Perceptions by V Praveenkumar

I will never understand how some people can just jump to conclusions that a woman who gains ownership to a mansion after her husband’s death is most likely a successful gold-digger and perhaps even a psychopath witch. I’m a normal human being with her own dreams. How is it my fault that life decided to take a twisted turn! So here I am, being normal, doing something I hope I can find calmness in, writing.  But what could I possibly write about? There is nothing that has not been written about. Perhaps, I have forgotten that books are just like life –  collections of everyday ordinaries, fragments of another person’s mind. It has never been my intention to write my way to fame and glory. My intention is to simply pen my realities. If I could ignite some insights in some people through my words, double the purpose is served!

Rich widows - trust me when I say this, very little is known about such women or should I say, very little is known about me. I never imagined dying alone. I always wanted to die a happily married woman with loving children surrounding me. The last time my house was close to being a home, I prepared his favorite chicken masala & biryani. It was past 10pm, the food was ready, the scent of ghee & saffron wafted through our home. We sat, I served & we started eating. The only sounds that filled the dining room were the chewing of roasted chicken meat and the cracking of papadum. He threw a few compliments about the food at me. I acknowledged it with a second serving.   

“Dia, I have early morning tomorrow, I go finish some work and then sleep”, he informed me as his eyes focused on his Samsung device resting safely in his left palm as his right hand simultaneously fed himself the last bits of biryani. How I wished it was my cheeks that rested in his palms instead of that phone. It occurred to me rather fleetingly that he had developed wrinkles at the sides of his eyes, probably due to all the work and tension that he put himself through every day or perhaps age had started to catch up. Time was passing us by. Regardless, I decided to postpone the topic of having a child once again, keeping in mind that Ismail was probably drowning in his own pool of worries at work. I told myself I had to be a good and understanding wife as I had been instructed to be for as long as I can remember. Putting my thoughts aside, I looked up to wish him all the best and bid him goodnight, only to realize he had already left for his study. That was the last dinner I had with my husband.

The next time I saw him, he was lying face up, on a hospital bed, not breathing, looking like he had just come out of a warzone, with thick bandages molded on his head. After a few unsuccessful attempts of trying to wake him up, I realized that he was gone. Staring at his lifeless body that had been severely bruised by what the police officer informed me was a speeding lorry, I gasped as I clung onto his shirt that was soaked in his blood.

“WAKE UP ISMAIL!! PLEASE WAKE UP! I PROMISE I WILL NEVER ASK FOR A BABY! PLEASE WAKE UP! I JUST NEED YOU! PLEASE WAKE UP? I WILL COOK YOUR FAVOURITE BIRYANI! WON’T YOU WAKE UP FOR THAT AT LEAST?” I shook him in hopes of bribing him back to life. I realized then that I did not even know what else my husband liked other than biryani.

I never got to tell him how badly I wanted a child and a family. Guilt was a handmaiden of sorrow and I knew I was going to be haunted by both for the rest of my years for all my unexpressed desires. As I stood by his grave during his funeral, bidding my final goodbye, the poisonous whispers of accusations invaded my ears. Accusations from people I thought were supposed to be my family. I never asked for a rich husband. I never craved for the lavish lifestyle. All I wanted was a loving husband and a happy family. A woman does not dream to be married into a respectable Engineer family; a woman dreams to be loved and to be part of a loving and accepting family. I wished that my parents were still around so that I could push the accusations towards them. They were the real gold-diggers. I felt like I was alone in the world. Sooner or later, I was the only one at the funeral as the thunders in the skies threatened people into hiding.

That night, I made my way back to what used to be a home in the recesses of my heart. I knew I was not only going to enter a house that would be haunted by his memories, but a neighborhood that would haunt me with its words as well. The little family I thought I had turned out to be nothing but an illusion. How silly of me to assume that my in-laws would stick around and love me like their own daughter. How ridiculous of me to have thought that they would stick around to comfort me.

As the days progressed, the reality of things started to sink in—that I was truly alone in this world. I got out of my home as much as possible and went for walks to clear my head. I would spend hours finding solace simply watching my neighbor’s kids play in the garden. The smallest smiles they gave me when I threw the ball back to them when it came into my garden would make my day. Deep down I knew that this was probably the closest I would ever get to having a child. Soon even this little happiness would be taken away from me. It was a sunny Friday evening and the kids were playing with their ball and as usual, the ball came bouncing into my garden. Looking forward to my little dose of happiness, I picked up the ball for them, but this time the kids scurried back into their homes as if they saw a ghost. Confused, I brought the ball over to their side of the garden and as I was about to knock on their door when I heard something that would break my heart even more than I thought was possible.

“Do you want to get another beating! Why you throw the ball there? How many times I tell you? That witch did some magic and killed her own husband just to take the house to herself! Imagine what she will do to you for throwing your stupid toys there! GO TO YOUR ROOMS!”

First my family, now even my neighbors? What I did to deserve such a label I will never know. I should have broken into a rage upon hearing such accusations but I was not angry. I should have broken down into tears, but I did not cry. I left the ball there and went back into my cocoon without a drop of expression on my face. The following day, those kids’ parents, Mr and Mrs Rajambal visited, bearing fruits and other food items. It was amusing how they assumed I wouldn’t notice the fact that they did not bring their kids over like they used to. It’s fascinating how they assumed I wouldn’t notice the whispers of accusation of me being witch when I prepared coffee for them in the kitchen. Coffee that they would pretend to sip on but never drank, fearing I may have poisoned it. I knew that somewhere in their superstitious minds they hoped that the fruits and food they brought would be some kind of a peace offering.

 “Do they honestly believe I am actually a powerful witch who would do something to their kids just because their ball fell into my garden?” I shook my head as I forced a smiled at them, ignoring their unprecedented supposed act-of-kindness.

A couple of days later, I had another visit, but this time with a different agenda. I opened the door that evening to see a worn out Mrs Rajambal cradling the lifeless body of her son in her arms.


She then went on to thrust what seemed like sand at my face before storming off. It’s a stupid Indian belief to throw sand towards a person when you wish for them to go to hell. Clearly she didn’t take any chances with that, throwing it straight into my face. What broke my heart most was that she didn’t even let me touch that poor innocent child. I learned that he had met with a hit-and-run accident as he ran into the road to get his ball earlier that evening, or so I heard from the police who came to ask if I had seen the culprit’s number plate.

As the days went by, the town’s once light-hearted buzz started to die down. Kids who used to play in the garden in the evenings were nowhere to be found. The neighborhood had become eerily silent. As I went for my walks, the ominous crushing of soil against my sneakers were almost piercing. Even the dogs of the neighborhood seemed to have lost their spunk. I realized Mr and Mrs Rajambal weren’t the only ones to give me the cold shoulder. Rumor had spread to the entire neighborhood about me being a witch. Even the cashier at the nearby 7-11 who used to make friendly conversation with me, bitching about her boring job, wouldn’t look me in the eye any more. Everywhere I went, I felt eyes gawking at me and whispers about my apparent ruthlessness sneaking into my ears.

After that, I refused to leave the house. I wanted to run away, but where would I go? I couldn’t find a job with my A level certificate, not these days. My parents never entertained the idea of allowing me to further my studies. It was always marriage over a degree as a woman’s place should be in the kitchen not an office.

After a few days of sleeping in the living room, I decided to take a walk, just around the mansion. I dragged my feet up the steps towards the bedroom, the place Ismail first brought me to as his new bride. A brothel rather than a bedroom, it seemed to me. The pink glow that slithered on the floor from the night-lights at the sides of the room added to its effect. A bedroom was supposed to be a place of love, but it was merely a place for him to use me for an escape when work was too overwhelming or perhaps when his other world was not working out too well for him. It never mattered to him that I had not the slightest expression on my face as he was getting his release. Perhaps he knew that secretly I wanted a child. Regardless, that was the only reason I prostituted myself; the hope of bearing a child that could perhaps give me a new lease on life. Unfortunately for me, there was the invention of that stupid condom.

I dragged myself down to the kitchen. Bottles of various spices still neatly lined up on the counter tops while unwashed pots & pans in the wash basin had become the feasting ground for cockroaches. Growing up, I had always dreamt of the kind of husband who would sit in the kitchen as I cooked his favorite meals as he taste-tested my different recipes, the kind of husband who would surprise me with morning breakfasts which would probably be disastrous but still cute and adorable because it would be made out of love for me, the kind of husband who would play dolls with our daughter in the living room as I prepared lunch for us all. Reality crept back to me when a cockroach crawled onto my fingers. Flinging the cockroach away, I escaped into the living room. Tripping over a wire, I found myself slamming shoulder-first onto the cold marble floor. The pain in my shoulder however was incomparable to the pain in my heart. The skin underneath my chin trembled as I eyed the photograph of my husband, myself and my in-laws resting arrogantly on the television table. The three of them, my in-laws and my husband were sitting down on red-cushioned chairs as I stood behind them, respectfully. How dare a bride sit beside her own husband when the groom’s parents were around? That was their logic.

My eyes slowly started to drip tears. It was the first time I had cried since that day at the hospital. This time however, I was not crying for him. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I was crying for me. There was a kind of rawness to how I wailed that evening, finally acknowledging the pain from a wound that was opened almost 11 years ago when he slid that ring on my finger. I did not try to hold my tears in. Not anymore. My screams bounced off the dark maroon walls, my fists pounding the marble floor in agony.

I thought I would have felt better after a good long sleep, but I did not. The rotting odors from the kitchen still pierced my senses. The thick stuffy atmosphere in the hall suffocated me. I could not cry any more. It is said that it takes strength to cry at sadness; strength to engage with the authentic feelings of what is being felt deep down. Clearly, I had used up all my strength that night. I knew I was depleted. I could not go on like this. I had to do something for myself. I had to stand up for myself. Suddenly, I felt a flame being lit within me. A flame that was sparked by years of constant friction. I knew that this flame was going to spread like wild fire.

What happened next was a series of motions that happened as if it were programmed into me by an external source. Oblivious to the piercing ache in my shoulder, I grabbed that family photograph, strutted up into the bedroom and placed it on the study table. I draped myself in a red sari and combed my long wavy hair, hair which my husband never allowed me to cut short. I maintained it thinking it would make him happy. I had always secretly hoped that he would be free one of the nights and comb it for me. It would be a little activity which I thought could help salvage the loosening bond between us and ignite some romance rather than lust. Little did I know my hair would only be of use for him to grab as he indulged in his cynical pleasures from the back. Clenching my trembling fists, I smiled at my reflection in the mirror, almost laughing at my own naiveté.

I tucked myself in the chair of the study and opened up an empty diary. I flicked off the cover of a ball-point pen and began to write my story as I glared at the family photograph. That story I wrote is the story you are reading right now. The story of a rich widow who many despised for no valid reason; the story of a rich widow who some even thought was a witch; the story of a rich widow who no one bothered to understand due to their own superstitious beliefs. Superstitious beliefs that transformed me from a simple girl who simply craved for love and family into one that is full of hatred for the world!

As you see my blood on the pages of this diary, may your words and actions not be the reason for the blood of another to be spilt.