It was their 11th wedding anniversary. Yet none of them was in a mood to celebrate. Nikhil and Shilpa had been fighting for over a month now. They had bought a new apartment and their squabble was over the shifting day. Shilpa wanted to celebrate their anniversary in their new home, while Nikhil wanted to stay in their old house clinging to the last bits of memories in the house. It had been their home for 8 years.
Adamant as she was, Shilpa’d won the round. She decided she’ll take up the whole responsibility, whether Nikhil lends a hand or not.
They’d been like this; fighting on and off, back slapping, pulling each other’s leg. At first glance, they looked like cousins and not a couple. Their camaraderie was adored by every one. This was probably because they were friends since college times. They got married a few months after their convocation ceremony. Fortunately for them they had no parental issues. Their wedding was a smooth affair.
It was the life after that taught them some important lessons. Both were ambitious and both had the will to study further. With immense moral and financial support from Nikhil’s father, they had been able to achieve what they’d aimed for. Nikhil was a successful Chartered Accountant, working in one of the prestigious firms. Shilpa got a Masters degree in Mass communication, and was drawing a six figure salary.
They were happy with their DINK status. Lately, life was stressful. There were days when they didn’t even see each other despite living under the same roof. And when they did, there was constant bickering and frustration to unload. Arguments were a daily affair. ‘You don’t understand me!’ was a common statement. Cold wars and silent stares started to seem more appealing than making an effort to exchange words. Worse was when they accepted and settled into this life. None seemed to discuss the rift, none wanted to complain.
They were battling one such situation now - shifting the house. Shilpa tried to make Nikhil understand her reason. However, they had grown beyond the point where compromise was acceptable. They were at logger heads at each other since a month now.
‘Phew! Finally!!’ Shilpa sighed. Nikhil grunted his approval.
‘What?’ Shilpa asked.
‘You very well know what. Now don’t start all that again.’
‘It isn’t me, Nikhil. Try and be more practical... and a bit sensitive to my needs, if possible’ she gave back tearfully.
‘Don’t you even try that on me. It’s disgusting enough to fight on our anniversary, please don’t bring in your messy tears.’
‘Why are you so hurtful, Nikhil? I don’t want all this any more than you do!’
To avoid any more confrontation, Nikhil moved out of the room and started sorting the labelled boxes. Shilpa shed a few more tears; decided it wasn’t worth it and then headed towards the kitchen.
A few moments later Nikhil bellowed, ‘Shilpa, come here.’
‘Why?... Is there something more hurtful that you thought of?’ she uttered through clenched teeth.
‘Just come here, will you?’
She went into the sitting room reluctantly..
‘What’s in this box?’
‘Why? Can’t you read? I have labelled every box.’
'No, this one is not. Take a look.’ he said trying very hard to control his anger at her reproach. ‘It must be one of the boxes from the store room, in which you kept your ratty old clothes and other knick-knacks. I say, throw it out. If you unpack this, you’ll start feeling sappy and keep them in the house. We have no use for any of it.’
‘Nothing I keep is useless. And I am not going to throw anything away without even glancing at it. If you do not want to help, I am quite capable myself. Find yourself some friends and get entertained. I will set up my house.’
‘It’s my house too.’ he shouted.
‘I thought so too, until you showed no inclination to come here.’
‘It is worthless to talk to you.’
‘You should have realised that 11 years back.’ she said, while driving the pen knife into the tape that closed the box in argument. While she busied herself into prodding over the contents of the box, Nikhil grabbed some old newspaper and sat in the same room. Although he would have liked to stay away from her, there was no option as the other rooms laid strewn of painting material and shifted furniture.
Shilpa tore off the remainder tape. A familiar whiff of sogginess hit her as she opened the box. There was an old bed sheet covering the contents. She was puzzled. Slowly she pulled the cover away, careful not to break anything fragile. There was a stack of her college books. It looked like a huge pile.
‘Nikhil was right. I have no need for these books any more.’ she thought and pulled out one book after another. The books were only half way through the box. She found another box inside it. It was a big wooden box with intricate carved designs on it. It was gifted by her mother on her 16th birthday. She took it out lovingly, still wondering what lay inside.
She flipped the metallic latch and the contents took her breath away. They were memories. Memories of good times. Her heart beat fast. The first thing she took out of it was a small Mickey Mouse pocket watch. Nikhil had gifted it to her. He’d pleaded his uncle who lived in States to bring one for her.
As other things came out, memories flooded through her.
‘Nikhil!’ she called out timidly. ‘Look.’
He came close to inspect. His voice cracked as he said ‘You still have all this? It’s been years since I saw them... I’d forgotten about them!’
Together they sat sifting through their old life. Their first pink rose, a ruby pendant, a piece of paper on which Shilpa had smeared some of their Valentine cake, a vial of sand as honeymoon nostalgia, his first SIM card, a photograph clicked during the college annual fest with their common friends, Shilpa’s torn scarf and so many other things that they had tears in their eyes and a smile on their lips each time they said ‘Remember this one?’
The last thing that Nikhil pulled out was a ruled notebook page, folded neatly. It was a written conversation made by them during Financial Management lecture. It read -
N : I have to ask you something.
S : The answer is NO.
N: You haven’t even heard what I want to say.
S : I know you are going to ask me for the notes of Costing lecture, which you bunked yesterday.
N : No re baba! I got them photocopied in the morning.
S : It is still a NO-NO. I know you are going to ask me for a treat. I am all washed out. And now stop this nonsense. Don’t disturb, the prof is saying something!!
N : Marry me no please? I love you.
S : Shut up, idiot! Can’t you see... the prof is looking here. You and your stupid jokes!
N : I am not jok
With this the professor had caught them red handed with the letter and asked the parents to come and meet him.
As soon as Shilpa finished reading the conversation aloud, Nikhil pulled her close to him. He saw the girl with whom he had fallen in love with... just older. He pulled her tear-streaked face close to him and kissed her lips tenderly. All the love that was bottled up somewhere came oozing out. The passion was igniting, the love was glowing, the intimacy was returning.
'I have missed you, Shilpa.’ he whispered between the kiss.