Aditya stepped out of his Maruti 800 and walked towards the medical shop. He was a slim thirty three year old man of medium height with thick, wavy hair. He had perfectly shaped eyebrows, black expressive eyes, a not very prominent nose, a full mouth and a weak chin. He was not handsome but good looking in a boyish sort of way.
 
He reached the medical shop when he heard a scream. He turned back and rushed towards the car. A beggar was standing near the car and his wife Dolly was screaming. He lunged forward shouting at the top of his voice. The beggar looked from Dolly to him and hobbled away - a look of utter surprise on his face. He was a leper.
 
"What happened sweetheart?" Aditya asked as he reached the car.
 
"For God's sake take me away from here," Dolly screamed, her shrill voice shattering the relative stillness of the night.

***

Back home, nursing a glass of gin she told him.
 
"When I was hardly five I was kidnapped by a beggar. He was a leper. For five hours I was with him inside an empty sewerage pipe. I can't describe what I went through. His ugly, half eaten face, the foul smell of decaying flesh....." she shuddered. "It... it was horrible. I must have fainted at least half a dozen times. I was finally rescued by my Dad's driver. But the memories of those few hours are still indelibly etched in my mind. I just can't stand lepers. Every time I see one at close quarters, the images come flooding back, swamping me..."
 
She drained her glass.
 
Aditya leaned forward and filled it up. He looked at her. She was tall, almost his height with broad shoulders. Her face, which once reflected a soft and fragile pulchritude, now wore a perpetual expression of arrogance and impatience. He realised, over the last seven years since their marriage, Dolly had gradually grown more and more irritable, self centred and domineering. But he still loved her as much as he had when he first set eyes on her. And she too, he was sure loved him in her own cool, detached and aloof way.

***

It was one am. Downstairs the party was going on in full swing. It was their wedding anniversary. Aditya had wanted to take her out - candle lit dinner, soft music, slow dancing....... It would be so romantic - just the two of them and their contentment.
 
"Oh! Come on Adi. Only the two of us? It will be so boring. This is an occasion we must celebrate with others. And moreover, we haven't thrown a party for ages. All my friends at the kitty are ragging me about it." So they had organised a bash. Twelve of Dolly's kitty party friends and three of Aditya's colleagues and their spouses - a raucous group of thirty in all.
 
He had come up for a breather. The screaming, shouting, bitching - it sickened him. The party had been going on for four hours - the males were sozzled and most of the females, partially so. Aditya who never touched liquor was feeling claustrophobic. He slumped on the chair in the bedroom. He knew no one would miss him. Dolly's flamboyance would more than make up for his quiet, unobtrusive absence.
 
He thought of Dolly. She was looking stunning today.
 
He was in the drawing room waiting for the guests to arrive when he heard Dolly's voice. He looked up. She was standing on the landing. She was wearing a blood red chiffon that complimented her fair skin beautifully. The sheer fabric drenched the contours of her voluptuous body accentuating each and every curve. The blouse was low necked revealing a generous bit of cleavage. A diamond necklace (his anniversary gift), with the pendent nestling between her breasts, was the piece de resistance.
 
Dolly was aware of her near perfect breasts - proud, firm and shapely. Every dress of hers was designed to show her twin assets to full advantage. He was sure all the male eyes would be riveted on the diamond, ensconced so seductively in her cleavage.
 
"My God! Dolly you look so sensational," he said finding himself suddenly short of breath. He wanted to take her then and there. But he knew that was impossible.
 
"Don't be such a brute. Why do you have to get so desperate. Can't you wait for a few hours? My make up, which took me an hour to put, will get messed up," she would scream, as she had done many times in the past.
 
He would have to wait. For probably three or four hours. And then when he would reach for her she would groan, "Oh! Come on Adi. I am dog tired. The party was such a success. I was showered with so many compliments. Now don't spoil my mood by pestering me. Be a good boy and sleep. I'll make it up tomorrow."
 
She would switch off the lamp and promptly fall asleep. He would lay awake brooding. After an hour he would pop an Alprax or two and slip into a fitful sleep.
 
He got up and went into the bathroom. It was quite humid. He splashed some water on his face. As he was wiping his face he heard voices. It was Dolly and her friend Mita. They had probably come up to to pick up something. He decided to wait for them to go, praying that Dolly would not walk into the loo. If she found him there she would shout at him for leaving the guests unattended.
 
"You know Dolly you are the luckiest woman in the world," Mita declared sitting on the chair, while Dolly sat on the bed.
 
"Why?"
 
"Because you have everything a woman can want. A pretty face and a terrific figure even after seven years of marriage. Your are thirty one and you don't look a day older than twenty. And most of all you have such a devoted husband. Caring, concerned and good looking too. What more could any woman ask for?" Mita said, not able to mask the tinge of envy in her voice.
 
"No, Mita you are wrong. Things aren't rosy as they look. I am completely bored."
 
"Bored. But why?" Mita asked, her voice lifting. Dolly's statement seemed to have suddenly improved her spirits.
 
"I am bored with Aditya."
 
"I don't understand."
 
"See, I was never in love with him. He chased me for two years before I consented. More because I was tired of avoiding him than anything else. You know he can be very persistent. Moreover, the choices my parents were presenting me were no better. Okay, I realize he takes good care of me. But...but Mita he is so predicable and his love so cloying . When he looks at me he reminds me of a pet poodle gazing longingly at his master, his tongue hanging out, his tail wagging - for a pat on his head or a crumb of something. I taunt Aditya, I shout at him, I scream, but he never rretaliates its..its so.....so... I really can't explain," she banged her fist on the bed.
 
"I really don't understand Dolly. I would give my right hand to have a husband like yours."
 
"Like I said, Mita. I am not able to explain what I feel. But I am quite sick of living with Mr. Perfect Aditya. Any way, let's go down. I am dying for some Vodka."
 
Aditya stood frozen in front of the bathroom mirror. His eyes fixed on his reflection. Slowly, very slowly, his eyes welled up and tears, warm tears started trickling down......
 

***

Dolly had been recently elected the President of Mrudula - the local ladies club. She was quite excited about the new responsibility.
 
"I want to move away from the culture of kitty parties. I want the club to take up socially relevant work. And Aditya you have to help me."
 
Aditya nodded.
 
Three weeks later he went to a colony an the outskirts of the city. He had read about it in the newspaper report. He met the sarpanch (head man) of the village. He told him he would get his wife the President of Mrudula Ladies Club to meet the villagers. They could sit together and chalk out the programme for the welfare of the village. He also told him how the President was to be welcomed and the other arrangements to be made for the visit.
 
When he told Dolly she was ecstatic.
 
"I'll go along with you. Fix up everything and then surprise my colleagues. Babli Singhania will go mad with jealousy. During her tenure all they did was organise a fete, two lucky draws and Holi Milan

***

On Sunday evening at 6.30 Dolly and Aditya were on their way to the village.
 
At around seven they left the municipality limits of the city. Aditya took a right turn and the car sped on a narrow road. He had to drive slowly since the road was punctuated by pot holes.
 
Twenty minutes later they reached the village. It was a cold winter night. Dolly could see huts in uneven clusters spread on both sides of the road. There were no street lights and it was dark all around.
 
"Everyone must be inside huddled together because of the cold," she thought. My first and foremost task will be to ensure the distribution of blankets. I'll ask Aditya to organise a couple of press reporters so that my photo and a report appears in the local dailies."
 
They reached a clearing and Aditya honked a couple of times.
 
"You get down and wait here. I'll call the headman," Aditya said and without waiting for an answer slipped away in the darkness.
 
Dolly got down from the car and walked towards the peepaltree in the middle of the clearing. She leaned against its trunk and closed her eyes. She could hear the faint shuffling of footsteps. It must be Aditya returning with the headman, she thought. She opened her eyes. She could see the shadows approaching her from all sides. There was a funny kind of smell in the air - a clinging , nauseating smell. Her eyes dilated with fear. She turned back. The shadows were there too. Huddled together they were creeping on her. As the light fell on the first group she saw half eaten faces, full of holes, strung together with pieces of flesh. Hobbling on legs which were no more than bony stumps, waving their hands which had no fingers, they seemed to everywhere. She looked for Aditya but he was nowhere to be seen. She opened her mouth to scream, but no words came out. The mass of decaying, putrefying flesh reached her, touching her, slobbering over her.....at last finding her voice she screamed.....
 
Half an hour later Aditya reached the spot. He pushed through the crowd under the peepal tree. Dolly was lying on the ground in a heap, her eyes wide open, her face a twisted mask of fear.
 
"We didn't do anything Babuji, believe me. We didn't even touch her....we did exactly what you told us to do. We just wanted to greet her, to touch her feet for her kindness. But...but suddenly she screamed and fell down....please....Babuji believe me....," Gotia the headman was blabbering, his body trembling with fear.
 
"No, no. It is not your falult. I think she was tired. She must have fainted. She will be all right don't worry. He bent down and shook her gently, very gently.
 
"Dolly darling wake up. It is me, your Aditya."
 
Some one brought him water and he sprinkled it on her face.
 
"Come on Dolly, wake up," he said. There was no response.
 
He bend down and placed his ear on her left breast.
 
He looked up.
 
"She is dead," he told Gotia, his tone flat and emotionless.
 
Suddenly his face crumpled and he began sobbing. Wild, uncontrollable sobs racking his slim body. He cradled her body in his arms and held it close.
 
"Oh! Dolly, how could you leave me and go? How will I live without you?" he wailed, his screams echoing in the still night air.

 

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