Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
A frisson of fear shot through me as the footsteps continued to draw nearer. I prayed a silent prayer.
The door suddenly swung open and two tall figures stormed into the room.
“It will be better if you forget him,” Aadil screamed and then lowered his voice. “I am your elder brother. I know what is right for your future.”
Tears began to roll down my cheeks.
“Why don’t you understand?” Aahil shouted.
Aadil and Aahil, my elder brothers, cared for me a lot. However, since the day they had learned about my relationship with Kunal, their behaviour towards me had taken an appalling turn.
I heard a voice from behind the half open door. “She will marry someone from within our faith. Do you understand?” My mother was being reprimanded by my father.
My father’s fiery temper wasn’t hidden from those who knew him. His commandments were to be obeyed by all in the family. On the other hand, my mother was a submissive personality. Or, may be, she had been forced into becoming one after her marriage. She was the only one who understood my quandary but dared not to speak a word in my support. She was well aware of the fact that the repercussion could be cataclysmic.
My brothers shook their heads in frustration and left the room. After a few hours, the house was in the clutches of a terrifying stillness. My heart began to flash the memories of my love story.
I vividly remember the day when Kunal and I had met. It was at Ishita’s, my college friend’s birthday; a soiree was organized at her apartment. At the party, my eyes had spotted him—a charming man: tall, athletic, perfectly chiseled face, stylish spike hair—standing to my left, surrounded by friends. He was dressed casually in a white shirt and tan chinos. After a few minutes, he went to the side of the apartment and I lost sight of him.
Many hours later, the crowd had thinned considerably at Ishita’s apartment. Reluctantly, I looked at my watch. It was getting late. Hence, I decided to leave for home. As I turned around, Ishita was standing behind me with Kunal.
“Aaliyah, this is my cousin, Kunal,” she smiled.
“Hi,” he said, “I—”
“He finds you very beautiful,” Ishita interrupted.
I bit my lower lip. “Thank you.”
Ishita looked at me and winked before she walked away.
“I have been more often than not embarrassed by my cousin’s bluntness,” Kunal said, “but, today, I am not,” he smiled. “You are really beautiful.”
A range of emotions rose in my heart. “Thank You,” I replied.
He took a sip from a red plastic cup and started talking to me about his family and friends. And when the party was over, he asked for my phone number. I took out a piece of paper from my clutch bag, scribbled my number on it and handed it to him. He tore a piece from it, scribbled his number on it and handed it to me.
A few weeks had passed after Ishita’s birthday, Kunal hadn’t called even once. Then, one day, I was in a market near my house to buy groceries and I spotted him. He looked handsome in denims and grey striped t-shirt. But I was snapped out of his charm before my callow heart could commit a folly the moment I recalled that he had not called me at all. As I was about to walk away, he spotted me and started to walk hurriedly towards me.
“Hi, Aaliyah,” he said happily, “I am so glad to see you here.”
“Hi, yeah…me, too,” I spoke with deliberate dispassion.
“I lost the paper,” he said sheepishly.
“The one on which you wrote your phone number. I wanted to call Ishita to ask for your number, but thought that you would definitely call me.” He paused for a moment. “Why did you not call?” he asked desperately.
A tinge of remorse glistened in my eyes. “I—I am sorry. I—I thought that you were not interested in speaking with me.”
His face contorted into sadness. “Never say that again.”
After that day, we started to talk to each other almost every day. It wasn’t long before we began to meet regularly at the coffee joint that was in the vicinity of my college. We used to sit there for hours chatting and laughing while a faint music from an old tape-recorder resonated in the air. In a short period of time, fondness began to bloom in our hearts towards each other.
Then, one day, when I was talking with him over the phone, I mentioned in passing that my college exams scheduled after a month. He suggested that we should meet after they were over. I agreed to it half-heartedly.
After a month, when my exams got over, I remembered how impatient I was to meet him. As I reached the coffee joint where we always met, my eyes witnessed such a sight that snuffed out the happiness in them. Kunal looked so depressed.
“Are you feeling alright?” I asked worriedly.
Tears filled up his eyes.
“Aaliyah, I—I missed you a lot.” He cleared his throat and then looked me in my eyes. “I love you,” he said quietly.
I looked deep into his brown eyes. I was unable to deny that I felt the same towards him. That I’d missed him, too. Tears filled up my eyes as I told him that I loved him, too.
That was the day that marked the start of my love story. But, what was to come next was what my puerile heart could have never anticipated.
A few months had passed, it was Sunday and we were in the same coffee shop where we always met. Suddenly, a hirsute hand patted my shoulders. When, I turned around, I saw my brothers with a covey of their sycophants. I was hauled away to my house that soon turned into a prison for me.
My eyes opened in terror and tears began to fall like a cascade. The hurtful memories were like a poltergeist, desperate to snuff out the life in me.
The next day, my father entered my room. “We have chosen a boy for you.” His tone was filled with anger. “You will be meeting him in the evening.”
The moment he left the room, a meek figure in the form of my mother entered and looked at me pitifully.
My mother had become scrawny, and she looked dispirited. Her submissive eyes looked like an ocean of worry. My heart cried seeing her in such plight.
“I-I am sorry…I cannot help you even if I wanted to.” She began to sob helplessly.
A sense of guilt made me flinch. My father hadn’t spared any opportunity to blame her for my actions, I thought. It wasn’t difficult to imagine her life even if it was me who was imprisoned in this room. Unable to hold back my tears, I embraced her tightly.
After a few hours, a few maidservants entered my room to dress me up for the impending rendezvous. And, when the boy arrived, my mother escorted me downstairs into the living room.
“This is our daughter, Aaliyah,” said my mother in a soft tone as we stopped a few steps away from the black chaise longue where a young man dressed in a white shirt and black pants sat with his parents.
They looked at me and smiled. My mother signalled me to sit on the sofa next to the chaise longue where they sat.
My father got involved in a tête-à-tête with the boy’s father. My mother got herself occupied in serving tea and snacks to the guests. The boy, after many unsuccessful endeavours to start a conversation with me, engaged himself helplessly in the conversation between my father and his. As for me, I sat there, silently, staring at the black and white chequered marble floor.
When they left, I rushed upstairs to my bedroom. My father followed me. “Aamir liked you,” he said as he entered the room. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed. “I want you to make sure that you do nothing that would demean us.”
The next day, I was informed that the wedding date was fixed after two weeks. My father and brothers looked very happy as everything was happening as per their druthers. However, I smouldered with an unbearable pain.
Finally, the wedding day arrived. I was dressed in a red bridal wear. Despite being adorned with expensive jewels, my despair refused to fade. Sitting before the mirror, I closed my eyes and prayed to the higher power for succour.
It had been a few months we’ve been married. Aamir never complained about my apathetic behaviour towards him. However, sooner than later his nobility began to fill me with an unintended culpability.
Then, one day, Aamir and I were supposed to go to his aunt’s place for supper. I was getting ready when my mother-in-law entered my room.
“Aamir had bought this sari for you,” she smiled and gave the sari to me.
It was a beautiful pink silk sari with a golden edging. Surprisingly, a smile made its way towards my grief-stricken lips.
After an hour, when Aamir entered the room, a glitter sparkled in his eyes. “You look beautiful in pink.”
I looked up and it was the first time our eyes met. It was the first time I looked at him properly. He was an average looking man with an athletic build. His hair was parted neatly on one side. His eyes looked…warm and loving.
“Did you hear what I said?” he asked politely.
“I—I did hear what you said. Thank you,” I replied hesitatingly.
He smiled and then pointed to his watch. “We should leave now,” he said.
I nodded and walked out of the room with him.
In a few minutes, we were en route to Aamir’s Aunt’s house. The next moment, a flash of light blinded my sight. I heard someone scream my name repeatedly.
Sodden in sweat, I opened my eyes in a place that was frosty. Around me people were in blue surgical masks; blood ridden cotton wools and unfamiliar equipments in their hands were staring at me. I was overcome by a desire to run as far as I could but an excruciating pain had paralysed me.
“We need blood to save her,” said one of the men in blue mask.
“We need a donor immediately,” said another one.
It wasn’t long before I drifted into a state of unconsciousness.
I felt a familiar touch on my forehead. As I opened my eyes, everything looked blurred. When my vision cleared, I saw a fragile lady and a stoic man standing next to the hospital gurney.
“Where is Aamir?” I managed to ask, leveraging the strength left in my body.
A cascade of tears appeared on my mother’s wrinkled face. My frenzied eyes looked at my father. He burst into tears.
“I wanted to see if you are fine,” he said.
My eyes couldn’t believe it was him. An uncontrollable fury stormed out the pain that was buried inside me.
“Dad, are you happy?”
My father looked at me in disbelief.
“This has happened because of you. Aamir suffered pain because of you. He deserved a loving companion….” I was unable to hold back my tears.
My mother, a witness to my doomed fate, finally spoke. “Kunal saved her life. If you had not been so mulish—”
A hand lifted in the air made her recoil.
However, today, there was no one who could have stopped me.
“How will you ever be able to separate Kunal’s blood from mine?” My teary eyes smiled. “What will you do now, dad?”
Surbhi Thukral is a marketing professional turned writer. She has worked with corporations in India and the UK. After gaining success in business writing, she is determined to make a mark in the field of fiction writing. She holds Masters in Business & Management from the University of Strathclyde, UK. She can be reached at thukral.surbhi[at]gmail.com.
Her work has been published in the Harvests of New Millennium, January 2012; EWR: Short Stories, March 2012; Taj Mahal Review, June 2012; A World Rediscovered (An Anthology of Contemporary Verse), September 2012; Taj Mahal Review, December 2012; Harvests of New Millennium, January 2013; eFiction India, April 2013; eFiction India, June 2013; Taj Mahal Review, June 2013; eFiction India, July 2013; eFiction India, August 2013, eFiction India, October 2013, The Indian Trumpet (November-December 2013) and eFiction India, November 2013.
Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)
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