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    The Choice

    A Flash Fiction 

     

     

                1.

     

    There she was under a half complete flyover, near the IIT campus in New Delhi, at 2 am, dressed in soft peach, light summer silk sari, gifted by her mother on her last birthday, and with some gold jewelry glimmering around her neck and on her ears, with a child clutching on to her slightly quivering, yet sure hand. It was September, not too hot and thankfully not cold yet. The breeze was wafting gently and quietly around them, though heavily serene, and quite fearful at two am. Priya stopped crying the moment they both were out of the car, and seeing her stop, so did her almost four-year-old son. The gravel of the road felt secure under her feet. She looked at the back of their car driving away. A second-hand light green Fiat bought from her parents when they upgraded the year before. Stroking her son’s head, she comforted him, “It will be just fine. We will be home soon.” The wise old soul which her son was, nodded in thoughtful agreement.       

    Her husband did not glance back even once or take a U-turn to pick them up. She did not call out to him either, grateful for the freedom from an unstable man in a disturbed car. One thought and one thought alone raced through Priya’s mind. Where to go? Which home to knock at this time of the night?  Should she go to her parents’ home and accept that her marriage, like her older sibling’s was over? Hurt them again in the process? They had just adjusted themselves to the failure of one marriage. Now the other one too? Or should she go to her in-law’s home, and accept the same failure before those who never wanted their son to marry her in the first place? “She’s not from our community.” In the split seconds before they got on a public transport, she had to decide.        

     

    2.

     

    Earlier, as one a.m. had showed up on her Seiko watch given to her by her father, her husband had been drinking without a break since about 9 pm. He was very tall, almost three inches above six feet, and had a pretty prominent paunch reared through barrels of beer drinking over the years. Straightening the folds of her sari, its corners flying under the living room fan, and unable to stop yawning, Priya kept looking at Satinder every time he filled his glass. Her make-up was by now a bit stale, the leftover lipstick drying and sticking to the side of her lips. Her son was sleepy too but kept awake as if ensuring she was okay. Very self-contained, he kept playing with his G.I. Joes without any complaint. Only a handful of couples were left in the party. The sensible ones had left for home. What would happen tonight, she was thinking. This wasn’t the first time Satinder had drunk so much. Many, many times, followed usually by near misses in accidents. Followed by screams in the car of two very frightened people, and the abuses of one very confident man.  

    Priya rummaged through her shimmering gold brocade clutch for the poem she wrote earlier in the evening,

     

    Strangers

     

    On the sofa

    On the chair

    On my new rug

    On the base of my new existence.

     

    Half-eaten food

    And empty drink glasses vied with each other for attention

    He said nothing

    No explanation, no apology

    Just a loud burp followed by

    A deep snore

    Of a selfish, contended man.

    anita nahal photo 

    Picking up the filthy crumbs

    Wiping the remains of a brash day

    I wept along with the belongings in my first house

    As they seemed to point a finger at me

    “You are newly married, we are newly made

    I thought we were all made for each other

    Who did this?

    The outsiders?

    Or you, the insider

    The one who couldn’t check him?”

      

    She laughed nervously, shrugging her shoulders…not much had changed in the seven years of their marriage. Getting up reluctantly, not wanting another public insult, Priya slowly walked over to Satinder, pretending to be cool while quickly adjusting the strap of her bra showing slightly at her shoulder under the blouse. Her layered, curly hair now frizzled with un-combing. “Hey, shall we go home now, it’s pretty late.” “Ya, ya, let me finish this one! What’s the hurry,” irritability controlling his voice. Her slim, petite 5-foot-one frame stepped backwards, “Ok, ok…” Priya’s scared and scarred emotions treaded in reverse, and mother and son sat down again.  She had big round hips that provided her a very curvy attractive figure but today these sank into the couch very unappealingly, in unwanted anticipation of the foul night to follow. Her son, with his handsome oval face and big beautiful eyes kept observing both, hugging his mom, trying to comfort her. Priya kissed her son’s forehead in acknowledgement and thanks. She pushed her fingers from the front of her hair pulling it backwards nudging herself to be strong. An educated woman, a doctor, very accomplished, very refined, who took up big cudgels for myriad others, she felt like a fancy fish in an aquarium, watched, admired, handsomely fed and decorated to maintain images, yet not stroked and loved lest she learned of her own value.      

    “Okay, let’s go!” Satinder’s harsh voice stirred her from her thoughts. She and her son followed him soundlessly as he staggered loudly down the second story apartment to the parking lot.  Apprehensive of a possible accident, Priya, slowly said, “Hey, why don’t you let me drive?”

     “What the hell!  You think I am drunk?  Bloody shit!”  Satinder kept shouting while others standing in the parking lot looked on. No one said anything, and Priya collected her sari around her, trying to protect her senses and dignity. Her son clung to her, and both slid quietly into the car.  

    There was no stopping Satinder now. “You think I am drunk, huh?  I will show you how drunk I am!” Their car pulled out onto the main road and drove towards another main road leading to a bridge being built. The ashy skeleton of the half-completed bridge was visible from far, and the car seemed unaided by luck. It was almost 2:00 am now, and growing darkness fell on their troubled car going at quite a speed.

    “I’ll tell you, you bitch how drunk I am!” Satinder kept shouting.  As the bridge drew closer, he tried banging the car onto the middle pavement dividing the two sides of the road. “See, how drunk I am….am I hitting the pavement? Am I hitting the pavement?” “No, no. you are not! Stop it, Satinder! Again, and again, he showed that he could prevent the banging of the car with the pavement. He started hiccupping loudly leading him to stumble over high pitched curses bellowing from his smelly mouth. Their son started screaming but his screams were drowned by his father’s maniac tone. Priya started screaming too, and in some God send moment of consciousness she held onto the steering wheel and pressed on the brakes. The car came to a sudden halt. Her glass bangles broke with a tiny shard flying into her eye. She flung her face to the side in protection, pushing her arms upwards to prevent any pieces flying into her son’s eyes in the back seat. Luckily there was no vehicle behind them slamming into their breaths. It was too late in the night, or too early the next morning, to have too much company on the road.  

    “I am not going in this car with you.” “Don’t, who is asking you too?”  Priya quickly opened her side of the door, and with one foot stepping out, she turned around quickly and pulled her son from the back seat. Satinder was so angry that he actually put his hands on her back and pushed her out and drove off.

     

    3.

     

    It was very dark and very unnerving under the half-finished flyover. Some homeless were sleeping under its unpainted columns. And some stray dogs suddenly awakened by the screech of car tires, barked with blurry eyes piercing in their direction. The stench from public urinating and excrement filled their surroundings. As Priya looked around at some cars driving past, she searched for a cab or a three-wheeler scooter to come by. Soon a cab trudged their way but Priya lowered her hand when she saw two men in the front, podgy built, sweaty, mustaches defiant. Not safe. Rolling one window down, one of men asked, “where do you want to go?” “No, no, I don’t need a cab…go on,” and confidently looked away as if they were waiting for someone, just around the corner, coming to pick them up. A short while later, a three-wheeler came by and Priya waived it down. Hurriedly they got in and she gave the driver the address. She began weeping. “What’s the matter, ma’am? Can I help?”  “Nothing, thank you so much, just please…take us to this address.” 

    As she knocked on the door, she wondered what they would think.  Or say? What happened?  Where is Satinder?  Where are you coming from at this time of the night? The door opened carefully. “What happened?” “Just want to sleep here tonight.” Her mother in law let them in.  The choice. 

     

    About The Author

    Anita Nahal aaduna spring summer 2018

    Anita Nahal, Ph.D. CDP

    Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP, is a poet, flash fiction writer, children’s books author, D&I consultant and professor. Her first collection of poems, Initiations was published in 1988 by Pitamber, New Delhi, and three children’s books were published by Madhuban-Vikas, New Delhi between 1993-1995. You can find her recent works in Aberration Labyrinth, Confluence, Better Than Starbucks, aaduna, River Poets Journal, and Colere. Nahal received an honorable mention in the Concrete Wolf 2017 chapbook competition. A second book of poetry and Nahal’s first collection of flash fiction are due for release later this year, and she is busy working on her first novella. Currently, Nahal is an adjunct professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington DC. Some of Nahal’s former positions include: Mellon Fellowship program administrator, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC; assistant provost for International Programs, Howard University, Washington DC; visiting associate professor of History at SUNY, Binghamton, New York; and associate professor of History, Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi, India. Dr. Nahal has been a visiting scholar of gender at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence, SUNY, Binghamton, NY. Nahal is the daughter of the Sahitya Akademi award winning Indian novelist and professor, Dr. Chaman Nahal and Dr. Sudarshna Nahal who was principal of a K-12 school. {Both parents are deceased.} Anita resides in the U.S. with her son, Vikrant and daughter-in-law, Sumona.