Sujatha Bagal

Stories and essays on food, travel, culture.

The Letter – Chicken Soup Series

This story was published in 2009 in the Chicken Soup series anthology titled, ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Romantic Soul’.

Maya crammed the last of the clothes and books into the two small suitcases that lay open-faced on the carpet. She was glad to be done with the packing for their last-minute beach trip North Carolina. She was about to head down to the kitchen for lunch when her cell phone rang. She whipped it out of her jeans pocket and with a quick glance at the display screen she turned it on and sank into the sofa, glad for the few minutes of respite. It was Mukesh, her husband.

“Hey! What’s up?”

“Maya, it came through.”

“Oh, my God!” She sat bolt upright. “That is awesome! Good for you! That’s fantastic! I knew it would. You totally deserve it! Yay! What are we doing to celebrate?”

“There’s something else.”

The inflection in his tone made her pause.

“What?”

“There’s a new position opening up.”

“Yeah?”

“In Malaysia.”

“Wow.”

Maya sank back into the sofa and considered this latest bit of information. Thoughts raced in her mind. Random images flitted across. What did that mean for them? How long was the flight from the US to Malaysia? How long would he be gone each time?

“Maya?”

“I’m here. Just thinking.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Does this mean more travel?” she asked in a small voice. “How often will you have to go to Malaysia?”

“I don’t know all the details yet, but I wanted to tell you as soon as I heard. We’ll talk more when I get home, OK?”

Maya was still trying to assess the implications of what she’d learned when she called me the next day. She slowly and deliberately recounted the conversations of the day before, using me as a sounding board as she tried to get her thoughts organized.

It was rare that Maya was befuddled by anything. Our friends all thought of her as “even-keeled” and “balanced,” but we wondered how the two of them managed to pull it off – to be apart for days at a time and still function as a cohesive unit. They almost always brushed it off, saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” they laughed.

Once when I brought it up privately with her a couple of years ago, she confessed, “We’re just afraid that we won’t know how to live with each other when the kids leave to go off to college. So we try very hard to make time for each other now, so we have something to fall back on. It is hard work, but it’s worked for us so far, for us and for the kids. It doesn’t matter we don’t have a lot of time together, but we make the best of what we’ve got.”

It was apparent that they had given this some thought and were trying their hardest to make it work. In that spirit, Maya normally took things in her stride, but it was obvious that this latest development bothered her. Mukesh had travelled for work for years. When they were newly married and did not have any children, Maya missed him terribly but found it easier to manage her expectations. But, increasingly, his absences left her in a funk, as if “someone had rearranged the molecules in the air” as she described it to me. She was constantly aware of the missing spoke in the wheel as were the kids and it left them rattled. The worst time of the day was when evening rolled around and there was no one to throw open the door and say, “I’m home!”

She knew it was equally tough on Mukesh. He just missed being home, in his own little nook in the universe. He missed its hum, its unique rhythms and melodies. He missed coming home everyday and waiting for the kids to run up to him, wrapping his legs in their tiny arms. And truth be told, Mukesh missed his corner of the couch and the TV remote.

With the new promotion Maya had hoped that the periods of long absences were behind them. But it appeared that nothing was going to change. In fact, it looked all set to get worse. He would not even be able to go on this vacation with them. He had to leave for Malaysia to take over his assignment.

“Are you going to cancel the vacation?” I asked.

“No, the kids and I will still go. They’ve been looking forward to this for so long. It’ll also give me time to think.”

“That’s probably a good idea. Call me if you need to talk. And call me as soon as you get back.”

~~~~

Two weeks after we had last spoken, I walked into a house and was greeted with moving boxes piled everywhere. Maya had invited me over for coffee. As we made our way into the kitchen, past more boxes in the hallway, she laughed at the stunned expression on my face.

“I thought I’d surprise you,” she grinned.

“This is a surprise all right! What happened?”

“Well, we’re all moving to Malaysia.”

That was a distinct possibility to begin with, so I knew that was not the reason Maya seemed chirpy and walked with a spring in her step.

I waited as she poured the coffee and set out some cookies on a plate.

“We’re going to be OK, the four of us,” she said.

“Of course you are. I had no doubt about it.”

“But you don’t understand. We got on this track and we kept going with our daily routines and all of a sudden we did not know where we were or why we were there.”

She didn’t have to say anymore. I could empathize with her. We’ve all been on that track some time or another. When the act of living day to day consumes everything in sight, leaving no room to breathe, sucking the air dry of sustenance.

It was then she told me about the letter that Mukesh had written. She had found it in her inbox when she got back from the beach. She did not show it to me, of course, but she talked about it. My breath caught in my throat as her dark eyes grew brilliant with a thousand unshed tears. .

Sitting alone in a faraway country, he said he missed her and the kids, and that he wanted to tell her how he felt about them and what she meant to him. He had married Maya, the girl of his dreams, he said, and still thought of her that way fifteen years later. Her greatest gift to him were the kids, he wrote. He looked back at his life and though there were many tough situations, the journey itself had been good, he said, and the pleasant memories of his childhood were slowly being replaced by pleasant memories of the two of them and the children. He told her he loved her and that he looked forward to growing old with her.

All these words came out of her in a rush, the tears falling freely now, the tears of one who knows she’s lucky to have found a love so sweet oh so many years ago and still have it, tears of relief that her fears of “what if this is as good as it gets?” had been laid to rest.

With the mere act of writing a loving letter and taking the time to size up what his life with her meant to him, he had nourished her soul and reset her compass.

Nurturing a marriage takes a lot of work, as someone said. But no one said it couldn’t be blindingly simple sometimes. Taking time for each other had worked for them before. So it did again.

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This entry was posted on January 1, 2009 by in Anthologies, Published, Stories and tagged .
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