It is still dark outside. Anita can see the sliver of night between her heavy brocade bedroom drapes. She flips over to her bedside table (an ornate find from her travels to Kutch). 3 a.m. her fancy phone says. Even fancy phone cannot hasten the time ticks. Three hours to go for her pretence alarm ring. She stares at the ceiling for seven minutes, gives another fifteen to Milind till his slow heavy breath assures her he is fast asleep, and she steals herself out of bed. She cannot take it anymore.
This is her story every single night. Every single night since the past two years. Since some months after she wedded Milind three years, five months and twenty days ago.

Milind is the near human possibility of a fairytale Prince Charming. Looks not really chocolate sweetness, but he is of a noticeably well crafted physique, with an above average score of emotional intelligence. A look at the upward graph of his web advertising startup ’HandleIT’, and his business acumen can be critically approved of.

Their marriage was ‘arranged’. An alliance between two families enthusiastically mediated by a pushy common friend. Anita and Milind had courted for six months before their wedding date to ascertain they were ‘made for each other’. They fell in love after their wedding vows…gradually.
        Their marriage now knows true love. One of those enviable ones which entices gossipers to find hidden cracks to wrench open.
        This is the reason Anita has been on medication for insomnia.

Anita protects a truth close to her breast, a truth that she fears will burn this fairytale alive.

Their perfect romance has been discussing babies since two years. Less so now because of Anita’s waning strength. Anita is a patient of insomnia. 
        It started about two years ago, Milind can recall. He had questioned Anita’s heavy eyes drooping on tired cheeks one breakfast morning. “Work pressure,” she had said. “I have had little sleep last week. Don’t worry.” A month later when Milind saw her through half asleep eyes staring at the ceiling, he had pushed her to take a thirty days work leave on medical grounds. Fifteen days later, she still stared at the ceiling, bored eyes wide awake. Baffled, and absolutely helpless, Milind had called Saps. Saps was confused too. She had never known her soul friend this way. (Maybe once, a very long time ago. But that was very very long ago.) Milind’s desperation took him and Anita to various counsellors and sleep therapists and alternate method practitioners. Anita had proved a good patient to all. Made regular notes in a sleep diary. Heard sleep music as her nightly ritual. Medication, meditation, exercises. She did it all. All for Milind. She could not bear to see how he pained for her.
        Anita’s condition now is in the ‘difficult-to-get-appointment’ hands of Dr. Leela Pathak. Milind feels he can see an improvement. That Anita is sleeping a bit longer, her eye bags a lighter shade of charcoal have given him a little respite.

Anita remembers that day vividly. A stem of red wine in her hand, the other around Milind, they were immersed in each other and the sunset. It was a few months after their first anniversary. She was afraid how perfect life was for her. “Darling, let us seal our love into a new life. A part of you, a part of me. Let’s have a baby,” Milind had proposed. Anita had felt her abdomen jerk, squirm tight, her heart in her mouth and warmth flooding her eyes. She had hugged Milind so tight. That is all she could do; her entire self shamelessly poured down her cheeks. Milind was overjoyed. He squeezed her tighter into his exhilaration. She had succumbed to it. She could not correct his assumption.
        Anita had not slept that night. Nor the next. Not for the days to come, nor the months which followed. It has been two years since. How could she? How can she? The truth that had permitted her an experience of the purest joy, now numbs her with searing heartache.
        Eight years prior to her marriage to Milind, Anita had gotten aborted the tiny littleness living inside of her.

An overnight office retreat had impregnated Anita at twenty-one, the sonography probe confirming her cause of anxiety was four months old. She saw this tiny bubble on the monitor screen. Her heart pumped so hard into her head, she had blacked out. Kind, concerned eyes had watched her awake and prescribed to-do’s and a detailed outline of her options for her pregnancy. 
      Walking out of the clinic was all the time it had taken Anita to absorb what she had seen on the screen. A warm feeling of comfort had pulsed in her stomach pit and slowly oiled its way into her entire being. Without warning, a strange sense of happiness, of completion, of purpose had slapped her hard, slapped her awake. She was dripping in ecstasy! She had life growing inside of her! A heart breathing! She was a mom! A mom! The madness had seized her.

She guarded this feeling so tightly close to her bosom till it had started to ooze out of her pores. It took her a few days to calm down; and about a week later she had met Saps for coffee and her secret.

“No, the father does not know, and does not need to. No, I have not talked to anybody about it. Yes, I can take care of it all by myself. Things will work out for my baby and me. I will work things out for us. I know it will be rocky. YES, DAMMIT! I AM HAVING THE BABY!” She had stormed out, leaving behind an untouched coffee mug and a troubled Saps.

Four weeks later, she was being wheeled out of the clinic, Saps beside her. Anita was stunned. Just stunned motionless. Stunned at what had just happened. Aghast and disgusted with what she had just done. What did she do! Why did she do it! How could she go ahead with it!!! Saps! Saps made her do it! Saps had bared open for her the implications of her choice in the society she hailed from. It was unsafe for her and her baby. “Why did Saps do that! Why? Why? WHY!!” Anita knew the decision was her own, but she needed someone to share the guilt with.

She touched her abdomen. It had felt lifeless. She moved her palm over her belly hoping for some remnants. Her tears were in agony. Her soul had started to parch up. She caressed her belly every hour of every day, begging for forgiveness, until remorseful tears started drying up. Weeks were swallowed by months and three monsoons later, her wound healed leaving behind just a scar. A scar that had started turning so faint in her memories that it blurred with the rest of her life’s experiences. She would have had to pick at it to see it.

And Milind’s  proposal against a backdrop of that perfect pink kissed sunset, did just that. It had gnawed at her wound till it had bled.

Anita knows why she cannot sleep. Yet, she continues to play pretence. Till the time she can trust her marriage with her truth. Her truth floods her with pure, virgin happiness that she had known of a long long time ago. Her palm subconsciously caresses her flat belly and it brings a knowing smile like a hello on her lips. And she feels the insides of her belly retract in reflex under her touch when she thinks of Milind, when she thinks of how bad she wants her womb to bear their child, when she thinks of what her truth can do to Milind, what it could do to their perfect marriage. She does not want to see that her truth is already shredding it.

It is a truth she loves and hates.


(Fiction is but a thin line between the real and the imaginary)

Thank you so much Rachel Poli for this prompt. It inspired to write.
Big thank you to Sadje too for guiding me to this prompt.

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