Turning Visible By Sudarshan Purohit
All girls said it, but she had been the only one who actually did it, Usha thought, a little sourly. Whatever her friends had said about considering the character of the boy more than his looks, somehow they’d all tried to marry good-looking guys. Some of the good-looking ones had been idiots or bullies, but it hadn’t stopped them-
Now she, on the other hand, had married Vishnu for his character alone. And she could prove it. After all, she still didn’t know what he looked like. No one did. Who knows what an invisible man looks like?
She’d met him that evening, long years ago, when he’d heard from an agent about their empty room-to-let from an agent. He’d just arrived in Ahmedabad, after being exposed back in Mumbai, to live a life of comparative anonymity. And thankfully her parents had let him stay. He’d seemed a harmless enough fellow, from his talk, and he had promised to always wear something so they could see where he was. The neighbours had been alarmed at first, constantly looking around them, afraid he was spying on them. But he’d won over their trust in a while.
Usha had been the only one he seemed to trust, though. They’d spent many evenings on the verandah, talking about her bank job, and about his occasional work for the police. He never told her too much, though. And there was a wistful tone in his voice as he talked of a neighbour girl he’d loved back in Mumbai. She didn’t probe. And though she was sorely tempted once or twice, she never asked him to play any sort of prank on her boss or friends-it would be like making fun of him, too.
And he never told her what he looked like. She never asked, either. And she comforted him when he was depressed, reminding him of the thirty years.
Her parents had panicked a bit when she told them she was marrying Vishnu. “But-you don’t even know what he looks like? Suppose he’s really ugly? And suppose he decides to leave you someday, how will you even find him? And suppose a car hits him? It’s so likely; they can’t see him when he’s walking on the road!”
But it had worked out eventually, though the wedding photos seemed really weird. And he’d found a job as a TV show host, and they’d moved to Delhi. And the kids had turned out to be good, normal kids, and neither of them, nor the kids, had been in the hospital for more than a day all these years. And gradually they’d both stopped thinking about the thirty years.
And today-today she’d remembered that number again. Today was the day the devi’s boon was complete, today was the last day of his invisibility. From tomorrow he’d be just another man, just another of the thousands walking in the streets. She felt a pang of loss. Being the wife of a superhero had made her feel special, too. She, too, had given interviews to the tabloids, and she’d helped Vishnu out with his books and other work. They hadn’t told anyone else yet about the thirty years, otherwise they wouldn’t have been at peace today evening, as they sipped tea as usual on the verandah. She felt his gaze, and looked over at his chair. He was putting the empty cup down, picking up a biscuit. Tomorrow, when he did that, she would actually see his hands as they held the cup, actually see his lips as they sipped, actually see him nodding as he told her it was good. Tomorrow, when they sat here watching the sunset, she would be watching him, too. And they would be just like all the other people she knew.
Vishnu wasn’t very talkative at the best of times. He, too, seemed to be brooding over today, and didn’t say much all evening and night. But when they finally went to bed, and turned out the light, she felt him hold her hand, and ask her (and there was a tremor in his voice) “Will you still love me tomorrow?”
She squeezed his hand and said, “How could I not? I’ll still be here tomorrow, and so will you, and so will the kids. Nothing’s different because you can’t be seen, and nothing will change when you can. Now stop worrying about it, and sleep well.”
Yet, after he’d snuggled up to her and fallen asleep, she lay awake for some time. What if he was ugly, as her mother had feared? What if, when they woke up tomorrow morning, she couldn’t bear to look at him? What if he had a squint, what if his nose was crooked, what if his gums were black?
But then, she remembered the first time they’d met. She’d been in awe of him. He, on the other hand, had talked just like a normal guy. And through the years, he’d never let her down when she needed him. He’d stayed up all night when the baby had a fever. Perhaps because he couldn’t be judged by his face, he was always careful of his words and actions.
It didn’t matter if he didn’t look like a film star-he was a good person, and that was enough for her. And with that, she fell asleep.
The alarm clock woke her, as it always did. She reached out a hand with eyes still closed, and turned it off. Only then did she see the man sleeping next to her. She rubbed her eyes and took a good look. He was middle-aged, not too fair, not too dark, hairline receding. He had a contented expression on his face as he slept. She was still trying to decide whether she liked that face, when he stirred.
He half-smiled as he woke. The smile was exactly as she had imagined – crinkling his eyes, and turning up one corner of his mouth more than the other. Opening his eyes, he turned towards her. It was the first time she saw him looking at her. She was still thinking about that smile. It went very well with these frank eyes.
“Hey,” she said, “You’re cute.”
Cover pic by José Fonticoba.