I jerked awake at ten past three. Like something had happened. Or I was falling in my dreams. I turned to the left. Her side of the bed was untouched.
She must be watching TV in the hall. We had abided by the cliched rule book that said no TV in the bedroom. I checked both bathrooms and then walked to the balcony. The sky was dark with flashes of white. Everything was so still, and quiet, for an instant I forgot that I had searched the entire house and she was nowhere.
She, who was out for drinks and was supposed to have returned not later than midnight. Assuming she was too drunk to drive and had stayed at a friend's place, I tried her cellphone. The call wouldn't get through.
Over the years, she had coached me how not to panic in moments like these. There was a simple alternate explanation behind everything. Let's not assume the worst. I sat down with a glass of water on the couch and started mentally filtering her friends. Simultaneously I checked my phone to see if I had any of their numbers. I didn't know which gang she was out with. Was it her erstwhile work group or the friends from university.
To begin with, we met each other's friends. But it got tough as the years went by. We would end up fighting after each such get together. Seemingly all her friends were doing better. When she met mine, she thought I expected her to behave in a certain way. Probably I did and she felt rather cagey. So meeting respective friends separately made more sense. That's why I didn't know anyone in the circles she did rounds in. And that meant I had nobody to call in the middle of the night.
I tried reaching her phone several ways. Left a couple of messages for her. Her phone could have run out of charge. I don't think she was carrying a charger. I must have dozed off after pacing the hall a dozen times.
I was up again at about half past five. The sun had just risen. Yellow light streamed in through the gaps in the curtains. The milkman came, then came the newspaper guy, followed by the maid. The cook came and made us two cups of tea assuming her to be in the bathroom or something. It was a painful reminder that I had to find her.
I looked up some old chats on my phone and recovered the number of one of her friends. After calling a few more people I understood that she had left the party at ten like she was supposed to. She had left alone telling everyone that she was sober enough to drive.
We didn't spy on each other. Atleast I didn't. I knew spouses tracked phones and locations via Google. We weren't just upto it. Too much work. If either of us wanted to fool around, considering we knew certain boundaries, it was alright.
It was quite probable that she had gone on a bender. You know, a bender. Like a proper one. She didn't drink much. But she could drink like a fish if she wanted to. An entire bottle of wine in one sitting and with shots of tequila in between. That sort of thing. And she loved smoking. She could have got totally stoned and gone into hiding. Booked a hotel room somewhere and gone radio silent.
I kept making calls until I figured I absolutely had to call her mother. We hadn't spoken in years. There was too much animosity to even attempt to have an acquaintance. But she could have flown to see her. She had never done anything wild like that in the past. But you never know people. Her mother didn't pick up the phone. May be she had changed numbers. Or she hadn't saved mine and didn't recognize it.
As the afternoon came by, it got scary. I locked the apartment and went downstairs. Some movie plots came to mind. May be they would find her car somewhere with her nowhere nearby. And then they would find her, a few days after.
I thought of approaching the police. That was the one final resort after all. They might suspect me for all I care. I might have made her disappear for insurance money. You know, they suspect spouses first in such cases. Or months will go by and the police would get nowhere. Until one day, suddenly I would get a call. All kinds of things came to mind. I couldn't tame my thoughts anymore.
Perhaps the marriage got too much to handle. But I gave her a lot of space. There would be days when wouldn't talk if we didn't feel like. I respected her privacy, never checked phones, messages, mail, bank accounts, nothing.
Perhaps that was the problem. Too much space had translated into a void and she felt no affection at all. Therefore she abandoned me and ran.
After considering all options, I came to the verge of concluding that she was on a bender after all. Just then..