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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jul 2015 - Jan 2016



The Apology

Mona Dash


Neeru sees Suresh standing outside the airport doors on the left, looking inside expectantly like everyone else, waiting to catch the first glimpse of their loved one walking into their world. She adjusts her hair before waving to catch his attention. They are meeting after eight years.
             She pauses for a moment to put on her shades before she steps into the bright sunlight. He walks towards her, his face wearing a huge grin. He looks heavier, dressed in a dark red shirt and beige trousers.  Is that his work attire?
            ‘Neeru! Hello! Welcome to Delhi,’ he says holding out his hand.
            ‘Hi Suresh, how are you?’ They shake hands formally. They could have been colleagues meeting at work. They could have been acquaintances meeting suddenly. Not the people they really are, years of memories standing at attention, ready to step out at unbidden moments.
            ‘Am fine, good flight? Come on let me take that.’ He takes her case and starts to walk briskly towards the parking area. Everything looks the same. People standing around randomly without any purpose; a maze of cars, bicycles and scooters on the move; the trees listless in the sun, and the heat which hangs over the city like a cloak, touching everything with its fingers, making you sweat even at 9 a.m.
            ‘Thanks. It wasn’t bad.’
            ‘So now you have a few hours here and then off to Bhubaneswar, right? How are your parents?’
            ‘Thanks for asking, they are fine!’
            ‘I really admire them. Your father, such a dignified man and what a good surgeon!  Remember when he operated on my arm? No, No!! We don’t need any help,’ he shouts at the porter who has appeared offering to take her case to the car.
            ‘Too many people here in my opinion,’ he says impatiently. She remembers that impatience in his voice, so much to remember, so much to forget.           
            ‘Of course I remember the surgery – you were such a wimp! It’s really hot here though, didn’t expect it, it’s only May.’ Just a few minutes in the sun and she is conscious of sweat dripping down her linen shirt. She has hurriedly bought some sun friendly stuff from the Monsoon in Heathrow.
            ‘You have already forgotten! May, Delhi – it’s always been this hot, yaar!  This year is predicted to be really bad. It’s going to get worse.’
            ‘That’s a shame,’ she said secretly glad that she didn’t live here anyway. ‘I hope you didn’t have to come from far? Did you have to come from far? Where’s your office?’
            ‘Nehru Place. Exactly the other end of town. Two hours in the traffic! But for’s worth it.’ He smiles broadly, the way he does in the picture she had on her mantelpiece for years.  She tries to remember what she has done with it, where she has put it away.
            ‘Hope it wasn’t too much trouble.’  Then before he can comment, she changes the topic. ‘It’s a great airport, everything was so quick!’               
            ‘It’s new, built only a few months back. So much has changed in Delhi; you won’t know the city now.’ Suresh stops at a shiny black Toyota.  She steps into its spotless interiors, no doubt well-tended to by the domestic help. She thinks of her cluttered Mini. She really must take it to Posh-Wosh once she gets back to England.
            ‘I plan to get an Audi soon, we have them in India. Quite expensive.’
            ‘But this car looks new.’
            ‘Yeah it’s only from last year, but I like my cars, remember?’
           Neeru does, but she isn’t here to traverse down memory lane. Her trip to India was planned in a few days. One of her customers asked to see their Indian operations. While her colleagues in India could have managed the site visit, it was decided she should be there to accompany her customers. She left a few days early, to take advantage of the weekend and meet her parents in Orissa. Nigel encouraged her to spend time with her family, even asking if he should come.  But it was too soon to plan. ‘Another day, another time,’ she told him.
                Flights booked, she updated on Facebook telling her friends in Delhi she would be there for a few hours in transit. If anyone was free she could meet them.  Within minutes, as she expected, Suresh was in touch. He could come to the airport, help her if needed. She had agreed. 
            Suresh honks and brakes sharply when a cyclist swerves in front of him.  ‘Bastard,’ he opens the window and shouts.  It is a reedy young man who cycles off, not before shouting- ‘Saala.’ Suresh grimaces.
            She notices Suresh’s white socks and slip on black shoes. At one time, she had thought he had an immaculate dress sense. Those naïve eyes of hers, which had always seen so much in him, those years back.
            They had met when studying business administration in Savpur, a small university town near Mumbai. She was in her second year when Suresh had joined. Older, confident, with several years of work experience. He knew some of the others in her group of friends, and started hanging out with them. Like her he had an opinion on everything; always different from hers. They discussed, they argued, and as she got angrier, he seemed more amused.
             One evening, they had a row, though she could no longer remember why. She was so furious with his condescending comments that she had walked away from her friends.
            He had followed her. ‘Come on, relax. I am only teasing.’ he had called out. Still in the same teasing tone. In order to shake him off, she had gone past the library, up a flight of stairs and found herself on the terrace of the office building. The cool breeze carried with it a scent of jasmine, the night sky was littered with a million stars. Not a single cloud, the light from the stars was bright. A moment of coolness after a hot day in the tropics. Some glass domed structures rose from the terrace at different levels. Like the pyramids, she thought, suddenly aware that Suresh was behind her.
              Look at that,’ she said, turning to face him anger forgotten. ‘Like the pyramids. What are these structures?’
              ‘I don’t know, maybe they are like skylights? To let in light to the rooms downstairs?’ They stood together for a while in silence watching the evening stars. When after a while, he had reached out towards him, large dark eyes looking into hers, and unthinkingly they kissed, it felt the most natural thing in the world.
         After that evening, they came here often. University rules didn’t allow the opposite sexes to be entering each other’s hostels. Here they couldn’t hear anyone. The sky rose over them in a canopy of stars. In the middle of the terrace the glass domes shone silver in the moonlight. This was their secret, the place and their relation hidden from everyone. Not once did she question the secrecy, but without it perhaps their relation had no basis.
            One of those summer evenings, he had taken her, not having planned it.
‘I will pull out,’ he promised. ‘Don’t worry. It’s just the once, nothing will happen.’ Later he assured her he had. He was always sure, he was always right, she thought.

            He stops at a restaurant, a bright pink board with Dosa House emblazoned in orange. ‘You must be so hungry.  You may not be having dosas in London, so I thought…’
‘I am not that hungry really…but you go on, you can have some breakfast. I will just have a coffee.’  Maybe he wants her to be happy that he remembers. That she used to like dosas, that sometimes they had shared a crispy dosa for breakfast, breaking off triangles of dosa and dipping into the small bowl of sambhar.
There is a strong smell of incense in the restaurant. Marigold garlands cover a golden statue in an alcove in the far corner. A devotional chant is playing on the music system – Druga Sahara nama, the strains come back to her from childhood.
‘Looks like they have just finished their morning puja,’ she says.
‘They opened only half an hour back I think. Everything is made fresh here. You must have something.’ He leads her to a table in the corner.
‘You look so beautiful, so confident,’ he says as they sit at the small formica table, basic like most South Indian places were.             ‘It’s the cold air, it suits you. Here, in this heat, we all crumple, we shrivel.’
‘It’s not so bad, everything is air-conditioned. You live in your air conditioned homes.’
‘You know what I mean! But you - yeah life is treating you well.’
She was conscious of her toned legs, her slim arms.  She had wanted him to notice, wanted to show him she was happy.
‘Long hair suits you. I remember that hair, so shiny. Am I making you uncomfortable? But, you know what, I can’t stop admiring you!’
‘Thanks! I can take some compliments in my stride,’ she says lightly.
He continues to look at her.
‘This is very spicy,’ she says, having a spoon of the sambhar. He has ordered a dosa and sambhar for her saying he couldn’t eat if she didn’t.
‘You are too used to the English food now! Maybe that cold food suits you?  Me, I need this, the heat, the chillies, the passion…’ She purposefully looks away.
‘I need to call Seema, just check how everything is.’

            Inspite of their kisses, their passion they made no promises to each other.  She saw him with Kavita once, the long haired buxom girl in her class.  She was astride on his bike, laughing loud peals of hyaenic laughter, he was smiling as he drove back through the hostel gates. When she asked him where he had gone with her he seemed puzzled at this stroke of jealously, unwarranted, unreasonable. Their relationship was unique, to get committed would ruin its beauty he said.  She never questioned him after that, always feeling a sharp anger when she saw him talking to any other girl.

            And then, the child that never was, lay buried under the soil, a tiny foetus, maybe ten weeks or less, still not fully shaped perhaps. She didn’t know, she hadn’t looked at it. It was very quick. The nurses said ‘It’s just a d and c, nothing major.’ They had wrapped it in old clothes and asked her if she wanted to take it away and bury it or leave it to the hospital to discard it.  Suresh and she had denied anything to do with it, anything to forget their lapse in reason.          
A month before, he had given her a card and some flowers. The card said ‘Whatever has happened between us is special, and even if nothing ever comes out of it, it is special and so are you.’
Special, but not special enough to save a life, to have the child.  He hadn’t thought twice, he hadn’t even looked upset; he had planned the appointment so calmly. She was no Mary, she had no desire to mother this child on her own. It was only in England she had learnt that you could have babies and add them to your life easily, just like another holiday, another trip. It wasn’t the accepted way in India, her family, her friends would have been shocked. Her life would never have been the same. She had miles to go, a lot to achieve. She had to throw out this part of herself.

            ‘You want to go home now? Freshen up?’ He asks bringing her back to the sunlit morning.
‘Who’s at home?’  She asked, knowing he had never married.
‘No one, I have a servant boy but he may be out now.’   Servants –Nigel wouldn’t have liked that comment. But Suresh continues unaware that he would be enraging anyone.
‘He does the cooking, the shopping, manages the house.’
‘The luxury in India! I had to learn to be self- sufficient.’
‘Do you cook?! I can’t imagine you cooking.’  Indeed she hadn’t known how to cook earlier. She thinks of Nigel standing in their kitchen, his brows furrowed as he makes sauces for the pasta with the freshest ingredients. He never uses anything out of a jar. She wants to say, I hardly cook these days as well, my boyfriend does. But she can’t bring Nigel yet into this day, so ablaze already with the bright sun.
She follows him into the flat with shiny marble tiled floors. A large Nataraja stands in one corner, some hand-painted murals hang over the dining table.
‘You have done it up well.’
‘Thanks, I like to collect antiques. I just pick things when I travel.’
He shows her to a bedroom with an en-suite, to freshen up, he says. A low bed, futon like, with an embroidered red bedspread is in the centre. Red was her favourite colour. Did he remember that as well?  Now she showers, imagining him outside. What if he is standing there outside, right near the door, what if he is lying on the bed and waiting for a kiss?  Those unforgettable passionate kisses.

            It had been a hot day on the fifteenth of July when they had removed the baby. He held her hand in the taxi on the way back. Black rows pecked at the bits of food lying around the street stalls selling ‘Choumein’, golgappas and chat. They cawed loudly, as if in dirge, as if they knew. 
No one else knew, no one else would ever know. Since then she couldn’t bear the heat, it sliced through her knowing that secret place where it still hurt so much that it made her cry at times not expected. She had run away to cooler climes, where the sun hid politely, where it didn’t glare this openly, exposing one’s hurts, and wounds.

            She steps out dressed in a white embroidered top over faded blue, deft make strokes cover her tiredness. The curtains have been drawn, the air conditioner whirs gently.  She almost expects him to be there waiting.
But he is on the phone, pacing in the living room. When he sees her, he hangs up immediately.
‘Just someone from office.’
‘You must be busy, was it alright to take the day off?’
‘That’s fine, it’s worth it for you. I have told them I have a very important guest at home.’
‘I can take a cab back to the airport, to save you the long trip.’
‘You look so beautiful.’ He uses the same expression, the same voice from years back. ‘Stay, stay back.’
She laughs. ‘I live somewhere else now.’
‘That’s not you, you belong here, in this city where we lived, with me.’ He takes her hand and kisses it. His lips, his moustache, it feels the same. The same from years back, as if nothing has ever happened or ever gone wrong.
‘And where were you all these years, now you realise…’ she says.  He is kissing her now, the same ardour, that sheer feeling of abandon.
‘I have missed you so much, love you so much.’  He is whispering. ‘I am sorry, sorry. What a coward I was, what a fool.’  He is guiding her with his hands, moving her to the nearest sofa, the deep red cushions interspersed with golden figures. She is on the cushions now. Somewhere from outside she hears voices, the crows cawing as they always do when it is hot. A desolate lonely cry. It is early morning in England, Nigel would be waking up, making his coffee, his feet bare on the cool tiles of the kitchen. She needs to call him.     Suresh is now kissing her shoulder- ‘It should have never happened. You left, you didn’t come back, and I wrote to you…you didn’t reply. For years I have missed you, finally you let me in your life…’ His face feels wet on her shoulder; the tears are soaking through her top.

            A lot of other things had been lost with the baby. The pyramids held no mystery anymore. A bloodied child reached out for her at her when she tried to sleep. She forgot how to smile for years. She worked hard for their campus selection interviews and got one of the one of the most sought after jobs. The need to escape remained. Away from the heat, away from the familiarity, anything to forget that mound of blood from inside her which was buried somewhere under the soft earth. When she moved to London within a year of graduating, Suresh and she lost touch with each other. It was only a couple of years back that he had sent her a friend request on Facebook.

            His fingers are trying to melt the years in between, but the shadow of a soul which wasn’t to be will always be there between them. She feels the familiar anger in her rise.           ‘Enough! I should leave now,’ she pushes him away.
He looks up, his face ashen. ‘I am sorry Neeru, really, I didn’t plan this. But I have missed you, have wanted to see you - haven’t you thought of me as well? Can’t we give it another chance?’
‘No Suresh, I haven’t missed you, I have moved away from this,’ she gestures broadly. ‘I am a different person.  I am in love with Nigel…we live together. We are to get married this year. I never loved you, never.’
She watches his face crumple, the tears flow. But he has to repent, to make up for all those times she has cried, a pawn in the relation. It is through the tears flowing from his eyes that he can make an apology to the child that never was, to the mother she might have been.  This is the outcome she has wanted for years. She watches him sob, mentally planning a detour at the new Gurgaon shopping mall before heading to the airport in a cab.
She smiles thinking of meeting her family. She smiles looking at his tears. ‘Goodbye.’ she says.
There are no more worries. Finally she is free of the heat.



Mona Dash was born and educated in India, and came to London to work, in 2001. With a background in Engineering and Management, she works in Telecoms Solution Sales.
She writes fiction and poetry and her work has been published in various magazines internationally and anthologised widely. She has recently gained a Masters in Creative Writing, with distinction, from the London Metropolitan University.

Dawn-drops is her first collection of poetry published by Writer’s Workshop, India.  Her first book of fiction is represented by Red Ink Literary agency.