By Neel Anil Panicker
(Chapter 11 off continuing fiction series A FAIR AFFAIR)
“Hey baby, two minutes… just two minutes… I will wrap up my work and then… wait… let me check. It is 11. Come down… by 11.05. Max! I am putting the kettle on. We will talk over tea. And I repeat, no worries, okey. Everything will be all right… you just relax.”
That was easier said than done, Shefali thought as she stepped off the phone. With Heena nothing could ever be all right, or so it seemed.
The pressure cooker whistled__the fourth in the past ten minutes. A stern reminder that her hurriedly assembled mixed vegetable concoction was well past its cooking time.
She made her way to the kitchen. Today was ‘rice’ day. Nothing unusual. It had been so for the past one month, ever since Mamma had her heart attack.
“Give her only rice, watered rice, with maybe a little curd or a mixed vegetable. That’s all, very light.. nothing too spicy”, the doctor had advised before he signed on the discharge papers.
She didn’t wait for an answer. She knew they_her father and brother, that is_ would be only to happy to get rid of the ‘burden’.
Life since then had been pretty much ordered.
Taking care of Mamma was a pretty laid out regimen. Waking her up in the morning,(a little after eight, at the third shrill ring of her mobile alarm); feeding her a glass of lukewarm milk sans any sugar; helping her around with the twin tasks of clearing her bowels followed by the regular ritual of brushing her teeth, rinsing her mouth, and fitting her into fresh clothes but not before conducting a mild mini bath was all par for the course for Shefali; something which she had come to accept as her due, and might she add, also her right.
“Who else would take care of Mamma, if not me?” The question was rhetorical, something that she posed to herself at times when the sheer mundanity of it all would get to her.
She bother with the answer that popped out of her tired brain cells. It was always the same one that which she knew very well, and also something she didn’t bother with much, anyways. Nowadays, of late, that is. ‘I mean what’s the point’, she would reckon.
At the end of the day, the only living soul who was left to and therefore perforce had to take care of Mamma was she, good old Shefali. Why? Dammit silly, because she happened to be her daughter, married or otherwise.
Oh! what a happening is that, my foot! The men of the house were free to do what they please; to come and go as they please, to roam and fuck around wherever and whomsoever they please, and here, she, by a diabolical twist, had to play, happily the or otherwise, the rather thankless job of the dutiful, obedient, loyal, and docile wife, mother, daughter and whatever else a patently parochial patriarchal male-first and male only society asked nee demanded of her, the female species.
A slight coughing sound shook her back to earth. It was a signal. Time for her to give Mamma the first of her ‘five times a day’ medicinal concoction__ a bitter bottled mix of multi-coloured liquid that the doc said was meant to ” maintain her regular sleep patterns”.
Her hands reached the top shelf and scooped out the 250 ml pitch dark labelled bottle. Uncorking it, she poured its contents, intently watching as the semi-liquid form deposited itself to a little below the half way mark into a steel glass that she had retrieved from amongst the glass stand.
She knew the measure pretty well and after the first couple of days stopped bothering about fetching a spoon.
More so when everything was at arm’s length, for ease of retrieval and quickness of delivery. She had ensured that.
“Customer service at its very best,’ she mumbled, knowing fully well that the customer in question happened to be her mother. The thought made her mind go astray.
‘Heena was coming over. She needed to be serviced also. But unlike her mother, Heena would require a different kind of servicing. Her problems seemed different. Or at least it sounded different. At least that’s what she made out over the phone though with Heena one never knew. Her good old friend preferred to play the waiting game, keeping everyone on tenterhooks. Oh! the attention seeker that she was”.
Shefali knew better than to waste any more time and in the less than thirty seconds she had finished all that she had set out and was just about to close the door to Mamma’s room when she had heard the persistent sound of the door bell ringing.
‘That must be Heena, her best friend, or at least one of her best friends, true to her words and on time, especially when she was in the throes of one her ‘blues’. Now what could be bothering her,’ Shefali wondered as she turned around to open the door.
The sight that greeted her was ghastly, to say the least.
Gone was the ‘Colgate All Clear’ smiling visage; gone were the high pitched super excited shrieks of ‘How are you darlings’ , ‘Hey man’ and ‘What’s up dude’ and gone also was the super glam top to bottom ‘dressed to kill’ come hither looks complete with see-through laced lycra tops strategically cut to expose a plunging valley that all but left nothing to imagination.
Instead, Shefali stared into heavily puffed up eyes that had turned a pale bluish dark and its sockets sunk into an oceanic abyss. Dishevelled hair that fell unashamedly and nonchalantly all over a heavily aged face that was a million miles away from its natural radiance and colour, a wobbly gait and a badly shaking and shivering body completed the sorry spectre.
It was then that she noticed it.
She let out a scream,
“Oh my God, Who did this to you?”
Her fingers tried to trace its origins.
Shefali need not have waited for an answer.
She knew who had inflicted such a horrendous damage on her dear friend’s beautiful face.
It could be only one person. It had to be her. There was just about only one person in the whole wide world who could ever, could ever even think about harming, brutalizing Heena, her super strong Heena, and that too in this violent manner.
‘It had to be Esther. No it was Esther.’
Shefali held a wobbly Heena by the arms and guided her to the sofa.
Her eyes now surveyed the damage. A clear mark_ two near parallel lines and around two centimetres in width__ ran aground from just below the left ear lobes all the way to the other end, right upto the cheek bones.
Her hand went up to feel the scar.
“Don’t touch, it hurts”.
“Its Esther then, right?”
Heena’s eyes said it all.
They had turned watery and her fingers started to tremble.
Shefali rushed in and enveloped her in her arms. And then the tears flowed, first stifled sobs and then slowly, loud agonized wails until they turned into near uncontrollable howling and yowling and bawling.
Ten minutes later and when the cries had almost died out, Shefali slowly extricated herself, whispering into Heena’s ears,
“My baby. Everything will get right. I will bring us some tea”.
She didn’t wait for the answer. Her friend was fast asleep.
Back in the kitchen as she poured a handful of Darjeeling Tea leaves onto the boiling water, her mind wandered back to what had just happened.
‘So what was new. Heena was in a relationship. Nothing new about about that, isn’t it? Heena was young, single, and very much a girl about town who like all other free independent girls was free to live and love whomsover she wanted or lusted after. She also knew that in the past one Heena had turned lesbian. Turned lesbian with a vengeance.’
She stirred the kettle with the table spoon.
‘Yeah, that was the right phrase to explain Heena’s current sexual orientation.
Heena had moved on. From dating handsome virile men like Rex who wanted her for the free sex, she had now found solace in the arms of Esther, a sexy high heeled brunette built like a WWF wrestler brunette and who amongst other things liked coming down on her partners__sexual__and as the latest instance clearly showed violently physical.
The bubbling waters from the kettle let out a final gasp. She scooped spoonfuls of sugar off its jar and added then into the now almost non-existent tea leaves.
‘Cookies, Heena loves them, especially the ones which were coconuts topped.’
Her eyes scanned the upper shelf and her fingers retrieved another jar.
She opened a pack of eight ‘Captain Cook’ Coconut Cookies’ onto a steel plate beside which she placed the two filled up tea cups.
Before leaving, she turned off the gas.
‘How long have the two been together. Six, seven.. no almost nine months. And this was the fourth time that the brute had plastered her face with such deadly scars.’
The last time when it had happened Heena had promised that she would leave her.
“Promise, Shefali. This is it. Now no more of this. I am leaving her now, forever”.
Her ‘forever’ lasted exactly 36 hours and poor Heena was back in Esther’s arms.
‘ She is taking her for a ride. I must be firm. I must tell her to ‘go get a life’. Tell her to leave Esther, tell her to leave that manipulative violent bitch and come back to the world of men. Tell her to go and find for herself one man who would love her for what she is and not for how thick her bank balance is or what she is capable of delivering on the bed.
I am going to tell her to call it quits.
And with those thoughts swirling in her mind Shefali entered the front room carrying in her hands the tray laden with tea and goodies.
Her eyes popped out.
She surveyed the room all around.
The sofa was empty. She looked at the entrance door.
It was left ajar and Heena was nowhere to be seen.
She was gone, once again.
Back to Esther?
Shefali was not much sure this time.