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In the twenty years that John was in Abu Dhabi, besides acquiring lands, a large two-storey house with a garden in the heart of Cochin, a partnership in a coffee plantation, and a cupboard full of gold jewellery and coins, Rosa had transformed herself from a housewife to an agony aunt. People sought her advice, assuming she’d had a hand in her husband’s growing fortunes and flourishing career abroad, by not only sacrificing her marital bliss, but also by dispensing invaluable career advice to him.
In her teens, Aldora watched her mother with revulsion. Within no time, Rosa became Mother Rosa, much to Aldora’s embarrassment. She cringed when Rosa joined the Leftist party of their locality and went for political meetings and protests. Daily, when Aldora returned home from school, there was Rosa acting as a self-appointed counsellor for people sending their children to The Gulf. Rosa’s generous dispersion of precious insights about life in The Gulf was nearly always accompanied by an offset printed Rule Book in Malayalam and English, something she had put together herself.
The Leftist comrades sent a steady stream of people, ignoring the general ‘days of the week’ rule. Even on Sundays they appeared, as if visiting a place of worship. Besides the strangers, Angel Villa was also filled with ambitious, distant, cousins and impoverished aunts, greedy uncles and unmarried nieces, and harried friends of unknown neighbours. Aldora resigned herself to the incessant siege. She consoled herself thinking Rosa had found a new hobby, and would have less time to badger her about school work and routine.
On Easter Day, amidst the bonhomie of Rosa’s elaborate lunch feast attended by a hundred people including party workers, Aldora’s perception of her mother’s love altered irreversibly, forever.
Peter, Rosa’s third cousin, twice removed, a young man of twenty-four, was visiting them. His imminent departure for Abu Dhabi to join the electronics company where John worked was being celebrated alongside Easter. In the din of chattering voices and hearty laughter, gossip and serious discussions, Aldora slipped away, desperate to get away from the crowd. At thirteen, she had begun to love her own company much more than others’. Her mind was preoccupied with the music tapes she wanted to buy. She darted a look at Rosa who was sitting like a queen amidst adoring subjects, regaling stories of her youth.
Aldora’s eye twitched. An irrational sense of foreboding clutched her heart. She clamped a hand quickly over her eye, and without thinking, escaped into the sanctuary of her mother’s bedroom.
A strong scent of jasmine and lavender assaulted her. Aldora walked to the bureau on which she found an array of perfume bottles, part of the annual gifts from Achan, and a delicate, purple, silk money pouch. Her heart beat rapidly as she reached for it, felt the cream beads adorning its surface with her forefinger, and unzipped it slowly. Inside were several hundreds of rupees, in bills of hundred, and a few coins. She gripped the purse tightly into one hand and left the room. Within seconds, she reached her bedroom on the second level, breathless with guilt and excitement.
When Peter accosted her, Aldora was taking out a couple of hundreds from Rosa’s pouch. She was standing with her back to the door, unaware of Peter. She didn’t know he had walked in and shut the door behind. He advanced towards her stealthily, stood behind her, and watched her pilfer. Suddenly, Aldora heard a loud, clucking sound. Before she could react, Peter’s hands grabbed her breasts from behind; he pulled her back, slamming her body into his. He crooned softly into her ear, bad Dora, as she struggled with shock and fear.
Aldora dropped the pouch and the money, and tried to free herself from Peter’s grip. She barely managed to extricate herself, when Peter rounded her, grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her down on the bed.
Aldora screamed. ‘Amma!’
Peter clamped a hand over her mouth, and with the other, ripped off the buttons of her blouse. She scrambled to cover herself, but Peter was quicker. Within seconds, Aldora was buck naked, quivering and sobbing aloud. He towered over her with a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. Quickly, he unzipped his jeans and stripped off his tee-shirt. Aldora watched wide- eyed, her panic solidified and lodged like a block of stone in her throat. She was unable to make another sound as he forced her legs apart and entered her, his hand clamping down on her mouth.
As Peter’s breaths came thicker and faster, Aldora’s mind got confused. Horror and fear were getting interchanged rapidly with new sensations; excitement, want, pain and thirst. She caught her breath when he removed his hand from her mouth, and covered it with his. His tongue explored the inside of her mouth and the seams of her lips. He played with her mouth, and she liked it for an instant, before her mind turned to the pain and burning between her legs. She struggled to push him away, but it excited Peter more. He grabbed her wrists and held them back on her sides.
Aldora began to feel dizzy and her body got charged to a point of explosion. She started to sob when Peter spilled inside her. Spent and bruised, Aldora didn’t try to push him off even though he felt hotter and sweatier, and weighed her down. She was terrified of making him angry.
Moments later, Peter pulled out and sat up. There was a look of derision in his eyes. Aldora cried softly now and looked away with shame. She curled into a foetal position, and turned away from Peter. After a short while, he got dressed and leaned across to her.
Aldora shivered and peered uncomprehendingly at him.
He patted her cheek and said, ‘Happy Easter, Dora.’
That night, when Aldora narrated her tale of horror to Rosa, her mother slapped her across the face. Aldora’s tears of shame turned to shock and then rage when Rosa refused to acknowledge the incident.
‘Don’t you dare make up stories, you ungrateful girl! Always looking for attention, aren’t you?’ Rosa reprimanded and dragged Aldora back to her room. ‘Stay locked in your room, until you learn not to lie about things.’
Aldora was so desperate that she flung a flower vase at her mother just seconds before Rosa locked the door. Rosa wasn’t injured, but she called and complained to John about Aldora’s poor grades and bad behaviour, obviously leaving out the part about the Easter incident. Peter left the next morning for Abu Dhabi and within six months, Aldora was sent to a boarding school in Northern India by Rosa, something that bothered John deeply. In all the telephone conversations between Aldora and John, she never brought up the incident about Peter or Rosa’s unfair treatment of her.
During her school holidays, Aldora returned to Cochin and stayed locked in her room. Rosa and she avoided one another, as if by design and not accident. When Aldora took her GMAT exams and left for the U.S., she knew that it would make Rosa livid, because John was party to his daughter’s decision. Aldora was sure that her mother wouldn’t ask her to come home to India for the holidays or coax her to marry a nice, local boy from Cochin anymore now, than she would’ve under different circumstances. That was perfectly fine with Aldora, for she never wanted to set foot again in India and meet the person she hated more than anyone in the world: her mother, Rosa.
Joseph, who was nearly six when he witnessed his sister Aldora being raped by their uncle Peter, didn’t quite understand the enormity of his mother’s crime until much later, when he turned thirteen and watched a movie for the first time in a theatre where a similar scene played out.
By then, Aldora was already in America and Joseph was paralysed with his knowledge. (End of excerpt)
Vices of Eden, Arpita Bhawal’s debut short story collection, is based on the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath and Sloth, and the Last Four Things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. The stories explore the complex and conflicting relationship women have with sin in our contemporary world. Vices of Eden reveals fragments and shades of every woman’s life story, filled with passion, desperation and hope.