A quarter kilogram of silver.
The silver shekel was not a coin, but rather 8.33 grams of silver. When Hammurabi’s Code declared that a superior man who killed a slave woman must pay her owner twenty silver shekels, it meant that he had to pay 166 grams of silver, not twenty coins –“Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari
Thus 30 pieces of silver would amount to 249.9 grams of silver!
The sense of guilt hit him once again. As it happened every time. Every time he had to wash, dress up and leave for his home after making love with his lover, the sense of guilt consumed him. It was as powerful as the exhilaration he had felt during the act of making love in the hours before. He had to be extra careful with his affair; the reasons were as they always are. He was married, rich, stinking rich as a matter of fact and he had a son who was finishing school. Old enough to have his girlfriend. He probably did.
He did not need this affair. His wife was lovely, accommodating and committed. He was not henpecked. Their married life could be labelled as a successful one. He had everything a man needed. Money, family, loving wife and a comfortable life. He was , hence, the proof that humans have a knack for complicating life.
His feeling of guilt was not strong enough for him to overcome his temptation. And his lover was the least demanding. She demanded nothing, spoke very little and was always ready. He knew nothing about her personal life. They met in a party, liked each other and connected. Simple as that. All their meetings were at his initiation. She never asked for a meeting, never communicated, always replied, never refused. He was convinced that she would never contact him if he never approached her after one of the visits.
His wife was a loving woman. But not a fool. She sensed something was wrong. She could never muster up the courage to ask him directly. What if her apprehensions were wrong and unfounded and she ended up hurting him. Or worse still, provoked him to go and commit adultery. But her gut feeling could not be ignored. She even followed him on a few occasions, trembling with fear and uncertainty. And always ended up feeling more miserable for suspecting him, as, in all those occasions, never once did he commit an act of misdemeanour.
There is no curse worse than the seed of suspicion. She started to get edgy. She was nervous most of the times. Lost her interest in most things. This state of affairs started telling on her health. Psychosomatic is what her doctor told her. Emotions so strong, the self-induced stress starts to actually manifest in physical ailments. She needed to visit her doctor more frequently with a series of complaints. Migraine, bowel disturbances, back ache, stiff neck, cramped muscles, joint pains, frequent cold, occasional fever. She had them all.
She started to lose weight.
It was when she started to lose weight that her husband noticed the problem. He was concerned and the medication and treatments intensified as he refused to ignore the recurring health issues as non-alarming or irrelevant. The deterioration was rapid.
Now he went through a cycle he found difficult understand. He was sad for his wife, was disturbed, needed the comfort of his lover more, felt more guilty each moment he spent with his lover, returned to find his wife showing no signs of improving, felt sadder and the cycle repeated all over again.
The administrations of the ever dependable doctor was not showing any signs towards recovery. The doctor tried his best. Changed medicines, doses, alternated between allopathy and naturopathy and acupressure and acupuncture and Ayurveda. And the doctor was more convinced that what was ailing her has its roots in her mind and not in her body.
He, being the family friend, and having treated all the members of the family over the years, took the liberty of talking to her husband.
“It is strange. And I am worried, to say the least. She is continuously losing weight and I need to utter the dreaded C word, I am testing her for cancer tomorrow. The probability is too low, but I would like to be sure. If I am confidently eliminating the dreaded C then I would have more confidence in the ongoing medication”
It was an information. Not a request.
The husband went into deeper remorse. The waiting period while the blood had been sent for the analysis was nerve wrecking. The mind sought only one avenue of reducing stress. The lover, the ever-willing one, never once asked anything about the increase in the frequency of their meeting.
The doctor called to say that the report was negative. It was the first time in his life that the husband realized that the word “negative” could make someone so happy. While the dreaded C was put to rest, the deteriorating condition of the wife continued. She was pale and weak. While the smile was always present, the grimace behind the smile could not be hidden successfully.
Mustering up all the courage the husband asked her one day, “What is troubling you dear? I am certain that there is something that is gnawing at your mind. Please tell me if there is something that I could do.”
All he received in reply were the same three answers.
A shrug indicating all is well.
A verbal assurance that she is just tired.
After the blood report ruling out cancer, things looked up a little. She was returning to some sort of normalcy.
There were times that she thought that she would ask her husband directly if he was cheating on her.
She was unsure.
An affirmation would give him carte blanche to whatever he had been doing, as yet unconfirmed.
A negation would only make her more convinced that there was indeed something wrong, but a thing that could not be confirmed.
She thought of hiring some detectives but the very idea started to look ridiculous on deeper inspection.
What would she tell the detective? How could she talk about her inner demons to a complete stranger? And how trustworthy are these detectives anyway? What is the guarantee the detective would not turn into a future blackmailer?
The second bout of illness that followed was catastrophic.
Her deterioration was rapid. She was becoming gaunt and started to look alarmingly anaemic.
The decision of whether to hospitalize her or not was taken out of the hand of the husband when she collapsed on a Sunday morning.
The next few weeks were a blur. The unit for pain is “dol”. (Now all those painkillers with dol in their name suddenly makes more sense). There are various scales available for arranging the pain that a human can endure starting from the lowest (banging your toe against a rock, a simple “ouch”) to the highest (a kick in the testicle, childbirth.. “Oh My Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd”). But there is no scale available to measure the pain that a person feels without any physical cause. The husband was on this level. He was so disturbed and so shaken up looking at his wife deteriorating right in front of his eyes that the pain he felt was almost physical. Probably worse than the physical. The pain escalated probably because of the sense of guilt that he started to acknowledge.
For some strange reason, he started to feel responsible for her predicament. He came to a conclusion that her ailment was a result of his disloyalty. On more than one occasion he came close to confessing his shameful digression. But he just could not bring himself to the task.
The doctor was worried looking at the condition of the husband and was mentally prepared to start treating both of them.
It was a Friday. As a matter of fact, Good Friday. The day a poor carpenter’s son was administered a gruesome ending to his 33 years of existence on earth.
There was something wrong. It could be felt in the air; so palpable was it. The husband was intercepted before he could reach his wife’s room in the hospital by a sober looking stocky short nurse. The nurse was waiting with a specific instruction to bring him to the doctor ASAP.
If the nurse bore an expression of someone receiving news about an Ebola outbreak, the doctor looked as if he had discovered a black mamba under his duvet.
“Early this morning, few of her vital organs collapsed, I had no other option but to put her on life support. It is difficult to say if she is responding well as anything short of a complete collapse is considered an improvement at this stage. She is not on ventilator. You may be a bit taken aback with the number of tubes that are running into and out of her body. She is not in a stage of coma. Her response, if there is any, may, however be a little incoherent”
The doctor did not rattle off the stuff above. He patiently explained it as if he was talking to someone who was intellectually challenged. The husband, known to be patient listener, listened in complete silence.
He was petrified. Did not know how to react. Crying did not come easily to him. He never cried when his parents died, prematurely, in a car crash. He did not cry when there was not much left of them in the crash for even a proper funeral ceremony.
He did not remember walking the distance from the doctor’s room to his wife’s bedside. He looked at her and talons of grief tore at his heart. She had become almost white, translucent at edges and she was either fast asleep or totally unconscious. The heaving bosom was the only sign of that she was still alive.
Medicine never interested him and all the monitors and panels around her did not make any sense to him. For reasons unknown, all the monitors had green colored lines and trends on black background. He understood graphs that showed green in a preferred zone and red in danger zone. This almost monochromatic trends conveyed nothing to him. The two bottles of IV fluid connected to her was so colorless, it could have been water.
Her pupils moved sporadically behind her closed eyelids. Did she feel anything? Could she hear if he spoke to her? He had this premonition that he was losing her. He wanted her to come around, just once, just for a few minutes, so that he could confess to her. She deserved to know the truth before she died. He would never be able to live in peace if he could not confess his indiscretion to her. Was it really indiscretion or a planned conscious lapse?
He lost track of time. He did not want to sleep. He did not want to miss that small window to confess, if she woke up from her current state.
She stirred awake a little before midnight. Her face was ashen. Her looks clouded. There was hardly any strength or will to move her limbs. Her tongue snaked out and tried to moisten her parched lips. She looked around, totally disoriented, looked at the tangled web of tubes running in and out of her and exhaled sadly. Her roving eyes passed her husband and returned to him in a sad acknowledgement. Her look conveyed helplessness, pain and almost a sorry expression that was almost apologetic.
He had been rehearsing throughout the day. He had also been secretly hoping that he would not have to do it. That she would peacefully pass off without ever gaining full consciousness thereby removing the onus of confession from him. Life is known for landing you in positions that you never imagined, never wanted, never expected.
He mustered enough courage, held her hand, the ever reliable human gesture of affection and honesty, looked her straight in her eye and confessed. He had kept it short. He just mentioned that he had been not loyal to her, he had been cheating on her, been sleeping with another woman, mentioned her name and sought forgiveness.
Her look turned from pained to incredulous to sheer horror and settled to one of complete resignation. She had no strength to display any of her hurt. Her eyes told the misery she felt. He was sorry that it had to come to this. She closed her eyes, not dramatically like in cinemas, but out of sheer exhaustion. All the pains and hurt she felt took shape and trickled out of her eyes in a steady stream of tears, that left a snail like trail between the corner of her eyes to her ears.
He expected his confession to make him feel light and absolved. It made him feel like a vermin. He let her hand go from his grip, ashamed to hold her anymore. The hand dropped like a dead leaf. Her silent tears cut through him like a hot knife. He had never felt more miserable in his life.
He had woken up with his whole body aching. He had slept, seated in his chair by the side of her bed. The stain of two lines between the corners of her eyes to the ears reminded him of the painful moments of the previous night. The panels around her, the beeping monitors and her conditions had all remained the same. She looked as lifeless as she was the previous day. The chest movements were no longer a steady pattern. It was disturbed and troubled. The body remained still.
The doctor came for his morning rounds and insisted that the husband went home.
“There is no change in her systems. If the condition did not deteriorate her chances would be better. It is difficult to say anything now. But one thing is certain. You staying here would not change anything. You need rest too, please go home and take some rest”
There was nothing to argue against that instruction. He went home and collapsed onto his bed without even removing his shoes. He slept through the day and woke up because he was hungry. He fixed himself a light meal and returned to the hospital for his vigil. It was like he never left her in between. Someone must have sponged her, the face was clean and there were no streaks of dried tears. It also meant that she probably never woke up after the previous night.
He felt light now, a full 24 hours after his confession. And he was clear in his mind that he had done the right thing. The doctor met him before leaving, and his double handed handshake was more in commiseration than a mere wish. The look of resignation on the doctor’s countenance was unmistakable.
Both of them silently acknowledged that they were only waiting.
For the inevitable.
He drifted off to sleep more easily and stretched on the spare bed.
Easter Sunday. The day of resurrection. He woke up and almost fell out of his bed. She was still lying in her bed, all parts of her body as immobile as they were the previous two days, but her head was turned in his direction and she was looking at him with zero expression. Her look was intense, almost scrutinizing. He jumped up and rang the bell and one of the nurses rushed in, and he was pointing at his wife, mouthing no words, just a mixture of incredulity, joy and silent terror on his face. The nurse had one look at the wife, consulted all the charts, adjusted few knobs on those monitors and went out to page the doctor.
The doctor arrived soon. His face was beaming. He broke into a wide grin at the end of an hour and told her husband that this was nothing short of a miracle, and probably he would present a paper in the next conference if he would permit.
Her recovery was as slow as her deterioration. The husband felt naked in her presence now. He was embarrassed. He could not hold any conversation. He was happy that she had come around and was equally aghast on what would transpire in a matter of weeks.
The wife was completely silent. She never uttered a word. She never smiled. It appeared as if she was harnessing all her energy in getting well and returning home.
And recovered her health, she did.
The first words she spoke to her husband when they reached their home were“I would like a divorce”
He started to object, tried to explain, wanted to give their life a second chance, pleaded for understanding.
He spoke for hours, she outdid him in patient listening, she never once interrupted him and when he had finished, had said all that he wanted to say, she said once again
“I would like a divorce, please”
The husband who had never cried all his life, sat down on the floor and cried his heart out.
The process of divorce was a long drawn one but eventually it worked out. The custody of the child, already a strapping young boy, was not too complicated. He expressed his desire to stay in a hostel and was all right with visiting rights allocated to both his parents. He was never close to his parents and the new arrangement did not bother him much.
The alimony was substantial, but barely a dent on his vast fortune.
The husband did not fight the alimony amount, he expected the settlement to cleanse him off his sin.
He stopped seeing his lover. Probably there was no wife to cheat took the sheen off. He never understood why.
As days passed, the husband sank into a deeper misery. All those days of exquisite pleasure and the thrill of two-timing his wife was gone. He sank into the predictable routine of a man paying for his sins. He was constantly soliloquizing, wore a constant mask of grimace, snapped at his colleagues unnecessarily resulting in the few close to him to drift away, leaving him more isolated, thus increasing his sense of despondency. The empty home did little to alleviate his sadness.
To his surprise, he started to realize how much of his daily life revolved around his wife, a matter that he had taken for granted. From simple things like breakfast and juice on the table, to folded socks and underwear in the correct chest of drawers, to the little more routine of utility bills and services and payments to thousand things like gardener, watchman, servant maid, cleaning services, home insurance, car insurance, ……….
The whole mental misery started to reflect on his physical appearance and in his overall health. The temptation to self-flagellate as a redeeming act for his sins of the day past, that of not continuing with his erstwhile, ever accommodating, lover only exaggerated his overall sense of discomfort.
In a nutshell his life was reduced to one of utmost misery, nullifying all those days of ephemeral pleasure and thrill. Nothing could be considered as worthwhile against the current state. The more he revisited his stupid, careless days the more he was convinced that ONLY he is responsible for the current state.
And he squirmed further knowing that he had been directly responsible for such untold misery his wife had undergone because of him. He realized that he could never forgive himself, even if his loving wife decided to forgive him after stoically bearing all that he unleashed on her.
The wife was getting used to her new life. There was no need to work to earn a living. The sizeable alimony took care of that aspect. There was now enough time to pick up new hobbies. She started to learn to paint. There was a small garden at the back of the house to keep her busy and satisfied. She was getting into a routine of working the garden in the morning and going for a run around the park after lunch. She kept her lunch light to keep her running swift. If someone had been following her, they could have set their clock by the time she finished her afternoon run and returned home.
Probably, at least one gentleman was following her routine as she found him arriving at her gate just as she finished her run and returned home.
Her face broke into a terrified look and she dragged him inside quickly and shut the door.
“Everything worked as planned. It was a gamble but we had to take it. If he had not confessed, all the charade of falling health would have been a waste. But, no pain, no gain. Correct?” He smiled mischievously.
Her face broke into a smile, now that she was safe behind the closed doors, and she nodded her head in agreement.
“Now that the divorce is over and done with, and it has been five months already, when are we going to get married” he asked anxiously, inching closer to her.
She held him off at arm’s distance, put a finger to her mouth and transferred the kiss to his lips and said
“Few more months, Doctor”