The night may have ended with both of them sleeping side by side, her hand between them and his hand over hers, as softly as he could manage so as to not wake her up.
But the next morning found them sleeping in each other’s arms.
His strong muscular arms wrapped around her. Her delicate form curled up within his hold, to fight the cold and all the insecurity of the world.
None of them had any idea how they crawled near each other to seek the comfort of someone warm around them, deep in sleep.
When she opened her eyes and moved a bit, he woke up too. It was hard for her, not to blush while claiming back her hands and legs entwined with him. It was an adorable sight for him to witness her lower her eyes and move away to sit on the bed, hiding her blush. Before she could go away, he held her arm and pulled her back to him.
Not expecting this sudden tug on her hand, she crashed back over him. Blushing more, she rolled her eyes and whispered, “What?”
“Hmm?” She had her brows knotted together to hear the apology. She settled over him, with her arm folded on his chest and eyes fixed on him.
“I came very late last night.”
“Oh come on, Manik!” She spoke lightly and sat back again, straightening her cotton top, taking her hair around her neck towards one shoulder, “You have a submission before weekend and I knew that you were working. Trust me, I was not upset. even I will have to work overnight or till late nights when I join the hospital. We can’t keep apologising for being committed to work!”
“Still… I should have called you and asked you to go to sleep.”
Apologising and explaining??! Feeling bad and regretting??!
Manik Malhotra… You are doing everything you had vowed that you would never do in a relationship. And the irony is that you don’t even feel victimised, this time. She is not even complaining and you are all out to give your justifications.
He smirked at this thought.
“What makes you smile?” She asked, raising her brows.
He rotated his tongue inside his cheek, obviously elated at the new discovery about how he had come beyond all his rules, deviating from his words and curved all backwards for her. She was that spell to him that charmed a man to stupefy.
That thought made him smirk again. He was now thinking in terms borrowed from Cabir’s and his wife’s obsession. Definitely, something was wrong with him.
She waved her hand before his eyes and rolled her eyes, “Manik, is something wrong with you?”
He didn’t even try to hide it. He grinned visibly and shrugged, “Maybe!”
“What ‘maybe’ … don’t try to make it mysterious… tell me, why are you so happy today?”
Changing the topic, he said, “You’ve turned the house into something so beautiful! From a bachelor’s pad to a married couple’s home… you’ve put so much thought into it…”
She was thrilled again. She had put in so much work that his appreciation worked wonders for her self esteem. Excited, she replied, “I was just hoping that you liked it… When last night you said that you loved it, I was so relieved…”
“I really loved it! Also, the fact that you considered my choice in one of the rooms… particularly the bedroom…” He winked.
Ignoring his tease, she chuckled, “I had to do that! I’m not living alone here. You should have an equal say…”
He got down from the bed and straightened his back, “Okay! I have to leave early. I’m leaving in half an hour…”
“This early? 7 am?” She folded her knees upwards and hugged her legs wrapping her arms around them. With that, she rested her chin on the folded knees, with her eyes on him.
Something about her posture was insanely adorable. He found himself gaping at her. Pressing his lower lips under his teeth, he nodded to confirm. Then, he left his lips. Speaking with a sorry face and a drawn, tired voice, he assured her, “I hate to do that too, Nandu. Trust me. It’s just a matter of a few days and I promise that once I’m free, I will compensate for all the time lost.”
She grinned, looking at how cutely he was trying to appease her. Without changing her posture, with her chin buried in her knees and eyes on him, she sighed, “Punishment or redemption?”
He walked around the bed and reached near her, on her side and sat facing her. He was not going to lose this game this time. With complete conviction, he confidently declared, “Redemption!”
Her eyes twinkled, and she couldn’t stop grinning. “That’s quite interesting, Malhotra! Are you aware that this redemption may cause you a lot of drift from your natural tendency and behaviour? You will have to put in hard efforts!”
He grinned too, “I’m ready!”
“Ohhkkaayyy!!! So, after you are free from this chaos and before I join the chaos, can we take a small holiday out of Bangalore?”
He was staring at her, almost dumbfounded!! He was such an idiot!!!! Why didn’t this thought occur to him????
Holiday!!! With her??!! Wasn’t it a perfect opportunity to spend time with her and maybe… to show, how he deeply he felt about her…how madly he was falling for her…
She continued, “You know that I love to travel and you said that you want to compensate for time wasted. It should be a perfect opportunity to make up for the time lost!” She shrugged, making a point.
His thunderstruck face made her think that he was weighing the options and wanted a way out.
So, she spoke in a flow, “It’s okay if you don’t want to go… it was just an option, you see… I know that you don’t like to travel as much as I do! But I haven’t really taken a break in last one year. I was studying all the time… day and night… and on last day of practicals, you came to meet me… it has been a roller coaster of events, since then… even this marriage was almost a hectic chore… not a break!! I mean, if we want to spend some quality time, together… which, in fact, is much needed, since we really don’t know much about each other… you know the way, we got married so soon and so…”
“By God!!!!” He interrupted her, keeping his hands before them to stop her superfast express, “Every time I think that you can’t talk more than this, you shock me and beat me at that!!! So much, Nandu?? Give yourself a break!”
“That’s what I’m asking. A break??!!” She chuckled at her own joke, making him smirk too.
“And I thought that only I have the ability to crack PJs.”
“Tch… Shut up! And I won’t have to speak so much if people understood what I am saying in fewer words…”
He nodded and stood up to go out, “But I understood it. Let’s plan it. You let me know the destination and I will get the bookings done.”
When he said about the bookings, she pressed her lips in apprehension and her face began to lose colours as the gleam faded slightly.
Yes, he meant that he was going to pay for the travel expenses and the hotel stay. Even yesterday, he paid at the mall. While it was ‘her’ who had wanted all those changes in the house and selected everything, from bedsheets to carpets. And he had happily paid.
And now, if he paid for the holiday too, was it right for her to go on laying so many demands, one after the other, and expect him to pay for all of her whims and fancies??
Why? Just because he was ‘the man’? He was supposed to pay? How wrong was that?!!
If she had been a homemaker, it would have been different and totally acceptable, as that is how it goes. One takes care of the home and the other works at the office and pays for expenses. It is the ideal division of responsibilities between a couple and the usual norm in society.
But here she was not doing much for their home too. For one, she couldn’t cook. She had not taken up any new responsibilities, as he had maids for every work and household work was not even the job, she was qualified for. If he didn’t have them, she would have employed new maids. She was a doctor and supposed to go out and work. She needed a helping hand. That was what she had always learnt. Her mother did household work as she loved to do that for her home.
It was different for everyone.
Here, she was not doing anything special for him or their home, other than sharing it with him. How could she ask him to bear all the expenses? Especially, when it was ‘her’ demand. Wouldn’t it hurt her self esteem?
She had her own bank balance. She was a working professional. Shouldn’t she pay? At least, when it came to ‘her’ desires and ‘her’ demands.
He frowned and stared at her face when she was going through this dilemma. He sat back on the bed and said, “I know what you are thinking…”
She was surprised, “What?”
“Your question last evening? Who pays?”
She was mortified. She really hoped that he didn’t feel bad about it. The last thing she had wanted was to hurt him. Especially for this petty issue like finances. Though it was not petty for her. It was a question of self-respect for her. But it might appear as ego to him… and may be petty for him.
Instead, he smirked and said, very casually, “You want to pay? Go ahead!!” With that, he shrugged, “I don’t mind.”
“Of course! I’m not a chauvinist with a self-inflated ego and male superiority syndrome. I don’t mind if the girl pays!”
She felt relieved. She knew that something was not right in this. But still, it always made her feel good when she paid for her expenses. Maybe, it was because she had managed her expenses for a long time. She had been working since long and was paid during the internship and the residency period. Her parents never asked for the money she earned and asked her to maintain her own bank balance. She had been so busy with hospital work and studies that to go and ask her parents for every little thing, from books to stationery, trinket jewellery to small outings with friends, seemed difficult. So she paid for every little thing, she needed and managed money earned by her.
And now, THAT independence was causing her the unease and discomfort about asking him for money. She could never, ever do that. Ask someone for money. Even if it was from her husband.
It was different for her mom, or his mom…or their aunts… They were stay-at-home moms. Perfect at taking care of home and had no other source of earning. How was it justified for Nandini Murthy?? She questioned herself.
And he had relieved her by saying that he didn’t mind it when she paid for the holiday.
“But just a small question?” He stretched his hands ahead, joined them and stretched his back. Yawning with it to shed the morning lethargy. His ruffled hair falling on his forehead and his sleepy eyes added to the effect. He crackled his neck side to side. An adorable act. Almost like a kid. She could watch him do these antics all through the day.
She smiled and lifted her chin once, to ask what he meant by that. Releasing his momentary stretch he asked, “Are we going to talk about this with every payment made, or should we make an arrangement?”
“I would prefer an arrangement!” She heaved a deep sigh of relief. Finally, this awkward discussion would have a resolution and they could move ahead from discussing finances at every nook and corner of their life.
He stretched his hand towards her and said, “How many cards do you have? Show me!”
She stood up, opened the cupboard and brought her handbag to the bed, opening the zip and reaching for her wallet. She took out 2 cards from the bag. “Here. … I have 2 cards. One, the SBI debit card where I used to get my salary and now, I will link it to my salary, wherever I work. The other is the Standard Chartered credit card.”
He took out 2 cards from his wallet and 2 from the drawer of the cupboard. Coming back to the bed, he took them all in his hands and sat down. “I have 4 cards – this one is the Lucknow bank card, where mom and dad used to deposit money when I was studying. Now that I earn, I deposit a part of my salary there. In case they need money, I know that they are not going to ask me. Living so far from them, I won’t even know that they need money for something. I know that they don’t need it, but still! I feel like it’s my duty. So, it’s my joint account with my mom. I only transfer some money, every month in that. I don’t withdraw. Neither, do they withdraw. But they can, when they want. It’s a kind of saving. Let’s leave it like that?”
“Obviously!” She shrugged, as it wasn’t even a matter of discussion. Why was he even asking her or explaining to her? It was amazing that he did that. How many men recognised this responsibility? This arrangement had to go on as previously, as before their marriage.
“Now, we are left with five cards, between us.” He held all the cards together in his hands. “So, they are ‘our’ cards… ‘our’ money…okay?”
She nodded. Not getting what he was saying. He smiled and took a card from it and placed on his side, “This is my credit card. I am keeping it for my personal expenses… coffee or tea at the office, when I take colleagues out for drinks, when I donate to charity, buy petrol for the car or whenever I’m spending … even for the grocery, if I am out at the market. It’s simple… if I spend, I pay! For whatever, it is… even if you ask me to get something from the market. I am going to buy the bread, I’ll pay! No discussions on that. The same way, you take your credit card and spend wherever you feel like. Your personal expenditures, your charities, like taking street dogs to vets…” He chuckled at that.
She jovially smacked at his hand for the subtle tease, while he continued. “Your cab bills, your handbags, your shoes… obviously, you won’t call me at the office to ask for money for each and every small thing. You can afford that… and also if you are buying vegetables or drinks at the store or mall, even if it is ‘my’ stuff…you pay… Even if we are spending for our home or each other. You get things for me, I’ll get it for you. Is it a big deal?”
“Not at all!” She nodded. It was understood.
“See, it is only the initial hiccup. Later on, when we get used to it, even if we have to ask for money, from each other, it shouldn’t feel awkward.”
“Hmm! I get it…” A huge burden was released from her head.
Such a big relief!!!!
It was not going to be ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ in this department. Their money was ‘theirs’ jointly and they were going to spend it or save it like a unit. For themselves, for their home and for each other, without any discussion further into it.
It suited her. If he was okay that she spent money for home and him, she was fine too!!
“Now, we have remaining 3 cards. 2 salary accounts, yours and mine and one more account that I had to make when I had to take a loan for the car.”
“Hmm.” She nodded.
He gave all three to her, “Take all of them and keep them with you. Manage as you feel like. We will both earn and save money in these accounts. And we will both spend.”
She was suddenly nervous. All her confidence went down the drain. She had managed small personal expenses, until now. And all her worries were limited to that. How can she do that for an entire household. Her mom was expert at that! But not her!!
She was juvenile … and naive…inexperienced… according to her!
How can he even think of giving access to all his salary accounts to her??
“No… no…I can’t do that!” She stammered, gulping down a huge lump of saliva.
“Come on! You keep all the cards. I will keep the online access for online transactions. I just need to carry my credit card, that I need on a day to day basis. Rest, I don’t need. You pay with them, wherever it is necessary. I don’t want that stress. I’m bad at management and finances…”
The MBA from IIM was telling her that he was bad at management and finances!!!??
Like, how much he could bluff, just to make her feel comfortable!!?
It was cute, nevertheless. And it made her grin. “They don’t teach this in medical college too. Even I am poor at handling finances. You have studied it in business management, so stop acting as if I don’t know it…”
He laughed, “Really, Nandu… I want you to keep all the cards with you… They will remain safe with you and you may need them. I might not be there at all times.”
She teasingly smiled widely, “What if I blow up all the money!”
He chuckled too, “You are allowed!”
“Thank you!” She bowed as if given huge liberty and then, next moment, she became very serious. Scared again. “But no thanks. Seriously! I can’t take such a huge responsibility!”
“Okay, I’ll tell you how we will go about it…” He rolled his eyes as if talking to a baby, showing her each card, “See… one card, we will keep for emergencies. We won’t touch that account for any withdrawals, unless there is a dire emergency like hospital bills, sudden issues which need heavy payment or when you are alone and I’m not there. The second card, we will use for all basic utilities, milk, grocery, household things, maids, all everyday things ordered online, or in bulk from the grocery store. The third card, we use for bigger things – holidays, the makeover of home, paint work or when we need to buy furniture or any new gadget. Online payments will be done, likewise. Simple!!” He shrugged to end it so smoothly.
She nodded, pressing her lips, looking at the cards. Very smartly, he had already given back her cards to her – Her credit card, for everyday use and salary debit card for their mutual savings and emergencies. Giving ‘his’ cards for basically ‘everything else’ … he had ensured that it was ‘she’ who spends, but using ‘his’ cards. It didn’t matter who paid, as finally it was going to be the joint thing…
He would pay for most of the things and she would save for emergencies. It was complicated initially. But he made it easy to execute.
No ego was hurt and no more discussions were needed.
“And now, I will leave…” He stood up, and walked towards the kitchen for his lemon water, “What are your plans for today?”
“I’ve made a list of hospitals who have a cutting edge infrastructure in Gynae & Obs. I will visit them today and apply accordingly.” She replied, following him to the living room and the first thing she did was, going to Dobby, cuddle him and fill his pan with milk.
“Is this guy feeling better?” Manik asked, mixing honey in the glass.
She smiled and said, “Seems like so? He is in pain, but better than yesterday. He is adorable and so loving. Do you want to hold him??”
He laughed nervously, “Whoaaa!!! No wayy…I’m good when I am far from these creatures.”
She didn’t insist. Instead, she smiled and let Dobby move around a while. His leg appeared better than previous day. As an afterthought, she asked, “Manik, is this fear from dogs related to a past experience?”
He walked back from the kitchen and pulled a chair from the dining table to sit. “Yes! One of my close friend had a Boxer. We were playing at his house. His dog was very angry that day and he had bitten me, real bad. I was ten years old, at that time. It was a deep laceration, tearing away my shin muscle. I had to get admitted in the hospital, underwent a surgery, got anti-rabies vaccination. That injection was so painful. I remember those days of pain even now… since then, I shiver at the sight of dogs.”
“Oh my God!!!” Her jaw dropped, “I had expected something like a dog scare or a mild bite, but not something that severe!”
“That stops me from even trying to hold a dog or any other animal, for that matter! I’m simply scared of them.”
“I can understand.” She felt genuinely bad for him. One angry dog had spoilt it for him. He could never know how loving a relationship with a pet can be. Every animal reflects and responds by giving much more love than he receives, barring a few difficult ones.
He shrugged, “Usually, a deep-seated fear has a base in a bad past experience!”
“Many times, it is not just the fear. It’s reliving the past experience that is painful.”
“What does that mean?”
“Maybe, we are missing out on a whole new world full of love and warmth, just because we prefer to hang on to the past.”
He listened to her patiently. Without moving his eyes from her. Without saying another word and tried to apply it to everything in his life. Was she right??? Of course, she was!!
She continued and he sat silent with his eyes fixed on her.
“Manik… maybe, love is just a step away, if you decide to look beyond your fear?!!”