(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
opening the front door, she slipped off her shoes, hoping Mother wouldn’t know
she was back for as long as possible. The doormat was gritty under her bare
feet, and she grimaced. It should really be dusted out, but she didn’t feel
like doing it. Call it her own little bit of rebellion; Mother never came down
any longer, so she wouldn’t know that it was dirty.
The door opened silently to the pressure of her fingers. She
kept the hinges oiled meticulously since she couldn’t risk a squeak alerting
Mother that she was back. This way, if she tiptoed around and was careful, it
might even be an hour or two of freedom before she would have to announce
herself to Mother, upstairs in her bedroom.
Today she was lucky. She put her shoes in the rack, hung up
her coat on the rack by the door and walked to the kitchen, where she made
herself a cup of tea. Standing at the kitchen window, she stared out at the
back garden. It was beginning to get weedy, and she knew that if she didn’t get
down to a session of gardening soon Mother, whose bedside window overlooked the
garden, might decide on chastisement.
Near the wall on the far side of the garden, the car stood,
covered in tarpaulin. She had loved to drive, once, but didn’t dare take it out
now. It had been Mother’s car, still was, really, and she couldn’t risk getting
a scratch on the paintwork. Also, the engine’s noise would tell Mother that she
was back, and she couldn’t risk that.
She didn’t like the commuter train, which was full of the
smell of sweat and other, even less pleasant odours. And only last week she’d
been groped, her nipple twisted through her clothes, but before she could even
turn round in the crush her assailant was gone. No, she didn’t like the train.
But she didn’t exactly have a choice.
Finishing her tea, she padded to the bathroom and slipped
off her clothes. In the mirror she looked herself over and grimaced. Her hair
was stringy, her eyes black holes poked in the pallid flesh of her face. She
looked ten years older than her true age, and felt it, too.
Once her body had been pretty, a long time ago, when the
world had been fresh and new and full of adventure. Those were the days when
she’d been glad to be a young woman, glad of her own budding adolescent sexuality,
and rejoicing in her hopes for the future.
Oh, things hadn’t been all good. There had been
Mother, even then, to deal with, but there had also been Dad. Dad had had been
bad in his own way, with the drinking and the other thing, the thing she
didn’t want to think about, even now. But Dad could be depended on, always, to
take her side when Mother began to lay into her. She had lost count of the
number of beatings Dad had saved her from; and despite the other thing, the
thing she didn’t want to think about, she still had tried her best to be at
home only when Dad was around, so he could save her from Mother.
But then Dad had left. Dad had left in the middle of the
night, silently, without a word. She had gone to sleep, hearing him move about
in the next room, and woken the next morning with a blankness in her head and
no trace of Dad in the house.
They had never heard of him again.
And then there was only Mother, and Mother had declared that
it was the two of them against the world. Mother would keep her safe, and never
let her get into danger. And she, in turn, would keep Mother safe, when the
There would be no boys. There would be no dates. There would
be no escape.
She had never had a moment of real freedom since.
Lying back in the bathtub, she ran her hands over her body
and imagined how easy freedom might be. All she needed, really, was a sharp
blade, and the water would soon run red as she sank into sleep. Since Mother
never came downstairs any longer, it might be a long, long time until anyone
found her, her body drained and empty of blood, already rotting. It would be so
But she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t do it for the same
reason she couldn’t just leave Mother and walk away, as she was tempted to,
every day, at least once or twice. She couldn’t do it because Mother had taken
care of her and kept her safe, and now it was her turn – her duty – to
take care of Mother and keep her safe.
[ Continue to page 2 ]