Received Special Mention in the Memories from Books flash fiction contest
She got down from the car. He drove away. Her eyes had welled up and she tried her best not to allow them to gush down. With her head held low, she walked as fast as she could towards her classroom. Chitra’s eyes didn’t meet her students’. She felt a surge of pain in her heart and her eyes became moist. Tears welled up with every step that she took. This was not the first time this was happening to her. She was made to learn that endurance is the only choice that a woman has in a troubled marriage. She had forfeited her freedom and dignity at the feet of her husband at the time of marriage. She lived with a false hope that changing times would bring with it peace and happiness. She was not a submissive woman, at the same time; she didn’t know how to put her cards across. Demanding financial freedom displeased her husband. But this time, she couldn’t handle the agony and looked forward to end it all. The bell rang and with her head still held low, she went to the staff room.
Mrs. Deshpande looked at her and sensed that all was not well. “You have to do something about it. It can’t go on like this,” she said.
“I tolerated each time I was ill-treated. But Arudra? She’s…” Chitra’s voice choked, “our daughter.”
“Tell him that his sullen temperament is affecting your marriage.”
“He will never allow me to break the marriage. He is clear about it. ”
“You need to be assertive Chitra. Just play your cards right.”
That night Chitra could hardly sleep. Arudra was in her early teens and Ashwin was ten years old. Just like every time, she decided to give her marriage yet another chance. She hoped that morning would bring back the usual temporary truce.
Daylight brought with it yet another squabble. It was as if Ram couldn’t stand it when Chitra sprang back to life every morning, altering all the misdoings of yesterday. Squawking and squeaking at dawn and dusk was a privilege that many men enjoyed in her family.
Arudra was packing her bag for school and she did it slowly. This provided enough incentive to employ his voice to utter gibberish. Chitra glared at him, her eyes pleading him not to spoil the girl’s day.
“You are staring at me?” he demanded. “You are the cause of all my misery.”
Ram’s mother looked at them vacantly. She secretly admired the supremacy that her son enjoyed as the man of the house. To her, Ram was the victim and his wife, the assailant.
Chitra sat still. She wouldn’t have reciprocated but she had to ask this question. “What is your misery?”
“All the financial burdens and the invincible debts that has accumulated over the years?” he paused and looked at her expecting her to hit back.
Chitra was lost in rumination. She heard the voice of her father ringing in her ears, “She’s a weed and has brought us misfortune,” he had said that to her friend Sara. She had felt so humiliated then. Her mother too vowed to end her life if she didn’t agree to marry Ram, her brother’s son.
When she didn’t bother to reply, he continued, “That man, the Science teacher; I’ve seen you talking with him in the corridors of your school. I know he is the reason behind your audacity.”
He paused and then continued, “You cannot go anywhere. I am your only refuge.” By now, he was sure that he had succeeded in shattering her self-esteem. Being tired of his own incessant cacophony, he left for work. This was Ram’s concocted method of keeping a wife under subjugation.
Chitra didn’t want to talk about this to anybody and receive verbal sympathy in return. She looked around as if waiting for an answer. Her eyes fell on the book, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. The voice of Nana spoke to her, “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
She stuffed her bag with certificates, two children's dresses and a water bottle. She took Arudra's piggy bank and emptied it.
This ought to be enough, she surmised.
The threshold that Chitra usually smeared with turmeric and vermillion was waiting for her departure. It had known Chitra ever since she entered the house as a new bride with dreams of building a home of her own and the same threshold now seemed to be thousand miles away from her. Myriad questions ran in her mind. Where will she go? Where will she live? How will she raise her children alone? Alone was terrifying.
First she decided to bring her children from school on the pretext of taking them to grandparents’ house. Will she go to her parents’ house? No. She didn’t want the weed to grow there again?
Once I go to the station with kids, I’ll call Sudha, I’m sure she could provide me with shelter for a few days, she told herself. A slight delay in reaching the station and Ram would become aware of her moves. Separation would become impossible. For now, she was running away. She felt a tinge of thrill at the thought of running away. She Google searched the web for teaching vacancies in Chennai. She noted some addresses and phone numbers and took a print out of her resume.
When the train moves, Chitra thought, she would then tell Arudra and Ashwin that they were going away to experience a new life; that a happy childhood was awaiting for them in the city of Chennai.
She looked at her house, a house that she built on dreams and hope. She wished Ram would stop her and say, “I love you. Just don’t go.” As she crossed the threshold, she felt an inundating rush of tears from her eyes but she walked on, never turning back.