The day their plane touched down on American soil was the first rainy day of many. Sunil had been injured during a routine rescue operation and now, because he walked with a limp, he could no longer do what he once had. Sunil, who had once seemed so indestructible to her, now was as human as any man.
He had been offered a well-paying job in New York, by an old school friend named Aryan Kapur. Kiran hadn't wanted to leave India, or her brother, but Sunil had insisted. It was just the thing, he had said, that would cure his sense of listlessness, and their little daughter, Priya, might grow up to attend Yale or Harvard.
"Can we go to Disneyworld?" Priya had asked, her large eyes bright with infectious enthusiasm. So excited had she been, clutching her Minnie Mouse doll, that Kiran had been swept up with her and had finally agreed.
That had been two months ago. Now they lived in a comfortable house in the suburbs, near to the Kapur family, and it rained all the time.
"I don't want to go to school!" Priya cried petulantly, stamping her five year old feet and pouting.
Kiran sighed and tightened the pink scrunchie in her daughter's hair, "Why not?" she asked, showing Priya the sweets she had packed in her lunchbox.
"They make fun of me," she answered, "because I talk funny."
Kiran bent to her daughter's level an stared her firmly in the eye, "You do not talk funny," she wagged her finger, "you talk just like me, and if they tease you then just remember to be proud of where you come from…and tell the teacher," she added the last part as an afterthought.
"Can't we go home?" Priya sighed.
"This is our home now," outside, past the white curtains blowing in the breeze from the half open window, grey clouds multiplied over their street. Kiran wiped the back of her hand, slightly floury from baking parathas since the early morning, against her forehead.
Sunil appeared suddenly from the study, dressed in his suit and carrying a black briefcase. He picked Priya up, wrinkling her uniform, and kissed her soundly on the nose.
"Ready to go?" he asked, twirling her around.
"Sunil…" Kiran was about to tell him of their daughter's complaints, but Priya interrupted her.
"Ready Papa!" she squealed, all troubles forgotten in his arms.
Sunil laughed and set her down. Turning to his wife he kissed her briefly on the cheek and then checked his watch. "I'll be late tonight," he said, "Mrs Kapur will bring Priya home. Now remember, if the phone rings…don't panic! I doubt the dead get good service, especially all the way from India," he smiled, amused at his own joke.
Then, with Priya trailing faithfully out to his car, he was gone.
Kiran sank down onto a kitchen chair and put her head in her hands. For days, sometimes weeks, she would be able to forget the voice that once tormented her. But Sunil, always Sunil, insisted on reminding her. Would she never find peace, even oceans away?
By mid-afternoon she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor. She had already cleaned the shower, clogged with Sunil's hair, and put away Priya's toys and books. The smell of the bleach was making her eyes water and even the radio, which was playing Bollywood hits of the 80's and beyond, failed to make her chores the slightest bit pleasurable.
As she attacked a stubborn stain, the telephone in the master bedroom rang. It's shrill noise made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, the same way it always did. A phobia, that's what her bhaiyya had called it, she had a phobia of phones. It sounded silly, even as she listened to it ring. If she were to pick it up it would probably be Sunil, or a telemarketer.
She set down her sponge and, still armed in her yellow rubber gloves, made her way slowly across the hall. She picked it up on the last ring and spoke nervously into the receiver.
It was Sunil.
"Kiran I'll be home on time after all. Aryan and some others are coming over to watch the cricket. Prepare some food. Rhea (he meant Mrs Kapur) can come over and help if you'd like?"
Kiran winced. She disliked that bossy, nosy woman. "No," she said, "I can do it myself."
He hung up.
She took the bus down to the nearest local Indian supermarket, a list of needed items tucked into her bag. The bus windows were steamed up, so she amused herself by smiling at a little baby which was peering at her over it's mother's shoulder. It blinked at her and stretched out a chubby hand, entranced by the fake flowers at the end of her braid.
When she arrived at her stop it gurgled a goodbye.
The supermarket was busy. After she had filled her basket she lingered a long while by the spices, just breathing them in, and letting her mind drift. Two gaudily dressed aunties stood near her, discussing (in loud and disapproving tones) the outrageousness of modern youth.
Kiran straightened her posture and subconsciously wondered if her plain sari met with their approval. Of course, she remembered with a frown, she was no longer a teenager to be disapproved of. She was a woman, and a mother, now.
A dark, square-palmed, hand reached across her to scoop some chilli powder. "Excuse me," a voice said. Kiran apologised, flustered, and turned to leave. But, tripping over her own feet, she bumped into the man who had spoken. The chilli powder, not yet transferred to the bag, spilled across her chest like a sudden slash of blood.
"Oh!" she gasped.
"I'm sorry," the man said.
She looked up and the world around them disappeared. There was nothing but her loud breathing, the pounding of her heart and his face: those long-lashed eyes, those fierce black eyebrows, that nose, those lips. It burned into her and she screamed, knowing she had finally gone mad.
Her basket, filled with vegetables, fell to the floor in slow motion and she followed it, one word escaping her lips: "R..Rahul…"
(to be continued)