These feelings popped up with an intensity I couldn’t ignore, triggered off by finding the key to the house we had shared. I had forgotten to give it back and it never struck the Ex to ask for it.
I couldn’t avoid its presence. It stared at me, yelling and screaming, asking me to do what good, serious stalkers do. Walk through the apartment when the owner wasn’t there. I didn’t even try to resist it, though I was fully aware it wasn’t the right thing to do.
I bunked work and set off to his apartment, for I knew he would have dutifully gone to office.
If he had decided to bunk too, I would say I had forgotten my socks which was incongruous enough to be plausible. Knowing my memory, he wouldn’t be surprised. I was sure he would not demand to know why I was walking into his house again. He was too gentle and well-mannered for that. Unlike thieves, there was no fear of being discovered.
The key turned with a click and the house smelled of nobody being there. It had a quiet, empty silence. I walked around and saw that nothing had been changed. My interior decoration touches were still intact. I didn’t know whether this was because I was a fabulous home decorator or because the Ex was too lazy to change anything. I suspected the latter.
As I wandered through the house, I looked at objects and remembered where they had come from. The living room had the flat long pot with grass in it, which was supposed to be our “lawn” in Bombay, the antique green lamp that claimed to be precious jade, which was meant to bring good fortune (bah!), the huge cupboard filled with books (a birthday gift for he had wanted a bookshelf with doors), the straw mats I had bought from an old woman on a trek, the bolsters we had carried on our heads as a joke from the market, the empty spaces from which I had taken my share of the objets d’art, every corner spoke of our life. How did he live here?
The bedroom unkindly had the pillow covers that I liked and he didn’t, for he found them too loud.
I wondered whether he remembered how much he had ￼protested when I had bought them. There were tickets of a concert we had gone to that I had stuck on the bathroom door. They were still there, pasted pitiably, dead pieces of paper. I couldn’t help myself and tore them off, leaving the edges behind stuck under the cello-tape.
I remembered in the guest bedroom I had hidden a pair of silver earrings he had given me, for I didn’t want to take them with me and I didn’t want to give them back. I looked for them and they too were lying there undisturbed. It was almost as if the Ex had preserved our life together without touching anything.
I knew if it had been me, I would have wiped away every trace of the previous occupant. I didn’t want to analyse what this meant, but like a true stalker, once my curiosity was satisfied, I wanted to explore more and violate the space completely.
I lay down on the bed and held my breath. Nothing happened. I ran my hand over the bed sheet and thought about how naive the sheet was. The people who owned it had changed so much, but it lay there, sparkling in its colours, looking joyful in the sun.
For the first time in my life, in that house I felt like a guest, an intruder, a defiler of somebody’s sacred space.
I couldn’t wait to get home and I ran out. His house was no more mine.
I went back there six more times. The third time, I opened the wardrobe and wore his shirts and felt very sorry for myself, for us. They reached down to my knee and the long arms hid mine. The huge shirt made me feel very, very small. I sat in the extreme corner of the bed, taking almost no space and hugged myself with his empty sleeves.
It was getting dangerous. I was getting addicted to walking through his empty house and remembering our times together. When I was staying there, these objects didn’t have any power. Suddenly, they were all I could think of. They began invading my dreams, digging up the most insignificant memories, clogging my “moving-on” efforts.
I don’t know how long this would have continued if it weren’t for the fact that the sixth time I was there, I heard a click and the Ex walked in. I looked at him and lied effortlessly. I told him I had come to look for a pair of socks, which I thought I had left behind in the laundry.
He nodded as if it was the most natural thing to do after a divorce – come looking for socks – and asked me to stay for tea. I thanked my stars I wasn’t ￼wearing his shirt. As we sipped tea, I handed him the key. It felt dangerous to hold on to it anymore. He looked surprised and asked me to keep it. He said I could come anytime and use the place. Trying not to sound too sarcastic, I told him I had my own house.
I don’t understand why he looked hurt. He always did when I would say these practical things. We were divorced now. Was refusing the key insensitive on my part? Or was he the crazy one, who wanted to keep the doors open? It didn’t matter. As he took my key, my stalker dreams broke into a million fragments. It felt like a thing that had not happened at all, a thing that I did not do in real life. My unforgivable behaviour of visiting his house, walking through its doors and reliving the stories of the objects I had chosen to make a house a home seemed unreal. As unreal as my marriage.
Excerpted with permission from Leaving Home with Half a Fridge, Pan Macmillan India.
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