The Trouble with Love
By Dimpy Acharjee
The uneven sunlight zigzagged into the room that ridiculously lazy winter morning, that moment when you cannot decide if you want it to be morning yet. Smruti stood by the window, peering into the broken glass pieces in her hand, willing them to get back together. A tube of glue lay discarded on the table, secretly sad. Even though she could barely see in the light and put herself at great risk of slicing open her fingers, she continued on her lone she-wolf mission of repairing the photo frame. One diagonal scar through the black and white photo, sea creatures on the frame with missing limbs. She stood patiently in her grey jumper and black shorts. Toes constantly curling, lips constantly swearing.
Suddenly, there was a movement. For one brief, horrible moment, she thought she was ten again and had been caught licking the ice-cream bowl. She watched the sleeping figure hidden under the thick, chocolate blanket, pulling off a perfect Egyptian mummy look. Breathe in, breathe out – Smruti knew the rhythm. Sighing loudly at the sleeping figure and her pathetic attempts at salvaging the broken photo frame (they would simply have to get another one), She tossed the pieces into the dustbin and flexed her knuckles. Curtains drawn. Feet tiptoed back to the inviting bed. She folded her strong legs over the warm figure and enveloped it in a bear hug only lovers and mothers know. She took in the familiar, delicate scent (she would bet that she could identify it across a crowded room), her lips grazing the Rune tattoo. No point wasting a New Year Sunday morning.
When a house smells of food, that is a human moment indeed. Dimpy was vigorously stirring the pan, mapping the vegetables into their desired places. With her free hand, she took out a teaspoon of salt and let it hover over the pan. Had she added the salt? Probably not.
Smruti was stretched across the sofa, stealthily checking out good deals in photo frames on her laptop. She gazed at Dimpy, dressed in Smruti’s oversized, plaid shirt and favourite red sweater. Smiling, her gaze shifted to her bare legs. My, those legs could start a war!
Table set for two. In the five years that they had known each other (in the Biblical sense, wink wink), they had always had their Sunday meals together.
‘Sweetie, have you seen our photo frame? I can’t seem to find it,’ Dimpy asked. Smruti almost choked on the pulao.
‘Honey, I really am sorry! You know I didn’t mean to…’
Dimpy looked on, puzzled. Smruti struggled to get the right words out without hurting her.
‘Last night, the way you cried. You know I can’t bear it…’
A flash of painful remembrance crossed Dimpy’s face. They began eating slowly. Suddenly, Dimpy got up, rushed to the basin and spat out the pulao.
‘Don’t eat this shit! It’s too salty!’
‘You worked so hard at the new recipe. I don’t want to waste it. I’ll get some ketchup.’ Smruti comforted her with a glass of water.
When Smruti wanted to be happy, she thought of when they had met. When she wanted to be embarrassed, she thought of how they had met. She had cornered a classmate and was bullying her into answering uncomfortable questions. Not because she was a six feet two Ranji player and grade A student of her university, but also because she enjoyed the power. Survival of the fittest, you know the drill. She was sledging the shaking girl when Dimpy came running out of nowhere and smacked her bag on to Smruti’s shoulder.
Towering over the five feet four, heaving intruder, she could have easily taken her. She scanned the tiny creature before her, who was standing in front of their classmate, shielding them protectively with her bag. Smruti glared at them, Dimpy glared back. Neither lowered their eyes.
It is hard to forget the first time someone stands up to you.
Their paths crossed frequently after that. If you are a romantic, you would perhaps say that it was destiny. A month later, Dimpy had been diagnosed with jaundice (not a cute cold as they show in films, but messy jaundice) and was bedridden. Smruti had visited her, convinced that it was a good show for the upcoming elections (Dimpy and her peers had major influence on the intellectual and activist section of the university, and votes are votes). But you only need so many excuses to meet someone you think you do not like.
Exams, graduation and eventual, reluctant acceptance of adulthood. The big, bad world was no different that hostel life, Smruti realised. She used her strength to fend off unwanted gestures – parking lots, public transportation, markets – every place was a war zone, she told herself.
She next encountered Dimpy at an office party (it turned out that both were working in different departments at the same building). She was dressed in a red, fitting dress and shaking her wine glass. Smruti was at the bar, cursing herself for coming. Dimpy walked up to her, stilettos making sexy noises against the floor, and touched her arm. It was surprising how easily they got talking, as if they were old friends. Dimpy had just moved into the city and was looking for a house closer to work. As the clock struck twelve, she got up to bid goodbye. Although Smruti did not admit it, she had enjoyed the sudden tête-à-tête – Dimpy’s goofy smile, the way her big eyes danced with nervous energy and her fingers ran though her hair. Much to Smruti’s chagrin, she found herself admiring her legs as she walked away to greet her boss.
That was five years ago.
The beautiful house, their beautiful house. In this city, landlords were kinder to female tenants. The house was something they had found after months of struggle. Shared memories which followed were inevitable – first cramps, first cooking disaster, first kiss. After months of inner conflict and Dimpy’s patient coaxing, Smruti found the release orgasmic (pun intended). They lay together on the flea market mattress, exploring each other like favourite travel routes. She cupped Dimpy’s small face, kissing each of her big eyes; holding her gently as if afraid of breaking her. Dimpy examined her fingers, made rough after years of batting.
‘I love you,’ she whispered.
‘You bought me this blazer!’
‘Only because you insisted!’ Saying this, Dimpy pulled out a pastel pink, linen dress from the closet. Smruti backed out in mock horror.
‘Honey, pink is really not my colour.’
‘Nonsense! Pink suits you so well.’ She brandished the dress in front of her.
‘Darling, I don’t have your complexion. How about you alter it for yourself and I let you buy me another dress? There is a sale –’
Dimpy was already out of the door.
It is difficult to enjoy a party with a pissed girlfriend. Thank goodness for alcohol. Mutual friends sensing some tension, as old friends tend to, offered them their favourite drinks. Smruti nursed her own while encouraging Dimpy to partake more of her signature port wine – she belonged to the old school of thought of not drunk driving. They left as quickly as they had come.
They were in the lift when she saw Dimpy shift uncomfortably.
‘Are you okay?’
Dimpy was frowning. Not a good sign.
‘Isn’t the main gate the other way?’
‘Yes, but we need to get the car.’
‘But… didn’t we walk here?’
As the lift door opened, Smruti held her close and led her to the car.
‘Are you dizzy? Do you want to throw up? Let us go home and rest, okay sweetie? I have some reports to edit and then I’ll make you some nice chicken soup.’
The drive back home was uneventful. Dimpy had a lost look on her face as they got out of the car, but Smruti attributed it to happy wine. She motioned her to go upstairs but she did not move.
‘Would you find it funny if I tell you that I’ve forgotten our flat number?’ Dimpy asked meekly.
Smruti kissed her on the forehead. At least, drunken Dimpy was less pissed.
But the signs kept coming. Misplaced keys, watches found in the fridge, falling asleep while watching the morning news. Dimpy started avoiding parties and missing deadlines at work. The woman who could move people to any reaction through her fiery speeches on equal pay and casteism would slur her words amidst close friends. She neglected her reading (something Smruti joked that she loved more than her). Once when she refused her invitation to a shower together, Dimpy complained that it was because she was getting fat and walked out of the house.
Consultations with doctors confirmed her suspicions. The dementia was at an advanced stage and could progress to Alzheimer’s in the coming years. But there was still hope in treatment.
Smruti put on the pastel pink, linen dress and applied the eye-liner with care. Dimpy watched her with a smile, looking stunning in her red playsuit (red really was her colour) and continued to pack for the weekend getaway. Smruti thought of all the memories they had created, the love which was comforting and irritating in equal measure, the face that she had gotten so used to seeing every morning. She could have left, she could have let her be someone else’s problems, but she decided not to. She decided to play the most difficult match of her career.