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As the sun sets and the darkness of the night envelopes, as society departs and all facades become needless, man comes face to face with himself. There is no need to hide in the darkness.
A wave of fear and anticipation, almost scandalous titillation, swept through Samir as he latched the door from the inside. It was as if he had cut out the world for the night.

“Pathak sahab has left for Mumbai. His wife is not keeping well. It’s just you and Kavita madam staying tonight,” the housekeeper had said as he handed the keys to Samir. He was to spend a night with Kavita in some obscure company flat in some obscure corner of Bangalore. It would have been very easy had Kavita been just another office colleague. They would have had dinner, cribbed about the company and gone to sleep in their different bedrooms. But exactly two weeks from now he and Kavita were to get married, to become man and wife.

That single, undeniable fact changed the whole situation. He loved her dearly and it was only natural he thought to feel a strong physical attraction to her now. Like a soldier before a war, he tried to find justifications to assuage his guilt. It is easy to fight lust – there is the reward of having stuck to a moral stand, but how was one to fight love? It would not be right, he thought, to take advantage of the situation and that made him feel good and righteous. It was the moral stand he was looking for. Destiny had brought them together tonight and he would let destiny control things hereafter. They were adults in love and as long as there was no coercion, nothing was wrong. After all how could something which was to be sacred two weeks from now be sinful tonight?

Kavita heard the door close and felt her hands tremble as she brushed her hair. She knew Pathak had left for Mumbai and they would be alone that night. Theirs was an arranged marriage though they worked for the same company in Mumbai. She remembered the acquaintance and the long courtship, the hours they spent chatting at the railway station before they left for home. Somewhere along the way she fell in love – ‘inducted’ would be more technically correct but ‘fell’ was more romantic, it conveyed a certain recklessness. She remembered the first time he had touched her. They were crossing the busy street outside Ghatkopar station when he suddenly pulled her by the arm as an auto rickshaw darted across. He held her firmly till the traffic eased, like a parent, and she could feel his grip even after reaching home. Later whenever she felt the need to be close to him she would repeat the trick. Once during a movie they had kissed in the dark of the cinema hall. It was as pre-meditated and clumsy as a first kiss but she fondly remembered it when she was alone. She wanted to be held by him and to feel his arms around her. She wished they could be one tonight. Somehow a fortnight seemed a lifetime away suddenly.

Kavita wore a red salwarkameez with a matching dupatta. For a moment she had toyed with the idea of leaving the dupatta aside, but then decided against it. She was eager to co-operate but did not want to take the responsibility of the initiative. Samir saw her and realized he would be fighting a losing battle. It was the red of the bride.

“Pathak is still in office?” she asked with feigned surprise. She had practiced it a couple of times in her room.

“He has returned back to Mumbai. His wife is not well. I am afraid we will have to finish the dinner between just the two of us.” They smiled at the labored humor like guests at an official party and he hoped he had not emphasized too much on ‘dinner’. But he need not have worried for she felt no hunger for food. They were like secret agents of an intelligence unit waiting for the other to say the code that would identify themselves to the common objective. Silence settled, like an uncomfortable guest, waiting to be courteously shown the door.

“It’s so relaxed and peaceful here,” he said.

“Yes. One can never get such quiet in Mumbai.”

“And loneliness,” he added.

“And loneliness.” She immediately concurred and then realized she had betrayed herself with the suddenness of her response.

The signal was not lost on him. The first level of code had been cracked and he pursued with vigor, his conscience lightened by her seeming co-operation.

“It is just like being on honeymoon.”

“Honeymoons must be so hectic.”

“Why?” he asked, not wanting to let go off the ‘honeymoon’ thread so easily.

“I mean so much of sight-seeing and moving around and…”

“And having to stay awake all nights.” He completed the sentence for her.

He had seen the opening and rammed home his advantage. Like actors in a staged duel, they had played their parts to perfection. He was the aggressor and she was the defenseless victim. He had delivered the crushing blow and she felt she had to play her part by conceding defeat.

Slowly, as if like it was an accident she let her dupatta slip. In a defiant show of victory he stared at her and in that one moment of lust he realized he had lost everything. She read his stare with a woman’s instinct and felt a sudden and sharp desire to cover herself with the dupatta again. But she sat there unmoved, not wanting to incriminate her lover with that one action. She too had played her part and it would have been wrong to absolve herself of all culpability, to make him look the sole conspirator.

He couldn’t get himself to look up at her again. The moment had come and gone forever. The play was over and he felt the emptiness an actor might feel after the curtains have come down, when he no longer need to be in character. Lust was only a façade and he was not so conceited as to cheat himself.

She was sitting motionless, her eyes closed shut yet unable to hide the tumult within. He realized he had never loved her so much before. He walked up and wrapped the dupattaaround her.

“I am sorry,” he whispered, “I should not have started this.”

She hugged him tightly and they kissed long and deep like long lost lovers reunited.

“Is it all that wrong?” she asked, trying to lighten the burden for him and her.

“It may not be. But I may not feel happy at the end of it. And I don’t want to feel like that for the next two weeks.”

She felt a sudden fear that he would leave her and go back to his room. She would not be able to sleep alone tonight. “Let us go to the balcony,” she pleaded, wanting desperately to get away from the flat into the open air. It was as if they had just had illicit sex in that room and it was necessary to get away from the scene of crime.

The air outside was fresh and pleasant and the city stretched down below, languid and serene, enveloped in the cozy comfort of a cool night. There was an armchair big enough for both of them to fit in. He held her close to him and she rested her head on his chest and stared at the bright clear sky above.

“I always dreamt of a bedroom from where I could gaze at the stars as I slept. I don’t know if it would be possible in Bombay.”

He kept quiet but she realized what he must have been thinking now. She snuggled close to him and looked into his eyes.

“We will have one someday. Read some of your poetry to me.”

He began reciting as if by memory.

Kuch yaad dilate hai yeh raat
jab dulhan bankar tum aaogi
jab hatonki heena rang layegi
aur sehr eke phool surkh ho jayenge
jaise safedse j par bichelaal gulaab
tumhare rukhsarpe do phool khil jayenge
jab larjhte hotonpe hogi khamoshi
aurj huki palkon me dabi hui sharm
aagosh me aakar mitjayegi
naro ksa koonga main khudko
no mujhko tum rok nachahoge
kuch yaadd ilati hai ye hraat
jab dulhan ban kar tum aaogi

He paused for an appreciative sigh. She had fallen asleep, holding him tightly to ward off the cold. The dupatta had slid off and she slept with the carelessness and gay abandon of a reassured child. He bent down and kissed her lightly so as not to disturb her sleep.

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