink. Could I have one?”, asked Rosanna.
“Yes sure!”, replied Joseph, visibly enamoured by her unruffled nature.
Both returned to the dining space.
Joseph privately gestured to Thankappan to prepare for lunch, and within minutes all the dishes, Thankappan had skillfully prepared, were on the table. The smell of freshly ground spices, emanating from those dishes, were enlivening the senses. Joseph and Rosanna downed their drinks in a hurry, in order to taste the luring local sea-food fare. The euphoria in the air was palpable.
After the satisfying lunch, the two headed back to the upper deck. Thankappan had tied the boat to a coconut tree during lunch, to keep it stationary, but it was being gently rocked by the swaying tree. The countryside looked secluded, as it was that time of the day, when the villagers headed to their homes for lunch and siesta.
Joseph still had a few questions for Rosanna. He was restless to get them answered which showed in his nervous movements. Rosanna was mindful of this but remained calm in her demeanour.
Sighting an opportunity, Joseph asked, “How is your relationship with your daughter?”.
Rosanna was expecting these personal questions, hence didn’t seem flustered. She replied,
“Sarah treats me well, whenever we meet. However, I cannot deny that there is an unspoken strain in our relationship due to our past. She’s chosen to remain quiet about my infidelity towards her father and it bothers me.
Sometimes, I feel that I could be the reason behind all her failed relationships, so far. But then, I don’t want to give her any justification for my deeds. I’d rather let her experience life and draw her own conclusions. I did make a mistake and there is no running away from it. I have accepted the fact, that it will take time for these wounds to heal fully.
Moreover, she is doing very well in her career and we’ve been apart for many years. I wouldn’t want to suddenly impose myself on her, just because I am old”.
Joseph smiled, suggesting that he liked, what he had just heard.
“How has your son been treating you?”, asked Rosanna.
It had started to drizzle again. Joseph snuggled into the couch next to him, adjusted the shade and called out to Rosanna to take refuge under it, to avoid getting drenched. She obliged.
With a slight stutter in his voice, Joseph replied,
“My son Sheldon has always been a good child. Even as a young boy, he showed maturity beyond his age, to take care of his mother, when I was out on my official tours. I have no doubts though, that he must be holding some grudge against me, for not having spent enough time with my wife, but he has never once let it come in the way of our relationship.
He keeps asking me to come and stay with him. I know that he is self-sufficient and happily married with two beautiful children. There is no doubt that he will take good care of me.
But I keep avoiding this conversation with him, because freedom is everything for me and I cannot trade this for anything, since I have always lived life this way. I wouldn’t know any other way to live, hence I don’t want to become a burden on him”.
Rosanna noticed a hint of melancholy creeping into Joseph’s voice. Hence, she diverted his attention towards something unfolding a few meters away from them. A group of half-naked teenagers were running frantically through the paddy fields and towards the lagoon. Once there, they jumped into the lagoon, all at once, splashed the waters, hummed songs and engaged in merry making. The resultant commotion lifted everyone’s spirits.
Pic credit: imagekind.com
One of these boys then emerged from the waters and sat under the coconut tree, onto which the houseboat was tied and started singing an old Malayalam song. He had a melodious voice which kindled nostalgia.
“Rosanna, do you remember that song?”, asked Joseph excitedly, pointing his index finger towards the boy.
“Yes, I do. You sang this song so awfully on our convocation day!”, replied Rosanna.
“Yes…Yes!”, exclaimed Joseph, as he laughed uncontrollably, tightly holding on to his belly.
Rosanna too broke into laughter, thereby rudely interrupting the boy who was singing the song. This sudden euphoria was overwhelming for him and he seemed irritated, noticing which Rosanna said, “I am sorry young man. Please do continue, you sing very well!”. However, the boy grabbed his satchel, walked up to the next coconut tree, sat under it and started singing again.
Just then, Thankappan came out of the boat and untied the rope, which had kept the houseboat stationary. The boat was set free and was ready to make the return journey.
Enthused by the singing of the teenager, the two spent the next hour or so, recounting certain events from their past, invoking nostalgia. They were unstoppable. The mesmerizing sights didn’t seem to matter anymore as they were too engrossed in their conversation. At that moment, they ceased to be their age, they were like little children, wild and carefree, laughing and crying, with a sense of abandonment.
It was only when they realized that they had almost reached their destination, that they managed to restrain themselves.
“Can I ask you one question?”, asked Rosanna.
“Go ahead”, replied Joseph.
“Why did you ask me out on this date?”, asked Rosanna.
“Why do you want to know?”, enquired Joseph.
“Trust me, its important!”, asserted Rosanna.
Joseph looked perplexed. He took a few seconds to form an appropriate answer in his mind, but he was clear, that he didn’t want to lie to her. He replied,
“You were my best friend in college, but I had always known you as a modest, unassertive yet very good human being. When I met you today after all these years, you seemed to have changed. You had miraculously transformed into a confident and assertive woman and something within me was curious and desperate to know, the reason behind this change?”.
Rosanna smiled and asked, “Did you find this change attractive?”.
“I wouldn’t want to lie to you. Yes, I did!”, replied Joseph, without hesitation.
“That’s good to know”, replied Rosanna, straight faced.
The two allowed a few seconds of silence but continuously kept glancing at each other.
The boat had returned to the place it had started from and realizing that every second was now valuable, Joseph asked, “Why did you agree to come on this date with me?”.
Pic credit: etsy eye art
Rosanna walked up to Joseph, compassionately looked him straight in the eye and replied, “You were my best friend in college. I had known you to be a smart, kind and intelligent man. You were always there for me, whenever I needed help.
I remember you advising me relentlessly, sometimes for hours, to be more assured and stronger. You tried your best to drive home this point into my head. So much so that, I felt that this change was more important for you than it was for me!”.
Joseph looked bewildered and said, “Okay, but this still doesn’t answer my question”.
Rosanna took another step towards Joseph, sporting a silly grin, she replied, “I came on this date with you to know, if you my friend have changed after all these years?”.
(end of story)
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