They had been ‘best friends ‘all their childhood. From the time she remembered, apart from her books Usha had been the only person whose company she had enjoyed
Before their little minds conjured up a name for their relationship, they were inseparable friends. The lively girl and the calm one. A team. Going to school together, doing their homework together, family friends, neighbours, playing together, raiding orchards, climbing trees. All the energetic activities presided over by Usha and the mind activities supervised by Sandhya. They had fitted into each others existence easily. Though she wholeheartedly loved Usha, there were times she had wished to be a bit more like her.
Their childhood had been so blissful, until that final incident that somehow brought on such changes that could not have been foreseen.
Their final year in school. Annual examinations. Sandhya had spent half her time seeing to that, that Usha prepared too. But on that fateful day, Usha just dropped a bomb on her saying that since she was not adequately prepared she was going to copy from sheets she had stuffed in her socks.
Sandhya would have none of it. After a massive argument, they had tentatively agreed that each could do what they pleased.
Usha had brought the notes Sandhya had prepared for her.
And as time would have wanted then, Usha had been caught in the act.
Trying to save herself, she had pushed the notes onto Sandhya’s desk where they would have remained hidden amongst familiar handwriting.
However, when questioned about the ownership of them, Sandhya told the truth, by declining to accept them as her exam sheets.
The moment the truth was uttered; Sandhya knew that these words were going to scar something very precious to her. But what had to be done had to be done. She had warned Usha about the consequences. Had pleaded with her that obtaining fewer marks was preferable to dishonest work.
And after the fracas, as Usha had been led away to the headmaster’s office, she had turned back and gave Sandhya a look, a look which she could not decipher but which at some levels scared her.
Unknowing to both of them that would have being the final time they saw each other for a long time.
Usha parents were ending their marriage and moving out of town. The headmaster decided to go light on the shameful incident as the student was moving away and changing school.
Usha had thwarted Sandhya’s every attempt to meet and talk to her.
In a whirlwind of activity, Usha moved away, ending a period of blissful childhood, marred by an incomplete end.
Sandhya believed in the principles of truth and honesty. She had tried to base everything in her life on her principles. And when she told the truth that fateful day, she did not know why, what makes the character strong was so painful to the heart, why her principles had taken away the only person she had loved apart from her family.
Even now as she tried to fit her life in some principle or other, as she went about life collecting moments based on values, there were those odd moments, when she questioned herself, about her character which had not minded breaking a human heart to uphold an abstract principle.
She had bartered a living thing for a nonliving abstract.
What sort of person did that make her?
As the weeks passed, Sandhya had no idea what she wanted. She did not know whether she wanted to sort out her relationship with her husband or whether she wanted to forgive him at all. She did not know why she had still not told him about her pregnancy. Somehow, she did not want to discolor the only perfect thing in her life with the dirt of his lies.
There were times when she wanted to break half the crockery in the house on Ajit, considering how he went about his life as if nothing was wrong. She did not know what bothered her more; the fact that Ajit did not notice anything wrong with her or the fact that she did not want to confront him.
And sometimes she hated Usha; with all the fiber of her being. The envy of her childhood bloomed to full-blown hate; eventually, the man she loved had given himself to what she was not and would never be.
That had been the ultimate betrayal to her.
All her thoughts hounding and trailing her; Sandhya had taken to walking to thwart them off.
And on one such walks she had come across the house with the apple tree.
It was one of those little cottages pushed away from the main road. The ‘on sale’ sign invited her to go in to look around. She had liked the house and as she made her way to the back she came across a beautiful tree; a flowering apple tree.
Somewhere, in some book about folklore of the British Isles she had been reviewing, she had come across the fact that an apple tree was associated with choice. An incident of how land was distributed according to markings on apple fruits came back to her mind. All the plots were similar; regardless a choice had to be made.
The sun shone through the branches of the tree. It was as if some thing was being pointed out to her. Today even she was faced with making some choices, decisions which were difficult, but had to be made nonetheless. Pushing them away was doing nothing but hurting her health, which was now not her’s alone. Someone else depended on her for its well being.
She gently touched the bark of the tree; a delicate bloom danced with the wind and gently fell on her face.
She smiled whimsically as she recollected that apple trees were also associated with healing powers and love.
Usha was always haunted by those eyes; those seemingly normal eyes; but if they looked at you in the eye, you will see in them a tinge of sadness; a sadness which lodges in a person’s soul after he has seen what life can do to you.Sandhya’s eyes were such eyes; eyes which had a wise sadness in them. Usha remembered seeing the shy, quiet girl all her life until she remembered noticing her. Her perfect friend. The friend who had always been there; all through the only happy time in her life; her childhood. Though she had never understood how a person could prefer the company of books to human, she had never minded it. There had always been something so utterly perfect and peaceful about Sandhya, that with her anyone could feel that everything was perfect in their lives at that moment.
But it was eventually those very principles that made her so damned perfect, that had brutally slaughtered their relationship.
In those times in childhood when children decide the definitions and rules of friendship what Sandhya did had hurt her bad.
She remembered an incident when they were 8 year olds stealing melons from an orchard when Usha had been caught and Sandhya had managed to escape. Even at the cost of been given beatings Usha had never revealed her companion’s name. For her one of the ground rules of friendship had been loyalty.
Sometimes she wondered if Sandhya would have even had a slight doubt about the decision she made about telling the truth. After all these years; now when the incident itself seemed so trivial,Usha did not know why she had been hurt by her so called ‘trivial ‘business
But, it had mattered to her that Ajit was Sandhya’s husband.
Sitting in the hospital lounge awaiting her appointment with her doctor, Usha thought back to that evening in the room of the hotel.
Ajit was resting on the couch with a drink in his hand; she had been staring out at the sky from the balcony thinking of how to start the conversation about his wife.
“I saw your wife today”, she had remarked.
Ajit had looked up at her; she still could not fathom how looking at a person you love but can never have, could hurt you so.
“And?” he had ventured.
“I don’t know. It just got me thinking. She seems nice. Why do you stray?” she had asked boldly.
A sad smile had formed on his face.
“She is nice. I guess that is the problem. She is too nice and perfect that it makes me miserable. No one can live up to her. She is too darned perfect.” He had said.
“If she is perfect, then what am I?” she had asked.
“It’s not like that; it’s just that your sort of perfection is easier to live with.”
She did not know what had propelled her onto her feet. All she knew was something again had broken in her; and this time too indirectly it had been Sandhya’s fault.
“If this so called “perfection’ of mine makes it easier to live the deception that we are living, then I guess, you do not understand the meaning of perfection. And that’s sad, cause you have encountered it, almost everyday all your life in the form of your wife and failed to recognize it.” she had said calmly.
“It is over, Ajit. I had decided that after seeing your wife, but am glad you made it easier. Goodbye.”
She had gathered her things and walked to the door. Now thinking back, she did not know whether it was Ajit’s declaration of her ‘perfection’ or some long ago forgotten loyalty to her friend that had propelled her to act, but she had been glad she did.
She had bought the house on a loan. She had managed everything without anyone knowing .she knew her parents would not permit her to stay alone in her condition; she more than anyone knew she needed her solitude. She would ask someone to stay with her when she entered the last trimester. She had packed her belongings. It had been sad, as she packed her stuff away all alone. It was as if she had been burying the last 8 years of her life. All that remained to be done had been breaking the news to Ajit. She had gone to his office. She still remembered their conversation vividly.