Akansha and I once met a couple who thought they were in an open marriage. We’d lived on the same floor in Gurgaon for three years and visited each other’s apartments three times in those three years. The fourth time we met, they told us that they were in an open marriage.
The man said they’d been married ten years and it was time to refresh the marriage. When he said “refresh”, I could only think of those warm, wet face towels you get in good salons. Then came the full waterfall of details, so many details. All the way down to who will screw outside the marriage on what day of the week. Tuesday evenings for her. Friday afternoons for him.
Akansha was a bit alarmed by this conversation with crazy strangers, I could see, but she did a good job of covering up.
I wanted to ask them many questions, but after the answer to the very first one, I lost interest. I asked the man whether he or his square-shaped wife knew people who wanted to have sex with them? Neither did. This was just a fantasy, but they didn’t know it was a fantasy. As if you could order love and sex like milk on an app. Idiots. People don’t understand things. People don’t understand people.
The next day at work I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor idiots. They obviously did feel something unfathomable existed outside their boring marriage, but like dogs who sensed ghosts, they could only walk around in circles in the garden, barking. I stared at the hump of fat on the neck of the young developer who sat in front of me and felt sorry for the woman he was marrying. He had been meeting her at a different mall in Gurgaon every weekend ever since their engagement. Imagine having sex with him.
I, on the other hand, was as fit as the very last time Liji and I had been together. Much more actually. In all her Instagram pictures, Liji now had the cat-eyes style eyeliner. I liked it a lot. That was the only way in which she had really changed in all the years we had been separated. After a whole day of staring at that developer’s neck hump for hours, I looked for my Liji on Facebook and found her. I pinged her for the first time in seven years.
Liji and I first reconnected on FB messenger, the world’s most unromantic chat application.
For several days we didn’t shift to Whatsapp. We didn’t discuss it but shifting felt like a decision with great implications. Once we did shift, within a few hours, I began to wish Akansha would go away and Sebastian would go away. If they would only leave and leave us alone.
We took many pictures in the backwaters on our first trip together after Akansha passed away. This was before I moved to Bangalore. I remembered right away to delete the photos from my phone after downloading them and hiding the files. I told Liji too. “As if Sebastian would ever check,” she said.
I checked her Instagram regularly. Mostly there were just beautiful pictures of her. I couldn’t bear to see her selfies with her idiotic husband, but she giggled when I asked her about them. “We have selfies instead of sex, kutta. Don’t be jealous.” Then she’d giggle more. Sebastian never saw those photos of us alone in a boat in still green waters, alone in the most beautiful landscape in the world – alone, except for the boatman. But later, the police did.
With the resort staff, Liji pretended she didn’t understand Malayalam. I didn’t want to come back to Kerala for the weekend, but Liji had insisted. I had thought she would say let’s never go there again. In college, we couldn’t wait to get out, get far away from the sticky, sweaty people pressing on us. Unexpectedly, in the water, I felt free, speaking Malayalam to the boatman and being ourselves.
When we were in the boat, I saw a tiny house on a handkerchief-sized island, an island just a few feet bigger than the house, and I asked Liji, “Shall we come live here?”
She waved her hand at the water and the sky. “Here? Without network?”
A little while later, we saw a woman on a boat rowing towards the tiny island. Her narrow boat had barely any space for her, stuffed as it was with cans of drinking water. Liji laughed at my expression.
I have always been very disciplined and honest, and that’s why Akansha’s father liked me so much. Those Delhi policemen would have liked to arrest me just like that, but the sight of a retired senior police officer standing up so strongly for his son-in-law made them think twice. If he said there was nothing suspicious in the way his daughter died, and she had slipped in the bathroom and cracked her head, what were they to say? They went away without looking too hard at anything.
My father-in-law only cried and held my hand for a moment after they left. “I had told her so many times to not leave oil on the bathroom floor. Always so careless, always.” I wondered whether he was imagining her slipping, or whether his brain was fried by the naked selfie he received from her phone just before she died. Well, technically after she died. Surely that must have been the last unforgiveable act of carelessness by his daughter as far as he was concerned.
It’s true that Akansha was careless. Very intelligent but no follow-up. She never dried her hair properly after bathing and, in those Delhi parties with Punjabi girls and their perfectly straight hair, I used to get quite upset at the sight of her hair.
Her head had made a peculiar, soft crunching sound against the kettlebell. Perhaps it was true that there was nothing much in there, as her father had always joked. I couldn’t believe the silliness of her having sex with the young Haryanvi boy in the flat next door. Fever. Didi took him khichdi.
Then he took Didi to bed.
Excerpted with permission from “No Filter”, from The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories by Nisha Susan, Context.