Thursday 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Jayasri Viswanathan


Nina checked herself one more time in the mirror.
Not bad. I am not ageing too badly for mom to two, with one in
college. She wouldn’t be able to even guess.
She checked the string of ivory water pearls on her neck again. They went
well with her soft blue and white saree that she had especially bought for
It was a special day. She was going to meet Sylvia after 20 years. Sylvia
was her roommate from college and was living in the US all these years.
They had a lot to talk about.
“Didi, driver aa gaya,” her maid announced.
Nina rose carefully, checked herself in the mirror one more time and
proceeded towards the door.
It was a beautiful autumn morning in Delhi. The car took about 25 mins to
reach Lodhi Road from Maharani Bagh. They cruised past several trees
shedding yellow leaves gently on the wide, elegant Lodhi Road before
taking a final turn to Mansingh Road. Sylvia was staying at a hotel there
and was expecting Nina eagerly.
“Not Lunch, we meet sooner. You come as soon as you can,” Sylvia had
demanded over phone last night.
Nina reached at 10:15 am. She was trying hard to not look too excited
when she got into the lift. Maybe she has changed. O God! Why am I
so nervous? Calm down, Nina!
But here she was. Room No 508. Sylvia.
Nina rang the doorbell and took in a deep calming breath as she heard a
quick turn of the knob.
aaaaaaa,” Sylvia cried happily before hugging her in a tight wrap. “Look at
you, so pretty”
Nina looked at Sylvia and her jaw fell. It took her a moment to speak.
“And you. Your hair…so short… I was thinking of the old Sylvia but look
at you now. You look different.”
“Change is good, baby. Took me a while to figure things out. How long has
it been? 20 years! Imagine,” Sylvia exclaimed in a thick American accent.
“I know. Plenty to catch up on. We last met at your wedding. Hey, where is
Krish? How is he?”
“Hmm… You have so much to catch up on. Krish and I divorced about 5
years after our marriage,” Sylvia said casually.
“Oh, Sorry about Syl…I didn’t know.”
“Big deal, babes. It happened 15 years ago. He is happily married now.
Lives in New Jersey with his wife and son. No hard feelings. I am still in
touch with the family. They are lovely.”
“And what did you do after the divorce?” Nina asked in concern.
“Well, I decided to complete my education. Got into a B-School and got a
job,” Sylvia beamed.
So I was getting anxious about nothing. She still hasn’t changed a
“Aaaannnddd,” Sylvia said gently, “also met someone wonderful there
and since then there has been no looking back”.
“Alright”, Nina said grinningly, “That’s great Syl. That is fantastic news.
Who is he?”
“Ummm …not he. SHE”
“She. Alex. We met at the B-School.”
Nina was still trying to figure out a reaction. “Sylvia…when…I mean…
Did you always know?”
Sylvia just smiled.
“I am sorry, Syl. It is just that…it was a bit sudden, you know. I mean, we
were roommates and all..,” Nina said apologetically.
“It is okay, Nii. I sometimes get that from people. I guess I always knew…
I mean some part of me always knew,” Sylvia said and her voice became
soft again “I was in denial till I met Alex. Once she helped me understand
who I really was, I didn’t have to deal with conflicts with myself any
Nina understood that Sylvia was visibly in a happy, nurturing relationship.
Oh, how I have lost the count of men who tried to befriend me to get
closer to you, Sylvia. You knew that. How we would make fun of
them and laugh at their silly efforts. You never cared about them,
Sylvia. But why didn’t you tell me? I was your best friend, I thought.
You could have told me.
“Where are you lost, Nii? What are you thinking about? Would you like to
have something? I ordered for some tea and juice before we have lunch,”
Sylvia’s cheerful voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Ah, nothing. Yeah, tea and juice sounds perfect”
Something in her tone seemed different to Sylvia. She hoped it wasn’t
what she was thinking it to be.
She quickly changed the subject
“And what have you been up to, Nii’? How are things with you and Ajay?
You must be having children now.”
“Well, Yes. I have two sons. The elder one is going to finish college this
year,” Nina said proudly.
“What are you saying? Nina Saran, who can say that you look like a
mother to two grown up boys. Fantastic. And Ajay?”
Ajay….he is fine, I guess,” Nina paused and added painfully, “We
divorced when my second son was born. He said we were not compatible.”
They both grew silent for quite some time. Nina seemed lost in her own
thoughts and Sylvia didn’t want to disturb her. Suddenly, the room bell
“It is the room service… Here, Nina. Have some tea.”
“Thank you”
After a while, Sylvia asked, “tell me, did you ever find someone, you
know, after the divorce? I mean, you were still young”.
Nina looked at her with glistening eyes, as if fighting hard to defeat some
unspeakable pain. Then she smiled and said gently, “No, I loved once and
that is it. Not everyone is as lucky as you were, my dear.”
Nina, my poor Nina, forgive me. I thought you married Ajay only
because your parents asked you to. I am sorry, Nina. I was wrong
about you. You loved him and he didn’t understand.
They chatted for a few more hours after lunch. They laughed and spoke as
if there never was a gap of 20 years. It was as if they still were in their
hostel room, comforted in the knowledge that the college was not going to
end any time soon, vacations were conveniently short and none of the boys
were good enough to drift them apart.
It was Sylvia who noticed that it was beginning to dark. “Nina. I hate to
cut this short but I need to make a few work-related video calls. They are
kinda important. You think you could wait for a while? We can have dinner
“Oh no. Wish I could stop but my sons must be returning home. I need to
get back. But take time out for me soon. Okay? I want my family to meet
Their good-byes lasted for another hour before Nina left. Sylvia closed the
door behind her and heard her foot-steps grow fainter till she couldn’t hear
them anymore.
She plugged the wire to her laptop and switched it on. She had set an old
photo as the wallpaper on the desktop. It was a picture of Nina putting
both her arms around her neck and clasping it tightly.
They both looked carelessly happy. They were 16.
She logged in to the software and clicked the only name that was showing
as “available online”. It was the only name she wanted to connect to. It
was Alex.
“Sylvia, my girl, how did it go?”
“I am glad I made this trip, Alex. I met Nina. She is divorced but still in
love with her ex-husband. I guess I found my closure. How are you
“Great. Only that Krish is giving me sleepless nights with his snoring but
doctor says that it only because of the nasal surgery. It will be fine soon.
By the way, what did you tell her? I mean, how did she react when she
found out that you were never into Krish or any other man, for that
“As I had predicted it before. Oh, by the way, I have a feeling that she
thinks that you and I are a couple,” Sylvia winked mischievously.
“Really. And why would she think so?”
“I think, maybe, it was the way had told her. I told her that I no longer had
to deal with conflicts after I met someone wonderful like you.”
“Syl, you could have just said that I helped you come out. Why twist it?”
“I couldn’t, Alex. I wanted to, and I almost did, but it didn't look like she
could understand my feelings. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I
could never love anyone the way I loved her. I couldn’t tell her that Krish
knew it all along and he only helped me come out. I couldn’t.”
“So you lied?”
“Just hid the truth. She loves someone and that is not me”.
Down in the lobby, Nina sat waiting for her car. It was almost dark. It
reminded of that night when Ajay had walked out of their house with tears
in his eyes.
“Why did you do this to me, Nina? You still are in love with her? It has
always been her?”
“I am sorry, Ajay. I am truly sorry. I didn’t know about how I felt either.
Please forgive me,” she was crying.
Nina began to think about those sleepless nights and aching days. What
would she have done if she didn’t have her children? She shuddered to
even think about the answer.
She had no complaints against Ajay. He had been a good husband and
continued being a great father to his children. His new wife had always
treated his sons with affection and kindness and Nina had always been
thankful to them for that.
But did the pain ever go away? It had only increased after Sylvia left for
the US.
Nina tenderly took out an old photo from her purse. It was of two teenage
girls. One was clutching her arms around other’s neck. She always had
carried that picture with her.
She wondered if she had a chance had she told Sylvia or maybe her own
parents. They would have never supported her. Or maybe her mom would
have. Like Sylvia’s mom. Probably.
It doesn’t matter now. She loves someone and that is not me.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing. I got goosebumps the whole time I was reading it! You are a fine storyteller, friend. Wow! Just, wow!