Sameer enjoyed running. ?He loved the cool breeze in his face, the trees whizzing past and the rhythmic thuds of his feet on asphalt. ?He felt free. ?Running helped him think. ?His runs helped him mull over his deepest thoughts and unlock his brightest ideas, quell his darkest fears and live his happiest moments. ?Sameer was truly alive as he ran. ?It was on one of these runs that Sameer first saw Priya.
Priya was like no one Sameer had ever seen before. ?He had seen many girls up to that point. ?A job at a big ticket ad agency provided him with viewing pleasures of the greatest kind. ?Yet, Sameer was not the ‘ogling kind’. ?That, he thought, was beneath him. ?But when Sameer saw Priya, he did ogle. ?She looked divine. ?It was like out of a Bollywood flick. ?It wasn’t just her toothpaste-ad-like smile or Vogue-like face. ?It was all of her. ?She had the charm to wake the dead. ?She stood casually against a tree, talking to a human form of some kind. ?She wore blue. ?Sameer found himself smiling. ?He felt dumb. But for once, his fragile ego didn’t mind.
He shifted his focus to the things around her. ?All men. ?He ran a quick analysis. ?None looked like husbands or boy-friends. ?But they all looked ready to step up to the plate. ?Not brothers. ?Sameer was disturbed. ?He hated competition. ?Not that he wasn’t up for it. ?An MBA from an American school; a high-flying job at the ad agency; described as polite and genial by most, Sameer was quite the eligible bachelor. ?If there was one aspect that bothered Sameer, it was the way he looked. ?He wasn’t mirror-cracking material, but he did play the ‘ugly duckling’ in a kindergarten play. ?And, he didn’t quite turn out to be the handsome swan, far from it.
Priya looked away. ?Men always seemed to be too close for comfort. ?They were an unfortunate necessity. ?Priya was clear in her head about men. ?They held a fixed position in her life ? providers. ?In return, she had just to be herself ? good looking, with a sufficient degree of intelligence. ?She made her man feel like a man. ?Needless to say, every man wanted Priya. ?Sameer was no different.
Sameer was not new to relationships. ?Once before, he thought he met the love of his life, his soul-mate. ?The relationship ended bitterly. ?The girl blamed his penchant for perfection, overbearing nature and deeply ingrained streak of possessiveness. ?She said that Sameer confused love with possession. ?She said that he was low on self-confidence and suffered from an inferiority complex that led him to insanity.
Insanity is a curious disease. ?When it grips an unsuspecting victim, he often turns blind to his own doings. ?Like a cornered animal, the victim seeks retribution. ?Fuelled by his quest for justice, insanity drives a victim to do the unthinkable. ?Sameer blamed the girl for his delicate condition. ?Sameer was in college at the time. ?He was in love. ?The girl enjoyed the attention and the occasional gifts. ?In return, she only had to pretend to be impressed by his amateurish photography and allow him his customary fifteen minutes in the backseat of his old Fiat. ?On one such evening, as she zipped up, she kissed him and said it was over. ?As Sameer sat baffled, she explained that she had met someone, his professor, his mentor. ?Sameer had introduced them a few weeks back over dinner.
As Sameer drove home, tears streaming down his face, he had his first spell of insanity. ?He drove to the professor’s house and defecated over his lawn. ?He slashed his wrists and smeared blood on the professor’s front door. ?A week later, he was expelled from college. ?But Sameer was not finished. ?Over the next month, he tailed his girl and the professor, with his camera. ?On the night he was to leave forAmerica, he left an inch-thick, manila envelope, on the steps of the professor’s house. ?It was addressed to the professor’s wife. ?No, Sameer was not insane by choice. ?But when provoked, Sameer could reveal a sinister side to his personality.
In a matter of three months from the day he first saw her, Sameer and Priya grew inseparable. ?Sameer could not believe his luck. ?Priya did not seem to care that her beau was physically unattractive. ?He was polite and respected her. ?Plus, the swanky car and sea-facing apartment made things uncomplicated. ?It was a perfect match.
A year into the marriage, work took centre-stage in Sameer’s life. ?An unexpected promotion into the big league meant longer hours at work, constant trips and unfortunately, time away from Priya. ?Sameer loved the work, the responsibility and the perks that came along. ?But he missed Priya. ?Thoughts of her occupied his mind. ?He wondered what his beautiful wife did when he was away. ?As time went by, his thoughts were increasingly laced with cynicism and agitation. ?He had to know.
As Priya poured him some wine late one evening, he looked hard at her. ?She seemed oblivious to his discomfort. ?He decided to play cool and put his arms lovingly around her waist as he whispered “sorry darling” in her ears.
She flashed a puzzled smile and said “why baby?”
He said he hated leaving her alone for long hours. ?He said he felt guilty. ?His job had required them to move to anew city. ?And although their three-bedroom apartment occupied the eleventh floor of a tower and contained every luxury one could dream of, complete with an unmatched view, they knew not one soul in the area.
“Don’t you get bored at home? What do you do all day?”
She replied without a hint of frustration. She seemed touched by his concern. ?“Oh, don’t worry baby. I get along quite well. ?Looking after a house isn’t an easy job, you know? ?It may not require the intellect and skills to run an ad agency, but I do need to budget for bills and necessities. ?Plus, I haven’t found a maid yet. ?And, honestly, I enjoy being alone at home. ?I’ve caught up on my reading and music and just yesterday, I had the most relaxing, hour-long bath. ?Have you heard about aromatherapy? ?It’s very relaxing. ?You should try it someday.”
Sameer stood at the French window and stared at the hill, lost in thought. ?She almost seemed happy at him not being there. ?And what was this nonsense of not finding a maid? Why did she want to spend all that time alone? ?Was she really alone?
Her hand tapped his shoulder lightly and broke his spell. ?“What happened? ?Isn’t it a beautiful view? I went for a walk the other day. ?There is a jogger’s track on the hill. ?From out there, you can look right into our house. ?I love this place. ?Are you bothered with something at work?”
Sameer feigned a smile. ?“No, just admiring the view. ?Say, how come you don’t call me that often? ?I mean, you must miss talking to someone, right?”
“Um?I thought you were very busy. ?Didn’t think it right to disturb you.”
“Oh c’mon, I can always spare some time in the day for you baby. ?Once in a while won’t hurt. ?Call me, ok? ?Or why don’t you call your mother over to stay for a while. ?She hasn’t seen the new place. ?She’ll love it.”
“Yeah, sure?um?is everything ok, Sameer? ?You shouldn’t worry about me, ok? ?I take good care of myself. ?I want you to focus on your work. ?And I do miss you a lot. ?It’s just that you got so involved in work and seemed so happy, I didn’t want to come in the way.”
Sameer chided himself. ?She was just being a supporting wife, wasn’t she? ? He felt lucky to have her. ?He pulled her close. ?“Baby, you are my priority. ?I don’t want my wife to think I’m some kind of workaholic, incapable of understanding her need for a social life. ?Let’s catch a play tonight. ?I’ve heard this new production is to die for?”
As the days wore on, Sameer grew visibly calmer. ?He spoke to Priya often during the day. ?He made her describe her day and wanted to know every intricate detail. ?He listened carefully, with a smile.
One evening, Sameer came home unexpectedly early. ?He hugged a surprised Priya at the door and kissed her passionately. ?She wore a vest and running shorts. ?Maybe she had been working out. ?She looked gorgeous. ?But, was she upset at seeing Sameer home early? ?She turned and walked into the bedroom. ?Sameer, lost in thought, threw his coat over a chair and took off his shoes. ?He was loosening his tie when he stopped. ?He noticed two wine glasses on the antique coffee table in the sitting area. ?The glasses were Belgian, a wedding gift, brought out when they were entertaining someone special. ?Sameer stood, wondering.
Priya was in the shower. ?Sameer noticed a few drops of wine in both glasses. ?Priya had invited a friend over? ?She had a friend here? ?It couldn’t be a maid, unless, Priya had decided the best way to hire help was to lure them with fine wine and vintage crockery. ?His mother-in-law was three hundred miles away and wouldn’t stop by for a glass of wine! Who was this? ?Sameer felt a sensation in the pit of his stomach. ?It unmistakably was fear. ?He walked slowly into the bedroom, still thinking of possible situations. ?Nothing put his insecure mind to ease. ?He sat gently on the bed. ?He waited. ?She stepped out in a towel. ?She was wet. ?Her hair framed her face beautifully. ?He almost got angry with her for looking so good. ?He controlled his rage.
“So, you had company?”
“I?um?noticed the glasses?someone came over?”
She smiled innocently as it struck her. ?“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. ?I was out jogging at the track on the hill. ?I sprained my ankle a bit. ?Thankfully, this young chap had a pain relief spray with him. ?I was ok in five minutes. ?We walked home. ?He lives in the next building. ?I thought it would be rude not to call him over. ?He said he didn’t want coffee, so I offered wine. ?We didn’t have any cola. ?He is quite funny, you know...”
She walked out of the room drying her gorgeous mane. ?Sameer didn’t move. ?He clutched the bed sheet in anger. ?Who was the so-called young chap sipping wine with his wife in her shorts and vest?
Sameer hurled abuses in his mind. ?He imagined some George Clooney look-alike laughing with his pretty wife over exotic wine in Belgian glasses. ?He abused repeatedly. ?He stormed out of the room.
He walked up to Priya as she folded some clothes. ?He checked his tone. ?“Good. ?Great!” He managed a smile as he clenched his teeth. ?“So, does our pain reliever, wine connoisseur have a name?” She whirled around and her beautiful lips mouthed, “Ranjeet.” ?Maybe he was imagining things, but he felt that she said the name with heaps of sexual innuendo.
He mentally castrated Ranjeet. ?“So what does he do? Is he married?”
“I think he is a property consultant of some kind. ?We didn’t talk about marriage or family.”
Huh! Bloody property consultant. ?He was firmly on my property, Sameer thought. ?And how could she not mention that she is married as she sipped wine in her shorts. ?Sameer was incensed. ?He needed a jog. ?He changed quickly and left. ?As he was stepping out, Priya asked if he would like to carry some pain relief spray as a precaution. ?Sameer froze and stared back at her. ?There was a glint in her eye, a faint smile on her lips. ?Sameer left in a huff. ?He stopped at the nearest store and bought three bottles of cola.
Sameer was once again on edge. ?He felt pity for himself. ?Where had he gone wrong? ?Didn’t he give her everything she needed? ?Didn’t he satisfy her in bed? ?He felt sick of life. ?He called Priya more often from work. ?She seemed unfazed by his repeated calls and sweetly chatted away about her day. ?She occasionally mentioned Ranjeet. ?They had been out shopping one day and Priya could not stop about how kind Ranjeet had been to drive her to the mall and carry all her bags. ?That night, Priya wore a stunning black dress for Sameer. ?She had bought it earlier in the day. ?As she slipped out of it, she said Ranjeet liked it too. ?Sameer did not feel well. ?As Priya slept peacefully at his side, Sameer shook with anger.
One afternoon, as he was lost in thought, his boss walked in with a bottle of champagne. ?“Sam, we won Gold! You did it! Get ready to fly toCannesbuddy.” ?Sameer was elated. ?He had worked so hard on the environment-friendly petroleum account. ?His “Fuel with a Conscience” campaign had landed gold. ?He took the rest of the day off to celebrate with Priya and pack for the trip.
He parked his BMW and hummed as he rode the elevator. ?He rang the bell repeatedly. ?No one answered. ?He paused. ?Where was Priya? ?Yoga ended an hour back. ?He dialled her cell phone. ?No answer. ?He called again,Cannesnow distant in his mind.
She picked up, “Hi! Say.”
Was she panting? “Where are you?”
“Why? I mean, I’m home. I forgot to carry the keys. Can you come home?”
“Sure, I’ll be there.”
His bag slipped out of his hand and fell to the floor with a dull thud. ?He leaned against the door, his hands cold, his ears hot.
She stepped out of the elevator in what seemed like hours, but was in reality, five minutes.
She smiled and leaned in to hug him. ?He stepped back.
She said, “Sorry. Were you waiting for long? ?Ranjeet is in yoga class too. ?He invited me home after class. ?He has such an amazing house. ?He did it up all by himself.”
She turned the key and they stepped in. “He sells real estate. ?Said the market’s really hot right now. ?He thinks we got a very good deal for our house.” ?She wore grey slacks and a figure-hugging black tee-shirt.
“Where is your wedding ring, Priya?”
She casually looked at her hand. “Oh, in my bag, I took it off for yoga, must have forgotten to put it on. ?Are you ok? ?Why are you home early? Not feeling well?”
“Can’t I come home unannounced?”
Priya looked confused “I didn’t mean it that way. ?You usually come so late. ?Why are you snapping at me?”
Sameer decided he had had enough. ?“Why are you forever with that Ranjeet chap? ?Jogging, shopping, yoga, where does this end?”
Priya was shocked. “Sameer, I met him just a few times. ?What is so wrong in meeting some guy? ?I don’t know a soul here. ?He is just a friend. ?I need friends.”
She stormed off into the bathroom and locked herself in. ?Sameer clutched his head and tugged at his sparse hair. ?Maybe he had overreacted.
He went up to the closed door and said, “Sorry baby. ?I’m sorry. ?I got carried away. ?It’s been so tough. ?And I spend so much time away from you. ?I acted like a jerk. ?Please forgive me.”
Priya opened the door. ?Her eyes were wet with tears. ?She mock-slapped him. ?He pulled her close and hugged her.
He whispered, “You are so perfect, I get jealous.”
She bit his neck. “Ouch! I said sorry.”
She smiled. ?“Don’t you dare ever accuse me again, understood?”
Sameer broke the good news about theCannestrip to her over dinner at the finest restaurant in the city. ?She was happy for him but sad about having to spend a week without him. ?He was to fly the next evening. ?He lay on the bed as she packed. ?He looked at her. ?He had been a fool to suspect her of being unfaithful.
She looked up and smiled. ?“You bought tickets?”
“Yeah, got them done from office, why?”
“No just asked” she said “Ranjeet also owns a travel agency, you know. He could’ve got the tickets too.”
Sameer’s face fell. ?He didn’t sleep much that night.
“I’ll have a whisky please.” Sameer said politely to the stunning French air hostess.
He slipped a sedative into the drink. ? He hadn’t been sleeping well and wanted to look his best, well, presentable, on the big night. ?The eighteen hour flight and time zones meant that he couldn’t talk to Priya till the next afternoon, the day of the ceremony.
He paced around the flight. ?A few rows back, a young couple snuggled under a blanket. ?The female pulled her partner close and kissed his lips gently. ?Sameer stared. ?Were they married? ?Were they cheating on some unsuspecting, suffering fool, miles away? ?Sameer felt sick. ?He walked back to his seat, called for a pillow and prayed for sleep.
Priya wore black. ?He loved her in black. ?She looked stunning. ?She was lying on the bed and beckoned him to join her. ?It was Ranjeet. ?He wore nothing but a belt studded with relief sprays. ?He lifted Priya in his arms and assumed a yoga-like posture.
“No! Stay away!” Sameer awoke with a start. ?He was sweating profusely. ?He looked around. ?He was still on the flight. ?The young couple slept peacefully.
He took a deep breath and drank some water. ?What a nightmare, he thought. ?He decided to meet Ranjeet the minute he got back toIndiaand bring him up to speed on Priya’s happily married life.
The flight landed. ?He itched to hear Priya’s voice. ?He called her cell phone. ?No response. ?He called home. No response. ?He kept dialling. ?He grew more impatient and suspicious by the second. ?She never responded. ?It was five in the morning inIndia. ?Where could she be? ?Sameer clenched his teeth. ?He looked around the airport. ?The world seemed to be at peace. ?All he could see was a mass of happy people. ?Were they pointing at him? ?Were they laughing at him? ?Sameer fell to the cold floor and sobbed uncontrollably. ?He wished he was dead. ?He looked at his cell phone. ?It had a picture of Priya, from their first date. ?In an instant, his face hardened. ?His movements had a purpose about them. ?He had copied Ranjeet’s number off Priya’s phone a few weeks back. ?Now, he did the unthinkable. ?He called Ranjeet. ?He steadied his nerves as the phone rang. ?Would he let insanity take over and blast the bastard? Or would he play it cool and set things straight?
“Hello?” a sleepy voice said. ?Sameer sat quiet.
“Hello?” the voice was now louder.
“Who is it baby? Come back to bed.” a woman’s voice.
The line went dead.
Sameer played the woman’s voice in his head over and over. ?Was that Priya?
A week later, back home, Sameer watched Priya like a hawk. ?He seldom left the house and chose to work from home. ?Priya did not suspect anything. ?She remained calm. ?Sameer vowed to himself, one mistake and he would end it.
Early one morning, as Priya slept, Sameer felt he could do with a quick jog. ?He ran hard and took the course Priya had mentioned so often, the hill that overlooked their apartment. ?He paused for breath under the shade of a tree.
She was right. ?You could actually look into the apartments in his building. ?He diligently counted the floors. ?There, eleventh floor. ?That’s my house, he thought.
Suddenly, he felt he saw something or someone move in the house. ?He came closer to the edge of the track. ?There was surely someone in the house. ?It was a man. ?He strained and narrowed his eyes to get a good look. ?He shielded his vision from the sun. ?The scene was clearer.
The man moved from the living area into the bedroom. ?Sameer’s heart went cold. ?There was a woman on the bed. ?Priya! ?Sameer watched as the man stood beside Priya. ?He took off his shirt and turned to draw the curtains.
Sameer yelled, “Hey! Hey! ?What the hell?” ?Sameer ran. ?He was blind with rage. ?He thought he would run down the hill, but better sense prevailed and he stuck to the jogging track carved into the side of the hill.
He ran down at an alarming rate with tears in his eyes. ?He feared the worst. ?He had barely stepped outside and they had the audacity to do it in his own bedroom? ?He would catch them red-handed. ?First, he’d hit that slime-ball Ranjeet, and then he’d deal with Priya. ?He wanted Ranjeet’s blood.
He took fifteen minutes to cover a thirty minute patch. ?He waited for the elevator. ?The damn elevator was stuck on the sixteenth floor. ?He took the stairs. ?He raced up and reached his door in a few minutes. ?He banged the door. ?“Open up. ?Open up!”
Priya opened the door in a minute, her face shocked and worried, “what happened? Why are you screaming?”
“Where is he? I saw him! Where is he?”
“Where is who?” Priya asked.
Sameer paid no heed. ?He searched the bedroom. ?He searched every room. ?He searched every nook and cranny of the apartment. ?Ranjeet was no where to be found. ?Priya was in tears.
“Tell me what happened? ?What are you looking for?”
Sameer slapped her. ?His face was red and dripping with sweat. ?His eyes bulged and his voice shook as he spoke. ?“I know what you and that bastard are up to. ?I saw it with my own eyes. ?God knows how long you have been cheating on me. ?And you?you have the cheek to ask me what is going on?”
Priya stood in silence. ?She looked Sameer straight in the eye. ?“Sameer, you believe what you want to. ?I cannot and will not play your sick games. ?I am leaving right now. ?I want a divorce.”
Sameer’s lips curled as he broke into the most evil smile. ?“Oh?right?now I see the plan. ?This is all part of the scheme is it not? ?You want my money, so you need the divorce. ?So you create this entire mess and mentally harass me, so that I accept? ?He moved closer her to her and caught her tightly by her arms. ?“Well, let me tell you this. ?I am not going to give you that divorce. ?You will not win. ?I will destroy you and that Ranjeet. ?I will kill you both.”
Priya packed hurriedly and left.
Sameer sat at the bar and ordered his sixth drink. ?What did she think? That he would never guess? ?That he would never know? ?Maybe she knew this Ranjeet for years. ?She married him for the money and kept Ranjeet on the side. ?How dare she cheat on him! He feared they would get together and kill him. ?Everything he owned would be hers if he died. ?Right there, he decided he would get them before they did. ?He thought hard and despite being inebriated, thought up a plan.
Sameer hadn’t spoken to Priya since that afternoon. ?A few weeks later, he called her. “Hi, how are you?”
“What do you want, Sameer?”
I want to kill you. ?He said, “I want you to come back. ?I want to apologise. ?I want to make things up to you. ?Please give me a chance.”
Priya kept quiet. ?“Look Priya, I know things went horribly wrong. ?But this is me. ?And I realise my mistake. ?I just need you back. ?We can start from scratch and everything will be alright.”
Priya sobbed quietly over the phone, “I did not do anything wrong, Sameer. ?I promise.”
You slit my throat bitch. ?He said, “No baby, I got carried away. ?I think it’s the stress at work. ?It’s my fault. ?Will you please come back?”
Priya was unsure. ?She said she missed him but she wouldn’t be able to handle any more stress.
His eyes flashed with anger. ?Through clenched teeth he said, “Come back. ?We will sort everything out.”
She said, “Promise me, we’ll go to a counsellor and talk about our issues.”
“I promise”, he said.
He drove the BMW out of the airport parking lot. ?Priya looked out. ?Her luggage rattled at the back. ?She held Sameer’s hand. ?He drew her hand close to his face and kissed it.
She spoke of her mother, and of the appointment she had fixed with a leading marriage counsellor in the city. ?Sameer wondered if the counsellor was Ranjeet’s contact.
He locked all doors of the car, and then unlocked his. ?He drove at a steady pace. ?The car wouldn’t go too fast today. ?The fuel tank was full. ?‘Fuel with a Conscience’, Sameer mused and smiled.
She caught the smile and smiled back, “What happened?”
“Nothing, just missed you”, he said.
“I missed you too.”
Sameer sighed and turned the volume of the system up. ?“Isn’t this a beautiful city?” he said. ?“I love the greenery. ?You know the hill behind our house? ?I like that the most. ?Did you know you can see straight into our house from that hill?”
Priya smiled. ?“Yeah, I told you so. ?You went up there? ?When?”
Sameer looked her in the eye. ?Not a hint of shame, he thought. ?Disgusting!
“The day we fought, I was up there before I came home.”
She said, “Oh. ?I thought you had left for work.”
And that is why you called him over didn’t you, bitch? ?Sameer smiled.
The car approached an old bridge that ran over one of the countless open sewers that adorned the landscape. ?Sameer checked the rear-view mirror, and then sped up.
“I saw it all, you know?” he said.
She looked puzzled, “saw what?”
He was breathing heavily. ?He spat as he spoke, “you bloody well know what! ?I saw you and Ranjeet, in the house.”
She was shocked. ?“What? ?He was not in the house. ?Are you insane?”
Sameer laughed a hollow laugh, “After all this, you have the nerve to lie?”
She began to scream. ?“Sameer, stop all this. ?Please. ?Stop the car. ?I
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