Moving on to Chapter 1 now - what's happened to Neha after that dreadful phone call?
Catch up with pages 1-5 here.
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Curepipe, Mauritius. Eighteen months later….
“Get out of my way, you stupid little git.”
“I would if I could walk around such a gangly ostrich!”
Suzanne and Rishi, fighting like their lives depended on it. Neha sighed. At least, Kunal didn’t jump into the fray. But her second child didn’t bicker with his siblings because he wasn’t home. Once more.
“God grant me patience,” she murmured like a mantra.
Topsy-turvy. Upside down. Inside out. All of these could now be applied to her life. Rahul had been the one constant in her life since the first day she had set foot in Mauritius after leaving the only life she’d known in London. Removing him from the picture had sent her whole world tumbling down, its very anchor ripped off.
At the time, she had been on the brink of turning thirteen. Upon seeing their handsome, dark-haired and green-eyed neighbour, who’d been seventeen, Neha had known the perfect thing to do would be to become his wife, his everything.
She had succeeded in her plan five years later, after having gotten into the good books of Rahul’s mother by every means possible, and when her sister, whom Rahul had seemed smitten with, had married another man who lived in London.
Nothing had stood in Neha’s way. She’d landed him, married him, given him their first child ten months later. Within the next five years, she had borne him two sons, as well. In short, everything expected of her as a dutiful wife.
So why had it never seemed enough?
Don’t go there. Not again. Taking a turn into the living room, she stopped in front of mantel and its arrangement of dried flowers. She bit her lip, recalling the many pictures displayed there in the past. Family pictures. With Rahul in them.
She’d removed them from this room. The memory of him struck too vivid, too hurtful still, in her heart, to allow his physical likeness to smile back at them through the photos. He remained gone, not much hope of him ever coming back despite the fact he hadn’t been declared officially dead.
She closed her eyes as the agony slid through her again. Those tough days…. The children had been so matter-of-fact back in South Africa. Their father had died, so why not face the facts already, they’d asked. Had their dad been so much an inconsequential presence in their lives? How could she not have noticed?
Their reaction had shocked her, but at a loss herself, she hadn’t known how to handle the particular state of affairs. Grief counselling hadn’t seemed to help, either, not succeeding in bridging past the children’s blunt and resigned attitude.
Suzanne had cried. Her daughter had gone through a Goth and punk rock phase, then thankfully, had eased back into her baby doll and girly-girl carefree existence. Still, one couldn’t miss the depth of pain sometimes reflected in the teen’s big brown eyes.
Rishi had caused her some worry. His grades had suffered, and for once, the bright pupil and budding genius had been nothing more than a conventional student getting average grades. To this day, he still hadn’t reached the previous heights he had touched in his academics. But otherwise, the boy didn’t seem much affected, and she kept a watchful eye over him.
The one who gave her the most affliction had been Kunal. When one day she received a call from the police informing her her son had been involved in a backstreet fight, she’d learnt of the extent of the emotional damage on him. On the sly, he’d started to train into Muay Thai, the deadly kickboxing martial art from Thailand, and had busted a local gang member with his “skills.”
That’s when she’d gotten a grip on herself and her family, and ditched the guilt plaguing her whenever she recalled how she’d, for one instant, wanted out of her marriage. People always said, “Be careful what you wish for.” She knew it all too well. Within a couple of weeks, she’d packed them up, put the house for sale, and come back to Mauritius, to their family home belonging to Rahul’s family for generations.
The doors to the bedrooms upstairs slammed one after the other, and Neha jumped, eyes popping wide open. Quiet. Thank goodness. She had no idea how long it would last, but even a few seconds represented a luxury she’d grab with open hands.
Gravel crunched outside, and a knock sounded at the back door. She reached the kitchen as the frosted-glass panel swung wide open and two women walked in.
Quiet just went out the window. Neha groaned. Her two sisters weren’t favourite people on her list when she craved some peace. The two could talk the hind leg off a donkey all while Neha remained there like the odd one out. Mind, she loved her sisters, but she’d never had the easy camaraderie the other two shared.
“She hasn’t got any pot on the stove, so I won,” Diya, her younger, petite sister, said.
The devil’s spawn. Diya characterized every mother’s worst nightmare, a tomboy who’d had no respect and no concern for rules and propriety when she was growing up. At twenty-eight, married and a parent to four boys, Diya still inspired fright and tremors in their mother and in both her sisters, as well as the poor soul who’d had the ill-fated luck to fall in love with her and marry her. No one knew what she could be up to at any given time.
“Doesn’t mean she remembered there’s dinner at Mum’s tonight,” Lara, her older sister, replied.
“Dinner at Mum’s tonight?” Neha squeaked.
Sod it, she had completely forgotten how they’d all go eat at her parents’ place on the next public holiday. Today.
“Aha!” Lara exclaimed. “I won.”
Neha stood straighter as the two women settled on the tall bar stools at the kitchen counter. Both had dressed in jeans and tailored shirts, but while Diya’s looked like a rabid cat had attacked the fabrics with its claws, Lara’s resembled an outfit straight out of a fashion magazine. With her understated makeup, Lara epitomized the perfect modern woman confident in herself despite the fact she lay one year short of turning forty. A far cry from Diya, with her sparkly blue eyeliner, and Neha, with her comfortable skirt and cotton blouse.
And that’s where it hurt. Diya couldn’t and wouldn’t give a damn, for anything, and Lara effortlessly achieved perfection in everything. The effortlessly bit made Neha cringe. Why couldn’t she, with all the exertion and struggle she put into her life, manage such flawlessness? Lara had a husband—a rich and successful doctor!—as crazy about her today as the first day he set eyes on her; she’d always been expected to be acquainted with great career heights, and her position as CEO of one of the most powerful companies in the Indian Ocean wouldn’t contradict this. And the eldest of the Hemant girls had picture-perfect children who also remembered their manners whether with family or strangers alike—
“Earth to Neha,” Diya said, waving a hand in front of Neha’s eyes.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “You’re alone? Where’s the gang?”
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From Mauritius with love,