Love Beyond Words
An overcast sky threatened a downpour when Dnyanesh returned home that evening. He glanced at Shalini’s bedroom adjoining the stairs as he passed through the living room. In the dining room, the table was all set just like every night. Dnyanesh pulled up a chair and served himself. He remembered the days when he would arrive late from Social Justice meetings to find her waiting for him to have dinner together.
It was three years after their marriage that he started returning home habitually late. Shalini disapproved of some of his friends. His breath would tell her when he had been partying with them. She had tried to reason with him. He would promise her not to drink again, and she would accept it. When she realized he could not keep his word, tension had mounted between the two. Her insistence annoyed him.
For a moment, he toyed with the idea of asking her to join, then discarded it, remembering her wooden expression when he had asked her the last time. ‘I’ll eat later, you go ahead,’ was all she had said.
He tried to remember when they last had a dinner together. Their cold war had been on for two years. And then there were the preceding years of arguments.
He finished his meal, washed his plate, and ascended the stairs to his bedroom. His eyes kept wandering to the glass-fronted cupboard and the bottle of McDowell within. With some effort, he resisted the temptation. The bottle had been at the root of their discord. With a sigh Dnyanesh turned to his desk and switched on his laptop.
The entrance to Sinatra Club was crowded. ‘Good evening, sir,’ the greeter smiled at Daniel. ‘Welcome to Sinatra.’
Sinatra, the premier ballroom, prided on its meticulously created sixties ambience. A huge portrait of Frank Sinatra adorned the wall behind the bar. Single men and women were perched on the bar stools waiting for a suitable dance partner. In the dim light on the marble dance floor, couples were entwined in each other’s arms.
An entire side of the great hall was a balcony overlooking a vast lake. Sherlyn stood near the wrought iron balustrade, her back to the hall. Her cream silk ballgown shimmered in the gentle breeze from the lake. She turned towards him, as though by instinct she had sensed that he was watching her. Daniel crossed the dance floor and went up to her.
‘Good evening,’ he said. ‘Are you waiting for someone?’
‘No, just looking around.’
‘In that case, may I have a dance, please?’
‘You may,’ she smiled.
They moved gracefully on the floor in time with the music.
They danced for a while in silence. She seemed quite becoming; her polite manners, and her dress sense conveyed class.
‘Excuse me,’ she said after half an hour, ‘I have to leave now, Mister…’
‘Daniel… Danny for you,’ he said.
‘You can call me Shelly,’ she said. ‘Bye Danny!’
The insistent ringing of the alarm woke Dnyanesh from his slumber. It was seven already. Shalini must have left for the Institute. He had always admired her meticulous ways, a complete contrast to his own sloppiness.
It was this contrast that had attracted them to each other during their student years at the University. Those were the days of protests. He was a firey orator; she excelled at closed group meetings. He penned poetry; she wrote thought-provoking articles. The romance between the son of a mill worker and the daughter of an IAS officer was the topic of discussion around the campus.
After graduating in business management Dnyanesh had taken the job offered as assistant manager of a departmental stores, while Shalini landed a job in an institute after her postgraduate studies in Sociology.
With a long sigh Dnyanesh dispelled the memories, and left for work after gobbling the breakfast she had laid out on the table.
Danny found Shelly at the balustrade gazing down at the swans on the lake. She was wearing a white lace gown.
Her hand was on his shoulder, his around her waist as they danced.
‘I meant to tell you earlier,’ Daniel whispered, ‘I am married.’
‘So am I,’ Shelly replied.
‘But something has gone wrong in my marriage.’
‘That’s why people come here… to find the intimacy they can’t in their wedded life.’
‘But, I must admit, it’s not my wife who is always at fault.’
‘I have a feeling you still love your wife a lot,’ Shelly said. ‘Why don’t you tell her so?’
‘I really am confused.’
They swayed in silence to the strains of ‘Midnight blues.’
‘I have to log off now…’ Shelly said after some time.
She disappeared leaving behind a vaporous outline of her avatar.
As usual Dnyanesh had his evening meal alone. At the foot of the stairs he paused for a moment. He could see Shalini on her bed, working on the laptop. He wanted to speak to her, but the frosty look in her eyes made him check the impulse. He proceeded to his room. The overcast sky outside his window enhanced the suffocating feeling within.
Without as much as a glance at the bottle of McDowell’s, Daniel switched on his laptop and logged in the Second Life Viewer. Shelly’s avatar came over to him.
‘I have been thinking… I find you a honest, decent guy. You should make up with your wife. You deserve more than this virtual world.’
‘And what if she rejects me again?’
‘One has to take risks to build a relationship.’
Dnyanesh pushed his chair back. It had started raining outside his window. He descended the stairs slowly and stood at Shalini’s door. Her eyes were on her laptop. He went close to her. She raised her gaze to meet his. He extended his hand towards her.