Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday's Females: Fiction (part 1)

So I had hinted that there might be pieces of fiction appearing on this blog. This, I wish were more fictional than it is. If I had known, 12 years ago, that falling in love with those sublime almond shaped eyes would lead me to watch passively while horrible things happened to my friends, I may have just left well enough alone. But I did not. So now, I find myself fictionalizing their lives, not because it will do anything for them, but in the hopes that it leaves me less alone in my helplessness.

This is a long post, it is the first part of a short story. Part 2 will come next Friday.


She had everything; a comfortable home, a good family, land and a store she enjoyed working in, she even had a child growing inside her. She had everything. Her current situation terrified her.

They had planned to meet at a hotel near the train station, the type that rents rooms by the hour. She told her family that she was visiting her sister in the city. They were close, she visited her frequently. She had stayed with them a month last autumn during the dengue fever outbreak, first nursing her brother in law, then her niece, then finally her brother, who preferred his sisters' care to the company of the single men he shared rooms with. Her infant nephew had strong fatelines. He stayed within the mosquito net, and never fell ill. Several years earlier, when her niece was six months old, her father-in-law gave her permission to fly across the country to baby sit. Her sister was attending her first conference since becoming a mother. She had not set up a child care regime yet. Her father-in-law thought it would be good practice, back when there had been any hope of having children. It had been her first flight. She had worried how she would breathe, since the air was so much thinner at high altitudes. It surprised her to learn that the cabins were pressurized. So she spent a wonderful week with her niece in the hot lowlands at the feet of the coastal mountains, returning home more worldly, more in love with her niece, and more eager to return to her household chores and her position in the family business.

She stepped off the train and ducked into the station bathroom. In the sodden privacy of the stall, she carefully removed the coral, the conch and the iron from her wrists. She was doing this for her family, she reminded her trembling hands as they wrapped the bracelets in her handkerchief and laid them in the bottom of her bag. She took out a piece of tissue and rubbed at the vermilion in the part of her hair. It was almost impossible to remove all the traces of red from the hairline like this. She did the best she could and re-parted her hair to hide the rest, emerging from the bathroom an almost single woman.

He met her at the station, under the large clock by the ticket counter. They smiled, greeted each other warmly, if a bit awkwardly, and walked to the hotel together. He was a pleasant looking man, short, but from a family of tall men, not too dark, with a thick head of hair. He came from a good family, well respected in his village. His brother owned a business in the town she caught the train into the city from. He had recently started supplying her father-in-law's business. That was how they had met, at the family store. It would have been better if he had been completely unknown to her family, but between her responsibilities at the house and those at the shop, it was impossible for her to get time away. Only in the movies, and perhaps in the city, could one have an affair with a complete stranger. It was not as if she could ask her city dwelling sister to arrange someone for her. The man by her side was a school teacher living and teaching in a village about half an hour's rickshaw ride from the far side of the train tracks. Gossip would find it difficult to travel the near two hours between their houses, changing modes of transportation four times to wag its tongue, but it might be happy to sit at a tea stall near the station mingle. Still, this was the best she could probably do.

He was a good man, for one who was willing to have a relationship with a married woman. A couple months ago, she had convinced her husband to meet him and his brother, the sugar supplier, for a movie in town. The movie had been syrupy sweet, about lovers meeting across class and caste lines, eloping, then resolving their decisions with their families. Afterwards, they sat over tea and sweets, Her husband and his brother talking about their common business interests, leaving her free to investigate this man beside her.

They had both enjoyed the movie.

She did not watch movies in town very frequently, perhaps a few times a year. She enjoyed them in the evening on the TV at home.

He frequented this theater approximately monthly, perhaps a little more.

She used to sew during her time in front of the TV. She had a small tailoring business. She'd given it up years ago, her brother-in-law did not like the noise of the machine over the TV.

His sister also had a small blouse tailoring business. He hoped that his sister would be able to make the investment their father had made in her training pay in her husband's home.

She had given hers up after marriage, when the pressures from the chores at home and the family business left her with little time for private responsibilities.

He understood completely, and admitted that his sister may have to do the same. He spent this early mornings tutoring children from the village, his mornings and afternoons at the schools and his evenings were spent between tasks for his family and helping his brother establish his business. It meant that he had to travel to the city frequently on Saturdays.

She used to tutor children too, when she lived with her mother. Her students were much younger than his. She had never graduated high school. Did he have any family in the city?

No. Did she?

Yes, now. She had grown up in a distant village, but now two of her siblings had established themselves there. No, no one was left with her parents, her siblings had all scattered to different parts of the state. They were a close family though. They still managed to get together several times a year, on one excuse or another.

He came from a small family. It was just the three siblings. His father had grown up elsewhere, moved here after college, when he had gone into business with a friend. Isn't it a pity how the traditional large families have declined over the generations?

Her husband told her the time. If they did not leave now, they would miss the last bus. She bade the company goodnight. It had been a pleasure meeting both men.

Her husband was always polite and pleasant company, with the exception of a few months nearly a year ago, but that was her doing more than his. He was the same tonight. They discussed their business plans made that night, the foreman's mother's health, and their nephew's schooling, before falling into a comfortable silence well before the bus reached their stop. She was glad the man she had just met that night was so close to his family. They seemed to share a taste in movies, and shared some common experiences. He did not look down upon her for her education, in fact he had been very polite, even warm all night. The conversation had been very pleasant. She had married on less.

That he did not have much family in the area offered her some safety. They both had reasons to travel to the city regularly, that would give her some privacy. He would suit her purposes, she decided by the time she had walked the mile home to find her father-in-law waiting up for them by the television. She gave him his nightly medications and helped him with his mosquito net before retiring. All that needed to be done now was to ascertain that she could suit some purpose for this stranger. She lay awake for several hours after her husband had fallen asleep contemplating whether or not she should take steps to obtain that information.

It had been surprisingly easy, she recalled, contemplating in the dingy hotel lobby. She was not a frequenter of hotels, usually staying with friends and family on the few occasions she had to travel. There had been the hotel of her sister's conference, of course, where she babysat, as well as the pilgrimage she had gone on with her mother-in-law, and the trip with her sister and husband to the oceanfront during the holidays a few years ago. Even with this limited experience, she could tell this hotel was dingy. The floor looked like it was perhaps swept daily and mopped with far less frequency, she could see betel juice stains in the corners of the room, and a list of beers, cigarettes and other necessities available for purchase from reception. A cockroach scuttled into a crack underneath the stairs.

Her afternoon's companion was making the arrangements. The hardest part of gauging his interest was figuring out what to say. She considered what women in similar situations said in stories and movies, sifting through the lines for things she could say without destroying her dignity. When she had the scene planned out in her head, she arranged to accompany her husband or brother-in-law into town. That part was easy. It was harder to guess when the supplier's brother would also be there. It took about a month before they coincided. She had started to despair that she would have to start the process over. Eventually they did meet. She saw him sitting at the tea stall across from the rickshaw stand, talking to one of his ex-students. She took a moment to wish him good evening, and found herself fumbling with her words. She had no practice with this. She had not even thought to like anyone before she married. She had been too busy with her parents' farm to bother. Up until recently, she had been too occupied with her family's household and business to need anything else. Was going to lure him to her with her inexperience? If only it was not so crucial that she succeed.

The teacher bought her a cup of tea over her objections. She sat and talked with them while her brother-in-law haggled over glass bottles. The ex-student told her about the beautiful set of atlases his teacher had in his classroom. It was those atlases that had encouraged him to study geography in college. He now worked with a surveying company, traveling all over the state. It was a good job, he was grateful for the inspiration.

She listened politely. She should not be away from her brother-in-law for long, not if she wanted to return again. She finished her drink, and bid her company good evening. She had not had a chance to talk to the teacher as she wished.

He smiled at her. It had been nice to run into her again. He could usually found in town on Wednesdays and Fridays. Should he help her find her brother-in-law?

No, she could manage. She knew which shops he had to visit. She found her brother-in-law with a large crate of bottles, relieved him of the package, and headed for the vegetable stalls, he for the pharmacist.

They reunited for the journey home. Where had she slipped off early in the evening?

She had run into an old client of hers. They had fallen to gossiping. It was an easy lie, her brother-in-law had never been interested in her sewing business.

It had been difficult to convince her father-in-law to let her visit town every ten days. They only needed to go in every two weeks. Why this sudden desire for the urban? She approached her husband with the matter. He did not question her or remark on the oddness of the request. He simply promised to lobby her cause to his father. For the next two months, he took her to town every ten days. It took that long until she worked up the courage to mention to the teacher that she would be visiting the city in a week. He was a keen man, and took the opportunity to suggest meeting at the station for some privacy. His keenness made her uncomfortable.

His eagerness elevated her heart rate now as he indicated that he had the key. She followed him up the stairs. What was she doing with a man so eager to join with a married woman? He was an inspirational teacher who cared for his family, but what security did that grant her? She wished there was another way. She discretely removed the pin at her shoulder securing her sari, and stepped nervously over the threshold.

She was on a train for her sister's house an hour and a half later. They had arranged to meet again before she returned home, this time at a town halfway between the city and the town they got off at. It would mean he would accompany her on the way home. That would have to be endured, she was telling him that she wanted him. Under different circumstances, it would not have been so bad. He was a pleasant man, someone whose company she would ordinarily welcome, excepting the obvious character flaw. She would have to think of a way to end this once she had what she wanted. The earlier she thought that through, the better.

Her niece was delighted to see her. She missed being at school, and told her all about the teachers. She showed off her English and brought out all her school books. When her brother awoke, they brought in the laundry while the boy toddled beside them on the roof and took turns watching him and helping her sister with dinner. Her sister complained about politics at work and gossiped about the neighbors. She listened. For her own part, she talked about her father-in-law's health and a recent argument she had with her sister-in-law, about their neighbor's cow being ill and the prospering fish stock in their pond. She did not tell her about the afternoon's events. Her sister knew her situation, of course. At least, she knew what had instigated this drastic course of action, but she could not bring herself to update her.

Her brother-in-law came home. He asked after her family's health, and talked about recent developments at work. He had been passed up for that promotion, but was thinking of enrolling in night school.

He sat with his daughter's school work, while she and her sister caught up on the doings of the rest of the family. Their remaining sister was applying for the position at the prestigious mission school just outside the city. Her academic career was phenomenal, she was clearly the most successful of all the siblings.

Still, a position at such a good school would make it difficult for her parents to find a good match for her.

Her sister chided her small mindedness.

It was not small minded. She was concerned, that was all.

Her sister reminded her that she was capable of finding a husband for herself.

She wished her the best. It would be good to have her closer to the city, instead of living in the north of the state.

Their youngest brother was with their parents for the college break. He had called two days ago. He found it easier to study for his exams in the quiet of his parents' house.

She was glad that he was taking his exams seriously again. He had not always been to dedicated to his studies.

She fed her niece in front of the television while her sister put the boy to bed. Then she put the girl to sleep and neatened the apartment, giving her sister some time with her husband. Eventually, she joined the adults for dinner.

This was such a comfortable routine. She had been welcome in her sister's household for as long as her sister had a household to call her own. Her brother-in-law was all that one could hope for, he never made any of her siblings feel like they were anywhere other than their own home. She knew where books and clothes and keys lived in this house, what her niece's school bus schedule was, how much of a tab the family had run up at the local grocers. There had been differences over the years, of course, that was true of all families. But the siblings had always been close, she had always been very fond of this sister. They had grown up a large family in a small house. It was impossible not to share everything. A year ago, she could not have imagined ever keeping a secret from this family. Yet, as she mopped the floor where they had eaten, she could not find the courage to say the words. He sister returned from doing dishes, her brother-in-law had hung the mosquito nets. It was time to go to bed.

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