It had been 3 months since that fateful day. We never broached the topic. It was almost like the stoic silence surrounding it would make it go away. Batool, my wife’s niece had gone back to India. We hadn’t heard from her since. The phone never rang, and the letters never came. I debated if I should make the first move. But then again, it was not entirely my fault. She was an adult, a consenting one at that. I had asked her not once, but a million times if she wanted to do it, damn it!

Tomorrow, we were scheduled to travel back home for our annual holiday. The stares that I was to be greeted with were giving me sleepless nights already.  Batool had been warned, and yet she chose to throw caution to the wind. There was only so much I could have done. Then why did the burden of this responsibility rest uneasily on my shoulders?

“Go to sleep”, my wife said insouciantly. I guess the tossing and turning was not restricted to just my thoughts.

I don’t want to go any more than I can stay. I try to close my eyes but the accusations just keep filtering in. Right from her parents to my family, I see the look of anger turn to contempt in their eyes. Their opinion of me is no less than what they share for this alien country they call the US of A. Out here I don’t owe any explanations, but back home……..Why do annual holidays come with the native land tag?

*****

My thoughts were so fast paced that we are ready to land already. I gear myself for the turbulence ahead. For once I am grateful for Indian Immigrations. Any stalling at this point will do. I trudge slowly, unwillingly as a goat being taken to the slaughter house. I know my destiny, but I can’t alter it. It is too late. Temptation thrives in the avenues of freedom but regret holds you a prisoner of thoughts.

Amidst the sea of unknown eager faces, I spot some not so eager, familiar ones. A wonder they came to the airport for the customary welcome. I almost expected the winters of Alsaska to have set in the Bay of Bengal. I spot my in-laws and try to avoid their penetrating gaze. For once I wish I was Mother Sita, and the earth would graciously open to swallow me. The irony that I thought of a helpless woman doubted by her husband did not escape from my head.

“Kemana achena Mashi”, a voice echoed as my niece lovingly hugged my wife. She then turned around and I was the recipient of a cautious smile.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by my relatives, all ecstatic. Some wanted to hug me, others shook hands. All inviting us home at the same time. Her parents too came and said how wonderful it was to meet us. They thanked us profusely for all the care we took of Batool. They informed us about her impending marriage in May and made us promise that we’d make it a point to attend.

I looked at her. Apparently, she had not told them. Then again, what would she? It was up to her new husband to discover her inked midriff, the result of a college exchange program and lots of Vodka shots.

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