Saturday, June 09, 2007

OMANA’S STORY (A short story)

By Shevlin Sebastian

“I didn’t know how I got pregnant,” Omana said, as she sat on the floor, and looked up at the mistress, “I still don’t know.”
The mistress, with a double chin and strands of gray hair, sat on the bed, her back resting against a pillow placed on the headrest. Outside, in the village of Mamood, near Changanacherry, leaves on rubber trees shook in the breeze and created a rustling, soothing, romantic sound. A parrot sat on the branch of a guava tree and squawked now and then.
“How can that be?” the mistress said, “surely you would have known who made love to you?”
“No Madam,” Omana said, “let me tell you the story from the beginning. I was employed by this eye doctor called Sunny Thomas in Ernakulam. He is originally from Kottayam. He has a wife and two children, a boy and a girl. Six years ago, I was quite sexy and pretty.
“I knew that the eye doctor was interested in me. He had desire in his eyes, as he eyed my body whenever his wife Mariamma was in the bathroom.
“Mariamma was a nice person. She was quite plump. She treated me well. Since she was a housewife, she remained in the house most of the time. The two children were studying in school. Shaju was in class five while Lizzie was in class three.
“Around six months after I started working there, one Saturday, the children went off with Sunny Saar’s brother, who lived in Kothamangalam, to spend a week-end there. So, there was just the three of us: Saar, Mariamma and myself.
“That night, when Mariamma had gone into the bathroom for a bath, Saar came and gave me a glass of red juice in the kitchen. He said, ‘Omana, drink this. It has a lot of vitamins and is very good for your health.’
“Now when the head of the family says this, there is nothing to do but drink it. After all, I was a mere servant. Although one part of my mind felt a little uneasy. ‘Why did he give it to me when Mariamma is not here,’ I thought to myself. As I drank the juice, I saw that his eyes were on my breasts.
After dinner, he gave the same juice to his wife and she drank it without a second thought. Mariamma rarely spoke to her husband and, most of the time, she sat in her housecoat with her nose in some Malayalam novel or the other.
After dinner, they went to the bedroom. I slept on the floor in the room where the children stayed. I had barely closed my eyes before I went off into a deep sleep.
“The next thing I knew it was morning and the sunlight was falling on my face. I was astonished. Normally, I wake up at dawn. As soon as I opened my eyes, I could feel a heaviness in my head, as if an object was being pressed down on me.
“I got up and my head swayed. I went out of the house, to the servant’s bathroom at the back. I cleaned my teeth and splashed a lot of water on my face. But still, there was a buzzing in my head. I went back and saw Saar standing in the kitchen. He gave a half-mocking smile at me.
“He said, ‘Omana, have you made the tea?’
“I replied, ‘Sir, I have a bad headache. Can you give me some tablet?’
“No problem,” he replied and went to his bathroom where he has a medicine cabinet. He returned with a Crocin.
“I asked, ‘Sir, is Amma still sleeping?’
“Yes,” Saar replied, “Please make the tea.”
“I nodded although my mind was on Mariamma. It was unusual because Mariamma also wakes up early. At about nine o’clock, Mariamma came to the dining table, rubbing her forehead with her fingers.
“Sunny,” she said, “I have a terrible headache. Is there a Crocin?” That was when I experienced the first feeling of suspicion. l mean, both of us had terrible headaches, and both of us had drunk the same juice the previous night. Saar gave a Crocin and said, ‘There must be something wrong with that juice.’
“He opened the fridge and took out the bottle and emptied the syrup in the sink. I did not mention to Mariamma that I had a headache also. I didn’t know why I did not say it. Perhaps I thought it was not important.
“Later, when I was having my bath and was washing my vagina, I felt a slight pain. I did not pay much heed. Anyway, the children came back and the house was once again filled with laughter and noise.
“A month passed and my periods did not come. I normally get my periods by the 14th of every month, but this time, it was already the 25th and nothing happened. I was beginning to get worried.
“One afternoon, I was standing on the balcony, the flat was on the first floor, and was watching the traffic below, on Banerjee Road, when everything became a blur and I fell to the floor in a faint.
“When I opened my eyes, Mariamma was splashing water on my face. She said, ‘Omana, what has happened?’ I got up and blinked. My head was feeling heavy. I didn’t know why I had fainted suddenly. Two days later, I was in the kitchen making breakfast when I suddenly vomited. This time, Saar was in the house and he came and put an arm around me and took me to the bathroom. I rinsed my mouth.
“‘We have to go to the doctor,’ he said calmly. The next day, we went to a lady gynaecologist, who did a urine test and the result was positive. I was pregnant!
“Suddenly, there was tension in the house. Saar told Mariamma and she came to the kitchen and asked me, with a pinched look on her face, ‘Omana, who is the father? Surely you had intercourse with a man. Who is it?’
“I didn’t know what to reply. Madam, let me tell you in all honesty that I had not had sex with anybody. Whatever happened, had taken place in that house. Yet I had no proof. So what could I tell Mariamma? I remained silent. After a while, things calmed down and they asked whether I was going to abort the child. I said that since I am a Catholic, I did not want to go against my religion.
“A couple of days later, Saar told me that he had arranged for me to stay in a nursing home near Trivandrum. But I had to work in the kitchen and help in the cooking.
“I think the main reason for Saar taking me somewhere else was because he did not want a whiff of scandal attached to his name. You know how it is in Kerala? People pounce on a morsel of gossip and wreck a person’s reputation.
“Saar was also afraid that if he abandoned me, then I might go around telling people that he made me pregnant. So, some time later, he took me to this small nursing home.
“It was in a secluded place, away from the main road, and set in an estate of rubber trees. It was a most peaceful place. I was given a room to myself. There was a bed and a picture of Jesus Christ on the wall and a small bathroom. Saar’s friend, Dr. Sunil Mathew, owned this nursing home.
“During the day, I helped the cook, Theresa, by cutting vegetables and making cups of tea. I could also feel the kicks of the baby within me and that was such a thrill.
“I would sing softly to myself, hoping that the baby would hear. Nine months later, Saar was present with Sunil Mathew as the labour pains started.
“I give birth in that small room. There was a nurse to assist the doctor and I had a smooth, normal delivery. The baby was born perfect. He had smooth, fair skin like mine. I have no idea how I have this fair skin of the North lndians.
“Two days later, when I was lying contentedly in bed, my baby beside me, Saar came in and said, ‘Omana, you have to give the child away.’
“I shouted, ‘Why should I?’ I was hysterical. You know what the feeling of the mother is, immediately after the birth of a child. In the beginning, I said a vehement ‘No’ to Saar. But he was patient and slowly made me see reason.
“He asked me how was I to explain to people whose baby it is? People would start saying all sorts of scandalous things. At that time, I had no idea of blood tests to prove the paternity of the child. Otherwise, if Saar could be proved that he was the father, I would have filed a case and asked him for monetary support. But I was an ignorant girl then, at the mercy of the educated and smart people.
“Saar said that there were so many expenses in bringing up the baby. He said I didn’t have the money. I couldn’t take the baby to my parents’ home because they would not accept me. So slowly, I came around to the idea of giving away the baby. I felt that it would be traumatic for any child to grow up in these circumstances.
“And really, all this time, Saar was very patient. He would come every morning and talk to me. He would hold my hand and play with my fingers. Not once did he look at the baby. “One day I said, ‘Saar, can you tell me how I got pregnant? I have no idea myself.’
“Saar looked at me with no expression on his face. Then he said very softly, ‘Omana, if you don’t know, then how am I to know?’
“I did not know say anything although l knew that it had to be Saar. Anyway, the baby was given away to a convent nearby and I cried the whole night. The next day, Saar said that he would arrange for the adoption of the child. There were agencies that arranged for children to be adopted by people living abroad.
“We returned to Ernakulam. I thanked Saar and Mariamma. I said that I wanted to go back home. But Saar said that he had spent money for me like paying the doctor’s fee and the hiring of the nurse and buying of medicines. Many scans had also been done and he told me it was expensive. Saar told me I had to work for a year without any salary.
“He had not said this, before I was went to the nursing home. But then, I had to be grateful. So I agreed. And so once again, I started working there and Mariamma, from the very beginning, would not leave me alone.
“Whenever the children went out to play and her husband had left for the clinic, she would come up to me and say, ‘Omana, tell me, who made you pregnant?’
“In the beginning, I continued to say that I had no idea. But she persisted and so finally I got very irritated and told her about my suspicions about Saar. She remembered the night of the red juice and I could see in her eyes, the shock of the truth hitting her.
“She whispered to me, ‘I had a suspicion, but I could not be sure.’ But there was nothing that she could do. She could not even confront her husband about it. After all, there was no proof. She was a housewife. She had no income. She was dependent on Saar. So there was no question of walking out or divorce or anything like that.
“She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘Omana, I am sorry for what my husband did to you. All men are animals. My husband does not care for me. He does whatever he feels like doing. But how can I leave him? What will my children do? How will my parents react if I tried to leave? This is Kerala, after all...’
“Mariamma started crying and I hugged her and wiped away the tears with my fingers. She looked so helpless. Poor thing. But what surprised me was how quickly she accepted that her husband could have raped me.
“Three months later, Saar told me that the baby was adopted, but he did not know who the parents were. I kept quiet. What was the point of knowing, anyway? After the year was over, I left them and Saar gave me two hundred rupees. He was aloof with me during that year. Therefore, I was really surprised when he gave me that cash gift.
“I came back home to Changanacherry and started living with my parents. l have three brothers and they are all married and live in different parts of Kerala. My father is very old and ill and cannot move around much. My mother, of course, worked for you.
“For almost a year, I did not get a job. My parents were very irritated. But, to tell you frankly, I was recovering from the loss of the baby. The one year that I spend with Saar and his family, I did not feel it so much because I was busy. But when I came back home and started to spend a lot of time alone, that was when the shock of abandoning my baby hit me.
“I was remorseful; I was depressed; I was frightened for my baby. What had happened to it? Was everything all right? Who had taken my baby? Were they good parents? All this used to go through my mind day after day.
“Finally, unable to bear it any longer, I got out of the house and started searching for a job. I was lucky to get a job as a cook in the house of a LIC manager and his wife. They live near the railway station. They were nice people, childless and quiet, and I worked there for a year. But slowly, I began to feel restless. I wanted something more from life. I wanted to get married. I wanted children. I wanted lots of money.
“About this time, I saw an advertisement in the Malayala Manorama newspaper for a maid for a lady who lived in Bangkok. I applied, with a colour photograph, and a month later, I was called for an interview.
“The woman’s name was Reena Nair and she had come with her two-year-old son Mani. She was staying with her sister in Tiruvalla. We met and straightaway, we liked each other. She was about my age, 31 or 32, and she seemed nice. And the boy was cute. He could already speak a few English words.
“Reena said that I needed to learn English but she said that there was nothing to worry. When I came to Bangkok, she would teach me. That was when I knew that I got the job. Reena said later that the reason she selected me was because I was of the same age as her. And as for me, I had no doubts about going. Firstly, I would earn so much more. And secondly, I really wanted to get away from Kerala. I wanted a change of environment, to lift my spirits.
“It took me two months of running around and employing an agent before I got my visa and passport. Then Reena came back specifically to take me. She was a gentle, soft-spoken person and treated me like I was her friend. We finally left for Bangkok.
“Bangkok surprised me by its crowds. I thought that only Indian cities were crowded. But there was a lot of traffic on the streets. There were so many foreign cars, smart-looking bikes with young men in jeans and sneakers, chewing gum and with girls sitting on the back seat and hugging them tightly.
“They have a funny type of auto-rickshaw called the “tuk-tuk”. It scoots through the traffic, twisting and turning like a snake.
“There were so many women in the streets of Bangkok. They clearly outnumbered the men. They wore all types of dresses: short skirts; full length gowns; jeans; shorts and hot pants.
“It was a bungalow style house. There was a garden in front and at the back; there was a servant’s quarter and a vegetable patch where Reena grew tomatoes. There were five rooms on the ground floor and three rooms on the first floor. Reena told me that I could stay on the terrace. There was a small room with a window and a bathroom.
“I liked it immediately; it reminded me of the small room that I had in the nursing home when I give birth to my child.
“Reena’s husband, Ravi, was a nice man. He worked for a Japanese company, C. Itoh. I could see that Reena was in love with him. They had no servant for quite a while and so it was with relief that they welcomed me.
“There was another servant, by the name of Raghavan. He lived in the servant’s quarter and worked as a driver. I settled in quickly. Reena taught me to speak English. I started going to the market within a month.
“Reena’s son Mani got along well with me. I think he was excited by me. He would always want me to hug him and touch my breasts. I guess he had not seen such large breasts before. Reena did not have large breasts.
“Every morning, Mani would rush into my arms, saying, ‘Omana, Omana.’ I loved him very much. He was very fair. Keralites don’t have such a fair colour; neither did Ravi nor Reena seemed so fair.
“I would take Mani up to the terrace room in the afternoons and he would sleep with me. One day, missing my son very much, I took off my blouse and bra and gave my nipple to Mani to suck. He looked surprised and puzzled but when I smiled and rubbed his hair with my fingers, he began to suck willingly. What a feeling of pleasure coursed through my body. I wished I had my child with me. But I was happy that at least there was Mani.
“After that, we did it regularly. Whenever we went to the terrace on hot summer afternoons, Mani would say, ‘Omana, I want to suck!’ And then I would give my nipple to him to suck and I would feel the loss of my little boy who was living with some strange people, who had no idea that he had been abandoned by his real mother; that she had got pregnant with him in a mysterious way.
“A year passed and then came another development: Raghavan fell in love with me. He was fifty eight years old and a bachelor. He treated everybody with great respect and with a sense of humility.
“He had come to Bangkok as a young man and started working as a driver in C. Itoh and had been working for the company for thirty-five years. He said he had not married because he was shy in front of woman and somehow, he didn’t feel like going back to Kerala to find a bride. He told me that I was the first woman he found easy to talk to.
“Ravi and Reena had a hectic social life. ln C. Itoh, there was always some party or the other to attend almost every day. Sometimes, they left Raghavan behind and Ravi drove the car himself.
“Then Raghavan, Mani and I would sit in the backyard, on small plastic chairs, in the darkness and talk and laugh and have a good time.
“Raghavan told me he had saved a lot of money. He said that he had two more years to go before he retired and after that, he was planning to go to Kerala to settle down. I asked him where and he said that he had not decided on the place. His parents had died a long time ago and he was an only child. After their deaths, he had gone back and sold off their property in Ottapallam.
“We talked about a lot of things; like his early life in Bangkok; the struggles; the feeling of alienation in a strange city; the long hours at the wheel, although he was always paid overtime. He was very decent and respectful of me.
“Not once in his conversation did he hint about wanting to do anything with me. One day, Raghavan told me that he loved me. We were alone that day. The Nairs had taken Mani out for an evening ride. He said that he wanted to marry me. He said that he knew that I was a young woman and he was an old man. He said that there was nothing to worry. He would look after me well.
“For some time, I was stunned by his proposal. I was least expecting it. I had never looked on him as a prospective bridegroom. It was true that Raghavan was too old for me but it was also true that I was 34 and unmarried.
And I didn’t think that my chances for getting married were really bright. Frankly also, I was dying to get married, to belong to somebody. How long could I live alone, clutching a pillow at night for company? After all, deep down, every woman wants to get married and start a family. And I wanted a child of my own. That earlier pregnancy had whetted my desire to have another child.
“So I said yes and we kissed in the backyard. Then we told the Nairs the news. They were surprised; then they became very co-operative.
‘Let’s have a registered marriage,’ Raghavan said.
‘In Bangkok or in Kerala,’ I asked. He replied that he would prefer to get married in Kerala. So we decided to go back.
“The plan was that Raghavan would buy a plot of land which had a house on it and install me there. After that, he would return to Bangkok. Then he would come down again during his annual leave. We would carry on like this, till he reached 60 and would retire from C. Itoh. He would collect the dues and come and live with me. So we made preparations to leave.
“We bought a lot of utensils for the kitchen, clothes for me, house-coats, bras, panties, perfumes, bed sheets, a tape recorder, an iron, a mixer, etc.
“We left Bangkok on a Thai Airways flight. We landed in Chennai and took an evening flight to Ernakulam. We checked into the posh Hotel Sealord. Can you imagine that? For years, whenever I used to go to Ernakulam for a visit I would look at the Sealord and wonder what sort of people stayed in that hotel. Surely, they must be all rich people. But now fate had created such a situation where a driver and a maid would stay there, although, it was only for a day.
“The next day, we found a marriage registry office and persuaded two waiters who were going off-duty to act as witnesses. So, in front of a woman officer, whom we bribed in order to avoid the one-month notice period, I was married to Raghavan Verma. He was a Hindu and I was a Catholic and I wondered how my parents would react to that.
“We had lunch, then we checked out of the hotel, got into a taxi and went to my parents’ place.
“My parents were stunned to see me because I had not told them that I was coming. On top of that, I had brought along a husband and that too, an old man. But they kept quiet since l had brought so many so many utensils; clothes, razors, blades, shirts.
“My mother, however, took me aside and said, ‘He’s a Hindu, isn’t he?’ I said yes and she did not say anything else. How quickly poor parents forgive you anything if you bring them material gifts. My parents smiled at Raghavan and gave him tea and banana fries. My father also took me to the courtyard and said, ‘Why did you have to marry such an old man? But he seems to be gentle. Thank God, he is rich.’ Later, he broke out into a big smile when Raghavan gave him a carton of 555 cigarettes.
“Then we told my parents about our plans to settle down somewhere and my father said that there was a plot of land that was up for sale, about five kilometres away. There was a house, with a bathroom and a kitchen and it cost one lakh rupees. We went and saw the land. It was half an acre in size.
There was a patch of land in the front, filled with weeds, and a well at the back. There were no houses nearby. It was by the side of the Karuvelil rubber estate.
“Raghavan looked at me and I said that it was okay. It was silent and quiet. We went and met the owner. He was an old man who had studied with my father in the government primary school many decades ago. He agreed at once. It seemed that this plot of land had been up for sale for quite some time and there had been no buyers.
“So we settled into the new house. It took us a week to clean it up. We put pictures on the wall. We got an electricity connection (and how much money in bribes we had to pay to get that), we bought a bed and a mattress, two tables and chairs, a table fan and bulbs. All in all, it was a hectic time, but Raghavan was calm and relaxed and did everything to make the house comfortable.
“Finally, after we were all settled, I told Raghavan that we should make love. He didn’t seem pushy about it all, although we had slept together for quite a few days now. I was puzzled about it.
“Normally men are the ones who are so impatient to have sex. But Raghavan seemed passive and docile, acting exactly like the grey-haired man that he was. When I mentioned that he would make love, he smiled a little and I noticed that he had started sweating.
“We started kissing. I climbed on top of him and I started getting hot. I gave him my breast to suck. I could feel myself getting wet as he sucked on my nipple. I stretched my hand downwards to grab his penis.
“It was soft, like a wad of cotton. He was impotent. I pulled on it; sucked on it; caressed it; but nothing happened. It was limp and soft. There seemed to be no life in it. I got up and put on the light. Raghavan smiled a little foolishly and said that he had been impotent for years. So that was that.
“There was nothing that I could do. I had married him and now I had to live with him for the rest of my life, or his life, because, most probably, he would go first. So here I was, unable to fulfill my dream of becoming a mother once again. So much for womanly calculations. How it can backfire! Really, we are pawns in the hands of fate. This is what I have understood from life.
“Anyway, we continued to live together and a month later, Raghavan left for Bangkok. I was alone once again. I was lonely. I was bored. I had to wait another year before I could see him again.
“But then fate created another twist in the tale. Six months later, Raghavan died in a car accident while he was coming back from the airport after dropping a C. Itoh official. Reena wrote to me and said that a truck hit his car and the steering wheel rammed into Raghavan’s body, killing him instantly. So what was I to do?
“I was a widow with a house and a land of my own. And this is where my story is at present. My mother is no longer in good health and she has asked me to come and work for you.
“And that is why, here I am, Madam, and I don’t know how life is going to treat me next. Except that I hope and pray that I will get a little bit of peace. There have been too many eventful happenings in my life. Now I want to lead a very simple life.”
Suddenly, a car horn was heard. The mistress of the house sprang up from the bed, as if she had been struck by a bolt of electricity and said, ‘Omana, go and open the gate. The master has come. Make a cup of tea after that.’
Omana went outside, this ripe woman, in a red saree, with long black hair, and buxom breasts and narrow hips, and opened the gate. The master was at the wheel, a square-jawed man, with a thick salt and pepper walrus moustache and with a pipe sticking out from his mouth. As the Lancer car swept past her, Omana saw the gleam of desire in the master’s eyes…

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