A Death Refracted – Part 6: Desh
Bonny goes to see Desh and tell her about Derry’s death.
Desh opens the door.
“Why are you here?” The woman’s face is hard, closed. But behind those shutters it is still the Desh Bonny remembers; the fine straight lines of the face, typical of the Pakistani Punjabis, the translucent skin and the strange grey eyes, the “face” which Derry used to joke had launched her into lesbianhood.
“I need to talk to you.”
The other’s face opens, softens. “She wants to come back?”
Bonny is tired. The road was congested, the journey which normally was forty minutes having taken nearly two hours, and she still has to go and see her parents. She feels like a stranger travelling to an unknown town.
“Can we go inside?”
The house hasn’t changed; everything maps to the first impression she has when she walked in after the women moved in together; pots of drooping marigold stepped on the staircase, the “home is where the hearts are” signs nailed to the wall, the flap of wallpaper hanging down – exposing “we lived here from 1971” written in curling letters by a previous owner – in the corner of the hallway, the dented kitchen door, which had been stuck in the frame, the wood swelling as it sucked up the water from the leaking toilet above, and Derry had had to kick it open….the only difference is the absence.
The house is cold.
Desh leads them into the sitting room.
There are pictures of Derry on the mantle, arranged in front of the fireplace. Derry and Desh, smiling, pulling faces, posing, serious. There’s one of Derry in full wedding dress, the embroidered dragons about to launch themselves, taking pride of place on the sideboard.
She shivers and Desh noticing asks, “Shall I turn on the fire?”
“And tea?” the other asks as she clears the pictures and fiddles with the gas knob.
“I can’t stay long. I have to call on my parents as well.”
The other picks up on the dullness in Bonny’s voice, stops trying to get a spark to light the gas and looks up with fearful eyes.
“Derry was in an accident.”
“God, no! Bonny, is she ok?”
Bonny forgets all that she has rehearsed. She’d spent all morning sitting through this scenario with Tuwi and Peter. There are things she cannot reveal, things she has promised Tuwi will stay a secret. But she has no idea at this moment what is a secret or not.
“She’s not ok, is she?”
Tears rise, despite her resolve. The blood is pounding inside her head, the loud thumping behind her ears drowning out the tumult of her storm driven thoughts.
Desh sinks to her knees. She stays motionless. Then she raises her head to meet Bonny’s eyes, her face contorted with anger.
“That bitch was with her, wasn’t she? That bitch killed her, didn’t she? That fucking bitch! I told Derry she was no good for her.” She collapses onto the floor. Sobs. Noises dredged from the deepest depths of her.
How would Desh know Tuwi – that is the “bitch” she’s talking about – had been with Derry? Bonny lets the thought lie. Reaches out instinctively and folds the other into her legs, the tremors from the other transmitting themselves into her and she too begins to cry.
The room grows colder, the ghosts Bonny has tried to lock away are knocking at the back of her eyes. She pushes herself from the other. Says, “I’ll go and make some tea.”
The other does not answer.
Bonny makes her way to the kitchen. The aroma from a chick pea masala lingers in the air, reminding her of how good a cook Desh was, and she can imagine the thin rotis the woman would have had as an accompaniment. She takes a deep breath. Takes a pan and places it on the gas hob. Opens the fridge. Takes a carton of milk and pours two cups into the pan. She opens a cupboard, searches, brings out a pot of cardamoms, selects four and drops them into the pan. Two sachets of tea follow. A teaspoon of sugar. She lights one of the rings and turns it low; the slower the milk comes to the boil the better the taste of the tea – a lesson learnt from her mother.
She waits. From the room next door silence. When was the last time she had been in this house? Derry had left three months ago. Then it must have been June. God, how quickly life had moved on, the spin of the Earth constant, the only thing that was in this mess that had been created by Derry. A sudden feeling of bitterness is quickly quashed. What else could Derry have done? And what is she going to do?
The hiss of the milk against the sides of the pan brings her focus back to the tea. The milk is bubbling. She watches the bubbles grow, merge and collapse, and when the mass begins to rise, reaches the top edges, she turns off the burner, waits for the tea to settle and then pours it straight into the cups.
Desh is where she had left her, on her knees, head bowed.
She places a cup on the floor next to her.
“It’s hot. Let it cool.”
She takes a seat by the window, the same chair she had sat in five months ago when she and Kris had been invited by Derry to attend an “emergency” meeting. I really need you to come down, she’d said. I need you to arbitrate. And that was it, nothing else; just a directive to be there.
As they drove down Kris had said, “I have a feeling this is going to be about money. Those ladies are spending way too much for their own good. The spending on the wedding was way over the top. And those holidays they go away with Tuwi and Peter in tow? How many in a year do they take? They seem to be jetting out of the country every couple of months. How much do you think they’re bringing in? 20, 30k each?”
“I’ve never asked.” Bonny tried to keep away from others’ finances, had never pried, had never wanted to know how her sisters were spending their money, had assumed they were as careful, or as Kris liked to say “tight”, as she was. “Let’s wait until we get there.” Bonny did not want to speculate.
Derry had not been her usual voluble self, silent, face pinched, drained of colour. Desh, too, was quiet. The house itself seemed to be affected, reflecting the sombre mood; even though it was a sunny day the light only sharpened the drabness of the room, the frayed edges of the furniture, the neglected plants yellowing and curling in their pots, and as it fell through the torn net curtains it lost its warmth, cold it chilled the air.
“Can either of you tell me what this is all about?” Bonny wanted to know why she had been summoned. Most calls from Derry were “an emergency”, but this time she had sensed another colour in her sister’s voice; the optimism she always carried, despite everything, was missing. This was the colour of life’s tragic gene, that was the only way she could describe it, the acceptance that each passing day had a way of killing all hope, destroying the tinted glasses people wore to protect themselves. There had been no choice; she had to come and see Derry.
There was silence. Broken by Desh. “We’re a little stretched.” A pause. “Financially. To tell you the truth we’re broke.”
As if to back that up Derry threw a bundle of letters onto the table before Bonny.
“These are all the bills that need paying.”
Most of the letters were unopened. Bonny sighed. Kris picked them up and started to look through them. He sorted them, laying them out according to utility provider, credit card, bank statements, and a general pile. There were over a hundred letters, plenty with the red border – “Final Notice” stamped on their faces – marking them out for urgent attention.
“What the hell is going on?” Bonny demanded. “Why are these unpaid?”
“This is Desh’s department,” Derry said. “She is supposed to be taking care of all the finances.”
“Don’t drop this all on me,” Desh said softly. “I’m not the one with extravagant tastes.”
“Me? Who’s the one with the Bond Omega collection? The World War II Longines? Do you want me to list all of them? And that fucking MBA on top of everything!”
“Whoa,” Kris interrupted. “Let’s just cool it.”
The sensible algorithms were kicking in. Bonny nodded in agreement with her husband. “Let’s see what we’ve got here. And, more importantly, how we can sort this.”
“We don’t want your charity.”
Kris looked at Desh. “Do you have a pen? A sheet of paper?” And when she handed them to him; “Let’s list down what we have, see what we need to fix immediately.” He stared at the piles. “Bonny, we go through the utilities first.”
Bonny picked up the electric bills, opened them and searched for the latest.
Disconnection Notice – Do not disregard! You have 10 days to pay all outstanding amounts.
Kris noted the figure down.
One after another they went through the bills. Once they’d finished that pile they tackled the credit cards. There were a total of nine, all maxed out.
Derry and Desh watched, silent, eyes fixed on the growing pile of torn envelopes, the contents stacked, rising, revealing the extent of their fearful negligence, the desire to know yet knowing that what they would discover would only send them into a deeper depression.
The mortgage was four months in arrears. A notice stated they needed to contact the bank immediately or foreclosure proceedings would be initiated.
The local council had passed their bills to a debt collection agency; bold red letters made it clear that the bailiffs would be coming if no response was received.
The insurances had been cancelled owing to non-payment, the balances owed being chased, the legal language of the notices ever more aggressive and threatening.
Kris laid down the pen, looked evenly at the two women. “Is there anything else?”
Desh and Derry exchanged glances.
“We took a loan out with one of the payday lenders.”
“Shit,” Bonny muttered.
“Ten thousand. It was for the MBA. I thought it’d help me to get a better role in the Home Office.”
Kris noted the figure down. Totalled the columns. Looked up.
“Well?” Derry asked.
“You have a total debt of £86,545.67, of which £75,000 is your credit cards.”
“How the hell did you get so many?” Bonny’s question was directed at both women. “Did they not do any checks?”
“They just want your business….”
“Your debt, you mean……”
“Show them a payslip and they’re falling over themselves to give your credit.”
“We just thought we could pay off the old ones with the new..”
“Everyone does that…”
“Not everyone,” Bonny reminded them. “Not everyone.”
“We can’t all be doctors and IT gurus,” Desh said holding Bonny’s gaze.
Bonny wanted to say that not everyone could be that stupid but held her tongue.
“Let’s prioritise the list,” Kris brought them back to the problem. “Who and what needs to be paid first?”
“The mortgage, obviously,” Bonny replied. “You need a roof over your heads.”
Kris checked the figures. “That’s four months in arrears. £6,200.” He looked at Bonny.
“Can you write out the cheques? Directly to the companies.”
The women watched in silence as Kris and Bonny crossed off the people who were being paid. Once they’d finished Kris asked, “Have you been in touch with the credit card companies?” When there was no response. “They’re hardnosed businesses. All they want is as much of their money back as possible, and they’re willing to listen to you if you’re having trouble repaying them. They don’t want to lose all the money they’ve lent you. You just need a plan, what you can afford. They’ll listen to sensible offers.”
“We haven’t got a plan.”
“There are agencies who can help you draw one up..”
“Do they charge?”
“They’re government agencies. Their advice is free. I can send you the details tonight.” Kris got to his feet and Bonny followed.
Derry touched Bonny’s arm as she passed by, a plea in her eyes.
“Bonny, can you do us another favour?”
Bonny could not say no. She nodded.
“We need money to buy food this month.”
Bonny reached down for her purse.
There’s a crash as the teacup next to her is swept off the low table and falls onto the floor.
“Bonny? Bonny!” Desh shakes her gently. “Hey, wake up. You fell asleep.”
“Shit! Was I really sleeping?” Bonny struggles to open her eyes. Tea spools and drips from the table onto the carpet, where the cup lies on its side, its lip seeming to drink from the spill, sucking the liquid back into itself. “I’m so sorry.” She makes to rise, but Desh says, “I’ve got it,” and goes to the kitchen, reappearing with a kitchen roll. She tears a strip and places it on the spill, both watching as the paper soaks up the tea, immediately turning brown, its fragile solidity collapsing as the liquid fills its pores. Desh throws another strip and presses with her hand to gather as much as she can. Rolls them in another. Gathers the dripping papers and one hand underneath to catch any stray drops walks back into the kitchen. Bonny hears the sound of the bin opening and closing, the footsteps coming back.
“Tell me everything.” Desh sits next to Bonny. “Everything.”
Bonny tells her everything she wants the other to know.