A Barbed Heart
A Barbed Heart
Julia still remembered the fateful day when her world turned upside down. The pleasant weather of spring after a rainy night culminated into a perfect morning. She reminisced how happy she had been that day.
Ravi was a divorcee who had moved back from working with her in the UK. She had worked on a project with him; getting intrigued with each other they experimented and ended up dating for almost two years. She had moved to India with him over a year back and just last night he had proposed over dinner. The din of rain filled their dining room as he stood up and put the ring on her.
It was going to be a start of their new life together.
Now she lay alone in a hotel bed not knowing what the day held for her, her mascara had darkened the already dark bags under her eyes and scorched the pillow she slept on. Her head still dizzy from last night. She had not yet come to terms with it. Still wondering how it all came to pass, she picked up a bottle of water and started chugging, the hard big swallows through a parched throat seemed like a good punishment for her stupidity.
The water gave her some sense of the world and she started analysing what had come to pass.
The silverware shone on the white cloth that covered a small table and the aroma of the food was infused with the smell of wet mud from the rain last night. The dining hall was next to a window that opened into a small balcony. The other side of this hall was an open kitchen with a small window that opened into the backyard. The sun filled the room and a soft breeze that seeped through the kitchen window making it an extremely pleasant morning. The boiled and sliced eggs, toast, strawberries and orange juice laid out on the table looked like a work of art plucked from the wall. Julia was pleased to see that her maid Seema had done a good job. She called out to her to come to the table and serve.
She heard the rushed shoe-steps of her husband from their room, he may be running late again. Seema had walked by her, into the kitchen and was now preparing the remainder of the breakfast.
“Ravi honey! The breakfast is ready and I am at the table.” she shouted softly as she took her seat.
“Almost ready!” He shouted back ,matching her tone.
”Aah what the hell! I’ll put the shirt on later…” He mumbled as he walked out in his white in-shirt and trousers wearing shoes but no belt. He looked good in his body hugging tees; his sleek, tout physique could be scene and the unsightly hair, not so much. She liked seeing him like this.
“Running late again?” She asked as he sat next to her on the table.
“Nah, but Jyoti’s roommate just called.”
“Another one of her episodes?”
He could sense her scepticism.
“Something like that, maybe, maybe not. I will tell you when I find out. She has been doing well in college.” He took a sip of his milk and a bite from his toast a bit irritated.
“What did her roommate say?”
“Not a lot, it was a short call. Just that Jyoti has not attended any of her classes this week and just sleeps in her bed all day, reading stuff and eating junk and today she smashed a bottle on the floor scaring the roommate.”
“She needs therapy.” She pleaded with concern, treading carefully..
“I have told you again and again, she is not crazy. She is a teenager; I was like that too. All this will blow over as she grows older”
“Okay okay, you know what’s best for ‘your’ daughter, sorry I brought it up again” she said trying to keep the peace and accepting her transgression.
The only sounds that followed for a few minutes were the clanks of the cutlery disturbed by an occasional loud sip.
Seema walked out and cleared some of the empty plates.
“So… “ Meekly, she tried to restart the conversation.
“Ah sorry, I am just too occupied right now, I have to pick her up and bring her to her mother’s and then I have multiple meetings lined up. A long day ahead….” He said looking down at his leftovers.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be here when you come back. Do you want anything special for dinner?” She asked comfortingly.
“I am glad to have found you.” His anger turned to remorse and then affection.
“How about a casserole, It is my speciality” She said putting some enthusiasm back in the conversation.
“Yeah that would be nice. We can pair it with some wine. Tomorrow is a Saturday so probably no work.”
“’Probably’?” She asked a bit surprised, but then noticed him sniggering.
“Right, so I will expect you back before nine” She added with some authority.
He did some mental calculations and nodded.
“Yeah, I really need to find a driver. This driving around everywhere is such a nuisance; the traffic gets worse every day. Not like it was back in Edinburgh.”
She thought for a few seconds as Seema served her the omelette she had been waiting for. She looked at her and suddenly remembered.
“You know Dev is learning driving in his free time. Seema has been telling me about it for a while. Maybe you could hire him? He has been running errands for us for a while now.”
“I will think about it…” He waited for the maid to clear the table.
” We should have discussed this in private, not in front of her.” He whispered looking sideways as Seema was walking back into the kitchen.
“Don’t worry. She doesn’t understand English at the pace we talk.”
“But you mentioned his name, now she must be thinking we are talking about them”
“Oh pish posh!” She accentuated. Folding her arms and pretending to be angry.
“Okay okay. I will think about it. Ask him to drop by on Sunday, I will have a word with him.”
“You are way too paranoid, you know that right?” She smiled victoriously.
In a frenzy he got up, grabbed his keys and started walking towards to door.
“Don’t you need your shirt for office or is it casual Fridays?” She was laughing now.
“Arre Yaar!” He exclaimed and rushed back into their room.
It was a good start to a morning. She wished she had never suggested Dev’s name. She had trusted Seema and in turn trusted Dev. She wished she never had.
It was sunny morning and the beams of light shone into the living room. Seema was dusting the sofas; the small particles rose and cast smoky shadows on the walls. It had rained the day before and the smell of wet mud still permeated the air; a soft breeze would occasionally freshen up the room. She had just finished preparing breakfast as her mistress had instructed and was finishing her chores of cleaning up the house.
It was a big house with multiple rooms, adorned with marble floors, thick- neatly folded, curtains and lush furniture. A lot of natural light sneaked in from the various windows and the sun roof, and complimented the beige, yellow and ochre furniture. One side of the living room was a glass window that overlooked a soft green garden with myriad colourful flowers.
Of all her chores she enjoyed this the most, every morning spending time here invigorated her and gave her strength for the rest of the day. She heard her mistress approaching the living room just as she was about to place the last of the pillows back on the sofa after clapping the dust off and puffing it up. She knew she would soon hear her name and would be called to the kitchen. It was almost time to serve breakfast.
Her mistress was a kind and trusting woman in her early forties, she was not from around here. Her hair was golden brown and barely reached her shoulders, the grey eyes always seemed scary and penetrating and she easily towered over all the ladies that Seema had ever worked for till now, yet she could speak and understand the native tongue flawlessly. She also made her living doing something on the computer all day with huge sheets and strange instruments lying next to her. It did not make sense to Seema how someone could make a decent living sitting at home. Ravi Sahib must be paying for most of this.
Seema always paid attention to the conversations in the house, she tried to figure what the mistress and her husband talked about. Today the mistress seemed more giddy than usual this morning. She had asked Seema to come and see her before leaving. Seema had been intently listening to their breakfast conversation. She could tell that Dev may be called to be their driver and the anticipation was making her all the more excited.
She quickly finished cleaning and went to her mistress’ room. Julia sat there reading a book, she had her reading glasses on.
“Madam, work over.” She blurted, unable to hold back her excitement.
Julia tilted her head down and her piercing eyes momentarily tried to search for cause of this excitement and on realising, smiled.
“I see you have figured out why I called you. Such excitement, you are smarter than you appear huh?”
“No No madam, It is Mudit’s birthday today, so I am excited”
“Mudit?, Your elder one?” She amused at her oversight.
“Yes madam, he turns 12 today, his father will get cake.”
“Oh, that’s great. Happy birthday to him…” She turned and grabbed her bag and started shuffling through it. “Dev has been learning driving hasn’t he?”
“Yes yes, he has gotten very good too.” She said confidently to her mistress’ back.
“Here, this is for your son.” Julia handed out a crisp 100 rupee note.
“Thank you, madam.” Seema grabbed it and stuffed it in her blouse without even folding it and looked on.
“I want Dev to come and meet Ravi sahib on Sunday….”
It had been five days since Dev had started his new job as a driver for Ravi Oberoi. Mr Oberoi was a keen man who dressed impeccably, he was as tall as Dev but definitely thinner which made him look even taller than the six feet he was. His journeys were spent either reading the newspaper or on the phone, sometimes he would get business calls of meetings, imports and payments. It was the latter that use to catch Dev’s fancy. The talks of transferring huge amounts of money just by talking on the phone use to really entice Dev.
In his free time he daydreamed himself sitting in the back seat and talking on the phone of big numbers and big money. Having meetings in places he had not even heard of.
Ten years ago when he was in teens, he had left his village and worked as a houseboy in the city, he then worked as a waiter. Had he not been fired for stealing and selling almost expired cans of caviar, he would have made manager. He struggled to get a job in hotels after that and for the last 2 years he had been cleaning cars in apartments.
He found Seema just after he lost his job as a waiter and started working as a car cleaner. She had been doing well as a maid for several big households in the same society, she had a son and her husband had abandoned them a few years ago. He immediately took to her and soon they were married. He knew that working in these big households, he may catch a break. So he would often run small errands for them. After all he deserved a much better in life. He didn’t drink or do drugs, he was always home on time and he did his prayers regularly.
Today he was to pick the boss’s daughter and take her to her mother. He had dropped him off at office and was now waiting outside his daughter’s college.
Mr Oberoi lived in one house with a foreigner lady and his wife stayed in another with another man. He compared his own life with Mr. Oberoi’s.
“I also have a stepson, I take care of him. The man in that house should take care of her daughter. Mr Oberoi must be a good man… yes…a good man.” He mumbled to himself.
The inside of the car was cool from the air-conditioning but Dev could see the false puddles at a distance and the turbulent air over its surface. He could feel the heat on the windows but in this tinted car with cooling at max he just enjoyed the view and pitied the people who had to work outside. He smiled at his good fortune.
There was a knock on the window, it was Miss Jyoti. She was wearing a jeans and a tee and the strap from her bag was pulling her tee from her shoulder exposing her bra strap. She was a petite girl, much too thin for her age, but her eyes were that of an older woman. She wore a dark eyeliner that drew attention to her brown eyes, and her dishevelled, black hair fell to her chest.
Dev unlocked the car and got down to open greet her, the heat slapped his face and his nostrils immediately dried up. When he reached the other side to open the door for her, Jyoti had already taken his seat and was now signalling him to take the front seat. He hesitatingly opened the door and leaned in.
“Just get in, today I am driving. I am sick of this place.”
His mild manner was ignored completely. She was in one of her moods, Seema had told him about her temperament and Dev did not want to get in trouble in the first week of his new job.
“Madam, there was a lot of traffic today. You can drive a-“
“Just get in!” She had already started the ignition.
“Yes, Madam” He got in reluctantly. After putting his seatbelt on, he slid his hand on the hand break.
“What do you think you are doing? You think I don’t know how to drive?” She spewed.
Dev had no choice but to remain silent. She put the car in gear and punched the accelerator, the car jerked and stopped. Looking straight ahead, she reignited the engine and this time slowly eased into the gear moving forward, once the speed picked up a little and she moved onto the road and started accelerating.
She drove angry, cutting through lanes and overtaking from the wrong side and occasionally cursing at someone who she passed. Dev was dumbstruck, had he known this, he would never have got out of his seat.
“Madam Lookout!” He shouted as a small cart rolled out across the road ahead. She slammed the breaks but it was too late.
“Who the hell jumps in the middle of the road like that?” She was fuming and her heavy breaths blew her hair away from her face and onto the steering.
She opened the door and stepped out shouting at the cart-pusher who now lay on the road with his produce of vegetables rolling on the road like a swarm of bugs released from a cage. Dev followed her; inspecting the damage he moved towards the cart. He knew it was not that man’s fault but kept his mouth shut. A crowd had started to gather and Dev really did not want to stick around or get beaten up as this would soon turn into a matter of big man versus the little man and mobs always root for the little man. Dev quickly took out all his cash and handed it to the cart-pusher; before the man could protest, Dev swiftly moved away.
“Madam, we should go… madam please…” Pleadingly he indicated towards the car. She reluctantly complied and this time she moved to the passenger seat at the back.
The damage to the car was minor but noticeable enough. He immediately started the car and drove away from the scene of the crime. He was calm on the driving seat now, his mind swirling with scenarios where he will get praised for getting the boss’s daughter out of such a tough situation. He was thinking of things he would say to make him look like a hero.
“You don’t need to tell anyone what happened.” He heard her murmur.
“But Madam, car has been damaged and-“
“I will pay for it, and whatever you gave that man too. Just don’t talk about this.”
Dev wondered how much overhead he can get out of this after all he will be giving up his hero medal. He kept a straight face and waited for her to speak.
“So how much do you think it will cost to get this fixed?” She was unzipping her bag.
“Madam, I will have to take it to the shop after dropping you, I will have to get it fixed today only, Your dad would be very angry if he sees this. I will have to get it done before picking him up in the evening.”
“Just tell me how much.” She pushed him for the number.
Dev figured it would cost maybe three thousand to get it fixed and he had given the cart guy about three hundred plus change.
“Madam, I gave him around seven hundred and this would be another four to five thousand.”
She stayed silent for a second then pulled out some cash from her bag and counted it.
“Here is four, I will give you the rest on Monday when you drop me back.”
Ravi had a short temper, Julia had known this. She had often seen him get upset over little things. At times she had seen him emotionally close up for weeks on end after a small disagreement. He would work late and mostly spend time in his study but would eventually convalesce. And just as fast as he got upset, he would start sharing his evenings with her again. She rather enjoyed this behaviour; it gave her space and kept the relationship spicy, but she always preferred not annoying him to that point.
Yesterday was their first week anniversary of his proposal. She had prepared briskets, it took almost an entire day and by the end of the evening she was dead tired, but she made it work. He had been very pleased and in turn this pleased her. Her last two architectural projects had come to fruition and she had ample free time to dabble in her hobby of baking.
She had planned lasagne for this night but Seema had not turned up till now and she needed another pair of hands to help her with rudimentary things. It wasn’t usual for Seema to be late, she thought, looking at the clock. It was almost seven and she could hear the crickets and the distant echoes of neighbourhood children playing. It was hot today, hotter than any day in the last week and it was only getting hotter. The evenings were a respite from the day’s scorching sun. She was still not accustomed to the heat.
She was sitting on her workstation. It was a separate small room designated for storing things but she had turned it into her office. It was the only room in the house that stayed cool throughout the day. There was a big computer screen on a desk in front of her and another desk on the side. It had numerous tools and charts rolled up and neatly organised on it. She had finished her office work and had now been reading the emails she had sent her childhood friend who now taught psychology.
She was concerned about Jyoti and relayed what little information she had on her, now to be, ‘step-daughter’. Her concern for Jyoti’s behaviour had recently grown and more so because Ravi seemed least bothered by it. Her friend had asked her to wait a day or so before he could give a preliminary diagnosis, he also said that adolescents have a tendency of acting out and everybody will fit some or the other category of mental illness. It is just the matter of how functional one is in their environment.
“pfff…” She blew a short raspberry and looked at the clock again.
“Where is this girl…” she groaned just then the doorbell rang.
“Ah finally!” She sprung up.
Seema walked in at a fast pace hiding her face with her chunni, something was not right.
“Seema… What happened?”
“Madam, they have arrested Dev.,” she said between sobs, her face was swollen from crying.
“Tell me what happened.”
Seema was unable to respond and just kept weeping. Julia made her sit on a chair and gave her some water.
“Drink this… Breathe”
Seema complied meekly.
“He had called in... in the afternoon. He... he said he has to get the car fixed.” She tried to string together her words.
“He said Jyoti madam had asked to drive and... and she got into a small accident. He said...he got them both out of the situation and is now getting the car fixed.” She winced.
“Then what happened?”
“When he reached the office, Ravi Sahib was waiting there with police… and now he is in jaaillll…!” She barely finished her sentence before hysteria overwhelmed her.
“Wait… did she hurt someone? Did they hit someone and run? What exactly was the accident? Tell me in detail.”
Her demand was met with more wails and a head shake indicating Seema’s cluelessness.
“Okay, okay. You wait here, let me call Ravi.” She had already pulled out her cell phone and he was on speed dial.
“Hello, Ravi. What happened with Dev?”
“Seema is here, she-“
“Okay, okay, I will do that.” She hung up still looking at Seema, who now looked back curiously from between her jittery shoulders still moving from the occasional sniffles she muffled with her chunni. Her eyes still watery from the onslaught of emotions were now filled with amusement at the shortness of the call.
“He is just outside, parking the car, I will talk to him and tell you what happened. Right now you need to wait outside. Don’t worry, everything will be okay.”
Seema left the house and within minutes Ravi walked in. His tie loosely hung from his neck and his hair looked like he had just got out of bed. The clanks of his feet were louder than usual and his demeanor did not match the deep breaths that his body heaved from. His hands were clenched when he saw Julia. She immediately approached him with a glass of water and a bottle.
He finished it in a few sips and indicated for more.
“Could you believe the nerve… the nerve on him!?” He said between gulps tempering.
“Less than a week into his job and he thinks he can do whatever he wants?” he paced to the living room. She felt his anger returning as she followed.
“Sit down, calm down. Tell me what happened?” She had to keep her head.
“Unbelievable…” He sat, shaking his head.
She sat beside him and waited.
“First he is late to pick her up. Then he drives like a maniac. When Jyoti objects, he tries to scare her by driving even faster and ends up hitting a cart; and that’s not it!” Still shaking his head in disbelief he looks directly into Julia’s eyes trying to find empathy but is met with inquisitiveness and concern.
“He then blackmailed her by saying it was her fault, the accident, and tried to extort money from her… The nerve on him.” His fists were clenched and the vein on his forehead throbbed, his eyes were red and about to pop out.
“That sounds very unusual, very unlikely.” She said trying to put the pieces together. She felt something was amiss. Dev was a timid man and to do something to this extent was highly unlikely.
“What do you mean? I should have broken his collarbone… that bastard!” He was bewildered by her calmness
“I don’t think Dev can do something like that.” She knew there was more to this story.
“What do you know? You don’t know shit… You mean Jyoti is lying.” He continued looking directly at her.
“What is wrong with you? Accusing my daughter of lying, You have never liked her. Always trusting these plebeian scum, why don’t you go and live with them.”
“This is uncalled for, I mean think about it. He cannot be this dumb to think that he could get away with something like this. On the other hand, if she is lying-“
“Yes yes! It is a family of liars, isn’t it. Me, my daughter, my wife… my entire family is just liars.”
She chose to ignore that he called his ‘ex-wife’, his ‘wife’ but his anger at her was uncalled for and she would not take any of it. She tried to recall what Seema had said. It was Jyoti who wanted to drive and Dev being so new at the wheel would never risk driving rash at his new job. It sort of made sense to her why Seema’s version was more trustworthy than Jyoti’s.
“I don’t like your tone. You know your daughter has a problem. A single lie from her could ruin an entire family. At least consider other scenarios.”
“Bullshit! I called him immediately after I got a call from Jyoti and guess where he was?”
Julia opened her mouth to speak not figuring his rhetoric.
“He was getting the car fixed… That’s right. I caught him red-handed. I will make sure he rots in jail for this.”
“This is too harsh and you are too quick to judge?” She tried to say as plainly as possible without letting her frustration get the better of her.
Ravi was quiet for a bit, his hand clasped around the empty glass he was holding.
He suddenly got up and smashed it against the wall, the splinters flew everywhere and Julia found herself covering her head and ears with her hands, in shock.
“Get out of my house! We are done! You have a problem with my daughter; you have a problem with me. You want us to see a psychiatrist, you think we are all psychos.” He bellowed.
Julia suddenly felt in danger, she had never seen Ravi like this and she was getting more scared by the second. She did not know who he was right now.
She quietly got up left the room. She started packing, her hands shook as she put a few pieces of clothes in her bag. Tears blurred her vision and her mind drew a blank, she had forgotten about Seema, about the lasagne about the heat and her work, she had one task right now. It was to get out of this place. She was not safe. Her heart throbbed into her eardrums.
When she came out of the room, Ravi was nowhere to be seen but she heard some shuffling in the study. She discreetly grabbed her car keys and stepped out. Seema was not there either.
The email read:
I have consulted a few of my colleagues. I require further investigation into the matter. I would, of course, prefer meeting your friend in person but since you made it clear that an in-person consultation would not be possible; I will try and gather more specific information through you. I would highly recommend seeing someone directly.
With what you have told me so far, it looks like a textbook case of the bipolar disorder leading to manic depressive behavior, but this could just as easily be adjustment or conduct disorder.
I would need a family history of the patient as more often than not these run in the family. I would still recommend consulting a psychologist in person. I have some great recommendations.
Dr. Harry Zecatey
Dept Of Psychology
Julia threw her phone on the pillow and wiped her face with a tissue. She was now calmer, things made much more sense now. After a deep breath, she said to herself.
“It isn’t just Jyoti who has a condition....”