Pin-Striped Umbrella

There it was again, the skies opening up…falling again, a little, into every life…

As I drifted through those sodden streets that day and watched upturned faces drinking in each drop I wondered why they weren’t concerned about the cold seeping in and gnawing at every bone. They were young yet. The rain was something to relish, something that set hearts afire.

I knew something about those fires even if all that remained now were a few dying embers. But I knew what it meant to burn, to watch the raindrops trickle down the window pane while we made love in the green room at the back of the house: our first home; the home that now belonged to Uma…

Uma…a shaft of pain traveled up my left arm as I found myself sinking into those distant memories of softly falling rain and Uma, in those early days, Uma…a young guest in our home… leaning over to taste it…to take them on her tongue…body twisted in an ecstasy, savoring the novelty of rain. She seemed to live for the rain. She hadn’t been around it for much of her life.

A car zoomed past and splashed me out of my trance like state. Getting soaked to the skin has an uncanny ability to bring one back to reality. This rain brought with it a chill that reached right in. I needed to find shelter. I couldn’t go on like this, drifting through a world that had only grown stranger as the days had gone by.

I ducked under the familiar green awning of Figaro. The sparse shelter it provided was mostly used up. There were others like me who traveled the rain soaked streets in squelching shoes and a trance like state where things like umbrellas never made it to the forefront of consciousness. It was rather late in the game for me to be huddling for shelter, waiting to be on my way as the rain abated, considering there wasn’t a shred of clothing on me that was still dry. I decided to go in; there wasn’t much point to standing outside.

They knew me here at Figaro. They had served us many dinners here. We had our own table in the corner, underneath the fake van Gogh. Someone else was seated there this evening. They found me a seat close to the entrance that day, the one with the chilly assault every time a new customer entered.

I ordered a cup of tea to warm me up and sat there dunking the tea bag in and out of the cup repeatedly, an obsessive, repetitive and meaningless move, ostensibly ensuring a rich flavor; a metaphor for my life, forever seeking the elusive richness, goodness, earthiness and coming up empty.


I had lived through the illusion of contentment once, had embraced it with trepidation. Life appeared to have settled into an easy rhythm. I didn’t miss our close monitoring of the bank account, the cautious spending, the fights over money matters…for once it was easy to live. That phase brought with it a certain sense of complacency as quotidian cares became a thing of the past.

Until that one day when I decided to sift through the piles of mail accumulating on the dining table, in the spirit of spring cleaning. I opened up the piece of mail from our bank thinking it would be the monthly statement…but it wasn’t. It was a notification.

The bank was confirming that I had transferred a thousand dollars to an “Uma Bose” (My name appeared first in our joint account at the bank).
I racked my brains trying to place Uma Bose. I felt quite certain that I didn’t know an Uma Bose. I wasn’t sure why the bank had decided that I wanted to send her some money. I tried to remember if I had purchased anything from anyone of that name and kept drawing a blank. I put the letter aside, making a mental note to ask Mark.

We had a pleasant dinner that night, right here at Figaro. We were at our favorite table in the corner. Mark talked about his work, his new projects. He felt secure and contented with his job but he hinted at the misfortune of others. He talked about some segments of employees losing their jobs and facing foreclosures on their homes and repossessions of their cars. It was all in the news, the dark clouds were threatening. We had been through some rough times in the past and I wasn’t sure I could face them again.

I remember interrupting Mark and inquiring about the mysterious wire transfer from the bank. He told me it was nothing, just a woman who had come to him for help. She was about to get her car repossessed and had asked if he could help. He had given her the money to tide her over.

He told me a little bit about her. She was fresh out of college and just starting out on her own. She had left her parents’ home in Reno and had migrated to the east coast. Her struggles had just begun, he’d said.

I was touched by Mark’s kindness, his unflinching generosity and lack of hesitation in helping Uma through adversity. The matter was forgotten.

Then one day she appeared at our doorstep. She had lost her home.

And soon I lost mine.


I looked up from the tepid tea water then and glanced toward the corner table. It was empty now. I hadn’t noticed their departure. The rains appeared to have stopped now, which would explain the forgotten umbrella left on the corner table.

It looked familiar to me…that pin-striped, navy blue umbrella; a guilty purchase from a Brooks Brothers store in Manhattan. Who pays $96 for an umbrella? It was over ten years ago during a time in my life when I never imagined walking in squelching shoes through city streets in a trance-like state. There was a spring in my step then and if the cost of staying dry was $96 then that’s what I would pay sans hesitation.

I walked over to the table to pick up the umbrella. It was mine alright; I had engraved my initials on the cherry wood handle. I had left my home without it, the day I’d found Mark and Uma amidst the tangled sheets of my bed. I never made it to the chest of drawers where the umbrella lay nestled within my other prized possessions. Instead I had retraced my steps and walked out of my home in a state of shock.

It was an “amicable” divorce. Mark had signed the papers within a week and I learnt of their engagement soon afterward, through mutual friends.

I had spent the last five years peeling back layers of moldy memories, trying to unravel the mystery, to determine the exact moment in time, the beginning of the end – to no avail. I had reached inside and come up empty as I continued to ask myself what I did wrong.

It was easier to ask myself that question. I refused to believe I was wronged. Admitting I was wronged would mean admitting I was foolish, naive, gullible, unattractive, undesirable and truly unremarkable in every way. No I wasn’t wronged. So I must have done something wrong.

It must have been wrong to say the words, “I love you”…, watching the fat raindrops, forming tiny rivulets of water as they fell along the window panes, limbs entangled, the smell of the earth seeping in through the crack beneath the door. It was unusual for a woman to say the words first…but I didn’t care…I was in love and I didn’t care. He had only smiled and taken me in his arms once again. The fact that I didn’t hear an echo of my words didn’t register then…a minor detail that only raises its ugly head in retrospect.

The one declaring love is always at a disadvantage. Once those three words are out there, settling in and nesting, permeating every tangible and intangible space, there’s no exit strategy, no retreat, and when there isn’t the comfort of a familiar echo there’s only desolation. He never told me he loved me…advantage Mark!

He did tell Uma he loved her…advantage Uma!

The umbrella was mine until it transferred allegiance to Uma along with my other prized possessions.

So was it Uma who had been sitting at that table? I had never seen the woman’s face; her back was turned toward me as she leaned forward toward her rainy day lunch companion who hadn’t been Mark.

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