She wasn’t herself.
It might have been the new city not agreeing with her, but we had moved far too often for location to affect her profoundly. Plus, she seemed cheerful when we first went around the place. She quit her job. This wasn’t garden variety depression or a passing phase. Something had affected her. What irked me was that she wasn’t opening up. Openness had been an unspoken principle of our relationship, and she had steered well clear of that responsibility.
That something was amiss was not immediately discernible. She acted normal. She kept herself busy; cooking, reading, TV. But then there would be times when she just sat there, lost in thought, biting her lips, playing with her hairband. I’d ask her why she gave up her job, and she would give me a smile, laugh it off. A plastic smile, a hollow laugh. We talked. In the way two people sharing coordinates talked. Her only acquaintance was our neighbour, a lady with a morbid, forbidding demeanour. The first thing she told us was about the previous occupant of our flat. A young couple. Marital strife. Domestic abuse. Slit wrist. The lady exerted some sort of mysterious pull on my wife. She seemed alive while talking to her. The neighour was a switch that controlled my wife. This scared me.
“Do you want to step out today? Grab dinner?”
“Yeah OK”. No hesitation. Perfectly normal.
I took her to a resto-bar we’d been to on our first day in the city. The Watering Hole. It might have been a seedy bar for all you know, but for the price card.
She drank more than she ate.
“So. How are you?” It had been woefully quiet save for the sound of cutlery, and my intention was not to just eat and go back to status bloody quo.
She laughed. Hearty. “Why, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just that you seem off-colour of late. Is something bothering you?”
“How’s work? You like this city? I think it’s alright. A bit on the warmer side, but it’s OK.”
This sudden burst of eloquence took me aback.
“Yeah it’s good. Good place.”
“You know Didi was telling me about this place. She said you have good taste.” Didi is our neighbour.
“How did she know?”
“She gazed into her crystal ball. I told her dummy.”
She had left the tipsy station far behind. I was just pulling in.
“Why are you chummy with that lady? She puts me off."
“She’s a doll! She talks to me”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Why do you think my folks named me Ganga?”
I was bristled by her previous remark and was just about to give her a piece of my mind when this sudden whimsical question left me surprised a second time this evening.
“My name. What do you think of it?”
“Ganga is such a majestic name! The mighty river, wild and untamed.”
I raised my glass, but there was no clink. She obviously had some broody, melancholic agenda to this question.
“But that’s not me. I am meek. Cowardly. Submissive. “
I was incensed.
“Is this something that woman fed you? She’s bad for you, stop talking to her! Wait, is this the reason you quit your job?!”
Her head was on the table. She looked at me through the glass.
“The girl who slit her wrist, she did it as her husband stood watching. What would you do? Would you stand watching?”
I reeled. She had either gone overboard with her alcohol, or… I chose to go with the former.
“You’ve had a bit too much to drink. Let’s go.”
I walked over to her. She still had her head on the table, but a curious expression occupied her face. That same vacant stare. I tried to help her up by her arms, but she pushed me away. With extraordinary might.
I was furious but all fury and anger gave way to morbid fear and shock when I looked into her eyes.
She had shrivelled up, in a foetal position, as if she was protecting herself. She was shivering violently. Tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“Please don’t kill me please let me live please please don’t hurt me…” She went on in a bleating voice.
Shock and alcohol induced laggardness made me stand motionless, a powerless observer to the scene playing out in front of me. I shook myself out of my stupefied state, mustered whatever strength I had, and brought down my fist heavily on the table.
“Shut the fuck up!!”
The effect it had on her was instantaneous, and pushed me further down my abyss of fear.
“What just happened to me? What did I say?”
She sat up straight and tried to arrange her dishevelled hair, looking questioningly at me. She was scared.
A glass rolled over and shattered, delaying the onset of a terrified silence.