Monday, 10 May 2010

Inauspicious Friday - Renita D’Silva

Friday began inauspiciously when I burned the rice that I can cook in my sleep. It ended when Rob announced he was leaving. After he had packed an overnight bag and left, pulling the front door gently closed behind him, I stood in the empty kitchen, breathing in the familiar smell of the untouched lamb curry I had cooked for supper, interspersed with the faint whiff of smoke that lingered, despite the fact that I had thrown away the burnt saucepan used to cook the rice, opened all the windows and run the extractor fan.

“Did you burn something?” Rob had asked, sniffing the air as he walked in.

“Can you still smell it?” I laughed, flinging myself into his arms.

Gently, but firmly, he pushed me away.

“Shall we sit down? I want to talk.” Something in his tone made me wary and my heart still.

He used a lot of fancy words. I must have looked shell shocked and uncomprehending, because he finally took my hands in his. I had to stop myself from curling up in his arms, seeking the comfort of his embrace.

“Don’t you think there is something missing, Shan?” he asked.

I did not reply, just looked down at our joined hands, mine dwarfed in his.

He sighed. “There’s no passion anymore. That special thing, the spark that made us, it’s gone. I don’t want to live with what’s left.” And with that he went upstairs, leaving me feeling suddenly, inexplicably cold.

I stood up wearily and went to the kitchen, pulling the windows closed, shutting the extractor fan which suddenly, seemed unbearably loud.

“Don’t you want dinner?” I asked as he was leaving.

“No.” He came up to me where I was leaning against the kitchen counter, planted a feather soft kiss on my lips and was gone.

And I was left with the faint scent of his aftershave triggering memories of long lazy weekend afternoons spent making love and one thought crystal clear emerging from the chaos in my head. If he was only going to the Holiday Inn round the corner like he’d said, why had he showered and shaved?

It took me four weeks to make the dreaded call. Four weeks of listening for his key in the front door every evening, of cooking for two and then throwing it all away, of driving desperately to the Holiday Inn late at night to see if his car was there and walking in to reception wearing sunglasses and looking ridiculous at half past midnight to enquire if a Mr. Rob Harrison was checked in.

My mother picked up the phone.

“Shan, why haven’t you called? We were worried about you. Is everything ok?”

And finally, I burst into tears.

They did not say “I told you so.” Not when they came to pick me up and drive me across the city back to my childhood home in Southall. Not when they saw evidence of Rob everywhere in the house I had shared with him for four years.

And neither did the hordes of relatives who descended, ostensibly to cheer me up, but in actual fact to match make.

“Did I tell you about my nephew who is visiting, Shan?” My Aunty Kavita said brightly, biting into the samosas my mother had spent the morning concocting. “Mmmm... these are delicious, Bhabhi. What did you put in them?”

“Lamb and potato.” My mother beamed at the unexpected praise from Aunty Kavita, who everyone knew was very competitive and quick to criticize. “But you were saying?”

“Oh yes, my nephew! Very successful doctor with a big practice in Hove. Wife ran away with her lover. They did not have any children. He’s only 35. Very handsome. Poor man! He was beside himself with grief. He’s coming here for a break, to recover.”

Aunty Kavita helped herself to another samosa. My mother beamed some more, whether from Aunty Kavita’s obvious appreciation of her samosas or from news of an eligible bachelor it was hard to determine.

Break indeed, I thought. Punishment more like!

“She’s smiling.” I heard Aunty Kavita whisper to my mother. “That’s surely a good sign!”

Aunty Kavita’s nephew was called Ashok; I found this out when he introduced himself over spiced tea and potato bondas.

“I’m sorry about this,” he grimaced when Aunty Kavita and my parents had not too subtly left the room.

“We’ll leave you young people to it then.” Aunty Kavita had said with a nudge at my mother and a wink at me. “I’m sure you prefer each other’s company to us oldies.”

I laughed, the sound surprising me “Oh don’t worry. I’m used to it by now. Have been through it all once before...”

My mother had been in the process of foisting eligible Indian boys from good families at me when I met Rob. He was tall and pale with wispy ginger hair that I longed to touch, a welcome change from short stocky boys with gelled black locks and cocky swagger copied from the latest Bollywood hero.

“Kaam’s an I.T. Consultant. Very good family.” “Adarsh is in finance.” “Varun is a chartered accountant. His family and ours were neighbours in India,” my mother would announce, and I had to turn away from the naked hope dancing in her eyes.

Rob was not in IT. He wasn’t a banker or a chartered accountant. He was a salesman. He had been raised in foster homes, so my parents did not even have the satisfaction of bragging that he was from a good family. And I, their dutiful only child, the daughter they had loved and adored and put on a pedestal the way other Indian parents did with sons, cruelly crushed their hopes of making me a good match, took away from them the triumph of crowing to their friends and community about what a wonderful son-in-law they had found for their daughter, of how the son-in-law they had chosen would keep their only child in the luxury she was accustomed to and give her more than they ever could.

“It will not last,” crowed all the old matrons, crowding into my parents’ home, rubbing salt in their wounds. “He’s white.” They announced as if it was not obvious. “Their culture is not like ours. They don’t put family first. For them everything is me, me, me. Give it two years. It will start to go stale. Then he will leave you for a younger, prettier woman.”

“Rob is not like that.”

“Men are all like that. But Indian men are safer. They stay with their wives because of the family values that have been drummed into them from birth.”

“Rob and I love each other.”

“Love doesn’t last, beti. It is not all it is cracked up to be.”

I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. I had missed what Ashok was saying.

“Sorry,” I said.

“You were miles away.” He smiled. It eased the sorrow in his eyes, made him look so much younger. 

“I was just agreeing with what you said. I have been through it all too. Doesn’t get any easier, though, eh?”

“I know.” I sighed. “I wish I had my parents’ view of life. Their solution to the breakdown of one relationship is to embark on another as soon as possible.”

“That’s our people for you. Ever since my wife, you know.” Ashok winced. 

I nodded, suppressing the urge to reach across and pat his hand. 

“I have had so many well meaning relatives trying to set me up.” Ashok continued. “So I came here for a break...”

He looked up, met my eyes. And then we were laughing so much that tears streamed down my eyes and my stomach hurt. I looked at the short stocky man, with greying black hair sitting across from me and for the first time since Rob left, I felt some of the pain start to ease.

Renita D'Silva lives in Surrey, UK. Her stories have been published or
are forthcoming in ‘Bartleby Snopes’, ‘Platinum Page’ and a couple of
local anthologies. One of her stories has been selected for
publication in a book of winning entries in an international writing
competition run by Sampad, an arts council funded organisation
supporting South East Asian Arts in Birmingham. She is in the process
of finding a home for her first novel and can be reached at

-Photo by Christopher Barrio