As far as stepmothers go, Rammawii was not so bad. She behaved more like an elder sister, never admonishing them for their teenage tantrums and pretending that all was right in the house when in fact the two children hardly spoke to her. To them, she was still the evil woman who was the reason for their mother’s departure. She tried desperately to win their approval, buying them clothes and little gifts, but all she got in return was a sarcastic “I know you spent my father’s money on this, if I want clothes I can ask him money myself.”
After Mahriati finished her Class 10 exams, her father sent her to Shillong where she spent the next seven years studying. Living away from home made her forget her hatred for her stepmother, and when she went home she was cordial to her, but you cannot say she was friendly. She accepted her father for who he was, and realised that whether she liked it or not her stepmother was always going to be a part of her life. Maruata had gone to college in Aizawl, and at the age of 20 had got married to a classmate, and had a son. The child was barely a year old when his mother ran off with another man, leaving the baby in the care of his father. Maruata had no idea how to take care of the baby, and so it was Rammawii who raised the child. She was delighted, not having a child herself, and enjoyed every moment. The baby changed their lives. He became the centre of their world, and brought the much needed peace in their home.
Mahriati came home with a post graduate degree in Mathematics, and after successfully clearing the NET exam, worked as a lecturer at
. It was there that she met Zamtea, a lecturer in the Mizo Department. She didn’t pay much attention to him in the beginning. They were colleagues and were polite to each other, and they never spoke to each other except for the Hellos and How are yous. Pachhunga College
It could be rightly said that they became friends on the day of the staff picnic when he dropped her home. They lived in nearby localities and so when he offered her a ride home she gladly accepted. They talked about the college, the student unions, the professors, and both were surprised at the ease they felt being around each other. There were no awkward silences, no groping around for suitable topics; it was like they had been friends forever. They exchanged phone numbers, and a friendship began that soon blossomed into love.
She would lie in bed and think about him. It was amazing, really, the way they connected. Sometimes it felt like she could read his mind and he could read hers. They could look at each other across the crowded staff room and know what the other person was thinking. A look was all that was required to communicate. They tried to keep their affair a secret, because it would set the gossip mills churning into overtime, and it was not encouraged by the college. Lecturers and professors were supposed to keep a clean image, and should always keep in mind that they were influencing a hundred young minds. It was very tiring, always hiding and pretending not to notice each other. Sometimes she wondered if her colleagues noticed how she never spoke to him in public, how she sat far away from him. She would look at him from a distance and feel her heart bursting with love. She longed to be with him all the time, ached to touch him and just be with him.
Mahriati looked at her reflection in the mirror. She had never felt, happier, more beautiful than she did now. She knew she didn’t have much time. It wouldn’t be long before people discovered their affair, and her reputation would be ruined for ever. She had had a few boyfriends before, awkward boys who didn’t know how to carry a conversation, young men who often expected everything and gave nothing in return, but Zamtea was different. He was ten years older, knew how to make her laugh and feel loved, and knew when to push and when to stay away. He respected her as a woman and didn’t feel threatened by her intelligence, her profession. To him, she was an equal.
She knew that very soon they will have to part ways. Because Zamtea was a married man, married for the last five years to a woman he had known all his life. Though she wanted to be with him forever, she didn’t want to come in between Zamtea and his wife. She didn’t want Zamtea’s children to suffer the way she and her brother did, didn’t want to be the person who divided a family into two camps. She knew all about the anger, the resentment and the bitterness. But for now, she wanted to have him, at least for a while. She was ready to lose, ready for the embarrassment and disgrace that was to come. Didn’t someone say “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”?
She thought about fate, and how we really have no control over it. She looked at her reflection once again, and realised that she had become the person she once hated. She had become The Other Woman.