Snowcase #18 • 17 August 2007 • The SnowBlog
Emma Gibbs is 26 and a non-fiction editor at a London publishing house. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Leeds.
Across A Dark Sea
As Bombay swelters under the summer sun, the Abels are forced from their home to seek a new, strange life in England. Across A Dark Sea
"This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell."
Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India 1947-64.
The servants were whispering in the corner again. Next door, in the kitchen, the cook was talking in a low voice to the dhobi as she ground spices for the day. Birds squawked in the distance, rising above the trees in a flutter of leaves and wings. The air was thick with heat and words.
Marie ate her breakfast in silence. The boys were already playing cricket out in the compound, despite the early hour, no doubt relishing in the first taste of summer's freedom. As Marie had dressed she had heard Peter cajoling William to get out of bed and join him outside. Their voices were now raised in triumph while their sister slept on upstairs. She bit into a slice of mango, expecting soft, yielding flesh. It was hard, not yet ripe.
'Prita,' she said, her voice harsher than she had intended. The girls sprang apart guiltily. Sunita ran into the hallway, her head bowed.
'Prita, this mango is not right.'
'Sorry, Mrs Abel,' Prita replied, her cheeks flushed. She moved to clear the pale fleshed fruit away as Marie touched her arm.
'Tell me, what is wrong?'
'With the mango, Mrs Abel?' The girl shrank from Marie's gaze, extracting herself from her grip.
'No, Prita, not the mango. There is something else.' Marie sighed. 'I heard you talking a minute ago, so don't you tell me that nothing is wrong.'
'There is -' Prita stopped and checked herself. 'Just talk, Mrs Abel, just talk. Nothing important.'
'If it were a matter of concern-'
'Of course, Mrs Abel.' Prita smiled brightly. 'Now, you would like me to clear away?'
Marie hesitated, feeling an opportunity for truth slipping away from her like rice through her fingers. 'Yes, yes.' The girl's face flickered briefly with relief. Yes, there was quite definitely something wrong - the air was too still, as though the house were holding its breath around her.
She found Thomas in the study, his desk covered in letters. The scent of the jasmine flowers drifted lazily through the open window. Marie's feet squeaked on the freshly cleaned floor as she made her way over to stand at his shoulder.
'Maybe you should take the children to Juhu,' he said, not moving his eyes from the letter in front of him. 'Have a walk, some bhel puri.
It'll be good for them, yes?'
'I think you ought to. After lunch.'
'What about you?'
'No. I have a few things to sort out.'
'You can't be intending to work all day.'
'I have some important things to do that can't be put off.'
Marie stared at her husband's back, uncomprehending. 'But you said -'
'I know.' Thomas threw the letter back down onto the table, his brow wrinkled.
'The boys -' Marie paused to collect her thoughts. 'They've only just got back for the holidays. I promised them that we'd all do something together. They were looking forward to it.'
'They'll just have to wait.'
Author: Emma Gibbs
Email: emma.gibbs1 [at] gmail [dot] com