The old woman smacks her now toothless gums. It is her anniversary today. Forty years have elapsed since that fateful day when she left her family, left all she had known, for the man she loved. He had been kind to her, and loved her in his way. He had been patient with her, holding her as she burst into wailing, keening tears, her whole body quaking, as they made love.
Was it only ten years ago that he thoughtlessly died, leaving her childless and alone?
She smacks her gums. Those ties were severed long ago when she had done the unforgivable. At first, her love for him had been enough. He had been her whole world, and she justified her disloyalty, believing zealously that she couldn’t deny what her heart desired. The fog of love had carried her through their first year together.
The first lost pregnancy had shaken her resolve. She had yearned for her sister’s understanding and comfort, her mother’s arms. It was only then that the enormity of her actions, the repercussions of her choices, came into clear view.
She had heard third-hand, fourth-hand, at the distance of many hands, that her sister had howled like a trapped animal the day she left. The heavens and her sister’s heart had both rent asunder releasing their deluge that day. Guilt and shame had cloaked her then.
She smacks her gums. She had known that what she was doing was a betrayal, but her sister had not loved him. It was an arranged marriage, a sentence to be endured. She had assumed that her sister would recover, marry another, have many children, and be happy. She was wrong.
Today, she dons her courage to visit her sister. Her parents are long gone, her husband dead, seven babies extinguished before they could draw their first breath, she has nobody left. She presses down the rising bile, swallows the bitter taste of pride, and begins the long journey to her ancestral home.
The red wrought-iron gates that lead to the house creak at her push. The heady smell of jasmine that lines the dirt drive disorients her, sends her hurtling backwards through time. She reaches the cool darkness of the portico that abutts the front room, and limps painfully, nervously up each step to the always-open door, as filmy ghosts of the children they were scatter from her path.
Paru, the long-serving maidservant, is the first to spot her. She is old too, and hop-limps to greet her. Paru paws at her face, not quite certain whether she is real or an apparition, another spectre that haunts this house. Her hand stops mid-stroke, muscles tensing, and a squealing lament escapes her lips.
She is too late. Her sister too, has left this life, alone, heart-broken, and calling for her sister with her last breath.
She smacks her gums, feeling the edges of the sister-shaped hole that had formed in her heart.