Short Story by Tina Shah
Entry for the LIT-O-FEST IdeaIndia.com Creative Writing Competition
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All the women in the room got up when she entered. There was a strange hush where emotions were so high that the air seemed crackling with electric currents. Upon a glance on the faces of the women huddled in the dimly lit room one could feel the intensity in the eyes which conveyed a thousand words in that one look. The curtain fell behind her once more when she stepped forward. She nodded her head in acknowledgement and moved towards the inner room. The rest of them quietly followed her inside.
Syed and Gayatri didn't mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least expect it. It creeps up suddenly. When someone needs attention, care, laughter and maybe even intimacy. Love doesn't look at logic or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.
Gayatri was from a very conservative Indian family that went to a temple every Tuesday and Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every Eid. That said it all. Their paths would never have crossed if it hadn't been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. Gayatri wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all?
She had just got up and turned on her way to the cash counter to pay and her face came in contact with a hard muscled male chest. She could smell a very tangy musk. He was taller than her. She quickly tried to move away with a muffled sorry. His hands held her to steady her. She looked up into the eyes that had her mesmerized. He had dark brown eyes that were sparkling with life and had a certain intensity about them that made her keep staring. Eventually he broke the spell by saying “Hey. Are you alright? Gayatri just said a lame…”Ahan, sorry” and moved away.
Damn! I had thought I could at least have masked my “in awe” look. Now, I was embarrassed to even look back. As I reached the counter to place the order I discovered that my wallet was not in my hand. Exasperated I turned around and found myself again looking into those eyes that had me transfixed once more. “Hi, I guess this must be yours...” He was holding out my plain grey wallet which had a silver G dangling from the side. “It probably fell when you bumped into me”. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Was that my hand shaking while taking the wallet from his? This was unbelievable. I was shy but no guy had ever had such an effect on me till now. “Thank you so much”. I smiled back at him, feeling a bit of my confidence returning back. He held out his hand and introduced himself. “Syed”. He had a pleasant voice too. Not too deep but just right. I loved the ring to his name. Well….seemed like I did like quite a few things about him already! “Gayatri”, his hand held mine firmly. I went a step ahead and asked him, “Coffee?” He just smiled and shook his head, “I hope you are not repaying me for getting you your wallet, thanks anyways”? I laughed,” Actually yes, I insist, please”. He complied thankfully,” Oh! Alright. That will be nice. I like to generally have a hot coffee.”
Well, that was how it started. We had a lot of common likes and dislikes and that coffee shop became our favorite meeting place. The first time I went to his room when his family was away for a wedding was unforgettable. I wanted to belong to him completely. It was so natural to lie in his arms and hear his heart beating. I just hugged him tighter. He had made me feel so special. I knew I had fallen in love even before our first night together.
She looked at her watch. Syed was late. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes at the cafe, in his car, in places that she could never tell her friends about. They would never understand. And yet Syed made her happy. It wasn’t always easy getting an opportunity to be out at night together. So, they decided to rent an apartment.
Syed wanted to be with me forever. We knew it would not be easy with our families belonging to different religions. On the other hand my parents were constantly finding suitable grooms for me.
Suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. "On my way. Have something important to tell you."Gayatri stared at it and realized she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her?
Finally, Syed got a good break and we could plan something. He had got a very good job offer in Dubai. Our plan was that he would get permanent there soon and I would join him there. We could easily get married once we could leave our parents house. Maybe with time they would reconcile to the fact. But there was no way we were willing to live apart.
He had a contract to sign which would not allow him to come back at least for 3 years. This was our only option. The day he left it wasn’t easy to hold back my tears. He promised to call and write as frequently as he could. Now, I just had to wait and fend off my parents in some way or other.
The doorbell rang and I jumped to go open the door. It was just the neighbor. I came back wondering why I hadn’t heard from him since the past few weeks. His letters had been coming regularly when he had left. He was saving up to buy his own place and for my ticket. In all this I just forgot that I skipped my monthly period. Lately the smells of food getting cooked had started making me feel queasy. It could be also because of the fact that I had not been eating properly and had been anxious mostly. It was only when I started throwing up in the morning I got worried. It was the second month and the strip showed a bright pink.
Five years…five long years had passed. Her eyes had a wetness that only her heart could understand as she once again sat on the same window seat…at the same coffee shop she had sat last five years ago, waiting for Syed to come. She got startled as her phone rang. The screen flashed Subbu’s name. She knew she had to answer it. He must have called up home and found out that she had left little Akshara at home with the hired help and he would be worried…really worried, as she had never done something like that before.
God forbid if Subbu ever came to know that Akshara was not his own child but someone else’s. Just then the café door opened and she saw Syed looking for her. She was sitting at their usual place. His eyes lit up and he smiled as he walked towards her.
Subbu paced the floor of his verandah in deep thought. He wasn’t able to figure out the real reason behind his wife’s sudden change. She had been acting strange and distant towards him since some time now. Well, theirs had never been a highly in love kind of relationship but still he had never felt so disconnected from her till a month ago. It wasn’t without reason too. Since the day they had been married she had always been very predictable in her behavior. He had tried to get close to her but there had always been an invisible wall she had built around her which he could not break through. It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried.
Well, since the first time he had seen her photograph he had been quite smitten by her. It was a different thing that he wasn’t a great lover boy type of guy who knew how to woo women or make them fall madly in love with him. He was just a good, quiet and sincere guy…he was just “Subbu”. So, after a while he stopped trying and was happy with just the fact that she was his wife and the mother of his child. He felt that maybe he was expecting too much out of his partner. After all he too was a quiet kind of person who would never show his feelings publicly.
His wife Gayatri had not had many close friends coming home after her marriage. He had tried asking her about her life before marriage but she had always given very non-committal kind of answers. On her first birthday after marriage he had planned a surprise party for her and asked her parents to call all her friends over. Sadly that had not been much of a hit with her. She had just smiled through the entire function and later in their bedroom at night quietly said “ Thank you for the surprise party. Though it would have been nicer with just Ma and Pa.”
That was the last time they had such a get together at home at least. Though she did occasionally get a few calls from her friends but she never made too much of an effort to make any plans with them. Then their daughter was born. Since then his wife had just been busy with her or with the household chores. Occasionally did they go out for a dinner.
Strangely since the past one month she had been on the phone for long and had been going out a lot to meet some friend who had come from abroad. Like today, she had not even taken their daughter along. This was totally unlike her.
Syed excitedly pushed back the chair and sat down. Holding her hands in his he said, “Guess what? Sir has agreed to get visas made for all three of us”! Gayatri was happy yet tense at the same moment. How would she manage to leave everyone without creating a scandal? They had talked about it and she knew that her heart belonged to none other than Syed. Only she knew how she had survived all these years without him. It was the love for her daughter that had made her lead a normal life. Of course her husband was a really nice man. She had no heart to hurt him. She knew that he loved them both deeply. He was a nice, kind man but she had not been able to love him the way she had loved Syed.
The thought of an entire lifetime without Syed seemed too stark to live. Especially after she got to know that he had never betrayed her. Her parents had conspired against her. They never let her know that Syed had written numerous letters to her. He had tried calling her and contacting her through her friends also but they were kept at bay by her parents!
She had sent a legal divorce through her lawyer. As soon as the custody of her daughter was given to her she had gone with Syed. They would plan their marriage after she had converted to his religion. In her letter to her husband she had begged his forgiveness and had asked him never to disclose the fact that Akshara was not his own daughter. He had quietly compiled to whatever she asked for. She had not asked for any monetary compensation. Her parents wanted to meet her but she had firmly refused.
They settled well in the new house. Gayatri could not believe that things worked out well for them. They had found a playschool for their daughter and Syed’s employer wanted Gayatri also to work in his firm now. He had been a great help in getting them married and settled.
In the dimly lit room Gayatri thought about that one year of happiness and bliss which had mislead them all into thinking that now everything was going to be fine. She sat on a different chair in a different room this time waiting for Syed to come through the door. Only this time it was a place she could never have fathomed. The door opened and a guard walked in with her husband. Their eyes met again, his still lit up the same way they had when they had met at their favorite coffee place. She looked at him and felt the sadness engulf them. They just sat facing each other and the seconds seemed like a million years had passed between them. His first question was, “How is my little angel”? It had been almost two years now since he had been in prison.
Today there was a new woman in the room. She seemed conscious when she spoke so it was hard to hear her at first as she was hardly audible. The other woman who had got her along prodded her further as she told the others how her brother in law had made life a living hell for her since her husband had gone out of the country for work. She could not sleep at night as he had tried numerous times to enter her room. When she had tried to take help from his wife she had got no support as his wife was too meek to take a stand for anyone, least of all for her. To stand up against the men in their house was almost like believing the unbelievable.
She had never imagined that life would take such a drastic turn. She was a different woman now. Her naivety lost and a fire in her heart. Fires which she would never ever let dwindle. Initially it had been anger but now she had managed to focus her anger and make it work for the better for others like her.
What if you found out that there is no purpose in life? Would the journey become more meaningful or the destination more important? She had decided to go on this path when she had lost so much in life. Her only hope for living apart from this new purpose in life was her daughter and to get her daughters voice back. To hear her speak again… Akshara had never spoken since that night...
While they tried to find the best solution to bring some respite in that woman’s life her mind raced elsewhere to that fateful night which had shattered her so badly. Her nails dig into her hands which had closed into tight fists as the disturbing images of that night ran in front of her eyes. Her body shuddered recalling how her husband’s boss had taken advantage of the fact that Syed was at work the entire night. He had ruthlessly invaded her privacy and stifling her screams entered her repeatedly. Her daughter had kept pounding on the door hearing her screams but she could do nothing. She had tried to run out of the house to get some help but Mr. Abdul’s personal guard had pushed her back inside and kept guard at the entrance as he must have done many times for his master to fulfill his needs.
Oh! They had been so naïve to have trusted him so much so that he had become a regular visitor to their house. Gayatri had no idea that since he had seen her the first time in the wedding picture with Syed he had wanted her in his bedroom. He was a man used to getting what he wanted always. This time he had to wait a little longer as Syed had not understood his hints to get Gayatri over at night whenever they were working late. His prime motive in giving her a job in his office and giving a loan to Syed for the house had been to get her!
She had been at a crossroad where she could neither turn back for help to her parents nor to Subbu. This was between only her, Syed and Akshara. It was a journey where there would be no justice in the court of law as she could not say anything. Her silence had stifled her initially till she had decided to take this new path.
Syed had come back to a visual he could never forget. Gayatri had been sitting with a cold fixated look, the tears rolling down her beautiful face and Akshara was still calling out to her mother. Later she had simply stopped saying anything. She had gone into a shock seeing the state her mother was in.
Gayatri had felt violated and empty from within at that moment. They all just sat down looking at each other. That silence was deafening. Syed could not forgive himself as to why he had not been there to protect his family.
Then he had just walked out of the door and she had been called later to the police station. Syed had made her promise never to tell anyone the real reason as to why had he killed Mr.Abdul that night.
Till she decided to find a way to fight for justice in her own way. But this fight would not be for her alone. She was going to fight for others like her. She would be the voice for her child..the voice which Akshara had lost. She would be the strength to those who were as helpless as she had been on that fateful night.
This was her own court of law…a court where there would be no injustice and no fear. Where she was the judge and every culprit, every criminal would be punished and these women with fearful eyes would live with dignity and their heads held high. Each woman she helped survive made the years without Syed a little more bearable. It would be their fight for the flight of equability.