She looked at the message, stunned. “Wow! You must be in love with me.”
Her first thought was what if Satish had seen it. She was at home. He often took her calls when she was not around to receive it, and the chance of his noticing a message was always there. She deleted it but it kept nagging her through the day. How could he have assumed so? She regularly sent motivational messages to her friends, Harish included. Today it was a motivational quote about love. Harish could not have know that the same message had gone out to many people. It was her fault – she had been very friendly with him, and he had got the wrong vibes. She removed him from the group in her contacts and stopped responding to his messages.
It was the company’s annual day program. After the prizes and performances, it was cocktails and dinner time. Some people were dancing in a corner of the hall. She stood away with a cold drink and watched. Harish was in his elements, dancing enthusiastically. He saw her and rushed to her. He looked a bit drunk.
“Hey, join us!”
She tried to beat a retreat, but more people joined him and called out to her. They were all laughing and were chanting her name. She shook her head and turned away. Harish caught her wrist and pulled her. The music was loud.
“Come on, don’t be a spoil sport!” he shouted in a teasing voice.
She glared at him and pulled away her hand. “Everything is fun for you all. A new management should take over and teach all of you a lesson!” She was almost shouting at them, and trembling with embarrassment too, she realized.
She left the venue and went home. She was seething with anger, reviewing the scene in an endless loop.
She had been probably attracted to him, but had never thought of taking it further. They used to go out for lunch from work and chat up during tea breaks in the cafeteria. Others would have noticed the over-familiarity of his gesture or had they suspected all along and gossiped? She was the quality manager and part of her job was to audit projects and departments. She was unsparing in her reviews and would always find deviations. But her audit reports pointing out lapses were not taken seriously by the management. She had vented her resentment at the wrong moment, and the point would have been lost on them.
Harish is pulling her hand and she is laughing and pulling back. People have surrounded them and are clapping in sheer fun. With his hand around her waist and the other holding her hand, they are dancing to a Bollywood song. She is looking past at his shoulder and sees Satish striding towards them. He is looking furious and trying to say something. He pulls her away and punches Harish on face.
Her mind has gone into an over-drive. She has been awake the whole night, like the past few nights. Panic attacks without any apparent cause blank out her mind, past unhappy events repeat themselves like a looping video. She frequently suffers guilt and shame at her complicity, the lunch outings, frequent messages, and familiar teasing. She does not doze off even during the day. A nervous energy keeps her going.
Beyond her moodiness, Satish and Shruti did not seem to notice anything. After a few days she could not carry on working. The company’s doctor told her she had high BP and prescribed anxiolytics for a week. After the course was over she got worse. Her insomnia had returned. She would lie awake. Sometimes she would get away from the bedroom and sit and cry silently. There was no apparent cause, she would simply feel hopeless and sad. She took leave for a week.
“I’m going to see Shivram tomorrow. I’ll be back late.” She announced without any apparent introduction.
“Huh, why?” Satish shifted his attention to her slowly.
“I’ve not been well for more than two weeks. Not that you would have noticed.” Instead of her usual state of resentment she was resigned.
Shivram radiated charisma like a guru. Maybe it was the white crisp kurta and dhoti he always wore, the vibhuti streaking across his forehead, rudraksh necklace, youthful smiling face and the smell of incense that hung around his office and had seeped into him, the rings with lucky gemstones. She called Shivram her acupressure therapist, but he also treated through yoga and chakra healing. She had first gone to him for her sinusitis. He treated it with magnetic acupressure. She had to attach clips with tiny magnets to her fingers before bed. Her symptoms had reduced and she had begun to have faith in Shivram.