Dou­ble- Crossed

How­come?

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Kal­pana Sarkar

I saw Shilpa, sit­ting far away, talk­ing to a hand­some young man. My heart missed a beat. How could it be? She had left for the meet­ing that very morn­ing. She could not be in two places at the same time. I took a few deep breaths and calmed my­self. I would ring her up. If she picked up her mo­bile... But it was switched off.

It was Mon­day, a week­day. Nor­mally, I have my of­fice lunch at my work­place. That day, I don’t know what prompted me to de­vi­ate from this sched­ule and go some­where else, when I jolly well could have gone to our canteen down­stairs. This de­ci­sion was to give me sleep­less nights later on. It could be that Shilpa, my wife, had gone out of sta­tion for work, leav­ing me alone to fend for my­self.

“Hope you can man­age, dar­ling,” she had cooed. ”I won’t be there to cook for you.”

“No prob­lem,” I had replied bravely, not lik­ing the idea of part­ing with her even for a mo­ment.

“I’ll be away for only a week,” she had pat­ted my cheek and then she was gone.

I de­cided to visit that new restau­rant, The Inn, in Con­naught Place and have my lunch.

Let me first tell you about my­self. Shilpa and I had been mar­ried for the last six months. Though it was an ar­ranged mar­riage, I was al­ready head over heels in love with my beau­ti­ful wife. I could do any­thing for her; even pluck the moon and stars if she wished. I was not sure of her feel­ings, but so far she had al­ways been friendly and af­fec­tion­ate to­wards me. I had de­cided to give her time. When she

saw how much I loved her, she would grad­u­ally start lov­ing me too. That’s what I thought, like the oaf I was.

As I en­tered the dimly-lit restau­rant, the cool air was a re­lief from the blis­ter­ing heat out­side. I se­lected a dark cor­ner and sank down in my seat. I glanced at the mot­ley crowd with dis­in­ter­est. The place was filled with the usual of­fice-go­ers. Armed with shop­ping bags, a group of women was yakking away. There were a few cou­ples with their un­ruly brats. An NRI guy was sweat­ing in his three­piece suit and drink­ing beer, while his wife, plas­tered with make-up was speak­ing with an ac­cent. Waiters scur­ried to and fro, bal­anc­ing plates on their hands. It was a typ­i­cal busy lunch hour.

And then I saw Shilpa, sit­ting far away, talk­ing to a hand­some young man. My heart missed a beat. How could it be? She had left for

The next day in the of­fice, I asked San­deep, “If your wife cheats on you what would you do?” He looked sur­prised and amused. “Is your wife cheat­ing on you?” he coun­terques­tioned. “No. But tell me se­ri­ously, what would you do?” “Lis­ten, buddy. My hard-work­ing wife. I was so proud of her, but I had my doubts too, or was it jeal­ousy? They say there are seven peo­ple in the world who look ex­actly alike. Could the woman in the restau­rant be Shilpa's looka­like?

the meet­ing that very morn­ing. She could not be in two places at the same time. Or had she come back? But then she would have in­formed me. I sat riv­eted in my place watch­ing them. They were hold­ing hands and gaz­ing soul­fully into each other’s eyes. The waiter ar­rived with my lunch, but it tasted like saw­dust in my mouth.

Iwas in a rage. My first im­pulse was to go to their ta­ble – and then do what? Yank her hair? Slap her face? Cre­ate a scene? I would be be­hav­ing like a Stone Age man. I took a few deep breaths and calmed my­self. I would ring her up. If she picked up her mo­bile... But it was switched off. Maybe, I could ring Anita, her of­fice col­league, but wouldn’t do, as they would all snig­ger and say that I was al­ready sus­pect­ing my wife of in­fi­delity.

I went back to the of­fice in a foul mood, wish­ing once again that I hadn’t gone to that restau­rant. Ig­no­rance is bliss as they say.

“Hey, Rahul, what’s up? You are look­ing glum!” it was San­deep, my friend. “Noth­ing,” I replied. “You must be miss­ing your wife, yaar. Don’t worry, it hap­pens to all of us in the be­gin­ning. But once the kids come along, one is hardly both­ered,” he slapped me jovially on the back.

‘Yeah, joke all you want. It is not your wife who is cheat­ing on you,’ I thought bit­terly to my­self.

My mind was in a whirl. I don’t know how I got through that day. I tried to con­tact Shilpa many times, but her phone was switched off. On the way home, I picked up some Chi­nese food for din­ner and at 9 pm I rang her up again.

“Hello,” I said. “How was your day?” It was a re­lief to hear her voice.

“Great, but tir­ing. I could just go to sleep.”

I heard some whis­per­ing in the background.

“Is there some­one in the room with you?”

“No, dear, it’s the TV”. The whis­per­ing ceased abruptly.

“I rang you up at lunch time but your phone was switched off.”

There was a long pause, or did I imag­ine it?

“You know how things are, sweety. All those long talks by the zonal heads So bor­ing. I couldn’t let the meet­ing be in­ter­rupted by a phone call, could I? And then we had lunch at 3 pm, imag­ine! I was starved. Tell you what, dar­ling; I’ll call you up each night. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be back by Satur­day even­ing.” We talked about this and that and then she hung up.

My hard-work­ing wife. I was so proud of her, but I had my doubts too, or was it jeal­ousy? They say there are seven peo­ple in the world who look ex­actly alike. Could the woman in the restau­rant be Shilpa's looka­like? My phone did not have a GPS. At least I could track her down. Was she in Delhi or had she gone to Mus­soorie as she had said she would?

The next day in the of­fice, I asked San­deep, “If your wife cheats on you what would you do?”

He looked sur­prised and amused. “Is your wife cheat­ing on you?” he counter-ques­tioned.

“No. But tell me se­ri­ously, what would you do?”

“Lis­ten, buddy, I would be­have in a log­i­cal man­ner. First, I would hire a de­tec­tive to find out all the de­tails. Then I would con­front my wife and ask for her side of the story. Then we would do what is best for both of us and the kids.”

San­deep had al­ways been a level-headed guy. This made sense to me. As I had noth­ing bet­ter to do, I took the day off, googled and found out a de­tec­tive agency in a shabby area of old Delhi. I climbed the nar­row steps of the build­ing where their of­fice was lo­cated. “Acme de­tec­tives – we aim to please” was writ­ten on the frosted glass door. ‘You had bet­ter be as good as your name sug­gests,’ I thought to my­self.

Mr Dhawan, a mid­dleaged man, was sit­ting be­hind a large clut­tered desk. I sat down op­po­site him and told him my sad story. He lis­tened care­fully, not­ing down some de­tails.

“Not to worry,” he said. “Here we solve all kinds of prob­lems. We guar­an­tee full sat­is­fac­tion or all your money back.”

I heaved a sigh of re­lief. So it was all for noth­ing. I paid up, took the pho­to­graphs and left. My heart was light and my pock­ets were lighter but at least my doubts had been cleared. “Thanks to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, there is this thing called photo shop­ping. Your hus­band fell for it hook, line and sinker.” Mr Dhawan looked at the good­look­ing young woman in front of him and wished he were 20 years younger. He knew that it was not his busi­ness, but he could not con­tain his cu­rios­ity any longer.

I didn’t want my money back. I just wanted to be proven wrong.

He went on to tell me about a few fa­mous cases which his agency had solved, but I was not in­ter­ested. Af­ter com­plet­ing all the for­mal­i­ties, I walked out, lighter in mind. He as­sured me that I would get the re­sults within a few days, be­fore Shilpa came back.

I guess I am a glut­ton for pun­ish­ment. I was get­ting ob­sessed with this whole af­fair. I then drove back again to The Inn for lunch, but see­ing Shilpa there with that hunk, up­set me fur­ther. I just had a cup of cof­fee and left. I was not hun­gry any more.

Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day passed as slow as a snail. There was no sign of Shilpa and that guy at that restau­rant. On Fri­day I went to the de­tec­tive agency, af­ter get­ting Mr Dhawan’s call.

“You have been quick,” I said.

“We have our meth­ods, and we also live up to our motto,” he replied. “Which is?” “We aim to please. Ac­tu­ally, you have been wor­ry­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily,” he smiled as he handed me some pho­to­graphs.

Ileafed through them. See­ing Shilpa with that bloke, sent a fresh stab of pain through my heart.

“What am I sup­posed to see?” I asked.

“Look here,” Mr Da­hawan pointed out. ”The woman in the pho­to­graph has a curved nose and a tat­too on her right hand, which your wife doesn’t have. Lis­ten to this tape. Does it sound like your wife’s voice?”

Mr Dhawan was right. The woman in the pho­to­graphs was not Shilpa. Even the voice did not match, as I lis­tened to their lovey-dovey talk on the tape.

“Such things hap­pen. Yours cer­tainly was a case of mis­taken iden­tity.”

I heaved a sigh of re­lief. So it was all for noth­ing. I paid up, took the pho­to­graphs and left. My heart was light and my pock­ets were lighter but at least my doubts had been cleared. I would never sus­pect my wife again. As I drove home, I no­ticed a pile of burn­ing leaves near the road. I stopped my car, got out and con­signed those pho­to­graphs to the flames. To­mor­row, Shilpa would be com­ing home. I had to get the house cleaned up. I would or­der her favourite food at home and we would have a can­dlelit din­ner for two. I would also give her a bunch of red roses and even muster up the courage to tell her how much I love her. Satur­day morn­ing saw Shilpa talk­ing to Mr Dhawan at the Acme De­tec­tive agency.

“It was smart of you to in­form me that my hus­band had seen me at the restau­rant with my boyfriend. By the way, how did you con­vince Rahul that it wasn’t me?” she had a hard look on her face, a far cry from the smil­ing and lov­ing wife which she had por­trayed for the last so many months.

“Thanks to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, there is this thing called photo shop­ping. Your hus­band fell for it hook, line and sinker.”

Mr Dhawan looked at the good-look­ing young woman in front of him and wished he were 20 years younger. He knew that it was not his busi­ness, but he could not con­tain his cu­rios­ity any longer.

“Your hus­band is a good man. If you wanted to cheat on him, why got mar­ried in the first place?”

“As if I wanted to! But it was all my fa­ther’s do­ing,” she said sar­cas­ti­cally. “He knew I had a wild rep­u­ta­tion and he thought mar­riage would help me set­tle down. As for my hus­band, he is a dolt. He fan­cies him­self to be in love with me. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. Next time I’ll have to be more care­ful.”

She stood up and stretched look­ing like a cat who had swal­lowed a bowl of cream. Mr Dhawan sighed. He felt sorry for the hus­band. He felt sor­rier still for the wife who had been cuck­old­ing him. What a tan­gle! He was no one to tell her about her moral obli­ga­tions. He took the thick wad of notes which she had left on the ta­ble and shoved it in the drawer. Con­fi­den­tial­ity! What was that? He had no qualms about dou­ble-cross­ing his client. His agency had cer­tainly lived upon its motto – we aim to please. We

Good ad­vice is some­thing a man gives when he is too old to set a bad ex­am­ple.

I was in a rage. My first im­pulse was to go to their ta­ble – and then do what? Yank her hair? Slap her face? Cre­ate a scene? I would be be­hav­ing like a Stone Age man. I took a few deep breaths and calmed my­self.

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