[Friendship, love and trust have many meanings. This story is about one of these meanings.]
He lay awake in bed, waiting for her to finish her kitchen winding-up chores and join him. By the time she came in and began undressing for bed, he was very nearly asleep. With drowsy eyes, he gazed at her taking off her saree. She had grown a bit plump of late, but it only made him love her more. "There is more of you to hug now than when I married you," he sighed, wrapping his arms and legs around her in the dim light of the bedlamp. "This is sheer luxury!"
She reciprocated by kissing him, and then turned around, determined to fall asleep quickly. Tomorrow was another tough day ahead, and she would have to cook a full formal lunch, keeping in mind his guest. Not just the daal-chaval that she made on days when she was feeling tired.
"Turn off the lights, please," she said sleepily.
"Not yet," he breathed in her ear. "Let me enjoy looking at you awhile longer".
"You're looking at me? At my back? What's there to look?" She twisted around to look at him with her large fish-shaped eyes.
He gazed long and hard at his wife of five years, lying beside him. He gazed at her somewhat dishevelled plait of thick hair. He gazed at her roundish, pleasant face and plump cleavage, with the homely mangalsutra lying twisted over it, and the small crease of flesh that formed at her waist over her petticoat. Then he began to kiss her... small tender kisses. First her forehead, where a plain red bindi was still stuck a lttle crookedly since the evening, when he had gently pointed it out to her. Then her cheeks, then, very lightly, her plain lips (she hated even a wet lip-kiss, let alone french kissing), and then, gently, he rained delicate little kisses on her neck, the back of her shoulders, her arms, her waist.
By the time he got to her waist, she was twitching slightly, and gently pushing away his head. "Ow! Stop. You're tickling me... your moustache tickles... please stop!" Her protests got louder, but he pushed past her gentle resistance, and kissed her breasts, over her blouse... and then her buried his face in her cleavage, which was still cool and sweaty from washing utensils and meticulously clearing the kitchen platform.
"I'm filthy from my work. I'm sweaty. I need a bath, but there's no water in the bathroom. How can he think of me as beautiful?" she wondered. "He reads magazines with photos of Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu all day, but at bedtime, he says I'm the most beautiful woman he has every seen. Liar! He's crazy!" she thought to herself. But she was pleased that he felt that way, and she regarded his boyish face with affection. She kissed him back. One quick affectionate kiss. On his nose.
"How long have you known him?" she asked suddenly, to stop his kissing and nuzzling her. If she didn't, he would nuzzle her everywhere... everywhere... and she would end up laughing and squealing, and then moaning and screaming. And that would wake the guest sleeping in their sitting room. Tonight, of all the nights, she mustn't let her husband nuzzle her.
He sighed, and raised his face to look at her. "I've told you we went to school together," he replied. "Stop trying to divert me, and just enjoy!"
"Don't! He will wake up, and then what will he think?" she protested.
"He will think I'm making love to my wife, and he will be right!" he said, opening the blouse hooks in front. "Let him think what he wants! You enjoy!"
"Shh... shhhh!" She hushed him and put her hand across his mouth and silenced him from saying anything further! "No. Tell me more! Did she love him?"
With a sigh of resignation, he quit, and lay on his back. "He and his wife were not as lucky and you and I are. If she really knew the work pressures of a medical rep, she wouldn't have married him. He has a big territory, and tough sales targets. That means he's away from home at least 20 days in a month. And when he returns home, he's dog-tired and just trying to catch up on lost sleep. Making matters worse... performance appraisal meetings where his hard work is torn down and made to look insignificant. So he used to be irritable even on those remaining 10 days. Very irritable. How long will a newlywed woman would put up with that sort life? And for how long? She gave him two good years of her life, hoping that things would get better. But they didn't. They got worse..."
"And so she quit, " she said, completing his sentence. "I might have done the same thing, in her place... A woman needs love and appreciation from her man most of all. If that isn't there, her life is meaningless." Her eyes were glistening, and as she stared at the ceiling, a teardrop began to roll down her cheek from the outer corners of her eyes.
He saw that, and rose on his elbow. "You're so tender-hearted," he said softly, and kissed away the tears, savouring their salty taste.
"He has changed since I last met him. That was six months ago. He has no hope left in his life, and his job performance has been sliding. Starting next week, they are giving his territory to someone else. That's why he's here tonight. Our town is the HQ of his new area. But he knows it's a poor territory, so his career can only go downwards from here. I've never seen him looking so hopeless before."
"He needs a woman's touch. Doesn't he have any women friends in his office?" she asked softly.
"Maybe he does, but they're all married and have kids of their own!" he replied.
"So? All the better for him and for them! They don't need to depend on him for affection and security" she said softly. "For affection, they will have their husbands, and so they can just..."
"Take care of his needs? Is that what you're saying?" He said, with a faltering voice. Suddenly, his heart was beating differently, and his breath was beginning to change pace. His head spun. He had never felt this way before! Because he had never heard her talk this way before!
"Yes," she said softly. Take care of his needs... all his needs as a man. She thought the words, but she couldn't bring herself to say them.
"But the husband? What about the husband?" he asked, with a quavering voice, wondering if this was leading to where he thought it was. But he was fascinated, and allowed her to lead this discussion wherever she wanted it to go.
"He must trust her," she argued, sounding rather idealistic, as though she was saying something obvious. "He must love her enough to trust her completely... because she will always belong to the man who trusts her."
"But where is the need for anyone to make such a... sacrifice?" he asked, choosing his words carefully. He wanted to imply that the woman who did this was obviously also going to enjoy herself, but he thought that would make her turn around in self-righteous annoyance... and he didn't want to annoy her now, just see where this was going.
"Don't you men want to see him get better and better instead of worse and worse?" she asked, turning on him a little too vehemently. "You just want to stand by and watch the poor fellow drown in his sorrows, until he takes to drinks and women and God-knows-what. He must have started doing that already! But who cares?"
"No, he hasn't done that", he said defensively. "He's not that sort of chap... comes from a very disciplined and devout family, goes to the Shiv Mandir early every morning and things like that. So he won't sink like that. But I guess you're right!"
"OK, now it's getting late, so let's go to sleep!" She said, putting off the bedlamp, and turning away from him.
He lay awake, with his blood throbbing in his head and face. His thoughts were now swarming all over his body. He felt a sinking sensation in his chest that somehow elated him. After half an hour of lying that way, he dared to turn towards her and gently touch her waist. She didn't respond, and he heard the sound of her steady breathing. But he had a feeling that she wasn't really asleep. "I trust you," he whispered in her ear, but too softly, because he was half afraid she would hear him.
"What?" she said, without turning around. "You said something?"
"I trust you... completely," he said, louder, closing his eyes to steady his physical sensations. She turned around and faced him, her eyes wide open in the darkness. Her belly gently pressed against his turgidity. At first it seemed involuntary, but then, she made a gentle movement against him, and he was certain that she was now feeling his excitement too.
"Do you know what you are saying? Do you know that tomorrow morning you will feel very differently about me?" she asked him, even as she took his hands and gently put it to work on her blouse hooks.
As he opened them, took off her blouse, and began unhooking her bra, he said, "Yes, I will look at you differently, but I will still love you." As he said these words, he kissed her familiar breasts, and smelt their fragrance as though he was smelling them for the first time.
"Love me a little less than you do now?" she said, getting off the bed and standing before him, guiding his hand to the drawstring of her plain white cotton petticoat.
"No," he said sincerely, as he eased her petticoat over the curve of her waist, sitting on the edge of the bed. He gazed at her shapely thighs dreamily as they came into view. "More. Infinitely more."
"You will never lash out at me in anger because of this?" she said, even as she held his hands to the elastic of her panties. "Never, ever! I swear it! Believe in my love!" he pleaded earnestly, as he lowered her panties, and kneeled down to gave her a deep, long kiss. Her fragrance made him weak in his stomach. His head was spinning completely out of control. It was like an intense orgasm in his head, in his whole body!
Then he stood up. "Now go!" he said, giving her a gentle push towards the door that separated their bedroom from the rest of their house.
"One more thing," she said softly, turning around, and taking her thick plait away from the hook of her mangalsutra. He lovingly gazed at her creamy wheatish body in the full-length mirror, as he slowly took off the symbolic chain that bound her to him, and set her free for the night.
He held the black-and-gold chain in his hand, and put it gently on her pillow. When she returned, he would put it back on his wife and make love to her as he never had, ever before.
She unlatched the door gently and stepped out into the mellow darkness. Then she said simply, "I'm going to bolt the door from outside. Will you be wake when I come back?"
"How can I go to sleep?" he replied. But she had already shut the door.
He lay in his bed, listening, his ears telling him everything that his eyes couldn't. First, he heard her soft voice, and then, after a few minutes, his friend's. And then, intertwining with his voice, fifteen minutes later, he heard her sounds, which he was so familiar with.
His wife's low laughter. Her gasps, her moans, her cries of infinite pleasure.