Rubani kept hitting refresh almost maniacally on an Instagram profile that had nothing new to offer her. It was the same posts her boyfriend – now ex – Kabir had up yesterday; the same careful curation of low-angle beard selfies and gym-mirror shots mixed with just enough artsy pans of the evening sky to seem redemptive. She didn’t know exactly what she was expecting – a champagne-popping boomerang announcing that he’d dumped her? A shout-out to “all the single ladies”? It may have been a pointless exercise, but it had become a reflex for her now, like pushing back phantom locks after lopping off her long waves for an asymmetrical pixie. Every time she touched the razored side of her head where her thick tresses had once nestled, it came with a little pang of what used to be.
What could it be? Rubani thought miserably, lying listless on her bed. What did I do? What did I not do? Her eyes felt like they had been wrung dry before being hung on a clothing line. Her head pounded with the hangover-esque migraine that often followed a bout of serious sobbing. Her body felt like it had fused with the covers; they were holding her down in a state of inertia no force could break. Every single part of her was tired.
She’d expected the blow-up to be big when Kabir found the texts from her ex, but figured it wouldn’t be worse than their usual screaming matches. Besides, the texts were perfectly innocuous – her ex had asked to be connected with a video editor and Rubani had suggested a few names, that was all; she had friends in the business who could use the extra cash. The simple query had turned into a general conversation about life and, soon, a few harmless reminiscences about their trip to Italy together. And that was when Kabir had discovered the thread.
“You had no business even going through my texts!” Rubani had shouted, shaken by the invasion of privacy that Kabir had sworn would never happen again. “Those are my private conversations and it’s not okay. I don’t snoop through your stuff!”
“I wasn’t snooping – don’t you fucking do that,” Kabir’s voice had gone low and angry. “I unlocked your phone to pay the Netflix bill. I do it from your phone every month, you know that.”
“Oh, you just accidentally opened my WhatsApp thread with Devika instead? Because those apps look basically the same, right?”
“It popped up. A notification,” he had said through gritted teeth. “And I clicked on it, I admit it. But the point isn’t that, Rubani. The point is, I’m fucking sick of you and your gaslighting shit. You’re in touch with all your exes because – what? Just in case you need a dick on a ripcord? Or a pussy, of course, because with you anyone is fair game, no?”
Her eyes stung with new tears at the memory of that comment, flung at her not even four hours ago in this very apartment. Two years of being together, living together, and he still thought that her sexuality was exactly the kind of cheap joke people made it out to be for comic relief. After that, there was no going back. It couldn’t be de-escalated. Too much had been said.
The aftermath had seemed like montage from a Beyoncé video – the screaming, door-slamming, everything exaggerated for effect because there was something final about it that she didn’t want to acknowledge. She was deploying every weapon in her arsenal, from begging words that didn’t feel real, to tears that were.
It had all been for naught, as he had packed his small travel carryall, avoiding eye contact while she pleaded...and left. She had slumped desultorily on the bed and stayed that way for an hour. When she finally mustered the strength to wriggle to her left and grab her phone, a social media spiral caught hold and dragged her into a tempest. Old pictures, old videos, old texts. The old habit of waiting for him to call like he always did a couple of hours after a fight. The other old habit of caving and making the call herself.
“I’m sorry, baby,” she would coo, and he would coo back and come home.
This time, it just rang. And rang and rang.
Excerpted with permission from One Night Only, Saumyaa Vohra, PanMacmillan India.