For Life & Beyond

by Rhea Pillai

In their 6 years of blissful marriage, Tara couldn’t recall a single instance where Vivaan was late. The man was like a Swiss clock, a stellar quality he had inherited from his diligent military father. Vivaan went on a lot of business trips abroad, and every time she knew he was coming home, she would play the lookout game. “I should be home around 9:15 tonight,” he had told her earlier on the phone, before he boarded his flight from Cape Town.

And then the lookout game would ensue. Close to his arrival time, Tara always stood at their apartment’s balcony, with a clear view of all the cars arriving to the apartment’s entrance. It was their little tradition. Vivaan would arrive, look up 7 storeys knowing Tara would be watching from the balcony, she would wave excitedly to him and all the sparkle that had left their home from it being empty for the past few days would return the instant Vivaan walked in the front door.

Their romance was always one to aspire to. Her best friends enviously remarked how theirs was a couple that knew no separation, no arguments and no relationship problems that other marriages saw.

Tara swung the door open, watching the elevator climb 7 floors and twirled the bracelet around her wrist as she waited for what felt like an eternity. The beautiful bracelet Vivaan had gifted her for their anniversary this past year had ‘for life and beyond’ etched into it, a vow they had made each other during their wedding ceremony. He never forgot thoughtful gestures. He was the perfect man, after all.

Vivaan walked out of the elevator, but unlike most days when he would be cheery and have a bear hug ready for Tara, today, his shoulders were slumped, his forehead was creased and he looked like he hadn’t slept in a few nights. Tara flung herself on him and hugged him, sensing that something was amiss and that he felt more fragile than usual. “What’s wrong? You look beat” said Tara.

“That felt like the longest flight in the world, Tara. There was so much turbulence that there was a point my head hit the window kind of hard, and I’ve had a migraine since. Do you mind if I just take some medicine and go right to bed sweetheart?” Vivaan said, shuffling to their bedroom.

Tara put away the risotto she had made for dinner back into the fridge and retreated into their bedroom. Vivaan was fast asleep already, his handsome features looking ever so delicate against the dim glow of the bedside lamp. As she crawled into bed, Vivaan moved towards her and spooned her, the only position she was ever able to fall asleep in. The nights Vivaan traveled, Tara wouldn’t be able to sleep more than 4 hours. Tonight, like the perfect jigsaw puzzle with their bodies fitting into each other’s, Tara fell into a sound, dreamless sleep.

She was jolted awake by the shrill sound of her phone ringing at the break of dawn around 4am. It was her mother-in-law calling, so Tara tried her best to snap out of her exhaustion to attend to the call. Vivaan was still asleep next to her and she wanted to be careful not to wake him yet, so she tiptoed into the adjacent room.

She whispered hello into the phone and was met with sharp sobs on the other line. “Hi, mom? What’s wrong?” There was silence on the other end, just muffled sounding cries and heavy breathing. Her mother in law finally composed herself after a minute and spoke, her voice trembling.

“Sweetheart, I’m heartbroken and don’t know how to tell you this. The flight Vivaan was on last night from Cape Town never landed. I thought you might have fallen asleep early last night which is why you didn’t call. I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you with this just yet but sweetheart, I have a feeling something terrible happened so I just had to wake you. They’re saying the plane disappeared over the ocean….the airline has no answers but they think it likely crashed and that there are no survivors.”

“I should have known the moment he didn’t send me his usual text….I should have known……,” her mother-in-law broke down again, howling something intangible that Tara could not focus on anymore. Tara left the phone slip from her trembling fingers, and slowly walked back into the bedroom, enveloped by complete horror and devastation.

Vivaan was sitting up and facing her, his face looking hollowed than ever, forcing a weak smile. “For life and beyond, darling.”

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