Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.
Trigger Warning: This chapter is about domestic violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Vimala returned from the wedding by Sunday afternoon. She sat next to Semmalar by the window, she sniffed on limes and puked all the way into the city. Bus rides never agreed with her. She was enroute a fitful, dreamless sleep when they got to their stop and had to get off the bus. She was groggy and dazed even when they turned into their street. She was looking forward to sleeping off the wedding fatigue.
“You think it’s normal?” Anban asked, softly as their house came into sight. Vimala’s sleepy brain scrambled signals to decode this. What did she think was normal that he didn’t approve of?
Their marriage was essentially a construction project. They had built a system of need-based communication that kept emotions out. Whenever she spoke to him, it was always after she had practised it in her head. On Sunday mornings, when she was at home when he woke up, he spoke to her cordially through his hangover. Even in that familiar banter, she was always careful to avoid spontaneity. Then what was this ‘abnormal’ thing that had slipped out of her mouth? She thought back to the wedding, as she opened the door to their house.
A kick sent her flying through the door.
“Ayyaa”, she screamed trying to hold on to thin air. She tumbled all the way to the far end of the room. He continued with his exertions until she was on the floor.
“You think it’s normal for girls to sleep together, you bitch!”, he spat out his anger in slow, sharp words. His voice was so low, it was almost a whisper. “Is this what you are teaching your daughters? Are you encouraging them to sleep around? I’m sure you’ll pimp them out too.” She tried to get up but he wouldn’t relent.
Something was different about this time. Vimala could use a minute to put a finger on it. But something was certainly different. Anban was usually loud and happy while hitting her. There have been times when she has laughed despite the pain because of how funny his dialogues were. But this was different.
Semmalar who was shocked at first by this sudden violence, steps in to help her mother off the floor. She is flung outward as if the walls were magnetised. She lands on the table fan in the corner, toppling it onto her feet. The impact of hitting the wall, gives her a shiny, round bump on the forehead. Her feet hurt, so did her head.
Anban was looking around as the women gathered their wits. What was different about him this time? Vimala tried to jog her brain. What was he looking for?
She moved closer to Semmalar gesturing with her eyes for her to leave through the back door as always. When Anban noticed this, he grabbed the radio on the window sill and sent it riding the sound waves over to them. The radio hit the stool on which the table fan previously sat and broadcast itself all over the floor next to them.
He was sober! That was it. Anban had always hit her only when he was drunk. Over the years, many times over, she had spent money she didn’t have to send him to church-run deaddiction centres and other therapies. Each time, on the last day of the program, he would come home drunk. It was as though she was paying to get hurt.
He was sober! That was it.
He was sober. There was now a new urgency in Vimala’s movements. She didn’t know what this beast could do. He was sober. He was looking to hurt. She made a lunge for the backdoor and shoved her daughter through it. She bolted the door and stood guard against it.
That’s when she noticed what his search had found that he now held in his hands like a weapon. This was going to hurt.
“What’re you doing? You’ve killed me”, she said before passing out.
Anban walked out with the brass lamp and sat outside the house in silence. The lamp, hanging limp from his hands, was dripping blood onto the floor, keeping count of every painful second as it passed.
Amidst this confusion, Semmalar managed to limp all the way to alert the neighbours and get help. She was so scared for her mother that she was unable to speak.
In the hospital, Vimala is rushed into surgery. One of the neighbours arranges for the initial deposit. Another informs Selvi. No one thinks of Anban seated outside the house, motionless. When the anesthesia wears off, Vimala is inconsolable that she can’t go back to work for a minimum of 2-3 weeks.
A couple of days after she is moved to the ward, Anban pays her a visit. He stands by the bedside holding a plastic bag of oranges in one hand and smoothing down the bedsheet with the other.
“I was angry. When I heard you saying those things to Vennila Akka, I was…anyway, you are out of danger”, he says, extending the oranges towards her.
“If you kill me, my daughter has nobody. Let her finish her course at least.” she says quietly looking at her hands.
He extends the oranges towards her again. She opens her palms and he places the bag into it. She thinks back to that first year of marriage when he used to buy her flowers every evening. This was the first time in years that he had gotten her something. A part of her was happy to be in that hospital bed.
But then she laid back and closed her eyes because the rest of her was realising that this man standing next to her could actually kill her one day. The oranges continued to sit obediently in her palms.
Thank you for reading today’s chapter. As this is the first draft of the novel, I expect a lot of changes in subsequent drafts before this goes to print. I would love to hear what you thought of this chapter and how I could make this better. Hope you will leave your tips in the comments below.
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