Flash Fiction: The Unseen Hand
A young Indian joins an Irish hospital as a junior resident. It’s lonely in Belfast, where the cold weather stings, as do the high prices. Will the fellow expats she meets bring comfort?
Mamma, your powers of prediction held strong as always—they knew I was coming. Nothing else can explain why, on the first evening I dropped in on them, they had laid out a table heavy with dishes—all fixed up by Anita, naturally—and why Ravi had procured wine. A “rather fine one,” he proclaimed, that “rolled around the tongue and landed just a little bitter on the palate.” All nonsense—it sandpapered my palate just like every glass of wine he had foisted on us back in Mumbai. Even three years in Belfast haven’t cured him of his fondness for cheap alcohol obtained at a bargain. Back home he fleeced our local wine shop, and here he must have rubbed his hands in glee when filching a discounted bottle from Tesco.
How many benefits of moving here had Anita tossed my way—a healthy income, economic rents, and reasonable bills all adding up to a fattening savings account. In pounds, she said, even a fraction mushrooms into googols of Indian rupees.
This is my burden—I shell out full rent. No one signed up to share with me. I haven’t saved a penny since I got here. Taxi rides cost me more than a restaurant meal back home. The first time I glimpsed the price of a chicken biryani at a restaurant, I longed to order it just so I could sift through those fine grains of basmati to hunt for bits of gold.
Anita meets a wide circle of friends for brunches, coffee sessions, and ladies’ nights. She goes shopping and stirs up potlucks with them, and they gift each other hand-knitted sweaters bearing cute buttons and teeny pockets. I tagged along once, and they didn’t even smile when I mentioned my job as a junior resident at a premier hospital. They had all escorted their husbands to Europe, and one of them was married to a doctor in my hospital. I recognized the name and said so, happy to find a kindred spirit. But she merely turned to Anita and asked about her summer plans.
I feel so lonely, Mamma, and I don’t know what to do. Darkness shrouds the world outside. The sky remains overcast and shrouds the city in a dull grey. I drape my blanket of loneliness in my compact living room, sipping English tea and reading a book or surfing channels on the television. I rev up the heating, but Anita says my electricity bill will skyrocket. If I want to save any precious pounds, I should keep it low and dress in layers.
One weekend the sky cleared, so I called Anita and offered to cook dinner for her and Ravi. She named a restaurant. I googled it before leaving the house. It looked expensive, so I ate a cheese sandwich and left. That way I could order just a side rather than a full meal.
At the restaurant, I discovered my friends had carted along a friend. His name was Deepak, and the way he flicked his hair from his eyes, I had to ignore Ravi’s order of champagne. I stayed mum when Anita chose the duck, but Deepak prodded me to taste the roast chicken and mashed potatoes spread on his plate, and even served me some.
For dessert, I asked the waiter if they stocked rasgullas or gulab jamuns, but he smiled and shook his head. Anita smirked.
“You don’t get Indian food here, my dear. You should have asked me . . . no need to ask stupid questions and embarrass yourself.”
You taught me, Mamma, that there were no right or wrong questions. Deepak must have abided by this belief too, for he came to my rescue, and rebuked Anita. She didn’t flinch or dish out a snappy retort, as I half-expected her to.
Just a few weeks later, Deepak invited me to dinner at Ruby Tuesday on Lisburn Road. That’s walking distance from my house on Eglantine Avenue. It serves tasty British food, though Deepak laughed and said that’s an oxymoron. Over a shared meal of steak and mashed potatoes, he told me about his three sisters whom he hopes to get married off soon, because his father died young and now it’s his responsibility.
You would have approved of him, Mamma. How many boys do you know who are such good brothers? He ordered for me, and even treated me later to a blueberry mousse which he said I’d like and I really did. Up close, he’s much handsomer than I thought at first.
He walked me back home. Outside the door, he squeezed my hand. After our third meal together, he kissed me on the front steps of my house! I feel ashamed to tell you this, Mamma, but it excited me. I must have turned red, because we stood on the street in full view of our neighbours. But people didn’t even turn their heads, because here public affection is as common as a singsong accent.
One day Anita invited me to a lunch party at her house where all her friends had gathered. I let slip a mention of Deepak. She giggled, and leaned in close to my ear. “Don’t tell Ravi, but I’m pretty close to that guy! He’s so hot!”
The way she uttered those words, shame and embarrassment burned my cheeks, and I left her house immediately. Deepak called, and even dropped by, but I never answered the phone, or the door.
You were right, Mamma. She never liked me. I don’t know why I’ve stayed friends with her so long.
Now I have no one, Mamma, and I don’t know what to do.
You were always my best friend, and your note said to never follow your path, so I stay strong. But every day, I wish I could leave all this and come to you.
Gargi Mehra works as a Project Manager in the IT arm of an international bank. Her work has appeared in numerous online and print journals, including The Forge Literary Magazine, The Temz Review and The Writer. She lives in Pune, India, with her husband and two children. She blogs at www.gargimehra.com
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