The last love

by Syeda Samara Mortada

last-loveRUTBA was born in a small village near Mymensingh. ‘You are lucky to have been born’, said all her neighbours as Rutba grew up. Her mother, who was ill and poor, did not want another girl child to be borne in her womb. Rutba had two elder sisters, Ruksana and Rumaha. These two were like twins for they had identical personalities and could not live without each other. As for Rutba, she was a born loner. While her two elder sisters spent all their time together, Rutba read a book or played by herself. She was forced to sleep on the floor with her father as her mother and two elder sisters occupied the double bed. Her father, Monjur Islam was a school teacher, respectable, yet very poorly paid. His colleagues always advised him to look for a job in the main cities since he was highly qualified. But Monjur had less of an ambition and even little interest to move out of the house of his ancestors.
Unlike her sisters, Rutba was attractive to say the least. While Ruksana and Rumaha resembled their mother Asma, Rutba was more like her father — jet black hair, lifted cheekbones and to top it all, a promising figure. As days dragged ahead, Rutba’s mother’s condition slowly deteriorated. Her cough, which had become a daily dilemma, seemed to worsen and soon spots of blood were identified with her spit. The doctor confirmed what the family already feared. Asma suffered from Tuberculosis which was soon going to take over all of her body and might result in an untimely death.
Another few months passed by and soon all the children were growing weary of their mother as was her husband. But he didn’t want to admit that to himself, not even for a moment. One day, Monjur came home from school, very tired. These days he wasn’t as jolly as he previously used to be and it was Rutba who tried to share some of the burden along with her father. And it was she who paid the price.
One day, Rutba was fast asleep when her father crept beside her, in the floor-made-bed. In his sleep, Monjur slid his hand on his daughter’s waist. He suddenly stirred for he realised that his little girl was no longer ‘little’. Instantly, he removed his hand, and turned to the other side. Rutba, hardly realised what had happened and continued to sleep. The next night, it was Rutba who got into bed after her father and tiptoed in bed next to him. Monjur felt his instincts awakening but remained calm. The following night, Monjur didn’t feel like himself. There was in him a sense of restlessness and this feeling further increased when Rutba came to bed. It had been a long time since he had been with his wife, and the presence of a ripe body beside his own only instigated his restlessness. It was as if the devil had taken over his soul for he could think of nothing else but of the woman, within an arm’s range. He started growing restless and felt himself grow warm.
Monjur put a shaky hand on top of his daughters arm, then on her stomach. He touched her neck, her shoulders and slowly explored her breasts. All of a sudden Rutba became wide awake. It was not fear but shock that raged through her. She knew instantly it was her father’s hands caressing her body, but why was he touching her? That was a question she couldn’t answer as in an instant her father turned her over to face him. When Rutba turned and looked at her father, she did not see the man she had grown to respect but that of an unknown beast. Slowly, her father came on top of her and entered her. It was a feeling Rutba had never experienced in her life. All that she remembered of that incident later on was pain, excruciating pain, shame and the inability to scream out of guts, as much as she had wanted to.
Rutba could not relate the incident to anyone in her home. She did not know what to tell and she felt as if part of it was her fault. She only prayed to God that the incident would never happen again and she longed to forget about it. So the next night, she went to bed even before her father returned from work. But then, the night after that, the event repeated itself. Rutba found herself stifling a cry inside her throat when her father’s body came into contact with hers for the second time. She pulled at his hair, to stop him but nothing in the world seemed to deter him. Later, when he could have no more of her, he tore himself away from her and went to sleep immediately.
That night, Rutba understood her father very well. She understood that he would continue to behave in this manner as long as she lived with him — be a father to her in the day time and pretend to be her lover at night. She also understood that she could tell no one about these recurrent incidents, not her mother, her sisters, or anyone else. In a matter of days Rutba felt like her world had fallen apart, and the only person she could go to for comfort earlier was the one who harmed her. Few days later as she sat contemplating the situation by herself, Rutba’s attention was slowly drawn by an advertisement in the newspaper. ‘Patri Chai’, said the advertisement. Rutba read the whole of it and all the while could feel a fluttering in her stomach. This was her chance to see herself out of this dreadful situation. She planned her escapade- all she had to do was steal some money from her father’s secret hiding place, take a bus to Mymensingh, where the man in the advertisement resided and she could start her life all over again. But what if this man did not like her? What if he sent her away? This was a risk she would have to take. The only question that remained was when.
Rutba waited and waited. She would have to be patient if she wanted her plan to work. In the mean time, her father enslaved her body to drown all his miseries, whenever he desired. Rutba absorbed it all until she got her chance. One day, her father had gone to a nearby village and sent word that he would be spending the night there. Her mother, as usual had gone to bed early and the sisters too went to bed after some time. Rutba opened a drawer and found the hidden drawer beneath it where she had often seen her father store his savings. She took the money she needed, packed her utmost necessities and set off. She took one last look at her remaining family and went to the bus station, without fear in her eyes. She paid the ticket fare for her destination and entered the bus- all by herself for the first time in her life. But somehow Rutba didn’t feel scared at all.
She reached the city of Mymensingh very early in the morning and so spent some time in the station itself. When it was nearing eight o’clock, she freshened up, tied her hair in a bun and started asking people for directions to her final destination. She felt surprisingly calm.
The house seemed like a castle from outside. Rutba knocked on the front door and a woman appeared instantly, a maid servant probably, Rutba assumed. She asked to see Mr Akbar Shah. The maid left her in the extensive drawing room and went to call Mr Shah.
She heard his footsteps approaching her as she sat in the sofa waiting for him, her head bent. She stood up as he came right behind her and muttered a greeting. He, very politely asked her what he could do for her and she replied that she had come to see him in response to the advertisement he had posted in the newspapers. It took him only a second to realise which advertisement this hovering girl was referring to. He viewed her, from toe to head and liked what he saw-a perfect housekeeper.
After a few minutes of silence, Akbar finally asked her if she were alone. A one word reply was all Akbar got — Yes. He told her that to make his final decision he would have to meet her parents. To that she boldly replied that she had left her home, her parents and her past behind her. She could not and would not tell him why and if he were to accept her, he would have to do so, just because of her. If he decided she was not worthy enough for him, she would leave immediately, never to turn back again. With that, she raised her head, and their eyes met for the very first time. Akbar saw a girl who was young, honest and rebellious. Again, he liked what he saw.
But Akbar warned her that she was going to be his second wife, and he might never be able to love Rutba like he loved his first wife. He was visiting the country, since he was looking for a suitable bride and he should be leaving for London soon. She had no problem with this new piece of information and replied saying that the further away from the country she went, the better it was for her. And so Rutba stepped into a new world with her husband, and promised to be with him till death did them apart.
Something about Rutba fascinated Akbar. There was in her a silent resolution, an unwavering stand. There was a shell around her, which she allowed none to break, not even Akbar. It was no use asking her about her past, her family, her home. She made it abundantly clear that she was never going to talk about any of it. But she did all her work without having been asked to. She cooked, cleaned and looked after all of Akbar’s necessities. Life was good for Akbar, after all that was what he wanted right? A wife who would take care of him- at home and in bed. But something continued to bother him-even when he made love to his wife with all his passion, there was a kind of emptiness in Rutba’s eyes that scared him. Akbar could not get this image of his wife out of his mind- lying in bed, her legs apart, letting him do all that he needed to, doing all that he asked her to do, yet never flickering her eyes even for an instant, lying there in an emotionless ecstasy.
Days passed by for Rutba without any major event. She tried to shut out her past from her present. She had no complaints from her current life but she could not bring herself to trust another man, ever. Akbar was her saviour. Had he not taken her in his home, she would have nowhere to go. But she could love him even if she wanted to. Deep inside her, Akbar reminded her of her father and so she could not help hating her husband for reminding her of the one person who had wrecked her from within.
A year went by and Rutba’s old scars were slowly healing. She did not hate her husband any more like she used to. Rather, she began to like him slightly. A part of her felt guilty since she could not tell him about her past, about the nightmares that kept her awake long nights. She felt that after everything he had done for her, he at least deserved to know the truth. But she could not trust him enough to tell him her deepest darkest secret. How would she face him after that? And so, Rutba decided to keep her memories within herself, like a tied up, unopened gift.
After coming to London, Rutba started to take on something that she had been passionate about from a very young age — making pickles. She would make jars of pickles — mango, olive and many more. It was the only thing that could give her peace of mind when she felt gloomy or when a sudden jolt of memory took her back to her past.
Another two years went by and Rutba slowly felt herself drawn towards Akbar. He had made her life heaven-like, how could she behave in this way? Every day was a new struggle for Rutba as she tried to decide how she would tell her story to her husband. Finally, Rutba was prepared to take the leap. She had made up her mind to tell her husband about what had kept them at bay all along — her horrifying, inerasable past and then she would be at peace once and for all. Just as she was about to open the door to his study, she heard a stifled voice from inside of another woman. She opened the door slowly, knowing what she was about to witness; yet motionless when she saw what lay in front of her- her husband in the arms of another woman. She grew dizzy and felt the room moving as memories from her past came flooding back to her, of her father hurting her and tearing her apart.
But this time she did not feel herself cry. She closed the door to his study as slowly as she had opened it, without the slightest creek and went back to her room. She did not feel betrayed by life but thought that she had been given a second chance. She knew that she was no longer a little child and she did not have to run away again. She could start of fresh, even while continuing to live under the same roof with her husband. She had her pickles, she had talent, she had faith in herself like never before, and she had plans… for herself, her life and the future.

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