The Face Cards

Anchit Som
10 min readJan 1, 2019

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The phone was ringing loudly; it was calling out to somebody. All of Ballygunge could hear the phone strumming away in the house of five. Posh Da the father of the bride was sleeping and the mother Pini was cooking for the relatives arriving in the house. The bride’s younger brother Deepen was entertaining the guests with his funny Bengali poems. As the phone’s constant plea for attention became unbearable, Pini called out to her daughter and shouted “Phoneta uthao, kokhon teke baajche, shona jaaye na ki”. The bride hurried towards the phone lifting her sari from beneath, stepping over the wet floor. She wasn’t afraid to slip; her feet were too slow for her heartbeat which became faster as she approached the phone. It was 5 pm and the sun was setting with a hint of dusk around the corner. The last tram passed through the streets and as it whistled the horn Aanya picked up the phone. She sighed but didn’t say Hello. She waited for the other person to say it like every day at 5 pm. But there was another loud sigh. She held the phone with an uncertain grip and would drop it from her hands if it was not for her other one which held the phone as well. Both her hands holding the phone couldn’t stop her eyes from crying her heart out. She didn’t make a sound, taking deep breaths she shed every tear holding the phone. She didn’t want the person on the other line to know that she was weepy but she did not know that Atul was hardly faring better. A whisky in his hand had tried to numb the pain, but nothing really mattered when he finally heard a soft crying sound from the other end. He said “Hello” in a mellow voice which hardly made it to the other end. “Wrong Number” said Aanya’s familiar voice and she kept the phone down with a sudden clunk. The phone’s silencing beeps of the call being cut did not trouble Atul, he found peace in listening to them as each one of them was still a sound from the other side. Anya fell down as her knees went weak, and she wept with sound now. She wept like there was just her and all the pain that was haunting her from the inside. She couldn’t understand how the world she had seen and planned for her entire life had suddenly disappeared. Her reality had altered to one where nothing seemed real. Her entire life was fake and somebody else’s fancy. Her fancy now lay in a drunken state with the phone receiver on his chest.

She used to always sleep on his chest as its warmth combined with a chance to hear his heartbeat was an enticing offer for her. His hands used to cup her cheeks and she always made a face when they fought with their noses. Her big eyes stared right down to his soul, and she wasn’t scared to look there because of how pure it was. It belonged to her like she belonged in his arms. Her smile would be that part of the rainbow which was invisible to the naked eye but his eyes always saw an opportunity to tickle her and see those amazing colors on her face. As they stood on the balcony of Atul’s flat in downtown London, they could see the river Thames and he lightly kissed the back of her neck. “This is so perfect Atu” she said as her hands lightly grazed her arms that wrapped around her. “Perfect things always worry me” Atul said to her. She turned towards him with her hands around his neck and his hands around her waist. She looked at him intently and said “Why should it be a problem, I can kiss you now, and our kisses our perfect”. She leaned in but Atul playfully dodged her, her raised eyebrows and her half squinted eyes said challenge accepted. She pulled his face as close as possible and went in for his soft lips passionately kissing hers. He held her tightly not knowing that this would be the last time that he would be holding her so close. His grip on the phone receiver was his last effort to consolidate this moment in time. He used to joke about them being separated by an evil king that separated them in different prisons. His evil king was distance and the prisons were Calcutta and London. Only sometimes did she come this close to him when the evil king was away sleeping. Whenever he woke up, they went back to their cells, waiting to be free again. The evil king became fatter and their distance increased from a street away in Ballygunge to 6000 miles away 10 years later. His lips were left with bitemarks and her neck now had a hickey. Separating two lovers for months was bound to be demanding for the bodies. She looked straight into his eyes and he knew what she was saying through her eyes. “Everything that is perfect, has to go wrong” Atul said as Aanya dismissed the skepticism with her eyes again. “Aanu, anything can happen, I don’t trust circumstances, plus you can also get fat with time, I will have to leave you then” he said with a smirk and Aanya pinched his hand till he exclaimed “Ouch”. “It’s going to hurt much more than that if you leave. A knife in your back does hurt more than that” she said as she threatened him. “Quite the backstabber you are Aanu” he said. “Oh Shut up Atu, tell me when are you coming to Calcutta to talk to Mom-Dad.” “Talk to Mom-Dad? What does that mean?” he said. “Well, we’ve been having sex for quite some time and now we need to call our relatives, give them good food, a wedding to talk about but basically tell them that we’re officially having sex” “Really? Do we really need to tell everyone how good I am in bed?” he said with the fake condescension that Aanya was accustomed to. “No Atu, the other chicks won’t be able to keep their hands off you, you can’t do that, you can’t tell them how lousy you were on my 20th Birthday.” “Stop playing the right cards, I was little drunk that night. Anyway just give me a script I can to narrate to your parents such that you can call me hubby afterwards” he said. “Atu, you’re not auditioning for the role of husband, you just have to tell them that you love me and you want to marry me” she said as he looked at her astonished. “Is it really that simple? I mean will they actually agree” “I don’t talk about the marriage subject too much, and strangely they don’t either” she said. “Do they know about our live-in” “Atu, I come to London every two months for work, and you happen to be my landlord, it’s really not a live-in” “People usually pay their landlords” he said. “Well, I do pay you in kind, the good kind, oh no, the amazing kind” Their kind of amazing was now on display for most of Hamptons street to see and they only stopped when suddenly Aanya’s phone started ringing. “I’ll have to pick that up, it’s mom” “One peck on the check and you can”. She bit his ear waiting for a reaction and followed it with a peck on his cheek after which she picked up the phone and went away to the other room.

Atu was standing on the same balcony months later, holding the phone close to the ear she bit and holding the receiver close to the cheek she pecked on. But he wasn’t happy and smiling like he did when he talked to Aanya every day at 5. His eyes were filled with rage, he could hear Aanya shouting at him and he snapped back as he couldn’t take her accusations anymore. “Aanya, you told me to talk to your father, I was happy not doing that” “I told you to talk to my father not go and insult him like that” she said trying to reason with him. “He started it, he was the one who was asking me my income, he was being condescending and petty about how worthless my business is.“ “And you fucking called him a failed schoolteacher in return” she said with anger. “Aanya, you know how hard I’ve worked to come to this stage and be where I am, I will not take shit from anyone” “Listen up Mr., you could’ve told me or my father that politely, you have no fucking right to pass judgements on his life like that. I told you about his expulsion because it was a hard time for me, not so that you misuse it to insult him”. Atu now lowered his tone and with an angered sarcasm remarked “Aanya, you see that I insulted him and you can’t see that he did, you really don’t give a fuck about me now, do you?” “You got me right Atu, I don’t give a fuck because I was the one who called up day and night convincing you to come back while you decided to party with your girlfriends there” “Oh wow, I see you trust me a lot with my colleagues. Every single time when you asked about them, you were trying to fucking check on me.” Said Atu. “I’ve put too much into this relationship, I’m done.” Aanya said assertively. “Well, giving up is your fautee, you gave up on this relationship just like you gave up on that job in Goldman Sachs. Too scared of responsibility” Atu said, his words pinched Aanya like a needle and she could not believe what she heard. She had given up the job so that she could take the one where she could travel to London more often. She mustered herself up and said “You’re a jealous man, you’ve always been a jealous man. I’m happy you didn’t tell my father your income, because it would always be less than me.” Atu’s eyes widened he couldn’t believe what he heard. He had made sure that he doesn’t tell Aanya of his real income to surprise her with her dream Condo. He had been spending a large part of his money on building it and gifting it to her after they marry.”I never want to see your face again Aanya” “I’d rather not have you look at it, you don’t deserve me” He hung up on the phone, blocked her from his phone. While she removed every photo, every video, every existing trace of him from her life. The evil king was now being fed by Atul and Aanya themselves. They chose to stay locked away from each other, deciding to forget about the existence of the other prison. Atul went on with his life and sold the Condo to reinvest in his business. Aanya finally took the job at Goldman Sachs and they both found solace in not compromising for each other. It was as if a battle was won and both of them won for themselves. Aanya didn’t deserve Atul and Atul never deserved Aanya. Aanya thought of moving onto more deserving people and started looking out for people to date. Atul relished being a free bird and went onto enjoy his stag bachelorhood life with his now girlfriends from work.

Work was increasing in the household as new guests kept on arriving. It was the grandest wedding in Ballygunge and Posh Da was still sleeping. “Wake up baba” said Deepen, his mother had given him a list of instructions starting with waking up his father to taking his sister, the bride to the parlor. Aanya wiped off her tears and moved to her room when Deepen spotted her, “Didi, Maa was asking who called?” Aanya smiled and said “Wrong number” Deepen was quite young but still observant and he said “You talked to a wrong number for 15 minutes” Aanya shushed him and said “Maa, has given you work, go do that or else I’ll tell her about the plate you broke day before” Deepen quickly made a move, and Aanya went back to her room. Her closest cousin Jhumki was sitting there and before Aanya could say anything she said “It was Atul, wasn’t it” Aanya played dumb and said “What?” “That wrong number for 15 minutes, that was Atul” Aanya suddenly felt her throat dry but she still said “There was nobody talking on the phone, could be anybody” “Why are you doing this to yourself, it’s been 3 years and you clearly still love him.” Aanya remained quiet as she kept on rambling “Why don’t you forgive him? You were so perfect together” Her entire life spent with Atul played in front of her like a movie screen and it paused at the parts where she said “We’re so perfect together”. Aanya still didn’t say anything but Jhumki said “Your silence says a lot, it does tell me that you love him, but I still don’t know why. Why are you marrying Rishi when you clearly can’t live without Atul” Aanya said in a trembling voice “I’ve lived without him for a long time and I’m weak with him. I don’t want to be weak. And I know that I’m strong now because I’ve already forgiven him.” Jhumki got impatient “This is not an art film where you end it by living without whom you love and get critical acclaim. It’s you and him, please stop convincing yourself that you’re better off without him. You’ve lost your smile. You’ve lost your glow. You’ve lost Atu and only you can get him back” “I can’t go back to him; I don’t know if he will accept me” she said. “Aanya, he still loves you, which man would call you and not say a single word for 15 minutes just to hear you say something”

“It’s funny Jhumki, He joked about the evil king keeping us away from each other. He forgot the evil queen though, the evil queen doesn’t keep them apart, she breaks them apart. Making them believe that they work against each other. Making them believe that they have to win every fight and every argument. Compromise isn’t about losing; it’s letting the other person win to see yourself win with them.” She said

“It took me this long to know why everything that is perfect goes wrong. It’s this evil Jester that feeds off our happiness waiting to pounce on us when something goes wrong. We get too accustomed to our perfect life that we forget that we have to fight for it, even if it means with each other.” Atul wrote in a small envelope to pass onto Aanya as his last message.

But as soon as he opened the door to leave, there stood Aanya, and there lay defeated forever, the king, the queen and the jester.

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