Secret Daughter

Free Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Book: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda Read Free Book Online
Authors: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
the room slowly come forward and surround them. Kavita is engulfed by their singing voices, but even this cannot drown out the high-pitched cry she still hears. For a moment, she is struck with the disturbing thought that everything in her son’s life might be bittersweet for her.
    She looks into Vijay’s face to see whether his new name suits him. It means victory.

    Bombay, India—1985
    A QUIET KNOCK AT THE DOOR ROUSES S OMER FROM SLEEP . S HE hears Krishnan mumble something, then hears the door open and feet shuffle across the floor. Through half-opened eyes, she sees one of the household servants walking toward their bed with a tray. What is he doing here before we’ve even woken up? Suddenly aware of her thin nightgown, she covers herself with the bedsheet and waits for Krishnan to shoo the man away. Instead, he sits up in bed, propping a pillow behind him, and takes a cup of a tea from the tray.
    “Do you want some?” he asks her.
    “What? No.” Somer turns over and shuts her eyes. She hears the clatter of a china cup and spoon, and the exchange of a few words before the shuffle of feet again, and finally, the door closes.
    “Ah, bed tea,” Krishnan says. “One of the great pleasures of Indian living. You should try it sometime.”
    Somer buries her face into the pillow. Is there nothing that’s off-limits here? Any corner of our lives that isn’t subject to intrusions by your family or servants? But she swallows back the words and says instead,“What are we doing today?” Sunday is the one day of the week the government office is closed.
    “Some friends of mine called me for a cricket match, if you don’t mind. I’ll play terribly, but it will be good to see them. Friends from high school, I haven’t seen some of them in ten years. My mom can take you out shopping or something, if you’d like.”
    S OMER STANDS ON THE BALCONY LOOKING OUT TO THE DULL ocean, its gray waves lapping against the boardwalk. It is hot and muggy, but at least there is a respite from the rain. On the first day of clear weather in weeks, Krishnan has gone off by himself. Somer feels suffocated by the thought of staying inside again today, and even more put off by the prospect of spending it with his mother. She makes up her mind to go for a walk by herself, to get away from the stultifying pressure of this flat.
    Stepping outside the building, walking past the tall gates and away from the watchful eyes of the doorman gives Somer a sense of freedom. Churchgate Station is up ahead at the end of the block, and on the opposite corner stands a sandwich shop advertising BURGERS on a placard out front. The thought of a burger after two straight weeks of Indian food is enticing. She walks up to the order window and says, “Two hamburgers please, with cheese.” She’ll eat one now and keep the other for later, something to break the monotony of curries and rice.
    “No ham, madam. Mutton burger only.”
    “Mutton?” As in, lamb?
    “Yes, very tasty, madam. You will like, guaranteed.”
    “Okay.” She sighs. “Two mutton burgers please.”
    The burger is nothing like what she’s used to, but Somer has to admit, it tastes pretty good. Feeling pleasantly full, she heads toward the ocean boardwalk, which has now become crowded with streetvendors and pedestrian traffic. Men walk together in packs, laughing, chewing paan and spitting on the sidewalk. She sees a mustached man eyeing her, staring brazenly at her breasts, nudging his friends. Somer self-consciously folds her arms over her chest, and the men break into laughter. Disgusting pigs.
    She walks, trying to breathe deeply and look at the water. But her eyes are repeatedly forced back to the crowds of people she must navigate. She expects the men to step aside and let her pass, to make some space for her in the crowd, but they don’t. Each time, she must force her way through, squeezing her own body in between others. Pushing her way through a

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