She was not listening anymore. She looked ahead of us, in the distance, oblivious to my words, and my presence.
I followed her gaze to a family standing on the other side of the mall. A young couple, our age, with a 6 or 8 year old daughter. The man and his wife were looking at her, though not as surprised as she was.
“Who are they? You know them?” I asked.
She shook off the trance she had entered into and said, “Let’s go”.
I could see them making their way to us, as we swam past loitering teens that the mall was filled with.
We came face to face with them at the round fence.
“Hi”, said the tall man with ocean blue eyes.
She said nothing.
I did not know how to react. So I just smiled acknowledging their greetings.
“Hi Anna”, the woman stepped forward to hug my wife.
She returned the hug coldly.
I had never seen her get so uncomfortable before. She had this strange expression on her, and her eyes, went blank.
This was new for me, this side of her. I was interested to know something new of her. She was so closed and picky about her life. I might learn something new today, something of her life which I have not known till now. The thought really intrigued me.
The man held out his hand to me, ”Hi, I am Jacob. This is my wife Marya. We are old friends of Anna.” He smiled looking at her to see her reaction.
Her face said nothing.
“I am Neil, her husband, pleased to meet you”, I replied all courteous.
“Yeah, not as much pleased as your wife here”, Mayra teased her.
Not her smile. It was the smile she wore when she did not know what exactly to say to someone.
“It has been a long time, Anna, since we have seen each other”, Jacob said in his husky jovial voice.
He was trying hard to get a word out of her mouth, and the efforts were quite apparent and awkward. For all of us.
Anna, unlike herself, had turned cold and distant.
“Mommy, I want something to eat. The girl broke the embarrassing silence that had prevailed over us for a minute or two.”
“This is our daughter”, Jacob said.
It was as if she heard him for the first time.
She bent down and smiled at the little girl. Shook her hands and kissed her.
The heavy air of indifference was finally fading out.
She loved kids. No matter how hard her day would be, she would always melt down to a kid’s smile. She would make funny faces, smile at them. Kids loved her too. She had that quality that made her instantly click with kids.
Jacob and Marya were apparently relived and shared a smile between them, that said something I didn’t comprehend.
“You have such a lovely dress, you look like a princess.” Anna said to the girl.
She smiled back at her, blushing.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Anna asked her.
“Anna”, she replied in her sweet voice.
“That is a very beautiful name”, she stroked her long hair.
Anna looked over her head onto her parents.
“Really? That’s so cliché!”, an air of sarcasm now taking over her.
She did not return it.
“Mommy, I am hungry”, Anna cried, her hand over her tummy.
Marya handed her a cookie from her bag.
Anna stood up and for a moment all four of us looked at the girl munching on her cookie happily.
“We should go now”, Anna said looking at me.
I nodded smilingly.
She looked at him, as cold as before.
“We came here last week. Still exploring”, he smiled. “We are here for 3 months. For work.”
Anna was listening, but I could not make from her face, what she was thinking. Most of the times, I could. She did not have a poker face. But today, was different. Today, she was different too.
“I was thinking if …. you know, we could perhaps meet some time, over lunch , or dinner, or maybe go sightseeing together. All of us, I mean”, he looked around to our smiling faces.
Anna stubborn in her coldness wouldn’t even shake off her head in no. She just looked at him, but her eyes stood fixated on something behind him.
Jacob was exhibiting a lot of self control with her. So was Marya while I was just trying to figure out what part of her life did they belong to. School, college or university, work?
“Anna, please. Give me a chance. We need to talk.”
Anna raised her brows.
“Okay, I need to talk. I had an option of coming here or going overseas for this project at work. I chose to come here. Because I knew you were here. I came here for you.”
“Wow! That makes me feel so special.” Anna’s sarcasm returned.
“People keep talking about how much you have changed. You haven’t changed, have you? You are still the same, aren’t you?” Jacob’s tone was more pleasant teasing than questioning.
“I am pretty much the same. Just my attitude towards situations and certain people has changed”, Anna replied with an air of indifference.
“Anna, lets meet for lunch, please.” It was Marya making her way to her. “We have so much catching up to do.”
“Really, do we now?” Anna was curt.
Jacob turned to me.
“I would really like for us to meet again, at a proper place and time. There is something we need to talk about, some misunderstandings to clear, I hope, I really do, that you can convince her to come around.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I looked at Anna.
She smiled at me, probably because of my lost expression, of being implored when I had no clue. My presence revealed itself to her in a very subtle way.
She looked at me contemplating the fact of my witnessing it and also what I would make out of all this. She laughed a little, tugged my arm, she knew what was coming. There would be no end to it, until she revealed it all.
“Lunch would be fine,” I said in the air. She didn’t object.
“Great!” Jacob exclaimed.
Marya, hugged her, in excitement.
Anna smiled her courteous smile. She was not actually thrilled by the idea, but she had given in. To them, to me.
“I know you”, exclaimed the little girl Anna.
“You are the one in the videos. Mama’s wedding video!
She was excited as if she had discovered a secret.
“Also in the other videos too! You are the little girl I like! You are their friend, the one I am named after. She blushed and hugged Anna.
“I so wanted to meet you”, little Anna said to my wife Anna.”
Anna hugged her back, smiling at her. “And now we met”, she said playfully.
“We went to the States last summer,” she said. “Stayed with Chase, you remember my brother, right. There she saw our childhood videos.”
Anna looked amused, but didn’t say a word.
“Anna”, Marya continued sheepishly, “they are so embarrassing, you know watching them all, how we were, I mean, oh! you have got to see them”, she giggled. “He still has them. All of them. You know the ones that Joseph made…”, her voice broke down.
Something happened. They both looked alarmed. Something was said, that should not have been said. I had no idea what it was, and then I looked at her.
Her color changed. She suddenly went white in the face. I never saw her go so pale in a matter of a second. She turned cold, her hand in mine, froze.
“I am so sorry, I am really sorry Anna”, Marya implored.
Jacob looked sorry and concerned. He shook his head when he caught my eye, his hand slipping from his forehead into his hair, along the back of his neck.
“Anna, you okay, honey?” I asked her.
She put her hand on her stomach. “I think I am getting sick”, she sighed deeply. “Neil, please take me home.”
“I am sorry, Ann, I am so stupid,” Marya implored tearfully.
“It’s okay Marya, not your fault,” she replied reassuringly.
She pressed my hand.
I was worried, I had no clue what transpired in that moment. But something deep enough to make her sick in an instant.
I handed my business card to Jacob. “Let’s work out a day for that lunch”, I tried to smile.
He thanked me and we left.
We hardly spoke a word on our way home. She was still pale, white as a ghost and cold. I looked at her, concerned, worried. She smiled sadly. She rested her head on the window and looked out in the darkness. I knew better to ask her anything.
As I sat next to her on bed, she turned to me. Her voice low, but teasing.
“You know what. I am actually surprised. You are still alive not knowing, not asking. You after all, being the most curious cat that I have ever known.”
“My wife will tell me, I am sure, when she feels like. She always does. She is a little hard nut to crack,” I teased.
She nudged me slightly on the nut part.
“So, what?” She asked.
“Is it time?”
She laughed. “No, not now.”
“What about now?”
He tickled her till she begged him to stop.
She palmed his face and kissed him.
“I love you”, she said.
“I love you more”, he replied.
They cuddled and she fell asleep in his warm arms.
He kissed her on the forehead. He saw her calm beautiful face and remembered the hurt he had witnessed in her eyes at that name. Joseph.
Who was he? he thought.
She had never mentioned him before and yet she was shaken up by the mere mention of his name. And this couple they met, he had never heard of them as well.
He loved her, trusted her, but suddenly he felt a wave of strangeness sweep over him. They were married for five years. Yet, he saw her in a way unbeknown to him.
She had always been honest with him. He knew about her previous broken engagement to a guy she had loved.
That was their thing. Honesty and straightforwardness in marriage. But today, he accidentally was introduced to a part of her life he never knew.
She turned in her sleep.
Would it affect him, or their relationship? He wasn’t sure.
He loved her. She loved him, that is all he was sure about.
He closed his eyes.