Spoons and forks were hanging Midair, Sara, observant enough, joined the rail and halted her salad fork a little away from her mouth. Abhinav’s grandmother was glaring at Mrs. Rai, with her wide aged eyes while narrowing the corner of her wrinkled lips. Seema was sighing in despair. Abhinav, sitting beside Sara, was clenching his fingers around the desert spoon, staring sternly at the vanilla pastries. But Mrs. Rai, unaffected by frowning brows and clenching jaws, focused on her Italian palate. There remained a grave silence on the dinner table and a shimmering chandelier above it.
'Not again,' thought Sara, strange pauses, unexplained silences, sudden chillness, Sara wondered the last she spent time with Abhinav’s family while not feeling Bizarre. Fifteen seconds back, everything was fine.
As usual, Sara toured some past slides of her memory and found nothing worthy enough to trigger these thick and thin breaths. The last she recollected, Abhinav’s father was asking her wife, Mrs.Rai while leaving the dinner early because of some office reasons, if she could go out the next day with his boss’s wife to help her shop and that it would help him with promotions and stuff, to which she nodded. Following this, Sara just looked at her dessert, dipped her spoon, stretched it to her mouth, and the ambiance drastically changed.
Sara was unable to comprehend the reasons. Sometimes Abhinav would drag her out of the house without explaining, sometimes Seema, his sister, would tell her to renounce these dinner meetings, but when inquired, they would wander off the subject, never elucidating the strange environment at home. From her scrutiny, as observing things was a part of her identity, except Mrs. Rai there was nothing unusual in that family.
Mrs. Rai, a complete contrast of Sara, or what Sara could be, was a typically groomed lady. A strange chillness traveled with her. Although she dressed conservatively, that didn’t stop her curves to shine less, she had the grace of the goddess, but she was doleful. Her sharp attractive face was blurred under the dullness of her stern countenance. Sara hardly saw her smiling or responding voluntarily, to sum up, for her, she was scary. Like a zombie.
Mrs. Rai was well equipped with luxury, reputation, and a loving husband, only with whom, if the frames hanging on the wall were not edited, she ever smiled. Sara heard from her mom, who worked in the same field as Mr. Rai, that Mrs. Rai played a big part in his husband’s prosperity. He worked on the front, and she managed the rest trivial, pleasing the boss’s wives, hosting the gatherings kind-off stuff. Although Sara had seen less of Mr. Rai, he was often busy with work, but she believed that there resided a good soul in his tall and plain body. Making judgments was a part of Sara’s identity
Sara’s salad fork was still in the air, and Seema's frowned brows were not straightened yet. For Abhinav, these happenings were nothing new, but even after all these years, he was equally irked by them. He felt suffocated at home. The more he contemplated his mother the more he felt at peace that Sara, his love and soon to be fiancé, totally contradicted her. But these events made him nervous too. He could no more negotiate with Sara about what he censored till now from her.
Breaking the still air, Mrs. Rai, unaffected, dared to force a smile,
“Would you like to help us old ladies with shopping tomorrow, I heard you are a fashion designer?” she asked,
And Sara, she asserted, nervously.
The next day, after a nervous pensive night, Sara messaged Abhinav that she would keep her promise for that day, who had been continuously nudging her chat-box that she doesn’t need to try hard and she could renege on the plans if she wants to. Keeping promises was part of Sara’s identity
For the occasion, she dressed conservatively, like Mrs. Rai she thought would like, and hasted to decided place. At Mall, Sara was late. Clumsiness was part of her identity,
“Straighten your shoulders and tuck in your chin and come with me without being clumsy” demanded Mrs. Rai
Sara did her best to blend with two out of age women. The boss’s wife was a good and grounded lady, unlike Mrs. Rai, she listened to Sara’s advice about cloths and fabric and on her recommendation bought some of them. Shopping was bearable with her. The trip concluded after she stamped her unasked approval on Abhinav’s adorable choice, and then she departed. Past 3 hours of shopping and hobnob together, Sara comprehended that Mrs. Rai had a certain code of conduct, which she couldn’t help but admire. Her slender figure walked erect, her voice pitched, whatever little she said, it was measured, exactly how women are trained in eastern culture, which was a little scary too because Sara never thought before speaking. But behind this veil of etiquette, there was something that always made Sara uneasy. Even after her dignified conduct it seemed, she had a parasite sitting inside her heart, feeding on her emotions and sucking her life out of it. Strangely to Sara, she was the only woman who ever made her nervous, curious, and restless and for whose opaque eyes she could never read.
Sara agreed nervously when Mrs. Rai asked for a lift back home.
Walking through the parking lot, Sara was observing Mrs. Rai, who was walking beside her. Sara suspected she saw a ghost when suddenly her hushed eyes grew wide and before she could figure out Mrs. Rai gripped her hand and pulled her behind an anonymous yellow car, Sara felt a jerk, unsure of what would happen next, she tried to redeem her hand, but couldn’t do it. Amidst her struggle she looked at Mrs. Rai, who was gasping heavily, not much later, she began panicking. While holding Sara tight, she nervously searched her bag and took out some pills, took a few seconds rests on the car’s trunk, held herself together, and peeked from the edge of the car to something, curled herself, and panted again. Sara bewildered and shocked, tried to look across the parking lot, what in the world she saw to panic like this, she thought. There was no one in the parking lot except a couple standing across near a white Mercedes, with a strange blue tattoo on it, doing nothing but kissing. Woman wearing red, and man black jacket and cap, the face of whom she couldn’t see properly.
Except for them, there was nothing she encountered to trigger an event like that in the whole parking lot. She continued patting her back so that Mrs. Rai could respire properly when and she became steady, Sara assisted her to the passenger seat of her car.
Abhinav, Seema, and their grandmother were sitting in the garden out when Sara finally dropped her back. This time Mrs. Rai jerked her assistance, rushed inside. Sara, out of concern, briefed the happening to the family. Concerned they were, but no one was surprised. After some familiar sighs and no words, they requested her departure, which sounded a little rude to Sara.
Sara’s consciousness was visiting the scary scenes she witnessed in the parking lot, a balanced lady like her, even if she was having an attack, why she dragged Sara behind a car. Sara was determined to know, She demanded a quick explanation from Abhinav.
“It feels like all of you are hiding something, I am not being nosy, but just concerned about a woman, who nearly had a heart attack in front of me, tell me the truth, what is it with her that you people don’t even pity her”
“You are overthinking Sara, she just had an asthma attack that’s it”
Meanwhile, a car stopped in front of the Lawn. A white Mercedes with that strange blue sticker on it, and there came out a man in the black jacket. The man was Abhinav’s father. There was no woman with him this time.
Sometimes hardest puzzles have the simplest solution, solutions that you never rated as alternatives, solutions which were always there dancing in front of you, mocking your incompetence.
It was no rocket science for Sara to figure out what happened. Adrenaline, if a woman is allowed to have it, spun through her, she felt a strange quickening in heart, her skin tingled and she rushed into the house. Innocence was part of her identity.
Ideally, Abhinav, should have stopped her, but he couldn’t, or to state the valid expression, he didn’t want to. Why should he confide these disgracing secrets of a man just because he was his ‘father’, why should he care about his mother’s esteem who, being fully aware of his affairs and mistresses, refused to leave him? This sudden zeal and flaming blood were not new to him. He wanted to hide behind Sara once if that is legal to a man, and let her shield him from a battle he was fighting for years, a battle he had grown weary of.
“Why did you hide?” demanded Sara,
Mrs. Rai, little flustered, nervously glanced at her husband, who was sitting at the dining table. Sara’s unsolicited curiosity was going to convince that man that she was bothered about what he does. The shroud that Mrs. Rai wore in front of her husband, of an uninterested, unattentive wife, to save herself from humiliation, was at risk.
“Why did you hide?” Sara repeated, with water in her eyes.
“It’s none of your business.” stumped Mrs. Rai, weakly answered.
“I am asking why did you hide when you did nothing wrong”
Mrs. Rai never felt so feeble and bare before, reluctantly a tear fell from her eyes
“What happened?” interrupted Mr. Rai
Ideally, Sara should have kept quiet and pose as nothing happened, she knew that well. But her crumbling stomach didn’t let her back off and since when she walked the ideal way. Impulsiveness was part of her identity. There in life comes some people, who are no way related to you, whom you have never met before, but you feel certain kin for them, Mrs. Rai was that person to Sara
“Oh right you should answer too, who was that woman, Mr. Rai, in the parking lot, in a red dress?” she turned to him and asked
“Ahh,” said Mr. Rai, unruffled
“So this is what it is all about” he sighed and said, “now that you know, I don’t want to hide it from you, you are my future daughter in law, after all, you would have known it some-day or other, so the thing is I another woman, and my wife knows it very well. She doesn’t leave me, she can’t. You want to pursue her, try it”
Sara was astounded, the calm in his voice was disguising. She looked around, Abhinav, his grandmother, and his sister were standing, saying nothing, they must have been a regular audience of this striking drama. Sara looked at Mrs. Rai, clutching the couch, pretending to be strong, Sara expected a slap from her to this man, at least she would have done the same, she stared at Mrs. Rai’s, for an answer,
“What would an ignorant and uncultured girl like you would understand, do you think marriage is a game” Mrs. Rai, yelled feebly shaking, hiding her embarrassment behind her loud voice
“happy?,” added the vile man, “woman like her are raised like this, what they say, cultured being, and moreover, I possess her, she is my wife, I am feeding her, giving her shelter, don’t I deserve some extramarital fun. You should mind your own business girl, being nosy is bad”
Sara, carried away in her emotions, picked up the glass full of water placed on the dining table, and splashed the water, to his filthy face. “Possess,” she thought. Leaving everyone in shock, she wiped her tears, turned towards astounded Mrs. Rai, and said while shaking,
“All I know is, you shouldn’t hide when you have not done anything wrong”
Sara didn’t wait for the reply, she left the place straight away. something was suffocating her liberal spirit. When she left, she didn’t look back, not even once, not to Abhinav not to Mrs. Rai, not to the stage, where she carried out her bravest role a moment back.
Since she left, Sara would never learn about the slap that followed her splash, from the old lady, who just discovered that she had an ounce of spirit left to fight, she would oblivious of the stream of dignity she transferred to Mrs. Rai, who would certainly choose to stand up, next time, and she would have no clue that because of what she did, there would be no next time.
For the next few months, she would avoid calls from this family, not because she would stop loving Abhinav but because she would be terrified to take responsibility for the consequences following her action, she would start to ponder about what authority she had to take such steps. And one day, Sara would eventually admit what she did was improper and rude, yet, she would never regret it, and certainly never be sorry for it.
After some months, while watching the sunset when she would be missing Abhinav, and thinking about his family, with the echo of the word ‘uncultured’, she would receive a letter from an anonymous name, which would say
When I got married, I was told that whenever you are in a problem, compromise. For so many years, I took pride that, my sacrifice has kept the family together. But I didn’t know what I was preserving was not a home but debris of hollow shells of my own pride.
Today I have signed divorce papers. I don’t know why, but you were the first person I recalled after my soul got independence. I wished you there when that man’s face turned pale while signing off the papers. My kids, I have never seen them this happy before. And my mother-in-law, she would be the first in the world to celebrate his son’s Divorce. From now on, she would be living with me and kids. Looking at them, my pride petitioned, for whose sake I was slaughtering it? Sara, everyone is missing you and before I depart for my solo trip to the mountains, I want to meet you too. Some apologies are left from my part, some words of gratitude too.
Your (wanna be) mother-in-law,
After reading the message, Sara would take a deep sigh and would wipe off the single teardrop gliding down her cheeks, she would be happy, more than Mrs. Rai, for her independence, and eventually, the word uncultured would vanish from her introduction.
But right now, all she would do is to go out and breathe. In a society, where culture is misinterpreted and twisted by the oppressors, according to their ease and where the oppressed follow it religiously, she dared to rebel. Right now, she would proudly add ‘uncultured’ as a part of her identity. She would keep the honor of being one.