She heard the pattering of footsteps as the family moved into the sitting room, and the conversation switched to the upcoming play at Kanika's day care.
Was it possible to be jealous
of a four-year-old? Anu pondered the question as she chopped the coriander, eavesdropped on her family as they obsessed over the lion costume Kanika was planning to wear—the one Anu was in the middle of sewing.
Anu couldn't remember if she'd told her family that she was the one to write the play, after the day care coordinator told her she had "just too much on her plate." So Anu had read a few Wikipedia articles on playwriting and bashed out a child-friendly script about safari animals and inclusivity one Saturday night after Kanika had gone to bed, and she had been directing the thing ever since. For the past month, she'd shuffled and reshuffled her schedule at the medical clinic where she worked as a nurse to make sure she could be there for every rehearsal. She'd e-mailed the newsletter to all the parents explaining which costume each child would be required to wear. Several times, she'd bailed on lunches or after-work drinks with her best friends, Jenny and Monica, to finish the set backdrop or props or pick out paper stock for the programs.
She didn't mind. It was important work, being a mother. She wasn't allowed to mind.
, curries, and rice were cooked, heated through. After ladling them into crockery and putting it all to warm in the oven, she started on the dishes. Scrubbed each pot, plate, and pan as slowly as possible, as the others chatted away in the sitting room.
"I am thinking about going back to university," she heard Lakshmi say through the wall. "I have always thought I would. Perhaps, it is the time. I have started an application."
Anu resisted the urge to roll her eyes. How many times had she heard her mother say that? She'd believe it when she saw it.
"My lovely lady, a student—me a professor," Kunal said softly, as Kanika banged at the piano in the background. "It would be a Bollywood love affair, no?"
"I would watch that," Priya said in earnest. "It really should
"Uh-ho. Kunal, you think I would be so sleazy as to have affair with my professor?" Lakshmi asked. "Nah
, if I am to have an affair, it would be with fireman
. I have always liked fireman."
"Like Chuck Norris?" Priya asked. "He was so
"Chuck Norris was the Texas Ranger, nah
"Would you like me to leave the room while you pick your suitor?" Kunal harumphed for effect. It reverberated through the whole house just as Lakshmi squealed in delight.
"Look at him Priya-ji
, so jealous!"
Anu was startled by a noise behind her. She glanced back, moving her neck only in the slightest, and with her peripheral vision caught sight of Neil chugging orange juice from the carton, one hand leaning against the open refrigerator door.
She squeezed her eyes shut as the tears started to form, unable to remember the last time he had greeted her when arriving home—with a kiss, a smile, even a hello. The last time he had held her because he wanted to and not just because Kanika had jumped into their bed and there wasn't enough room for the three of them.
She heard the refrigerator door close, a cupboard door open.
Would he come to her? Would he slink toward her and set his hands on her hips? Whisper something into her ear—something silly, maybe romantic? Or maybe he'd simply walk over without saying anything at all, pluck the tea towel from her right shoulder, and wipe down the dishes drying on the rack.
That would be enough. Right now, wouldn't that be enough?
She heard the rustling of a chip bag and then the cupboard door close.
Where had he gone? Where was it
? The olive branch. A sign that their marriage was more than their daughter. A home. A union of nice Indian families.
That she was more than just his lackluster Indian wife.
She held her breath, her heart pounding in her chest as she waited for him. And she kept waiting until she heard Neil's voice in the other room.
There was a glass bowl in her hands caked in turmeric, salt, and flour. It fell to the floor, and nobody else heard it shatter.
This excerpt ends on page 14 the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book A Delicate Deception by Cat Sebastian.