I stepped onto the balcony and looked down. The biscuit-coloured stray dog raised its head at me and whimpered before curling up into a ball. A gentle breeze ruffled the mango tree that guarded the entrance of the building. Outside, the lamp post stood forlorn, as the bulb had long succumbed to the wrath of the rains. Thunder rumbled in the distance as zig-zagged flashes of light split the inky sky.
It was then I heard the knock at the door.
It must be Jeet, I thought to myself. My fuchsia-painted lips parted into a smile. He always loved lipstick stains on his face. “It is the stamp of your passion,” he used to hum before pinning me against the wall. I wiped my hands with a handkerchief and rushed to the living room. I felt my knees turn to jelly as I stood there, as immobile as the couch that had witnessed many a frenzied union between Jeet and me. The rickety door creaked and swayed like a curtain fluttering in the wintry breeze.
“J….. Jeet? Is this your idea of a joke?” I stuttered as eerie thoughts cast their tentacles on me, encompassing me in their vice-like grip.
Why did Jeet have to select such a house for our trysts? Located in an alley far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it accorded us the privacy we craved. But on a night when the air was icy, and eerie shadows danced amidst the streaks of celestial lights, the tingly sensation between my legs had deserted me for good. My heartbeats raced against an invisible opponent as drops of sweat slid down my forehead.
Did I close the door? The seed of doubt planted itself in my head, refusing to budge. I tiptoed to the door. But I couldn’t discern a soul. Allowing myself a sheepish grin, I bolted it. With a sigh of relief, I eased myself into the rocking chair in the room and closed my eyes.
The sharp rap on the door woke me up. Had I drifted off to sleep?
“Swati! Open the door. Quick!”
I unbolted the door and let out a loud gasp.
“Oh ma go! Swati, can you check in your handbag if you have a band-aid or something like that?” That was Jeet as he tottered inside the house. Blood oozed from his forehead. But my gaze didn’t leave his brown leather jacket. What was that splatter of mud doing there?
I looked at him. “Are you crazy? You need treatment. How did you end up like this? Wait! Don’t explain. I will call Doctor Saha.” I dashed towards the centre table and reached for my mobile.
Jeet caught hold of my hand. “Swati, listen to me. Just give me a bandage. Who will come to this place in this weather? And Doctor Saha? He is your family doctor. You have gone nuts. Satya will come to know about us. Do you want that to happen?”
I kept my mobile back on the table. Jeet was right. I must not act in haste. Wincing, he walked past me. “I am going to the bedroom. There’s a first-aid kit there.”
I picked up my black handbag from the table. A strip of I-Pill tumbled out of it. Popping one into my mouth, I gulped it down with a glass of water. Would Jeet be in the mood? One never knew.
My mobile buzzed, startling me. It was Satya. Why would my husband call me from Pune now? I declined the call. The screen lit up with the notification of an incoming WhatsApp message.
Hey. You ok? Bad news. Jeet died in an accident. He was on his way to Jess’s house. Take care. I will call you later.
I dropped the phone, as a piece of glossy paper flew in from the balcony along with the gust of wind. As it settled itself on the red-tiled floor, I stepped back. The photo of Jess smiled back at me. Did she have an amused look on her face? I bet she did. As always, she had the last laugh. She stole my boyfriend in college. But I didn’t give up. That night, when I hugged the grief-stricken Jeet, who was mourning the sudden demise of Jess in a freak accident, something in me stirred. I didn’t protest when Jeet pushed me to his bed. Their bed. I had finally turned the tables on her.
I sank into the rocking chair. No wonder this house looked familiar. Jess had once shown pictures of an old house in central Kolkata she inherited from her uncle.
I cursed my luck. Jess had this uncanny ability to beat me at my own game. How I hated her for it! The tube light flickered one last time. The room plunged into darkness. A voice as dulcet as the notes of a flute wafted in from the bedroom. “Jesssssssssss…..”