A short story I entered into a competition in 2012.
I was inspired by what domestic violence groups, like 'NOUR DV,' are doing. NOTE: This is a work of fiction.
Love is a fiend, a fire, a heaven, a hell,
Where pleasure, pain and sad repentance dwell.
*Richard Barnfield, 1574-1627*
The sun, ablaze, feels like it’s disintegrating through the roof only to target me. My parents would rather that I stir cloves, cumin seeds, and cinnamon sticks into a pot of boiling tea, than enjoy a relaxing dip in the lake.
While I cannot grasp how it is that aromatic spices taste like the soil beneath my own cinnamon-complexioned feet, my mother commands, “Rumi Begum, why can’t you seem to keep your shawl on your head?” Mother is a short and stubby woman, but she lives up to matriarchal standards.
“It keeps slipping off my head… and what if it catches on fire?” I refute, pointing to the gas beneath the teapot. Why can’t we just buy a kettle and have tea like the British do, simple and quick? “My arms are getting tired,” I moan.
“Stop complaining! You’re nearly done. The guests have arrived.”
With that, Mother struts off to keep the guests company. The guests, I think to myself, the guests…that have come all the way from England, just to see me, apparently. Who knows what the truth is; Mother’s known to embellish her stories.
Regardless, she powders my face, slaps some crimson gloss onto my lips and blushes my cheeks to match my crimson salwar. To top it all off, she outlines my eyes with liquid eyeliner and fake lashes. I hate makeup! Why mask my face as if I’m ashamed of how I look? I’m sure men prefer confident women.
“I’m perfectly fine with how I look, Ma,” I say. “Any man who sees a woman with dark skin and long, silky hair like mine will drop to his knees and present me with, what’s that famous ring…Tiffany! A Tiffany diamond ring.”
“Tut!” she hisses before tucking my plaited hair beneath a shawl.
Tray in-hand, I try to obediently follow instructions. Lowering my gaze, I attempt to daintily tiptoealong the corridor, but the cacophony of my bangles and anklets won’t let me.
Kneeling down, eyes nearly-shut, I place the tray gently onto the table and serve firstly, Mr. Potential-Husband-to-be, followed by his parents. Finally, my parents.
What’s wrong with me? I ask myself. How is it that I’m considering to marry a complete stranger? I have no idea what his name is, what he does, what’s his favourite colour or his favourite movie.
In fact, I’m far from comfortable about the entire situation, but it’s my fault for not asking my parents anything about him beforehand.
This is just the beginning, I convince myself, taming my panic attack. It’s only the first meeting. I don’t have to decide right away…. Mother promised. Father promised.
Next thing I know, the teacup slams back down on top of the tray. Startled, I blink, but I refuse to look up at him. What if he’s hideous? I imagine his character via his shiny black shoes and grey trousers. Smart? I hope.
I look back at the empty teacup on top of the tray and I realize what he’s done. Mr. Potential-Husband-to-be has sipped my tea, in its entirety, despite the fact that I mixed into it, salt, instead of sugar. Salt, my desperate
attempt to make him hate my tea so much that he’d hate me.
I decide that he deserves a glance. He has a sweet smile.
“The tea was lovely. May I have another cup?” he asks.
I giggle. Feeling Mother’s glare on me, I quickly cover my mouth and scurry into the kitchen. I’m making another cup of tea for Mr. Husband-to-be, mixing in sugar this time.
As nature intended, I familiarize myself with every door, corridor, and staircase in our British home. I’m accustomed to darkness so in the middle of the night, if I need a glass of water or to use the toilet, neither do I open my eyes nor turn on the lights. I’m programmed to know my home.
Even marriage is a routine. During the week, I serve my husband, Jagirdar, tea and breakfast. When he comes home in the evening, the table is set for dinner. On weekends, he prefers to be home unless out with friends. I, Rumi Jagirdar, am a homemaker because my Bangladeshi high school education does not measure up to British standards of office work or, so, my husband claims. I trust him. I trust that everything my husband does and says is right. If I were on one end of the blind justice scale and he, on the other, he would always be more right than I.
The smoke detector alarms. I dash down the stairs and turn the gas off in the kitchen. The house is pungent with the smell of burnt rice. I open all the windows and doors of the house. I, then, put on another fresh pot of rice. While that pot boils, I attempt to salvage some immaculately white rice from inside the burnt pot. But, it’s all doomed. The rice at the top is off-white, the rice at the middle is brown and the rice at the very bottom is a black bed that is impossible to scrape out. I have to throw the pot away as it’s damaged.
It’s nearly 7:00 p.m. He’s going to home any minute, expecting dinner to be spread across the table. While I wait for the new pot of rice to boil to completion, I think about how our rice cooker had been dead for a week now. He promised to give me some cash to purchase a new one, but he forgot. I hope he remembers tonight.
I hear the sound of keys outside. He’s early! Think of an excuse, any excuse that can save me from the embarrassment, I tell myself. The rice burnt because I fainted. I hate lying to him.
Spraying away with the lavender-scented canister, I run to the door. I welcome him in.
´ Sniffing the air, he asks, “Is something burning?”
“You left it on the stove and forgot all about it again, didn’t you?”
“No, I fa….” I hate lying to him. “I’m sorry, but there’s a fresh pot, almost ready.”
“I’m starving,” he robotically replies as he places his coat on the rack and takes off his shoes.
“By the time you freshen up, the table will be set. I promise.” I smile, my mouth quivering.
He swiftly lashes his belt out from his trousers. I squint my eyes as I’m a mere two feet in front of him and his belt could whip against the wall and against my arm. It misses. I step away from him, but he steps forward and lashes the belt out against the wall again, nearly hitting me.
He looks like a ravenous lion on the hunt for his prey.
“I’m hungry,” he repeats. “And with all these windows and doors open, I’m freezing cold.”
The heels of my bare feet hit against the staircase, causing me to fall back. The purple canister rolls out of my hands. As if animal instinct, he’s suddenly mesmerized by it.
Then, with fiery eyes, as red as the sun was on the first day I met him,
Jagirdar rhetorically asks, “You think that sweet lavender scent mixed with the burnt rice odour is…soothing to the nose?”
I gulp down tears. "Don’t cry; remember what happened the last time you cried? Don’t cry," I secretly whisper to the generator of all emotions, my heart. Then, I remember reading a biology library book on the heart as an involuntary organ, which means that it’s out of my control.
I start sobbing.
As the tears cascade down my cheeks, I shut my eyes tightly, believing that if I don’t see the belt, I won’t feel the sting of it.
My forgetfulness causes the house to nearly burn down.
Somehow, I feel that, had the house gone ablaze and I became its victim, the amount of pain endured would have been the same as I endure every single day…from him.
It is now 7:10 p.m. and it is only be beginning.
Mother throws away her favourite perfume.
I ask her, “If you don’t want it, then give it to me.”
“Then, I’d have to smell it,” she replies. “Perfume is just one of the many scents of life that trigger our memory. The most beautiful scent can have the foulest memory attached to it. I cannot count the number of times I’ve worn that perfume,” she points to the ornate bottle, buried beneath a pile of trash, “I’ve either lost money or had a terrible squabble with a neighbour. Every time I smell it, I’m reminded of that.”
In my British home, I inhale the aroma of spices, brewing within the teapot and bringing to my senses the memory of the day Jagirdar first made me laugh. I inhale the scent, thinking back to the first few days of our marriage, when he’d leave for work and I, feeling alone, made more tea.
Within an instant, those feelings are lost in the haze of the rising steam. My face drops and I force myself away from the stove. I wonder why the aroma is suddenly unbearable to my senses.
As I prepare the tea cup, I analyze why I’m feeling miserable. Could it be that the smell of the tea reminds me of the day I decided to get married and leave my parents and my home in Bangladesh, behind?
Pouring the tea into the cup, accompanied by a side of meat samosas and buttered crumpets, I present them, as evening snacks, to my husband. His eyes seem hinged to the monitor of his laptop.
“Have your tea while it’s hot,” I muster up in my sweetest tone.
As if spasmodically, he accepts the tea only for a second before
pitching it against my chest.
“I don’t want your tea!”
As the hot tea scolds my chest, I wonder why he’s acting strange as I didn’t smell any alcohol on his breath today. Instinctively, I want to run to the bathroom and pour a cold shower down my chest. But, I can’t.
He forces his eyes away from the laptop, slams it shut and springs up from his chair. By firmly locking his fingers around my right wrist, he forbids me from leaving the bedroom until he finishes his tirade.
“You’ve been using my laptop when I specifically told you not to.”
“How did you…?”
“I scanned my internet history and saw searches for things I wouldn’t normally search for.”
Trying to ignore the excruciating pain of his claws in my veins, I reply, “I was too tired to walk to the library today, just to use their computer.”
“And why do you need to use a computer?”
“I get bored of watching TV all day.” Furiously shaking my head, I blurt, “I won’t use your laptop again, I promise.”
“You always break your promises.”
I feel faint, but I welcome it. Maybe then, I won’t feel my wrist throbbing or my chest burning.
Releasing his grip, he says, “Clean this mess up.” He refers to the brown spots, lik