Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Shortlist Kanchan Gandhi

Sallie’s Resolve: “Lock ‘em in, say goodbye and move on”

September 2005
Sallie and Henry were newly wedded when they decided to move to Utah from Mexico. Both wanted to pursue higher studies in Salt Lake City. Henry also wanted to enjoy some lone time with Sallie away from his family. Good luck shined on them as they secured admissions with funding in a good University in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was a beautiful city, nestled within hills, serene and spectacular. Sallie was super-excited about the move. They were going to a “developed country” and could build a good life for themselves. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and Sallie resolved to work very hard and leave no stone unturned to obtain permanent residency in their new place. Moreover, she didn’t want to return to Mexico to Henry’s familial home since his family’s behavior stifled her.
They rented a cozy apartment near their University campus and began their respective courses. Gradually they made friends with their batch-mates and their social life improved. On weekends, they would go fishing in Jordanelle Lake and have barbecues with their friends. Sallie was a devout Christian and loved going to the Church every Sunday. Henry on the other hand wanted to relax and unwind at home on the weekends. He encouraged Sallie to go to the church and pursue her religious interests. Sallie was a great singer and used to sing in her church in Mexico. 

That Sunday morning Sallie saw Peter at the church for the first time. Singing in the Church choir, he was a tall, white man with grey hair and a Godly face with soft features. She was instantly drawn towards his saintly looks. He had an intense voice and she could feel spiritually connected to the Lord as she heard him sing. As she began singing, she saw Peter noticing her. After the sermon was over, there was a tea session in the adjoining hall. She walked up to Peter. He was sitting alone at his table. She introduced herself as a graduate student from Mexico. Peter complimented her for her singing and told her that she must join the church choir and be a regular member at the singing club. He invited to join his solo singing slot that he got at the church every Sunday morning.

Sallie was grateful to have found a friend, a kind old man who was encouraging her in her spiritual endeavors. He gave her an MP3 player full of religious hymns and asked her to memorise them like a “parrot”.
“Thank you so much Sir, this is so nice of you” she quipped excitedly in awe of him.
“I will hear them and try to learn as much as possible and I will also try and be regular at the church gatherings”.
Christmas was fast approaching and Peter asked her to join his family for the celebrations along with Henry. On Christmas eve, Henry drove Sallie to Peter’s home. She looked excited to visit her new friend’s house and told Henry to stop to by to pick some goodies on their way. 

At Peter’s home Sallie met his wife Beth for the first time. Beth was a Mexican woman, heavily built with a warm aura. Being a Mexican, Sallie could relate to Beth promptly as the two women looked alike in their physical appearance. Sallie could easily pass off as Beth’s daughter. She felt at home instantly. Sallie saw Peter and Beth’s wedding pictures on the wall. They looked so much younger in them. Peter began to tell them how he had met Beth and fell in love with her on the first sight when she had moved into their neighbourhood with her family. He had gone down on his knees to ask her hand from her family. 

“Wow! What an interesting story” thought Sallie whose marriage with Henry had been arranged by their parents. Peter and Beth had two sons from their marriage. The elder one was thirty years old, same as Sallie’s age and the younger one was twenty-two and was studying at the University.
Peter appeared to be a complete family man, caring and warm and Sallie respected him even more after she visited his house. Beth had fixed a nice Mexican dinner with beans, burritos, and tacos for everybody. Sallie got home thoroughly satisfied. She kept praising Peter, Beth, and their family on their drive back home. Henry nodded in assent and smiled. He was happy to see her pleased.

Peter offered to pick Sallie in his car on his way to the Church every Sunday. On Sundays, Sallie waited eagerly for Peter who would call her when he reached her doorstep. She would wave happily at Henry as she left for her Church session. The singing healed her and provided much needed respite from the heavy academic life at her laboratory in the University. Peter seemed equally enchanted by his new singing partner. He urged her to learn new hymns and invited her to accompany him to people’s homes for prayer meetings where he was invited to sing. 

One morning at the Church, Sallie saw a young girl named Ashley walk up to Peter and converse with him. Later Peter informed her that she wanted to date his younger son, so she was trying to be friends with him as well. But what he said next startled Sallie.
“It’s ok if they want to date for a while. But I always tell my son Nick that he should not get stuck with one girl at this age. It is his age to play around with women. You know he should experiment with different women” he said. 

Sallie’s jaw dropped. “Play around with women?” she thought. “That sounds pretty nasty. He thinks women are objects to be played around with? Such a spiritual looking man with such poor views about women!”. She found it hard to reconcile the two contrasting faces of Peter. On the one hand was this graceful, spiritual old man singing in the temple and on the other was a high school boy talking of “playing around” with women. 

“How could one person have such contradictory two faces?” she wondered.
She was however, too fond of the old man and enjoyed the spiritual singing experience at the church much to be judgmental of him and dismissed his comment to the back of her mind.

The following summer Henry and Sallie went back home to Mexico to spend time with their families.

September 2006
Sallie was back in Salt Lake City but Henry had stayed on in Mexico to help around with the family business. He had finished his degree course but Sallie still had a few years of work contract with her lab. She was alone and felt stressed about Henry’s absence. She missed him terribly and wished that he would come home soon. Food became her recourse to deal with the sense of loss. She had put on oodles of weight since she arrived in Salt Lake City. She neglected her health and focused solely on completing her studies successfully so that she and Henry could build a better life for themselves in this foreign land. 

She continued with her singing sessions at the church. They were a source of succor in hard times since she was missing Henry.
“Henry’s family is holding him back” she complained to Peter one day.
“Well that is really bad, why doesn’t he resist and return back to you? It’s already been a month that you are alone” he asked.
“I don’t know! He seems to give in to familial pressures too soon” 
“Sallie, why don’t we go out for a meal tonight?” Peter suggested.
“The two of us?” she asked surprised.
“What about Beth? Ask her to join us” she added.
“Oh! She doesn’t keep too well and will prefer to be at home” he said.
“Ok – I will be ready at 7 pm then” said Sallie.
Peter and Sallie went to a Mexican eatery in downtown for dinner. On their way-back as Peter stopped to drop her home, he asked “Can I get a kiss?”

Sallie was aghast.
“No” she retorted.
“Please Sallie” he implored.
“I must go, Henry will be calling shortly” she snapped as she got of the car and banged the door behind her.
It was a heavy night for Sallie. With Henry not around and Peter hitting on her, she felt uneasy. She tossed and turned in the bed. 

“No more Sunday church sessions for me” she decided determinedly.
“I can pursue my spiritual interests on other days too. Why should I have to go only on Sunday in that time-slot? I can go at other times. Yes, that’s what I am going to do” she told herself after a long internal conflict.
Soon it was time for Henry to return. On Sunday he was surprised to find Sallie home.
“Hey you aren’t going to the church?” he quizzed.
Sallie looked low as she replied “No I decided to take a break from the Sunday church sessions”
“Why? Did something happen while I was away?” he asked curiously.
“No, nothing – I need to focus on finishing my research and may use my weekends for lab work” she said. 

September 2007
Henry now had a job and Sallie was completing her course. One Sunday Sallie lazed around the house she said “I really miss the Sunday singing sessions”
“Go back then” said Henry.
“Come with me honey. I don’t want to go alone” said Sallie.
“I can come sometimes, but not every Sunday – you know that” said Henry.
Back in the church Peter was surprised to see Sallie after a year’s absence.
He met her at the tea table. She greeted him.
“Why do some women take extreme steps? I am an educated man and I understand if a woman says no” he reprimanded her.
Sallie hadn’t expected him to bring up this topic again and didn’t respond to his chiding remarks. 

May 2008
Henry had packed his bags. He was returning to Mexico to his family. They needed him he said. Sallie’s dreams of settling in the USA were coming crashing down. She felt dejected.
On Sunday she told Peter “Henry’s left. His family succeeded in pulling him back home.”
“Left? How could he leave you in between of your studies? You are still finishing your education. What kind of a husband is he to you? I don’t think he will ever stand by you” admonished Peter.
“How dare he talk like this to me? Who is he to pass a judgement on Henry’s character” thought Sallie angrily. 

September 2009
Sallie was packing her bags. She had completed her studies and was following Henry back to Mexico. She felt heartbroken as she looked at her apartment where she had spent good times with Henry and her friends. She wept as she packed away the little things she had accumulated in the house over the last four years. She remembered all the vacations they had enjoyed at Las Vegas, Arizona, and California. She was heavy at the thought of leaving behind her friends and teachers in Salt Lake City.
“Is this how this was going to end” she wept her heart out. Her only source of comfort was that she would soon be with Henry. But the thought of seeing his family and co-residing with them filled her with disgust. With mixed feelings, she embarked on her journey back home. 

March 2010
Sallie was back in her parents’ house in Mexico City. She had tried to adjust with Henry’s family members but their relationships had soured. Henry had offered little support in shielding her from the vicious attacks made on her by his family members. She decided to file for a divorce case in the court. She immersed herself in her new job at a lab in Mexico City.
She worked hard to cope with the breakdown of her marriage. She missed Henry a lot and wished that he had stood by her. As months rolled by her wounds began to heal as she made new friends at her work place and reconnected with her old ones. Sometimes, memories of Salt Lake City haunted her. She dreamt of her University, the path that led up to her department, the church, the singing and all her friends. She however tried to make peace with her past. Her present was not too bad, she reasoned with herself. God had blessed her with a fair share of friends, fun and food in Mexico City.

  March 2015
Sallie was heading back to Salt Lake City for a conference. She was nervously excited. She would get to see all her friends and would visit her old apartment too. She didn’t sleep a wink on her overnight flight. She was going to stay at her friend’s place.
The Sunday after the conference Sallie visited the church with trepidation. She was longing to go back but also knew that facing Peter would not be easy. She had texted him occasionally from Mexico City but hadn’t informed him about her separation with Henry.
Peter was pleased to see her after a gap of so many years. He asked her out for coffee after the church session. They were catching up after ages.

He made a determined eye contact with her as they spoke.
Sallie choked as she informed Peter about her separation from Henry.
He held her hand and consoled her.
In an urge, she said “I miss you Peter”.
“I actually love you Sallie” he responded.
“But, but you are married” she stuttered, surprised at his rejoinder.
“How does that matter? I developed feelings for you long back and you know that!”.
“But how’s that possible? You have a son my age!” she tried to argue.
“You seriously think that matters in love?” he retorted.
“But I have always respected you as an older person. And marriage is a sacred institution for me. Moreover, I really like your wife – Beth” she returned.
“That’s all right – I am not going to divorce her” he added slyly.
“I am worried about you Sallie, and I can help you” he said squeezing her hand.
“Enough!! Please help yourself first before you help me! I need to leave now” she said. 

April 2015
It had been a month since Sallie returned from Salt Lake City but her inner turmoil refused to subside. The trip and the meeting with Peter had destroyed her. Peter who she thought was an all-weather friend, whom she could confide in had turned out to be her lover. Memories of Henry and her time together in Salt Lake City already threatened to knock her down, and now there was an added injury of Peter’s insinuations. She missed singing in the church with him and was pained by the fact that he was romantically inclined towards her. She wanted him in her life as a friend but their last interaction had been awkward. She spent days weeping in her bad. There was a storm of emotions including pain, anger, pleasure, love, and hatred which refused to abate even after the passing of several weeks. She dwelled on Peter’s conduct repeatedly. She indulged in self-blame for not interpreting his moves earlier. She loathed him for deceiving Beth and playing with her and Beth’s emotions. She had a recurrent urge to call Peter and talk to him, but checked herself from doing so.
She was in a state of mourning. Mourning for the loss of Salt Lake City, Henry, and Peter at the same time. Henry and Peter, the two men she held close to her had deceived her trust in different ways. Henry’s lack of support in shielding her from his family’s ire had devastated her. And now Peter’s sly insinuations of having an extra-marital affair were destroying her peace. Both, had cared only for their desires. Her feelings had not mattered to them. 

Two men cut from the same cloth. Both similar in their desire for disregarding her wishes. Why was she aching for them? After shedding many tears Sallie rose. A new determination had germinated in her mind. It was time to put her life in Salt Lake City behind her. It was time to finally move on! She had been clinging to those memories for many years, finding succor in them. They had been the greatest source of pain and pleasure for her. 

“Not any more” she thought.
“How much longer am I going to keep looking back?”
“It is time to lock those two men in that apartment that keeps haunting me and let them go. It is time to give up this baggage and let it flow to where it belongs, into my past. It is time to say goodbye to those troubling memories”
Rumi’s words echoed in her head “let your pain be your cure.”

“That’s what I need to do. Let this pain be my cure! Let me learn how not to be so trusting and emotional.  Let me learn how to expect lesser from people. Let me learn how to stop living in the past and focus on the present moment”.
Sallie arose from her bed, determined. This was her moment of homecoming in the real sense. She took a deep breath and hugged her parents who had been her pillars of strength through different periods of crisis in her life.
“Let me focus on what I have and not what I lost,” she decided.
“Lock ‘em in, say goodbye and move on. They were lost for a purpose, so let me not grieve for them” she resolved as she soaked the rays of the brand-new morning sun.

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