He was a man of large stature, 6’3”, fair complexion, bald, with a slight paunch protruding from under his tucked in formal shirt. He was a jovial sort, perfectly willing to let the world do its deeds and misdeeds as long as he was left out of it. His eyes had crinkly edges, the mark of a man who is easily pleased. He worked a simple job as an English editor, wrote some amateur poetry on the side, and believed that a good life constituted of nothing more than good food, good books and good company. He also believed good books were good company.
One person who could silence his smile forever with just a look, and conversely light up his world when everything seemed to be falling apart. As is always the case, such powers were born by a member of the feminine race.
She was everything to him. He liked a book only after he discussed it with her, until then he was opinionless. A meal was tasty only if she sat across the table, giggling at his expressions of ecstasy.
And without her constant conversation and stimulation, he had no qualms admitting he would hardly be a writer of any worth, even in his own eyes.
He stared at her pictures for a while. He did this often when she was not around. Her cheery features seemed to give him endless reasons to laugh. The very same photo brought the very same smile to his lips today just as it had the first time he had set his eyes upon her.
Azaan was happier than usual today. Today his most treasured dream, and so also the dream he was most vulnerable to, had come true. Today his angelic wife called him up to tell him he was going to be a father. And to a baby girl no less!
He had always had dreams of holding his baby girl in his lap. Little Haya, gurgling and drooling nonsensically while her overjoyed father spouted equally nonsensical gibberish back at her, with his wonderful wife watching them with proud tears in her smiling eyes.
He set his laptop down, walked down the hallway into the bedroom. Blew a flying kiss to the bed, that sacred bed, where his love for his soul mate had now made the leap from an overwhelming emotion into a tiny bundle of biology. Fond memories of their intimacy raced through his head now and he began to miss the feel of her skin.
He lay on the bed, staring at the empty space where she would lay curled up. He looked past it to the side-stand and noticed a leatherbound notebook lying there. He had never seen it before. Curiosity rising, he picked up the notebook and opened to the first page. It was her diary! Azaan, to the best of his knowledge, had never heard her mention a diary to him, and they told each other everything. Every inch of his body was aching to read what she had written in this, her most private refuge, private even from him, her life partner. And man, as history has shown, seldom has the will power to resist temptations as inviting as this.
He began to read.
Another entry described how she had gone to the carnival and binged on cotton candy. Her delight at winning a carnival game for the first time in her life, her embarrassment at tearing up when she received a stuffed toy version of Garfield, her favourite comic. Azaan had no recollection of this day, but he could well imagine her expression and childish delight, and he congratulated himself on his decision to read the diary. These reminiscences brought him great pleasure and a unique insight into his wife’s mind, a mind that held an aura of wisdom for him.
Another entry, this one describing the romantic weekend they spent on their anniversary in Gokarna.
Azaan frowned. For the life of him, he could not remember having gone on any such vacation. For a wild second he imagined it must be his wife noting down fictional days which she had dreamt up in her head and wrote as secret wishes in her diary. But as he reread the entries, he realised they were filled with too many mundane, unimportant details to be a work of fiction. And they were detailed with dates and times. Precise itineraries. A later entry even had the ticket attached.
Azaan was aware of a sinking feeling somewhere near the pit of his stomach. He hurriedly read on, hoping to make sense of it. Here were detailed accounts of a very busy life that his wife had apparently been leading right under his nose with him completely in the dark. There was no mention of him in most of the entries, whole days that she had described as the most important, the most treasured, the most cherished days of her life, and he had no knowledge of them. Azaan stood there reeling. If she could keep such a wealth of information secret from him, who knows what else she could be hiding?
He ran to her cupboard and started going through her stuff, an invasion of privacy he would have found repulsive on any other day. He stopped cold, holding up a pair of men’s trousers two sizes too small to fit him. He could not believe it. Today, on the day he received the news of his simple, unambitious life, he was also being forced to realise his greatest fear. His wife was having an affair.
His trust in her had been blind, he would have listened to anything she said, and he never questioned anything she did. And she knew it. That vile, filthy, conniving woman knew it and she took every advantage of it. Azaan had been a slave to her, but he was happy in his slavery. Now he bristled with all the anger of a circus animal suddenly finding itself free of its cage and finding itself face to face with its tormentor. He would teach her a lesson. He would make her suffer tenfold for every ounce of pain that now poisoned his insides. He would…
Azaan’s morbid contemplations were cut short by a bloodcurdling shriek. He would recognise that voice anywhere. He turned to see her standing in front of him, hands clamped over her mouth, eyes wide open in fear. She was quivering, shrinking, backing away. All the classic signs of guilt. She wasn’t even going to deny her guilt, not that he would give her the chance.
The turmoil in his mind was apparent in his speech and the words hung there in the room as they both appraised each other, waiting to see what the other would do.
Azaan took a step towards her. She bolted.
Quick as a feline, she ran down the corridor and locked herself in the guest bedroom. Azaan banged on the door, pleading her to talk to him, to explain where it had all gone wrong, when she had ceased to love him, when their relationship had grown tiresome enough for her to even contemplate infidelity.
Azaan began hurling himself at the door. It would not budge, it was one of those old fashioned heavy wooden doors. His efforts merely earned him bruises, the door remained unmoved. However the sound of him crashing into the door did draw fresh screams from the “victim” inside.
He heard her frantically asking the police for help. His own wife. Azaan shook his head in disbelief.
He paced around in the hallway, trying to calm himself down. He sat on the sofa, stared straight ahead at the coffee table lying in front of him. When had they bought this table? Azaan could not remember, everything was fuzzy to him now.
He got up, suddenly feeling very out of place. He was having trouble remembering anything, the room looked strange to him. These books, he had never seen them before. Who was that man in the photos with his wife? Who were those kids? Why were there toys lying around the house?
As he searched around, he could see no evidence of his photos with his wife. All the photos seemed to have her with strange men, and strange kids. Had he not seen these very same photos just an hour ago? Was he not the one standing with her then? What was happening?
They handcuffed him and escorted him to the van. He glimpsed his wife peeking frightenedly out of the bedroom window. There was only fear in here eyes, no love, no sympathy. Just fear.
“He was a mental patient, ma’am, and was missing for the past six months. He had stalked you for these six months, building up a whole fantasy in his head about living a life with you. He stole money, food, electronics, clothes from people who he imagined to be like himself. Dressed himself impeccably everyday and travelled the city in the guise of an editor, happily married to you.”
“He had entered your house through an open window, made copies of your keys, and used to stay at your house everyday when you and your husband left for work and your children left for school. And he made sure to leave before any of you arrived. Today, he imagined you had informed him that he was going to father a baby daughter.”
“That’s my daughter’s name!”
“So he told you he made it up?”
“No ma’am, he still believes it is all real, and is very confused about what actually transpired.”
“Then how do you know all the details?”
The inspector held up a leatherbound notebook, identical in every manner to the one she had in her bedroom, but marked with the initials A.A.