The sari lies on the chair. It’s a golden colour – a rather ugly golden colour. I touch it gently. It feels heavy.
I look around the room, feeling lost and suffocated. I want to lie down once again on the bed, and feel the soft touch of the pillow, but I can’t. The room swirls in front of my eyes, in a mix of red and gold.
I can’t stand it.
The bangles are strewn over the table, along with the jewellery boxes. Some madness seizes me, and I suddenly look through the necklaces hoping....
I hear voices. Kani’s returning. I recognize her footsteps – that quick pacing walk, she’s had since she was four. She’s talking on the phone to someone, and laughing.
The good thing is, that she’s laughing again.
I’m not the reason for it, though.
I don’t know how to make my escape. I again look at the sari and the jewellery. They don’t seem to let me go.
Kani comes in, still on the phone. She sees me.
She cuts the phone abruptly. She doesn’t even ask me what I’m doing in her room, on her wedding day, four hours before her wedding.
She just says coolly, “Nisha Ma was looking for you. I think she mentioned something about sweets. I didn’t quite catch it.”
I nod and head towards the door.
But Kani returns to her phone. I haven’t even left the room when she closes the door.
The door’s closed, and I hear a key being turned.
I stand against the door for a while. But Kani doesn’t open it. Because she knows I wouldn’t have left.
KARTHYAYANI. That was the name which I was born with. It was a name, which my grandmother had apparently carefully selected for me.
The moment I could speak or comprehend such matters, I detested it. It was long, lavish and extravagant – and a clear waste. It was a drawn out-prolonged name I felt.
Not unlike the episodes in my life.
I told Nisha Ma clearly – that I didn’t like it, and she must change it. Nisha Ma in her careful collected manner told me that it wasn’t possible, and that’s what my birth certificate said.
“It’s a great problem to get these things changed.”
Of course Nisha Ma would talk to a six-year-old like that. My father then chose to call me Kani, to appease me.
“Is it better now, Kani?” I remember him asking me gently.
“Slightly.” I gave him a half-smile and went back to making mud pies.
Nisha Ma shook her ahead and went back to rearranging the wilting flowers on the porch.
I called her Nisha Ma, because Shahid did. Later Shahid would chide me and tell me to call her “Amma”, but I couldn’t. I did honestly try. Everyone was puzzled around me, as to why I called my own birth mother Nisha Ma. My father didn’t tell me after the first time, much to Nisha Ma’s chagrin. I could see that she wished heartily that Shahid was her own, and not me. I wasn’t imagining it – it became painfully clearer to me as I grew up. She loved Shahid like her own son, and he was devoted to her. He would come back from school and run to her, instead of his own mother. But his mother was such a calm and gentle soul, she didn’t mind this at all. She always smiled whenever he came out of our flat, clutching chocolate cake, which I would refuse to eat.
We lived in the quiet residential apartments of Island Gardens. Shahid and I lived exactly opposite to each other. We were #145, and they were #146.
Our families were inseparable.
I don’t know if the same could be said about us.
Shahid was three years older than me. He was the first person I knew – before my own mother. He would spend time with me dutifully-because his mother said so. He would play with me politely because Nisha Ma asked him to. There was never a fault in his behaviour – he seemed like the perfect companion. He laughed and talked to me, whenever he could. He encouraged my crazy storytelling, with much interest. Yet – I always felt – he did it out of obligations for Nisha Ma. I don’t recall him ever coming to meet me on his own – considering we lived next door to each other for sixteen years.
21st July 1998
My father used to say that we might not remember our earliest memories. But there will always be that one vivid memory which will always remain with us.
I think I had several of these “vivid” memories – which I felt were carved into my mind – like drawings etched on a stone which can never be erased.
And they would flash in front of my eyes for years.
I had just turned seven. This was still a time when my birthday was a cause for celebration – however lukewarm it might be. Only Khala showed more enthusiasm than my own mother, and bought me my first action-figure – which was something that I craved.
It was a subdued party. The three of us, Khala and Shahid. I cut the vanilla icing cake out of sheer politeness. I detested vanilla – and my mother knew this. I don’t know why she didn’t stop my father from buying it. My father of course knew practically next-to-nothing about me, so by that age I had acquitted him of all blame.
I gave Khala the first slice. I remember my mother’s eyes widening. I felt a tinge of guilt mixed with brutal satisfaction and gave her a slice.
She took it from my hand, broke off a piece and gave the rest to Shahid.
I had wanted to offer a piece of cake to Shahid. In my hurry to give him a piece, I knocked the slice out of his hand.
It fell and splattered on the usually spotless carpet.
My mother threw me a glance – which I knew too well by now. She didn’t say anything, but picked up a tissue to clean it.
Shahid was aghast by this and said, “Kani, you dropped it. You should clean it, yourself.”
Khala said softly, “Shahid.”
My father as usual stood there rather hapless. He cut himself a piece and walked away.
Fury surged through me as I saw him walk away coolly. My mother looked at him with an unmistakable expression in her eyes.
I don’t know what possessed me – but I dropped the nearest glass. It was his favourite glass – the one he always drank from. It shattered into a million pieces on the ground.
Nisha Ma bent down again to clean it up. I was getting more livid with her. I didn’t help to pick it up though. The poison cursing through me prevented me from doing any such thing. She wanted to prove something, I recall thinking.
Shahid stopped her, however. “Let’s go.” He didn’t even look at me.
Wordlessly, they left the room. It was just Khala and me left in the room, standing in the middle of the glass pieces and another ruined birthday.
Silence had become the grammar of all our relationships.
I wanted to shout out, “Shahid come back! Please!”
Instead I sat on the floor and stared blankly. Khala put her arms around me, and years later I could still hear quiet words,
“Cry it out, Kani. Better now, than later.”
I wish I had.
Most of my interests developed because of him. He used to love collecting postcards, and that soon became my pastime as well. Whenever my mother, he and I would walk near the bustling shops in Central London, he would always stop at a postcard shop. He ignored the normal tourist postcards of London, which would have the Buckingham Palace on it – he would always take the scenic ones. He had an inexplicable interest in nature. When I asked him why, he would say,
“It’s the best escape, I think. To sit in the middle of nowhere far – away from everyone…. and to just see an endless green.”
“Isn’t that dull?”
“It’s peaceful, Kani. I would do anything for that.”
His eyes would light up ominously.
“If you find such a place, will you take me?” I asked him once.
“Maybe.” He replied, with a slight smile.
As the years crept by, I realized we didn’t spend time at his place anymore. His mother would come home, and would have long conversations with my mother. I don’t remember Khirad Khala ever having a worried expression or uttering an impolite word about anyone. She never rebuked Shahid for anything, even though on occasion he was sharp with her. It surprised me the first time – as I could never imagine that Shahid could be anything but docile to anyone.
Khala was sitting with us and having tea. Shahid burst in and said, “Mom, I’m going to meet James. I’ll be back late.”
She was rather surprised and said, “But we have company for dinner, Shahid. Your father is also home after a long time. He would really like you to be there.”
“I’ve told him.”
“Please try to be back in time, son. People keep asking about you.”
He clicked his tongue in impatience and said, “Mom, please. I’ll try but I can’t promise.”
And with that, he slammed the door shut.
One would think that as our families were so painfully similar, the one-sided friendship with Shahid should have flourished. It didn’t.
Yet there was a difference.
Even if Shahid’s father wasn’t at home often – his affection towards Khala showed in every action and gesture. They were happier, than my parents would ever be – a bitter thought which gnawed at me. However, as a family of three, they were only slightly better than us.
Shahid had great deal of respect for his father, and listened to everything he said. It was more than what could be said for his mother. He disregarded her feelings and wishes callously. It was something, which created a dent in the image of perfection I had in my head. It was the opposite with him when it came to Nisha Ma. He would take care of her worries, and obey her wishes without fail. It made me angrier with her- why she never advised him to be the same with Khala. But probably, Shahid was the only thing close to a child she had.
It was bizarre, but he understood her much better than I did. After the age of thirteen, we stopped having those obligatory conversations as well. Silence pervaded our house and it stayed on. If we weren’t silent, we exchanged angry words. She would get irritated that I tripped over the flowerpot and broke it, and I would reply that I could care less.
Yes silence was better.
That was all that existed between my parents, as well. My father would come home on every alternate weekend, but it felt like he was some guest. He tried spoiling me by bringing me expensive gifts – but there’s no point of all that if you don’t even know your daughter. He should’ve known I loathed dresses and necklaces and earrings even more. I told Shahid this, and he just rolled his eyes and said,
“He was trying, Kani.”
He was tall, and had black hair, which carelessly flopped, down to his forehead. I had always loved such hairstyles for some reason, even though my mother would disdainfully call it untidy and shoddy. But it was his eyes which wielded a powerful force over me. They were a light hazel, and whenever he looked into my eyes, I would feel my face going hot, and there would be a slight lurch in my tummy. This was a rare occurrence though – he rarely looked at me like that. I can’t even say he treated me like a child. I don’t know at what age the frustration began-but I know it took a strong hold of me and never to let go. The unshed tears were catching up.
15th January, 2004
It was Sports Day. I had won two gold medals in athletics – after three consecutive years of silver and bronzes. It made no difference to my parents, obviously. But Shahid had always said, “You can get the gold if you want, Kani. Hell, you can get all the gold medals in the world if you just concentrated your hot temper at the right place, at the right time”.
It was those words, which reverberated through my mind as I knelt down on the racetrack, and geared up to run.
In the haze of red and muffled yells from the crowd – all I could hear in my head was Shahid.
I had to make him proud. I had to get more than just “Well done” from him.
I didn’t care who I was competing with, I cared for nothing at all. I just wanted to be first – and I was.
I didn’t even wait for the end of the Sports Day. I rushed home, eager to tell Shahid.
He was at home, talking to Nisha Ma, having their usual supply of biscuits and green tea as usual. Both looked rather puzzled to see me.
“Is Sports Day over, already?” my mother asked.
“I won two gold medals!” I said to Shahid, ignoring her.
“That’s wonderful, Kani. I told you.” He said sipping his tea, unfazed.
My eyes burned. It was not enough.
“That’s it?” I snapped.
He looked politely bewildered. “What?”
“I won two races, and all you say is ‘well done Kani’.”
“Is it not a good thing?”
“It is a great achievement, Kani. I’m happy for you.” He reiterated.
Tepid replies, as always.
It made me want to explode. My head throbbed.
I had no response.
My mother noticed my expression and said coolly, “Kani, stop fishing.”
Of course, she was enjoying this little scene.
I hated both of them so much at that point. I left the room, feeling humiliated by the tears streaming down. I heard Nisha Ma sigh and say, “Oh she’s so difficult.”
And Shahid replied indifferently, “Oh she will be fine soon.”
And they continued talking about Greek Mythology.
I collapsed on my bed. I felt as if I had just run another ten races.
I was always on the racetrack when it came to Shahid. He was at the finish line, but I couldn’t see him. The track was endless. It was as if I had been running on the same track for years, and I could not stop now.
It was a raging exasperation which built up inside me over years. I learnt to keep my temper, and not snap at him for childish reasons, but the yearning continued.
As I grew older, he would laugh and joke with me about various subjects. But he never shared the little details of his day, like I shared with him. I confided in him about everything – from my friends – to the teachers I loved and detested – to the bizarre happenings throughout my day. He was a wonderful listener and would have entertaining comments about my stories. But I wished to hear about him – what was his life like, what did he do with his friends, where did he go? I tried asking these questions, and he would answer them in monosyllables. He didn’t see me as a friend the way I saw him.
What he saw me as – only he knew.
And then he joined college, which was in Holborn. That journey would take approximately an hour, he told me. He wasn’t able to come home in the evenings as much. He would come home by eight, and would go straight to sleep. I would knock on his door expectantly, hoping to play a bit of badminton, but his mother would tell me rather regretfully that Shahid was too tired.
I missed him terribly.
My father was hardly ever at home, and Nisha Ma was barely company. I had a group of friends for sure – but none could fill the gaping void, which Shahid had created.
I wanted to walk with Shahid in Regent’s Park, one of London’s most beautiful parks. He loved greenery just as much as I did, and I wanted to take him there. I wanted to walk with him near the rose bushes, or run down the grassy hills or feed the ducks near the mossy pond. My closest friend Amara would tell me how she had spent many Sundays with her boyfriend, just under a tree but with each other. I had many such visions of that with Shahid and there was nothing else I wanted in the world. I didn’t care if I was only fifteen and he was eighteen.
I asked Shahid once,
“Come with me to Regent’s Park?”
He was surprised, but he had his excuse ready.
“I’ve got an assignment due, Kani. Another time.”
I just knew that whenever Shahid was near me, I had a feverish excitement – a bubbling feeling to just talk to him and to look for those little signs of affection in his deep brown eyes.
It was love – and I knew it.
But it was just this quiet strain I saw in his eyes.
I once asked him though, outright.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Kani!” my mother was shocked.
He seemed bemused, and raised his eyebrow.
“What gives you that idea?”
“You’re never home.”
He laughed and didn’t respond to my question.
Nisha Ma scolded me sharply that night and said, “You have no right to ask him such questions. What he does in his personal life, is none of your business. Do you hear me, Karthyayani?”
My father said tiredly from his corner, “Nisha let it be. She’s only fifteen.”
She looked at him, “Look at the way she behaves, Joy. Just-for-once – be at home and see for yourself.”
I lashed back, “You’re not easy to deal with either, I hope you know that.”
My father got up so quickly, that he dropped the mug of coffee on the ground. The mug shattered into pieces and spread across the bare floor. He wasn’t expecting such words between us, but this was quite a feature in this household. Of course, he wouldn’t know.
He opened his mouth to say something, but he realized he didn’t have words. It was too late to say anything now.
Fifteen years too late.
The three of us stood like that for seconds, which seemed like eternity. We looked like actors on a stage who had forgotten their dialogues – and were desperate to be ushered out by the director.
Nisha Ma looked at me and said, “You are a wretched, wretched girl Kani.”
The words sent me reeling.
All my life she had scolded and rebuked me. I had never cared or listened, and it had never affected me.
There was such an inexplicable emotion in her eyes, that I started shaking.
There was nothing between us.
I ran to my room and slammed the door shut.
I didn’t come out the next day, and neither did anyone call me.
Time doesn’t heal wounds.
Some wounds deepen and get more sore with time.
After that quiet debacle, my father managed to stay away from home for a month. I supposed he was alright – he didn’t call me like he used to. He made cursory phone calls to my mother. I heard awkward conversations – or rather Nisha Ma’s side where she talked about the weather and asked him how the weather was in Brighton.
This façade of family life dragged on. Shahid was probably the only joy in my mother’s life, and they would have conversations till late at night. I was resentful – not of Shahid’s place in my mother’s life- but the other way round. I wished he spoke to me like that.
I longed for a hug from him.
Any form of physical contact.
When I topped my O levels, I first told him excitedly, hoping that at least this time I would get a hug from him.
He had the brightest smile, and he said, “I expected nothing less, Kani.”
I rushed towards him and gave him a hug. It was surreal – to finally feel him so close to him…and to hug him so closely – at last. I put my head on his shoulder, hoping that he would pat my hair-play with it-maybe…or pat my cheek, at least.
But he didn’t hug me back.
I tightened my hug for a few seconds, praying to the universe for some response.
He pushed me gently away.
“I’ll come home later and we’ll celebrate with ice cream.” He said quietly.
When he came home that evening I pretended to be ill and didn’t come to see him.
I topped my O levels as well as my A levels. I was now eighteen.
The fire inside me, which flamed unbearably on the few occasions that I now saw Shahid, refused to subside. Shahid came home rarely; he was now coming to London only on the weekends. He was now pursuing a Masters from Cambridge, and seemed to have little contact with London – least of all his mother.
She would politely say, “Oh no, Shahid is very busy, I haven’t heard at all from him.”
Nisha Ma would keep quiet and wouldn’t tell her obviously that Shahid would call her every weekend.
I didn’t understand why Shahid didn’t call his own mother. If I had such a sweet and understanding mother like that, I would call her every day, just to hear her comforting voice.
It was bizarre, but whenever I spent time with Khirad Khala, I was at peace. I would put my head on her knee, and she would pat my hair gently and listen to all my happenings. She would tell me off in her own docile manner about Nisha Ma.
“She does love you, Kani.”
“She doesn’t, Khala.”
She would shake her head and not pursue the subject for that day.
I nervously tried calling Shahid once. Just to hear his voice.
“Kani?” He was surprised.
“Hi...just thought I’ll call and check on you.”
“Kani, I’m out with friends, I’ll call you back.”
“Sure.” I said, resigned.
The phone switched off.
Who were these friends, Shahid? Why don’t I know anything about you? We’ve lived as neighbours for eighteen years – coming home for dinner, helping us out with groceries, fixing our electricity…listening to mine and my mother’s woes…
Do I know you at all?
On what basis am I saying that I love you madly?
What right do I have – to wish for you to love me?
I try to look at other men, I try hard, Shahid. But I can’t seem to let you go. The more you stay away, the more I yearn for you.
I loathe myself. I hate that’s what I’ve been reduced to.
I tried his phone again the following week. It was busy.
I didn’t try again.
A day like any other.
I sit on the sofa, trying to sketch an ugly flower vase in our house. Sketching has never been an interest- but now it is.
Ever since I heard Shahid talk to my mother about paintings in the National Gallery of Modern Art.
I try sketching, but it’s a clumsy effort. It looks nothing like a flower vase. I throw the paper pad aside.
I take it up again.
Nisha Ma sits at the other end of the room, on the rocking chair. She’s found another engaging book to read.
It’s much easier for her to read gory crime fiction than talk to me.
There’s stillness in the room. It makes me uncomfortable for some reason, even though I’ve spent my eighteen years of my life like this.
I twitch irritably.
I become aware of even the clock ticking. I don’t know why.
Her cell phone rings, and panic clutches my heart. I fear it’s bad news for sure.
She answers it.
She talks for a while. It’s one of her friends.
I relax again.
My eyes gradually close.
I lie down on the sofa, placing the cushion under my head. I hug another one, and keep one under my leg.
My mind flies beyond the cold yellow walls of our house – beyond the quiet neighbourhood if Island Gardens, the red buses, the neighbours chatter, Shahid’s cat running wild in the patchy garden downstairs, to the world of Cambridge. That’s where my mind rests.
I see myself sitting on the banks of Cam – a place Shahid had described in careful detail. It’s a picturesque vision- the vivid greenery, and the perfect sunset. I want to feel happy and blissful – and I’m trying hard. But some strange fog of fear seems to be clouding my head.
Aren’t dreams meant to be beautiful?
Weren’t dreams supposed to be where we forgot our worries and were peaceful?
I have everything in this dream – Shahid, the endless greenery I had always pictured for us – and us together.
We’re talking. I just can’t seem to hear what we’re saying.
A silent film.
Like the film Shahid had brought home for us to watch, once. What was that film?
I can’t seem to comprehend what the emotion in this scene is. Both of us have inscrutable expressions.
There’s a tranquil chill in the air now.
This muted conversation seems to continue.
And then as if someone suddenly turned the volume up,
I hear myself say, “I’ll go then.”
Someone has shaken me roughly awake.
I am lying on the ground of the living room, in a rather hot sweat. Nisha Ma was standing over me, with a rather mild concern in her eyes.
“You’ve had a bad dream.” Was all she said.
She fills the glass with water and leaves it on the table.
It was a normal dream, it didn’t make any sense. I comfort myself with this thought. It wasn’t worth losing sleep over.
I tell myself.
The heaviness remains.
It’s seven in the evening now.
I’ve wasted the day away, even though I know I have an assignment due soon. Shahid is supposed to return tonight. His bus reaches Victoria at seven.
I know this because I finally summoned the courage to message him again.
My mother continues her daily housework, and does pointless chores such as arranging the flowers on the table. She tells the maid to peel the potatoes, as my father is coming home.
She wipes the windowsills carefully, as if my father notices anything in this house.
I’m tired of sitting around in the house.
I skip downstairs to the garden, and play with Mouschi, Shahid’s cat.
It’s seven fifteen.
Time really drags on, painfully. I hug my knees, irritated. Why couldn’t Shahid have picked an earlier time?
I hope he’s not too tired. I want to watch Roman Holiday again with him.
We share the same adoration of Audrey Hepburn. In fact, he was the one who introduced me to all her films.
Mouschi stretches herself and settles down on the grass, contentedly.
It is seven twenty now. Shahid would probably be taking the tube from Victoria, as he wouldn’t want to spend money on a cab. I inwardly groan. It’s such a long journey from Victoria to Island Gardens.
He must be switching trains at Westminster.
Two women see me and smile at me. They live in my building.
They smile at me, and I smile back.
They return to their conversation.
“Not happened in a hundred years-”
“It will take months to rebuild Victoria now.”
“Shouldn’t think so- the fire was-”
They stop, as I’ve run up to them.
“Fire?” I try to say as normally as I can.
“There’s been a bit of a fire in Victoria – I don’t know the details – my son just told me. Some miscreants...”
I don’t hear the rest.
I rush back into the house, and fumble around for my wallet. I usually know where it’s kept, but right now I can’t seem to remember.
It’s in the desk drawer. I take it and run out.
Typical of London weather, it’s raining. Mercilessly.
I’ve forgotten to wear my boots, and am in my thin slippers. The slush and muddy puddles soak my feet, and the numbness spreads through me.
I hail the first cab I see, and utter the words “Victoria bus coach station.”
I see whirs of red buses all around, people going about their lives, with standard Primark bags.
I rip open my wallet to see whether I can manage this cab ride. I have just about enough to take me to Victoria.
It will cost me thirty pounds – my pocket money for a month. Don’t care.
There are rows of cars ahead of us, and I hit the seat in front of me and stamp my foot.
The driver looks at me through the rear mirror, and remains passive.
Passive. Just like everyone in my world.
I need to see Shahid. He couldn’t be – no – I didn’t want to think it.
When was the last time I had seen Shahid? A month and a half ago.
He had come home with sushi. My father had been there too. My father didn’t like sushi, but agreed to eat it anyway.
Sushi was Shahid’s favourite.
I had started eating it because of him.
I remember this conversation we had suddenly. He had mentioned something, and used the phrase “Sword of Damocles”.
“What is that?” I had asked intrigued.
“It’s the story Damocles and Dionysius, the King. Damocles was greatly in awe of Dionysius and his power. So Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles. So when Damocles was enthroned, the former king arranged a sword should hang above the throne, held by only a single hair of a horse’s tail. That sword could fall any time, you know, Kani.” He had said with a roguish smile.
“That’s really frightening.”
“Yes, so when we use the phrase in context – it just means imminent and an ever-present source of peril.”
Victoria Bus Station is swarming with firemen and policemen. They bark at the ever-gathering crowd to get back, and away from the black smoke which the station seems to be exhaling.
I pay my thirty pounds and rush towards the station. The cab driver shouts something, but I don’t want to hear it.
The policeman nearby looks at me in complete bewilderment, and pushes me back. He is also saying something, but I shake my head violently and say,
“My friend, he’s inside – he’ll die-”
He offers some formal reassurances but I am now in a cold panic.
My phone rings. I only know because I feel something in my hand vibrate.
It’s Nisha Ma.
I don’t answer.
She calls again. She seems relentless.
I finally answer, coughing, while my eyes are watering uncontrollably as the black smoke is suffocating
“Kani, where are you?”
I have never heard her sound this desperate.
“Victoria – ma – Shahid – fire-” I manage to sob.
There is a long silence.
“Kani, get back at once. Shahid’s home. He took the train this time to King’s Cross, as he missed his bus. Get back home and we’re going to have a long talk-”
But I cut the phone.
Shahid is home. He is safe.
Exhaustion catches up with me like a rapid disease and I long to sit down somewhere. I cover my face – I don’t want to see the world to see me.
I feel ridiculous and mortified. The embarrassment and humiliation is colder than the bleak London rain, and I can’t shake it off.
The senselessness of the situation engulfs me. What would Shahid think now?
Except that this deluded and infatuated teenage girl had run across London to a fire-ridden station even though there is nothing she could have done.
I don’t think I can face him for a while.
I walk in a daze. I reach Hyde Park, the entrance near St James Park. I collapse on the grass, and lie there on the cold grass for a long time. The rain gently taps my face.
And all I can think of is, the Sword of Damocles.
It should’ve been removed now? I had been feeling it all day. But now Shahid was safe and home.
There was no danger.
Then why was the deadly presence not leaving me? I could feel it scrape my neck now.
I feel frightened of myself. In this mad haze of love – had I become insane?
No-no, I try to tell myself.
It’s time to go home.
But what home?
My mother would give me a scolding for this blatant stupidity. My father would say nothing, and act as if he was a piece of furniture.
Maybe not anymore.
I’ll try to make conversation with Nisha Ma, the way Shahid does.
It’s not too late. I’ll talk to dad, more.
For eighteen years I have built this non-existent world around Shahid. There’s no world.
There’s no love.
Love is what my friends gave me. It is what I’ll try to get from my family, from now.
We don’t have to be like this.
We don’t have to be the perfect unreal family – like the one Amara has. But we can at least try, somewhat.
The Sword seems to be lifted slightly.
I make my way back to the demure neighbourhood of Island Gardens. I don’t have any money, and I’m down to the last one pound on my travel card, which means I can only travel by bus.
I’ve to switch the bus twice, but I barely notice my surroundings now.
I stop two stations before Island Gardens.
I run down the road, past the takeaways, and the little grocery shops. I buy two small Kinderjoy eggs, they’re my parents’ favourite.
I run up the stairs of my building.
The door is open.
My mother is sitting on the sofa, her face blanched with worry. Even her knuckles seem white. She sees me.
“What is all this, Kani?” she says tired.
Silence passes between us like arrows.
“I’m home now.” I try to be more cheerful.
She says nothing.
“Nisha Ma.” I sit at her knee, and hold her cold hands.
She pulls her hands away.
“I shouldn’t have – I didn’t think – I was absurd – thank god Shahid isn’t here – I’m so sorry…” the words come out of me and end in an undecipherable mumble.
It’s as if she hasn’t even heard me.
“I said I’m sorry, ma.” My voice is a little sharper now.
And then she gets up and says in a low voice,
“You do remember that Shahid isn’t the only one who takes the bus from Cambridge to Victoria?”
“What do you-” but it’s as if I’m chewing on rocks.
The Kinderjoys fall on the spotless floor.
The rain has stopped, and the world has a new deathly lull.
The potatoes are sitting on the table. They’re ready.
Except my father will never eat them.
The Sword falls at long last.