English LiteratureShort Stories

Vanity

“Hridaan, son, vanity is a disease which corrodes the soul.”

I growled inwardly and shot her a glance.

“Mom, why are you telling me all this? Am I the only one at fault? Doesn’t Hetal have anything to do with the situation we are facing?”

Mom didn’t reply immediately. She calmly went and occupied the armchair which I had just vacated. She had an abundance of patience, something that I wish I’d inherited from her.

I was fuming with rage and as a result was breathing heavily. She took out her glasses, wiped them clean and whilst wearing them again, peered at me.

“First sit down. I can’t strain my neck while talking to you.”

Without arguing, I did as was told. She began slowly,

“I am not saying Hetal gets a clean chit from me. I know somewhere even she has faltered. It always takes two to tango. But son, she is willing to talk. She is ready to bow and bend, which you are not. That’s the difference.”

Nostrils flaring with anger, I averted my gaze. Hetal, my wife. Five years into marriage and all was going great, until we had a clash over a money matter. Previously she used to give half of her salary at home. Now she wanted to give only one fourth of it. The rest she wished to divide it between sending some to her parents and savings. My male ego couldn’t tolerate this, nonetheless I wasn’t going to accept it in front of anyone. The arguments and fights went on for a couple of months, so much so that now we were on the verge of having a divorce.

I lashed out at mom, though my anger was not directed towards her.

“Mom, we’ve talked enough about this in the last few months. There’s nothing left. If she can be adamant, then I’m a man, she still doesn’t know the size of my stubbornness.”

Mom shook her head.

“Son, she is not being adamant. And she is not challenging your male ego. I think her reasons are quite justified. Moreover, I think it’s you who are being irrational.”

I was stunned.

“Are you my mom or hers? I can’t believe you are taking her side.”

She still didn’t lose her composure.

“Okay, leave all this. Answer my one question.”

“What?”

“Have you thought about life without Hetal, after the divorce? Can you imagine to be happy and go about your daily routine without her being around?”

I lowered my eyes and didn’t reply. She affixed further.

“For a while, forget about the fight and leave alone the divorce. Just concentrate on how your five years of married life has been till now, and try to visualise a life without Hetal and her love.”

She stood up to leave but before going turned to face me again.

“Hridaan, cutting all ties with Hetal won’t take a minute. But with that you will lose a lot of other good things in life. Why? Only because you think your male ego is more important.”

My conversation with mom went on replay mode in my head, and parallel to it I kept thinking about what she had asked me to do. My internal struggle was like a ghost hovering above me. It was no more about Hetal. Now the fight was between the egoistic Hridaan and the loving husband Hridaan.

Three weeks later, one night when I entered our bedroom, Hetal was preparing to go to bed. We had gone mute with each other for months now. For the first time I noticed how thin she’d become and had dark circles under her eyes. Wordlessly I went to her and pulled her in my arms. She was flabbergasted and squirmed. Her touch instantly made me realise what I’d been missing. She rested her hands on my chest and whispered,

“Hridaan! What happened?”

I made sure to smile before saying,

“Hetal, let’s talk.”

Shamim Merchant

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