Arvind stared at his mother in utter confusion.
She went on talking rapidly, noticing his look and ignoring it deliberately. His brain seemed frozen. He felt stupid as if not only his power of comprehension but also of hearing had shut down. He couldn’t deal with the intent of her words. Shutting down seemed the easiest way out.
“Have you understood what I want you to do..?” She was ruthless in her demand.
With his soul struggling to stay afloat in his teary eyes, he looked at her in mute appeal, neither assenting nor denying. For a moment the mother in the woman quaked. Then she drew in her breath with a hiss of purposeful fury and became brutal in her insistence.
“Tell me, you fool, do you understand what I am saying?” She held his shoulders and shook him violently.
With a superhuman effort he blinked, spilling the drops. “Yes Ma, I understand what you said. But I cannot believe you said it.” He stopped exhausted, feeling as if he had run up a hill.
“Oh, you blithering idiot! Can’t you see, it doesn’t matter to me what you believe! As long as you do what I tell you to do, you can believe what you will. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes Ma, you are clear enough.” His words dragged with the weight of his guilt. He could taste the foul acridness of his acquiescence on his tongue even before his mind was conscious of having given in to her. He hung his head in shame before the jury of his inner being. He was found guilty before the trial could commence. He had been guilty from the moment this conversation began- three hours ago.
“I have told you what I want you to do. Don’t you dare argue with me on this issue! It is no use talking to your father about it. He too wants you to do what I want, don’t you Prakash..?” She whirled like a tigress daring her husband to demur. He didn’t, of course, but he didn’t dare to meet his son’s eyes either. He had the look of a man going through his own internal trial while pretending that nothing was going on.
“Do what your mother tells you Arvind”, he told his son from behind the flimsy protection of the newspaper; a coward as always.
Hope lay gasping somewhere in the room; her death throes loud and terrible. All three of them heard its plea. The voiceless panting made the parents felt ashamed for a few moments. Then there was utter stillness as Arvind stood with his head bowed low, silent. As the moments in which Arvind should have protested… argued… fought… KILLED… slid past silently, hope breathed her last. Arvind turned on his heel and walked out, leaving her corpse behind for his parents to dispose of.
By the time he was out of the house, he had started thinking again. He didn’t dare to look at himself. He permitted no questions of himself, shutting them down. He stifled the voice of his soul. The liquid soul which had spilled out of his eyes in accusation in front of his mother was silenced forever. He knew he had left its carcass behind him in the room, to be buried quietly along with hope.
He craved a cup of coffee. By the time he reached a CCD outlet, he had decided how he would handle the situation.
He would send her a text message. He checked his watch and remembered that she would be in meeting. He knew she surreptitiously read his messages even during important meetings. She would read his message but the presence of other people would prevent her from reacting. By the time her meeting would finish, the first flush of her anger and pain would have passed. She would not react as aggressively as she otherwise might have. He didn’t let himself notice the coldblooded manner in which he was calculating the whole thing to ensure minimum damage to himself.
He ordered a cappuccino and took some paper napkins out of the holder. He knew he would have to compose his message exactly right. After all, this was tricky business. He wrote the first draft and had to crumple it up. “We are writing a cell-phone text message idiot, not a bloody novel”, he chided himself peevishly. “Concentrate dammit…!”
By the time the coffee was finished, he had a stack of crumpled paper napkins and the message he had finalized. He read it again.
I had a discussion with my parents. Pl understand, they really like you. But given your mother’s mental condition they feel our marriage would be too great a risk to take. As you told me yourself, the mental condition is genetic in nature. This means either you or our kids might be afflicted with it at any time. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t be fair to myself or my family if I married you. You are wonderful girl, I am sure you’ll find someone who is luckier than I am. TC. Cheers.
He had enough decency left to feel sick to his core for the space of a few minutes. Involuntarily, he shuddered. Unbidden and unwillingly, the memory of the promise he had made to her four years ago came to his mind. This is exactly what she had feared. With her characteristic openness she had asked him if he would stand by her if his parents were against their marriage. He had promised- on his knees- to die rather than abandon her. She had believed him completely.
From that moment on, they knew they were a married couple and tying the knot was just a formality. They were intimate; they were a couple. They practically lived together. Their colleagues, family and friends all knew that they were together. She was at peace. Secure and safe in his love and promise; safe enough to get pregnant.
Arvind shook himself a little. He began to type the message into his phone, his thumbs moving mechanically. He didn’t stop until he had sent it. The moment he got a delivery report, he sent it once again- just to be sure. Then he took the SIM out of his cell, broke it in half and dropped it in his used cup. He walked smartly out of the CCD looking like the confident go-getter he was.
He promised himself that he would never hesitate from taking decisive action in future. He would never again permit his words to hold his actions to ransom. What one says has little to do with what is pragmatic for one to do, he told himself. That is the way the one gets on in this world.
Three weeks later he got married to the beautiful daughter of a second generation US national.
In all the years ahead, he didn’t miss his soul even once.
Note: This is the first story I ever wrote, nearly four years ago. The theme is as old as the hills… there is nothing distinguishing about the story at all. The story has sentimental value for me for it marks the point from where I began writing fiction.