By the time Sana made it to the front door of the restaurant
a rash had crawled up her arms. She could feel the heat
prickle her scalp and a scream bubbling its way up her
chest like the undigested lunch of a rickshaw driver. Nothing, not
the satisfaction of the chilly interiors of her car nor the flood of
likes on their #datenightselfie could get her mind off it. She sat
there in the backseat and screamed into the leather.
Back at the restaurant, Daksh finished his meal in peace and
paid the bill before officially going off the grid. No one would get
to know of his passing until much later.
Sana didn’t realize at what point she’d passed out, but when
the car rolled to a stop her head lolled at an angle jolting her out
of it. She sat there for two minutes wondering if the night had
really happened the way she remembered it or if she’d just been
The driver was staring at her through the rear view mirror.
“Ma’am is everything okay?”
“Ugh shut up.” She straightened the hem of her dress and
checked her chin for any drool, already dreading the moment
she’d have to relive the night for her mother.
Right on cue, Tina Kochhar spotted her from her perch in the
living room with him.
“Sana,” she tittered, “beta how come you’re back so soon?
How was dinner?”
She bit the inside of her cheek to stop from screaming.
Laksh left his cup of tea and rose, towering over both of them
with a half smile.
She opened her mouth to fire back at him but he swooped
down and grabbed her hand. Laksh had the kind of eyebrows you
could only grow into, as a kid they were so big she wondered how
he kept his head upright. Now when they swept up in feigned
surprise he looked more handsome than stupid.
“Oh my god, what happened? Are you okay?”
Her eyes widened and she tried to get her hand back.
“Why? No, I’m fine.”
“Listen”, he clutched her hand, “tell me what happened. Are you
feeling alright? What is the meaning of all this? Where’s the ring?”
Before she knew it, she was raveling under the ferocity of his
dark gaze. His smile was cruel and the tears she’d been holding
back were threatening to come out. No amount of internal
screaming could ease the way her breath hitched in her chest.
Lakshman Dewan and Sunaina Kochhar had been the best of
friends since before most kids learnt their first words, right until
they were eleven. Then his parents started fighting, as it often
happens when egos are injured, sleeping in separate rooms, going
through the motions of a slowly crumbling marriage, and he
became someone else altogether. They tried to resuscitate their
friendship once more some time towards the end of high school because it was the time to let go of the past but then his older
brother forced himself on her at a party and Lakshman once again
withdrew completely. Now he would drop in from time to time
mostly to make small talk with her mother, raid their fridge, or
share a cigarette on her balcony.
Tina literally came running over, incoherently squealing.
She could feel her mother’s hands rise to cup her cheeks and
she knew it would end badly.
“Aunty look, her hand! There’s no ring on her finger!”
The two of them theatrically deflated like clowns but Sana was
exhausted. Her chest hurt too much, she wondered if perhaps her
dress was too tight and whether bread-and-butter-baskets were a
good idea to make up for small talk. The room didn’t have enough
air, and the air conditioner was too cold. An itch crawled all the
way up her body and the tears came in a hot bumbling mess.
“Fuck you,” she snatched herself away. “Really, just fuck the
both of you.”
Tina Kochhar hadn’t raised the cuss-monster her daughter
had become though truthfully she hadn’t really ‘raised her up’ at
all. Who even had the time for that stuff these days? With her bi-
weekly card games, the monthly potluck parties, and the nights
out with her girlfriends, Tina had decided that no one could
expect her to be a full time housewife and a mother, while still
maintaining perfect shape with a body fat percentage of twenty-
five to thirty.
She was about to tell her to calm down but Sana was already
out of the room, heels hitting on every hard step up to her room.
“What was that?”
She looked at him. They really don’t make them like him
anymore, she half smiled at the thought.
“It’s nothing really, she’s probably having an off day sweetie,
you don’t think too much about it.”
“No was it something I said? Should I not have …” there was
the briefest flash of hurt in his eyes.
“Listen, nothing like that at all but I think it’s just that she
probably didn’t have a good time you know, or they must’ve had
a fight or something. And we all know na how much she’s looking
forward to getting engaged. Like, I’m practically holding her back
from proposing to him!” she tittered.
It wasn’t the truth and the both of them knew it; Tina just had
a lifelong habit for making herself the centre of attention.
She rubbed his arm to comfort him, tossing her freshly
shampooed hair to one side.
“Don’t get depressed about it ya now. Go up and talk to her.
I’m sure she’s expecting you to be there already.”
Laksh was still staring at the trail her daughter had left behind,
the air vibrating with her energy. He wasn’t listening to her and
she wondered what was wrong with her. Why couldn’t he look at
her even if it was just long enough to validate what she’d said?
Was it not enough? Was it not enough that she cared about her
Sana so much?
She rubbed his arm again without needing to and gave him a
gentle push. Laksh didn’t look back as he left and Tina fell back
onto the couch.
It’s hard to tell the exact age when women start looking old.
She stared at the soft fine fabric of her dressing gown, wondering
if her skin wrinkled as easily. She grabbed a furious fistful of the
fabric and crushed it till her eyes burned with tears.
One staggered breath came in and out. One more – deeply
in and then out. And just like that she didn’t feel like crying
anymore. She looked at the half drunk cup of tea that was now
cold and lamented – she may not have made it herself but she
had taken special care to direct Vikram on how he liked it. The
cookies were the special ones that no one else in the house was
allowed to touch because they were honey-sweetened and she’d
picked them up on her last trip to Italy. It had been the perfect
summer. Well, sort of. It was a relatively good trip if it really came
down to it because she’d spent a majority of it obsessing over Hassan. Tina firmly believed that it marked the beginning of her
husband’s affairs, a fact she reminded herself of every time she
met with her boy-toy. As for Hassan, the bitterness that followed
had set the tone for the rest of their married life and soon they’d
just be a showpiece family.
Excerpted with permission from The Bitter Pill Social Club by Rohan Dahiya.
You can buy the book here.