I don’t know if that’s your real name or if that’s just what he calls you. All I know is that he says your name differently. Something about it is heavy with affection – and it stings a little.
He doesn’t bring you up much. In fact, he was hesitant to tell me about you. But I found out soon enough. I knew there had to be someone back home. No one would leave their homes and live in this dump if they weren’t living for someone else.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Bombay. I’m a Bombay girl, born and raised. Nothing would make me leave this city. But it’s different for those who come here. It’s harsh and unwelcoming. And there is nothing it will offer you besides odd jobs and the hope that in a big city, miracles can happen.
You know, I never thought I’d be the “other woman”. And certainly not like this.
Usually, the Other Woman gets only the best of him. On Sundays when he wakes up without a worry in the world. When he has a little extra cash and is feeling indulgent. When he impulsively decides to take a late night walk to the beach.
And it’s the wife that’s left to handle him at his worst, To comfort him through difficult days, put up with his tantrums, to cook and clean up after him. But how our roles are reversed.
I get the mundane, unremarkable, exhausted version. And you get the chirpy, bright-eyed, smitten version. And despite spending all his time with me, when he saves extra money, he promptly sends it to you.
I never thought I would be jealous of you. Why would I? Isn’t it always easier to be the woman who made him stray away, than the one he strayed away from? But here I am, wondering how often he thinks about you, how my cooking compares to yours, why he doesn’t say my name like that.
But to be honest, I often forget I am with a married man. It’s oddly easy when there is nothing to hide. He introduces me to his friends, we go to the temple on Sundays, and stop for pav bhaji on our way home.
I sometimes wonder if you think of me. Or if you sleep soundly, knowing I’m just a temporary stopover on his way to the final destination. Like how everyone rushes out in hordes at Kasturba Station. Any outsider would think it was the most popular destination in India.
But everyone knows it’s only because the train stops there long enough to stretch your legs, grab a quick chai and get in line to use the toilet. I sometimes wonder if that’s what I am to him.
Just a short detour to quench his thirst before the long journey back home to you.
But I’ve always known we had an expiry date. That he would eventually buy a one-way ticket to follow the train tracks back to you.
And I’ll drop him off at the train station, share one last pav bhaji and send him on his way.
I’ll fall asleep that night, grateful for the many trains that stop at Kasturba Station, and the people that get off, eager to quench their thirst.