This story is by Prema Narayanan and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
It was a warm Friday afternoon. I was fidgeting. Looking at the floor and trying not to glance up. I could feel him across the room. I felt his movement at the corner of my eyes. His very presence made me uncomfortable. We had not spoken for months. It made me edgy. Why were the walls this horrid brown, I repeated to myself over and over again. Why could they have not painted it a more pleasant colour? It was as morbid as the reason I was sitting there. The nausea I felt was getting worse by the minute. I should have grabbed some coffee. Even holding a cup of coffee would be a good distraction right now.
“How long will the whole thing take?”, I asked just 2 days ago as I sat across Sandra, taking a sip of my favourite latte.
Sandra was the 2nd lawyer I had engaged. I was proud to have her on my side, feeling smug that we would definitely win this. Sandra was wearing a sweat shirt and tights, her large glasses over her nose and smelling of her usual perfume. Her eyes gave a clear indication of someone who never has enough sleep. She patiently went through the procedures with me. It seemed simple enough and should have taken less than an hour to end. Isn’t that what she told me? So why was this taking so long? I was starting to get agitated. Across the room, he continued to sit there, looking ahead at the blank space in front of him. I kept wondering what was going through his mind. There was no one else in the room. The lawyers had adjourned into the judge’s chambers, the door was closed and I could hear the murmurs inside. My fate and future was being decided in that small square room.
The silence of that moment, the emptiness of the huge room, the sadness of knowing the man I was married to was now a stranger across the hall, the pale brown walls and the absurdity of the moment streaked past me like a lightning bolt. Seconds moved to minutes and the minutes dragged to hours. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes and disappear from here. This was not happening to me. This is a place I did not want to be right now. I was needed at the office and did not have time for this. It’s something that’s important too and needs your attention. That was Sandra’s advice to me when I tried to manoeuvre myself from attending today. It has forced me to let go of everything and be here.
The days and nights of the last 3 years came to me in that one fleeting moment. I was floating in a dream that was going to fade away as soon as the afternoon sunlight faded through the windows. I sat there fretting a little longer, when it dawned on me that this was my reality. I was still in denial. This was the final meaning to the word divorce that I had uttered almost 36 months ago on a late summer’s night to the man I had fallen in love 20 years ago. It had been so easy to say it. It was just another word, with a list of descriptions that you could look up. That word hung over my head now as I sat there, almost struggling to breathe. Was it regret, pain, disappointment or fear that was wrenching at my heart right now? For a second I had an image of myself getting up, calmly walking to the strangers in the small room, telling them that I had changed my mind, I didn’t want to do this, turn around, take Ian’s hand and walk back to the life that I had known. I didn’t. I couldn’t. It was too late to do any of that. I was too deep into this to even take a step back. I had given up trying.
I pushed the images away and started to think about the people in the office who would be hurrying through the afternoon, pretending to be busy when all they were wishing for was the day would end and the weekend would start. Melissa, my young Engineer was probably thinking about the dress she was going to wear for her date tomorrow night. She was seeing someone new and has not stopped talking about him ever since. Everyone’s names and faces passed through my mind. How normal everyone’s life seemed to be. How did my life get so complicated and tangled like a large knot with no beginning nor end? I heard the judge’s door open and I turned to see a glimpse of my lawyer nodding her head and looking quite pleased. The door was once again closed. Ian had not once looked my way. It was getting very awkward for just the 2 of us to sit there. Should I say something to him? I could not think of anything to say.
I had been the one who dared to utter the word divorce on that night in December. I remember every word and reaction that coursed through Ian and I as we both stood there in the darkness of my bedroom trying to make sense of the situation. Juliana, my baby girl was asleep on the bed. It was a cool night but both of us seem flustered. I was standing with my arms folded looking frustrated and tired. Ian was upset as usual and his face was grimaced. We stood so far apart from each other like we were a pair of strangers that had met on a train for the first time. Was this the man who had touched and caressed me for longer than I could remember? I could not recall when was the last time we looked at each other. We spoke to the silence in the room. Hoping some imagery figure would help convey the message and make the other person understand. How could I have ended up in this place where I could no longer make any sense of my life? Each cord seemed disconnected, playing out of tune. I no longer knew how to even play a simple song.
After what seemed like a very long day, the doors to the judge’s chambers opened and both lawyers stepped out as they chattered away with each other.
“It’s better than we expected. We’ve got this.”, Sandra smiled at me and gave me a quick pat. “Be firm and stand your ground”, she said.
I had no idea what was going on or what she meant. In the next 2 hours, my life passed by like someone else had written all the scripts and I was just acting it out. It was like the scripts were shoved into my hands just as the cameras started rolling. I wasn’t even sure what my lines were. Questions were thrown at me, answers were suggested to me. They said I had to decide now or never, I heard someone say it’s good to say yes or now is a good time to say no. I was in a complete daze. I felt myself going numb.
“We’re done here. The papers will be sent over as soon as we get it completed. I wish you both the best of luck”, the judge who I was seeing for the first time in my life got out of her chair, shook hands with Sandra, the other lawyers and stepped out.
Everyone rose, hands were shaken, papers were piled up and we were asked to leave the brown shaded courtroom. It was done. It was over. My future had been decided by a strange woman who had been given the power to re-write a person’s destiny and 2 others that I had given all my life’s savings to close a file with my name on it. The irony of it. I could not help but turn to look at Ian. He looked severely disappointed and was shaking his head, in denial, in disbelief over what had just happened. Still, not once did he look my way. At that moment, I was praying he would not look at me. It would have broken me. The burden and the blame for what had transpired sat on me. I knew he would blame me for the rest of his life for this.
“Shall we run this through so we get all the facts right?”, I heard Sandra asking all of us. She read whatever was scribbled on her notes that she had been busy capturing the whole day. I nodded each time she looked at me but I heard none of it.
As I pulled down the blinds to the setting sun outside my apartment that evening, I listened to the quietness of my heart and felt the familiar pain come and go. This pain was going to be my new companion in life. I looked around my room, feeling alone, like someone who had been thrown into the sea without a life line. I moved about suspended in mid-air without support, floating. Everything was shifting in slow motion. I watched people around me and yet I recognised none of them. All I wanted was for time to stop so I could explain and rationalise to myself what had happened. There was no stopping time. It cared not for anyone. Somehow, I felt detached from everything and everyone, including myself. I could not see clearly anything up ahead. When I thought about my future, I could only see a blank sheet of paper. I felt the hollow in my heart that only I could understand.
I went to lay quietly in the darkness of my room and let the emotions pass by one by one. A huge part of me was angry, disappointed and full of guilt. I had let myself down. It was a huge regret knowing I had spent 15 years of my life putting so much of my time, energy and effort into something that had failed miserably. I could not even look at myself in the mirror. I see my family, friends and even strangers happily married and growing in life. How could I have not been able to make it work? It was hard to swallow. I could not accept that I had failed in this part of my life. If I had tried harder, if I had spent more time at home, if I had communicated better, if I had loved my family more, if I had given more, if I had done more could I have saved my marriage? Wasn’t it more than just that? Ian and I were just two people who could no longer see eye to eye.
Without noticing, I felt the warm tears wet my cheeks. Funny how the human heart is stronger than we will ever know. It can withstand the hardest of hits, repeatedly, until one day it decides to stop beating. I knew not if I was going to be alright or if I was going to sit on my deathbed regretting the decision I had made that night 3 years ago. Who knows what is to come tomorrow? I didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t know how I was going to live my life after this, I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. Things will happen as it is meant to happen. Life will unfold as it is meant to unfold. As the night slowly enveloped me, I felt the exhaustion from the day drain me and pull me into slumber. The roads ahead may slow me down at every bend but the journey must happen and it will happen one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time.