It was past midnight and Elisa was reading a book in bed. Steven was not home and she did not know where he was but she did not think much of it because it had pretty much become the norm. He stayed out late into the night and in the early days when she would ask him about it, he would hit her. She stopped asking when the bruises became too obvious and difficult to explain to Mr. Mitchell. “You seem to be running into doors and walls very often,” he said quietly one afternoon when they happened to be alone in the office. She was photocopying something while he was looking at some records. Elisa had an ugly bruise on the side of her mouth and she had tried to cover it up with makeup but it was still a little visible. She had told Valerie that she had hit herself on an open cabinet door while cooking. Steven had punched her when she asked him about where he had been the night before. “I need to be more careful, I guess,” replied Elisa, her eyes focused on her papers. “Or, more confident about living on your own,” said Mr. Mitchell glancing at her quickly before turning back to his records. Elisa did not respond, preferring to nod and walk out with her pile of papers.
Divorce was not an option. Her parents would be shamed and she would have to admit that she had failed. No one in her family had ever been through a divorce. She did not want her parents to be held up as examples, especially since she knew that they themselves had fought through a great deal of prejudice and resentment to be together. It will be okay she always reassured herself. He will be okay once he gets a job, he is just frustrated now. She prayed that Steven would find something suitable in the near future. It had already been three years since he had worked. What she did not know or maybe she knew and just did not want to accept was that he had no intentions of going back to work. He liked his life where he could come, and go where he wanted, when he wanted and that he had a wife who took care of the bills and gave him money whenever he wanted it. He knew Elisa adored him, his good looks. “Maybe if I had a child, he will feel more attached to me and the home,’ she suggested to herself. The reality was that Steven had little or no interest in Elisa sexually, except when he was drunk. He had never been interested in her because Sara, his colleague from his first job, had always fulfilled that need. He had married Elisa because his parents had insisted that he marry a Syrian Christian, Indian girl. They would have hit the roof and thrown him out had he told them that the person he really wanted to marry was a once married, black woman who was older than him by five years.
The one time he had gone back to Malaysia on vacation, his parents had insisted that he see this pretty Syrian Christian girl from a good home, as a prospective bride. “I really don’t want to see any girl,” he had insisted but his parents had refused to listen. “She is very pretty and she is a dancer. You will like her, very slim, very elegant,” his mother had said. His father had laughingly said, slapping him on the back “They are all the same, once you marry them, man. Your mother is not going to let you off even if you refuse. So, why not this girl? She is as good as they come.” When he had seen Elisa, he had sort of liked what he had seen. She was just like his mother had said, tall, slim, elegant, and pretty, in a way. She had large eyes, with a thick fringe of dark lashes, a wide mouth that was a natural rosy pink color, and high cheek bones. He had found her smile particularly attractive; it sort of lit up her whole face. He had actually liked her, initially. But as soon as he came back, Sara had been livid. “That’s right, fuck me and then go get married to the girl momma picked for you,” she had screamed. He had tried his best to reason with Sara but she had thrown him out of her house. “Don’t come back, you son of a bitch. For once in your life try and be true to someone,” she had cried. Steven had tried to stay away from Sara for a whole month but the sex had been so good that it was hard for him to make the separation permanent and unfortunately for Sara, she loved him enough to take him back.
Elisa was simply boring in bed. She was too inhibited and too shy, and she annoyed the hell out of him when she refused to do some of the things that he wanted her to do. “She is full of crap,” he thought to himself, angrily. The truth was that sex with Steven was not what Elisa had imagined it would be like with the man she loved. He was brutal and demanding and only caring of his own satisfaction. She wondered if he even knew what she liked in bed because it was almost always over within a few minutes. It was always the same when he wanted it. He would turn to her and drag her towards him. Sometimes she wondered if he imagined that she would think of him as more manly when he did that. Then he would kiss her roughly as he fumbled with her clothes and then enter her when she was not yet ready. The pain was always excruciating. Afraid that she would upset him if she said anything, she would squeeze her eyes shut tightly, bite her lower lip hard, hold her breath and pray that it would get over quickly. When he was done, he would roll off and sigh loudly, satisfied that he had achieved something, while she lay in the dark, still stinging. He would then promptly fall asleep. One time when she had whimpered in pain he had immediately got off her and asked,” What’s the matter? You don’t like it? Don’t I match up to the last guy you had?”
Elisa had flinched at what he said. It wasn’t as if she had not had the opportunities. She knew she was attractive and desirable. She had been told so by many who had known her. “It will be special with that right guy,” she had laughed when her friends had teased about not having any sexual experience. “How would you ever know if it is special unless you have some experience,” her friends had persisted. “What’s special anyway, isn’t it all the same. The guy gets on top of you and does what he has to do and then rolls off? ” Sheila had asked munching on her samosa, a little bit of ketchup smeared on the side of her mouth. “God! Sheila! You make it sound gross!” Elisa had shrieked laughing, prodding Sheila’s slightly rotund stomach. Elisa thought about that conversation and smiled wryly to herself. “I guess you were right, Sheila, “she said to herself in the dark. She would never know because she had said no to Daljit, her only love interest when she had been in school. The next time Elisa had whimpered, Steven had smacked her face with full force, in the dark. She had had a hard time explaining to Dr.Li, her dentist that her front tooth had broken because she had fallen face down on the bathroom floor.
Elisa put her book down, glanced at the bedside clock and answered the phone. It was Steven. “Where are you, it’s so late,” began Elisa before he cut her off. “I am not coming back anymore, Eli,” he said curtly. Thoughts tumbled over themselves as Elisa tried to make sense of what he was saying. “What do you mean? Where are you?” she asked in a hoarse whisper, not knowing why she was whispering. “I am in Kuala Lumpur. I really don’t want to live with you anymore,” he replied callously not bothering to explain further. “You will be okay. You have a job. You can take care of yourself. I have drawn a little bit of money from the account but otherwise I have not taken anything…” he said before Elisa cut in desperately, “But Steven we are married. You can’t do this.” Tears had begun to stream down her face as she clung desperately to the receiver as the final connection to her marriage. She simply heard a click from the other end.
Elisa stared at the phone for a few minutes, willing it to ring. She was sure that this was one of Steven’s cruel jokes and that the doorbell would ring just about then. She gathered herself up frantically, ran to the door and threw it open. The blast of icy air made her gasp as her eyes wildly searched the wet darkness of a rainy January night. It was a full ten minutes before she realized that the thick, black night stared back at her emptily, laying bare the hopelessness of her wait. Closing the door slowly, she turned around to lean against it. Too numb to even cry, she just stood there, her mind wanting her to do something but her body not willing. In the midst of the range of emotions that raged within her, an odd uncomfortable feeling seemed to be creeping through her gradually and quelling every other thought and feeling. She felt relief, more like a strange sense of release. Ashamed of what she felt, she did her best to force her tears but before she could even begin, the phone rang again.
The night Elisa’s husband Steven left her would be a night that was etched in her mind for the rest of her life. Not as much because that was the night she began a life without a husband but more because that was the night of the beginning of her life without her closest friend and confidante, her beloved Savithri Patti. The next call that she got after Steven’s was from her parents in Kuala Lumpur. “Savithri Patti is very ill. She doesn’t talk anymore…” began her mother. “Why didn’t you call sooner,” asked Elisa, her voice high-pitched. “We tried to. We called thrice last week. But Steven kept saying that you were not home and that he would tell you. And when you didn’t call back we got worried,” said her mother. The relief that Elisa earlier felt about Steven leaving now swept through her like a fresh blue wave with frothy foam at the edges. “I will try to get back as soon as I can get a ticket,” was her response to her mother. “Please tell Patti that,” she added, sure that Savithri would wait for her.
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