Today would be different. She knew it in her heart. Their new paying guest was coming any moment. Harjinder felt an excitement building inside her. Her mind was at a tandem with her heart. While the former mocked at the naivety of depending on a stranger, her heart felt a strange joy. Things will work out now for the better. She just knew it. She smiled at the promise of a beautiful day and slowly got up, careful not to put pressure on her swollen legs.
Her body felt heavy. But that was to be expected- the last 2 trimester had not been easy. The baby kicked inside her. Little devil. Knocking her mother off even before she became a tangible being! Harjinder lovingly patted her baby bump and then waddled downstairs. This time, the swelling on her feet was more than her previous pregnancies.
The hot water bubbled in a pan on the gas top as she cleared away the dishes cluttered in the sink. Michael aka Mahindra Singh, her husband, was very particular about cleanliness. Too particular in fact. Harjinder, was from a small village in Punjab and didn’t know any other way of life. Looking after her home and her husband- and in that order, kept her tied to the house. She hardly ventured out and much to the curiosity of her neighbors, she never spoke to any of the ladies in the neighborhood. No one found it strange. For often, Indian girls would shy away from the British ladies, till they did not grasp the language. So no one bothered her for there was hardly any Indian families in the vicinity.
But she felt happy today. Someone new was coming over. A new face might be the augmentation of a new beginning. She wondered if Michael would like this new paying guest. She fervently hoped he would.
Just then, the calling bell rang. Nervously, she wiped her hands on her apron and went to open the door. A slim girl in her twenties stepped in with a bright smile on her face.
"Hi! I'm Rewa."
"Yes, yes. I was expecting you. Do come in.”
Rewa stepped inside a brightly lit living room shutting the main door behind her.
Rewa fell in love with the bright, sunny room. The rays filtering through the lacy curtains kissed her cheeks and the breeze assailed her senses with a floral scent. She walked up to the window and was surprised at the pandemonium of hibiscus the garden below boasted of.
Dinner brought out many memories of home. Her mom’s pickle and a pleasant company to chat with while munching the home made methi ka paratha. Life in the Uk did deprive one from their mom’s cooking and the daily rib-tickling jokes of the siblings. As the two ladies were warming up, a young man walked in, in a white driver’s uniform. Rewa instantly warmed up to those twinkling eyes as Harjinder introduced him as Micheal, her husband.
As Rewa merged into Harjinder’s and Micheal’s family life, she too had not expected certain things to change in her life. Every day Harjinder took very good care of her. She washed Rewa’s clothes, changed her bedsheets when Rewa was in the office and every night Rewa returned, Harjinder had piping, hot dinner ready for her. Rewa protested. But Harjinder would just smile and ignore her. Rewa soon gave up, albeit with a feeling of guilt, as she accepted being pampered by a pregnant lady.
Life would have continued like that had she not got a transfer to Nottingham. She had been waiting for this position for a long time, so she couldn’t not refuse. But, she had not expected such an unusual reaction from Harjinder. Her landlady couldn’t stop her tears. Her pleas were heartwenching as she begged Rewa not to go.
"But why Harjinder?" Rewa asked, confused by the reaction. "I'll come over every six months and visit you.”
"It won't be the same Rewa," Harjinder's voice quivered, her eyes reflecting an ocean of sadness. But Rewa had a career to think of and with a heavy heart, she let Michael drop her to the airport.
A very glum Michael.
"I’m really sorry to see you go! You did bring out the best in me.You were like the sister I never had. But now…"
"What Michael bhai, even you are making me emotional," Rewa said, a small lump in her throat. She hardened her heart against the desolate frame as he stood near his taxi, waving her goodbye. Rewa felt a bit puzzled as she caught something peculiar on his face. A strange fear veiled behind the charming smile.
Six months later.
Rewa came back to her head office at Maidenhead. She tried calling Harjinder but after the first call, she never picked up the phone. Rewa thought that it might be “out of sight and out of mind syndrome”.
But one Sunday, curiosity got better of her. She hired a car and drove over to Harjinder’s house. The same neatly, trimmed hibiscus bushes surrounded the house. Colorful blooms of varied colors dotted the courtyard. After a moment’s hesitation, she rang the bell.
Harjinder, pale and tall stood before her, blocking her entry. "Yes?"
"Harjinder? Don't you remember me?" Rewa asked, shocked at the ghostly, pale face of her dear friend.
"What do you want now?"
Rewa was shocked at her rudeness. "What's wrong?" She whispered, too surprised to ask anything else.
"Nothing, please leave."
Before Rewa could comply, Michael drove up. Seeing him, Harjinder turned around and went back inside her house. At least Michael looked pleased to see Rewa. "Sister, you’re back!"
Rewa gave him a weak smile, too embarrassed to pretend otherwise. "It's okay, Michael bhai. We'll meet some other time” She walked past him but then stopped, “how’s the baby?”
"We’ve lost it!" Michael said quietly, his lips –curved into a painful smile, touched Rewa’s heart. He turned and walked away but not before Rewa saw a sliver of tear trailing down his cheeks.
Rewa drove aimlessly, her mind in turmoil. How could the months she had spent with Harjinder be a myth? The summer sun was still high, as Rewa again parked in front of Harjinder’s house again. She would have driven away, had not the door burst open and Harjinder rushed out, wearing a flimsy gown which accentuated her waif life appearance She ran wildly, uncaring, unseeing –her long tresses flying wildly behind her. Rewa rushed towards her yelling her name. She managed to catch up with Harjinder and spun around. Traces of blood, mingled with tears as she looked wildly at Rewa, not recognizing her.
"What is happening here, Harjinder?" Rewa screamed, not caring if the neighbors were disturbed.
It took a few shakes from Rewa before Harjinder’s eyes focused on her. She broke down into loud sobs.
"Wh…y do y…ou care? You le…ft me with thi..s mon….ster."
"Michael bhai? A monster?"
Harjinder slumped on the pavement. Rewa sat down beside her, her legs were shaking at the enormity of the situation she was forced to be a part of.
"Your Michael bhai is a monster. No one guesses it, for he shows only his charming personality to everyone. In fact, he is obsessed by the idea that people should only see him as a good person. But, when we're alone, he drinks a lot and then he changes. He cannot even be reasoned with when he starts hitting. Four miscarriages and still his abusiveness continues.”
Rewa was shocked. "But why are you angry with me?"
"Because you left me." Harjinder said quietly, her sobs subsided to mere hiccups. "He is well-behaved when we have paying guests. If you had stayed a few months longer, it might have saved my baby."
That night in Rewa's diary:
21st of June, 2010
How can I recognize people? Who would have thought that the charming Michael is a monster? Harjinder belongs to a small village in Punjab. Her parents had dreams of marrying her to an NRI. Wasn't the dream itself wrong? Or will Harjinder’s babies be always like a Hibiscus flower. Blooming only for a day?