This is the third chapter of Kate Sarah’s novel Largesse. Please read the previous chapters before you continue to read this one. Links to previous chapters are given below.
“I wish you were here.”.
He said over the phone. The white wire dangled out of her ears as she dusted off her jeans.
She hated putting the phone unto her ears. She was always in a hurry, fidgeting and twiddling her fingers when there was nothing to do. She put them aside and started brushing the carpet.
Partly it was her uncle and aunt’s fault. They had a habit of punishing Suzanna for her leisure. So the punishment remained, she was on the phone with the man who loved her. She was moving across the room arranging vases, shifting curtains to and fro.
His name was Sam. That’s what everybody called him but Suzanna hated giving nicknames. She called him Samir because that was his birth name.
No, she didn’t wish to be with him. She liked this distance. They say there is no law against Love. You cannot charge someone of loving you more. He loved her, she knew that to be true. Maybe better than all the lovers she had. He loved her like a gentleman should love a woman. She liked him as there was nothing to dislike in him. He was a perfect man, straight out of the catalogue of 100 best men in the world.
But she was attracted to perfection. There was nothing to be fixed. No void to fill, Samir was good human being, she would tell herself. Perhaps that was why she was with him. Because it was agony to be alone in this world.
How little he knew of her. How little she had to say.
She hated that place, that country, though it was a distant memory today.
It was 9:30. The sky had silver linings, she could smell the rain in the air. She clutched her sling tight. If only the rain could melt her. She always longed to be demolished.
She checked her phone to see a picture of him at the top an old tower, he stood by the railing, flashing his beautiful smile. His black hoodie and a DSLR. He had managed to click his selfie through his phone.
He had captioned it: “Searching for a new girlfriend”
She wrote back, “good luck” with a smiley to make it casual.
The phone beeped a reply.
“I wish you were still here.”
Her fingers hovered over the keys. The cab arrived.
Everybody loves spring. Her friend Maya had declared this morning it was her favourite season and favourite day too.
Her boyfriend had just gifted her a diamond ring, Maya let the girls have a look on her ring finger. Everybody knew he wasn’t going to marry Maya. The man was already double her age and married with kids. Who cared?
Suzanna looked at the watch it was 9:55am. She watched the snake-bent road, that had aged to grey. Her long neck and broad protruding shoulders gave her upper body a false volume. Her hair was always tied these days as a result of which a reclining line was seen on her forehead. She had long face with eyes wide, the shape of two marbles on either side of her slender nose. Her lashes were long and had the power to distract and demand attention.
Her face was unintelligent, not bright enough to ask for a second glance unlike her dark lashes. Albeit her ordinary face lacked the grace to be pretty, she was beautiful. The way she had restored herself. She was beautiful when you looked long enough to see her soul in her face. You would find her there behind the sad smile and the brave eyes. She was just another girl waiting to be loved but never begging for it.
She was beautiful. She was lost in her own world watching the stacked houses of the hills.
The rain drizzled on the window pane and she wished to be washed away by it.
Like the musk deer in search of its own scent and the million women unaware of their own beauty, Suzanna denied herself of such praise.
Those beautiful eyes closed and open to her world, the air inside was thick with impregnable silence.
She looked at her shoes. The laces were undone, she tied them into a neat bunny ears. No, something was not right. Just then, a passenger opened the door, she moved over towards her right.
Unconsciouly, she hummed his song. The one he used to sing into her ears. She ran her fingers on the hollow of her neck.
They passed the bridge.
Oh, the bridge still looks the same, but she doesn’t. The rain marched on the roof of her taxi.
Suzanna Fonning was called Su-sanna by her grandmother, sometimes she’d call her, “Lepcha’s daughter”.
Her father named her Suzanna, she never knew why.
Her father called her.
“What would I do to you?”
She was about five years old. She had her arms around his lanky legs. She hasn’t forgotten his eyes though his face is a blur memory, now.
He had left her before, no way she was losing him again.
“Listen to me, Suzanna. If you want to come with me. You have to meet me by the school gate at noon. I’ll come and pick you up”
“Where are we going?”
“To Kathmandu, to meet your aunt. A bigger city than this one. Your Phupu will be very happy to see you.”
He freed himself from her affectionate clutches. Men and women around them watched the father and daughter duo with warm smiles.
The streets back then were less crowded.
“Will Ama be there with us, Papa?” She asked.
“Of course. But it has to be a secret” he lied.
They decided to meet the next morning at school. Kids with divorced parents are torn between the parents.
She was too young to discern. However, she had made her choice. She knew little about the infidelity of her father.
She was so excited that she spilled the beans to her classmates. The words travelled faster to the class teachers.
To this day no one knows if her father came to get the girl. Her mother’s family locked her inside the house with a warrant against her father.
They burned his pictures, his clothes. She was told that her father was a crook. The only picture she had of him was in her mind palace but the memories were fading.
Maybe that’s why she hated the city, Kathmandu. She was told to hate him, everything related to him. She couldn’t hate him altogether so she hated the things that separated him from her.
Some days, she hated herself.
He ran away with a new wife, and abandoned his family, she was told.
Her mother was a quiet lady, so quiet that she’d never flinch when Suzanna was corrected, disciplined.
Suzanna’s mother was a voiceless homemaker who had no opinion of her own to state, an inarticulate woman she was a submissive wife but her husband had a wild taste.
Suzanna thought if ever her mother was a living creature. Her mother had a beautiful long face marred morosely by the loss of her husband, a stigma that was forever stapled to her back. She’d hardly smile.
Her maternal family wasn’t large. She had grandparents, an uncle, a widowed aunt and a cousin sister.
Her maternal uncle was a butcher.
Suzanna feared him the most. Maybe because of the stench he carried with him.
It was a smell of thousand carcasses he carried around with him. No matter how many baths he’d take, to Suzanna he’d always smell like a corpse. To her he was a living graveyard.
Her widowed aunt had lost her husband to the hooligans riot during ’86 she had relocated herself to the capital with her maternal family. She was a grocer at the main bazaar who had a plain face unlike her mother but it was her voice that animated her dull demeanor, which then demanded submission. She had a voice of a bully.
Bhavna, her cousin was five years older to her. She was introverted, who kept to herself.
The girls bonded well over the years. The grandfather was a strict meat but granny was a marshmallow.
She’d tell the kids all sorts of stories about king and princes, fairies and witches. She’d tell them about Djinns and gods of the forests.
Suzanna never understood why her cousin killed herself.
She never believed Bhavna to be a love sick teenager, as accusations emerged. Her sister spoke less, she hid things. Suzanna always looked up to her to be the strong one, a brave young lady.
Her sister was the favourite in the house. Everybody loved her. She was a perfect example, the good kid who compromised, was an above average student with an ambition. A goal oriented girl and also a house captain in school.
Suzanna, age nine, went to call her sister for dinner one evening to find her hanging by the ceiling.
She watched her sister by the door unable to make a sound. After half an hour, her aunt discovered her in catatonic state gaping at the body.
Her scream awoke Suzanna.
The regret forever hung unto her lips. Her cousin would have lived if she had screamed for help.
But who could tell a nine year old kid?
The shock of death lasted for weeks.
Nothing was same again. She’d barely eat or sleep. She grew feeble day by day and darker in appearance. She’d wake up with a nerve jerk in the middle of the night.
Her granny told her, it wasn’t good to die young, it was bad to take lives, worse to take one’s own. She understood the aftermath of death. How it affected the lives of the living.
“You’ll end up in hell, young lady” she told her. “Hell is a nasty place you don’t want to go. Killing yourself is bad”, she’d tell her over and over again.
She wondered when she was young and immature that death was not ours even if it was our share. Death belonged to us yet it wasn’t ours to take. When granny died, she wondered again if she went to hell.
For her all the roads that started with death were destined at hell.
Hell must’ve been a worse state to be because the place where she was, wasn’t heaven either.
Nobody knew why a young girl of fifteen decides to die. Even if they knew the “whys” they didn’t include her in the discussion.
Her granny was dead and so was her sister. Her mother was neither a confidante nor a good listener. She knew nothing of what her mother did with her time.
She was then under the care of her uncle and aunt. They knew their ways and being a teenager under their care, she came closer to the reason why her cousin killed herself.
The blame game had begun.
One day, she found herself comparing the scars with a classmate.
It was like a competition sharing each others sorrowful stories and they bonded well.
Her classmate, Rita had a step father who was a violent man. To make it worse, he was an alcoholic.
Suzanna was beaten by her aunt because she answered back. Worse, Rita was hospitalised because her step-father thought she was getting cozy with her cousin brother.
She had been kicked in the chest, as a result of which she suffered a breathing problem.
Rita was starved when she forgot things she was asked to do.
Suzanna’s aunt would pour cold water over her head to discipline her.
Life was difficult for both girls.
Well Rita’s father would apologize after his wrathful display, whereas Suzanne’s case was different. Her uncle and aunt would never do that.
At thirteen, Suzanna knew the taste of leather and nettle leaves. She dreaded both. Her uncle had a habit of wearing a broad belt, she assumed that he wore them more for her than for his waist. The skin at the sank and thigh would swell, it appeared as an embossed artwork, red and burning.
Her mother would dip cotton to warm water and tell her it was her fault.
Her aunt experimented with knives, brooms and ladles. She had a dangerous temper. She would throw anything at Suzanna. She had her reasons. Her aunt’s arms were sturdy enough to drag her.
She’d drag Suzanna by her hair to the open compound and disgrace her first with words and Suzanna wouldn’t speak but glare at her. She’d scratch her face, pull her hair and give her abdomen a dose of her blow. Some days, she’d fight back. Mostly she’d be quiet. By the time she was fifteen, she was a tamed creature.
Some days she’d tell her mother about it.
Her reply would be, ” They care about you”
When Rita ran away with a syndicate driver, Suzanna lost a friend. She then hid her scars and her story and fortunately after Rita, they reduced her occasional discipline. Those were the days where practices like this wasn’t frowned upon. There was a famous saying that beating a child was form of claiming one to be a blood family.
Maybe that’s how the society grew. It wasn’t abuse, it was correction and you were to forgive they because they are after all, your family.
She’d understood it that way. She was told it was for her good. A dirty mat gets beaten to free itself of dirt, the physical abuse was justified that way. It was family tradition.
It started again when she met and fell in love with a young boy. She was fifteen and blindly in love. She’d die for him yes, she’d run away anywhere with him. He was worth suffering for.
Loving Samden Lepcha was her rebellion. No, loving others more than herself was her rebellion, in a world of selfish love masked as self-love.
Suzanna cared less about the beating. Her uncle dragging her by the door, threatening her, calling her a whore.
It shocked Samden the most, but who could tell him about the cigarette burns on her wrists? Her twisted elbow and the scar the he left her to live with. His death was an immense blow to many people. Samden lived for the drama and his death indeed was nothing short of drama itself.
Suzanna’s heart was plucked out of her chest, the hollow nothingness haunted her. It was a physical pain deep within somewhere. A wound so deep, poisoning her whole self that she was deprived of joy for many years.
The nothingness was there, open, sometimes open on her face. Sometimes the way her eyes melt into liquid out of nowhere, the memories would seep out of her eyes.
The cure of this disease was unheard of. Perhaps that was the reason she replaced this wound with another.
Samden’s family dragged her to court, physically assaulted her. Samden’s relatives were powerful, influential people in the society. Surprisingly her family softened towards her, they pressed charges against his family.
Months passed to give a sour taste of loss to her. Years passed too but the ache remained. She’d never take her life. She was given to counseling; religious, psychiatric, shamanic, you name it.
No, she’d never take her own life.
Half of the world pitied her. The other half hated her.
Some fans would spit on her face in public. She was a cruel lover and a murderer. Gone were the days when she cried with her head in her hands. She grew with thicker skin where such sharp jabs would not harm her.
Years passed to heal the world, to blur his memories and cover her wounds.
The first cut is deepest, they say. In her case it wasn’t untrue. He was indeed an incurable wound, with a scar big enough for the whole town to remember. She was the Juliet who survived.
She’d never take the road by green bridge.
She took a job during her sophomore year in college. She wasn’t studious, she’d be happy to take a normal degree to call herself a graduate.
Of all the affairs Suzanna had, He was the last one before she met Samir. He was twenty, about her age. He wore his jeans low with a chain wallet hanging in his baggy back pocket that was almost empty.
He was into rap music that used the f-word too many times. She didn’t understand any of it. He didn’t know how to play guitar but he could make noise with with his throat which annoyed her but she’d never tell him that.
Her college friends fixed them up. He found her pretty. She thought he was okay. A little lost kid, a little toxic, a project that she could fix.
One thing he was good at was, dancing. His body was flexible and she thought more than the nonsensical words he blabbered, he was good at dancing because she had seen his face change when he danced. He did it with passion, something she had seen in Samden’s face too. Passion is always attractive in a human being. She was drawn towards it.
A year later, it would end tragically too.
She got the news about him cheating.
“It was nothing, Sue.”.
It was late evening, the shops had shutters on. Lamps with dim yellow lights flickered. She had her work uniform, an old orange and brown gingham shirt tucked in her black jeans. He tailed her, in a tragic tipsy style. His speeches were slurry.
“I said it is nothing, don’t act like a bitch” he pulled her.
“Hands off, you moron! It’s over!” she’d free herself off his big arms.
“Come on, now” he laughed. “How will you handle me in the future, when the fans surround all over me what about then, Sue?”.
She rolled her eyes, “Breaking news, it’s over. I can’t take care of your shit. I cannot babysit you. If you want to screw someone, be my guest and do it openly. Be a man.”
She mumbled under her breath.
“Are you seriously breaking up with me?”
Suzanna was taller now. Her hair is shorter but tied into a neat ponytail. She wore a black wristwatch, a gift by her mother. She had her arms crossed by her chest. She had long skinny legs and eyes, her piercing eyes that demanded submission.
The invisible fumes burning in her eyes made the tipsy boy sober for few seconds.
“Can I borrow some money? I don’t have cash to rent a cab.”.
Unbelievable, she smirked, and opened her sling and threw a yellow old five hundred in his face.
“You know what? Take this and scram off. Do me a favour don’t you ever reproduce.”
Stopping halfway, she turned to him
“And my name is not Sue. It’s Su-Zan-na”
It wasn’t love, she told herself and walked swiftly. If she’d loved him. It wouldn’t be this easy.
She forgot that the road led to the green bridge. There were few pedestrians. Probably the middle class workers returning home, some to their cold food, some to the burning rum and some to their chilled beer at home. Some to warm arms. For Suzanna she knew she was returning back to hell.
She couldn’t turn back. The road she had avoided years, she was at the road that led her to him.
For five years she had refused to walk this path. Her heart felt heavy and cold.
She could hear her own screams. This was the same bridge.
How she wished to find him here after that incident. She’d wake up with the thought that it was a nightmare only to find the bitter truth.
After all these years, it still ached. Though faint, she could feel the ripple. Her eyes burned with moist emotion.
There was an old man standing in the middle watching the road down below. She walked closer to cross this old man. Unable to resist the question she asked.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
The old man was startled at first. “No, no. Just… Checking the view.”.
“It’s dangerous, isn’t it?”, she stood beside him. She touched the cold railing and watched the gray road.
“Yeah, it would hurt.”, he replied with a smile.
She studied his face. “Can I drop you somewhere, uncle? It’s pretty late.”
He had a warm smile across his face. An accented Nepali only proved that it wasn’t his first language.
“No dear, I am alright. It’s just… Today is my son’s birthday and I am missing him”
“Yes, Kids these days. You don’t know them don’t you? They grow up so fast. They… leave”
Suzanna remained quiet. She didn’t know what to say, so she chose silence. She chose to listen.
“I barely knew my son. I hope he knows it’s his birthday. He barely knew mine. Haha.”.
He laughed a sad smile. Eyes still on the road. He turned up to the sky.
“Do you come here often?” she asked.
“No, today was special.”
She nodded her head unaware.
“People leave, uncle. It’s a universal law. Be it a father, son or a lover. They go away, that’s what they do. They leave without asking and that’s the saddest part. We who stay, we never realize they’d choose to do that. They all leave and we live with the guilt that maybe it was us. Maybe they left because of us.”
“I wish it was that easy to know”
“Knowing is dangerous. But not knowing is even more dangerous. Both ways we suffer. A burden human life is, with all this intellectual philosophy. I do not know what I do not know but I don’t want to know. I have suffered enough. We have gained so much at the cost of our peace and happiness.”
The old man watched her with awe.
“You speak like an old woman, how old are you?”
She laughed. “I look young but I am fifty.”
She laughed again.
“My son would have been twenty six today.”, he squeezed his eyes shut. His face changed colours. She could make out by the light.
She patted his back.
“He chose what he chose. I told you, people leave. Don’t be harsh on yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”, she smiled to console him.
“It was nobody’s fault”, he held her hand.
“Not even yours, Suzanna.”
She looked at him for the first time. She looked at his eyes. He had the same calmness in the eyes like his. The same calmness with which he spoke.
She felt the heat rising on her face.
“It wasn’t your fault , you should know that too. People leave. We can’t make them stay but it is never our fault. They choose their own ways.”, he patted her head warmly. She let eyes weigh her down to her old torn shoes. She wiped her tears by the edge of her sleeve. The water in her eyes desperate to leak, she squatted with her arms around herself and wept.
By the time she was done sobbing, the old man was nowhere to be found.
She reached home late with red eyes and swollen lips.
Her aunt opened the door to find her disheveled with grief. For the first moment she was shocked to see her. She inquired with great rage rather than concern, believing her to be drunk.
Suzanna’s eyes met her mother’s. The latter somehow understood the nonverbal.
Suzanna felt herself collected at her mother’s arm where she crashed and wept. There were so many things to mourn for. She found the dam that kept her fragile emotions at bay to be broken.
Her mother too, conscious of the loss, patted her head and shed few tears with her. She had her own share of loss. The worst kind. Rejection from the love of her life.
The uncle came little drunk that night to find weeping Suzanna.
Grandfather grunted from the partitioned room. Her aunt with her hands in the air called the duo dramatic.
The groggy uncle irritated by the wailing charged at Suzanna.
He pulled her from the bosom of her mother and yanked her by her hair.
In his own gibberish language, he cussed her, called her an ugly good-for-nothing whore. An abomination to the family.
Suzanna’s body was a hollow cage of bones. She stopped crying, as she always did when they beat her.
She looked angrily at her uncle through her red eyes.
“What are you looking at?” He slapped her.
Her mother stood at this. “She must be tired. Let her be.”
At this uncle pulled his belt under his belly and advancing towards Mother. With words of illicit fury, he told his sister, “You want me to go soft on her?”
There was terror in his eyes. Mother was as usual calm.
If you stay quiet for too long, people assume you have no voice. That was what they thought of mother. A voiceless woman unable to stand for her rights.
She spoke again but this time, her words changed things to worse, “She is the last we have. You two killed the other one. How many more do you want to kill?”
At this, it was her aunt who violently attacked her mother. Her aunt screamed and grabbed mother’s hair. Suzanna jumped on her and tried to pull her away.
The intoxicated uncle watched in awe and mixed spirit. Like a hunter, he whipped Suzanna, but she was adamant.
Suzanna bit her aunt’s arm hard. She screamed and let her mother loose.
Grandfather came running to the room and found the four creatures on the floor.
“What is going on in here?”
Aunt kept screaming from pain, spat on Suzanna. Uncle grabbed her hair and dragged her inhumanely but this time she fought back. She kicked him hard on his belly. He was not strong anymore and tonight he was drunk. She freed herself of his clutches.
“Run, Suzanna, run”, her mother said to her with a horrified face.
Suzanna kept bashing his face and arms as the two women watched in terror.
Grandfather pushed her.
Her mother screamed again in a trembled voice
And she ran away.
The car beeped louder, Suzanna was once again in the cab with a complete stranger. The dark sky had soft time to the sky. The windowpane was clean. Cars were scattered at a distance. She heard the taxi driver asking the the pedestrian.
“Didn’t you feel it?” The pedestrian asked.
The passenger began to carry the conversation with driver as the cars resumed.
They compared their history with September earthquake that happened four years ago.
“Many died, didn’t they. That was one heavy blow for us and the government” they chatted.
18th September was indeed a red letter day for them. Granny had just died and the house was full. It took few minutes of shaking of the earth. The house was empty again.
She smiled at the thought of it.
It was always a house but never a home.
The air had a fresh cold smell. She treated herself with a warm coffee. By midday she decided to treat herself with a roll from the roll house.
The hot topics for the day was earthquake.
She heard one say, “I heard many people died. Poor people.”
To this she asked, “What happened?”
They looked at her surprised by her ignorance.
“Don’t you know there was an earthquake in Nepal this afternoon?”
“Nepal, where?” She felt the air being wheezed out from her lungs.
“It’s all over the news”
She dialled his number but her SIM card wasn’t eligible for international outgoing calls.
She called Maya, with half weeping voice, wheezing in between she explained.
“Come home” her friend advised her.
An hour later, she clicked through various Indian news channel and saw in bold letters, 7.8 Richter scale of earthquake in Nepal.
She prayed to God for some good news. She’d never prayed like this before.
Her body trembled with cold, she had bit her nails off her skin. She called everyone that could know his whereabouts.
No one knew.
Maya and few of her friends gathered around her to grieve but found that she was not crying.
She sat on the plastic chair drawing closer to the television set, with trembling knees. Hands on her lips, chewing her nails. Her powerful eyes burning in anticipation of grief that she was half sure to receive.
Kantipur channel posted a picture of 200 ft Tower demolished to the ground. The same monument where he had clicked the picture.
Suzanna should have known her fate.
Yet she waited for a sign, hoping against hope for news of survival. “Not this one” she told herself.
Her friends around her watched her in pity and tears.
An hour later they found Suzanna on the floor, she had her hand on her aching chest. Instead of wailing they found her laughing hysterically at her misfortune.
The TV screen flashed the photos of the dead corpse lined up where a black hoodie, muddled to grey was distinctly visible. His beautiful face was the first on the line.
Suzanna’s laughter turned into bitter tears and she screamed for the first time in seven years.
She knew she had to call the name. But someone kept calling his name within her. Suzanna was in a delirious state in the middle of a graveyard. A white nightie drenched in her sweat and muck. She kept digging the soil. A book was open in front, there was a devilish energy within her. She kept repeating words that was nothing close to her mother tongue. When she spoke, it sounded like someone was speaking along with her.
Anyone could know she was not in her right mind.
She was to call the name. The name she loved the most. Her teeth clatter together to produce a name.
The air inside her mouth had “sh” push.
She burned the book and called out His name in a whisper.
The transmitter near the graveyard gate exploded, a sheer case of High Voltage.
Or was it?
Suzanna woke up to find herself half buried in the earth. She had dig a grave of an unknown, a white leg with its blue dead veins welcomed her sanity. She felt a sour rising in the throat and out she puked her gut out. Where was she?
The smell of burning skin was pungent on her nose.
She was drained. Her exhaustion was nothing compared to the horror she felt. It took her another half an hour to pull herself out of the earth. Her white gown was soiled. She could smell the smoke and burning flesh. Her tummy grumbled.
She looked around to find herself among the sleeping dead. There was a fire at one corner.
A group of naked Aghoris munching on the dead.
She moved slowly.
“Is it done Bacha? “
They asked, She nodded her head in fear knowing not what they were asking.
“Did you call the right name?” Smiled the other, he had blue eyes like a flame or a cataract her visions were blurred.
They asked her to join her.
She ran away from there.
Did she call the right name?
Whose name was she suppose to call?
She ran as fast as her feet could take her.
She found herself in the deserted road. An eerie boulevard stretched wide.
She limped and drag herself towards an unknown road. She feared the strange Aghoris.
Her greasy hair, the sour smell from her body was an indication of how sick and lost she was. She felt awaken from a deep slumber. After walking for an hour when she couldn’t move she collapsed on the road. There was an absence of fear just exhaustion. A voice within her kept calling her name, she knew that voice.
Did she call the right name?
Dark road engulfed her sadness as she started again, she walked limping towards a place unknown. Cars moved swiftly. They didn’t stop for her.
She knew she was mourning.
It has been a month.
She realised her loss and wept.
Did she call out the right name?
Sam. He was called Sam. Was it Sam she was supposed to call?
Was it this Sam? Why does it feel like it wasn’t this Sam?
Why? She had only one Sam to call. It was always him.
She heard a whistle somewhere in the woods and she stopped.
Someone was coming from the woods. Someone who knew that song. She saw a silhouette of a man.
Her heart thumped on her chest.
He lit a cigarette and by the light she saw the face of a tall man with long hair.
The voice within her spoke to her again, in a whisper, “Suzanna, Suzanna”
And this was just the beginning of her end.