Stories

Revenge in Honour

These two chapters were written for my final creative assignment for a Creative Writing module. The novel is named “Revenge in Honour”.

ONE

With the sun bathing the window from the outside, Rick’s face outlined with the rays as he gazed out at the empty road, like a small boy yearning to leave his room and hit the streets with his skateboard. Clad in his favourite maroon sweatshirt and cargo pants, he looked more matured, like a father of two, but as he turned and smiled to my direction, blood rushed to my cheeks as he revealed his boyish dimpled grin.

“You’re awake?” Rick grabbed the chair and moved it closer to the bed. “Any weird dreams this time?”

I rolled my eyes and switched my gaze over to the dresser. Squinting at the unusual red package, I asked in my broken voice. “What’s that?”

Rick immediately brought it over and placed it at the corner of the bed.

“It’s from your mom,” he looked into my eyes as he tried to decipher my feelings. “She finally wants you home.”

I pushed the blanket off my body and sat up with my eyes glued to the package. While I tried to fight my tears back, I blurted out, “But I don’t need her.” I got off the bed and the intense pain in my right ankle forced me to lose my balance but Rick quickly grabbed me around the waist.

“Sit down Zoya,” he chided. “Why am I even here in your apartment then?”

I looked down, feeling embarrassed, while he helped me with the crutches.

“Now slowly walk to the washroom. I’ll wait here.”

***

“Who would tell Mom about my accident?” I closed the greeting card Mom had sent along with the gift, which happened to be a huge hamper of calcium products, including a how-to piece on “Making Haldi wala Dood”[1].

“She said in here ‘Get well soon. Hope your leg recovers fast.’ Did you by any chance ring her?” I turned to him.

Rick looked to my direction with a frown plastered on his forehead and then back to the front. None of us spoke for the next five minutes. The engine of his Porsche, at least, accompanied our silent journey to the University. I was beginning to relish the peaceful moment when a sudden horn from the back broke the serenity. Rick looked up to the rearview mirror and smiled.

“It’s your secret admirer, Zoya,” he chuckled and I looked into the passenger side mirror, only to see the blue pick-up truck flashing its headlights repeatedly.

“It’s not SECRET anymore Rick!” I snapped and crossed my arms angrily.

“Come on! Don’t be a spoiled sport. How difficult has it been for anyone to even have a crush on you anyway?” Rick continued to smile as he swerved the car into parking. He switched off the engine and looked at me.

“Okay, I’m sorry. I was just joking. Can we go now? I have class.”

I let go a deep breath. “It’s not class you rushing for, is it?”

“You know me well,” Rick winked and got out of the car to get my crutches.

When will he ever understand my feelings for … “You need an invitation to come out?” He broke my thoughts. I rolled my eyes and pushed myself out of the car.

***

Apart from the consistent stares from Danny, whom Rick claims was still my SECRET admirer, my phone kept buzzing throughout lecture that day. It was quite puzzling as the only ones who would call me were my classmates and Rick. Jane, Austin and Diya were all buried in their books a couple of seats away from me and Rick was definitely flirting away with Maha in Chemistry lab. As Mr. Josh turned to face the whiteboard, I quickly fished out my phone and was momentarily stunned at the caller ID. It read, “Mom”. I cut the line and dropped the phone deep into my bag, hoping to never feel the vibration again.

The bell rang and everyone rushed out of class. Summer break had finally begun.

“I’m going home tomorrow,” I heard a classmate say.

“Oh me too! We’re going for a cruise!” said another.

“I’m gonna work my ass off this break. My mother says I need to pay for my own car.” This went on until Austin came by.

“Hey my Indian sister!” Austin called. “What’s up for the break?” Jane and Diya came over and sat beside me.

“Uh… nothing,” I pointed to my bandaged right ankle. “Maybe I’d go ice skating in my dreams.”

Austin laughed and gave a soft punch on my shoulder. “Sarcastic Indian. You waiting for Rick I assume?”

“Yea, I’ll just slack here. You guys carry on.”

Austin gave me a tight hug and left the room, but the two girls stayed on to accompany me till Rick arrived.

“You girls should just leave, you know,” I suggested with a humble tone but the truth was, I needed some time by myself.

“Why? Rick’s gonna take awhile because of that bimbo?” Diya tilted her head towards me.

“What an arse,” Jane joined.

“Well, I don’t know but it’s summer. You two should just get going!”

“Fine. But I’ll buzz you later okay sweetie!” We did a group hug and I saw the two leave the class finally. I tucked my seat in and buried my head in my arms on the table, and began to think. Why was Mom being so inviting now? Why does she even want me back… after five years? She really missed me?

Images of my childhood began to flash into memory. My small bedroom had the least amount of furniture — just a bed and short stool. My books were strewn all over the room I found myself sitting on the cold marble floor, completing my English homework on the stool, which used to be my makeshift study table. I even managed to leave a small space at the corner to put my pencil holder, truly imagining it as the table like my brothers’. My youngest brother occupied the room opposite mine. He was seated on his black office chair, with his legs on his study table — a proper one —and rattled on with his cellphone plugged at the side. He caught me staring when he turned forty-five degrees. Then he mumbled something into the phone and stood up. With his eyes still fixated on me, he walked over to his room door and barked.

“Stop staring into my room with your filthy eyes, you wretch!” He slammed the door shut and Mom came into the room with a wooden ruler seconds after.

“Stop disturbing your brother!” She yelled and began to swing the ruler on my arm repeatedly. I cried for her to stop but she didn’t. She kept going and I kept crying. Suddenly I felt my shoulder being grabbed and my name being called. It got louder and louder, and I forced my eyes open.

“Zoya.” Rick called. “Wake up Zoya.”

It took awhile for my brain to register me back to reality. I lifted my head from my arms and noticed my damped sleeves. Rick looked intently at me.

“What happened Zoya?”

I realised I had been crying as I recalled my horrifying childhood days. Tears never seemed to vanish at the thought of it. I used the sleeves of my hoodie to wipe my tears while Rick locked his gaze on me. It was tough to look at him in the eye and speak. So I busied myself by packing my things into my bag.

“Nothing, really. I think I yawned too much.”

Rick turned away and grabbed my crutches.

“Zoya,” he said. “I’ve known you for the last five years.” I swallowed. Failing to hold back my tears, they began to pour out incessantly and I covered my face with my palms. I felt Rick’s arms around me as he pulled me closer to him.

“Mom had called,” I mumbled after awhile.

“You answered?”

I pushed myself away and stared at the table, while shaking my head to his question. “I don’t know what she wants.”

Rick held my hand tightly. “Let’s have something to eat first.”

I nodded.

***

“Hey Rick,” the girl’s voice from behind was too familiar. Why must she be here!

“Maha!” Rick’s face glowed with delight at the sight of her, while I scowled. “Didn’t know you were here.”

Maha came over and sat next to him. Come on. Leave us alone for once.

“Hi Zoya,” Maha greeted me. I smiled and looked back to my nachos sandwich. “Did I interrupt by any chance?”

As I was just about to give a nasty answer, Rick kicked my left leg and shut me up.

“No, of course not. You company is amazing,” he said and they began to stare at each other’s eyes. Throw in the saree and kurta, bring a coconut tree and you’d have your perfect Bollywood dance routine ready to blow your breath away!

Irritated, I focused on my nachos sandwich, hoping that the food would take the pain and jealousy away. Just then, Maha’s phone rang and she began to speak into it while Rick fixed his angry eyes on me. He mouthed the words “BE NICE”. I rolled my eyes and attacked my sandwich.

“Sorry guys, my mother’s bringing me to the parlour now. I’m so excited!” Maha shrieked. “Zoya, you should get your mother to bring you to the parlour too! I think your hair needs trimming.”

I stared at her as she left. Number one. She insulted my hair. Number two. She brought the topic of “mother” into the picture. Mother-fucking bitch.

“Hey, you okay?” Rick asked as he leaned forward. “Sorry, she shouldn’t have…”

“Cut it out Rick,” I snapped. “Why are you even wasting your time with girls like her? I’ve told you so many times that she’s not the one!”

Rick kept quiet.

“If she really likes you, she wouldn’t have made out with Steve at the party last week.”

Rick frowned as he leaned back while I fixed my angry gaze at him. “Steve was forcing himself on her, Zoya. It wasn’t even her fault.”

“That’s because you don’t see the whole damn picture!” I lashed out, unknowingly banging the table with my left fist. “You’re smitten by her beauty, her sweet talks and what not. She’s playing with you Rick.”

I could see him flaring up from within as I spoke. His breathing was getting heavier and his jaws shifted uncomfortable from side to side.

“You deserve better Rick and…”

“Zoya, just stop!” he barged in. “You don’t even know her and you’re judging her with rumours and shit.”

“I’m not! They’re facts!”

“No! And enough. What are you trying to do! Are you jealous?”

“I’m not jealous. I’m helping you. You are my very good friend.”

“Cut it out Zoya. You’re ridiculous!” Rick got up and stomped off, leaving me alone with my unfinished sandwich. Feeling hopeless, I carefully helped myself up from the seat and grabbed the crutches on my own. I didn’t need his help anymore; I could handle this on my own. However, I had spoken too soon.

Just a step forward, my left foot slipped on the wet floor and I lost my balance. My crutches slid to the sides and I fell on my left shoulder. Thankfully, my right leg received zero damage but my left shoulder began to hurt. The scene attracted many other customers who had come to enjoy their favourite nachos sandwiches but were further entertained by a hopeless Indian who couldn’t even walk properly.

“My dear Zoya! Are you okay?” A frail voice spoke from behind as I felt a hand on my arm. I turned around and gaped. I saw my mother after five long years.

“Mom?” I forced out a mutter while Mom gave a smile and caressed my face.

“My darling Zoya,” she said but I pushed her hand away and tried to stand up. Just then, Rick came running over.

“Shit, sorry. I shouldn’t have left you…,” he couldn’t finish his sentence when he saw Mom staring right in front of him. He looked at me and back at her.

“Hello Auntie. It’s been a while,” he tried to be as respectful as he could while I deliberately rebelled.

“Just get me up and take me away Rick!” I yelled. Rick held my arms and pulled me up while Mom grabbed the crutches and passed them to me. I looked at her one last time and turned around to leave.

“Zoya,” she called and I stopped in my tracks, trying to control the waterfall from my eyes for later.

“Please, I need to speak to you. It’s about your father.”

I turned around anxiously. My father had been my role model and favourite parent. Leaving him behind was the biggest sacrifice I made.

“What?” I asked.

“He needs you.” 

TWO 

In the last five years, a lot of events had taken place of which I had no clue about. I looked around the house and began to identify some changes. The wall had more photo frames of my brothers’. I saw my eldest brother’s wedding photo hanging in the middle. I shifted my body to the right to get a clearer view of my sister-in-law, whom I had never met before. She was dressed in a red lehnga[2], with an intricately embroidered scarf covering her head, while revealing some part of her brown hair. She looked into the camera without a smile, as though she was forcefully implanted there. She didn’t look local either, I thought to myself. Why didn’t Veer[3] find a girl from England? Did Mom force him into this marriage?

I shifted my attention to the old couple in the background of the photograph. Mom was placing a fifty-pound note on my brother’s lap, which was covered with a handkerchief — the easiest and safest way to collect money from guests in Indian weddings. Dad stood tall with his hands on the couple’s head as he gave his blessings to them. He looked the same. His red turban proudly crowned his head and his white beard was well trimmed. I missed him terribly. I wiped a tear that trickled down my cheek and leaned back on the sofa. I began to inspect the cabinet where Dad used to display his the seashells he collected. Surprisingly, they were still there but I couldn’t find my photograph that I had taken with him at my Primary School Graduation. I scanned the entire cabinet but there was not a single photograph of me displayed. I began to look around the house but it seemed as though every memory of my existence was removed. My heart broke inside and I wished Rick was with me at that moment. I felt like a stranger in my own house. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself down. I had been waiting for the past fifteen minutes for Mom, who had gone into the kitchen for some reason she had not related to me. Suddenly, I heard a child’s cackle. I opened my eyes and turned, only to see a little girl clad in a pink polka-dotted dress walking towards me with her thumb in her mouth.

“Hey little one,” I said as the tension within me slowly eased away. The girl walked up to me and climbed onto my lap.

“What’s your name?” I whispered but before she could reply, my eldest brother’s voice echoed into the living room.

“Tanya!” The little girl turned and squealed in delight. My brother came over and carried her away from me.

“Hello Veer,” I greeted him but he returned me a death stare.

“Stay away from my daughter,” he said sharply and left. Mom came out immediately, and I almost felt she was about to swing her wooden ruler at me. Instead, she came running and apologising for my brother’s behaviour.

“I’m sorry beta[4]. Ronit is still upset that you ran away but I will make him understand,” she tried to reassure me but I snapped back.

“Just let me see Dad. I’m not here to entertain any of you. I only came for Dad.”

Mom nodded and helped me into the room. As I entered, the smell of incense hit my nose and I almost led out a sneeze. I took a quick glance around the room, realising that nothing had changed. The curtains were the same old red velvet and the bedframe still boasted its shiny metallic tint. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Dad lying beneath the covers. His face had become very frail and his cheeks had sunken deep in. I limped over to his side and sat on the stool while leaving the crutches on the floor. I grabbed his hand, which was cold as ice and badly wrinkled.

“Dad,” I whispered. “Your gudiya[5] is here.”

Dad’s eyes opened slowly and he turned to my side.

“Zo…Zoya, you’re here?”

“Yes Dad. How have you been?”

“I should ask you th..” Dad began coughing hysterically and Mother quickly handed him a glass of water. He took a short gulp and closed his eyes.

“You…,” he pointed to Mom while his eyes still shut. “Leave. I need some private time with my daughter.”

Mom dropped her head and left the room.

“Dad…,” I said. “I missed you.”

“Why did you leave then?” He asked. I didn’t answer because Dad knew the reason very well, yet he kept questioning. “I know you left because of some people living in this house but I need to tell you that you were and you are still my twinkling star. I never forced that marriage on you.”

I chuckled. I was far from a star, as I gazed at my bandaged ankle.

“Zoya…” He continued. “Your accident…” He stopped to take a deep breath. “… was not an accident.”

I looked up and gripped his hand even tighter. “What do you mean?”

“You ran away at sixteen, breaking Amar’s engagement with you and since then, not even a day has passed that his family didn’t taunt us at the Gurdwara[6], at functions and even on the streets,” Dad spoke, surprisingly coherent and audible. “And only because your name always surfaced whenever Amar tried for more proposals. And for your mother and brothers… your name is … shame.”

I buried my face in my hands and tried to recall my supposed-to-be husband. He was a tall, scrubby-looking and hairy-chested bespectacled man in his late twenties and a divorcee. I didn’t understand why Mom wanted to get rid of me as quickly as she could by marrying me off to someone ten years older who was had an unsuccessful marriage before. Why couldn’t she ask for my opinion? Why didn’t she let me choose?

I recalled my mother’s words when she was busy making chapattis[7] in the kitchen one day. “Back in India, my sisters and I had to marry whomever our parents told us to. It’s our culture. Our religion. Can’t you be obedient and do the same?”

I barked back, “This is England, not India! And this has nothing to do with being an Indian or a Sikh. I was born and bred in England!”

With that, I suffered a painful blow of her rolling pin. My brothers were the Rajas[8] of the house and never once had Mom raised her voice against them. However, I realised Mother was treating me the same way her parents had treated her. She must have felt that every girl should be treated the same way she was, such as her daughter — her only daughter — which made her wrath even more petrifying. Yet, I was proud to be able to decide for myself at that point, when Amar and his parents were sitting in the living room while my mother filled their plates with ladoos[9] and jalebis[10], feeling excited that her daughter’s marriage had just been fixed.

I threw my makeshift rope — three long scarfs tied one after another— out of my bedroom window while I tied one end to the windowsill. Grabbing my haversack that contained my purse, with a few hundred pounds I stole from my brother’s wallet, a few clothes, a hoodie and the family photo album, I slowly climbed down from the window. As my feet touched the grass of my backyard, it felt like eternal bliss. I was finally free from the dungeon which was once called home… and now I found myself back in the same dungeon with a similar feeling of fear. Was Amar after my life?

“It’s…” Dad coughed as he spoke and I quickly placed the glass back in his hands. “It’s not Amar who attacked you, Zoya.”

I looked up instantly, feeling confused. The only person who had a valid reason to kill me was Amar. Suddenly, Dad fell into his coughing fit and blood splattered from his mouth. Balancing on my left leg, I stood up to shift his body forward and began to rub his back continuously while shouting for Mom.

“What happened?” Mother hurried in. “Oh no!” She quickly ran over to the side table and grabbed the asthma pump. After inhaling two big puffs, Dad gradually calmed down and Mother laid him back onto the bed. She took her scarf and wiped the blood on his lips and shirt while chanting her prayer, waheguru, waheguru. Dad fell asleep.

I didn’t realise how long I had been standing on one leg until Mom handed me the crutches and ushered me outside.

“Mom,” I said as she closed the bedroom door. “What happened to Dad?”

“He has a bad lung infection but he refuses to stay at the hospital,” Mom said in a soft quivering voice. “He says if he has to die, he will in his home…” She turns to me. “…with his daughter by his side.”

I couldn’t look at Mother any longer and turned around to make my way into the living room.

“What did he say to you?” Mother asked, her voice cracking back to normal. Having the least trust in my mother since childhood, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her about what Dad had left incomplete. I took a deep breath and lied.

“Nothing. He just wanted to catch up with his twinkling star.” I smiled to myself while Mother kept quiet.

We sat in the living room for five unusually long minutes while I kept shifting my gaze at the door. I realised a vehicle was parked in the veranda, which was not there when I had come. I began to inspect the vehicle out of boredom and my eyes fell to the number plate — DE24SMR. There must be another guest at home, I thought but I didn’t see the need to enquire. We continued to sit quietly in what felt like mourning silence until we heard a loud horn from the gate. Rick had arrived to fetch me. Feeling relieved, I quickly got up and helped myself with the crutches. I walked out of the door and turned to say a goodbye out of respect but as I did, Mom had already closed the door behind me.

***

“First, she helped me. And then she didn’t even say bye. What is she trying to proof?” I complained to Rick as we made our way back to the University. “She completely ignored me!”

“Come on Zoya,” Rick hissed. “She knew you didn’t want to see her face anyway.” Rick was right. Mom was of least importance at the moment. It was Dad I was worried about and the person who was a threat to my life. If it wasn’t Amar, who could it be then?

“Hey… you okay?” Rick asked and I jerked out of my thoughts.

“Rick,” I said with the calmest tone possible. “If Austin hadn’t swerved the car on time that day, I wouldn’t be here next to you.”

With a “tsk”, Rick said, “Of course! You would’ve been killed Zoya and why are you talking about this?”

“I wouldn’t have been killed…,” I took a deep breathe and blurted out. “… but murdered.”

Rick hit the brake so hard that our bags in the passenger seats behind fell off. Thankfully, he had stopped near to the curb of the road, preventing any obstruction of traffic. He pulled the handbrake up, unlocked his seatbelt and turned his body to me.

“What did you just say?” I could feel Rick’s anger in his eyes. His nose was flaring and his breathing got heavier. I turned my gaze away and related my Dad’s words to him. It took a minute for Rick to digest the information in his head before he spoke.

“Why in the world would anyone do such a thing?” He hit the top of the steering wheel with his palm before he set the handbrake down with force and hit the accelerator. “From now on, you’re not leaving from my sight, even for a second.”

***

Rick permanently shifted his belongings into my apartment and placed his mattress across my bedroom, by the window. I stared at his fine facial features from afar as the moonlight casted a beautiful glow on his face. I never could comprehend how we became best friends during our first college lesson. He was the best answer to all the mathematical problems I could never solve. He was a college heartthrob and he did retain that title in the University. Most importantly, he was the only person who understood my problems and never judged my actions. He believed they were right during that situation but he always forced me to reconcile with Mom. I recalled our quiet moment in the library when I brought him my family album that I had stuffed in my haversack before running away. He looked intently at the photographs and smiled.

“You look like your mother,” he had once said and I felt like spitting at him at that moment but I controlled my emotions. He was the only one I had left and I was afraid to upset him in any way.

However, Rick was confused. He was on a search for true love but he could never be satisfied with the girls he had been with. They were either too demanding or they were simply disinterested after awhile. I, personally, hated whenever he came rushing to me to confess his puppy love for the girls he had dated. I had even cried all night long after my heart broke when I saw him pull a college girl close to his chest while leaning against the wall. He slipped a hand behind her neck and the other her into the back pocket of her denim shorts, and plunged his tongue into her mouth. I’d been equally disappointed with myself because it had been five years that I had concealed my feelings for him in my heart. How I wished I had been one of his dates. How I wished I had been the girl he had kissed. Yet, I felt equally relieved because he was my best friend, which meant that he was by my side all the time. I began to grin from ear to ear as I turned over to stare at the ceiling when suddenly Rick’s phone began to ring.

“Hey Maha. What happened? Can’t sleep?” Rick got up and walked into the balcony with his voice fading away. I shifted uncomfortably in my bed until I found the perfect position to sleep the jealousy away.

***

Rick began training me to walk without my crutches after I had complained they were uncomfortable. Austin, Jane and Diya cheered for me as I balanced myself on the sidewalk of the cafeteria.

“Come on Zoya, you’re the bravest Indian ever! A broken ankle won’t be a hurdle in your quest for the Kingdom. You must conquer it! All the spices and gold shall be yours!” Austin began his nonsensical jokes.

“Very funny Austin,” I rolled my eyes. “I think I can make do without the crutches Rick. Just gotta walk slowly.”

“That’s good. Let’s walk over to my car. That’s gonna be practice for you. This is Day 1,” Rick chuckled. The five of us began walking towards the carpark. I looked at Rick from the corner of my eye and back to the floor again. Since I couldn’t hold it any longer, I asked, “How’s Maha?”

“Oh, wonderful… but she was a little upset last night though… her fish died,” he tried to control his laughter. “She was crying quite badly.”

“And you believed her,” I said, swinging my arms up high and letting them go. “She wants your attention.”

“Let’s change the topic, shall we?” He suggested, obviously wanting to avoid any argument between us.

“Look, I’m sorry for that day okay. But just believe me. She’s not the one!”

Rick stopped in his tracks and motioned me to walk ahead of him. I shrugged my shoulders and walked on, heading towards the zebra crossing. I began to take longer strides to test the strength of my right ankle. So far, so good, I thought, and I continued limping forward. Suddenly, Rick shouted and I felt myself being pulled from behind. A black Mazda zoomed pass me and I was just an inch away from the wheel. It stopped a few feet away and within a few seconds, it veered off and the number plate began to diminish in size.

I whispered as I squinted my eyes, “DE24SMR.”

***

What you had no clue about:

[1] Haldi wala Dood – ­Tumeric Milk, usually offered to someone who is recovering from injuries, surgeries or other health problems.

[2] lehnga – long umbrella-cut flared garment with a separate blouse

[3] Veer – used to call an older brother

[4] beta – child

[5] gudiya – doll

[6] Gurdwara – Sikh temple

[7] chapattis – unleavened flatbread used as a common staple in South Asia (Nepal, India, Pakistan)

[8] Rajas – Kings

[9] ladoos – ball-shaped sweet popular in the South Asian Subcontinent

[10] jalebis – sweet pretzel popular in the South Asian Subcontinent

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