Story 27: Rendezvous

As Kapil stepped out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist, the first thing he heard was Rashmi’s voice. ‘Do you know how long has it been since we last had sex?’

Then he saw her.

She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, with her back to a pillow flattened against the pillar in the wall. The baby was sleeping next to her, on its back, with its arms spread out on either side, as if it wanted to hug the air.

Her back, he reminded himself. Her arms. She. It had been five months and he was yet to think of Navya as a separate human being. Even calling her by that name sounded weird to him; ‘the baby’ was infinitely better. But Rashmi had taken to referring to her by name right from the beginning, and he had had to fall in step.

‘It’s pretty bad if you have to think this long,’ she said.

‘Huh?’ Kapil closed the bathroom door behind him and faced her. She had her faded purple night shirt on, the one with the picture of a clock. Her bright yellow shorts left her legs bare from the knees down, and her calves, all the way down to her ankles, were covered in hair. ‘Maybe a few months?’ he said.

Her head went to one side, almost coming to rest on her shoulder. Rashmi did that to convey sarcasm. ‘If we don’t do it for the rest of the month, we will have gone a year without it.’

In his mind Kapil did some math. ‘So we have eight more days.’

The baby – Navya! – stirred in her sleep. Her hands clenched and unclenched a couple of times, and her mouth upturned into an inverted U. Both Kapil and Rashmi looked at her in absolute silence, with bated breath.

A moment passed.

The mouth returned to repose. The pink stubby fingers relaxed.

Rashmi’s voice was now a whisper. ‘I can’t believe you haven’t slept with me in eleven months!’

‘Hey,’ said Kapil, ‘you haven’t slept with me either.’

Rashmi thought about that, shrugged in acquiescence. ‘You’re right. But I am a mother. I was carrying her for seven of those eleven months. And then I pushed her out. And now I am giving her milk.’

Kapil held his silence. ‘Yes,’ he said. Certain moments in life called for talking over listening. Some primal instinct spoke to him from deep within that this was not one of those moments.

‘And I am cleaning her and I am cooking for you,’ said Rashmi, the corners of her mouth beginning to quiver. ‘And I do nothing for myself. Look at my legs!’

‘They don’t look so bad,’ said Kapil. Not the time for truths either.

‘Shut up.’ The quivering on her lips intensified. ‘And now you’re not even attracted to me. I have to remind you that we have not had sex in almost a year.’

‘Of course I am attracted to you,’ he said, catching the rising tenor of his voice just in time. ‘We haven’t had sex all this while because I thought you didn’t want it.’

‘I didn’t,’ said Rashmi. ‘I don’t now either.’

Kapil almost said ‘But you just –’ and held his tongue. Sometimes it was better to let the moment hang, and wait for Rashmi’s own mind to awaken to the illogic. So he went to her and sat on the edge of the bed, with the side of his thigh just touching her knee.

‘I want to want it,’ she said, at some length. ‘I think it’s not normal for a married couple not to have sex for a whole year.’

‘It – well,’ said Kapil, shrugging, ‘I don’t know what is normal, really.’

‘Whatever it is,’ said Rashmi, ‘it is not this.’ At once she sat up, her eyes shining with the sparkle of a new idea. ‘I’ve got it. We need to set a timetable for it.’

‘A timetable,’ said Kapil.

‘Yes, a timetable! You like timetables, don’t you? You have a timetable for everything.’

‘Well, not everything –’

‘All the important things.’

‘Yes, all the important things.’

‘Are you saying sex is not important?’

Kapil shook his head. This did not require a consultation with the brain. He would never, not even by accident, lump sex into the list of things that were not important.

‘That’s settled, then,’ she said. ‘We need a timetable.’

At just that moment, Navya stirred again, and this time the upturned U on her lips turned into an O, and her little alien-like eyes opened and considered the ceiling fan for a second. Then she smiled at it, as though greeting a long-lost friend. She waved her arms about. She kicked the air with her legs. Her head lolled in their direction, and blinked once.

She did not cry or give any other sign, but that was enough for Rashmi to say, ‘See? She agrees.’

* * *

‘How about nine-thirty at night?’ said Rashmi, referring to her notebook.

Kapil was walking up and down the bedroom with Navya balanced over his shoulder. It had been a full twenty minutes since she’d fed, but there was no sign of a burp. He looked up at the wall clock. Two a.m. With any luck, she would go to sleep in ten minutes, and allow them to catch a wink for a couple of hours before the whole cycle started again.

‘Nine-thirty,’ he said, and pretended to consider it. ‘We’d be tired, no?’

‘Hmm,’ said Rashmi. ‘Let’s have two slots per day, so that even if we miss one we will have the other.’

‘Sounds good.’

‘So nine-thirty is out for you?’

‘Let’s make it ten,’ said Kapil. ‘We will have our dinner by nine. We will feed her until half-past. Then we will burp her, put her to sleep, and by ten we should be good to go.’

‘Perfect.’ Rashmi wrote something down and circled it with her pen. ‘What about during the day?’

Navya stiffened on Kapil’s shoulder and let out a laboured whine. But no burp came. Kapil renewed his grip on her and began to thump her softly on her back. As she began to fidget more, the speed of his pacing increased, and he felt as if his nose picked up something that did not smell right.

‘Did she poop?’ he asked Rashmi.

‘Come here.’

He bent over by Rashmi’s side. She inserted two fingers under Navya’s diaper and shook her head.

‘I smelled something,’ said Kapil. ‘Maybe she farted.’

‘Or maybe it was just some gas. Walk around some more.’

For a minute or two Kapil paced the room in silence. He tried to ignore the tightening in his wrists, and the pinch that had begun on his lower back. He looked up at the clock. Five past two. Funny how slowly time passed when you were carrying a seven-pound baby in your arms.

‘How is ten a.m.?’ said Rashmi.

Kapil made some mental calculations. Provided Navya went to sleep at 2:30, she’d wake up at 4:30, feed and sleep by 5:00, wake up again at 7:00, sleep at 7:30, and wake up again at 9:30. That meant the ten to twelve slot was – theoretically – open. If the baby stuck to its schedule like clockwork, that was.

‘Ten sounds doable,’ he said.

‘Great.’ Another scribble went onto the notepad, and another blue circle. ‘We’re sorted. So our first rendezvous, Mister, is in no less than eight hours from now. Rawr.’

Why don’t you burp? Kapil muttered under his breath, and a frantic note entered his patting rhythm, as a tiny twinge took birth in his forearm and worked its way up to the shoulder. Why don’t you burp? Please burp, please burp. He was walking no more; he was bounding, monkey-like, between opposite walls, covering the distance in no more than three steps each way.

And then, as if by magic, just as he was about to give her up to Rashmi and stretch his fingers, it came. ‘Aah,’ said Kapil, as the soothing sound escaping Navya’s stomach reached his ears. ‘Aah. Thank you. Thank you.’

‘Yay,’ said Rashmi. ‘I am so proud of her.’

‘Yes,’ said Kapil. And then, as Navya settled into his arm and began to coo herself to sleep, he flashed Rashmi a thumbs up. ‘Yes,’ he whispered excitedly, ‘first rendezvous tomorrow at ten. Can’t wait!’

* * *

‘Guess what time it is,’ said Rashmi.

It was a sunny, warm morning, and Kapil had just finished putting Navya to sleep. He’d just been in the process of examining his reddened palms when Rashmi asked him the question, and almost by reflex he looked up at the clock. It was ten a.m.

His eyes felt as if there were weights hanging off the lashes. Rashmi was blinking rapidly up at him; despite the form of the seductress that she had assumed, he knew that she would drop into a dreamless sleep at a click.

‘Uhm, time to sleep?’

‘Nooo,’ she said. ‘We planned for this!’

‘Rashmi, look at my eyes,’ said Kapil. ‘And look at yours. Are you really in the mood right now for anything but sleep?’

‘No,’ she said, and shook her head with savage force. ‘No!’

‘Okay,’ said Kapil. ‘Okay. Here, we said we will have two slots, yeah? This is just the first one. We still have the evening slot.’

‘But it’s so bad,’ she said. ‘We missed our first slot!’

‘It’s all right. Maybe we will wake up in a couple of hours and be all fresh.’

‘Yeah, but so will she.’

‘Maybe we can set an alarm for an hour from now,’ said Kapil, taking Rashmi’s hand and patting it. ‘Hmm? That way we will have our nap and we will also have our time.’

Rashmi’s eyes brightened at this. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘That’s a better idea. We won’t miss our first rendezvous.’

‘No,’ said Kapil. ‘Do we have to call it rendezvous?’

‘You don’t like the word?’

‘Well, it just seems a mouthful. Plus, we live in the same house. It’s not strictly a rendezvous.’

‘Hmm,’ said Rashmi, and looked at the sleeping figure of Navya. ‘She’s so cute, no?’

‘She is,’ Kapil agreed. He had not felt any rush of unconditional love at the hospital the day Navya was born, and he had spent the whole of the first night wondering what kind of stone he had for a heart. But over the last few months, he had grown to love watching the baby, especially when it – she! – slept without a care.

‘When she sleeps, no,’ said Rashmi, ‘I feel like waking her up just to see her smile. And when she’s awake I am always wishing she would just go to sleep.’

Kapil tucked a lock of Rashmi’s hair behind her ear. He kissed her on the forehead and smiled at her. ‘I know. Me too.’

A long yawn escaped Rashmi’s mouth. Her eyes filled with tears of sleep. ‘Okay,’ she said, waving him away to the other side of the bed. Go and sleep now. Wake me up in an hour, okay?’

‘I will.’

‘Without fail!’

‘Without fail.’

* * *

Kapil awoke to the soft whirr of his cell phone against his ear. He got up on the first beep, turned it off, and checked to see if the sound had woken up Navya. It hadn’t. In her sleep she had turned on her side to face him, and her mouth was half-parted. A midmorning breeze – moist and warm – passed over them, then, and a momentary smile spread on her lips.

Kapil smiled back at his daughter.

On the other side, Rashmi lay on her back, her hands entwined on her stomach, her legs spread out as wide as they could go. Her mouth, too, was parted. When another round of breeze blew into the room, this one gentler and slower than the first, Rashmi said ‘Hmm!’ and shook into stunned half-wakefulness. She smacked her lips once, twice, three times.

Then she said ‘Mmm’ and turned away.

Something told Kapil that even if he succeeded in waking her up, she would be in no mood for any rendezvous. He leaned close enough to Navya so that the tips of their noses almost touched. He felt the baby’s quick breaths on his upper lip. He took a deep breath; she smelled like a valley full of white rosebuds.

He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

* * *

‘Ting ting,’ said Rashmi, around the stroke of one. ‘Do you know what time it is?’

Kapil placed the mosquito net over Navya’s sleeping form and looked at Rashmi.

‘It’s sex o’ clock, that’s the time it is,’ said Rashmi, pleased as punch by the looks of it for having thought of that.

‘Uh, that’s what we’re calling it?’

‘Yes, why not? I think it’s fun. Do you know what time it is? It’s sex o’ clock!’

‘Except that it’s not,’ said Kapil, looking up at the clock. ‘Didn’t we say it’s either ten a.m. or ten p.m.?’

‘Oh, come on,’ said Rashmi, and jumped off the bed. She came over to where Kapil was standing and wrapped her arms around his waist. She rose up on tiptoe and kissed him on the corner of his mouth. ‘You haven’t shaved in a while, have you?’

‘Been four days. Is it pricking you?’

‘It’s all right, we don’t have time.’

‘What about the maid?’ asked Kapil.

‘She said she’s not coming today.’ She paused for a moment, and a shy smile spread across her lips. ‘Shall we?’

Kapil held her close, and gazed into her eyes. ‘Yes, we shall.’

Rashmi began to close her eyes as their lips almost grazed each other, but then she stiffened. ‘I am not going to have sex with her in the room.’

Kapil looked at Navya, then back at her. ‘Seriously?’

‘Yes, it’s gross.’

‘Okay. Living room couch?’

‘What if she wakes up and we don’t hear her?’

‘It’s not that far – fine, how about right outside the door?’

‘We will have to be quiet.’

Kapil frowned and nodded. ‘We will have to be, yes.’

‘And how are we – you know – standing?’

Kapil looked at his aching arms, and wondered if he had it in him to carry Rashmi, if required. His brain revolted at the thought. He shook his head.

‘No,’ said Rashmi, also shaking her head. ‘Bad idea. I am not as light as I used to be.’

‘Right.’ Kapil looked in the direction of the bedroom door. ‘Maybe we just go there first and figure out things later?’

‘Good idea.’

They stole out of the room and shut the door behind them. Kapil led Rashmi by the hand a few steps away, toward the dining table. ‘Maybe this will help,’ he said, while turning her around to make her lean back against its edge.

An old sultry smile, one that Kapil had not seen in months, filled her eyes, and she circled his neck with her arms. ‘Come here, Mister,’ she said, and offered him her lips, parted, inviting, moist, sweet…

He leaned into her, anchoring her body to his, and their eyes met for the briefest flash. His hands were trailing down her back, her fingers were lost in his hair. When their lips met –

Their lips did not meet. They almost did, but the shrill sound of the calling bell wedged itself between them and wrenched them apart.

‘Now?’ said Rashmi. ‘Let it go, it must be the watchman with some letters. He will come back.’

‘We can’t let it go,’ said Kapil. ‘It’s not the phone.’

And just to make it worse, Rashmi’s phone rang in her pocket. She pulled it out and answered it. ‘Haan? Yes, Nirmala. We’re home. I am coming.’

Kapil had moved away from her by now, and he used the minute’s distraction to check on Navya. She was still sleeping. When he turned to face Rashmi, she looked at her phone as if it were poisoned. ‘Nirmala decided to come today, after all. She’s at the door.’

* * *

‘Ting ting,’ said Rashmi.

‘Let’s not jinx it, please,’ said Kapil.

‘Okay, let’s not. But you have to tell me what time it is.’

‘Time for our rendezvous?’

‘Ooh, yes, Mister. It’s time for our rendezvous.’ Navya’s eyes fluttered half-open, as if she’d heard Rashmi. She blinked a couple of times, threw a smile at the ceiling fan, and went back to sleep without looking at either one of them.

Kapil looked at Rashmi. She burst out laughing. ‘So stupid,’ she said.

‘Okay, focus.’ Kapil came to Rashmi’s side of the bed. ‘We have maybe two hours. One hour for sex, and we sleep for the next hour so that we’re fresh for when she wakes up.’

‘One hour for sex?’ said Rashmi, looking up at him. ‘What do you take me for? A blow up doll? Have we ever had sex for longer than fifteen minutes?’

‘Well, depends on how you count –’

‘No,’ said Rashmi. ‘No matter how you count it, we haven’t. Ever. Not once.’

‘Okay, fine, that means fifteen minutes for sex, and an hour and forty five minutes for sleep. That’s a good deal, isn’t it?’

‘It is. Come, let’s go.’

‘Where are we going?’

‘To the dining table?’

‘I was thinking maybe we can use one of the chairs – you know –’

Rashmi held him by the wrist and yanked him away from the bed. ‘Let’s go there first and figure out logistics later. Isn’t that what you said this morning?’

It took them all of a second to reach the bedroom door, a second more to slide out into the darkness of the lounge. And just as they were about to make their way to the table, they heard a sound behind them.

A sound that had brought them immense satisfaction on past occasions. Much like a burp, but wetter, and emerging from the opposite end of the body. Smelled different too.

They froze, mid-stride.

A question flashed from Rashmi’s mind to Kapil’s.

Do you think we can let it be for fifteen minutes?

But before he could answer it, she did it herself.

No. We have to go back.

Of course they had to go back. Kapil warmed up his wrists and stretched out his fingers in preparation as they re-entered into the room.

* * *

‘Hold her facing me,’ said Rashmi.

Kapil sat on his haunches, with his back wedged into the corner of the bathroom. He held Navya by the armpits, while Rashmi bent over her at the front with a mug of water in her hands.

She splashed some of it on Navya. The baby chortled and said, ‘Ha!’

‘You know, I was thinking,’ said Rashmi. ‘Maybe we don’t need to.’

‘Need to what? Rendezvous?’

‘Okay, stop saying that. It’s such a stupid name.’

‘That’s what I’ve been saying.’

‘Shut up. Turn her around.’

Kapil placed Navya on the edge of her knee, and held her carefully with one hand while freeing the other. Now she was looking up at him, and was reaching out to him with her tiny fingers. He leaned forward just a touch so that his lips brushed her fingers. ‘Ha!’ she said. ‘Hoo.’

He stuck his tongue out at her and drew a short laugh.

‘Maybe it’s fine that we don’t have sex,’ said Rashmi, splashing Navya’s bottom again.

‘Maybe it is,’ agreed Kapil. ‘Wait.’ He looked deeply into Navya’s bright eyes. ‘Are you sure she’s not listening to this?’

‘Of course she isn’t,’ said Rashmi. ‘Don’t be an ass.’

‘She looks awfully like she understands what you’re trying to say.’

‘This coming from a man who said we could do it right in front of her, in the same room.’

Kapil made a face of shock at Navya. ‘Did you hear what Amma just said? She’s a liar. A liarrrrr. Remember that, okay?’

‘Side,’ said Rashmi.

Kapil turned Navya over on her side and dandled her on his knee. Rashmi took a handful of water and washed the baby’s face with it. For the shortest of moments her little features convulsed in shock, but in no time at all she was looking up at her mother and cackling.

‘Chalo.’ Rashmi dried her hands and held out a towel for Navya. Kapil handed her over and sighed while easing himself into a standing position. There was the slightest tightening in his thighs.

‘You need to work out, you know,’ said Rashmi.

‘Is that a euphemism for something?’

‘No, jeez, get your damn mind out of the gutter, Kapil.’

She turned off the light of the bathroom with him still in it. He followed her into the bedroom and watched her change Navya’s diaper.

‘So you were saying something in there?’ he said. ‘You think it’s okay that we don’t have sex.’

‘Yes. Well – you know, I miss it and everything, but I don’t miss it that much.’


‘And I don’t want to be in a space where I am having sex just because I think I need to. I want to have sex because I want to.’


‘And if it happens, it happens.’ Rashmi worked deftly with the diaper, first opening it up, placing Navya in it, liberally peppering her bottom with talcum powder, and then finally strapping her up. She gave Navya the index finger of each hand to hold. She bent down and said ‘Nya Nya Nya’ to her.

Navya responded by saying, ‘Akh.’

‘So I am tearing up the timetable,’ said Rashmi, looking up at Kapil. ‘No sex o’clock from today. No rendezvous. Nothing. We’ll do whatever comes naturally.’

Navya said ‘Aaa’ and farted.

* * *

It was a quarter to one by the time Navya went to sleep again. Kapil and Rashmi lay next to each other, on their backs, watching the ceiling fan.

‘What do you think she sees in that fan?’ asked Rashmi.

‘Maybe she thinks the fan is telling her a joke.’

‘I also want to know what the joke is.’

‘Me too.’

‘And she keeps talking to it,’ said Rashmi. ‘I wonder if they have conversations.’

‘Her and the fan?’


‘I am sure they do.’

‘I want to listen in.’

Kapil slid an arm under her head and held her to his chest. ‘Stop being a gossip monger.’

‘I want to know everything that goes on in that little brain of hers.’


‘And I want to know everything she’s thinking, everything she’s feeling, and everything she’s doing.’

‘Oh my god.’


‘You’re one giant control freak.’

‘Shut up, I’m not,’ said Rashmi righteously. ‘I am a mother.’

Kapil kissed her on the scalp. ‘You know? We happen to have some time now.’

‘Yeah? What do you have in mind?’

‘What do you have in mind?’

‘Do you want to? Really?’

Kapil thought about it. His limbs ached. His eyes were heavy. There was a catch in his lower back. His toes were crying for a massage. ‘No,’ he said.

‘Oh, thank god,’ said Rashmi. ‘Let’s just cuddle for a while and go to sleep?’

‘Exactly my thought.’

Navya waved her head to one side at that moment, and then to the other. She kicked up at the air, as if she were riding an invisible unicycle. She blinked her eyes open, stared into nothingness for a grand total of two seconds, and closed them again.

‘See?’ said Rashmi. ‘She agrees.’