A LIGHT BULB
Short Story written by Afshan Sayed
Published by Wells Street Journal, London, UK in Dec 2021
Tara was making a trip to the hills of Shimla to meet her happiness, her school friend, Anjali, a happily married young woman, mother of three delightful children.
Tara traveled all the way to the holiday home, breaking down into tears in between. She reprimanded herself to stay collected until she met Anjali.
The house in Shimla was draped in milky white. It looked tranquil among a good number of tall snowcapped pine trees. The sounds of nature echoed from the nearby hills. Tara entered the house to see life all around her giggling, playing or readying to go out in the snow. The happiness and warmth in the otherwise cold region melted Tara’s heart. She wanted this.
Anjali and Tara hugged. She shook hands with Vivek, the husband. The chil- dren, two girls and a boy, yelled welcome from their respective hiding places.
‘You look like such a mess,’ Anjali whispered to Tara. ‘Yes I know,’ she nodded.
‘Why don’t you go upstairs and freshen up? Vivek and the kids are readying to go out and play.’
‘That would be perfect. I want to talk to you.’
Tara walked up the stairs to her room. She took a long, hot shower to smoothen her sallow face and refresh her teary red eyes. She dressed in her perkiest best and came down to a small meal and a hot cup of coffee. Anjali was waiting there alone by the window keeping an eye out for her children playing in the snow.
As Tara took her seat, Anjali asked, ‘he’s left you again?’
‘We had the most horrible fight. I called him names and he called me some. He said it’s not working out anymore between us. And he doesn’t have the strength to carry on.’
‘This sounds like the usual Alok. What was it about this time?’
‘Anjali, I badly want what you have. A family of my own to love and to care for. Alok seems like the perfect fit for me, but he doesn’t think I am ‘it’. I told him he was a skirt chaser though he is loyal. I told him that he was passing time with me for the past four years deliberately though he is confused.
‘Alok is a lot of things, loyal, confused, vulnerable, afraid to commit. I’ve heard this over again in the past year that we’ve reconnected. The point is where do his insecurities leave you? Have you thought that through?’
‘What about me? I try to mend my ways and ask him out for fun every time. Whenever I look into his big, brown eyes all I see is love. Whenever I notice his huge spread of arms, I see the father of my children. He doesn’t feel the same way.’
‘There is no love here, there is only affection. No matter how big and wide his arms are, they are never going to cuddle your children. Isn’t that obvious to you by now? He does not want to commit. At least not to you.’
‘That somehow doesn’t stop me from trying.’
‘Try waking up at 5:00 am for the children and husband. Try working at the office, and then run household errands after returning from work. That should awaken you from your silly beliefs that my life is the epitome of happiness. It is hard work!’
Anjali broke into whispered confessions, ‘sometimes I feel like I would have been better off without Vivek.’
She sipped her coffee, straightened her back and continued, ‘look Tara, you’re the one who ends up feeling sad, sorry, upset every time you and Alok break up. You’re a good teacher at a reputed college. Unlike other women, you have a social circle and a large, maiden, extended family. Why do you need a man like Alok? Why do you need a man anyway?’
‘To change the light bulb,’ Tara said without thinking. This amused Anjali. And they had a good laugh. ‘You want to make a snowman now?’
The summer holiday came to an end. No more making snowmen or cooking chicken steaks or eating candle lit dinners or reading Anjali’s children bedtime stories. Tara was on her way back to the city. She had to cure the itch of wanting to connect with Alok again. She’d had a bit of personal time and a while to rethink the last fight. She was determined not to worry about any future whether it was with or without him.
Lectures at the college ended the tedious day. Tara returned to her studio apartment. She made herself a cup of coffee. And when she removed her phone from her bag she thought, ‘dash it!’ To every word of advice and recognition of self-esteem that Anjali had talked about. She was going to swallow her pride, beat her ego, kill her dreams and make that call to Alok. She was going to patch up things with him for like the ninth time.
Tara placed the call. There was no answer. She tried texting. The grey ticks on the message app did not turn blue for a day, two days, and then a whole week. She tried texting again and calling. She realized Alok had blocked her. She dialed frantically in panic, but was met with a blockade.
Tara picked up her house keys, bag and phone and made her way to Alok’s home. She reached his apartment and rang the doorbell. A strange, old woman answered the door. Tara asked, ‘is Alok Mehta there?’
The old woman replied, ‘the previous occupant has given up this flat and gone. If it is him, you’re referring to.’
‘Is there a forwarding address he may have left behind?’
The old woman shook her head. ‘No. Try the landlord if you’d like. He’s on the second floor.’
‘Yes, yes I know,’ Tara left with a sinking feeling. But she reassured herself. She knew where he worked, what his hot spots were, where he liked to drink and eat and go dancing. She would find him.
She inquired with the landlord, but he too did not have a forwarding address. Tara wound her hair in a bun, put on her running shoes and ran pillar to post trying to track Alok at all the familiar spots and places they had visited, eateries they had been to, and clubs they had danced at. Tara left a word for him everywhere that Saturday evening.
Exhausted and drunk, when she came back to her empty, studio apartment, Tara felt pathetic, needy, clingy and teary eyed. To add further fuel to her misery, the light bulb in her bathroom died as she was inspecting her haggard face.
She was by then furious with herself. She went searching for the stock of bulbs in the kitchen cabinet. She found one. Tara carefully removed the cover and fixed the light in its socket and turned it around to secure it in the holder. She then switched it on. The bulb glowed. Tara beamed with an idea.
The next day, Sunday she spent with herself going out to brunch, a stand-up comic show, a peep into her favorite bookstore and a late evening dinner. She did every- thing all by herself. She realized this was going to be difficult. But with a little bit of practice she’d master the art of being on her own. She had finally taken Anjali’s advice seriously. It took Tara close to three months to be at ease, and form a friend- ship with self. She thought simply, if she could change a light bulb, what was a man?
She seemed to take a keen interest in her lectures at the college now. Tara found her colleagues stimulating, her friends dependable, and her maiden family much more supportive and cooperative. In a bid to get rid of a man’s memory Tara had regained control of her life and rediscovered her world.
One particular Saturday evening, Tara entered a café and took her regular seat. She had her regular decaff and sat watching the sights before her as she settled down to read. When she raised her head she noticed a strange, young man holding a book upside down, peering more at her than at the book.
Tara met his gaze and smiled.