Need To Know

Entry by: Zanna

25th May 2018
Shackles of Love

The tangerine smells heavenly especially when I peel the skin with my dainty fingers painted in henna. Each segment of the orange tastes sweet with the juice filling my mouth and running down my throat. I spit out the seed and it lands inside an empty pizza box. I drink up the remaining cold coffee just to feel its bitterness on my tongue. The aroma of the fragrant tangerine lingers as I pick up what is left of my life after Raj's betrayal. The reality of the fruit's sweetness contrasts with the bitterness I feel in my heart.

Tonight, I will leave the dishes undone. The greasy pots, pans, ladle, plates and glasses fill the sink. I will even leave the kitchen as it is with crumbs on the cutting board, bits of dough stuck to the side of a bowl and a wine glass rim stained by my ruby red lipstick. In the dining room, a table has been set for two. I had placed two plain white dinner plates and wine glasses on a white linen table cloth. An unscented white candle in a glass holder is in the centre of the round table. Its mellow candlelight on white rose petals in a glass vase elevates the romantic presence. I simply love the combination of white and glass. The dinner will be a pleasant surprise for my husband, Raj. I wait eagerly to celebrate my second wedding anniversary with him. The time is 7.00pm. Raj is not here.

A year ago, I caught him talking for hours on his phone and he said they were business deals. I believed him. But the calls at late nights became too frequent and I grew suspicious with the manner he spoke. He lowered his tone to a low pitch and sometimes his deep voice varied to be a sing-song tone.

I remember clearly it was the month of June last year. Raj was in the shower when a ring tone 'Hello' by Adele was getting louder. My heart beat faster when he came out of the shower with a bath towel tied around his waist. He grabbed a hand towel to squeeze his black hair dry. Then he dried his wavy hair with a hair drier while staring at his reflection in the mirror. Raj had well-toned muscles. He caught me staring at him.

'Sunitha, I need to head back to the office. I've a case to prepare for tomorrow.'
'Who is Lola?' My voice trembled.
'How do you know Lola?' His face flushed and he quickly turned back to face me.
'I answered your call while you were in the shower.' I tried explaining to him.
'Don't you know better than answering my calls? Don't ever touch my phone!' his voiced turned ugly, 'Now get out of this room!'

He shut the bedroom door with a loud bang and locked it from inside. He was conversing for a long time behind the door. Before I could apologize, he left home in a rush and I saw him driving off in his car. From the 7th floor of our apartment, I gazed at the silhouette of the night skyline of Kuala Lumpur where Petronas Twin Towers stood out. I was trying to make sense of the skyline, the neon lights, the black cat crossing the road and my life.

The drama did not end there. The next day after a long tiring day at office, I came home to a shocking sight of my bedroom with shirts, pants, socks, papers and coins scattered all over our bed and the carpeted floor. His closet and drawers were empty while his luggage and sports shoes were missing. It seemed like a hurried get away. His phone was dead. He did not leave me a note.

I called up my papa and asked him if I should lodge a police report on "missing person". Papa advised me to leave the matter in his hands after I told him about Lola. The detective whom papa hired reported to him on Raj's whereabouts. He was still in town and was commuting to work from a hotel. He was spotted with a woman at several locations in the city. Black and white photos of Raj and Lola were spread out on the coffee table. The close proximity shared made me cringe. Papa had made an arrangement to meet Raj at his hotel lobby to confront him on the matter. I did not want the meeting to turn ugly. I begged papa to allow me to join him but instead he asked me to prepare for my first wedding anniversary. I decided to celebrate it with a romantic dinner. Papa promised to bring Raj home. I told myself I could forgive Raj and take him back into my life.

I cannot believe a year has passed. Tonight is my second wedding anniversary. I braid my long hair, pin jasmine to it with the stringed buds falling slightly over my right shoulder. I wear a pink sari with gold embroidery and place a red bindi on my forehead. I look outside the window and see oil palm leaves rustling in the wind. This oil palm estate is miles and miles away from Kuala Lumpur. My eyes sweep across the untidy kitchen. I glance at the pizza box. I can still smell the aroma of the tangerines despite the musty smell of the dining room. Then my eyes linger on the white candles on the table set for two for the candlelight relaxes me. The wall clock shows 8.00pm. I am ready to meet my husband.

I walk downstairs to the basement where a step of the staircase creaks. It is not pitch dark as a faint light from a bulb falls on a figure behind iron bars. I meet my husband's cold eyes who takes some time to recognize me. His cage of bones jitters and his lips swear. His dark eyes were sparkling in fury.

Raj has been locked up for months now in the basement after he refused to come home on our first wedding anniversary. Celebrating our second wedding anniversary together seems deeply moving to me. But he looks so distraught that I cannot have a proper conversation with him. He chokes back tears while speaking to me. I stare at the shackles around his ankles. I glance around at the sunless room equipped with a wooden bed with no mattress, sink and toilet bowl. I feel overwhelmed by the severe condition he is in and actually feel pity for him.

'Let me out, Sunitha! It's been a year! Please forgive me!' he said. His voice changes from a gruntling harsh tone to a pleading tone.
'You did not come home last year! You humiliated my family by taking a mistress.'
'Lola is ..I mean.. was my girlfriend. I agreed to our arranged marriage because of my mother. It was her dying wish that I marry you. I had no choice,' he said.
'I need to know whether you love me.'
'No...,' he said.
Raj's reply came too quickly and he realizes to his horror his mistake.
'Well, I'll see you again next year. You're safe for no storms visit here and no man too except of course for the faithful workers whom I've hired to take care of you!' I said.
'Wait..don't go...please..please don't leave me here!' He cries in anguish.

I go up to the kitchen, peel a tangerine, put a fleshly carpel in my mouth, crush it and lick my lips. The flame of the candle has long died. As the clock strikes twelve, I leave the bungalow, drive out of the oil palm plantation and never return. No one needs to know that my husband is paying a price for his betrayal of my love and trust.