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.
When Nandan uncle came home in the evening, he said, extending his phone towards me, “Chinnu had called. She wanted to speak to you. You should give her a call.” As we sat down at the dining table, I texted Chinnu from his phone asking if I could call her after dinner.
“Nothing much”, she said, as we began our conversation. “I haven’t heard from you in a while. So thought I would check in on you. I just got to know today that you are with Achamma. How are you doing? How is she?” It made me happy that unlike my parents and brother, she cared enough to check in with me. However, I didn’t tell her that. Instead, I told her what I thought she wanted to hear. “We are fine. Being here is a good change of pace for me”.
“That’s good to hear. I have found some volunteering work at a charity here. Couple of hours a week. It’s just something to do for now. I get to meet people. I am also applying to jobs in India.”
“In India? Are you guys planning to come back?” I guess my surprise was evident in my tone.
“No, no. I am applying to all the jobs I can find. It’s really important right now that I find a job. Also I think we might do well with some time apart.” It seemed like my surprise had made her unsure of sharing her news with me.
“Time apart? Is everything okay?” I said latching on to some keywords. Anxiety and I were new friends. She’d turn up uninvited and sit uncomfortably close to me, sipping my drink and drowning out my thoughts.
“I don’t know. I’m hoping to take some time to figure things out.” Though her words were tentative, the way she said it sounded like she had made up her mind.
In the awkward silence that followed I think of how much I like her. If they get divorced would I lose her? Who will I talk to about things I can’t tell my parents? Definitely not my brother after his recent reactions. Chinnu chechi was my idea of cool. The sister I was proud to show off. She taught me how to wear winged eyeliner, how to style plain t-shirts, how to pose for photos. She let me borrow her jewellery. And if I were to have sex, she said, I had to insist that the boy use a condom. This was before Madhu.
Though her words were tentative, the way she said it sounded like she had made up her mind.
How do you form lasting relationships? What’s the binding material? I think it’s trust. You trust without reason that they are on your side.
“How come you went down to Kerala? I thought Achamma was going to stay with you from now on?” said Chinnu trying to skirt around the silence.
“Actually Chinnu chechi, I have something to tell you. But you can’t tell anyone. Okay? They took me to a guruji who grabbed me and touched my boobs. He wanted to do more but I somehow got away.” I said before she could stop me.
“What? Did you tell your parents this?”
“No. They are the ones who took me there. They also took me to a doctor for conversion therapy. I have another appointment in 3 weeks.”
“Are you serious? This is unbelievable.” I imagined her nose flare as she said that.
“Do you want to talk about it? How it’s making you feel perhaps? It must have been really scary to go through. I’m sorry it happened to you, Ammu.” See, this here is why I love Chinnu chechi. She always knows what to say. How to say just the right thing.
I tell her the whole ordeal. Right from that fateful kiss all the way to the nightmares. Somehow I stop just before we get to my suicide attempt. I don’t feel like telling her about it. More like I can’t. When I think about it, I feel a sudden wheeze knock my breath out, a well-hidden panic sweating in my armpit, a shuttering down of my jaw like shops on a bandh day. Is this what shame feels like? Or is it how guilt manifests in the body?
I tell her the whole ordeal. Right from that fateful kiss all the way to the nightmares.
Turns out, secret keepers reciprocate with tales of their own. Trust begets trust, binding and strengthening as they build.
“You are the first person I’ve told about my plan to spend some time away from Siddharth. I am not just applying to jobs, I have a final interview lined up next week for a job in Hyderabad. If I get it, I plan to move back for a while.”
“What about Chettan?”
“What about him? He is an adult. He should be able to fend for himself. Anyway I am not his keeper.”
Even as she said it, Chinnu knew that it was not true. If she moved back to India, Siddharth would whine and sulk and probably get his mother to move in with him. Siddharth was not brought up to be an equal partner. She had spent an inordinate amount of time negotiating the division of housework. What really drove her crazy was when he treated her like an assistant. Could you get me a glass of water? Sure, if I am in the kitchen or near a bottle of water. But why when we are both sitting on the couch, watching the same movie. Why should I? She thought to herself.
To him, being married was a status; a tick mark on a form. He didn’t believe that a good marriage was hard work. According to him, a good marriage was her fitting seamlessly into his life. Embracing his friendships, interests and lifestyle as her own. For all other purposes, she was a squatter in his marriage taking up space—a liability and now an expense. But what made his choices the better ones to follow? Why wasn’t he expected to fit seamlessly into her life? Why did they have to fit seamlessly? Could they be their own selves and still have a marriage that works.
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