A Death Refracted – Part 4 : The Taxi Ride
Apologies for the length of this section, but this is a long chapter and looked for a natural break. This is the beginning of a series of sub-levels – not flashbacks but rather multiple coordinates all converging on the same point.
Links to previous parts:
Part 4 – The taxi ride
It’s past midnight. A taxi’s been ordered for them.
We don’t want you travelling by public transport, explains the woman constable. You need to get home safely. You can’t be waiting around for a train at this hour.
There’s another man with her, in his twenties, tall, thin, pale face, eyes that can no longer laugh.
This is PC Rivers, our liaison officer. He’s part of the support team. He’ll be helping you out over the next couple of weeks. He’ll have a few questions for you. Anyway, she smiled a smile that wasn’t meant to be a smile but was the right thing to do; why don’t I let him do the talking.
My condolences, the man says. I’m not going to say I know how you’re feeling, because I don’t, but I am so, so sorry. He pauses for a reaction but there is nothing. We’re not going to do anything now. Go home, rest, and I will call you in a couple days, arrange to come and sit down with you. Just to see how I can help.
A question in his eyes forms and is articulated: You’re all at the same place?
We’ll be staying at mine, Bonny answers. Her place has the extra bedroom and they can stay there until they decide what to tell, and how to tell, her parents about what has happened. They’ve got the weekend to sort that out. And God, they will need that time, she knows. But now, she is tired, and turning to the other two, their faces stripped, hollowed out, it is time to go home.
The man is looking at Tuwi and Peter, waiting for their answer. Bonny waits as well, willing them to agree. She knows they will need each other, will need to plan on how this moment will break during the weekend.
Yes, Tuwi hesitates before she confirms; we’ll all be at Bonny’s.
Good, here’s my card. He hands it to Bonny pressing her hand in his. Call me if you need anything at all. Please do. I’m here to support you in any way I can.
His colleague looks at her mobile, interrupts; Taxi’s here.
Bonny says ”thanks” and shepherds her sister and brother-in-law down to the waiting car. The driver tells them that if they want to get some sleep, they’re more than welcome. He understands the need for silence, and once they’re seated focuses on his driving. And they don’t need to worry about the fare, he tells them, as that has all been taken care of by the Transport Police.
Tuwi is in the middle, leaning on Peter to her left, with Bonny to the right, a pool of heat building where their thighs touch. Bonny is tired. The weight of her sister’s death is becoming heavier and there are days to come that she would rather not face, people she would rather not see, and then there are her parents. What is she going to tell them? She leans back against the headrest, feels the captured heat of the day seep into her, closes her eyes….
The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife
A bump in the road wakes her. She opens to the sun on her face, ripening fields of wheat shimmering in front of her, and for a moment struggles with the wakening. Then she hears her mother’s voice.
“I thought it best to let you rest. It’s going to be a long day, Derry.”
They’re in a taxi. Her father’s sitting at the front. He’s wearing his blue turban, the “officious one” as he calls it, and his “speaking suit” – the grey linen one she bought for him three years ago when she was back home on a break from uni. She can smell the mixture of mothballs and sweat that is being pushed into the back of the car by the stale breeze from the open windows.
The car shudders. The driver, a man from their village – her parents have told her he’s the one who always ferries them when they’re in India – slows down, picks his way through the broken road, the deep potholes and the lazy tarmacked repairs laying siege to the car’s suspension, which moans with the effort of keeping the swaying vehicle upright.
She shifts her gaze outside; they’re passing through a small village – “Rukhri” the sign just passed had said – the road narrow, just wide enough for the car, people hopping onto the doorsteps of the houses as they pass by, dark eyes suspicious, the stench of the open drains, grey with slime, being lifted into the car by its passage, in their wake flies busy in the shitty rainbows created by the streaky waste feeding into the unmoving sludge.
She looks at the piles of wind shifting rubbish strewn along the roadside; loose flaps of plastic wagging their fingers at her, waste bags carefully tied and tipped onto the mounds, bottles punctured and crumbled, cement bags, strands of fraying rope, broken glass, twisted clothes, children’s toys and unpaired shoes, all punctuated by heaps of drying cow pats, and tries not to breathe, can feel the stench settling on her tongue.
God, why the hell had she agreed to come here, this garbage dump of the world, this open fucking toilet? Though “agreed” was not really the right word. It had been the throttling weight of the “Punjabi cage” – the communal expectation of her tribe that she had to marry into her own kind. Her parents had told her, and their circle too, with increasing frequency she was at “that time in her life”: she had come through university, had her dream job as a librarian, a place of her own, achieved everything, in their eyes, that she could have as a single woman. The message from the elders – ”The Crypto’s” as Desh called them – was clear; this was the time to start a family, while she was of an age when men would still look at her, desire her, to settle down, and not be part of the “birds of paradise”, those women fallen into the cracks between the east and the west. What could she have said? Could she have said no? Could she have resisted the gravitational pull of who she was, a woman supposedly without a will of her own, to be traded in a deal with a family and a man she had never met? Yes. She could. She has a plan, but that does not ease the knotting pain in her guts.
Fuck! She rests her head against the hot glass of the car door. The heat is biting through the metal. She’d tried to escape from the shadow of this fucking country – insulate herself from the constant lechery of the “upright” men in her father’s circle, bollock shrivelled men museumed in the India they’d been shipped out from in their teens. But here she was, here she fucking is!
She hadn’t slept on the plane, the thin seats hard and uncomfortable. The entertainment system, what passed for it, was dead; the cabin crew apologising that it “was down and being re-booted” and they would let the passengers know as soon as it was up and running. She’d put her head down and tried to breathe, rest; could not. She was spotting as well, the recycled air in the Jet Airways plane adding to the discomfort and now as the car jolts along she can feel her blood seeping slowly from her. There’s a knot in her stomach and she knows this will only become worse.
Why had she got onto the flight? She, if she really had wanted to, could have broken the strings pulling her into the cage, which she could say, if she wanted to abnegate all responsibility, was of her parent’s making, but it was one she felt she herself had helped to construct; “stuck in traffic”, “missed the flight”, “things at work”; there were so many excuses she could have made; none she had taken up. The insidious drawing back into her cultural web had been inexorable. The ineluctable pull on her heart strings, the call to duty, the diminishing of who she was without the scaffolding of her society. But she has a plan.
“We have five boys to see. No more than an hour with each family,” she hears her father say. “Make your final choice today. We’ve only a week to sort out the arrangements; the invitations to print and send, the temple to book, though that should not be hard, the food, the gifts, and the clothes,” he pauses and then continues; “Why did you only book two weeks off?”
She sighs. This is typical of her father; everything is either a list or an accusation with him. The knot is tightening, the pain in her guts sharpening and she does not know, despite the planning with Desh, where she is heading.
And Desh? The parting with her had not gone well. The night had ended well; the slow exploration of each other’s verticals and perpendiculars, with the pleasure heightened by Derry’s impending absence. They had rested in each other’s curves, breathing into each the reassurance of their togetherness. Then morning knocked and the absence, with the taxi waiting outside, now real, exploded.
“We’ve been partners for how long now?” Desh had asked. “And now you’re off to India to fucking get married! I don’t get it.”
She did get it, but she was pissed off with herself for letting Derry talk her into going. She knew what would happen; there would be no shouting, no arm twisting, just the subtle pressure of the community, the expectant silence driving Derry into making a decision she did not want, and did not need, and would not be easy to unravel. Despite what they had talked through.
“This is something I have to do,” Derry said. “I need to…..”
“See what it feels like to get fucked by a man again!” Desh goaded.
“….go through this to satisfy my parents.”
“Fuck your parents, D! They’re never going to be satisfied. We both know that. Same with mine. They’re all fucking morons! All they want is to get us off their hands, shoving out a kid a year and a fucking rope around our necks, to be led around like cows. Why? So, they can tell everyone what good Punjabi girls we are, part of the sanctified Punjabi family.” Her voice had been rising and she felt the apartment closing around her, the familiar walls now cold, constricting and pushing her away from Derry, threatening to abort the life she, in the last five years, had so carefully coloured.
“Hey,” Derry took her hand and lifted her face. “We’ve talked about this. You know I’m going through the motions. I’m going to sit and listen and there will be no one, and I mean no one that I will choose.” She looked into the other woman’s eyes and saw nothing but despair lighting the depths. What could she do? She had promised – and that was the wrong term; she had been forced into promising – her parents she would join them in India, had told herself she would go through the match making travesty, sit down with the “suitable boys” and finish it by saying “no”. She would be back, single and free to carry on her life with this woman, the woman who had rescued her from herself, had brought her back to life when she thought that death was the only answer. It wasn’t Bonny who’d breathed life back into her, it was Desh, another outcast, like herself running away from her family’s, her brothers’ and uncles’ “honour bound blades”, the woman who had dragged her unconscious from her flat, taken her to the hospital, held her hand, stayed with her while they pumped her stomach….How many times had she done that for her? The other’s heat was beginning to reach out, filtering in through her hands, comforting, despite the moment. Why was she leaving this woman, even if it was a transient parting? Desh was the reason she was still alive, was waking up and finding a reason to open to the world and smile. It was her face she woke to, the angles of her flesh she explored and delighted in, into her heart she poured all the moments which she thought marked her as an untouchable. This was the woman she lived for, would live for. It was a temporary and necessary separation, she told herself, and not really a separation, just a displacement of their physical selves.
“You are going to come back to me whole.” Desh looked intently at Derry. “It’s the fucking Wild West out there. I don’t want to hear any news of abductions and kitchen fires. Ok?”
“Nothing can break me while I’m with you.” Derry could see nothing past Desh; she’d known the first time they met that they were fallen from the same tree, a despised fruit, terrified of what they were and drawn together by the hunger, the trembling spaces they saw in each other’s eyes,
“I’m not going to be with you, D,” the other said softly. “You are on your own there.”
The other tries to allay her concerns, “Two weeks and I will be back. Every day I will think of you, every night I will visit you. In my heart there is a space just for you.”
Derry watched Desh from the taxi, the slim frame of the woman ghosted against the doorway, and she nuzzled into the pashmina scarf, the one she had used to restrain the other during the long night, wrapped around her neck, breathing in, trying to calm herself with the scent of her lover.
“Here we are,” her mother says, gently touching her arm, waking her.