Stuck on the Mezzanine: Ranjit Kulkarni

Ranjit Kulkarni
Pankaj Mehra waited with bated breath in the lobby on the mezzanine floor of the luxury hotel. 
On the surface, he ambled along. He took measured steps, adjusting his jacket every time he reached one end of the lobby. He tried to look as if he was waiting for someone important for a business meeting. He looked the part with his tailor-stitched suit, matching tie, and polished shoes. The sunglasses on his head with well-groomed hair added to the refined finish.
But he knew that appearances were deceptive. Till a few years back, his appearance had been real. Then, a few months after hitting forty, based on the advice of a well-to-do friend, he had gone for an image makeover. And how it had paid off!
His career, which was already on the fast track, had skyrocketed into the higher orbit. A new corner office, a new car, a new house, and new trappings had made a welcome entrance into his new life. It had led him into a new way of thinking. And of course, it had landed him the new love of his life. 
He was waiting for her now. His foot tapped the floor and his hand fiddled around. Today was going to be a new day, a new start to a new chapter in a new life.
He stole glances down from mezzanine every now and then. This time, Pankaj saw Ahana step inside the hotel from the main glass door. His phone rang at that exact time. 
He looked at it in anticipation. But it was a call from his mother. It acted like a jolt. He knew why she had called. He rejected it and placed the phone back in his pocket.
Ahana entered the hotel and looked around for him. One casual, searching glance above. She saw him from the corner of her eye. The tick tock of her high heels and the swirl of her skirt were like sweet music to Pankaj’s ears and eyes. He knew she had seen him, so he heaved a sigh of relief. He waved at her keeping his palm low and inconspicuous. But she didn’t wave back. She turned her gaze somewhere else. 
Pankaj waited while she took the lift to mezzanine.
“We are all set, everything is ready,” Pankaj said to her with a smile when she came up. The fragrance of her presence drew him close. He tried to hug Ahana, but she recoiled back and looked up at him shaking her head.
“No, Pankaj. I am not ready. This is not right,” Ahana said. Pankaj saw a drop of sweat trickling down her forehead. He wasn’t sure if it was the weather outside or something else.
“Why? What happened? Something wrong with your health? Now is our time,” Pankaj said. He had got a lurking feeling that it was something else, but he tried to brush her aside.
“No, Pankaj. Nothing wrong with my health. But this whole thing we are doing is wrong. It is not fair to my husband and daughter,” she said.
Pankaj’s eyes grew in size at first and then his eyelids twitched inside a big frown. His breathing caught pace as did his pulse, as soon as he realised the gravity of the situation.
“What is this new story now? For all the past year, where was this wife and mother inside you? Why have they cropped up out of the blue? Today is the D-day. The last day of our past. The first day of our future. The day we tell our families and take off for our new life." Pankaj recalled the visions of their future, but Ahana did not budge. The expression on her face did not change. It did not give him any comfort.
"Did you tell your husband or not?? Tell me…,” Pankaj yelled. 
Ahana turned her gaze away from him. She did not say anything, for a moment. Pankaj continued.
“Why are your lips sealed now? Have you told him or not?" he howled. On seeing no response, he banged the railing and hurt his hand. 
"Dammit, I have told everything to my wife. I have sent her a notice, and now you tell me you are not ready? What nonsense is this!” Pankaj shrieked in alarm. He fiddled with his tie and jacket and got the phone in his hand. He was about to bang it when it rang.
It was his mother again. He picked it up.
“Maa, please.. I am in a meeting,” he howled into the phone. “I will.. I will.. call you back.”
“What have you done, Pankaj?” his mother hollered back at him. “Savita has come to me and told me you sent her some notice. What is this about, Pankaj?” she continued, neglecting him.
“Maa, I am in a very important and urgent meeting.. I will call you back…”
“Urgent? Nothing is more important.. Your home is …,” his mother started, but he interjected. 
“Maa, I said I will call you, please,” he repeated and hung up.
“Look, you can’t do this, Ahana. Is this some kind of a joke? This is not done. You promised me the world. In fact, I am giving you the world.. And… and.. this.. no – this is not possible. We have to go.. What the hell?” Pankaj cried. Anger gave way to desperation.
He tried to pull her and hold her hand, but Ahana moved away from him.
“Pankaj, I cannot leave my family,” she said, looking at the floor, with her voice choking.
“Dammit, I have left my family… you know.. my family of fifteen years.. for you.. and you now tell me you can’t.. No.. not ok.. hell.. Now I get it.. You used me.. you got everything out of me.. And now.. this.. you were never serious.. you bloody.. bi,” Pankaj yelled and moved closer to her. He tried to grab her hand.
“Stop right there, Pankaj. It is not only me ok. You have had …well, you had your fun too.. You are no God.. Don’t behave holier than thou. I know everything that you do,” Ahana retorted.
Pankaj stepped back, and calmed down, but only a bit. He fiddled with his phone and pretended to check the messages. There was nothing new, except more missed calls from his mother. He saw around the lobby to ensure nobody had seen him lose his cool.
“Do you want to sit and talk?” he turned his attention back at Ahana. “We can resolve everything.. We have always done that.” He moved towards the sofa in the lobby, but Ahana did not follow him.
“No Pankaj.. There is nothing to talk.. I am.. umm.. going back.. I am leaving your job too..,” she said. She got a letter from her purse and handed it over to Pankaj. “Here it is.. I am taking a big break from all this glitter.. I have had enough of this life.. of all this.. I have had enough of.... enough of.. you..”
Pankaj got up from the sofa and made one last attempt with his hand to pull her back as he took the letter. She put her hand up and asked him to stop. She then raised her finger. She said everything with her eyes and nothing with words. Pankaj pulled his hand back. She knew it was time to leave now.
“Sorry Pankaj. This is over. Goodbye,” she said. She turned her back and started walking away. 
The tick tock of her high heels sounded like a death knell now to Pankaj. The swirl of her skirt looked like the hangman’s knot on his neck. He exhaled aloud, letting off steam and fell back into the depth of the sofa.
He untied his tie and removed the jacket. His forehead and neck were wet with sweat even in the five-star air conditioner. He pulled out a kerchief and wiped it. He remembered his wife and son. His mind went back to his mother. He picked up the phone and called her.
“Maa.. I have now come out of the meeting.. I saw so many missed calls. Tell me, what was so urgent?” he asked, in an act of nonchalance and pretentious ignorance. It wasn’t difficult to see through it.
“Urgent? What have you done Pankaj? Savita was here some time back with Anuj. She showed me a notice of separation that you have given her.. She said you don’t want to live with her anymore.”
“No.. Maa.. that was a mistake or let me say, some misunderstanding on my part.. I only said we should take some break or make some changes in our life. You know Savita.. she jumps to…”
“Mistake, misunderstanding? Of separation? Of a break? What do all these things mean? I know Savita, but I know you even better, Pankaj. She was very angry. What else do you expect? She had all kinds of words for you.. She told me how you had changed. Where are you now?”
“Maa.. I will explain everything.. Give the phone to Savita.. I will clear everything right away.”
“She has left Pankaj.. She has taken Anuj with her. She says she will not come back. She is going to reply to your notice, she mentioned.. Pankaj, what have you done??!!”
His mother started wailing on the phone. 
“Wait… wait.. Maa.. Don’t cry.. I can set everything right.. There has been a major.. well, I just wanted a break.. She has misunderstood.. There has been a big, err.. a big error. What’s wrong.. dammit.. with wanting a change??” Pankaj stammered and fumbled..
His mother continued sobbing.
“Wait.. wait, I will call you back, Maa.. I need to talk to Savita.. I need to get her.. back.. This is not done, Maa,” Pankaj stuttered on the phone and hung up. 
He then called his wife’s number. He made three calls, one after the other, but she did not pick it up. He called her again after a few minutes but got no response. The next time he called, she had switched off her phone. 
Pankaj dashed around the mezzanine, scampering for some relief. But he did not find any. He knew he was stuck. He kicked his foot into the floor, looked into blank space and banged his hand on his forehead.
***

Bio: Ranjit Kulkarni is a writer of short stories, articles, and novels. His work has appeared in Literary Yard, Indian Periodical, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Potato Soup Journal, Setu Journal, CC&D Scars, Ariel Chart, Active Muse, Anti-Heroin Chic, Grey Thoughts, Kathmandu Tribune, Café Lit, Muse India, Misery Tourism, Scarlet Leaf Review and Writer’s Egg Magazine. More details about his work can be accessed at https://www.ranjitkulkarni.com. He lives in Bangalore India and is reachable at ranjit@ranjitkulkarni.com.

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