The Other Woman
The Other Woman
The woman who had killed her was sleeping next to her husband. Her head resting on her hubby’s chest, her forehead being caressed by his fingers, his hand flicking her long hair, their lips interlocked in the heights of passion- this woman had usurped her place. The innocent face concealed a devious mind. The enchantress looked so happy and content now, but not for long. She will see to that.
“Hey." Someone was shouting at the supermarket. Zara did not pay much attention to the noise.
“Hey you, the lady in blue.” Zara could feel the huffed breaths of someone standing behind her and turned.
“You are calling me?” She was surprised. Zara had recently moved to the remote countryside of Doddington in Kent and no one knew her. The first thing that she noticed about the girl addressing her was her hair- thick, black, long hair, going down to her knees unhindered; almost like a witch’s hair, though the ‘witch’ in this case seemed amiable.
“Yes. I saw that your scarf tumbled down your shoulders, and yet you didn’t stop.” She was holding Zara’s blue patterned wrap.
“Oh! Thank you. Sorry for not being able to hear you earlier.” Zara had been oblivious of the world lately.
“No problem. I am Tania. I haven’t seen you here before.” She held out her hand.
“I am Zara,” she replied, taking Tania’s soft hand in a firm grip, “this is the first time that I have come to the supermarket. I am new here.”
Zara started to walk beside Tania with her shopping cart in tow.
“I came here three days ago, from London,” Zara continued.
“What brings you here from the big city? It is not every day that folks from the city come to this secluded piece of land.”
“I had enough of city life, have come here for peace.”
“It is peaceful here for sure.”
“You are from this part of the country itself?” Zara asked.
“You can say that. We have been living here for five years. My husband and I.”
“I see, and before that?”
“It has been so long. The era before that doesn’t matter,” Tania shredded the question in a jiffy.
They were walking towards the cashier together in companionable silence.
“One side effect of moving to the countryside is loneliness, I don’t have any friends as yet,” Zara remarked while paying her bill.
“Well, you have one now,” Tania was smiling at her and Zara responded with a wide stretch of her soft lips.
During the next five days, the two bumped into each other three times at the supermarket. They had become fast friends by the time the week was over.
“Why don’t you come over to our house tonight? I am throwing a party for a select group of friends. It will also be a chance for you to meet more people here.” Tania shared it all in bits and pieces, amid having dollops of ice-cream scoop. They were chatting at the coffee zone after spending half a day shopping.
“I hate crowds,” Zara nettled.
“Come on. That is not the way to live here. I am not listening to your excuses. Please bring your husband also, Mike and I’d be happy to meet him.”
“I am afraid it will not be possible.”
“We are separated.”
Startled, Tania dropped her ice cream. She tried to read Zara’s face as Zara stared back, not conscious in the least.
Standing tall at 5 ft 8 inches, Zara wore her svelte figure like a prolific opening batsman swinging his cricket bat. The fairness of her face overshadowed her twinkling brown eyes. She was a lady of few words and fewer friends.
She had earlier replied in the affirmative to Tania’s inquiry about her marital status, not divulging more.
Tania rolled her eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t know. You never tell me things till I ask. What happened?”
“Nothing. He went away.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Five years ago.”
“So, you live alone here?”
“All the more reason for you to come tonight. I will set you up with someone,” Tania attempted to break the melancholy that had crept up between them.
“No, I will set myself up with the one I want to,” Zara grinned.
Zara was struggling to reach 14 Lower Chantry Lane, Canterbury, despite Tania’s elaborate directions to her. Zara could never read maps. Not that she minded the drive, her eyes were feasting on the scenic view. She felt happy after a long time.
She stopped when an illuminated two-story bungalow with Kent peg tiled roof came into view. The shared driveway led her to the private parking at the rear, where almost half a dozen cars were parked. A well-tended garden wrapped the place which, coupled with two large Yew trees at the front rendered a high degree of privacy. As Zara stepped out of the car, she could not but admire the decorative plasterwork that decorated the porch.
She rang the rear doorbell and waited.
It was opened by the most handsome man whom she had encountered in her life.
The man was six feet tall, broad-shouldered and clean-shaven with chiseled hair. His eyes were the deep blue ocean where one could swim for hours with a lot still remaining unexplored.
“May I help you,” he prodded gently. Zara embarrassingly realised that she must have been gawking at him for some time.
Zara’s blurted out “I am looking for the host of this party.”
“Then you are looking at the right person.” The dimples on both cheeks further added to his charm.
“Oh. I must be in the wrong place then; I have come to my friend Tania’s party.”
The man’s eyes appraised her from top to toe as Zara felt a shiver run down her spine.
“I finally have the pleasure of meeting you, Zara. My wife speaks so much about you.”
Before she could react, he held Zara’s hand and turned around, guiding her to the living room. At the center of the room was an impressive Inglenook fireplace, around which a crowd of women were ensconced, chatting animatedly.
“Tania, Zara is here.”
Tania got up and came towards them.
“I was wondering where you are.”
“She has been here for quite some time looking for you, and found me instead.” Tania’s husband pitched in, letting go of Zara’s hands.
“Good that you have met Mike. I am spared the introductions now.”
“Zara, come, let me introduce you to our gang here. They are all excited to meet the lady from the big city.” Tania was almost dragging Zara towards her ‘gang’, not looking at her. If she had, she would have seen Zara and Mike staring wistfully at each other.
It was a little more than a month since the party at Tania’s house. Zara was a regular visitor to their house since.
On one such visit, Zara and Mike were seated opposite each other on the porch. She was admiring him play his guitar. Mike sat in a semi-erect position, balancing the guitar to his chest. His fingers danced on the guitar strings to produce magical tunes. It was a perfect foreground to the orange hues of the sinking sun.
“Well played,” Zara clapped as he finished the last piece. Mike bowed his head in acknowledgement.
“Mike is a genius with the guitar.” Zara heard Tania’s words behind her.
“I know Tania,” Zara got up. “You were not here when I came. I was waiting for you.”
“We were supposed to meet at the supermarket today and go to the movies from there. Don’t you remember?” Tania smirked.
“Oh. I thought that we were to meet here before we headed to the supermarket. My mistake, I am sorry.”
“You have been making a lot of mistakes off late.” Tania’s sharp retort caused Zara and Mike to pay closer attention to her.
“What do you mean?” Zara asked
“You know what I mean. You are well aware of my schedule. Lately, I have noticed you camping at my place whenever I am outside. You speak less to me and more to Mike.” Tania fumed.
“Watch your words, Tania,” Mike interjected.
“Stay out of this Mike. It’s between me and Zara.”
Mike glanced from one to the other. Zara motioned him to stay quiet, which didn’t go unnoticed by Tania.
“So, her gesture now is more important for you than my words. I see,” Tania spoke with a composed voice to her husband before turning her attention back to Zara. “You come to my house behind my back, you flirt with my husband in my presence, you interfere in our home affairs, why you even barged into our bedroom the other day…”
“I told you Tania, the front door as well as the bedroom entrance were ajar. I was looking for you, not expecting to find both of you in each other’s arms. I froze when I saw you both like that.” Zara was calm.
“Caught is the right word. I don’t know for how long you were observing us,” Tania spat out, “Despite claiming to be a friend, you have not invited me to your house to date. I felt a connection when I first met you at the supermarket and thought I have found a confidante. Now, look at what I have got? All that you are interested in is to woo my husband. Why are you doing this to me?”
“You are imagining; it’s all in your mind, Tania. I never thought that you would be so insecure.”
“I may be insecure but I am not blind, and I have had enough. Get out of my house. You are not to come here again.” Tania shouted.
“This is my house too, Tania. Zara is welcome to come here anytime she wants to.” Mike’s voice was soft but firm.
Tania looked at Mike in disbelief. She started to say something, but changed her mind, and reverted her gaze to Zara.
“Don’t you have any shame? Please leave my home before I throw you out.”
Zara took measured steps towards Tania and stopped when she was almost into her face. Tania stood her ground without blinking.
Zara looked at Mike and uttered, “The mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceedingly well.”
Tania was dumbstruck while Mike looked askance. Both of them exchanged glances. Zara was gone by the time they turned again.
“She… that sentence… she sounded like…,” Mike could not go on further. Words had deserted him.
“It can’t be…,” Tania muttered before dashing away, shouting “I have to find out.”
Collecting her handbag, Tania darted to the garage, just in time to see Zara’s car sped away from their rear parking. She jumped inside her car to follow suit, desperate to uncover more.
Zara was driving havoc, with Tania chasing right behind her. The two raced down the narrow hillside. Zara could see Tania following her, and her mission was accomplished.
After ten minutes of the cat and mouse chase, Zara took a left at the edge of Lenham village and braked her car in front of a stunning detached cottage in the North Downs. A huge ground with mature shrubs, plants and trees adjoined the cottage. She alighted from the car and darted inside the property.
Tania stopped when Zara’s car came into view. There was ample off-road parking for half a dozen cars outside the cottage. She pulled her car beside Zara’s, wrapped her handbag across her shoulders and jumped out, not taking the keys off the ignition. She pounded towards the open front door.
The narrow entrance foyer led Tania to a never-ending lounge. There was no one to be seen inside. She shivered in the hall, which was as dark as a moonless night except for a light coming out from a corner at the extreme right; a fireplace was emitting embers. Tania ambled towards the light source and gasped upon reaching there.
The picture above the fireplace was incongruous in the bare walls of the hall. The incandescent blazes of the fire were accentuating the aura of the portrait. The man on the canvas was staring back at her. He looked oblivious to the world, his sparkling eyes and dimpled face betraying a sense of elation. The guitar on the left hand and rose on the other elevated his surroundings. The photograph would solicit a second look from any onlooker. Tania, having recognised both the muse as well as the artist, knew it well. The man in the picture was a younger-looking Mike from his college days. Her best friend Beth had clicked the picture back then. Tania blinked as the lights suddenly blinded her. Zara was standing to her left with both arms folded and drawn to her chest, lips parted just enough to reveal the hint of a smirk. Her eyes observed Tania with hatred. “Who are you?” Tania whispered. "I am the one whom you killed five years back. I have returned to take back what is mine. ”Zara inched towards Tania and stood directly in front of her, just below the portrait.
The air was so quiet that one could have heard a pin drop.
The two ladies were peering into each other- one with appraisal, the other with disdain.
Tania had the first word.
“You are alive, Beth.” She was shaking.
“No Tania. You killed Beth five years ago. I am Zara, born out of Beth’s desire to take revenge.”
Tania was out of words to express her myriad feelings.
“Remember the University of York where we three used to study six years ago? You and I were the best of friends, so inseparable that they used to call us sisters,” Zara reminisced. “I used to sketch and photograph and you were happy to be my subject.”
“We were inseparable till Mike entered the picture. Then you had eyes only for him,” Tania rued.
“I fell in love with him, Tania. Love is not a crime. I confided everything to you. If only you had told me about your feelings for Mike, the situation today would have been different.”
“Mike was so smitten with you that telling you would have been futile. You were the quiet one with artistic traits. The righteous one who had Bible verses and Shakespeare’s quote at the tip of her tongue. One who didn’t hesitate to admonish a stranger with the “Mills of the God verse” when he happened to harm a stray dog in front of you. Mike was so impressed that I didn’t stand a chance.”
“I would have spoken to Mike. At the least, I would have exited his life forever.”
“I was tired of taking favours from you. To my credit, I did try to avoid Mike. But you had to drag me everywhere along with you. That didn’t help your cause.”
“You were my bridesmaid at our wedding.”
“I could not find a believable excuse to fend that off. Both of you planned it so suddenly. Church wedding the next day after graduation!”
“I was naïve to have trusted you to death. You used to practically live at our home and I accepted it as your right. You used to flirt with my husband right in front of my eyes and I ignored the same as harmless banter. You used to look for ways to spend time alone with Mike and I thought you were being helpful. The veil of friendship had covered my senses.”
“You have learnt your lessons and are paying me back in the same coin now,” Tania’s words were flowing in tranquility.
“How did you survive?”
“Providence. Your plan was foolproof; strategising that trip to Falmouth to celebrate our first marriage anniversary, organising the itinerary, planning the boat expedition at Fal Estuary. You managed to take us far from the shore, fully aware that porbeagles have made those deep waters their home.”
“It did take a lot of effort,” Tania boasted. “I convinced you and you convinced Mike to take that trip.”
“I can never forget that evening Tania. Mike was tired on the warm sunny day and taking a nap. I called your attention to the Porbeagle in the dark blue sea. You came and whispered ‘I can never have Mike till you are around, so you have to go,’ in my ear and pushed me into the water. I was easy prey for the vicious shark. My last memory is of Mike frantically trying to jump off the boat, and you pulling him back.”
“He woke up upon hearing your voice and wanted to jump after you. I had to use all my force to stop him. He didn’t know how to swim so it would not have helped. I knew that by the time we reach ashore and raise alarm, it will be too late. They could not even retrieve your body.”
“That’s because I survived. The sharp teeth of the sea monster didn’t spare my face, but the strong currents ensured that I was washed ashore before the creature could harm any further. Some fishermen discovered me on the sands of Swanpool. My face was damaged beyond recognition and I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. I had also suffered serious wounds in my arms and legs and could barely use them. I had slim charges of survival and was airlifted to London from Cornwall.”
“What bad luck! All the meticulousness came to naught because of fate,” Tania muttered.
“It took two years for me to heal, physically and spiritually,” Zara ignored the interruption. “They put me under the knife multiple times. It was a miracle that I survived. I got a new face and assumed a new identity. Then I started my search.”
“We left York soon after your last rites. I told Mike that it would be easier this way for him and I couldn’t leave him alone in that emotional state. It was easy for me to manipulate a grief-stricken person to become my beloved.”
“You gloated at our griefs,” Zara spotted out. “I checked the records of the sale of our house in York. The trail led me to Doddington, Kent. I have been here since the past year.”
“Did you say one year?” Tania raised an eyebrow. “So, you made me find you in the supermarket two months ago.”
“Yes. I observed you and patiently waited till I could predict your schedule like the back of my hand. Then I made my move. It was my third attempt of dropping the scarf that attracted your attention.”
Tania gave a soft whistle.
“After that, you simply imitated my moves from our past life. Shrewd of you! Only to be expected when you had a good teacher like me. It must have been a sight for your eyes to see me sleeping next to Mike.”
“I intended to spy, didn’t expect to find you both like that. I died all over again when I saw my husband flicking your hair and caressing your forehead. You have taken my place. I have come to seize it back.”
“He is my husband now,” Tania shouted.
“He will not be when I disclose that his Beth is alive and reveal the back story behind our separation.”
“No, you won’t,” Tania’s voice was chilling. “I will get the same sentence for killing you twice.”
Before Zara could blink, Tania swiftly took out the revolver from her handbag and aimed at Zara.
“I can never have Mike till you are around. You have to go, Zara. Like Beth did.”
Tania pulled the trigger.
Boooooom. The sound ricocheted across the cottage as the bullet hit the ceiling. Tania looked at the person who had plunged and veered her off-target. He was already with Zara.
“Are you alright?” Mike asked Zara softly.
“Now I am,” Zara hugged him and cried.
Both of them looked at Tania who had slumped down to her knees.
Mike picked up the revolver which had flung far from Tania during their skirmish. “I followed you here, Tania, out of curiosity and concern. I heard everything. You wicked witch, I will not spare you.”
“I love you, Mike. I did it all for you.”
“You did it to have me, not for me. I will kill you.” He placed the pistol at Tania’s forehead, ready to pull the trigger.
“Pleassse don’t,” Zara shouted. “If you pull the trigger, I will lose you again, and she will win. Leave her alone to suffer for her follies. Let us go far away from here,” she pleaded.
Mike glanced from Zara to Tania-who was shedding silent tears now- and back before thrusting the pistol into his pocket. He pulled Zara towards him, gave her a tight hug and kissed her forehead. Then he firmly clasped her hands.
They came out of the house hand in hand, with no looking back.