Disclaimer: I have minimal knowledge of Indian culture (cultures), scant medical knowledge, and know about arranged marriages, only through the few friends, who are in arranged marriages, have told me. I hope I did the subject matter some justice.
This piece contains sexual material. If you don’t like it, or are a minor, don’t read it.
Her parents arranged for her to marry him. He was a decent man, hard working, handsome, well-liked. She was very lucky. Everyone told her so. The day they got married, she was so excited. Finally she was becoming an adult. She knew she would fall in love with him. The times they had met, they had gotten along well. She was the youngest of seven girls, three boys. She was the last to marry. She looked at her siblings’ families, their happy lives, with husbands and wives they loved. Children’s squeals heard throughout their houses. It was now her turn. It was a strange sensation, to be nervous and exhilarated simultaneously. She wondered if this was how her sisters had felt. She was dressed in a beautiful sari her mother had married in. Her older sisters had too. She had the most similar figure to her mother at her age, and the dress fitted perfectly. She felt like a princess, and she couldn’t wait to see her prince.
They each had their own tents to prepare in: her betrothed, Samir Patel, and her. She looked in the mirror a final time. She was near tears, and panicky with the realization that this was it. After this she and he were them forever. What if she didn’t learn to love him? What if he was not as charming as he showed himself to be in public? Her mother, her aunties, her sisters, had all given her advice over the last several months, aimed at calming her, in preparation for this day, and her new life.
- Uma darling, you will learn to love him. It takes time.
- When I first married Arjun, I was so scared, so unsure. Now look at us. It’s like we’ve known each other for ever. He drives me crazy, and I drive him crazy. Perfect. Haha.
- He is lovely. You know he’s from a good family. Don’t worry so much.
- Our families have been doing this for centuries. Relax.
She was mostly put at ease, but it was still such a big deal. Did they really not have all the same doubts as her on their day? She walked out of the tent, her female family behind her, all smiling. She was trying to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace.
Her sister tugged on her sleeve, “Just don’t smile if you can’t do it properly!” she hissed.
She reached the cushion that had been laid out on the ground for her. Samir was already sitting on the other cushion. He turned and smiled with an open and friendly face. As she sat, they held hands. He was breathtakingly handsome. She forgot when she wasn’t with him, just how much. The ceremony was a blur for her. She spoke when she should have, and stayed quiet otherwise. They kissed at the end, their first kiss, and it made her tingle all over. She was so happy with this sensation she had never experienced before.
The party afterwards was amazing. It was full of laughter, music, and lights. It flew by, and before she knew if they were in a room together, their room. They were both suddenly shy, where they had been comfortable for most of the day. They knew the physical process of love-making, but that was totally different from being confronted with a person of the opposite sex, knowing you were about to be naked in front of each other. They undressed themselves, not exactly sure how they would undress each other, and stood unclothed staring at each other, mesmerized by the others’ body. They drank each other in. He approached her, tilted her chin up slightly, and kissed her gently on the lips as he had earlier. This felt more exciting without clothes. They pressed their bodies together, and they felt her breasts against his chest, such a foreign and amazing feeling for both of them. They kissed more hungrily, and he let his hands fall along her waist along her back, and down to her bottom. She gasped, and did he. He led them to the bed, and laid her down. He was very gentle, and she tried to return his caresses. They were both unsure what to do, but could easily read each other’s reactions. When they were finished, she still felt intensely aroused, her clitoris tingling. She had read lots about intercourse online. She believed she had not orgasmed. She felt embarrassed to talk to him about it. She had enjoyed their act immensely. She was much less worried now, than she had been earlier in the day.
Over the following few months they became intimately familiar with each other’s bodies. She eventually picked up the courage to talk to him about her sexual needs. He had performed oral sex on her many times, but it didn’t produce the desired results for her. Once she opened up, they communicated better during love-making, and she finally orgasmed when she pleasured herself after they finished. She didn’t realize how amazing it would feel. It brought them even closer to each other. They enjoyed their first year of marriage. Uma felt she was indeed falling in love with Samir, as everyone had told her she would. They were both working, Samir as an accountant at The Bank of India, and Uma as a resident doctor specializing in cardiology at a nearby hospital. They both enjoyed their careers, had a passionate love life with each other, and had more than enough money to have many worries.
Uma fell pregnant within the year, and they were relieved. They had begun discussing if there might be a problem when it took much longer than they felt it should. They were completely open and honest about everything with each other. Uma felt how great it was to have someone you trusted absolutely, that you could talk to about anything. She gave birth to a little girl, Indira, and they decided she would stay home until the baby was one year old. The last thing on Uma’s mind after childbirth was sex. She was tired all the time, felt fat and frumpy, had sore breasts, and intercourse hurt due to tearing at birth. When Indira was nearly a year old, Uma found out she was pregnant again. Apparently this time around it only took a few painful, intimate moments to create new life. They both panicked slightly. The children would be very close in age. It would be very difficult for the first couple of years, especially for Uma. After Indira was born, Uma’s mother helped a lot. Uma was sure she would again. They would survive.
Aditya was born twenty-one months to the day after his sister. Both Uma and Samir were delighted of course. They discussed birth control, and decided their family was complete. Uma argued that because she had gone through two pregnancies, and two labors, that Samir should offer himself up as the solution. Eventually he agreed, and Uma took a slightly guilty pleasure, when Samir complained of agonizing pain for days after his vasectomy. She knew the procedure was not know for being painful, and she thought back to the agony she suffered after Indira’s birth. Aditya’s birth was much better, and in fact seemed to repair some of the damage done by Indira’s.
Once Aditya was about six months, Uma and Samir resumed making love. It was different than before. Uma still enjoyed it in the end, but gone was that exciting spark they had at the beginning of their marriage. She was so worried that she went to one of her sisters. Her sister explained that it was normal. The fire of new love only lasts so long, and as time moves on, children are born, and life rolls on, this changes. It can improve again, but it’s never going to be like that first year. It made sense to Uma, but she was saddened by the thought. That was it, one year of bliss, followed by a lifetime of mediocrity. She wasn’t so ignorant that she believed all the Bollywood movies, but she had hoped for more.
When Aditya turned one, Uma went back to work. They were lucky that Uma’s parents lived close by, and her mother offered to look after the children. They loved their grandmother, and she doted on them. They both had strong yet very different personalities, and Uma and Samir adored them dearly, and were highly amused by their antics. Samir started working longer hours, and Uma spent a lot of her time at the hospital. As time went on they spent less and less time together. When they were together, the kids were usually there too, and they were too tired to be intimate with each other. Uma was relieved to be honest. She didn’t have the energy to argue with Samir about it. For the first year or so after this pattern started, he brought it up frequently. Now he mostly stayed silent. They did sleep together now and again, at holidays when they had some time off, or if Uma felt charitable. When they did make love it wasn’t horrible, but the build up felt like a chore.
Uma had many friends at the hospital. She had been there for many years. She had gone through her residency in the hospital, and was now an attending. She had friends in many specialties, as when they were residents they tended to congregate into one mass in the staff cafeteria. The residency programs started in late June, and every year the attendings complained and complemented the group they had been ‘dumped with’ this year. This usually went on for a couple of months. She and her best friend, Lavanya, were talking about their residents. Lavanya was an Emergency Medicine doctor. She mentioned that one of hers was extremely cute. Uma was always amused by Lavanya’s talking about men. She was hilarious, but loved her husband, Sandeep, dearly. It was all in fun.
Uma roared laughing, “Oh my God Lavanya, you’re ten years older than him! What would Sani say?”
Lavanya replied, “I’m not going to marry the boy, or should I say Manvik, “she raised her eyebrows, “I’m just looking. I’m still a healthy woman. As they say: Just because you’re on a diet, doesn’t mean you can’t read the menu!”
Uma laughed again, “Okay. Well you’ll have to point Manvik out to me.”
They went their separate ways, with the conversation giving fuel for amusement all day for Uma. When she got home that night she shared the story with Samir. He thought it was hilarious too. Over the next few days, Lavanya kept trying to point Manvik out to Uma, but there were always too many people around, or he was too close for a stealthy indication of who he was. Eventually they were in the cafeteria late one evening grabbing a cup of coffee. Both were on the overnight shift night. They were talking about their kids, schools, Samir and Sandeep. Manvik was on call, and in the hospital for twenty four hours. He came into the cafeteria, and walked up to Lavanya.
“Dr. Singh, sorry for the interruption.” Manvik looked from Lavanya to Uma, and back again. He smiled. He continued, “I have a question for you. There is a patient downstairs who is in A-Fib. Twenty-eight year old female. No existing medical problems. No cardiac history. Audible murmur. She says irregular rhythm is palpable. Reports this is the first time with irregular rhythm, that she knows of.” He was concentrating hard and his brow was furrowed.
Lavanya asked, “Well Dr. Agarwal. What next steps do you think should be performed?”
He had an answer ready immediately. He just wanted to run it by Dr. Singh. “I think an echo should be performed, so maybe we can detect the cause. She should also be put on blood thinners, maybe IV Heparin.”
“Very good. Proceed. Make sure you start the Heparin drip immediately. Then have the echo done. Not the other way around. Is she on constant telemetry?” Lavanya asked.
“Yes Dr. Singh. Sorry again for interrupting.” He looked directly at Uma this time.
“Oh sorry. Dr. Patel, this is Dr. Manvik Agarwal. He’s a first year resident. Dr. Agarwal, this is Dr. Uma Patel.” Lavanya said by way of an introduction.
Poor Dr. Agarwal’s cheeks burned as he extended his hand to Uma. They shook hands, and Uma could not help smiling at the poor young boy and his nervousness.
“Listen Dr. Agarwal. Dr. Patel is a very experienced cardiologist. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind giving a consult for this patient, after the echo,” said Lavanya.
“Absolutely, Dr. Agarwal. Page me if you need me,” Uma offered.
Manvik left in a hurry. The two women bent over double in a fit of giggles. Uma felt like a schoolgirl rather than a well-respected doctor in her workplace.
“Oh Uma. ‘Page me if you need me’. You are incorrigible.” Lavanya laughed.
“Oh hush Lavanya,” she said, but in a friendly manner.
Manvik paged Uma about an hour later, asking her to come down to the E.D. When she arrived, he called her over to a workroom. The two of them were in a tight space, and she had to admit he smelled so good. She’d have to ask Lavanya if she had noticed this. She looked at the Echo report, and pulled up some of the images and videos, just to see for herself. Indeed the patient seemed to have significant stenosis and regurgitation of both the mitral and aortic valves. She would need replacement surgery in the immediate future.
“Dr. Agarwal. What are your conclusions based on the echo?” asked Uma.
I think she needs a double valve replacement: Mitral and Aortic.” he answered.
“They are both stenotic, and have significant regurgitation,” he answered correctly again.
“Very good. I’m impressed.” she complemented him.
He smiled and said, “Cardio was my second choice for residency. I loved it in med. school, and my rotation. Can I consult with you when there are cardiac cases down here. Dr. Singh sings your praises.”
“Well that’s very nice of her. Of course you can page me anytime. Anytime I’m on duty I should say.” she smiled and walked away.
Manvik was inwardly brimming. He had heard a lot about Dr. Patel. She was one of the best cardiologists in the hospital. He could learn a lot from her. Since he had been matched to his E.D. placement, he had wondered if cardio would have been a better choice. Here it was coming up again. Whenever he had a cardio case, he was much more enthusiastic about it. It wasn’t that he hated his chosen speciality, just that cardio was so much more interesting after all.
Uma pondered her conversation with Dr. Agarwal. He was certainly passionate about his job. She wondered just how well he had done on his cardiac rotation. She pictured him, a couple of years younger, eager to cram every piece of knowledge into his head. He was handsome, which of course did not matter. She had noticed, but laughed at herself for it. He was probably twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. She was a married mother of two, not too far off forty.
Over the next few weeks Manvik and Uma did not see each other. He tried to poach every cardiac case from his fellow Emergency residents. They generally gave them up freely, in favor of the more exciting blood and guts cases. As time went by, he realized that cardiology was truly his passion. He didn’t want to spend the next three and a half years as an E.D. resident, and then continue that career for another thirty or more years.
He paged Uma: Dr. Patel, Need to talk. Personal. Dr. Agarwal.
Uma surprised by the page, and felt somewhat uneasy. She had no idea what kind of personal conversation he wanted to have. Oh God, could he have a crush on her. This was far from unusual. Residents often idolized their superiors. She hoped it wasn’t something ridiculous like that. She was prepared to be transparent and direct when talking to him. She called the number on her screen.
Manvik: “Dr. Patel. Thanks for returning my call so quickly. I’d like to discuss something with you. Do you have some time around lunchtime? Maybe we could talk over lunch?”
Uma: “Dr. Agarwal, I am a very busy woman. I don’t take lunch breaks. You should know that. Are the E.D. attendings not giving you enough work that you can afford to take them?” She realized she sounded rude. Maybe she had been too harsh.
Manvik: “No Dr. Patel. I am busy of course. I just hoped for twenty minutes maybe…”
Uma: “Of course. I apologize. How is 12:15 for you?”
Manvik thanked her profusely. He had been terribly embarrassed when she had chastised him. Thankfully they were not talking in person, or she would have noticed him blushing. Uma was distracted the rest of the morning. She wondered again what he could possibly want to talk to her about. She realized she was somewhat looking forward to seeing him. Obviously she didn’t know him at all, but she was intrigued what he was really like. They arrived simultaneously at the doctor’s lounge as arranged. He offered his hand, which she shook. She felt a little giddy excitement inside. Oh stop, Uma. You’re being ridiculous, she thought.
“Dr. Patel. Thank you for agreeing to see me. I would really value your advice on something. Shall we sit?” Manvik asked.
She replied with a simple, “Let’s.”
They discuss Manvik’s desire to switch to cardiology, and what that meant for him. She asked that he let her know anytime he had a cardio case, to let her know, even if he didn’t need a consult. She would examine the notes, and see how she felt he was doing, for a three month period. If she was satisfied with that, she would involve him in more difficult cases, on her load, for further three months. She wanted to be absolutely certain he was suited to the speciality, and that he was willing to put in six months of difficult work as well as his full time E.D. position. She was in charge of the residency program for cardiology. If his six month trial worked out, she agreed to allow him to switch starting next year, back at year one. He had no problem with that. He was glad to have a shot.
Over the next three months, Manvik worked diligently to prove himself. He asked all his residency colleagues to give him all their cardio cases, some of which bargained for a lunch or a few drinks for the privilege. Uma was impressed, and noted that he picked up things that many third and fourth year residents might have missed. After three months she began involving him in some of her cases. These were much more challenging, than those he had faced in the E.D. There he only dealt with those coming in for emergency management. These patients were the ones who had been admitted, due to more complex cases. He did not do as well, but Uma was still very impressed with his ability to think outside the box, and his tenacity. They were working in very close quarters now. Seeing each other daily, when he could get away from his job. They often examined echos in a small dark workroom. She had him interpret EKG after EKG of patients in many different types of arrhythmia, prolonged QT intervals, and anything else. He was good, and improving every day. At the end of the second three months, she determined he should have been in cardiology all along.
“Dr. Agarwal. You have proved yourself beyond a shadow of a doubt. I would be delighted to welcome you to the cardiology residency program next summer.” she let him know.
“Oh thank you, Dr. Patel. ” he brimmed with enthusiasm.
He approached her with open arms, and then caught himself. What was he thinking? From the look of horror on her face, she was appalled. In fact Uma thought it quite funny. She realized it was a gut reaction on his part. She had a stern appearance to maintain of course.
“Dr. Agarwal. I do hope you were not about to hug me,” she said with a furrowed brow.”
“I am so sorry. I never meant to… I was caught up in the moment… I meant no offense,” he blurted out.
When she told him about his success, he was ecstatic, despite making a fool of himself. The last few months of his residency seemed to go on for ever. He was so eager to start his cardiac residency. He continued to bring cases to Uma, and they got to know each other better and better as time went on. Professionally of course. Uma was definitely attracted to him. He was extremely attractive physically, but they also related to each other very well. They were both passionate about their work. Manvik enjoyed learning from Uma, and she loved being able to teach someone, about the field she still had a fervent interest in. They rarely talked about anything other than hearts, but when they did they both became excitable, and intense. After a while, Uma asked Manvik what he liked to do to wind down. It was a simple question, and she was genuinely interested. She wanted to know what made him tick. She felt she knew him so well in one way, but not in another. There was no romantic notion behind the question, even though she now admitted to herself that she was attracted to him. She knew she would never be unfaithful to Samir. Even if she was single, Dr. Agarwal was ten years younger.
“I love to visit restaurants. I keep a blog for reviewing them. Whether on my own, or with friends, I’m happy trying new foods. I used to go with my ex-girlfriend, and when we broke up, I decided I wouldn’t let being single change that. We all need to eat!” answered Manvik.
Uma laughed, “I love eating out. I feel I never get to often enough. My hours are so crazy here, there’s never any time. My husband and I work different hours, and I’m not brave enough to go out on my own, like you!” she explained.
“We should go out together some time for dinner. I mean… To eat… So you could go out… Sorry, that’s probably inappropriate. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Relax Dr. Agarwal. I took is as intended. That is very nice of you. I’ll tell you what. How about we do lunch instead. You pick the restaurant. I wouldn’t even know where to go anymore. And I am paying. I am not taking money from a resident!”
As Uma walked away, she felt a sense of impending doom. What on Earth had she agreed to? Even if they were two females, it would not be appropriate to take a resident out for lunch. She was not yet his direct boss. Did that mean it was okay now, but that she would not have been able to if he had asked in a few months? Maybe she was just overthinking this. It was not romantic. They both consented, and it was normal to eat meals with residents. It happened all the time. The fact that it was in a restaurant rather than the cafeteria was neither here nor there.
Manvik picked a Nepalese restaurant near the hospital that neither of them had tried, but had gotton great reviews. Uma noted after she got to work, that she had chosen an outfit, that showed her figure in all the right ways, without being too revealing or clingy. She wondered if it meant anything. They walked to the restaurant together, talking mostly about cases they had together. Once they got there, they settled onto lighter conversation. Nothing too intense, just about music, food, college, and general small talk. There were no awkward silences, and before they new it the hour was up. On the way back to the hospital, Uma suggested they do this again.
By the time Manvik had started his cardiac residency, he and Uma were going to a different restaurant roughly twice a month. They had begun calling each other by their first names. Uma had known other attending supervisors to date their residents before. She had thought it a bad idea, but she and Manvik were not dating, and now that she was friendly with one of her residents, she could see it would not be a problem. They rarely talk about work anymore while outside. In the hospital they maintain a strictly professional front. It was an unspoken rule they had, to delineate their relationship.
Uma found herself daydreaming of Manvik at times. She knew they would never be together. Often he would role up the sleeves of his shirt when they were eating something messy. She could not get over his arms. Truly there was nothing particularly remarkable about them, but she found it hard not to imagine the skin higher and higher up his arms to his shoulders. She had to scold herself to snap out of it. Their conversations became both more relaxed, and more personal. Soon Uma was talking about her husband and kids. She talked about how marriage could go stale, and that she did love Samir in some way, but that there was no spark there. Manvik talked about his most recent ex girlfriend. They had felt themselves very modern by not going into arranged marriages. They had dated for two years, and had started discussing their plans for marriage. Seemingly out of nowhere, she decided to yield to her father’s wishes, and marry someone chosen for her. She was very sorry, but she had to chose her family over him. He was devastated initially, but that was eight months ago now, and he thought he might be ready to date again. He was not willing to do, as his ex girlfriend had done, and have an arranged marriage.
“Don’t get me wrong Uma, I’m not passing judgment on you. Most marriages work out if people work hard at them, arranged or otherwise. I just want absolute freedom to choose who I will spend the rest of my life with,” said Manvik.
“I’m not offended at all. When I was getting married, it didn’t bother me at all that I was marrying someone my parents had chosen. It was what I had grown up knowing would happen. Samir is a good man. We have two wonderful children. I do love Samir. He is the father of my children. Am I in love with him? No. I am not. And that saddens me. Not everything is about ‘true love’ however, but I do wonder what it would have been like to marry someone for love. How would things be now? Would we still adore each other? I suppose I’ll never know.” Uma replied explaining her thoughts.
“What would you if you did fall in love with someone?” asked Manvik.
“I don’t know Manvik. I don’t think I’d put myself in that position. If I did, I would walk away. It would not be fair to Samir, and it goes against my values. It would be selfish.” she explained.
Manvik accepted her answer, and they moved onto other topics.
That night when Uma got into bed, Samir moved over towards her. He put his arm around her and kissed her on the neck and then the lips. The had not made love in a few months, and she inwardly groaned at the idea. She felt a duty, which seemed ridiculous in many ways. She was doing something she did not want to do. She and Samir, were however, married, and would be for many more years. They was no use in fighting against his wishes. It was easier just to accept it and get it over with. As he became more and more aroused, she felt very little. She was mildly aroused, but aware that their love-making was not only seldom, but boring, and stale. Out of nowhere Manvik entered her mind. As Samir was touching her breasts, and caressing her, she imagined Manvik’s arms, that she knew so well, touching her instead. She was wet almost immediately. Samir thought it was his doing, and became emboldened. Uma made a conscious effort now, to block her husband out of her mind, and bring Manvik into their bed. She spent the rest of their tryst imagining Manvik for each move Samir made. She climaxed before Samir for the first time ever. He was like a child with candy. He was so excited at what he thought he had done. Afterwards, Samir showered first. Once he finished, Uma walked under the water to wash Samir off her body. She touched her still swollen vulva, and realized just how sensitive it still was. She explored herself with her fingers, all the while thinking of Manvik. She climaxed again. She had never done that twice in such quick succession. Thankfully Samir was asleep when she got back into bed. Uma stared up at the ceiling solely thinking of Manvik, and she and Manvik being together. She knew it would be explosive. There was no other word for it. She also knew that despite the overwhelming power, drawing her to him, she could never do that.
Over the next few weeks, every time they were together, whether in work, or outside, she kept picturing the two of them making love. Manvik mentioned that she seemed distracted. She brushed it off as having a lot on her mind. That was certainly not a lie. One day they were reading an MRI of a patient’s heart. Their hands brushed against each other. Uma gasped, and looked at Manvik. He knew exactly from her expression, and that gasp, that she had felt what he had. They locked eyes for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only ten seconds. Uma virtually ran out of the room, muttering apologies. They were due to go for lunch that day, but when the time came, Manvik could not find Uma anywhere. He texted her, called her, paged her, and got no reply. He knew it was because of what happened earlier. He sent her one more text: Uma. It’s okay. We only touched hands. By mistake! It’s not like we ran away to Paris! She replied almost immediately: You’re right Manvik. Ha ha. I need to chill. Lunch tomorrow? He was instantly relieved and looking forward to tomorrow. Uma, meanwhile, deleted the text from Manvik. Just in case.
At lunch the next day, Uma managed to relax within five to ten minutes. They laughed about what had happened the previous day. After they had placed their order, Manvik reached out, and touched Uma’s hand. He laughed to show he was joking, but left his hand on top of hers. She did not pull away. They stayed like this, hand in hand until their lunch arrived. Before releasing Uma’s hand, Manvik picked her hand up, and kissed the inside of her wrist. She was not sure how to react. It sent electricity down her spine, and once again she was speechless and staring at him straight in the eye. He was the first to break eye-contact this time. He simply placed her hand gently back down on the table, smiled, and started his meal. It took Uma a little more time than him to compose herself.
“Manvik. You and I both know we are attracted to each other. I am fascinated by your way of looking at the world, the sense of calmness you exude, even when I am bullying you in work.” she smirked. “I am scared to go down this path, but I feel I am in a runaway train. I couldn’t stop this whatever it is, if I wanted to. Manvik. I don’t want to stop it.” she explained.
“Uma. Obviously I cannot say I love you. I don’t know you well enough – yet.” he smiled. “I do care deeply for you however, and I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen” he replied.
“I bet you say that to all the girls, Man.”
It was the first time she had ever used the nickname his friends and fellow-residents used. He smiled at it.
“I understand if you don’t want to, but I would really like to be with you. Alone. Together.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to Manvik. You must see that. I just don’t know how. It would destroy Samir if he found out. I wish I was ten years younger, and single. I’m old enough to be your mother.” she said.
“First, Uma dear, I can assure you my mother is not as young as you. She was a little older than ten when I was born!” They both laughed. “Second… well.. I don’t know about second. Just know I’m here.”
They discussed this and other more light-hearted issues for the rest of lunch. They agreed to keep things the way they were. There would be no secret affair. Over the next couple of weeks, however, any time they were alone, they held hands, stood inappropriately close (for two people not together), and held each others’ gaze intensely while talking. The day before their next lunch date, Manvik approached Uma.
“You know I live a couple of blocks from here. I would like to cook for you tomorrow, instead of eating out. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, Man.” she said. She was agonizing over her decision inside. “What were you thinking of cooking?” she gave him some hope.
“It’s a surprise, but believe me you’ll be impressed. My mother taught us all to cook, the boys and the girls.”
“You’re on so. I guess I’ll have to see if you’re telling the truth.” Uma answered.
She was looking forward to the food, and also to see how Manvik lived. Was he a true bachelor? Would he have dishes in the sink, laundry in baskets, clutter everywhere? The next day at noon, they left the hospital together. They both noted that the other was walking much faster than usual. They caught each other’s eye, and acknowledged the fact with a smile. Once they got to Manvik’s apartment, he showed her around. There was not much to see. It was a small two-bedroom apartment. It was immaculately kept, and she wondered if he always lived like this, or if he had tidied up, knowing she would be here that day.
“I’m going to start cooking. I did all the prep. last night. Why don’t you grab the iPod over by the TV, and put something on you like. Surprise me,” Manvik suggested.
Uma quickly found an album she loved, but hadn’t heard in years. She put it on and starting humming and singing quietly to herself.
“Great choice. I’m impressed,” came from the kitchen.
She laughed. Manvik had a lot of photos of other people, none of whom she knew, with and without him. There was a few of him with the same girl. In all of them they were both smiling. She wondered if that was the ex-girlfriend. She felt an unexpected tinge of jealously rise up within her. Oh Uma, she thought to herself, get a grip. There were a few of an older couple, who thankfully looked almost as old as her parents. She assumed there were his. Once she had done what she felt was enough nosing around, she joined Manvik in the kitchen. Whatever he was making smelled really good. He had the food on the table in twenty minutes. As usual their conversation flowed freely, and they talked with great ease. Eventually, she asked about ‘the girl’ trying to sound nonchalant. Manvik laughed.
“Are you jealous, Uma Patel?” he chided, and smiled.
“Not at all! You told me to snoop, and I did. Now I am curious. Are those your parents?” she tried to move on quickly.
“Okay. I see. Yes they are my parents. And Uma? She is my sister. Not that you’re jealous of course.” he mocked playfully.
They both smiled. When they had finished, Manvik started to clear the dishes. Uma followed him to the sink with their water glasses. They stood close to each other, and Manvik turned to her.
“Uma. I’m going to kiss you now, unless you tell me not too.”
Uma opened her mouth to raise an objection, but just stood there. Manvik took the signal as a ‘yes’, and slowly moved close enough that his mouth was almost touching hers. She held her breath, as he placed his lips, ever so gently, on hers, and kissed her. He did this several times and then pulled back so they could see each other. She was speechless, but managed a tiny smile. He kissed her more passionately, exploring her mouth with his. Gently soft kissing with their tongues exploring each other, but not in a forceful manner. It felt powerful, delicate, and wonderful. Uma felt instantly aroused. She realized she had been waiting for this exact moment for months. She felt herself become wet, and moaned in pleasure. Manvik placed his hands of her hips, and gentle rocked them back and forth, in small movements, calmly. She could nonetheless, feel the strength of his arms, those beautiful arms, on her.
“Manvik, I can’t…” she started, but the words died out, before coming a coherent thought.
He smiled at her again, and opened her blouse, just a few buttons. She slipped his shirt over his head. It fell to the floor. Soon they stood naked, their bodies pressed tightly together, so they could feel every piece of the other, skin to skin. They both felt electrified. There was no stopping this. Uma had a brief feeling of guilt, which quickly melted away. She had no thoughts of anything but this now. He felt between her legs. They both gasped, she at the sensation of his touch, he at how wet she was. He led her toward the bedroom, slowly, carefully, holding hands. They lay down, and cautiously explored each other more, becoming intimately aware of each other.
The made love tenderly, but also with a hunger that surprised them both. Months of tension and yearning, gave them a need to know each other now. No holding back. They climaxed not quite together, but close enough for each person’s orgasm to feel all the more breathtaking. Manvik pulled Uma to him when they were done. She lay her head on his chest, his arm wrapped around her, and draped down her beck. She placed one arm on his chest, gently fondling him. They both felt incredible at peace. Manvik stared upwards, eyes wide, and was astounded. Uma could not take the smile off her face. This was like nothing she had with Samir. The only time that had come close, was the time when she was thinking of Manvik.
They realized that it had been two hours since they had left the hospital. It made them hurriedly shower and get dressed. No time for tenderness now. Uma had missed three pages, thankfully none of them were urgent. They rushed back to work, talking about how much each other cared for the other. There was no way this could be a one-off experience. Uma felt so unsure as to her feelings. No. That wasn’t quite it. She just felt guilty for cheating on Samir, but alive and excited by being with Manvik. Over the next several weeks, Uma and Manvik went for lunch to his house several times a week. They rarely ate lunch. Lavanya and Uma were having a rare catchup over lunch one day. They had seen less and less of each other recently.
“Uma, people are starting to talk What’s going on?” asked Lavanya.
Uma became defensive, “What are you talking about, Lav?”
“Uma – I’m your best friend. You can always talk to me. I will not judge you.” Lavanya told her.
“Lav. It’s no big deal. I presume you’re talking about Manvik. I know he and I are spending a lot of time together. We have become very good friends. That is all.”
“Okay, but I’m here if you need me. Okay?” Lavanya finished.
“Sure, Lavanya. “Uma said dismissively.
Their conversation was a little awkward after that, but neither of them mentioned Manvik again. Later that night after they had both gone home, and Samir and the kids had gone to bed, Uma called Lavanya.
“Hi Uma. What’s up?” Lavanya opened.
“Hi Lav. I owe you an apology. I was out of line earlier. You were only trying to help.” Uma said.
“First off, you’re right. You do owe me an apology, ” she said in a jesting manner, “Apology accepted. Now are you going to tell me what’s going on? Is anything going on?” Lavanya asked.
“Of Lav, I’ve screwed up. Yes. We have been sleeping with each other for a couple of months now. I know is sounds torrid, but I really think I love him, and he loves me. We haven’t said it to each other, but it’s there.”
“Oh Uma. I love you. You’re my best friend. What have you gotton yourself into? What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, Lav. I can’t imagine not being with him. I don’t want to hurt Samir of course, but Manvik is much more that Samir has ever been.”
“And what about the kids?”
“It’s not like I’m going to ride off into the sunset, and leave them behind. Manvik and are are in love, but we’re not getting married.”
“Yet.” suggested Lavanya, “I just don’t want you getting hurt. You or anyone.”
“I know. I guess it’s to late for that. Someone is going to get hurt.”
They arranged to meet again the following day for lunch. They talked the entire time about possible options for the situation. None were perfect. Uma knew she wanted to be with Manvik. Absolutely. Totally. In the back of her mind, however, she was well aware that being with someone for two months did not give you the full picture. Like every couple, the magic would likely wear off. Would they have enough after that?
Several more months past, with Uma and Manvik meeting several times a week. There passion was as strong as it had been at the start. She missed him when they were not together. It was almost accepted in the hospital that they were a couple. Of course no one officially said anything, but they had both heard their names mentioned in whispered voices. Diwali was approaching, and The Patel family, all four of them, were preparing the week before. Uma was distracted. All she could think of was spending it with Manvik. A few days before the festival, Uma and Manvik were together.
“I really wish we could run away for Diwali, Man. It’s all I can think of at the moment.” Uma said.
“You and I know it’s not going to happen,” Manvik sighed. “What would you say? Hey Samir – I’m just popping over to my boyfriend for a few hours?”
“Very funny,” she scolded. “What if I said I had been called to cover in work? How would he know? We could spend the whole day together.”
Samir never called her when she was working, so they would be fine. They would have longer together that they’d ever had. She and Manvik made all the arrangements. They would cook together, he getting the ingredients the day before, and everything else needed for the house. The plan was for her to arrive at his place as ‘her shift’ started. She went home that night and told Samir and the kids she wouldn’t be there for Diwali. They were all disappointed. It was their favorite holiday of the year, and the first one she would miss. Uma was excited, but it was tinged with a huge amount of guilt. Lying to Samir was bad, but to her children? Had she really sunk that low? Samir asked if she wanted them to meet her for lunch that day. Uma assured him she would be fine, Lavanya had to work too.
The day finally arrived, and Uma dressed herself beautifully for the occasion. She wore her prettiest sari. Manvik had mentioned how beautiful he thought she would be in one. She was excited for him to take it off later. As she was walking out the door, Samir approached her and looked at her adoringly. She almost shuddered.
“Look at my beautiful wife! You look stunning. What the heck are you wearing that to work for?” he half giggled.
“Just because I’ll be in work, does not mean I can’t look nice for Diwali, Samir” she countered.
He accepted her explanation, and kissed her on the lips. She found herself withdrawing, and feeling anxious inside. She felt like she was cheating on Manvik with Samir, not the other way around. Uma found it difficult to concentrate on the drive over to Manvik’s. It was exhilarating living dangerously like this. She easily managed to put Samir and the kids out of her mind. When she arrived, she could smell the food Manvik was preparing. She had never disliked anything he had prepared for her. This was sure to be his best yet. He had told her of his mother’s legendary Diwali feasts he had as a child. They made love before they ate, one of their rougher, quicker acts, and had a leisurely dinner. They talked about everything: what they meant to each other; what the future might look like. They held back a little on this second one. She admitted she was not happy with Samir. He told her he wished they could start their own family. Maybe it wasn’t out of the question. She was young enough to have another child. It would destroy Samir. And what about her children? She could not face being miserable, always wishing to be with Manvik, open and free. They did not need to make any decisions yet. Meanwhile Samir and the kids had their own Diwali. Just as they were sitting down to lunch, the phone rang. Samir answered the phone and was surprised to hear it was Lavanya.
“Hi Samir, Happy Diwali. How is everything?” Lavanya asked.
“Lavanya. How are you? Happy Diwali to you too. Are you calling just to tell me that?”
“Ha ha. I love you dearly Samir. Now let me talk to Uma, you goat!”
“What are you talking about? Did you get the day off after all?”
“I never had it on – haha. I’m a senior attending. I don’t work Diwali. What do you think? I’m some second year resident.” she laughed.
“Oh. Uma said you were working. I guess she’ll have to have Diwali dinner on her own in the cafeteria.” he mused.
“Okay, well she must have gotten mixed up. Bye…” said Lavanya.
“Wait Lavanya. Are you sure she didn’t tell you she was working?” he asked.
“Maybe I forgot. You know me.” she replied.
“No Lavanya. I know you remember everything!”
“Listen Samir. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not in work. That’s all I know. Enjoy the rest of the day.” Lavanya got off the phone as quick as possible.
After dinner, Uma and Manvik relaxed on the couch. She had her head nestled up against his chest. He had his arm around her. They spoke about whatever came to mind. Every now and again, Manvik would bend down and kiss the top of Uma’s head. When he did, she snuggled up a little more. They were so natural with each other now, they barely noticed each other’s movements. The hours went by quickly, and they both knew Uma would have to leave soon, back to reality, to Samir. She had never felt anything like this with Samir. It made her regretful of the past, except for the children they had made. She wished she had married Manvik instead of Samir. She burst out laughing realizing Manvik was fifteen years old when she had married at the age of twenty five.
“What are you laughing at, you?” he asked prodding her jokingly in her ribs.
She moved to dodge him and responded, “That when I was twenty five, you were fifteen. I would have been arrested for touching you!”
“Yes old lady. You have corrupted little me,” dodging a return slap to the arm.
“Hey. Be nice. And you’re not little in any way,” she said with a wink.
The two of them exploded into fits of laughter. She was sad to leave. She felt such an urge to stay, but that was impossible. When she got down to her car, she pulled out her phone. She had four missed calls: three from Samir; one from Navanya. She also had three voicemails: two from Samir a couple of hours apart; and one from Navanya. A little envelope indicated one text message as well. It was from Navanya (18:31): Call me when you get this. That was all. She listened to her voicemails.
Samir (16:48): Hi honey. I know you’re busy. I wanted to say Happy Diwali to you. We miss you. Hey – Aditya, Indira, wish your mother a Happy Diwali. She heard squeals Of greetings in the distance.
Navanya (18:29): God Uma. Please call me. I called the house and Samir asked me why I wasn’t in work with you. I told him I wasn’t scheduled. He sounded confused, but not angry. Just call me, or him. I don’t know. I’m sure everything is okay. Love you. I don’t want to cover for you, but at least tell me if you’re using me as an alibi. Okay. Call me!
Samir (18:30): Hi Uma. I just got a call from Navanya. She said she wasn’t at work. What’s going on? I thought you two were going to celebrate together. Okay. Talk later. Love you.
Samir (18:37): What’s going on, Uma? I called your department. They told me you were off today. They sounded surprised I would think you were working. You never work on Diwali. I’m getting worried. Please call me.
It was just after eight in the evening. The time she would normally leave work. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed, her lungs gasping for air. She had no idea what to do. Should she try to make up some excuse? Hope Samir would believe her? What excuse could she possibly have? Maybe she should just take this as a sign, and confess everything. She called Manvik.
“Hi sweetheart. Did you miss me already?” he laughed.
“Manvik,” she panted out of breath, “Samir knows I wasn’t at work. What am I going to do?”
“Oh God Uma. How did he find out?” he asked.
“That hardly matters now! What should I do?” she was filled with fear.
They spoke for a few minutes, going around in circles. It only panicked her more. She drove home, carefully. She was distracted and knew she shouldn’t be driving at all. When she got home, she sat outside in the car for ten or fifteen minutes. Eventually she got out and walked to the door. She put the key in the lock slowly, and quietly. She was filled with dread. She crept inside. She didn’t know what she was thinking – did it really matter if Samir knew she was home now, or in two minutes? She called out his name, and he appeared at the top of the stairs. He ran down and hugged her.
“Oh Uma. I was so worried. Where were you?” he asked.
She responded with a question of her own, “Where are the kids?”
“I put them down twenty minutes ago. I just checked them. They’re both out. All the excitement of the day I guess. Now what’s going on?” Samir asked again.
“Come. Let’s go outside.” prompted Uma.
They walked out the french doors at the back of the house, he a few steps behind her. She didn’t want him to see the fear on her face. She took a seat, her seat, at the garden table. He took his. They both stared at the fire pit. It’s what they always did. Samir had built it when they moved in, a few months after marriage. He insisted it was a vital part of any decent garden. They had used it maybe once a year tops. She didn’t resent him his little project. At least it gave them something to look, and provided a central focal point in the garden. She loved aesthetics. Would this be the last time she sat in their garden like this? Would it now be his garden? She didn’t know what way this conversation would go, but she knew she couldn’t and wouldn’t abandon Manvik now. She was sweating profusely. This was the scariest thing she had ever done. More than giving birth, getting married, doing her MCAT.
“Samir. We have to talk. What I have to say is not easy, and it will not be easy to hear either.” she started.
“What’s wrong? We can face anything together. Are you sick? Have you been fired? Did you do something in work?” he pleaded.
“No Sami. Nothing like that. Nothing like that. Well it does involve work, kind of.”
He stared at her with glossy eyes. This was going to break him. He truly loved her, but she did not feel the same.
“Sami. I’ve been seeing someone. From work…” she started.
“What do you mean?” he asked incredulously.
“I’m so sorry. I never meant it to happen, but it did. I never wanted to hurt you.” she tried to explain.
He could not believe what he was hearing. He never would have thought she could do this. To him. To the children.
“Samir. I love him. I don’t want to leave the kids, but I’m sure you don’t want me here. I will leave. I only ask that you let me pack some clothes.” she said, laying out what might happen now.
He just stared at her, with a single, but large tear, rolling down one cheek. He felt completely crushed.
“Just go. Take whatever you need, and get the hell out of this house. You disgust me.” he spat at her.
Uma looked down at the ground. She was ashamed, but of course this did not change her feelings. She went inside, and heard the back door slam as she ran upstairs. She packed what she could. All her underwear. A few of her favorite outfits, and finally essentials like work pants and shirts. She would buy all her toiletries tomorrow. She sneaked into Indira’s room, and watched her daughter sleep for several minutes. She was such a beautiful child. They were close. She thought back to the first time she held her, and tears welled up, and then fell from her eyes. She placed a hand on her daughter’s back, and left it for a minute. Her body was warm to the touch, and her body heaved with each breath. A life she created. Things would never be the same. Next she went into Aditya’s room. He was lying sprawled across his bed as usual. She laughed through her tears. He had done this since he was a toddler, and often she and Samir came in and laughed, quietly gazing down on him. That would be no more. She kissed his face as he slept, and walked out of the room. She walked out the front door, and closed it for the last time as her door. It was Samir’s house. And Indira’s. And Aditya’s. Not hers.
She jumped into the car as fast as she could. She pulled out of the driveway, and drove for about a mile before having to pull over. Her emotions bubbled up to the top, and spilled out of her. She burst into tears, and cried with an intensity she had never felt before. Tears gushed form her eyes. Her make up ran. Mucus poured out of her nose. She let it all come, whatever way it did. She was completely at the mercy of her feelings. There was no stopping any of this. After twenty or more minutes, her sobbing turned to crying, and then sniffling. She cleaned herself a little.She used the rear view mirror. She actually laughed a little when she saw how awful she looked, all puffy and streaked on her face. She composed herself enough to call Manvik. It felt like it rang forever, but he finally answered.
“Manvik,” she sniffled, “Samir knows everything. I am officially homeless. I hope you were serious about standing by me.”
“Oh Uma. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” he paused. “I’m sorry. That’s a stupid question. Where are you? Come over, now.”
“I’m half way to your place. I should be there in ten minutes.” Her sniffling had slowed down to a sniff every thirty seconds or so.
When she reached Manvik’s apartment, and he opened the door, she fell into his arms, and began sobbing again. She could not stop, and he helped her to the couch. They sat hugging as she cried, and he rubbed her back. He didn’t say anything except “shhhh…” a few times. Once she eased up, she looked at him and laughed insincerely.
“I look gorgeous I’m sure,” she smiled.
“Always,” he beamed. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”
“No,” she said. “I just want to be here with you, and feel safe, and loved.”
“I do love you, Uma. You know that. I will always love you.” he reassured her.
“I love you too. I’m so glad you’re in my life.”
She reminded herself what this was all for. At the same time she worried about what would happen with the kids. She knew Samir would know that her being in their life was important. She decided to text him. She knew he wouldn’t want to get into a conversation, either on the phone or by text, and nor did she. She wanted to send a peace offering, although it was way to soon. At least he would see it.
Uma: I know I’ve hurt you terribly. I truly am sorry, but I could not live a lie. I do care for you. I hope we can discuss the kids in the next few days.
She showed it to Manvik before she sent it. He agreed it was as good as anything she could say to Samir right now. They talked for hours about what the future might hold for them, interspersed now and again with Uma’s worries about what had happened earlier in the evening. Included was talk of the children. Would she and Manvik live together? If they did where would the children sleep when they were with them? Manvik’s apartment was a two bedroom. They really needed a three bedroom. Would Uma find her own three bedroom apartment? They didn’t want to make any quick decisions. For now, Uma would stay with Manvik, and they would figure the rest out later. If the kids came to stay while they were still figuring it out, he would sleep on the couch, while Indira would be with Uma, and Aditya could have the spare room.
Samir did not contact Uma for several days. Uma bought up any essentials she had forgotten when she ran from their house. Indira had called her once, presumably with Samir’s blessing. She said daddy had told her that mommy was working hard, and had to stay at work. It reassured her that in the end, he would be fair with her when it came to the children. It had been great to talk to her daughter. When she asked Indira to put Aditya on, she said he was playing in the garden. It was reassuring to hear they were doing normal, everyday things.
Samir called Uma a week to the day after she left. She became terribly nervous, and nearly let it go to voicemail. She was with Manvik at the time, who encouraged her to answer. It was never going to get easier.
“Hello Samir. How are you?” she asked.
“I’m okay. I want to discuss the children. Let’s not pretend everything is okay. I just want to discuss what we have to for now.” he said confidently.
She felt she was a child talking to her headmaster. “No problem, Samir,” she answered.
“Would you like to have the children on both your days off, or on one day off, and one other evening, keeping them for the night and getting them to school?” he asked.
She knew not to argue for a different arrangement. That could come in time.
“How about one of my days off, whatever my weekend day off is, and Wednesday night?” she suggested.
“Okay. And Uma?” he started.
“I need to meet your lover before I allow my children near him.” He spat out the word ‘lover’.
“I understand. Of course. Would you like us to come over there, or would you like to come here?” she offered.
“How about somewhere neutral? A coffee shop maybe? While the kids are in school.” he asked.
This was a good idea. They were all more likely to behave in public than at either of their homes. Uma gave him a list of days she and Manvik had off together in the coming couple of weeks. They arranged to meet on Friday. It was Monday. She would have rather have them meet sooner, but Friday was the only day this week that suited all three of them. Uma waited until they were both at the dinner table, before she brought the subject up to Manvik.
“Manvik. I spoke to Samir today.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“He wants to meet us both on Friday. To figure if you are sane enough to be around his children.” she said.
“Well that will be lovely,” he said sarcastically but with a warm smile. “Should I prepare somehow?” he asked her, only half joking.
“Of course not. Just be your charming self.” she leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek.
“Yes. I’m sure he’ll be charmed by me Uma!”
They both laughed a little, but not maliciously. They were both nervous.
Friday came around and they went to the cafe early. They ordered their coffees, and sat down at a small table with three chairs. A bigger table would have been preferable, but the cafe was busy. They looked at the door every time it opened, and each time heaved a sigh of both relief and impatience. Eventually Samir walked in. Uma and Manvik both stood. Samir headed straight for them, his face serious. Manvik extended his hand. Samir neither took it, or looked at it. He sat down, and Manvik and Uma followed his lead.
Samir started. “Obviously I do not like you.” he spat at Manvik. “You destroyed my family.”
Neither Manvik nor Uma defended him. Best to let Samir get things off his chest a little.
“I don’t want to chat about weather. I am here solely to discuss my children. I need to know you will at least be a decent role model for them. Apart from stealing their mother from them.”
“Samir, that’s not fair…” Uma interrupted.
Samir held his hand up to stop her. “Don’t. I get to say what I want here. I am the injured party. Remember?” He stared pointedly at Uma.
She lowered her head and blushed.
“Samir… Mr. Patel, sir,” Manvik chimed in, “What would you like to know about me? How can I show you I will be good enough for your children?”
Samir visible recoiled. It pained him greatly to be here. “I don’t know. Do you have children of your own? Of course not… How silly of me… You’re barely out of childhood yourself.”
Manvik kept his composure. “You’re correct. I don’t have children. I just about raised three of my six siblings however. They are ten, twelve and thirteen years younger than I.”
“Is that suppose to impress me?” asked Samir. “That you have siblings?”
“No sir. It is not. I just want to show…” said Manvik.
“You know I think the best thing would be? If I am there when you meet them. Let us all go out for dinner. You are not welcome in my home. Neither of you. They will come home with me that night, and we will discuss arrangements after that.”
“Samir, I know you hate me right now, but you know I would never put our children in danger. You know I want what is best for them.” Uma said.
“If you wanted what was best for them, you never would have started your dirty little affair. You would be living at home, being a dignified wife.”
His words stung, but Uma could empathize. She tried to imagine how she would feel if he had left her for another woman. She would be livid.
“If that’s what you want, Samir.”
“That is what I want. Saturday, tomorrow, eight o’clock. Our favorite restaurant, Uma. It’s not like I’ll want to go there again after tomorrow. I might as well cap it off with another bad memory.”
“Okay. We’ll see you then.” answered Uma.
Samir stood up and bolted out the door, without saying goodbye. Uma and Manvik heaved a sigh of relief. That was not the most pleasant experience, but it was over. Tomorrow would not be quite as bad. Samir would not be outwardly hostile with the children present. Samir texted Uma an hour before dinner.
Samir: I have told Indira and Aditya that we are having dinner with you and a friend. They know you’re not coming home, but not why. Do not mention your relationship!
Uma: Understood. They will figure it out once they come to stay the night.
Samir: I will tell them before they stay with you.
Uma: Okay Samir. If that’s what you think is best. Thank you so much for doing this. See you soon.
Samir: I am doing this for the children, not you.
When Uma and Manvik arrived at the restaurant, the others were already there. When the kids saw Uma, they ran to her and both hugged her tightly and shouted ‘mommy’ over and over again.
Indira cried “I missed you so much.”
“Yes I missed you more much,” Aditya said copying his older sister.
Uma led them to the table. “Hello Samir,” she offered formally.
Samir gave a slight nod of acknowledgment at Uma.
The children picked up on the tension, and looked form parent to parent. Then they looked at Manvik.
“Who are you? You’re mommy’s friend right? What’s your name? Does mommy live with you now?” Indira asked precociously.
Manvik looked from Uma to Samir for guidance.
“Yes darling,” Samir said. “He’s mommy’s friend and they live together now. He’s a good person, and you are going to get on well. Maybe you can stay with him and mommy some time. We will see.”
Uma could see this was killing Samir inside. She was grateful he was taking such a selfless approach. He truly was a good man, and a great father. She smiled at him in thanks. He looked away.
“Does this mean we’re not all going to live together again?” Indira asked, looking scared.
“No sweetheart,” said Uma, “We’re not going to live together.”
Indira burst into tears, which started Aditya off too. Indira ran to Uma, and Samir scooped Aditya onto his knee.
Samir’s voice broke as he said “Hey. Easy now. You know mommy and daddy love you both very much. We know this is hard on you. Mommy and daddy just can’t live together anymore. It’s nobody’s fault, and both of us will always be there for you.”
Manvik was so impressed with how Samir was carrying himself. It took a strong man to do what he was doing. Manvik stayed quiet for most of the meeting. He asked the kids a few questions about their favorite TV shows, and what their favorite thing to do was. He had a natural affinity with kids from raising his siblings, and was genuinely interested in Uma’s children. Samir could see this. He was just managing to keep his temper in check, but could see the kids would be fine with Manvik. In some ways he wished Manvik was terrible, so he could hate him even more, but he truly was glad the kids would be happy, or at least as happy as kids of separated parents can be. He worried a little that he had competition in the male role-model department, but knew he would always be their father. They said their goodbyes after dinner, this time with Samir shaking Manvik’s hand, for the kids sake. He and Uma kissed each other on the cheek, once again for the kids.
The week crawled by. Manvik and Uma talked frequently about what they should do with the kids. Uma was starting to feel nervous. They tried to think up all the possible questions the kids might have. Friday eventually came. Samir dropped the kids off, but stayed in the car. Uma was waiting at the building’s entrance. Once she stepped outside, he sped off. Indira and Aditya ran to Uma. She opened her arms and crouched down to their level.
“Oh kids. I’ve missed you so much. It is so good to see you both. How are you, eh?” she asked, as a tear rolled down her check. She wiped it away quickly before they could see it. The kids were ecstatic to see her, and their words came out in clumps, tripping over each other. Aditya was barely holding it together, tears pooling in his eyes, but not falling. They took the elevator up to the 53rd floor. The kids had never been so high up before. They marveled as their ears popped on the way up. Uma hugged them both as the three of them walked into the apartment, and headed towards the living room. Manvik was at the window looking out over the city. He was trying to look confident and friendly, however, inside he was nervous. He wanted to make sure he was welcoming to the children, and not give them any excuse to dislike him straight off the bat.
“Hi Indira. Hi Aditya. It’s nice to see you again.” He stuck out his hand and gave a huge smile.
The children looked to their mother for guidance. Uma smiled at them and nodded. Indira approached confidently with her arm stuck out in front of her.
“Nice to see you again, Manvik.” she beamed, ever the most adult-like oldest. “Aditya. Come here.”
She reached out for him and he came to her. She pushed him gently towards Manvik.
“Say hello to Manvik, Adi.”
“Hello Manvik.” Aditya said quietly.
Manvik pulled his hand back, so as not to intimidate Aditya.
Manvik bent a little and said “It’s good to see you again. Your mom says you two love Hot Dogs?” his inflection denoting a question.
The kids both nodded and smiled.
“Guess what’s for lunch today?”
“Hot Dogs.” they piped up simulataneously.
“Your mom also told me that you two love helping out. How about we make lunch, and let your mommy relax a little?”
Aditya looked towards Indira for approval. Once she nodded, they followed Manvik into the kitchen. They didn’t even look back at Uma. She was relieved. She knew it was not going to as easy as this all the time. The kids were going to have a rough transition. All this change was very difficult for everyone. It was nice for now that things were going okay. She could hear the three others talking in the kitchen, and it sounded like Adi was opening up to Manvik. She had no doubts about Indira’s ability to talk. That girl could speak for India, and often did! Twenty minutes later Indira came out to the living room.
“Mom. Go sit at the table, and close your eyes. No peaking!” she told her mom.
Uma laughed and did as she was told. “Okay. I promise. No peeking.”
Indira ran back to the kitchen. Uma heard a lot of whispering and giggling coming from the next room. She was so happy. The others came out and there was a lot of noise at the table. Banging of plates being put down, not so gently by the children. Who knew what other sounds there were.
She heard the screeching of chairs, as Indira said “Open your eyes mama.”
Uma was amazed and delighted when she did so. In front of her was a hot dog – not her favorite admittedly, and a beautiful looking salad.
Aditya bubbled up, “Mama. Indi and me. We made it all.”
“Manvik helped us silly.” corrected Indira.
Manvik held his hands up, “Don’t look at me,” he said as he winked at Uma.
They both smiled and laughed. The children joined in. Lunch was very relaxed. There were no awkward moments. Both the adults had worried there might be. The kids asked Manvik a lot of questions. How do you know mommy? What kind of doctor are you? Do you work in the same place as mommy? Are you married? This last question was from Aditya. Indira gave him a quizzical look.
“Of course he’s not married. He’s mommy’s boyfriend!” she explained.
Aditya looked crest fallen. He didn’t understand. “I thought daddy was her boyfriend. And then they got married.”
“Yes, but now they aren’t anymore. Right mom?” asked Indira.
Uma took a deep breath before answering, and glanced at Manvik. “Well. Daddy and I are still married, but we wont always be. Manvik is my boyfriend. Come here Adi. Sit on my knee a minute.”
Aditya slowly came to his mother. He looked up at her in disbelief, with huge tears rolling down his face. He climbed up onto her lap, and looked straight up into her eyes. She held him tight, the put her hands on his cheeks, and kissed his head.
“Aren’t families supposed to be together forever? I remember you and daddy always told us stories about later and now, and how we would all be together forever.” he choked out.
“Mostly they are sweetheart, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Do you remember in the restaurant a couple of weeks ago? We told you that I wouldn’t live with daddy anymore, but that we both love you just the same as before. Your mommy and daddy live in two different places, but we’re still your mama and papa.” She didn’t know much he was taking in. He was very upset.
“I don’t want two different places. Is Manvik our nother daddy now?” Adi asked.
“No. Papa will always be your daddy, but Manvik will be in your life. He cares about you, and wants you to be happy.” Uma answered.
Indira burst in, “Wait. Are you married?” she asked staring at Manvik. “Mommy is married and you’re her boyfriend. So are you married too? Do you have a wife?”
Manvik smiled patiently and gently. He did not want to undermine the children’s spirits. “No Indira. I’m not married.”
“Do you love mommy? Mama, do you love him?” Indi looked from one to the other.
Uma had not been prepared for this yet, but she did not want to lie. Better to get it over with, than telling them later, and Indira remembering this conversation. Which she would. “Yes Indira. We love each other very much. I know that’s probably hard for you to hear.”
Indira didn’t look upset, just thoughtful. Like she was trying to process and understand it all. Aditya looked completely confused and bewildered.
“Mama. Do you love daddy still?” he asked.
“Yes. I do. But not like I love Manvik. There are lots of different kinds of love. Love for your kids. Love for you parents, your friends, and then there being in love, like Manvik and I are. I love daddy like a friend. We have known each other a long time, and we have you two. We both care what happens in the other one’s life. Does that make sense?” Uma asked him.
Aditya looked confused, but nodded anyway. It would take him much longer than Indira to understand what was going on around him. Even Indira would need time adjusting, but it seemed she understood most of what had happened.
Manvik clapped his hands. “Right kids. Let’s clear these plates, so we can get ready ‘you know what’,” he suggested.
Indira jumped up and started to clear plates. Adi just wrapped his arms around Uma’s neck tighter, and stayed where he was. No one commented on it. Indira and Manvik went back to the kitchen. Uma rocked Aditya on her knee. She loved him so much, and it broke her heart to know how scared and confused he was. She sang a song to him, that she had sung to both of the kids when they were babies. She continued rocking him, as he nuzzled into her. This was what they both needed. Lots of physical and emotional love from her and Samir, and patience and gentle guidance from Manvik. Aditya fell asleep within a few minutes. He was emotionally spent and could not help it.
“Mom. Shut your eyes again” roared Indira.
“Shhhhh… Your brother’s sleeping.” rasped Uma.
Manvik stuck his head out of the kitchen. “Do you want me to lay him down?” he asked.
Manvik came to Uma, as she turned to let him get to Aditya. He gently picked Adi up, who barely stirred, and carried him to the bedroom he and Uma had agreed on to have him sleep. Uma stood in the doorway watching, as Manvik laid Aditya down gently on the bed. She came up behind Manvik, put a hand on his shoulder, and thanked him.
He turned to her, “Your children are very precious, Uma. I promise I will always do what’s best by them. I mean that sincerely,” he promised.
Uma kissed him gently on the lips, a thing that still aroused them both intensely. She felt happier than she had ever felt before. The three most important people in her world, were all here with her together. They both went back towards the table, where Indira was standing. They realized she had been watching them. She had a puzzled, slightly doubtful look on her face.
“I saw you two kissing,” she laughed and smiled.
Uma had not been expecting that. She assumed both children would need a lot of time before accepting seeing Manvik and her being somewhat intimate with each other. She wonder if she would remember not to touch him on the arm, steal kisses, and hold hands in front of the children. She did not believe in hiding those kind of intimate moments from children, but she wanted to wait until the children were more comfortable with Manvik and her, before that happened. The fact that Indira did not seem bothered did not ease her mind at all. She thought it likely that all this would hit her soon, and things would not be so easy. In the meantime I guess they should enjoy it.
“Come on Manvik,” she smiled, “let’s go.”
He followed her into the kitchen and minutes later, with Uma’s eyes closed of course, they brought out desert. Rice pudding! It was Uma’s favorite since she was a little girl. Manvik knew this, and so had it ready. Indira did too, and was delighted to be able to serve it to her mom.
“Indi. Do you want to watch TV while Manvik and I wash the dishes?” asked Uma.
Indira rarely got to watch TV, so she jumped at the chance. Uma and Manvik cleared the plates, and stayed in the kitchen to wash up. They wanted to have the time to talk.
“Oh Manvik. I’m all over the place. I’m so worried about Adi, and I wonder if Indira is just bluffing, or just hasn’t processed what’s going on!” she exclaimed.
“Uma. Things will fall into place. Indi is very smart, and of course things won’t be perfect all the time, she definitely knows what’s going on. Adi on the other hand, will need more time. He seems to be an emotional boy, and you’ve said as much. He obviously is very close to you. Try not to worry,” Manvik said, trying to comfort her.
“That’s easy for you to say. They are not your children.” she said slightly impatiently.
“That’s not fair Uma. You know I want what’s best for all of you, and of course myself, but I want you to be happy, and them. I may not know them, or love them, but I am a human being, and I care what happens to them. They are the children of the most important person in the world. You think I don’t give a damn.” he said, he temper evidently on the rise.
Uma immediately retracted her choice of words. “I’m sorry Manvik. You’re right. I know this isn’t easy on you either,” she said sheepishly.
Manvik sighed and wrapped his arms around her. He planted a kiss on her forehead, and then they turned back to the dishes.
The following day, as Uma drove the kids home, she felt that the visit had gone as well as could be expected. She had been nervous both children would shun Manvik, and be angry with her. She knew it would take some time for things to settle down, if they ever completely did. She pulled up outside the house. Samir was sitting on the steps of the house, waiting. The kids ran out of the car into his arms. He smiled and heaved a sigh of relief. He was glad they were home, at their home. He reprimanded them for not saying goodbye to their mother. They sheepishly returned to the car, which Uma had just stepped out of to wave. She hugged them tightly and kissed them all over. They squealed and giggled, then ran back towards the house. Samir shooed them into the house, and walked towards Uma. She was completely surprised. She assumed he would want to talk about how they had gotten on with her and Manvik. At the same time however, she wondered if it would be too much for him.
“Uma,” he said seriously.
“Samir,” she responded with a slight smile.
“Well. How did it go?” he asked.
Uma recounted the important parts of the stay for him, letting him know that Indira had been absolutely fine, but that Adi had a little bit of a rough time. Samir was both relieved and saddened to hear that Indira had done so well. She wished they both hated Manvik, but knew that was selfish. It would be best for the children if they connected with him, the sooner the better. Intellectually he knew this, but emotionally he was nowhere near ready to accept that.
The next few months were similar. The children came and stayed two times each week. Indira now ran to Manvik with barely a ‘hello’ to her mother. They both thought it amusing however. Aditya was slowly warming up to Manvik. It wasn’t that he hated him, it was that he knew somehow, that Manvik was a why mommy didn’t live in his house anymore. One day Aditya and Manvik were playing Uno at the dining room table. Indira was in her room, likely reading. The door was open slightly. Uma heard what sounded like crying inside, and approached the door. Indeed, Indira was sitting on the bed, bent over quietly weeping. Uma looked back at Manvik, and frowned slightly. He nodded, indicating he would keep Adi occupied. Uma entered Indi’s room, and closed the door behind her. Indira looked up with red-rimmed eyes. She had been a bit more emotional recently. She was nearly twelve and had certainly began puberty already. There were the odd eye rolls, slamming of doors, and looks at her mother as if she was the most clueless person on the Earth. Uma assumed this was that. She sat on the edge of Indira’s bed.
“Do you want to talk about it sweetheart, or should I leave you alone?” Uma gently asked.
Indira grabbed her hand, and squeezed it tightly. Uma stayed where she was, waiting for Indi to lead her. When she didn’t, Uma wrapped her arms around her. She may be basically a teenager, but still need her mama. Eventually Indira broke her silence.
“Mom, why did you and daddy have to split up? It’s not fair. None of my friends’ parents ever split up. Why can’t you get back together? I promise me and Adi will be good. I know we can be naughty in the house, and used to drive you crazy.” she whimpered.
“Oh Indi. My poor, poor, Indi. I love you so much. I would never want to be away from you. Or your brother. This is about daddy and me.” Uma started.
“But why? I don’t understand.” Indira cried.
“I know honey. It can be hard for kids to understand the adult word. Well that’s not exactly fair. I know you understand a lot. I love Manvik now, and I know that is hard for you. I wish it were different…”
“No you don’t. You wouldn’t be here if you wanted it to be different.” she spat.
“That’s fair. What I mean is, I wish you weren’t hurting so much.” Uma continued.
“Michelle in school said it’s because you and daddy had an arranged marriage. Is that true? She said her parents fell in love and then married. She said you and daddy were weird and old-fashioned. Mommy. Is that true? Did you ever love daddy?” Indira asked.
Uma wasn’t sure how to answer this. To tell Indi the truth might be to damage her permanently. He existence. Her hope. And make her angry for a very long time.
“It is true that daddy and I had an arranged marriage. You grandparents, all of them, thought we would be a perfect match. And Indi? We were. We are still in a way. Your father and I were happy together for a long time. We got on very well. Do you remember how it was a few years ago? When we all used to play and joke around together? We could not have done that if we didn’t.” Uma explained.
“Yes. But did you love him?” Indira asked again.
“Yes, Indi. And I still do, but not the way it should be. I’m not in love with him.” she added.
She hoped Indira would take this to mean that she, Uma, had loved Samir. Indira did not ask anymore questions. She was still crying, but more slowly and quietly now. Her body heaved as she tried to stop, and Uma held her until she did.
“Do you want to come out and play a game with us. Your brother is beating Manvik in Uno. I think he’s mad!” Uma asked.
“Maybe later.” responded Indira, and gave Uma a weak smile.
Uma went back into the living room, purposely leaving Indira’s door open.
She and the menfolk played Uno for another while. Indira did come out at dinner time. She was quieter than usual, but did talk a little, including to Manvik. As Uma had thought before, she knew things would take their time. It could have been worse. She just made sure that she was there for the kids whenever they wanted to talk. She and Samir communicated only briefly when they had to, but the conversations became less and less stilted as time went by.
Aditya’s birthday was fast approaching. It was all he could talk about for the entire month leading up to it. Samir and Uma had arranged the event together. She actually enjoyed being able to interact with him in a less stressful manner. They concentrated just on Adi and his party. She found herself enjoying the planning. As they were coming up with the guest list, Uma found herself becoming emotional. There were many people on the list who she had not seen since she had moved out. There were family friends, ones that Samir had been given as part of the separation process. At least that’s how it had worked out. Uma knew things would likely be uncomfortable, but she had to face it sometime.
“I think this is good enough,” Samir said, waving the list in his hand. “Oh. Adi wants Manvik to come. I presume he will come if you ask him? Yes?” asked Samir.
Uma was shocked, and her facial expression showed it.
“I’m not a complete monster, Uma. If that’s what Adi wants, then so be it. Of course it will be difficult for me to have him in my house, but I see now it is a permanent thing, and I only hurt the children, and myself, by being angry all the time. Don’t get me wrong – I am by no means welcoming him with open arms. I will, however, be civil.” Samir explained.
Uma was still in shock. She really had a whole new respect for Samir.
She simply responded, “Thank you, Samir.”
Aditya’s birthday finally arrived. It felt like they had been preparing forever, simply because he had been talking about it all the time. The house was decorated from top to bottom, as was the back garden, where they were holding the party. It was cool for the time of year, and Uma chuckled to see the fire pit lit. She whispered the story to Manvik. Samir appeared beside them, and extended his hand to Manvik, smiling ever so slightly. Manvik looked surprised, but quickly changed it to a warm smile.
“So what are you two whispering about.” he asked.
Uma broke out laughing. She couldn’t help it.
“I was telling him about the fire pit, Sami” she said, barely holding her giggling in check.
“What about it? I use it all the time?” he said with a cheeky smile on his face.
Uma burst out laughing, with Manvik joining in, slightly more reserved. Samir smiled, seemingly genuinely, and walked away to talk to guests. The rest of the party was a great success for the most part. Adi was delighted with all the attention, gifts, and the spectacle of the day. He kept running up to Uma and Manvik to give them updates every few minutes. Indira on the other hand was stuck to Samir like glue. She wasn’t crying, or outwardly upset, but she was still not herself. The reality of her parents separation had hit her, and hit her hard. She wouldn’t simply get over it overnight. She needed to be treated with gentleness.
A few weeks later, as Uma was preparing lunch, Manvik came back into the apartment after having gone for a run. He had the mail in his hand, and passed Uma her share. The usual stuff, and a large envelope. She opened it and audibly gasped. Oh my God. Samir had filed for divorce. She burst into tears. An automatic reaction. She knew she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, but this hit her in the gut. She had supposed she would be the one to file. Manvik rushed over to her.
“What’s wrong, Uma?” he asked.
“I… I…” she started, handing the papers over to Manvik.
He scanned them quickly.
“What’s wrong? Is this not what you want?” he asked worried.
“Of course darling. I just… it’s just a surprise.” she answered, “It’s a good thing, just a shock.”
Manvik was mostly put at ease by this. He took her in a tight embrace, and rocked her gently. Her tears stopped quickly, and she smiled up at him. He really was an amazing man. She told him she would call Samir when she calmed down a little. She offered Manvik some tea, and they sat on their balcony looking out over the city. They held hands, and as Uma calmed down, she knew she was in exactly the right place. They had been together well over a year now, more of it legitimate than not. She called Samir an hour later to talk about the papers.
“Hi Samir. How are you?” she started.
“I’m good, Uma. You?” he replied.
“Listen. I’ll cut to the chase. I got the papers. A bit of a shock,” she giggled somewhat nervously. “I think we’ll agree on most things, Samir. I hope we can avoid lawyers apart from all the paperwork and that. Can we at least try before we resort to that?” she asked.
“Yes. Of course. I know I have been hard to deal with at times. This was very difficult for me initially. I’d be lying if I said I was 100% over it yet, but I can see it is what is happening, and I will be okay.” he agreed.
“Could me meet up during the week perhaps, to discuss everything?” she asked.
He agreed, and when she got off the phone, Uma felt significantly better than she had. She let Manvik know what was going on, and he was happy they could put this part of her life behind them. She would officially be divorced, and maybe lose Samir’s name. He knew better than to ask about that. Uma and Samir met a few days later over coffee. They discussed furniture, dividing assets they co-owned, and money. They both had very lucrative careers. Although there was a significant pay difference, they did not see the point in dealing with alimony. When it came to the children, they felt the current situation seemed to be working perfectly well. They agreed to discuss this frequently. They decided they should tell the children together, sooner rather than later. After they were done, they sat together for over an hour. Catching up on each other’s lives. Reminiscing over shared experiences. Uma was delighted that they could now do this. Eight or nine months ago, she never would have thought it possible. They both genuinely enjoyed the conversation, and left feeling lighter.
When Uma came to the house the following Saturday to pick up the kids, she came in for once. The kids were out in the yard, kicking a soccer ball around. Indira wasn’t a big fan of soccer, but she was a great big sister, always had been, and Aditya always asked her to play with him. Uma and Samir went over their plans quickly, about what to say to the kids, and Samir called them in.
“Mom.” they said in unison, and ran up to hug her.
“Hey kids. Let’s let mommy breath, and you sit down.” Samir laughed, “We would like to talk to you about something.”
They kids sat down, and looked expectantly from Uma to Samir.
Samir started, “Kids. You know your mommy and I love you very much.”
“Yes dad. Yes. You tell us all the time!” said Indira impatiently.
Samir and Uma smiled at each other.
“You’re right. I’m so sorry,” he grinned. “You also know mommy and I no longer live together. When that happens with adults, they often decide to divorce after a while.”
Indira’s face dropped. She was shocked. She didn’t think this would happen. She should have known. She knew only one other person with separated parents, and they had divorced. Aditya was blissfully unaware.
Uma started, “I know this is hard, Indi.” I want you to remember that we are always going to be your parents, always going to love you, and always talk to each other, to make sure you get the best you can get from us.”
She ran out of the room, and upstairs to her room. They heard the door slam. Samir and Uma both stood to go to her. Uma out her hand up, in a non-confrontational manner. Samir sat back down. Uma went to Indira, and knocked on the door. There was no answer, but she could hear her daughter sobbing inside. She gently pushed the door open. She closed the door silently, and sat on the bed next to Indira.
“Indi, honey. Do you want to talk?” Uma gently offered.
“This is your fault. All your fault.” she shouted and burst into loud sobs again. “Why did you do this to our family? You ruined everything. You and your boyfriend.” She spat out the final word angrily.
“Indira. I know you’re angry…”
“You don’t know anything. You left daddy, me and Adi. You just didn’t care.” she said through her tears.
“Indira. If I felt I could have avoid hurting the three of you, I would. It is hard to explain to a child who has not yet fallen in love. Someday you will understand.” Uma continued.
“I will never understand. Never. Just leave me alone.” Indira whimpered.
Uma stood up and left the room. She was devastated. Not just that Indira was so upset, but that she had been the cause. She briefly considered the what-ifs of having left versus having stayed. She knew, however, that she would have been miserable, for tens of years, if she had stayed. That is no way to live, even if it hurts your children. Being a shell of your former self is worse. It does not help them at all. When she got back to the table, she saw Adi and Samir coloring happily together. She looked miserably at Samir and shook her head.
“Hey Adi. Mom wants to take over, okay?” Samir told their son.
“Sure dad. Yay mom. Wanna draw a castle with me?” he asked hopefully.
“Of course Adi, sweetheart.” she answered, wiping her eyes before he noticed.
Samir left to go upstairs to Indira. As he walked in, he heard her muttering under her breath.
He asked her playfully, “Well. What were you saying to me?”
She giggled a little. “Daddy. Don’t be silly. I’m doing okay.”
“Well you know mommy and daddy tell each other everything, right?” he asked.
“Not everything!” she said pointedly.
“Indira. I know you are having a very hard time with what has happened to our family. I know you love both of us, and wish we were together. We are never going to be a couple again, but we will always be in your life. And we will both be with you when things are most important.” he said trying to reassure her.
“It’s all her fault. Her and her boyfriend.” she sneered.
“Sweetie, it doesn’t matter who’s fault anything is, it matters how things are now, and how we react to them. We love you dearly, and Manvik cares a lot. I know you wish he wasn’t around, but he is. And mommy loves him. So we are going to do our best to be okay with him too. You don’t have to adore him, or call him ‘daddy’, but it will be easier if you try to give him a chance.” Samir gently prodded.
“You don’t like him,” she retorted.
“I’ll be honest with you. You’re old enough. I didn’t like him. I almost hated him! But I can see he is a good man. He loves your mother, and he wants to be a good role model to you and Adi. How about we both give him a shot?” suggested Samir.
“I’ll try. But daddy, I’m not going to like it!”
Samir hid his smile behind his hand, before frowning seriously and saying, “Of course not!”
“Now, let’s go down and see can we play team battleship and beat your mom and Adi!” He grinned.
Indira shot off the bed and Samir let her go ahead of him. Things would take time, but he knew she’d be okay.
Several months went by, with Indira gradually improving over time. Uma and Manvik decided to buy a place together with more space. They finally picked a three bedroom condo between the hospital and Samir’s house. Once they had signed the papers, they brought Aditya and Indira to the condo. It was much larger than Manvik’s old place. It had a huge common garden, with a private kids’ playground attached. That was one of the attractions for them. Uma had encouraged Manvik to pick the kids up. He bought them ice-cream, as a blatant attempt to curry favor, and showed them the playground first. The kids ran to the equipment and played for thirty minutes, while Manvik looked on from a bench. He really did care about the kids, and felt he might be falling in love with them too. He knew that even if he didn’t, he would still care for them, and do what was best for them, always. He managed to finally drag them away, and up to the condo. Uma was sitting at the kitchen counter, on one of two stool that served as the only furniture in the condo. She was going through a brochure of paint colors, while another few with furniture in them lay on the counter. Manvik’s previous place had been furnished. They hadn’t moved their other belongings yet, waiting until they bought all the furniture they needed first. The children virtually ignored Uma as they ran around the condo, looking into each of the bedrooms, the bathroom, looking out the windows of the beautiful views. The were on the 27th floor. Nowhere near as high as the last place, but still with spectacular views. They argued over who would have which bedroom. Uma was delighted to see everyone so happy. Indira couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower (who knows why she was trying), and called Manvik, not Uma to help. This made Uma so happy. It was such progress for Indira, over what had been a rough several months. That night, the four of them sat on pillows Manvik had retrieved from the car. He had laid down a blanket, and they ate pizza from the nearest take-out place. The kids had picked the cuisine. Uma hardly ever caved to them, but one night wouldn’t harm them. After dinner, they talked about how to decorate the condo. The kids got to help plan their own rooms, furniture, and paint colors. They were given near free rein in their choices. Uma dropped them home late that night. She called Samir to come outside. When he came out, Uma was standing by the car. He looked in the back window and laughed. They had both fallen asleep.
“Look at our babies Uma. Aren’t they beautiful?” he asked rhetorically, but she answered anyway.
“They are. Remember when they were born? Especially with Indi? We were so scared. No idea what to do. And look at them now.” she marveled.
“Yes.” Samir acknowledged. “Exciting and frightening all at once. They’re still babies though.”
“I know Sami. I know.”
She leaned in and kissed his cheek. He was a little surprise, but it felt right, just in that moment. He knew he would never hold her in his arms again, never kiss her passionately on the lips, never lie next to her in bed, naked or otherwise. He felt slightly saddened, but he accepted it now. He knew sometimes his feelings of anger, or sadness would rise up, but he also knew he had basically made his peace with Uma, with Manvik, and with this new part of his life.
The condo was decorated within a month, and everything they owned in place. They invited Samir in, next time he dropped the kids off. Manvik answered the door.
“Samir, how are you?” Manvik asked, much more relaxed than would have been possible a few months earlier.
“I’m good. Can you believe this cold! I’m freezing.” replied Samir.
The kids were dragging Samir into the condo. They shrieked as they pulled him from Indira’s bedroom to Aditya’s. Uma and Manvik looked on and laughed. Who would have thought this would ever be possible? When Samir was finally freed, Uma offered him a cup of tea.
“You know what? I have to be somewhere, but next time. I mean it. Next time.” he smiled as he walked out the door.
Over the next few months, the kids came twice a week. All five of them got into a rhythm that worked. The kids were thriving. Samir even stayed for tea a couple of times. The children loved it when all of their grown-ups were together. The adults were delighted to be able to act as role-models for them, and not argue all the time. One Friday night, Manvik and Uma went out to a new restaurant. It was very popular and Manvik had booked far in advance. When they arrived, they left the car off with the valet attendant, and walked towards the door. As they arrived, Samir walked out, with a woman. He had his hand on her back, as if guiding her. Uma swallowed hard. She felt jealousy well up inside her. She knew she had absolutely no right, yet there it was. She regained her composure quickly, before she and Samir saw each.
“Uma. Manvik. What a surprise!” Samir exclaimed.
He obviously wasn’t expecting them either. Uma let out a simple ‘hi’, and looked toward her replacement. She was younger and prettier than Uma, which Uma took as a comment on her personally. She knew she was being ridiculous.
“Sai, this is Uma, my ex-wife, and Manvik, her partner.” Samir announced smiling.
“Oh. I’ve heard all about you, Uma. How did you ever put up with this one?” she nodded towards Samir, and they both burst out laughing.
Before Uma could stop her, Sai pulled her into a huge hug. Uma was speechless, not something that happened often. Sai then pulled away and grabbed Manvik’s hand which she shook vigorously. Samir, Sai, and Manvik stood laughing heartily and chatted for a couple of minutes. Uma stared on in disbelief. Finally, Samir and Sai made their excuses and left. Uma gave a vague wave and mumbled something inaudible under her breath. Manvik led her into the restaurant and rubbed her back. Once they sat down, Uma took a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She was distracted, looking everywhere but Manvik’s face.
“Hey. Hey. UMA.” He raised his voice.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. That was… strange.” Uma said.
“Are you okay?” he asks gently.
“Yeah. Yes. I am actually. I mean I had some odd feelings seeing them, but no. I truly am fine.” she smiled and still had a quizzical look on her face.
The night went slowly for Manvik, as Uma didn’t talk much. It was obvious that she was distracted, and Manvik did not have to guess about what. Uma, on the other hand, was shocked when she realized they were finished dinner. Well Manvik was, she had hardly touched her food. Manvik tried to initiate sex that night, and Uma brushed him off saying she was tired. It was very unlike her. He was worried. What if she still had feelings for Samir?
The next morning, Manvik woke with the sun in his face. Uma was standing at the foot of the bed. She was naked except for an apron. A huge grin plastered itself on his face. She winked naughtily at him, and he laughed. They made love, almost as passionately as they had the first time they were together. Hungry, desperate, yet loving. Uma apologized for how distant she had been the night before. She knew it must have been hard for Manvik to see. She was just caught off guard. She put back on the apron and said breakfast would be ready in ten minutes. She turned around, revealing her naked bottom, which sent Manvik into more peels of laughter. She turned her head around, and gave him a mock dirty look.
Manvik took a quick shower and sat on the sofa in jogging shorts, and a t-shirt. Uma said she wanted to shower before breakfast too, and to wait for her. She came out of the bathroom in her towel, and headed for the bedroom to get dressed. Manvik looked suspicious, and she wondered what he was up to. She came out in sweats and a tank top, and joined him at the table. He had set the breakfast table in a formal manner. The juice was in champagne flutes, their best silverware was at the place settings, and he had the linen napkins folded into swans on their plates. She laughed and looked sideways at him.
“What are you up to Manvik Agarwal?” she questioned.
“I just thought we could use a romantic breakfast after our dinner was disturbed last night.” he answered.
“Hmmm…” she mused.
She sat down and took her napkin off the plate. Something clanged on the plate. Oh my God. There was a beautiful gold ring on her plate, with a diamond solitaire in the middle. Manvik stood up from his seat, and kneeled down beside her. She turned to face him, allowing him to place a hand on the thigh just above her knee.
“Uma, please make me the happiest man in India, and be my wife?” he asked nervously.
She could see how nervous he was. Bless him.
“Manvik. Oh yes. Of course yes.” she replied with a giggle.
They both burst out laughing, Uma’s mixed with tears. He placed the ring on her finger. He had played detective when buying the ring. He borrowed one of Uma’s existing rings and brought it to the jeweler to have it sized. He was very proud of himself. Manvik scooted his chair around the table to be right beside Uma. They ate at a leisurely pace, and talked about the future. He mentioned that he had intended to propose the night before, but thought better of it after what happened with Samir. She was glad he had waited. He was eager to talk about the big plans. Uma indulged him. They also discussed how they should tell Indira and Aditya, an decided Uma should tell Samir first alone, and figure out with him how to tell the kids. Uma went over to collect the kids the following weekend.
“Hi Uma. The kids are out the back. Let me get them.” said Samir as he opened the front door.
“No. Wait Samir. I’d like to talk to you about something.” she let him know.
Samir nodded and said, “go ahead.”
Uma was nervous. “Samir. Manvik and I are getting married. He proposed last week.”
“Wow. I… I… congratulations I guess.” he said in a dubious voice.
“I’m sure this is difficult for you to hear, or maybe you just feel caught off guard…” she said.
“No. It’s fine. I guess I could see it coming. Maybe not this soon, but yes. I’m not totally surprised. Do you have any plans yet?” he asked.
“No. Not yet. Manvik is very eager, but we are in no rush. Well I’m not.”
“Ah, the vigorousness of youth!” Samir laughed.
Uma joined in. They discussed how to tell the children, and decided to do it there and then. It would be good to have Samir there, incase they were angry with Uma. Samir called them in, by telling them their mother had arrived.
“Mama!” boomed Aditya.
He wrapped his arms around her. Indira wandered in and smiled at her mom, giving her a simple ‘hi’.
Samir told the kids, “Sit down guys. We want to talk to you two.”
Indira looked suspiciously at them, but sat down regardless. Adi sat beside her.
“The last time you sat us down together was bad news. Is this more bad news?” Indira asked.
“No sweetheart. It’s not,” Uma replied. She dove right in. “Kids. Manvik and I are going to get married…”
“Yay,” shouted Adi. “Cool. Do we have two dads now?”
Both Uma and Samir laughed. He was no longer threatened by Manvik. He knew his position was safe with the kids, and since he’d started dating Sai, the past did not bother him nearly as much.
“No sweetheart. I am still your daddy, and Manvik is still your other important adult. You do have three people who love you, and take care of you, and that won’t change.” said Samir.
Uma felt so lucky. From what she heard, most divorced couples never got past the kind of relationship that she and Samir had for the first few months after their separation. He was an amazing father, and so open with Uma and Manvik.
Indira was silent, but looked like she was thinking rather than getting upset.
Aditya piped in again, “Daddy. Does that mean you and Sai will get married?”
Once again Samir laughed. “No Adi. Not right now anyway. Mommy and Manvik have loved each other for a long time. Sai and I are just getting to know each other. I do care about her a lot though.”
Aditya looked puzzled and then nodded to show he was satisfied with the answer. He ran off to grab his bag for Uma and Manvik’s place.
Uma got up and sat beside Indira.
“Indi honey. How are you doing? Do you have any questions?” she asked.
“Mom. I was just thinking. I guess it won’t change anything, right? We’ll still go to you twice a week, and stay in your condo?”
“Of course sweetie. Everything will be just the same.” Uma shared.
She nodded, and followed Aditya upstairs. Uma let out a huge sigh. She hadn’t realized she was how nervous she was.
Samir smiled at her, “That went reasonably well. I love that Adi thought I’d be marrying Sai, just because you two are getting hitched!”
“Well Samir, never say never!” she replied..
“Uma. I really am happy for you. I never thought I would say that. Things were very hard for me at first. I really resented you…” he said.
“With good reason…” she interrupted.
“Let me finish,” he gently reprimanded, “I don’t feel like that anymore. I do love Sai, and I hope eventually we will marry. I’m not ready yet. We’re still getting to know each other.”
They smiled at each other, both genuinely happy, but there was a tinge of what once was.
Manvik and Uma spent the next few months planning the wedding. They felt there was no need for a long engagement. They both knew it was what they wanted. Uma and Lavanya went shopping for the sari Uma would wear. It took several trips to many stores to find the one she loved. Every time she came back empty handed, Manvik would tease her.
“Uma. I would love you whatever you wore. Or whatever you didn’t wear,” he laughed winking at her.
“Oh quiet you, Mr. Cheesy!” she quipped back.
Eventually they found the perfect sari, and a beautiful necklace of gold leaves. Manvik, of course, found his kurta on his first trip out, much to Uma’s feigned annoyance.
The big day quickly arrived. Uma and Manvik felt it important that Samir be invited. They were not sure if he would come, but they wanted him to have the choice. Hi said he would be delighted, and that Sai would accompany him. This indicated that they were indeed very serious about each other. A couple would not attend a wedding together if they were merely dating. Samir was going to be bringing the children too. Uma couldn’t help but imagine the reverse happening: her and Manvik bringing the kids to Samir and Sai’s wedding. How things had changed over the last couple of years.
When Uma stood at the end of the aisle, Manvik held his breath. She was absolutely stunning. He truly felt like the luckiest man alive. Uma had her head pointing slightly down, and glanced up to look at Manvik. She blushed at him, and reminded him of a shy school girl. He felt flattered that he made her so. When she got to Manvik, they threw caution to the wind, and kissed each other on the cheek. Who cared what tradition dictated. They held hands as the wedding happened. They were both nervous and excited. When they were officially married, they turned to face their guests. Uma and Samir caught each other’s eyes. They smiled, and a tear rolled down her cheek. She was delighted to be Mrs. (Dr.) Agarwal, but she remembered back to her wedding to Samir. Her innocence. Her hope. Her delight. This time was different, and yes, better. There was no denying that marrying someone you already loved dearly, was the most wonderful thing in the world. She and Manvik had built up their relationship, with love, trust, and friendship. They knew each other intimately, and she knew they would be together for the rest of their lives. She could not regret the past. She and Samir had built a wonderful family, and it taught her how to love others. Without her marriage to Samir, she would not have Indira and Aditya. She looked at Samir, Sai, Indira, and Aditya, and then to Manvik. She appreciated each and every one of them. They all played different roles in her life, and were a large part of what made her who she was. She truly felt like the luckiest woman alive.