A Death Refracted – Part 6.3
Bonny and Desh talking. More insights.
Bonny remembers Derry mentioning something about a life transcribed. ‘The Book of Everything’ Derry had called it.
The other continues:
“We played it by the book. No one could say we did anything to derail his plans. But we worked our plan in parallel.
I must say your father worked fast. He filled up all the papers, got them faxed and posted over to the immigration office in Delhi, chased them up every day, made sure he answered all their queries, and, more importantly, he kept Derry in the loop. And that’s just what we needed, her in the know and his total confidence, if ever there is anything like total, in Derry, that she was doing all she could to help her husband come over.”
Bonny notices there is now no inflection on the word “husband”. It was almost, seemed like an admission that Derry had been married, had had a husband. So much different from the emotional colours it had been loaded with before.
“We had the name and number of the case officer. His office fax. We’d written a letter before Derry went out to India. It said she’d been coerced into the marriage, had never wanted it, and it was the pressures from her parents, the extended family and their culture which had forced her to accept. Everything she did, it was all done under duress. I faxed it from a printing shop. Didn’t want anything coming back to my work or Derry’s. We didn’t know if it would be shown to your father. Had to be careful. And we did say this was confidential and could be dangerous if made public. Just to be sure.”
“Derry agreed to that? You sending that letter?” Bonny is now struggling to understand how Derry, evidently so much in love with Jivraj, would have still wanted to go through with the plan. She would have known she was pregnant, and wanted to keep the baby. What the hell had she been playing at?
The other hesitates before replying: “Yes. Yes, she was. It was our plan, ours.”
“Of course.” Bonny is not convinced, but she wants to hear more.
“Then, would you believe it, the next day Derry’s told by your father that the visa had been granted and they were looking for flights to get him over as soon as.” Desh pulls her fingers through her long black hair, tugging at the roots, her face animated with the memory of that moment. “Shit, I was going crazy! How could that have happened. I’d sent the fax. I checked the receipt; there was the date; it said sent. And what about what the letter said? That must have raised doubts, surely it must have. I couldn’t eat, didn’t sleep that night. I was thinking, ‘tomorrow they’re going to find a flight and he’s going to be over here. What the fuck am I going to do then?’”
“How was Derry?”
“She was fucking relaxed. Didn’t give a shit. Totally zen. Said that everything would turn out fine. She must have taken some glass or something. I couldn’t believe it. There’s me shitting myself and she’s on cloud nine! I had to do something radical.”
“I phoned the case officer. Had to try a couple of times, you know the score, but got through in the end, and explained everything. He told me he had the faxed letter and the whole thing was being reviewed. He was very good about it, said it was very brave of me to do what I was doing.”
“You pretended to be Derry?”
“No. No, nothing like that. I was straight with him. Said I was a friend, a close friend. I was trying to protect Derry. He asked me details about the letter, about Derry and why she had gone along with the marriage. I told him straight that it was difficult to say no.”
Why is it so difficult? Bonny wonders. She’s asked herself that question many times. Such a small and simple word: N….O…..NO. And yet it had been the cause of some much grief and pain to so many women. The inability to say that word. The inability of a society to not accept that word, to hear it said and infer that it was YES, another word which, in itself, too carried implications of duty, respect, and of being bound. Bonny is astonished at the power of the cultural octopus – the word Desh had used – and its hold upon the minds of the Punjabi diaspora, the export of a people frozen in a time that no longer existed but could not be replaced for fear of what would seep into the vacuum left behind by the loss of those beliefs. The only way to escape from its tentacles it was to find an exit which did not look too obviously like an exit; hers had been Kris. She remembered telling her parents that she had found someone. Her father’s response had been to ask, ‘Is he one of us?’ to which she’d said ‘Yes’ knowing that he could pass for an Indian just as easily as she had passed for being Spanish when she met his parents in Barcelona. It was the colour of his skin, the trace of a gene in his eyes that appealed to her father and which sealed his reluctant acceptance of Kris as her match and partner.
“How did he take that?”
“He said he understood. He’d been posted there for nearly two years, had seen how people behaved and what they would do to get their children married off to Indians living abroad. It was nothing but people trafficking under the guise of marriage. And that wondrous phrase that’s been coined especially for this; “quickie love”? That’s the icing on the top. Someone comes to India, falls in love, marries within a week and hey ho it’s another weepy love story that could only find its happy ever after through the issuance of a visa. Who cares that the whole family is in tow and the priests are already on call?”
The cynicism is hard to hide.
“I know this. I deal with it every day at the office. People trying to pull the wool over your eyes. But what can you do? The paperwork is all that counts and if that’s perfect that’s it, done deal!
Anyway, this guy? He listened to me, took in all I told him, said as soon as the review process was done, he’d let me know.”
Bonny shivers. The room is getting cold. Despite the other woman still being close to her, the heat from her slim form intense. The turn in the conversation has unsettled her as well; suddenly its’s all Desh, somehow she’s become the single funnel through which Derry’s life flowed, her future would be managed. It ties in with what Derry had told her about the manipulation. And Derry had allowed her this? Bonny cannot believe that. Jivraj had been important to Derry, and she would not have had anybody else, even Desh, just pick up the reins and make the calls without her knowledge.
As if reading her thoughts Desh states: “I kept Derry in the loop. She was happy for me to run with it.”
Really? Bonny thinks, and is not so sure but keeps her thoughts to herself. The other is carrying on with the unburdening, the desire to reveal what has been so carefully hidden hastening the flow of words.
“Everything I was doing was for her. Everything. I was thinking just about her. She was precious to me. She loved me. I loved her. She was special. I knew that from the moment I saw her sitting in the café.” Her voice softens with the memory freshly taken from its storage and now colouring her words. “My grandma asked me to take the coffee over to Derry. And when she looked up and I saw the damage in her eyes, the same damage I carried inside me, I knew.” She stops.
There is silence. A moment for both of them to feed off the colours of that memory.
Derry had never talked about how she’d met Desh. Bonny had asked, many times, but Derry had always shied away from the question, preferring to say only, ”We met in the middle of a battlefield”; a statement open to many interpretations. Bonny had accepted that her sister had found a kindred spirit and set about making sure that she stayed hidden from their father. Of course he’d asked whether she knew where Derry was, and she had shook her head, afraid to speak in case a word would slip out which would betray her sister. Derry had made a choice, one which she was entitled to make, made with the full knowledge that it went against her father and her culture, but which would allow her to live as she wanted, not totally free, because she would be always looking over her shoulder to see who was behind her. She, Bonny, had taken the full brunt of his anger; she, he raged, was the one who had set the precedence by breaking the rules, divorcing a perfectly good match as far as he was concerned and marrying outside their social boundaries. She’d reminded him that they were not living in an Indian village with its segregated castes, and he needed to move on, into the world he had brought them to, but she knew, and he with his sullen smug demeanour confirmed, that he would not open himself to the new world they found themselves in and the conversation, if it could be called that, ended with him threatening to disown all of his “slut daughters”, “leave them out on the street”, as if that would bring them back into line, into the space he knew and could control, one which was crumbling all around him, among his circle, his colleagues, as desperate as him, all attempting to keep the tide of modernity at bay, hiding the disintegration of their families by becoming more authoritarian, which in itself drove their children further away from the mores of a culture which could only be sustained through implied and actual violence.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?”
“I’ve never experienced it,” Bonny replies. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
“I tried to make myself believe that I fell in love at that first moment. But when I thought about it later it was more empathy and the need, a real need to get to know this person better, through that knowing get to know myself better. To heal myself. Take the stains of my bastard father from me. Get to grow into and know what love was.”
Bonny turns and looks closely at the woman. The tone of her voice has changed again. She knows what she has been told by Derry; Desh had been brought up by her grandparents on her mother’s side, her father, a landowner in Lahore, the “bastard” who had seduced her mother, promised her she would become part of his family, and then learning of her pregnancy deserted her, abandoning and disowning his yet to be born daughter.
“He treated my mother like shit. Used her. Kept her on a leash. Suffocated her. All she wanted was to be acknowledged, her daughter legitimised. And I ended up a fucking stray. ‘Worthless,’ he called me.”
The story of how many women? Bonny asks herself. What is the value of a woman? she wonders. Maybe a better question would be: Is there a value? A life that brings forth life, nurtures life, yet its own life a sum of nothing. Where was that written?