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A Turnaround

Kaira had married Dhairya for love. But the marriage had deteriorated into a toxic relationship. Would Kaira find her way out of the maze of physical and emotional abuse?

The crunch of gravel and the distant howling of a dog nudged her back into the present. She looked around, disoriented for a moment. She was sitting in the back of a car, with the cab driver looking at her impatiently through the rear-view mirror, waiting for her to alight. She began to gather her purse and duffel bag, but the scarf wrapped around her head slipped, revealing a fresh gash above her eyebrow. She quickly covered her forehead and made sure her sunglasses covered her eyes completely. She looked at the rear-view mirror furtively. Had the cab driver seen her fresh wound? Surely not. He seemed to be talking to another customer, explaining the intricacies of the place of pick up. Kaira heaved a sigh of relief and fished out her mobile to make the payment for her drive. She then alighted. She winced hard as she put her right foot down. She probably had sprained it in the scuffle with Dhairya. She walked slowly up the stairs to the wrap around porch of the huge bungalow nestled in the hills of Dalhousie.  The beauty of the flowers blooming in the pots on the porch was lost to her. She was in so much pain that she could not think straight. She just wanted to find a quiet corner and lick her wounds in solitude. She lifted her hand to ring the bell and winced as her elbow protested.

She heard quick footsteps and the door opened. A middle-aged woman wrapped in a shawl and with a weather-beaten face looked at her curiously.

“Are you…”

“You must be…”

They both stopped. Kaira cleared her throat.

“I am Kaira. Neena madam must have told you about me.”

The woman’s face cleared. “Yes. Yes. Madam called me and told me you would be coming and would stay here for a few days.”

She put out her hand to take Kaira’s bags. Kaira surrendered the bags with relief and limped into the huge drawing room, full of all the beautiful artifacts Neena had collected during her travels in India as well as outside. Neena loved travelling and even now was in London for a Legal luminary conference. She almost smiled fondly but her facial muscles refused to make the effort. She grimaced. But even that cost her. She felt drained. With slow dragging footsteps, she followed the woman towards the door on the right. It was the guest room. She knew the place like the back of her hand. After her own childhood home, this was the house she visited and loved the most.

The woman…what was her name… She racked her brain but couldn’t remember. She sat down on the bed with a thump and without realising what she was doing, out of force of habit, removed her scarf and her sunglasses. She turned towards the woman, thinking she would ask her name. She saw the look of utter shock on the woman’s face when she saw her battered face. She almost reached out for her scarf to cover up but then decided there was no point in doing that anymore.

“What is your name?” she said.

The woman still looked shocked and horrified.

Kaira raised her hand to her face. “Don’t look so shocked. It is not as bad as it seems. I fell down in the morning,” she said with a poker face. “Can you give me a glass of water? I need to take some pain killers.”

The woman nodded her head and left the room. She heard her talking on the phone. Probably speaking to Neena, she thought. She didn’t really care. Anyway, Neena knew all about her… her situation. What was there to hide? She removed the warm coverlet on the bed and somehow managed to lie down, pulling the coverlet over her battered body. She must have slept off or passed out. She did not know. She awoke when someone gently shook her shoulder. She opened her eyes blearily. She could feel the swelling in her left eye. She would probably have a nice shiner there, as they said.

Neena’s maid was looking down at her with concerned eyes and what looked like pity.

“Madam, I have brought you some ginger and turmeric tea and some cheese toast. It will help with your…um…bruises. Neena Madam said to give you the First Aid Kit. It has some pain killers and ointment. Madam said to call the doctor.”

‘No doctor!” Kaira almost shouted. She tried to get up, but her body felt stiff. Neena’s maid bent down and gently helped her to sit up, placing some cushions against the headboard, so she could lean against them. Kaira blinked back tears and took the glass of water she was proffered. She rummaged through the first aid box and found a strip of voveran. It was a strong pain killer and always helped her. She swallowed the medicine with a huge gulp of water. Meanwhile the maid had placed a lightweight table across her lap and put a tray with her tea and cheese toast on it. Kaira sipped her sweetened tea and felt a warmth slowly pervade her cold and stiff limbs. She felt the toast would choke her, but she did not want to hurt the sentiments of the maid, so she tried to chew through the toast. Her throat felt scratchy and ached from all the crying she had done. Somehow, she managed to finish it and instantly felt better. She lay back and let the maid minister to her cuts and bruises. The maid cleaned her face with a warm wet towel. She then applied ointment to her cuts and gashes and ministered to her eye with a small ice pack. Kaira had never felt so cared for in her 5 years of marriage with Dhairya. A tear slipped down her cheek. When the maid left, she stared vacantly at the curtained picture window. She knew the window would look out into a green valley and a magnificent mountain range. But she didn’t want to look at it now. Maybe tomorrow.  

The tiny clock on the mantelpiece ticked quietly. Kaira looked at it. It was 6.30 p.m. Dhariya would be returning home any time now. As if on cue, her mobile started ringing with Abba’s song Chiquita, tell me what’s wrong. She knew it was Dhariya. She did not pick up the phone. But its continuous ringing was getting on to her nerves. She covered her ears with the coverlet. After some minutes the ringing stopped but there was a barrage of pings. She ignored them. The phone rang again. This time it was a different caller tune. She looked at the screen. It was Neena. She picked up the phone.

“How are you sweetheart?” Neena said, her voice resounding with concern and also what sounded like impatience. Kaira braced herself for what was coming.

“Kaira you cannot stay with Dhariya. One of these days you will end up in hospital or worse. Please get out of this toxic relationship.”

Kaira did not stop Neena this time or interrupt her with “He loves me” as she normally did, every time she was hurt by Dhariya. 

“Let’s not talk about this right now Neena. I’m too drained,” she said in a low voice. “I will give serious thought to what you have said,” she said and disconnected the call.

That night Kaira slept dreamlessly. She had taken a sedative to help her sleep. The next morning, she was woken up with bright sunlight streaming into her room and the delicious smell of freshly brewed coffee. She opened her eyes to find Neena’s maid placing a tray on her bedside. Kaira heaved herself upright. Her aches and pains were a lot better today. Neena’s maid, God she couldn’t keep calling her that! was placing the tray on her lap. The plate had a nice fluffy looking stuffed golden omelette and some brown buttered toast along with a tall mug of coffee. Kaira first took a huge swallow of her coffee and then tucked into her breakfast ravenously. It had been ages since someone had served her breakfast in bed. She savoured the coffee. Out of habit, she picked up the phone and began scrolling through it. There was a message from Neena apologising for her brusqueness and sending her lots of love. There was a message from her mother asking her how she was. And there were innumerable messages from Dhariya. She didn’t have to read them to know what they would say. They all apologised for hurting her. They all said he loved her dearly. And yes, they all said that she should not do things to make him angry. He had been saying that every time he raised his hand at her. And she had started to believe him.

It had all started with him insisting she give up her profession. She had resisted because she loved her work. Then it was because he felt Navin, her colleague in a law firm was behaving inappropriately with her. Then it was because she won a case he was defending. He insisted that her morals were so low that she paid off the cops. It went on and on. Fed up with the everyday squabbles, she had quit her job. But the physical attacks did not stop. Then it was because she did not cook well or behaved appropriately with his friends. In the five years of their marriage, her confidence had hit rock bottom. She had started to believe that there was something wrong with her. The self-assured woman who had been followed around by a bevy of admirers in Law School, was gone forever. The confident woman who knew she had the ability and gumption to win her cases was gone forever. And Dhariya? He was emboldened by her passive acceptance of his aggression. The angry pinch of the cheek or the painful squeeze of the initial days had turned to hard slaps and this time he had smashed his fist into her right eye, twisted her arm and pushed her so hard that she had twisted her right leg as she fell on the floor and hit her forehead on the glass top of the table in the room. She was scared that he might come looking for her here.

Kaira knew that if she thought about her relationship with Dhariya now, she would just break down. So, she took another pain killer and sedative and escaped into a dreamless slumber. When she woke up again, dusk had fallen, and her phone was ringing. It was Neena.

“Hi Sleepyhead. How are you doing?” she said cheerfully.

“I’m feeling much better but I’m worried that Dhariya might land up here. I need time away from him to think things out.”

“Don’t worry my dear. It’s all taken care of. Dhariya called me to ask about your whereabouts. I told him you had gone to Mehak’s place in Hyderabad and would be back by tomorrow. So hopefully he will be off your back till tomorrow. Just relax and recover. I will also be back in a few days.”

“Thanks, Neena for being such a support. Before I forget, can I use your laptop? I need to do some research.”

“Of course, my dear. I’ll share my password on WhatsApp. I need to run now. Will talk to you again in a bit.”

Kaira clicked the phone shut. She was dying for some tea. She also needed to get out of bed and freshen up. She collected a fresh set of clothes and then went into the shower. She felt a lot better physically although the sight of the number of bruises on her body shocked her. What kind of woman would take so much of physical beating? A timid mouse? A doormat? a spineless being? Had she become such a woman? There was a time when she had fought for women battered by domestic violence in court and also in an NGO she had worked for in Law college. She had always felt pity for such women and also impatience at the inability of these women to extricate themselves from such a situation. In her various talks on the subject, she had quoted the Stockholm syndrome and compared the husband-wife relationship to be one of captor and hostage, where the hostage could not see the captor for what he was. Had she become one of them? She knew she needed a counsellor.

She went to the kitchen and requested Neena’s maid for some of her ginger-turmeric tea and then gathering courage she called the Counsellor she had worked with in her college days and fixed an appointment with her for the next day. She then sat down in the rocking chair next to the picture window and sipped her tea. She pushed the curtains aside. The lights glimmering on the hillside offered her comfort and warmth. She felt like a huge burden had lifted. Tomorrow would be a new day.

A Turnaround: Welcome
Writing by the Water

Kritika Dixit is a student of literature from Delhi University and has renounced a lucrative job in the corporate sector to pursue writing. Her writings have been featured in various literary periodicals. She is working on a collection of stories which is likely to hit the markets in 2023.

A Turnaround: Text
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