"Where the hell are the fancy envelopes? I just bought a packet last month."
R was upset. This was like saying the sun rose in the east, since R's job as the office admin guy was to become frazzled at the smallest issue and start swearing. It was closing time and people had already slipped on their travel face - a mix of stoicism and weariness as they contemplated the voluntary manhandling exercise otherwise known as local train travel in Mumbai. Barely anyone paid attention as R continued his diatribe about thievery and his pay getting docked for the missing envelopes.
B quietly packed up his laptop bag and joined the general throng streaming out. Compared to some of the others, he hardly travelled at all, since he only had to go about 6 stations in the wrong direction. Years ago, when B was new to Mumbai, the wrong direction idea had confused him since trains looked crowded no matter what direction he would go in. One 9 am trip to Churchgate for an interview that lasted all day followed by the 7 pm Borivali return taught him a lesson he'd never forget. That was the day he understood claustrophobia, the day he decided to invest in a first-class pass and some good deodorant and damn the expenses.
Now, a much better paid B did not mind shelling out the seemingly crazy rent to live where he did. It was a quiet, well-connected locality, a nice building with no wall-seepage problems and a pretty roomy house. He made his way home and saw that the light was on. H was home. The fact that she was gave him more pleasure than would be considered normal. But he didn't care. One only had to live alone in Mumbai for 5 years before any bravado associated with independence and freedom evaporated, replaced by the fatigue of coming back to an empty house and the peculiar, heavy stifling stillness that accompanies it.
He was glad for H's presence, happy that sense had finally dawned, relieved that his reluctance and shame had given way. After being solo for so long, it felt strange initially, but had steadily gotten better. He was even sleeping like a baby nowadays. B let himself into the house and took in the fragrance of food wafting in from the kitchen. Another bonus. Not only was H a superb cook, she knew how to keep the conversation going during dinner. There was no nagging; just questions about his day, followed by snippets of news which she'd heard or read about.
After dinner, he helped wash up. There was an expectant, inquiring look on H's face but B smiled and said that he was exhausted. It took barely a minute from whispered 'goodnights' to him drifting off to sleep, still smiling. H couldn't sleep. Night after night, she figured he'd initiate the move, but B seemed content in talking, eating and nodding off. It was unnerving. She wondered if he didn't find her attractive enough, but dismissed that idea instantly. But she couldn't figure out his problem either. One of these days she'd have to talk to him about it.
B woke up to the greatest smells in the world - coffee and buttered toast. H was an early riser and had already left. He made his way to the dining table to find breakfast laid out. Sipping his coffee, he looked over to H's place at the table. The envelope he left there was gone. As usual.
H had never been a fan of cheques and wire transfers. R was just going to have to bear with the missing envelopes.
Song for the moment: Nights on Broadway - Bee Gees