Honey, I was wrong!

Aparna took off her sunglasses and squinted as she looked up the sorry looking building, scanning the maze of peeling signboards until she spotted the one  she was looking for.

‘Mastermind Detective Agency – Mr. Govindan Nair, Investigative Detective.’, the board read, followed by a ridiculously long list of educational qualifications of questionable authenticity. The only credentials lacking on the list was perhaps, ‘Can pee standing straight’. Unfortunately for Aparna, none of the aforesaid qualifications gave an inkling of the detective’s ability to do his job; which was finding out if her husband Manoj was having an affair.

She hadn’t, in her wildest dreams, imagined a day like this would befall her. When Rashmi, the snobbiest of her friends, had confided in her over a month ago of her husband’s dalliances with a girl at office half his age, Aparna had, like a good friend, held  her hand, nodded at all the right places, brewed cups of tea and handed over tissues, all the while feeling grateful that she wasn’t in her friend’s shoes.

Manoj wouldn’t dream of cheating on me.

And unseen in the background, fate had been slipping ice-cubes into a bucket of water, ready to sneak up on her when time was right.

‘Splash.’

She’d woken up in her bed on a desolate Monday morning all alone and felt it in her bones. She somehow just knew.

‘Manoj, you bastard.’

She was out of the bed in an instant and at her laptop, tapping at the keys.

‘Is my husband cheating on me?’

She didn’t really even have to type out the entire sentence. The first three words had been enough for Google to spit out the rest. Google seemed to be quite aware that husbands could well be conniving jerks.

Sadly, the bunch of trash that Google offered her in the results were of little help.

Listlessly scrolling through the pages back and forth, she’d stumbled on a rather corny advertisement of a detective agency. One line in particular had her attention.

‘Expert shadowing, speedy & accurate results in domestic matters that require absolute discretion. PS: We have restored many broken homes.’

While the final claim had made Aparna wonder for a minute if the guy was also into civil construction, her mind had more or less been made up by the line that followed.

‘Highly recommended by clients for honesty, dependability, efficiency and secrecy.’

***

So, while Rashmi had patched things up with her cheating husband and was on her way to Rio on their patch-up honeymoon, Aparna was navigating a dingy flight of stairs, reeking of urine, in search of her detective.

‘Mastermind Detective Agency’ wasn’t much of an office as it was a tiny room pretending to be one. Aparna’s eyes darted around taking in its sparse details, distaste and disappointment writ large on her features.

A portly old man. Sipping noisily from a Styrofoam cup. Nose buried between the pages of The Hindu.

Aparna cleared her throat gently. When it failed in eliciting a response, she went in for a cough.

The man looked up, startled but quick enough to regain composure as he recognized a client. He flung the paper aside, trying to look bright and alert and failing miserably.

‘Good afternoon, Madam. Please sit.’

Forcing a smile, Aparna took a seat, dabbing at her face with a hanky. The damn room was as hot as the city’s sidewalks on a summer’s day.

‘How can I be of help to you?’

Picking at a frayed thread on the hanky, Aparna decided to cut to the chase. No point dragging such conversations out. They’re bound to be uncomfortable every which way.

‘I’m- I’m here because I think my husband is-is having an affair.’

The detective gave her a pained look. ‘What can I say, Madam? I’ve had way too many women in that same chair tell me that same story of cheating husbands. Cheating with the neighbor. With the secretary. With the maid. With the daughter’s friend. Shesh! These men! They simply can’t be content with what they have.  I tell them, if your wives make you unhappy, look for a divorce lawyer and not girlfriends! Do they listen? Shesh!

Aparna stifled an involuntary sob at the mention of ‘divorce’.

‘Sorry Madam. Please let me get you a cup of coffee.’

Aparna turned down the offer. She didn’t want to be in here for a moment more than what was necessary.

‘You see, Manoj, has never been particular about his looks. He is the type who goes to work in scruffy shirts and mismatched socks. His choice of ties would give anybody a heart attack.’ Aparna sighed. ‘Wouldn’t run a comb through his hair even if the skies were to fall.’

Nair nodded, registering respectful silence, not wanting to interrupt the flow.

‘I’m sure you can imagine my shock when all of a sudden he began masquerading as if he was the next Madhavan on the block!’

‘Madhavan, who?’ Nair gave her a quizzical look.

‘That actor guy that women everywhere are swooning over.’

‘Oh, I see. Please continue.’

‘The other evening, I was watching Big Boss when I heard strange noises from his room. I kept knocking at the door for ages and he wouldn’t come out. I almost called up the police, you know?’

‘And then?’

‘He only came out when I threatened to drop his laptop into the toilet bowl.’

‘Hah, clever Madam!’

‘So, he comes out grinning and showing all 36 of his teeth, wearing the tightest pair of jeans that looked as if it had been stitched around his hips and a T-shirt in bright orange. His hair, his hair was all dyed… not a strand of grey to be seen. And asks me, So how do I look?’

Nair tut-tutted, taking notes silently. ‘Sudden changes in manner of dressing.’

‘I’m sure he’s up to no good.’

‘And how so, Madam?’

‘It’s something I call the ‘wifely’ instinct.’

Nair wisely chose to be silent about her ‘wifely’ instincts’. He was badly in need of a client. The Mrs had been asking for a bigger TV for months now.

‘Err.. If I were to ask some personal questions, hope Madam won’t mind?’

‘Not at all.’

He gazed at the cracked ceiling as if the questions he wanted to ask lay scrawled there.

‘Do you both fight a lot?’

‘ Of course not!’

‘Okay. Next one. How often do you both do, ummm, it?

She pretended not to have heard that one.

‘Is it something you both enjoy frequently?’ the detective persisted.

She was going to give him a nasty look but he already had one.

‘What sort of nonsense questions are these? Is there no respect for women anymore these days?’ She abruptly got up from the chair.

Nair jumped off his as well wringing his hands, sweating profusely.

‘Madam, please don’t get me wrong. It is necessary that I know everything to help you out on this. Married life means what? Is it just living in the same house, having kids, shopping, cooking and adding name in spouse section of passport? Shesh! Not at all. It is all about trust, Madam. Without trust what will happen, you ask? I’ll tell you. Tension from beginning to end. Sunday through Monday, only sandai!’

He guffawed at his own joke. ‘ The Mrs and I have been married twenty-six years. Not a single day has gone by without our fighting or arguing. Shesh! And yet, not once have I considered cheating on her as an option; murder, yes, several times, but cheating? Definitely no!’ he declared proudly.

Nair rambled on, offering marital advice bordering on the absurd while Aparna sat there nodding wearily.

So relieved was she on finally stepping out of his office that even the reeking staircase seemed bearable in comparison to the detective’s company.

***

She heard from Nair again that Friday evening. Following two long hours of open war with her newly purchased tandoor, she’d managed to conjure up a dozen sorry-looking naans resembling the maps of various continents. Covered from head to toe in flour, she was in the middle of cleaning up when the phone rang.

‘Madam, this is Nair from the detective agency, remember? It’s about your cheating husband.’

The way he said ‘cheating husband’ fanned her foul temper even more.

‘Hold on, Mr. Detective. We don’t really know if he’s cheating on me yet.’ She added defensively.

‘Exactly! And we now have a way of finding that out. Get ready for some travel!’ he announced gleefully.

With her kitchen resembling an earthquake hit village in Haiti and an incorrigible detective on the phone, Aparna was very close to losing her last shards of sanity.

‘Just tell me what your plans are, will you?’

‘Madam, tonight your husband will come home and announce that he is going away to Kumarakom on an official trip over the weekend.’

‘What? Now, how in the world would you know that?’

‘The detective license that I’ve framed and hung up in my office isn’t just wall decor, Madam.’

‘Ok fine. So, he’s going to Kumarakom. What does that prove? Nothing.’

‘Nothing… yet!’ He paused dramatically. ‘That’s why we’re going to Kumarakom! And out there, I, Govindan Nair, will prove to you without a doubt, that your husband is cheating on you!’

Aparna gripped the phone tight. Her voice shook a little when she spoke. ‘Who is the girl, Nair? I need to know right now!’

‘Which girl, Madam?’ came the voice from the other end of the phone.

‘Nair, you really are annoying me now! I’m talking about the girl that my husband is sleeping with!’ she was literally yelling by now.

‘Hello calm down calm down, hello madam no need to get all worked up. You see, even I’m not too sure about who your husband’s girlfriend is.’

‘What nonsense? Don’t speak to me in riddles, Nair.’

‘Oh, I’m sure he’s having an affair. Just that I don’t know with whom. I did a bit of poking around the office. Some small talk with the pretty girl out front. Pretty girl with a stupid name. Riya. Piya. Rupiya or some nonsense name like that.’

‘Nair, get to the point.’

‘You see, there are quite a few pretty women in his office. And he mostly prefers their company, I’ve noticed. But I’m not too sure which lady answers your question. Don’t you worry, Madam, we shall figure it all out in Kumarakom!’ He concluded triumphantly.

Aparna was beginning to have serious doubts about her choice of a detective.

‘So, here’s the plan. We check into the same resort a day before he arrives. And I will shadow him all through the weekend and catch him red-handed and turn him over to you.’

‘What do I do until then?’

He mulled over the question. ‘You could just wait in your room. Watch some TV. Order room service. Relax-’

‘And wait for what? For you to do your detective work and come back with the grand announcement that my husband’s cheating on me with some woman? Sounds like an awesome plan! I’ll have to think about this. I’m not sure if I want to do this.’

***

Manoj was a handsome man of medium build, curly hair, brown eyes and an arrogant sort of nose, a nose that suited him perfectly as he looked down upon the people around him in distaste. That evening, the nose looked almost comical as he sniffed the air with it muttering, ‘Something smells weird. Did you burn something in the kitchen?’ He walked right past his morose looking wife.

‘What do we have here, burnt roti?’ He guffawed aloud, eyeing her naans in distaste. Aparna burst into tears.

He immediately apologized and tried making up for his rudeness by ordering her favourite Chinese.

‘Is your apology for the burnt naan or for stabbing me in my heart?’ Aparna was tempted to yell.

They almost made it to bed without a fight when her husband announced – ‘I almost forgot. I have an official trip to Kumarakom coming up this weekend.’

Nair had been right after all.  She turned off the light without a word.

A little past midnight, she tiptoed into the guest bedroom to make a call.

‘Nair, it’s me, Aparna.’

The old detective croaked ‘Madam, why are you calling me at this unearthly hour?’

‘Go ahead, make the bookings. We are taking him down. No costs spared.’

‘No costs spared.’ He mumbled groggily and hastily hung up when the Mrs began shrieking in the background.

***

The Golden Bay resort was a picturesque hotel facing the pristine waters of the Vembanad lake. Aparna had agreed to meet Nair at the resort, preferring to travel by herself. She’d told Manoj that she’d be at her mother’s place while he was away. Manoj never had a problem with any of the plans she made.

‘And why would he? He probably doesn’t even care.’ She muttered under her breath as the taxi took a winding curve and trundled into the magnificent the resort. ‘Should’ve heeded paati’s warning of not marrying a man who looked better than yourself. Be careful, she’d said… five-six years down the lane, he’ll be out looking for greener pastures..’ She was still lost in thought as she walked into the plush lobby.

She found Nair sipping on coconut water, flirting with the pretty girls at the reception, happy as a pig waddling in its favourite pool of muck.

He greeted Aparna with a wide grin. ‘Wonderful place, isn’t it?’ His eyes fell on her vast array of suitcases totalling six in number.

‘Hope I’ve packed enough.’ She wondered aloud.

‘I thought we were here for a day. Looks like Madam has packed for an entire month!’ He joked, winking at the cherubic lass behind the check-in counter.

‘Nonsense! This is nothing.  I’ve packed a lot more for trips shorter than this.’

Nair masked his derisive snort with a cough.

Aparna’s room was a beautiful one facing the lake. Just as she was unpacking a handsome orange kitty sauntered in sniffing curiously at her toes. All sass and snuggles. Aparna spent the afternoon watching Big Boss reruns and feeding ‘Meen Pollichathu’ to the cat curled up on a pillow. She was glad for its company.

‘I’m going to call you Fluffy, you like that?’

The cat cast a her a dull sidelong look, almost considering the thought. He then proceeded to dismiss her with a swish of a tail.

There was a knock at the door. It was Nair.

‘Madam, you like the hotel? Great place no, my room even has a Jacuzzi. I just need to ask that nice girl at the reception how to operate it. Maybe she wouldn’t mind helping out an old man!’ he winked slyly.

‘Nair, when is my husband checking in?’ she asked stroking Fluffy.

‘Oh, the group will be here by late afternoon. You needn’t worry about anything. I will take care of it all. I am one-hundred- and –one percent sure that I will get my proof tonight at the poolside party.’

‘There’s going to be a poolside party? Can I join you in your investigation?’

‘That would be too risky, not to mention, pretty unhelpful to me as well.’

***

It was a wonderful summer evening, as sultry and perfect as only Kerala could get.  The sky hot and cloudless, the rustic landscape bathed in an orange glow, enough to make anybody purr with contentment. Aparna had this crazy urge to get out of the room and have a look around, despite Nair’s words of caution. Nair had said that the party would start only by seven. She had a good one hour left to explore and come back to the room before the party began. She slipped out with Fluffy following her, mewling softly.

The pool, shaped like a huge fruit bowl sat amidst the sprawling well-manicured lawns. Waiters and busboys scurried around setting things up for the evening’s party. Her eyes scanned the place and narrowed as she spotted a familiar figure in their midst.

Nair, again!

But what was the old man even up to? Even from this far she could make out that he was super drunk by the way he tottered around the pool unsteadily making small talk with the same pretty girl from the reception.

Aparna eyed his antics from afar with disgust. ‘Dirty old man!’. What was he doing all drunk and chasing after girls when he was supposed to be spying on her husband at the party? She should never have trusted the crafty bastard. She picked up Fluffy and began walking towards the pool. She’d fire the bumbling fool of a detective right away. Embarrassing himself shamelessly!

That was when it happened. The Kiss.

Aparna watched horror-struck as Nair grabbed the pretty girl by her shoulders and planted a kiss plumb on her chubby cheek! The rest of what transpired was a quick blur – the shrill squeal of the girl, the tight slap that she planted on Nair’s cheek and the heavy shove that sent him into the swimming pool with a resounding splash.

Bedlam ensued. A crowd gathered from out of nowhere and all eyes were on the girl, bawling her eyes out. No one noticed the drunken old bloke in the pool flaying his arms around for help.

Extreme situations called for extreme measures. Without a second’s hesitation she dropped Fluffy and dove in. By the time she managed to pull him out, Nair had passed out. Alarmed, she slapped him across the cheeks, rubbed his palms and pressed his stomach to force water out. When nothing else seemed to work, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, bent over and resorted to CPR. This, she did for a good three to four times until Nair came around, coughing and sputtering.

She was about to give him a hard shake and tell him that he was fired, when she froze. Standing right across her with a look of absolute shock and disgust was Manoj. Her hand flew to her mouth as it struck her how it would have appeared to her husband – she kissing a man full on his mouth for the entire world to see. He stared at her for a minute before storming off. Aparna, in a hurry to catch up, tripped over Fluffy , came crashing down and tasted blood in her mouth.

***

She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.

She pushed Fluffy away and groaned as she recalled the happenings of the previous evening. After all, the dratted cat had been the harbinger of her misfortune. She had gone in search of Manoj after fixing herself after the fall and was told that he wasn’t in his room.

She had headed back to her room, curled into a ball and drifted off to sleep, never wanting the sun to rise the next day.

The non-stop purring of the dumb cat had woken her up.

‘That’s it, you are out of here!’

She opened the door to let the cat out and found Manoj outside. Relief coursed through her and she burst into tears.

‘Oh Manoj, I’m so sorry, I’ve been such a fool!’

She collapsed in his arms sobbing and told him all about her woeful misadventure with the bumbling detective.

‘You thought I was cheating on you?’ He looked genuinely hurt.

‘I’m sorry Manoj. But I was beginning to feel all insecure when I imagined you in the company of all those beautiful, intelligent women at work.’ She sobbed.

‘Sweetie, I don’t care ten bucks about all these so-called sexy, intelligent women. I swear. They’re here for work and I’m here for work. Period.’

‘Oh Manoj, I love you.’ she sighed wrapping her arms around him. ‘Let’s just get out of here and back to our lives. I miss it so much already.’

Manoj pulled her into a long kiss.

Fluffy gave a yowl and jumped off the bed when Manoj’s phone vibrated. It was a message. Still stroking his wife’s hair, he reached out and grabbed it.

‘Hope the wife is convinced.’

‘Yes.’ He texted back.

‘Thank god! I miss you.’ came the reply.

‘Miss you too. See you back at work.’ He typed and hit the send button.

Aparna pulled out of his embrace; a tad peeved. ‘Latched on to the phone, already? I thought we were talking here!’

‘Honey, it was the Boss… asking for updates.’

‘And what did you tell him?’

‘Told him to get lost as I was busy romancing my silly wife.’

Aparna giggled like a little school girl in love.

‘C’mere Manu, let’s click a selfie. Need to post an update on Facebook. Can’t wait for Rashmi and the gang to see it and go all green..’

Aparna giggled again. Everything was just fine in her shallow little world.

 

*** The End ***

 

 

 

 

 

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