A Bruised Smile – My Bullying Experience

This is the story of a little girl with big, bright eyes and a genuine smile. I once caught this little girl in the washroom, sitting on an overturned bucket inside a cubicle. Her uniform clung to her knees as she wept silently for hours, trying not to be heard. But as the last school bell rang, she jumped up and wiped away her tears. In her eyes, there wasn’t just happiness to be going home. There was relief. That little girl brings tears to my eyes even today. Because, that little girl was me.

It is the victim’s silence that fuels the perpetrator.

For all these years, I kept a secret confined to the deepest part of my soul. I was bullied. So, why am I speaking up now? Because I can finally accept that this happened to me. Because, though I may never be able to move away from it, I can hopefully move on. Because I realized that it is the victim’s silence that fuels the perpetrator.

It first started when I was five years old. My being left-handed provoked my teachers enough to beat me up. I remember being terrified to use my own hand, trying hard to pretend that I was ambidextrous and this memory still has the power to send chills down my spine. I was damaged at that age despite my mother’s constant support. I tried so desperately to believe her when she told me that I was perfect just the way I was. But the trauma could not be erased.

Fast forward by three years. On my first day in a new school, when I was walking towards my classroom, I saw a few books and a lot of stationery strewn across the corridor. In a corner, a lunch box lay open with the food inside it emptied. With horror in my eyes, I instantly realized that these things belonged to me. As I quickly knelt to pick it all up, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment, I heard laughter. There were two things I learnt that day. One, I was the perfect target. Two, this would keep happening.

Over the course of the next couple of months, I retreated further and further into my shell. The bullies found innovative ways to make me feel worthless. My nicknames started with ‘ugly’, ‘dark’ and ‘transgender’, gradually progressing to ’Ms. 20,000 kilograms’ and ‘Ms. Elephant’. Nearly every single night, my tear soaked pillows reminded me of my misery. I would spend hours in the dark staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep for the fear of choking in my own nightmares. I contemplated suicide repeatedly but the worst part was not knowing what I did to deserve such hatred. At the age of nine, I could not understand that this was not my fault.

Just when I felt like I had reached my threshold, with the name calling and the damage of my  personal belongings, the abuse turned physical. Once, I was invited to play with the ‘popular’ kids during recess and that day, I fell in the sand, scraping my knees. I brushed it off as clumsiness when my worried mother asked me how it happened. The next day, I fell again and this time, bled from my elbows. A dangerous pattern started, where I got bruised repeatedly, multiple times per week. But I didn’t care because all those nights, my pillow remained dry. That had to mean I was happy, right? A little blood couldn’t stop me from happiness, could it?

I realized that in my eagerness to feel accepted, I had let myself be used.

But this euphoria was short lived. Because, one day, it dawned upon me that I wasn’t falling. I was being pushed. It happened again, and this time, I heard the children laughing as I lay face front on the sand. They were laughing all those other times too, but in my blind hope, I hadn’t heard them. I realized that in my eagerness to feel accepted, I had let myself be used.

As the weeks advanced, they would find new ways to torment me. Inquisitive eyes measured my developing body and lewd comments were passed to my face. Bets were placed on the colour of my intimate clothing and my skirt was pulled up to decide the winner. Though I was very young, the humiliation I faced was unimaginable. However, I never once let them see my tears.

But one day, when a fellow classmate put his hand up my skirt, I just mentally collapsed. I fell into severe depression and blamed myself for everything that happened to me. I struggled with insomnia, suffered with poor eating habits and withdrew from everyone. This was when I turned to writing for solace because I was unable to express my emotions verbally. I would weave stories of friendship, love and companionship, but mostly, my stories centered the one thing I craved the most. Acceptance.

For others to accept me, I had to accept myself first.

Still, despite all the self-hatred I possessed, I managed to survive and because I did, somewhere along the way, a miracle happened. I call this miracle ‘self-realization’. I finally understood that for others to accept me, I had to accept myself first. I needed to come out of my shell and conquer my insecurities. Thus began my transformation and my healing process. But trust me when I say that it was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done till today. I took to writing seriously, focused on my academics and started making friends. I pushed myself to test my limits. There came a day when I finally wasn’t just accepted, but was looked up to. It gave me a sense of achievement, but more than that, it made me gain my own perspective. You see, if I had succumbed to that pressure back then, I wouldn’t be here today. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. I can finally see that light now and my euphoria today is only intensified by my bitter experiences yesterday.

I may be damaged, but I will never be broken.

I know now that happiness needs to come from within. I know now that nobody has the power to decide for me excepting for myself. I know now that I am not worthless, that I am not weak and that I am not incapable. But when I was a child, I didn’t. I’m choosing my battles, conquering my fears and taking steps – one at a time. But some scars last forever, and I am okay with that.

Bullying can cause lasting damage. I still have extreme trust issues, I still can’t express my feelings and I still struggle to sleep peacefully at night. I may be damaged, but I will never be broken.

A lot of people see my success. But I see the years of pain it took to get to where I am today. Given a choice, I would have preferred to have my childhood instead of it being ripped away from me through the years. When people exclaim that my maturity spans beyond my age, their compliment causes me pain. Because that wasn’t a choice I got to make. But I made it through and if I can, then you can too.

To those of you who can relate, know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have no reason to hide. Loving yourself is the primary solution. But seek betterment only because you want to. I battled with severe inferiority complex which came from foolish comparisons and now I know that there is no such thing as ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’. There is just you. And you are perfect exactly the way you are.

To those who have hurt others in the past…verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually…I have only one question for you. How does it make your life better? Try walking in your victim’s shoes and you will see how damaging it is to suffer for no fault of your own. Your happiness should come from another’s smile, not tears. Your sense of power should come from protection, not destruction. Your popularity should come from respect, not fear. But mostly, a solution to your insecurities should come from within yourself and not from feeding off of another’s sense of inferiority.

There is nothing wrong with being different.

Lastly, to the parents and the teachers. Behind every happy child, there is you. Please pay attention to early signs of your child’s distress or aggression. Silence speaks louder than words. Counsel your child to find out if he is bullying or is being bullied. But most importantly, do not discriminate. Be it two children in your house or forty children in your classroom, demonstrate equality. Let them all know that they are unique and that there is nothing wrong with being different. My mother, who was, is and will always be my support system, is the reason I am standing proud today. Love and guidance can do wonders. Be that person who changes another’s life.

It wasn’t easy for me to relive those memories that I kept repressed for so many years. But I hope that something good comes out of it. Because you took the time to read my story, I ask only one thing of you. If you feel that this message could be of use to someone, then please help it reach that person…

And as always, I am here for you.

Book Review: The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Raj

“No matter what, love doesn’t die with death.” – Shilpa Raj

This week I was able to get my hands on The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Raj  which is a memoir of this young woman’s experiences as she and her family was forced to face the wrath of society’s disease called ‘untouchability’ and fate’s destiny called ‘poverty’.

Let us get into the review, shall we?

 

Blurb:

Saved by her grandmother from being killed at birth for having been born a female, Shilpa’s life took many unexpected turns and twists through her early years. She faced abandonment by her mother, the formidable constraints placed on her by her family, and the barbs of village elders bound by hundreds of years of oppressive practices and customs that subjugate women. Shilpa is torn between the contrasting lives she leads: one of servitude and injustice experienced by her family; the other of opportunity and empowerment offered by a good education in a school started by a philanthropist.

Just when all seems settled, an unforeseen death under mysterious circumstances shatters whatever stability remains in her life. Pulled in opposite directions, and torn between despair and dreams, Shilpa finally makes a choice for her future. Is she strong enough to stand up to the people she loves, and pursue what she wants?

At its heart The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter is about hope, when all seems lost. Written with raw honesty and grit, this is a deeply moving memoir of a young girl confronting her ‘untouchable’ status in a caste-based society, and her aspirations for modernity.

 

Title:

The title is beautiful and it aptly describes what the memoir is about. Shilpa’s narrative is shown to readers through her eyes but the title has a sweet connection to her roots. I found it beautiful for her to fearlessly tag herself as an Elephant Chaser’s Daughter and proudly show her history to the world.

Title Rating – 4.5 / 5

Cover:

The cover of the memoir is that of a young girl amidst a village background. Her face is unseen from the sun’s rays. The cover is serene, picturesque and has a melancholic feel to it. I love the way it fills me with peace but also how it gives a peek into what the narrative is all about. It’s apt with regards to the title and to the storyline. I loved it.

Cover Rating – 5 / 5

Plot:

“As years passed, I often found myself feeling guilt-stricken at how I came to have so much compared to my family.” – Shilpa Raj

As I read through the pages of the memoir, I found myself getting increasingly absorbed into Shilpa’s tale. She tells her story beautifully through the first person narrative and that adds to the connection that the reader builds with her. The tale talks about her entire family, the troubles they went through and the hardships they had to face to get to the stage they are at today.

“The word ‘plane’ made everything seem so distant…” – Shilpa Raj

The language is fluent and simple to understand. It has a wonderful flow to it which makes it all the more appealing. I love the way the paragraphs are split as that helps the story flit from past to present which is how it is written. My favourite part was that about her sister which was told beautifully.

“I was anxious to see my mother, and nothing else could be more important.” – Shilpa Raj

There isn’t a systematic flow to the tale which is very engaging and, for me, one of the highlights of the novel. I feel like the entire story became double the times more interesting because of the timelines interchanging and Shilpa’s history mingling with her present. What makes it even better is that there is no confusion despite the form of this narrative which shows the author’s skill of story telling.

Plot Rating – 5 / 5

I loved…

  1. The fluency in the writing
  2. The diverse timelines the tale travels through
  3. The author’s ability to tell her story without creating confusion in the reader’s mind

I wanted…

More conversations! That is my only suggestion / critical aspect about the book.

Overall Rating: 5 / 5
Verdict: Worth Every Penny!

Order your copy from the link below:

Amazon India

 

 

Book Review: Twenty Twenty – A Race Against Time by Anuraag Srivastava

I just read Twenty Twenty – A Race Against Time by Anuraag Srivastava.
Here is what I thought.

 

BOOK COVER:

I personally did not like the book cover. It just didn’t seem like a lot of effort was put into it. It is unoriginal and bland. Sadly, this just did not work for me.

Cover Rating – 2.5 / 5

TITLE JUSTIFICATION:

The title is perfect for the plot and the story. I felt that it fit well with the essence of the novel. Time is always something that we have no control over. It slips out of our grasp before we even know it. That justifies the plot as well as the title quite well.

Title Rating – 5/5

PLOT

The genre is Thriller, which is very evident both from the cover and the title. However, there is so much more to the story than just that. The story revolves around two siblings who find themselves caught in a seemingly impossible situation where they have just twenty days to relieve themselves from their own stressful adventure.

The part I loved most about this book is that it has two female protagonists, both portrayed as powerful and sophisticated women who are able to hold their ground. It revolves around the troubles they face, the manipulations they have at the center of their hands and the relationships that are tethering at the edge of breaking points. It is very admirable to see that the author has been able to portray a side to women that isn’t really acceptable within the Indian Society. These two sisters do everything that a man does and gets away with – be it sex, power and even redemption.

It was an enjoyable read. The writing style is very good and the book is quite fast paced.

Rating – 5 / 5

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

Definite recommendation from my end. Worthy of reading and will linger with you for a long time.

Final Rating: 4 / 5
Verdict: Recommended!

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Book Review: It Ain’t College, It’s War! by Subhodeep Mukherjee

I just read ‘It Ain’t College, It’s War!’ by Subhodeep Mukherjee. Here is what I thought.

 

BOOK COVER:

This isn’t the most fascinating part of the book. I didn’t find the cover very appealing though it is symbolic to the plot.
Then again, this is purely based on perception.

Cover Rating – 3/ 5

TITLE JUSTIFICATION:

I haven’t seen many titles like this one. My only complaint is that I found it a bit too long. Other than that, it is a catchy title especially for those who are in the age surrounding college and its multiple experiences it teaches us in life.

Title Rating – 3.5/5

PLOT

To be honest, when I first picked this book up, I was apprehensive. Would this be the right choice for me to read? Being one who has never experienced college life, I wasn’t sure if it would catch my interest. But rest aside, I will definitely say that the author has the gift of converting a normal situation / scene into an interesting narration. That, I will say, is the strongest point of this book. It goes a long way in keeping a reader engaged.

Centered around a refreshing college atmosphere with student groups, peer pressure, ego-driven fights and steady infatuation, this book leads us through nostalgia. It is a conglomeration of new experiences, bad decisions, sudden consequences and life’s mysterious obstacles.

The author has a lovely style of writing and can weave imaginations with ease. The conversational, first person style of narration is a definite positive.

 

Rating – 4 / 5

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

An enjoyable read, a pleasant experience and a good impression. Will read more from the author.

Final Rating: 4 / 5
Verdict: Recommended.

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Book Review: UNNS – The Captivation by Sapan Saxena

I just read ‘UNNS – The Captivation’ by Sapan Saxena and enjoyed myself.
Here is what I thought.

BOOK COVER:

I personally felt very neutral about the cover. It neither had the mystery nor the attraction factor, which for me, are quite essential when I first look at a book. It felt bland, plain and simple. These things could all be very good, but as a personal opinion, I wasn’t very impressed.

Cover Rating – 2.5 / 5

TITLE JUSTIFICATION:

This is where my review picks up. The title is fabulous. I love the sound, the essence and the meaning of it. Before starting the book, I actually googled it and learnt that it meant love in Arabic. Upon reading, I realized that it is one of the seven stages of love that is mentioned by the author in the novel.

The by-line ‘The Captivation’ is so captivating in itself.

Title Rating – 5/5

PLOT

At first, the book seemed ordinary and the plot felt quite run of the mill. But it would be an understatement to say that the story line picked up midway. The author has done a fantastic job in creating various twists along the way and placing them intelligently between the chapters.

What starts of as love between two teens blows out of proportion when they are separated due to forced circumstances and are united years later. I won’t say more for fear of revealing something. But be rest assured that you will be getting more than you expect.

The writing style is good. The grammar is on point and the style is easy to read. However, it seemed prolonged and elongated in a few parts and very little is left to the readers’ assumptions and understanding as everything is explained in detail. While I understand that the author would have wanted for there to be no confusion, it did seem a bit much considering that the new age readers are all well equipped to draw out and follow twists very well.

Kudos to the author for trying something out of the box with a predictable romance.

Rating – 4 / 5

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

It was a great read and I particularly enjoyed understanding the seven stages of love through the book. It seemed realistic and quite engaging. The combination of a thriller within the romance was wonderful though predictable in a few places. However, that being said, a definite recommendation from me!

Final Rating: 4.25 / 5
Verdict: Recommended!

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Shravya’s Tirades: Insecurities

Think about this.
There is one thing in your life that brings you down and doesn’t allow you to be your true confident self. It is that one negative thing about you that you wish you could change but somehow, for some reason, can’t. It is your insecurity.

Now, think about this. You allow yourself to believe someone enough to think that your insecurity is safe with him. But then that person does something that shocks you. He uses it against you.
Sounds familiar?

Have you ever had your trust broken by someone you love?
Has that person done something that you never thought he would be capable of?
Will you feel comfortable around this person again now that you know he is just like everyone else?

It hurts, doesn’t it?
It really breaks your heart to finally understand that your deepest, darkest insecurities are safe only in one place and one place alone. Deep inside of you.
No one is worth the trauma of having to trust your self-consciousness with. Keep that with yourself and don’t let it show. Because no matter how much you think that a person will understand you for who you truly are, at the end, it will always be turned against you.

 

This isn’t a bitter post. No, it isn’t even a warning of sorts.
It just one woman’s enlightenment reaching out to you, begging you not to let delayed realization pull you down. Because it isn’t the end of the world to stop trusting that one person, is it? It isn’t earth shattering-ly sad. It’s just… the truth.
Give it time and you shall heal.
You may not believe that now, not when you are still hurting on the inside, but sooner or later, the pain will fade away. It will be replaced by something far superior. Anger.
How could that person betray you?
How could that person hurt you?
How could that person break your heart?
But the most important question is, how could you let him?
Isn’t it bad enough that you have your own battles to fight and skeletons to hide? Do you really need someone to shove that down your throat when he is in a rage and when you are feeling low? I think you are to blame here.
For giving into your weakness and telling that person what makes you cry.
For letting that person use your own weakness against you. That is his weakness. But you made it his power.

We all have that one thing that makes us want to curl up and be left alone. That one thing that has the power to break through the walls we build around our hearts and grip our souls in agony.
We do.
We all do, no matter how strong we think we are.
Protect that secret and take it to your grave.
Empathy is conditional. You won’t get it when you need it the most.

 

So, like I was saying… everyone has insecurities.
Sadly, they only understand their own…

Book Review: Those Seven Days by Anmol Rana

I just read ‘Those Seven Days’ by Anmol Rana. Here is what I thought.
 BOOK COVER:
When I look at a book cover, there are many qualities that run through my mind. The first, of course, is the attractive factor. This cover surely does fulfill that. With its vibrant colours and catchy images, it does make one want to pick it up and give the synopsis a read. That being said, one other major factor is the depth. This is where I was a bit disappointed.  To me, a cover is not only a visual summary of the plot but a tempting sneak peak as well. I always love to read a book, come back to the cover, and then think, Oh, so that’s why the author put this on the cover!
Cover Rating – 3.5/5

 

TITLE JUSTIFICATION:

I loved the title. It’s clean, it’s catchy and it is basically what the book is about. I thought the author did a good job in managing to pick a title that could encompass all these factors.

Title Rating – 4.5/5

PLOT

This, for me, had quite a few ups and downs. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the writing for multiple reasons, but before we get to that, let us start with discussing what the theme of the book is. It is a casual love story between two people who didn’t expect to fall in love. The concept is cute, but then it is also quite run of the mill. The books travels at an equal pace from the first page to the last, neither too fast nor too slow, which is one of its plus points. The other pro of this book is how the whole novel is set in just seven days, split within the chapters by morning, evening and night. I found that idea refreshing.

That being said, I personally couldn’t readily accept the abusive language, the interception of Hindi & English and the colloquial usages throughout the book. I wished the author could have taken a less casual and more steady approach when it came to the dialogues among the characters. The second drawback was the sheer predictability. There were no twists and turns, no heavy emotion, no defining moment / chapter in the book. I personally couldn’t connect.

However, those readers who are in love with the idea of romance should definitely give this book a shot. It portrays a simple and relate-worthy story that will remind you of that special someone in your life.

Plot Rating – 2-2.5/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

When I started reading the book, I had multiple thoughts rushing through my head. While I loved the simplicity of the theme and the flow of the story, there were multiple factors (as mentioned above) that kept shielding my ability to view this book from just the positive aspects of it. I find tremendous scope in this author to create a bestseller because he has the ability to transform simple situations into magnanimous events. I hope to see better, more clean works from this author in the future and I wish him all the best in the success of Those Seven Days.

Final Rating: 3/5
Verdict: Could be better

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The Rain Child

The house is heavy with grief.
Twisting an escaping strand of my straightened hair in my finger, I bite my lower lip to stop myself from getting emotional.
Outside, as I hear thunder, a sudden smile of secrecy escapes my pursed lips.

Abandoning my family in time of their need, I take one step back, listening to the sound of my bangles as they gently clink against one another.
I take another and then turning around, I run out of the main door.
My long, curly hair is brushing softly against my back as I break into a sprint, my lips slightly apart with the struggle of breathing. Hoisting my ankle length skirt up, I continue running till I reach the far end of my back yard.
Around me, mango trees are swaying with the wind, waving to the lightning in the sky.
I stand still, closing my eyes, my head turned towards the clouds.
My fingers have let my Tulip red skirt fall beautifully over my legs as my arms slowly start moving upwards, till they’re outstretched beside me.
A warning thunder resounds in the sky, nature’s call, and as if on cue, a drop of rain falls on my forehead. Within seconds, another plops on my nose till eventually, the drops cover my face.
I smile; loving every minute of the beauty with my eyes closed and then, I begin spinning. I don’t know how I look but if my dad were standing next to me right now, he would have said that I looked like a rose amidst the lushness of nature.

My father is my most favourite person in the entire world.
He always says that when I’m happy, he’s happy.
But I haven’t told him yet that I’m only happy when he’s around. Now, I think that it may be too late.
“Darling,” He’d say on a random day, as we both sat in our lawn, lazing around and taking in the beauty of the sunshine. “Have I ever told you the story about you and the rain?”
I’d giggle and say, “Yes! But I want to hear it again.”
He’d chuckle at my excitement and start off with the story I had heard over a hundred times in my life
“You were only nine months old!” He’d tell me, with stars in his eyes, every time he repeated that story. “A miracle baby. One day, we had left the main door ajar and you heard the rain pouring outside and crawled out.” His face would turn into dismay. “It was a good fifteen minutes before your mother and I found you. God, the horror in my heart! Would you believe, just when I was ready to call the cops, I saw you from out the window, sitting near the mango trees, giggling in the rain? I never left the door open again!”
At this memory, he fondly laughed. “My rain child.”

My father doesn’t know that he’s my rain.
I mean to tell him that if it still is possible.
Outside, where I’m standing, the rain gets heavier. I feel the cold rain drops fall on my skin and mix up with the hot tears that are scalding my cheeks.
That’s the best thing about this season.
No one needs to know how much your heart is breaking.
My father always tells me that tears are a sign of weakness.

“Don’t ever let people catch you crying.”
“But dad,” I’d whine. “Everyone cries every once in a while!”
“Not you!” He’d smile then, fondly touching the tip of my nose. “You, my dearest rain child, will just run out to where you belong. By the mango trees in the rain. Your real home. There, you’ll find happiness. If you don’t, I’ll always be here for you.”
My childish mind did not think deep enough back then to realize that ‘always’ was not a word that meant ‘forever’. That immortality will always be our biggest weakness.

I look out at the mango trees. They’ve been there for longer than I can imagine.
My father once told me that he and my mother planted them together.
I love my mother a lot. But she doesn’t compare to the bond I share with my father.
I’m careful not to tell her that because I’ll hurt her feelings but she’s aware. Anyone would be.

Falling to my knees, ignoring the pain surging up my legs, I clench both my fists to compose myself. My head is bent low and my tears are falling with a speed that matches the rain.
Death is the most terrible gift of life.
It takes away from you, precious moments that you no longer have time to share. You see your future right in front of your eyes but it’s a future you can’t have because your time is up.
My sobbing gets loud and I’m scared that someone in my family inside, weeping, will hear me.
Behind me I hear footsteps but I don’t turn.
Then, a voice.
“My dearest Rain Child,” it says, a deep male voice choked with emotion and regret.
I know it’s my father.
He wipes his tears and crouches beside me.
I look at him, one last time, my eyes brimming with tears, matching his.
Like father, like daughter.
Then, he speaks.
“You’ve decided to go to the rain!” He says, breaking down. “But why didn’t you take me with you?”
I’m sitting right next to him but he can’t see me. He can’t see me sobbing hysterically now, shouting ‘I love you’ to him over and over again. I want him to know that I’m glad that car accident took me and not him. That I’m glad that I am not the one alive right now, crying for him. That it may sound selfish but I may not be able to survive without him. That mom now has him to lean on but if he had been the one to go away, then our family would collapse.
But it’s too late for all these things.
So, I just take in the sight of him.
We have one private moment together, joined in our tears and agony.
Then, getting up, I pat his head, though he can’t see me.
For one miraculous moment, he looks up, directly into my eyes.
He may not be able to see me but he has felt my touch.
Knowing that this is the most that I can have, I run towards the pouring rain till I’m finally one with it.
Then I’m gone and so is the rain.
The sun comes up, shining brightly, as if I’ve never existed.
But far away, in my house, the wails continue.

Autumn Memories

As the first yellowing leaf fell off the tree, Josephine hopped around, trying to catch it before it touched the grass. Clutching it to her heart, she remembered her dead husband’s last words fifteen years ago.

“This year, I’m the leaf that falls off the tree. Hopefully, you’ll be hanging on for years to come”

The memory brought tears to her eyes and a sudden ache in her lonely heart.
She recalled how theirs had been an arranged marriage, a marriage out of convenience.
She had hardly been eighteen back then, when her single mother passed away, leaving her in the hands of a strange man, her soon-to-be husband.

‘Darling!’Her mother had whispered, her eyes watering with the strain of having to stay awake. It was like her body was ready to collapse but her mind was refusing to stop yet. Josephine ran to her side, her heart hammering in her chest at the awareness that the moment had finally come.In her heart, she knew that she wasn’t going to have her mother around for much longer. But a small part of her, the silly part that wished for this all to be a horrendous nightmare, hoped otherwise.
“Promise me you’ll let him take care of you!” The dying lady said, struggling to caress her daughter’s cheek for one last time.

Josephine was wondering who her mother was referring to. But the presence far behind her answered without the need for words.
As she watched the solemn man, much older to her, lean gently against the doorframe, his head bent and his eyes fixed on the bunch of roses clasped tightly in his hand, Josephine’s heart wrung itself painfully.
But before she could turn back to her mother and try to tell her that she’d do anything but live with a man she hardly knew, the lady was gone.
That day, the vicious part of her, one that she wasn’t aware of, swore to hate the man for as long as she lived.

But it was difficult to hate a man like Roger for long.
He was what most women dreamt their fathers could be like and hoped their husbands would learn from. With his eternal kindness and extremely cautious flirtations, he had swept her off her feet gradually.

“I think you should smile, at least for today.”
His deep, male voice prickled the tiny hairs at the nape of her neck. Instantly, she was aware of her clumsily bunched up hair at the top of her head.
Turning, she looked at him, puzzled.
“It’s… our anniversary!” He said, clearing his throat.
Her eyes widened in horror, her face expressing how terrible she felt for forgetting a detail as major as that.
“It’s ok,” He hurriedly spoke, as if reading her embarrassment. “I don’t mind.”
She hung her head in shame, not knowing how to respond, wondering what was making her hate this man when he was being so very gentle with her. She wondered if love was really that difficult to develop, when it was obvious that the man in front of her could most possibly be better than anyone she would have been able to pick on her own.
“We have our whole lives left,” He said, smiling, reading her thoughts, as he gently touched her hand. “Hopefully you’ll remember the next one.”
Placing a bouquet of roses next to her on her bed, he quietly walked out, shutting the door behind him, as the room regained its silence that Josephine has grown accustomed to.

Despite her reluctance and forced hatred, Josephine had found that her young heart was melting for Roger as he determinedly continued to woo her. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, their emotional separation was dwindling but the ache of their physical distance was making her go crazy with longing. It made her realize how much more difficult it must have been for him, having to watch the three feet difference between their rooms and wonder if their hearts would ever become one.

A shy knock on the door was the most that her trembling fingers could manage. As the door opened to Roger’s surprised face, Josephine looked away, wondering if he had been expecting somebody else.
“Is it lunch time already?” He asked, glancing at his time, aware that Josephine only ever knocked on his door to tell him his food was ready.
“May I come in?” She managed, her voice quivering.
He glanced at her face and loosened his tie.
She watched as he battled with his own mind, knowing that he was getting late for work but being unable to refuse his wife anything.
“I’ll…I’ll come back later!” She said, taking a step back.
Watching as his eyes turned into pits of shock, she hesitated.
“No!” He said, trying to control himself from shouting out the word. “Absolutely not!”
She entered his room, taking a look around it properly for the first time in two years.
Sitting on his dressing table was their wedding photo, a detail she missed even though she cleaned his room twice a week.
It was weird how people only noticed that which they wanted to see.
“Joe…?” He said, worried.
She turned to him, gulping.
“I… Open your cupboard,” She blurted out as his eyes shifted to the panicked rise and fall of her chest.
His footsteps slow, he walked over and opened the doors.
After a few seconds, he spoke.
“It’s empty.” He said, his voice flat.
She kept her head lowered the whole time, not knowing what to say.
“I…I don’t understand, Joe…”
She looked at him, her eyes coy till they met his.
As she watched the beginning of tears in Roger’s eyes, she instantly understood what had happened.
“I… Are you asking for a divorce?” He asked, his lips quivering.
Unable to say a word, she took his hand in hers and dragged him to her room.
Opening the cupboards, she turned to face him.
“I… I just thought your clothes looked better here.”
She turned and looked at the bed, as his eyes followed.
“My pillow too?” He asked, the beginning of a smile in his voice.
Her throat went dry as he walked towards her and placed his hands on her shoulders. With one finger, he lifted her chin up and kissed her forehead.
“How long I’ve waited for this…” He murmured as her eyes connected with his.
At her utterance of the three most beautiful words he had ever heard in his life, they kissed passionately and made love for the first time in their entire married life. But it surely wasn’t their last. Love had finally found them both.

However, one terrible autumn, fifteen years ago, a fatal heart attack took his life.
“Have I told you recently how much I love you?” He struggled, his voice raspy.
It reminded her instantly of her own mother many years ago and how she too had been taken away from her well ahead of time.

“Only every day!” She replied, her eyes moist and her fingers wrapped tightly around his. “And you’ll continue to do so once you recover from this,” She added, optimistically.
A short bitter laugh escaped his throat.
“You know how seasons change?” He asked, his voice coming low. “Flowers wilt, birds stop flying and trees become bare. We’re like the seasons too, Joe. This autumn has my name on it. I’m the leaf that falls off this year.” He said, his emotions evident in his voice. “And I hope to God that your turn doesn’t come for many more decades.”
As he brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them, she cried bitterly for the man who would always be the love of her life.
Her wedding ring shone brightly.

Josephine had thought that day to be the worst in her entire existence and constantly wondered how wonderful it would have been if she had loved him from the start. They’d have had two more years to make many more beautiful memories. But these thoughts were a waste of time and they represented regret that could never be taken back.

It was shocking to her that no matter how much love they shared, they had never had children. It used to upset her when she had thought about it, sitting by the window sill, waiting for Roger to get home, but then he always managed to make her feel better about herself. He had never let her feel guilty for being the reason behind their child barren lives.

Over the last fifteen years, life had become very dull for Josephine.
Every year, in autumn, she’d stand by the tree in her yard, waiting to see if the leaf that fell off the tree would be hers, waiting patiently for her turn. Because, in life, she had nothing left to wait for. But in death, she longed to be joined with her husband. That longing grew into an obsession that took over her mind and soul.
She’d sit under the tree, holding on, hanging on, but not wanting to any longer.
For fifteen long years, she spent her lonely days awaiting her chance.
The first night after Roger passed, Josephine didn’t think that she’d be able to live through the silence that reverberated through the walls and the emptiness next to her that consumed her. But eventually, the silence grew more tolerable and the empty seat next to her became a familiarity.
Every night, she still left a plate out for her husband.
But tonight, she wouldn’t need to.
With the leaf still in her hand, she knew that her time had come.
Taking a deep breath, she let it go.
Slowly, the leaf fell to the grass.
And with that, so did she.

The Counter Top

From behind the curtain, one peeping eye,
A nervous glance as footsteps pass by,
One chubby foot and then the other,
Careful not to fall in the eyes of the mother

A pink fist closed, the other in her mouth,
She giggles in excitement as she heads down south
Towards the kitchen, where the goodies lie,
Out of her reach, on the counter up high

Curly, soft hair falls on her face,
Her diaper wobbles as she quickens her pace,
But her baby feet trip, she has a nasty fall,
And her tushy is on the floor, diaper and all.

Her big, blue eyes fill with unshed tears,
She lets out a wail, hoping no one hears
The mother is in the kitchen, running around,
Pots and pans making a very loud sound

The father is in the study, his reading glasses on,
He’s been in that position since the break of dawn,
A few minutes pass, she attempts to stand,
All her baby weight falling on her tiny hand

First her tushy juts out, round and proud,
As she mutters baby curses out aloud,
Then she gets up and begins to stumble again,
Convincing herself that the goodies are worth the pain

“Mama”, she says and lets out a tiny cough,
A momentary pause, then she sets off,
Her arms outstretched, she begins to sway,
And lands on her butt again, much to her dismay

This time there’s no control, the tears have to come,
Her lower lip juts out as she nurses her injured bum
The waterfall starts, then comes the sound,
It goes on and on till she’s finally found

The mother comes first, panic clear on her face,
The father follows, aware he’s lost the race
Scooping the baby up, the mother utters words, sweet,
And places her on the counter, on her plump feet

The father acts goofy, trying to stop the baby’s tears,
But neither of their attempts has reached her tiny ears
Because the focus of her attention, one could not stop,
For her eyes and ears belonged to the goodies on the counter top

Reaching out she picked one, then another,
In front of the weary eyes of the worried mother
Quickly, she stuffed them in, two at a time,
And felt like she had successfully committed a crime

The mother first laughed, then the father joined in,
With a glass of milk, the baby washed off her sin
‘Oh, how easy’, she thought, to fool them both,
Tears became every baby’s weapon from that day forth.