Exercising the craft—May 16, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

In all the years I’ve posted stories to The Writing Workshop, I’ve found writing prompts online and let my imagination use those prompts as a launching pad. In the last few weeks, however, a story has been knocking around inside my brain and I haven’t been able to work through all of its elements. With the hiatus last week, I didn’t get a chance to look for new writing prompts and decided to use the opportunity to write a little bit of that story instead. I hope you enjoy it.

***

Aarti Chhabra stormed into the house, but she didn’t slam the door. She couldn’t. Her hands shook a little bit, as if they couldn’t hold her anger, but even she couldn’t slam the door on her parents.

She marched toward her bedroom in her parents’ house, and the pencil heel of her right shoe caught the fall of her sari. She stopped in her tracks and wanted to shake her foot loose, but she knew she would risk ripping out the four-inch wide hem that helped the sari sit properly on the floor. She huffed in frustration and leaned over to tug her sari over the heel.

Footsteps crossed the tile floor behind her and got closer.

“You may be a grown woman with a career, but you’re still our daughter and you will still listen to what we have to say!” her father thundered.

And I thought we’d left the fight in the car, Aarti thought with a grimace. She straightened into a standing position, turned to face her father and now her mother who had also come in from the garage, and crossed her arms.

“I listened, Dad,” Aarti said through gritted teeth. “I listened during the entire friggin’ hour we were in the car. Can you just drop it now?”

“No, I will not drop it! All I have seen from you in the last three years is one irresponsible decision after another! You break off your engagement and don’t even have the courtesy to tell us why, you quit your job and go into a completely different field—”

“Which makes me even happier than practicing law,” Aarti interjected, raising her voice.

“Then why the hell did we spend all that money on law school?!” Mr. Chhabra asked, the volume of his tone going above hers. “Do you really have such little respect for us that you make these life changes without even so much as asking our opinion?”

Aarti looked to her mother for help, but Rani Chhabra stood with her own arms crossed and the same frustration in her face.

“I do respect you,” Aarti said, fighting her own spirit to keep the decibel levels from getting higher. “I respect everything you and Ma have done for me, and I know you feel like quitting the practice was a mistake. I’m really, really sorry about that, but after Akshay and I split up I just couldn’t find the heart for law anymore.”

“Couldn’t find the heart?” Mr. Chhabra repeated. “Couldn’t find the heart?! Is that how we deal with the reality of life now, by listening to the heart? Do you realize what would happen if people sat around all day listening to their hearts and not facing their responsibilities?”

“Maybe I don’t want these responsibilities anymore!” Aarti said, throwing her hands in the air. “I didn’t even take them on in the first place! You and Ma just pushed them on me like I was some robot that had to do whatever you wanted! Whatever happened to ‘We stand behind you, no matter what’? Was that all fake?”

“Aarti!” her mother chided.

“No, Rani, it’s fine,” Mr. Chhabra said, sweeping his hand in her direction without turning around. “Let her say whatever she wants to say. We should know what our daughter thinks of us.”

Aarti’s breaths came in shallow spurts, and she clenched her fists. She would not do this. Not again. Somewhere at the base of all of this her father loved her, she reminded herself. He was worried about her. He felt it his duty to take care of her until she got married and “got settled,” whatever that even meant.

But the getting married part had flipped on its axis when she and Akshay broke off their engagement two weeks before the wedding. Neither of them shared the real reason why; they had had enough respect for one another to keep it to themselves. After that she just couldn’t work in the same building, never mind that they were on different floors.

When the realization came that she didn’t just want out of the building she wanted out of law completely, she shared it with her parents. And her world didn’t teeter on its axis anymore. It completely spun out of control.

Still, she’d remained the dutiful daughter, as much as a woman could when her parents refused to speak to her for three weeks after she told them she’d quit her job. She’d showed up for her cousin’s wedding this weekend, hadn’t she? She’d endured the whispers, the sideways looks, the titters of the gossip mongers.

And now this. Ma and Dad’s demand that she meet the young man they’d found. A suitable match, they’d said.

The yelling sounded so loud in the car on the way back from the wedding that Aarti had covered her ears more than once.

“I am not meeting any idiot boy,” Aarti began in a tightly-controlled voice, “and I’m not going back to the practice. I’m moving out of Houston. Not because I don’t respect you and Ma, not because I don’t appreciate what you’ve done, but because this is the right thing to do. Why doesn’t that count for something??”

She’d tried, she really had, not to yell again, but all of the emotions she’d bottled during these last few days during the wedding festivities for her cousin had pushed Aarti to the edge.

Her father narrowed his eyes and stared at her for a few moments.

“Fine,” he said finally, in the same tight voice, “go. But don’t bother coming home. Ever. Again.”

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