'Red' - Chapters 1 - 4, by Aiysha Jebali, All rights reserved
'Two shots fired. One punctured a lung and the other splattered the contents of a skull onto the now, blood stained carpet. I was the prior of the two injuries.'
'Red' by Aiysha Jebali
Alka Rakesh Gouj
I checked my watch. He was half an hour late. As if I didn’t have enough to contend with! How on earth am I meant to juggle everything on my schedule?! I’m a 34 year old, doctor with two children to a man that if nothing else, I despise!
My parents thought Rakesh would be perfect for me – a gentleman with a fantastic job in the country of opportunity. Instead, what do I find on my wedding night? A tax dodging corporate oaf that only pays attention to me when he decides that we haven’t been intimate for ‘a reasonable duration’. And the funny thing is; I know that he has been sleeping with that tart of an assistant of his and I’m not even bothered! It’s keeping him away from me for a few more hours each night, which to be honest is a blessing.
The door bell finally rings and thankfully it is the man to answer my prayers. My boiler broke this morning so I had to call in sick at work which will look great for my application for the much sought after promotion. In saying that, without a boiler it means no hot water and no heating and I do have two children to think about. They are in actual fact the only ones that keep me going – the one beautifully positive and pure thing to come out of the awful experience that is my marriage.
My cynical thoughts leave me the instant I open the door. This handsomely rugged man also of Indian decent stands before me in combats and a vest shirt.
“Hi.” He said, gazing into my eyes with his capturing hazel brown eyes.
“Hi.” I said, still mesmerized by his beauty.
“Oh no, I haven’t gotten the wrong house again have I? My Boss will kill me.”
‘Snap back woman!’ I screamed inside my head.
“No! I mean, no. No you haven’t got the wrong address. Sorry it is just through here, under the stairs. It stopped working last night, failed to ignite and I’m not sure why.”
As he brushed past me, I felt like a giddy teenager again with butterflies swirling around my stomach. He wandered up so confidently to the cupboard and as he opened the door, I couldn’t help but notice his rather well worked biceps. He crouched down to reveal a rather tightly toned gluteus maximus also, or as I used to say – ‘He’s got a fine ass!’ It then dawned on me that I had been observing a little too long and a little too closely for it to be considered standard practice; so I decided to nip upstairs to change into my work outfit, ready to face a late appearance with my head of department.
By the time I had finished, so had he. I felt a little saddened that this fine example of sheer masculinity was about to walk out my front door and it would be very unlikely that I would see him again. Unless of course... something was to spontaneously break again...? No, I couldn’t do that! That’s bordering on creepy, isn’t it?
Well as the days passed, this possibility became more and more tempting and by the third day: I gave into it. Yes, I hit the trip switch that controlled the washing machine and got on the phone. Somehow, I wasn’t too bothered about what my boss would think. I rationalised it, telling myself that I work hard enough and that should show through. Besides, Rakesh ‘stole’ enough to keep us all going without my job. I chose to work purely because I did not spend all those years at University in New Delhi not to put my knowledge to use!
I was inspired to be a doctor because I was determined not to lose someone that I loved again. You see, he was my first and only love. Rajeev was the most kind and sensitive young man you could possibly imagine. He was the one that told me to have faith in myself because I was initially only studying medicine to be a pharmacist. This would be enough to keep my family happy that I had stayed in the field. It was Rajeev that taught me to be bold but gracious and strive for what I wanted. He and I had met in our first years’ at University – He wanted to be a surgeon when it came time to specialise. Unfortunately, he died in his second year of an aneurism. Not long before that, he had been daring enough to ask my family for my hand but it was an outright no. You see, he was a Dalit and I was from the upper end of the caste system. Although it has no legal precedence in India anymore, most families still use it as a means of matrimony – the rich stay with the rich and continue the family line. We were never allowed to get married and my parents removed me from that University and enrolled me in another that was quite some distance away. I received word of his passing through a mutual friend and I was clearly devastated. It was from that day on that I committed myself to my studies and was absolutely determined to make him proud.
I had no choice in marrying Rakesh and by the way I was feeling, it wouldn’t have made much difference whom they chose. I had given my heart away. I knew they were only doing what they thought was best for me and on paper; Rakesh seems like the perfect man that any woman would be lucky to have. In reality though, he was a crook and by the time I found that out; we were already married and I didn’t have the heart to tell my parents how unhappy I was.
And so, it was Thursday and I called. I knew I shouldn’t as I knew my intensions but I just couldn’t help myself. I saw something in him that I hadn’t seen before and it wasn’t just lust. I brushed it off as infatuation but called anyway.
The bell rang – my tummy did a summersault. I took a moment, took a deep breath and checked my hair in the mirror. This was the first time since having children that I had worn make up and I raked out my ‘bum jeans’ and teamed them up with a sophisticated dress shirt – with a few buttons open at the neck line. For fashion purposes only of course...
I answered the door ready to cast my eyes upon the man of my week’s fantasies and desires – only to find a semi-balding, 40 something year old man who appeared to have eaten to many pies; to put it lightly. Was I being just a smidge shallow? Possibly. But still! I had spent this long getting ready for some flirtation and had prepared myself to feel sexy again. Instead, I am faced with this. Although this gentleman hadn’t known my intensions for his younger colleague, I was absolutely humiliated that I had even contemplated such a thing! I had been abundantly ludicrous and I darn well should be ashamed!
The less attractive man’s eyes went straight to my breasts as a little suppressed smirk came over his face. I instantly grabbed a cardigan from the hooks behind the door and covered up. I felt so embarrassed and in turn decided never to pull a stunt like that again!
Jonny (as I later learnt was his name) soon left after advising me that somehow my trip switch had gone arrays. My, indeed that was a shocker – I thanked him for coming and eagerly searched for the nearest rock to climb under as the door closed behind him. Not to mention that this emergency call-out had cost me sweet something that Rakesh was sure to enquire about. As if we needed to watch the pennies! We were living very comfortably, but that was just who he was.
I ran to the pharmacy to collect Jyoti’s medicine before picking her and her younger sister up from school. Seeing as I had the rest of the afternoon off anyways, I cancelled Brenda the nanny and decided to make a trip of it to see my little angels. I hadn’t had time to change and so I arrived at the school gates looking far more glamorous than usual. Vanita ran up to me shouting:
“Mummy, mummy, I want you to meet my new friend! His name is Aksha and he beat up this boy for me today! The boy was shouting names at me, calling me a Paki and he just walked up to him and punched him!”
“It’s her new boyfriend!” Stated Jyoti, like the typical teasing sister as she approached with the new comer to the school.
“Wow... em... that’s nice Vanita, but remember violence isn’t the answer. Sometimes it is best just to ignore such narrow minded people. And Jyoti, don’t tease your sister, it’s not nice. Have I not taught you better than that?”
My lecture was interrupted by a mildly familiar voice calling on the little boy. I turned around to see that it was none other than the very attractive workman. Darn it! That means he’s married. Not that I could have acted on my many erotic impulses towards him anyways, but it makes it far more wrong to fantasise about him now. He started to take steady, confident paces towards me and my girls to collect Aksha. As he approached, those butterflies came back tenfold and got stronger, the closer he came. He introduced himself as Laal – this is Hindi for the colour red, but is a popular name in the lower classes. Red, the colour of love, passion, anger, lust. My goodness, how I was longing to be in his strong embrace. I again came to realise that I had been staring too long in the silence after his introduction and decided it was time to give my name: Alka, Dr Alka Rakesh Gouj. He recognised me also and cracked a joke about my boiler and asked,
“Couldn’t your husband sort that out in a jiffy?”
I made some cynical remark about my husband but decided it was best not elaborate due to the rather small ears that were listening. We said our goodbyes – much to my dismay – and agreed that it was time to take our children home.
Our next few chance meetings were to destroy our current worlds’ and throw them together to produce some mish mash of craziness that we were to come to call love. If this part of our story was re-written, I wonder what my life would read.
Laal Kumar Akodia
I looked at
our wedding photo one last time before putting it into the attic with the rest
of our marital memories. She left me to cope with Aksha two years ago as she
suddenly decided to run off into the arms of some rich European – Marco - A
rich Italian from the North of Italy. But at least I had my son, whom I know I
need to put this pain behind me.
It has been
difficult being a single father but also very rewarding. I get to watch my son
grow up and have the example of taking responsibility for your family. I have
never shied away from my duties, why would I start now. However, a few
months ago I decided it was time for a change. A fresh start, away from London.
So I sold the house and bought a new one with the money. That seems like a
reasonable thing does it not? Not if you can’t keep your son in a school for
more than two months it’s not.
Aksha just can’t seem to settle in or make any friend’s at any school around here. Today, I enrolled him in yet another school after his final exclusion from the last one for, ‘incessant violent behaviour’. I’m surprised this school even took him considering his back ground. I just wish he would make some decent friends and ignore the taunting idiots. They get more than bargain for when they name call around my Aksha. There’s so much anger still locked up inside him since Jasmine left. He’ll take it out on anyone that he can come with an excuse for who ‘deserves it’. I just don’t know what to do with him anymore – if he messes up this one then we are out of options and I can’t keep getting calls from the school to leave work. Yes, I got fired from my second job since moving here. My boss called me in to give the bad news yesterday:
“You’re a good worker – when your here... And that’s the problem. This seems to be few and far between even though your contract says full-time. Do you see where I’m coming from? I’ve given you all the chances I can mate, but I can’t keep refunding customers because you’re late or run out on a job. People want their things fixed, end of. I’m sorry Laal, but I’m going to have to let you go.”
I left the office upset but not at all surprised. I did see where he was coming from, he has a business to run at the end of the day and can’t afford for me to screw up his custom. I thought I was in the clear when Monday morning’s job didn’t report me late but I guess the afternoon one had more than enough to say. I had been running around frantically trying to meet with the head teacher to try and change her decision to expel him as well as find someone to watch him while I went to work.
It was three o’clock now and nearly time for Aksha getting out of school, so I jumped in my old scruffy white van and drove up to his school. I caught sight of the customer from Monday morning, she was looking equally stressed standing there waiting but also a little more ready for the world. She was eagerly showing off her figure in some tight fitting jeans which particularly stole my attention, as you can imagine. My eyes were drifting over her figure when my thoughts were interrupted by the school bell.
I was shocked but happy to see Aksha walking out with not one but two little girls. That’s my boy! A future ladies’ man, just like his dad used to be. I clocked my opportunity to approach this beautiful Asian Goddess when I noticed that these two little girls belonged to her. I knew I shouldn’t be trying to grab at the forbidden fruits but I had to. I hadn’t connected with a woman since Jasmine and the time had come, it was now or never. So, I, realising that I was actually rather nervous of the prospect of approaching this woman, decided to fake it. Yes, men do it too. Women don’t find blundering idiots all that attractive. I had to be confident but not arrogant. Charming but not cheesy and most of all relate to her on a human level. We both had a common interest at the moment, our children. Now to find out if she’s married... The plan was humorously throw it out there in the hope than she was a heart broken divorcee ready to move on also. Obviously I didn’t expect her to say that but I could read between the lines, if you know what I mean. Instead what the conversation unfortunately went like this:
“Bet you feel daft paying a call out charge for that boiler issue? It was just low on oil love. Bet if your husband was home he could’ve sorted that out in a jiffy!”
“I think my husband is far too busy counting his scrooge marked pennies at work to even notice what a boiler is, never mind if it’s running low on oil!” she followed with a sarcastic laugh before realising that her children were looking up at her a little confused. She still spoke with a sexy but eloquent accent, so I knew she wasn’t born and raised here.
I am about the third generation in this country, and so I’m stuck with the very intellectual accent of Hackney, London. I could sense her discomfort of flirting with another man around her children and suggested that we get our kids back home to get started on their homework or something like that.
I had no idea how much this hard exteriorsed woman with this strange ability to utterly intrigue me, would soon have my heart on a platter and my mind in a meat mincer. Nothing to follow was ever what I would have imagined it to become, least of all – the final outcome.
Alka Rakesh Gouj
On the journey home, I couldn’t stop thinking about him... – Laal that is. The object of my desires was he, with his captivating smile and those eyes. I could get lost in those eyes - Stolen away, into this world of pleasure and freedom. I was returned rapidly however, to reality with the sharp shock of Joyti launching Vanita’s dolly across and into the foot compartment of the front passenger seat. I had to snap out of it! I wasn’t a school girl or even a young, free and single woman. I had to keep two rather boisterous girls in check which was no easy task at the best of times! I couldn’t afford to go swanning off into ‘la la land’, least of all after school hours. I was a mother and that had to be my first priority. And so, I brushed off my silly little day dream and decided it was time to keep one eye on the road and the other on the two rivalling siblings in the back seat.
We arrived home and I told the girls to go upstairs and get changed, tidy their rooms and come down ready for me to help them with their homework as we always did. As they took as long as possible upstairs so as to procrastinate the task of doing their home work; I put away my coat and sat down at the computer to check my emails.
As I sifted through the junk, I was not at all shocked to find the third email of this week from my loving husband to read that he was working late yet again... Wow, that boss of his has him working hard – or is it just that assistant of his. Hmm, I wonder which is the most realistic... As if it wasn’t obvious! He even chose her to accompany him to the latest corporate function, not his wife. No, you see she had expressed an interest in networking with other officials and he was merely looking out for her best interests - on a professional level only of course. Sure.
A little further down the inbox list was an email from someone I was actually interested in hearing from: my father. He told me how the new surgery was getting on and updated me on the latest Dalit news. He knew how much I liked to stay up to date on such events since Rajeev’s passing and in a way I think he feels very guilty about the decision he allowed my mother to force him into supporting. You see - Dalits, due to the prejudice enflamed by the caste system and India’s current political situation, are amongst some of the most persecuted groups in India still to this present day. Both my father and I knew how hard Rajeev had worked to get to University and the struggles his family had faced but against the odds he had made it. Or partly at least, before his life so prematurely ended. My father then asked the run of the mill questions he always did about work, Rakesh and the girls. I replied positively as I always did and wished blessings upon him from the gods in the hope that his new surgery would be prosperous. Obviously, giving particular mention to Lakshmi; the goddess of prosperity, wealth and beauty.
The girls at the moment of my clicking send, thundered down the stairs arguing about something or other as per. Jyoti collected the mail as she always did before joining her sister and I at the ‘study table’. I know I may seem a little strict but given my upbringing and some of the things I have seen on the streets of Old and New Delhi, it has made me realise what a blessing that education is and how it can transform someone’s life. Unlike my mother, I see it as a basic human right for a child to be given this blessing. She somehow believes that those who are deserving of such a blessing are born into the right caste. This, in all honesty disgusts me, much like many other opinions this cold hearted woman holds. I sincerely cannot get my head around a logic that permits the suffering and poverty of innocent children on our streets. No matter where in the world it may be. I just couldn’t imagine my little girls being faced with the bleak future that awaits the children of those ‘in line’ (prostitution).
Jyoti hands me the mail with a self-congratulating look on her beautiful little face. Two are standard bills, but the third it from the school. It reads:
It is my pleasure to invite you to our up and coming parent evening...’ etc, etc. Until I notice the lines that read:
‘After you have been given a sufficient amount time with your child’s teacher to discuss their progress, there will be a time of teas and coffees in the common area for parental interaction.’
Parental interaction. I know I shouldn’t have, but the first thought that came to my head was laughing over a coffee with Laal. He seemed like the humorous type and it had been so long since someone had really made me laugh a truly heartfelt laugh. And so, I counted down the days until I had the perfect excuse to encounter him again. Hopefully this time, I would be able to conceal my blatant wondering eyes. Maybe this time, I could stay focussed on what was coming out of his lips instead of thinking only of kissing them... We shall see...
Laal Kumar Akodia
I had to face the fact that the first of several was to come. I had to sit at the opposite end of the desk for someone to tell me what a ‘troubled child’ I had. It crushed me just the same every time. You would think I’d get used to hearing it, but as a parent; you never do.
Aksha wasn’t a ‘bad kid’! I saw the lovely, sweet and playful side to him that all kids have. Why was he only like this at home though? I was dreading his teenage years already and he’s only six!
I decided a shirt and tie was what’s best for the occasion, somehow I doubt they would agree that he had a good influence at home if I turned up in some oil stains scruffs. I felt so nervous, almost as if I was going to the biggest interview of my life. All that kept going through my mind was how I should react when they tell me what a horror my child is. I have to be mature, concerned and almost agree with them even though I know deep down he is no such thing! I can’t be offended or become aggressive, gee that would look good. I have to just sit there and nod, like an emotionally detached buffoon in order to conceal my true feelings.
I got him ready and gave him a superman to the car. I couldn’t let him know how I was feeling or how important tonight was for his future in education. I had to keep the trip fun and hope that he didn’t assault any children in the play area while I have the above conversation with his teacher.
We pulled up in my father’s car. I also decided against the van... not a good look or the best for ‘child safety’ in the eyes of many. Even if it did have the same legal requirements of a seat belt etc as any other vehicle. We trotted inside and wandered up to the sign in desk. This stereo-typical woman was sitting behind it, with her glasses sitting at the very end of her nose which made her look at us from the most absurd angle. I always wondered why receptionists always wear their glasses like that, especially school receptions for some reason. It’s not like they could see out of them all too well, being that they are all the way down there anyways! So either take them off or wear them like a normal person darn it!
However, some wrinkly old woman’s spectacle wearing preferences were not why came; so I simply took the 7:45pm - room 2 slip that she gave me and moved on through to the waiting area.
I scanned the room, subtly of course, wondering if that intriguing Asian woman would attend. I was surprised to find that she had not. Pity, she had struck me as the type to take these sorts of events rather seriously. In fact, she struck me as the type to take most things rather seriously – given her very ‘I have a lot to do and you are wasting my time’ look that she had had on her face both times that I had encountered her. 15 minutes passed and still no show. It was time for my dreaded 15 minutes with Aksha’s teacher...
I went into the room marked with the number 2 and down in front of a woman wearing a name tag that read: ‘Miss Fallowfields’. Despite the name tag she felt it necessary to introduce herself anyways. I obliged and insisted that she call me Laal instead of Mr Kumar Akodia.
My fears were all bubbling at the surface, anticipating the words I thought I knew were going to leave her mouth. She opened her mouth to speak but I instantly interjected:
“Listen, I know that my son has some behavioural issues and I am trying my best to rectify them and I had hoped that a fresh start at your school would help. I realise it probably hasn’t thus far, but I beg you to keep him on and give him a chance. I am very willing to work with the school in terms of addressing his behaviour and really hope that we can work through this as a team over the next few months. How... how would you feel about that?” I nervously finished my speech and hoped that I had been at least partly successful.
“Actually Mr Kumar Akodia, Laal if you prefer – I wasn’t going to go in that direction at all. You have a very intelligent young boy on your hands that has a gift for writing. I’ve never seen anything like it from a child this age. Yes, he is a fiery little one at times but he has made a good friend that is steering him in the right direction,” She gives a little laugh as she continues, “She gives him into trouble if he sticks up for her using violence but secretly she loves the compliment. You may have a little Romeo and Juliet on your hands!” She smiles again.
I was shocked but so very thankful. I couldn’t believe that my son had made a good impression on a teacher for the first time since Jasmine left.
She spoke again, “Granted, he has been in a few scuffles but nothing too serious. The main thing I wish to work with you on is encouraging his gift for writing at home. Give him lot’s and lot’s of praise when you read his work and get him to write the poems inside Christmas cards and Birthday cards that you can make together. Get creative with him, he will produce some magnificent work and you can get a glimpse of what I see every day at school. Most parents are unaware of what their children can do and this can come across as unsupportive to a naive child. Of course, I understand that you are not unsupportive, I just think it would be great if you could get involved in his passion as well.”
“Wow, well that was not what I was expecting but I am so glad that you feel like that. I have always known what a sweet child he is but it has been hard to make teachers see it due to his previous behaviour. And I can assure you that I will be taking your advice! Is there any work of his from school that I could maybe take a look at?”
She hesitated, “There is this latest piece that he refused to read out to the class. Only myself and Vanita were allowed to hear it. Vanita is that little girl I was telling you about. This may be a little upsetting for you though. I guess it depends if you feel ready?”
I took a moment and thought, this is my chance. This is my chance to really be able to empathise with my son and see how he is hurting so I can truly comfort him. As his father, it was my duty. I nodded and she looked through his folder to unclip the latest entry.
‘Dear Mummy, by Aksha Kumar Akodia
Where did you go Mummy?
You’re not coming back,
I can feel it in my tummy.
When Daddy leaves after story time,
Because each night,
This time used to be yours and mine.
I know Daddy only wants to make it better,
But every night you’re gone,
My pillow gets wetter and wetter.
The tears keep coming Mummy,
I hit out at these kids,
To hide my tears,
To hide all of my fears.
They hurt my friends too,
But I’ll protect them to keep them,
Even though couldn’t keep you.
I failed you Mother.
How could anyone,
Love a boy too weak,
His own family together?
I keep watching the clock,
See what time Daddy leaves.
He gets called out of work for me,
And I can see,
That he is there for me.
Mummy, I don’t know how to say,
That even if he is there every day,
I miss you still,
I miss how we used to play.
I don’t want to make Daddy upset,
You know he cried the day you left,
Never seen Daddy cry before,
And Mummy why did I hear him call you a whore?
What did you do Mummy to make him so mad?
I’ve never seen him so angry,
But at the same time so sad.
Was it me? Did I make you go?
Did I do something wrong?
Please come back Mummy,
You’ve been gone two years too long.’
I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe that I was balling like a little boy in front of my son’s teacher but I couldn’t hold it in. The night Jasmine left, I did cry and I did shout at her on the phone not thinking if my son was sitting on the stairs listening. I had put him to bed but when I went to get a drink of whiskey to settle my nerves after my explosion down the phone at Jasmine, I found him curled up on the stairs weeping. He just kept saying that he wanted his mummy and all I could say back was that I’m here. I hoped it would be enough, that I could be enough. But I wasn’t. Aksha was always a mummy’s boy. Not now though, from now on I was going to invest as much time as possible in my son and whatever he liked to do. Whether it was football, basketball, karate or a parent child writers’ class. I had never thought about writing before as an emotional outlet but my son was all I needed for inspiration.
I thanked her through a croaked voice with tear filled eyes and made a quick exit for the men’s room. I had to clean myself up before I approached the signing desk to fill in the time out section next to my name. I didn’t want to stay to socialise with people I had no interest in. That Alka woman wasn’t here which meant that Aksha wouldn’t have had her wonderful little daughter to play with anyway. She must be a good mother to have raised such a good influence on my son. This made me even more curious about her. Despite whatever schedule she was running on, she clearly invested plenty of time in her kids.
My thoughts were yet again interrupted as her two daughter came bursting through the door with Alka following. She looked even more stressed than our previous meeting and even a hint of being upset. She was given a slip for 8:15pm room 2 when she walked up to the desk, standing so elegantly beside me. I scored out my time out, hoping she hadn’t noticed and eagerly awaited to accompany her to the waiting room. My earlier thoughts were confirmed, there was nothing wrong with that old woman’s site! She instantly picked up on the very casual scoring out that I had done and gave me a knowing look with a slight smirk.
© Aiysha Jebali, All rights reserved
Stay tuned!! There is more to come! Let me know what you think thus far. Please, critique away!