A Death Refracted – Part 6.2
Continuing the chapter with Bonny and Desh talking and more revelations about the past
“When did you find out about the baby?” Desh again sitting up. “You’re the doctor. You must have noticed.”
She had noticed. The signs were not easy to miss. Two weeks after Derry came back from India. She’d come to see her, bearing gifts for all; an exquisitely hand embroidered soft white cotton dress for Jessie, which, when it was worn, she laughingly said made the girl look like an Indian Prime Minister; a stunning deep green suit for her, and a hookah for Kris, which he’d surveyed with confusion since he did not smoke, and had no intention of taking up as a result of the gift, until Derry explained its true purpose, screwing off the top to reveal a slender butt plug, saying, “It’s nice for both to experience a penetration. Enjoy, both of you.” Shit, she must be tired! How had that surfaced? They were talking about the baby, the baby. In her mind she opens the pages of a text book, searches, finds the answers.
“It’s not easy to hide the signs,” she answers. “Her breasts were already swollen, and they were sensitive because she kept adjusting her top, moving it away from her nipples. And she looked tired. At first I thought she was still getting over her trip, but she’d had time to rest, so it was more than that. Then, when she went to change her pad because she said she was spotting, I knew.”
The other says nothing.
“When did she tell you?” Bonny asks.
Desh doesn’t answer, is silent, then; “We had a plan, and she did not keep to it.”
Bonny is conscious of the undertone in the other’s voice, but it does not linger; she’s thinking about Derry and all her plans. She had been born a planner; she always had a plan, and when she did not then she was planning for a plan, or planning a plan for a plan. From the time when Derry first picked up a pencil, she must have been eighteen months, and scrawled a line onto a wall in the basement rooms they lived in, she had been planning, progressing to grand designs she would plot meticulously onto the sheets of paper spread across their small dining table, multicoloured strokes, pens provided by an adoring father who recognised the signs of a budding genius in his daughter and encouraged her with whatever small gifts he could afford, small because his finances were strained by the monthly remittances he was sending back to his family in India, feeding their expectancy and fulfilling his obligations, but gifts which no matter how small nurtured the young girl, had her moving on from tremulous arrows feeding one into other to detailed designs of flying machines, which she’d explain to Bonny would one day allow her to travel through the universe, touch the stars, vehicles for an imagination burning brightly even at that age. Everywhere her presence. There’s the pang of the absence; she cannot believe the woman is gone, that she will no longer hear her voice, the smoky tones laced with a warmth that defied the ravage of her life. Jessie hasn’t been told yet; she’ll have to think carefully how she approaches that.
The room is darkening. She has her parents still to see. But she does not move. She doesn’t want to move. They can wait.
“She wasn’t supposed to get pregnant.” This time Bonny is totally aware of a darker undercurrent in the other’s words. “All she had to do was say ‘yes’ to one of them and go through the motions of getting married. Instead she opens her fucking legs to get spiked by the man!”
Something stirs inside Bonny, she shifts, gently pushes the other away; with just enough force so that it cannot be perceived as a reaction to what she has just said. A doubt is beginning to gather inside her, is rapidly turning into a suspicion; how had the woman known that Derry and Tuwi had been together? It was more than just the outburst of a pent-up emotion which was close to, but not yet hatred. There is something else, a darker hidden side to this….but she doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions.
“We spent so much time getting that plan together, going through every detail so both of knew what we had to do. She did not follow through with her end.”
Again that strange colour to her voice.
“We cannot imagine the pressure she was facing.” Bonny knew it would have been both overt and covert, threats implied, nothing explicit, all hidden under the mantle of parental concern – her mother under the same pressures as her daughters – and family honour. She had faced all of that herself, her first arranged marriage a disaster spanning seven years, before she had decided to cut the tie, against the wishes of her parents, but with the support of her father-in-law who had seen how unhappy both were and had urged them to go their separate ways and start afresh. She can see Derry sitting with the matchmaker and the match, the hastily cleared room, heavy with incense to rid it of the mustiness that gathers in closed spaces, set aside for the couple to talk to each other, ask questions, and nothing being said, because they were from different roots, had fed from different streams, having nothing in common whatsoever. That was how she, too, had experienced it, even though the choices provided to her were all from the UK, were highly educated, both of them not daring to breathe, break the silence, and the matchmaker urging them to talk, telling them everything would be ok, that they had the rest of their lives to learn how to love the other.
“No one can escape the fucking octopus of our culture! No one! I told her not to go. Begged her. Said she’d be on her own. But she said she could handle it. Said she would just close her eyes and think about the two of us and she’d be grounded, would be back on track.”
“I was surprised she went. She just told me it was something she had to do to get our parents off her back.”
“All she had to do was not get into that bloody cab. She could have called and said she’d missed the flight, that something had come up at work, she was sick, anything but get on that plane.”
“When she wanted to do something, she did it.” That’s been Bonny’s experience with Derry. “If she had a plan then she must have thought she could pull it off, whatever she’d cooked up. She didn’t confide any details to me, just said she was off to sort things out so she could get on with her life as she wanted it to be.” Which, Bonny knew, with their father and his outdated fucking concept of honour was a hard thing to achieve. She had argued with him many times, especially after she’d opened her practice, been more confident and grounded, reminding him they were no longer Indians, she and her sisters had been educated in England, they mixed with the English, they took on the mantle of what it meant to be English, and yet he wanted them to carry the colours of a country and a culture they did not understand and certainly did not want to be bound by its oppressive strictures, especially when it came to women. Surely, he of all people should understand that; he vaunted his educational achievements – the first in his family to graduate – and lectured on his thoughts about suffrage as he went on his tours of the Gurdwaras in the UK, yet that enlightenment did not extend to his family, was just one of the many facades of a self-perpetuating illiteracy about life and reality she was to discover about him as she grew into herself as a woman.
“She did not have to fuck the man.” Desh cannot bring herself to say ‘husband.’ That was not part of the plan.”
There is something disquieting in her tone; the woman’s words uncover the nascent suspicion Bonny had buried a few moments earlier, but she cannot trace it’s beginning, it’s fleeting, disappears before she can name the colour. But Bonny is curious, wants to know what lies behind the dark tone; “What was the plan?”
“It was to be kept between us.” Desh looks at Bonny, a glitter of betrayal lurking in her eyes, a hesitancy as well, a desire to tell, held back by an uncertainty as to whether there is trust sufficient to keep what she wants to say between them, but knowing she can no longer keep it to herself. “You cannot share this with anyone else, not even Kris.” She seeks confirmation. Bonny nods. Desh lowers her gaze, tilts her head forward chin almost touching her chest, her form visibly shrinking into itself as she gathers herself for the revelation. Then she raises her face to the other.
“Derry told me she had to make the trip to India. Everything, our future together hinged on that. There was no way she could not. Said your father would have killed her. That’s what she said and I believed her; that wasn’t an exaggeration. He’s had his thugs chasing us since we met. Breaking down our doors, smashing our windows, following us, cutting us. You don’t think all the scars were self inflicted? Of course we can’t prove it. But who else could it be? Why would anyone else be so interested in us?”
Derry had never spoken to Bonny about this, but she knew what her father was capable of. The rage he carried – and she can remember the times, just after they’d arrived in England, cowering in a corner of their one room bedsit as he came back drunk, dark mooded and listening to the dull thuds as his fists fell onto her mother, who never uttered a sound, just took the beatings, the useless anger she felt at not being able to go to her aid, stand up to the bastard – had mellowed with time, he had learnt to control it as his daughters grew older, had come to recognise that he could no longer keep them bound to his rules though the threat of violence was always present, could be felt as a palpable presence, their house itself, its walls seeming to shrink away from him as he passed, and anything, no matter how small, could trigger it, especially if it had to do with family honour. However, to kill? Was he really capable of that? There were the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Tuwi’s boyfriend, the asthmatic nurse she had left home for, her first attempt to break away from their father. His death had been very sudden. All Tuwi would say, on her return, with nowhere else to go, into the bosom of her family, was that she had woken up to find him dead next to her. Her father had remained quiet, his silence a monument to his disapproval and disappointment with his daughter, the transgression of boundaries which had been duly noted, and which would hasten the first of her marriages – she shudders at how weak she personally has been in protecting both of her sisters; she adds that to her list of failures. The coroner had ruled out any foul play, but Desh is reawakening suspicions old and new.
“This was our chance, Derry said, to finally move into our own lives.”
How the hell would going to India have helped? The fucking place was still stuck in the stone ages! Women had no value, were treated like chattel. It was literally the shit hole of the world!
“She knew there was no way she could say no to getting married. So what if she did say yes? Just choose one of the men, go through the motions of the ceremony as if she was accepting everything. Make it look pukka, you know.”
“Pukka? She certainly did that.” Bonney realises the bitterness lacing her words and immediately is filled with remorse; her sister is gone after enduring a year from Hell and what had she done to prevent the slide into the darkness Derry had cultured so assiduously about her? Buried herself in her work, shut herself away so she did not have to see what was happening, just let the story play out. A total abnegation of her responsibilities.
Derry had told her very little about Jivraj. All she knew was that he was a mathematician, taught at the local high school, and according, to her sister, an absolute genius wielding a mastery of the universe and its twenty eight quadrants, the like of which she had not seen before. And from that little she had inferred that her sister was absolutely in love with him. How she had reconciled that with what she shared with Desh, she could not say. If she’d been in Derry’s shoes it would have been a simple choice, but then Derry had never been one for simplicity.
“Once she was back then we’d go onto the next step. Was she going to live with her husband in India? No, your parents were going to bring him over here to the UK. That was the idea all along. The marriage was legitimate; the paperwork in order, a loving couple who had met in India and now wanted to be together – a perfect setup for getting his visa. Everyone knows what’s going on, but can they do anything about it? No. And your father, that fucking hypocrite? Always preaching about the rule of law and how we should all respect that. But when it suits him he’ll bend them too.”
Bonny says nothing.
“Derry said yes to everything your father asked of her, filled out all the forms, got a letter from her work saying she was employed, detailing what she did and how much she earned, wrote one herself saying how much she wanted to be reunited with her husband. There was no way we were going to arouse any suspicions, and you know how meticulous your father is. He has duplicates of duplicates and he also copies everything into his diaries. Derry told me he sits down in his corner every night and records all the things from that day, no matter how small. She called him ‘The Recorder of Lives’, because all of you guys went into those pages. Everything little thing written up. If you want to know what you were doing on any given date then just take a peek at his diaries. The fucking Encyclopaedia Kunderathitica!”