Literary Yard

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Story: For My Eyes Only

By: Ajay Patri

She tells me to start using contact lenses. I want to protest at this suggestion, enraged that she is so insensitive to the intimate connection I share with glasses. But because we are surrounded by people, I dissuade myself from launching into a passionate defence of spectacles and their many virtues. Instead, I do the next best thing: I give her the classic cold shoulder. I give her my best miffed look, scrunching up my face and frowning deeply. I probably look like a grumpy giant panda with no glasses to hide my black circles.

She isn’t impressed, or deterred. She leans closer and hisses like an angry cat. But you keep losing them, she says. It would make both our lives so much easier if you could shift to contacts. It would be so convenient. Her voice, unlike her stern expression, is surprisingly gentle. She sounds more like an exasperated mother with a problem child than a frustrated wife.

But I am no problem child. I am a forty five year old man who’s been wearing glasses for forty years. Forty years!

Can anyone imagine wearing glasses for so long and then being told to stop using them, to substitute them with flimsy pieces of glass or plastic that you insert into your eyes? Nobody in their right mind would do such a thing.

But I do not say all these things. I do not want to attract unwanted attention to ourselves, not when we are in the middle of a party. The last thing I want is for our friends and all the other strangers here to listen in on our domestic spat about my debilitating condition. So I just glower at her and ask politely if we can just drop the subject for now.

She doesn’t seem pleased at the suggestion but thankfully stops talking about my abysmal eyesight. She shakes her head disapprovingly and I know from that shake of the head that she’s not had the last word in this argument yet. I will have to brace myself for a fresh onslaught in the near future, maybe as soon as we get home. I almost groan at the prospect of ushering in the new year with a fight that we have been half-heartedly indulging in ever since the beginning of our marriage.

Oblivious to my thoughts, she places a hand on my arm, gives a gentle squeeze and says that she will walk around for a bit and talk to people. That is why we are here, isn’t it? She says she will see me when the new year strikes. Those are a deliberate choice of words on her part. A last parting blow designed to sting me till we next spar. I nod my head glumly, pretending to not pay much attention to what she said.

As she walks away without turning back, I am seized by an overwhelming sense of loneliness. In spite of all the fighting, I know that she means well. My current predicament is all the proof I need to tell me that her suggestion is extremely practical. I am almost blind right now, the world around me an unfocused blur. Everything I see is a mess, a riotous mixture of colour and edges that keep nudging each other, shape shifting into something barely discernible before contorting themselves to look like they have been in existence before the beginning of time itself, formless and mysterious. I cannot identify a person unless they are standing a foot away from me. If they take a step back, they would instantly bear a resemblance to a dozen other people I know. I am acutely aware of the social embarrassment that this might cause and I stand where she has abandoned me, feeling a little light headed. I do not take a step away from where I stand for fear of running into something, or someone. I am a little child made to stand in a corner and told not to stray under the threat of ominous consequences befalling me. I shuffle my feet and keep my eyes down, eager to not make contact with anyone who might know me and who will smile, expecting one in return that will not be forthcoming.

Someone pats me on the shoulder. I half turn and for a second, just a second, I believe she is back. Maybe she wanted to apologise for being so harsh to me, or perhaps she wanted to make a renewed assault on my reluctance to change. The blue dress seems the same sleeveless one that I saw her slip into at home. The hair is done in a manner that harkens back to a fashion that was probably the rage when we were teenagers, gathered and tied up at the top of the head with cascading locks. In that moment of seeming recognition, my mind braces itself for whatever she might say, years of domestic life having honed my instincts.

Hello dear, she says. Like she is actually my wife or girlfriend. I grimace at the sound of her dreamy voice and immediately pray that she did not notice it. But I know what the odds of that are. Leela notices everything. As if on cue, she asks me what happened to my glasses and if I have finally caved in to contacts. I shake my head and mumble something about losing them. I don’t tell her I lost them in the men’s room. She doesn’t need to know that. She tut-tuts softly and says she can see my eyes better this way and how they have a lovely sheen to them.

The nerve of the woman! She never passes an opportunity to flirt with me, knowing well how uncomfortable that makes me feel. She completely discounts the fact that I have been happily married for so long. And for what? A short-lived romance that we had when I was a nervous bachelor and she was in the middle of a boring marriage. We were reckless and young. I moved on but she hasn’t.

She tells me I look as good as ever. My neck feels hot at hearing her say that and I look around to see if my wife is around and realise with a sinking feeling in my stomach that she would probably notice me before I saw her. Leela reads my mind and smiles, her white teeth shining through my foggy vision. Don’t worry darling, she says. She’s on the other side of the hall. Just me and you here.

I do not know what she wants from me with all these insinuations. It would be simply ridiculous to say that she pines for me. I cannot say that I look better now than I did back then; even my glasses have becoming increasingly outdated and clunky with the years. We didn’t make any promises to each other, we didn’t share any long loving gazes. I wouldn’t even be thinking about it if it weren’t for the unfortunate fact that we are part of the same larger social circle. She attends kitty parties with my wife, for heaven’s sake! If Leela wanted to out our secret, she could have done it ages ago. I suspect she likes torturing me slowly like this, deriving some sadistic pleasure out of it. Maybe she just likes playing the role of the jilted lover even though nothing could be farther from the truth.

My thinking is interrupted again by her talking. Now she asks me about my eyesight. Even she knows about my notoriously poor eyes. I say that it’s not getting any better. I am not getting any better, I want to scream at her, just stop this chasing. Oh my, she exclaims. I cannot decide if her concern is real or fake. I just shrug in response. So you can’t see what I have done with my hair?

Her hair? Does she have no sense of propriety at all? Why is she so shamelessly fishing for compliments? My silence only spurs her on. She starts explaining what she has done to her hair, talking like one would talk to a blind man about his surroundings. In an offhand way, she says that my wife is sporting the exact same style tonight.
I just say that without thinking. No wonder I mistook her when I saw her first. My eyes aren’t beyond redemption yet, it seems.
Had I noticed how beautiful it looked on my wife? The elaborate knot and the flowing hair? She is unrelenting and I can do nothing but agree. She moves a step closer and tells me to close my eyes and imagine her, Leela, with such hair. I try to protest but she isn’t done talking. She whispers that the two of them look so alike right now that I would have a hard time telling them apart. What with such similar hairstyles and all.
She is close now, so close that I can notice the glint of the tiny diamond set in her nose and the wrinkles round her eyes that weren’t there in her youth. I can feel myself going hard against my will, followed by a sudden onslaught of shame. My face is already flushed when she says that she could as well be my wife for the moment and I would be none the wiser.
I have no idea what is happening. Actually, I do have a vague sense of what is coming except my brain seems too muddled. All the blood is rushing off into places where it shouldn’t be rushing off to now. I am rooted to my spot, staring at her without really looking at her. What do you say? Somewhere behind us, a countdown to the new year begins. She moves even closer and I notice that her lips are a deep crimson and surely, they are still as soft as they once were.
We ride back home in silence. Her hands are firmly planted on the steering wheel and she doesn’t look at me. I fidget in my seat beside her, unsure of what to say myself. She has been icy towards me since we left the party.

What did she see? What did she think of what she saw? I wish she would just say something. Or am I overreacting? Maybe she is still annoyed with our little disagreement from before. The uncertainty gnaws at me now and it is all I can do to scream and ask her. But I can’t and I won’t.

When she unlocks the door and steps into our home, I follow her but stop at the threshold. I call out and she turns around to look at me. I try my best to focus on her face and appear nonchalant. I wish I was standing closer. I will get them, I tell her. I will get those contacts.



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