What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?' Maya's patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. 'Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I'd say.'
'Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .' she rolled her eyes in disgust. 'That's what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.
Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.' She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, 'Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it? '
“No, they haven’t Maya.” Sanjay lied, ‘Perhaps!’ Sanjay was not sure what Veer and Shikha had. It was complicated. They began as colleagues. Veer and Shikha had met over an interview. Shikha was looking to hire an Analyst for a new project in her account. Sanjay was the other Analyst in the team, working on another project. Veer had been Sanjay’s recommendation.
Shikha had frowned when Sanjay had mentioned a reference; his previous references had turned out to be duds. It was difficult to meet Shikha’s standards of quality and performance. Well read, well travelled, she showed support for the environment and social causes exclusively and limited to social media. She wore silk kurtas with stoles and stilettos and Cartier reading glasses for a fashion statement. Her fashion choices apart, she was a diligent worker who tolerated no nonsense, worked for the organization, the team, and had immense love for her work. Shikha had a vulture eye for quality and could spot it in her team and her project deliverables. Reluctantly, she had agreed to meet Veer. He turned out to be a quality hire.
Veer joined Shikha’s team the following month. Their relationship blossomed with each passing day. Veer was indispensable to the team. He was mature in his dealings with Shikha and the team. Veer’s charm and looks bowled Shikha over. Her conversations with Veer ventured towards personal ground. Veer knew her for who she was: capable, intelligent, wise; an acceptance she always longed for from her pot-bellied, male-chauvinist of a husband. But was invariably denied. Shikha looked forward to her days at work, to the coffee machine chats and meetings with Veer that extended beyond pleasantries towards genuine sharing and bonding.
Though, Veer enjoyed the honest conversations with Shikha his fan following of Shikha was more to do with his inability to say “no” than an attraction to her conversational skills or curvaceous physical assets.
Sanjay, with whom Veer had worked years back, also seemed to notice the increasing proximity between Veer and Shikha. He did broach the topic a couple of times and Veer escaped them with nonchalant shrugs.
There were 10 other people in the team. One of them being Mrinalini, who reported directly to Veer. Mrinalini was the pretty lass in the team. She was young, petit, had silky black hair and doe-eyes; the girl every man wished to lay. The young boys in the team were forever ready to help Mrinalini code. But, Mrinalini was steadfast in her love and devotion to her new husband. She had not the slightest eye for a male of any species, let alone the lean, lanky, bespectacled geeks in a leading multi-national IT company.
She reported her tasks to Veer, who seemed decent, and she kept all communication within the team to strictly professional. Mrinalini knew that she attracted attention, she always had. So to avoid unwanted attention, now that she was married, she stuck to discussing daily tasks and reporting completion at the end of each day with Veer. She had lunch with the other mediocre girls in the team and headed straight home after work to make hot rotis for her handsome husband.
Six months into the project and the half-yearly performance review was due. It was at the review meeting with Veer, while discussing her milestones and performance that she felt Veer’s hand brush past hers, ‘or was that a deliberate touch.’ She quickly distanced herself within friendly limits. But, the next touch was obviously not a brush rather a grab.
“Umm! Mrinalini, what happened?”
“Nothing.” Mrinalini did not know how else to respond, ‘Perhaps, I misinterpreted,’ she thought.
“But, isn’t this what you want Mrinalini? I mean, I am the only man you speak with in the team after all... isn’t that for a reason?”
“No! What rubbish!”
Veer now taken aback, withdrew his grip off Mrinalini’s hand.
“Oh! I thought we would celebrate your 4.5 on 5 score, that’s all.”
“I guess, this meeting is over, then. I’ll just complete your review at my desk. We’ve discussed the milestones you’ve achieved; I just need to add improvement areas.” Veer shut his laptop and left the war room.
Mrinalini was shaken. She ran straight to the ladies washroom and burst into silent tears. ‘Veer would definitely screw my score. I am sure he will place me on the Performance Improvement plan, I would have to leave the organization in three months with a poor experience letter and that would mean an end of my career.’ Mrinalini frantically searched her mind for a solution, but it seemed to be clouded with the shock of what had just happened.
‘I must talk to someone, whom can I speak with about this. The other girls will only be happy at my loss. They were friendly colleagues, but none a friend.’
‘I’ll speak with Shikha, she seemed approachable and upright.’
Mrinalini confided in Shikha, who was supportive and assured Mrinalini of official action against Veer. Mrinalini was thankful for a soul like Shikha, who appeared as an angel in her hour of fear, humiliation and need.
Mrinalini went home consoled and calm, but the shame of the incident and doubtful guilt of whether she had unknowingly lead Veer on kept her from confiding in her husband.
Shikha, however, was heartbroken. ‘But, then, Veer had not committed to anything.’
‘They had never even acknowledged the sexual tension between them.’
Yet, Shikha felt cheated. She was habituated to Veer’s company and confidence now. ‘Would she have to lose her knight in shining armour, yet again? Would her desire for male companionship be left insatiated, once more? Would she have to lose out once more on physical intimacy and love, that she was deprived off each day by her unappreciative, dominating, old husband?’
Shikha was fed up of losing her personal battles, she was fed up of finding satisfaction in work, she was fed up of feeling unloved, unwanted and unimportant.
She changed Mrinalini’s team and decided to discuss the matter with Veer. Veer did not deny the episode, given the camera recordings that could be retrieved as proof.
After considerable thought, Shikha decided to approach HR with a formal complaint against Veer. But, as fate would have it, Mrinalini disappeared on sick leave and announced an unplanned pregnancy by the end of the week. Shikha decided to wait for Mrinalini to get back to work before proceeding with the complaint with HR.
Mrinalini could not come back. Due to a low placental position and bleeding she was advised bed-rest. She decided to quit.
This was Shikha’s opportunity. That very evening, she invited Veer for dinner at Crowne Plaza. Dressed to kill, Shikha put her request on the table, amidst a romantic dinner by the pool.
“Veer, I can forget the whole incident, cause we’re friends, you know good friends. I’m sure you understand me and my needs. I’m not getting any younger, neither is my husband. Your wife is done with nesting and you’re still in your prime. I’m sure we can all lead a happy life if you so desire.”
Veer knew he had no way out. He had trapped himself in this vicious cycle of charm, lust and deceit. He had to give in, he did. Their reverie continued for months. Veer successfully fooled Maya. Shikha successfully fooled the organisation.
They continued a life of compromise, till Maya caught Shikha’s flirtatious glance towards Veer at the office Diwali party. Maya was livid and determined to get to the bottom of it. Questioning Sanjay had not revealed anything. Sanjay could not be trusted, he was obviously hiding information.
Maya decided to hire a private detective.
Maya now lives with her son in a smaller apartment. She relocated to Mumbai and leads an independent life sans her handsome, charming husband but in peace and acceptance of a worthy life.
This story is based on a prompt provided by the TOI WriteIndia contest.
© 2016 by Donna Abraham
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