“You know you can do a lot worse than him.”
Roshni munched on the chips and threw the phone away from her.
“Jeez! What’s wrong with you?” Stephen groaned.
“You’re what’s wrong with me,” Roshni said, both aloud and in her mind.
“You don’t have to be this loud,” Stephen said. “If I could go back, I would.”
“But why do you have to talk to me?” Roshni wailed. “Why can’t you be like a normal inner demon and just torment me without the occasional quips.”
“I’m not doing occasional quips. I’m just helping you to end my life. Do you think I enjoy this chips-laden, mayo-filled, calorie-hogging thing you call a body?” Stephen said.
Roshni was stunned. No one had ever talked to her, about her, like that. Worse, she couldn’t walk away from the situation. Wherever she went, there he was, talking, haunting, abusing her.
“Please go away,” Roshni said, almost in tears.
Stephen fell silent. Roshni went to her bedroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Her picture with Mark was still stuck in one corner of the mirror. She couldn’t believe that the girl looking back at her in the mirror was the same one who was in Mark’s arms. Mark wouldn’t have been able to recognize her now.
“Maybe he would have,” Roshni whimpered. Stephen tut-tuted.
She took her sleeping pills and went to bed. The next morning, she woke up, hoping that the voice would be gone but it was still there, mocking her.
“Get up and do something – exercise, run, anything,” Stephen said even before Roshni had taken her first step out of the bed.
She turned towards Mark’s side of the bed. It had been almost a year now since it was empty. Roshni’s eyes widened and she was suddenly wide awake. It was exactly one year. She checked her phone and Mark’s mom had messaged her.
‘When are you coming?’
‘In an hour.’
‘Hurry up. I need you.’
Roshni replied and got out of the bed as soon as she could. She had just an hour to reach and if she did her best, she would barely make it in time. She did.
“Thank God you are here,” Mark’s mom, Judy, said as soon as Roshni reached.
“Hey, mom,” Roshni said and got to work. It was Mark’s birthday and unfortunately, it was also the day he died last year. After a long fight with cancer, his body succumbed on the day of his birthday. Both Roshni and Judy were broken, even if they were happy that they at least got to celebrate one more birthday with him. This year, they discussed at lengths about what to do on his birthday and whether to celebrate it at all. Finally, they decided to celebrate it. Mark would have wanted that. He was not the rueful type.
It was a quiet gathering, a few old friends, who had known Mark and Roshni for years. After five years of marriage, Mark and Roshni had a lot of common friends.
“Even if no one’s saying anything, you know they are furtively looking at you, asking what went wrong,” Stephen said.
“Shut up!” Roshni whispered, pouring as much anger into it as she could.
“I’m just telling you the truth,” Stephen said.
Roshni focused on the party and after it was over, on the cleaning. She had taken the responsibility to organize everything and she wanted to finish everything before she leaves.
“Why don’t you stay tonight with us?” Judy said hugging Roshni from behind.
“Okay, mom,” Roshni said, her mind still fighting with Stephen.
Roshni finished the cleaning up and sat with Judy and Marcus.
“Thank you, girl. I don’t think we would have survived without you,” Marcus said in a gruff but sincere voice.
“It’s not nothing. It’s a lot. I was just telling Judy yesterday that once we are gone, everything belongs to you. You are our daughter now.”
“Oh hush! Stop your nonsense. She already knows all that.”
“Then why is she not taking care of herself like she’s taking our care,” Marcus said, bringing the elephant in the room at the forefront in one sweep. Judy looked from Marcus to Roshni.
“You know he’s never tactful Roshni.”
“It’s okay,” Roshni said looking down. Stephen was roaring right now, completing a victory lap. “See! I told you so,” he said to Roshni.
Judy put her hand on Roshni’s.
“But he’s not wrong. You know we love you and it kills us to see you like this. We didn’t want to say anything initially. We wanted to give you your space and grieve, hoping that one day you will get out of this and start taking care of your health. But we can’t see you like this anymore.”
“I know. I want to… I tried…” She started but then stopped. Tried what?
“When was the last time you went on a date?” Marcus asked. Roshni looked at him scandalized. “Never, right.” Marcus continued.
“I don’t think you can get a date now,” Stephen said. Roshni ignored that.
“I have installed apps. I am thinking…” Roshni sputtered.
“When did you get a haircut dear?” Judy asked. Roshni looked at her hair which had split ends and were of different shades at the roots and different at the edges.
“Roshni, dear. Please move in with us. I know it’s a lot to ask but we would love if you move in with us. Living alone, in that house, without Mark is clearly killing you,” Judy implored.
“Roshni. This is your father. You are moving in with us. Tomorrow, I will come with you and we will bring all your stuff from your house,” Marcus said and went inside.
“Sorry, honey. We are not asking this time.”
Roshni nodded, partly stunned at what had just happened.
The next day, Roshni moved in with Marcus and Judy, who both had apparently already talked with Roshni’s parents about this arrangement.
Stephen was still living inside her, annoying her, torturing her, taunting her as often as possible. It still hurt to look at the mirror. She didn’t need to bring Mark’s picture as Marcus’ and Judy’s house was filled with her and Mark’s photos.
“What did you eat for breakfast usually?” Judy asked. Roshni thought about the bag of unopened chips that was in her house. Marcus hadn’t let her take any of those packets.
“Eggs and some pancakes,” Roshni said remembering the last breakfast she’d had with Mark. She ate homemade eggs and pancakes after more than a year. They tasted different like Mark used to make.
“After breakfast, let’s go for a walk,” Marcus said and Judy and Roshni nodded.
“And to a salon after that,” Judy added with a smile.
Initially, going to work was hard from the new place but soon, she got used to it and soon, she didn’t know when the year passed and it was Mark’s birthday again.
Roshni woke up and looked at the mirror. She looked exactly as she looked in the picture. As Mark had known her. She kept looking at the picture as tears started to flow from her eyes.
“Stephen?” She whispered. There was no reply.
“Gone! Finally!” Roshni realized and started laughing and crying at the same time.