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Where did my ideas spring from? From the double life I led. I would wear low cut dresses and mini leather skirts and go out in the evenings to the nightclubs where all the action took place.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Deepti Menon is one of the winners for the March 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. About this story, our author juror for this month, Andaleeb Wajid says, “Revenge stories are always gripping. And this time, with the typical gender roles being reversed, this made for interesting reading.”
I had always had my own dreams. Dreams that haunted me during the day and broke into my sleep at night. I have no idea how they seeped into my mind, or from where they originated. All I knew was that marriage was not the top priority in my life. Like it was for Rukmani, who dropped out in the twelfth standard so that she could marry the first boy who came to ‘see’ her. Or Geethika who tumbled into the matrimonial rollercoaster to get away from her domineering parents, only to realise that she had exchanged the frying pan for the fire.
I had always wanted to be a career woman. As a child, it seemed a lofty idea; as I grew up, my mind latched onto one idea. I wanted to be the creative head in an advertising firm. My imagination had always been riotous, and ideas crowded one another out, almost like folks standing in a cinema hall queue to buy tickets.
So, there I was, the unconventional creative head in a firm I had longed to join. Here, I was accepted, a round peg in a round hole, because everyone was unconventional. However, even as a child, I had preferred my own company, because no one would be able share in the chaos within my head.
I wasn’t too close with the people at work for these very reasons. They would all make plans to go out somewhere after work. To decompress, they called it. To have fun. I had to come back home so that my parents didn’t worry about anything untoward happening to me. But it was more to satisfy the wagging tongues of the many aunties in the family who were appalled that my parents were ‘letting me work’ instead of getting me married.
Where did my ideas spring from? From the double life I led. I would wear low cut dresses and mini leather skirts and go out in the evenings to the nightclubs where all the action took place. There, I would sip on a soda, surreptitiously taking in how people let their hair down. By the end of the evening, alcohol having loosened tongues, I would strike up interesting conversations, gleaning much information that I would jot away in the recesses of my memory. There were times when I had to beguile, flirt and cajole, but all my efforts would suddenly bear fruit when one unwitting word fell into my outstretched palms. However, matters would end there, and every night, I went back home, alone, pleasantly surprised by the latest knowledge I had gleaned, a lode that I would transform into pure gold.
As a result, the advertisements I created always had a tinge of truth in them, just enough to provoke curiosity, and not enough to be termed slander. I kept my two personas separate… their boundaries did not meet. At work, I was the straitlaced strict boss who cracked the whip. People enjoyed the piquancy of the situation, so long as they were not the ones in the line of fire. As far as I knew, there were no major casualties… maybe just one, in which someone had committed suicide. That had jolted me for a while.
The first time I saw him, he was holding court as several people stood around, laughing uproariously at what he was saying. I moved closer, fascinated by his well-modulated tones, every word as clear as a bell, one that boomed leaving an echo in its wake. All at once I envisaged him as the hero for my next advertisement. All I needed was a story.
When his eyes fell on me, I was aware of a kindling of interest in them, and I pretended not to notice. Of course, he left his gaggle of followers and came towards me to introduce himself to the mysterious lady who seemed disinterested in him. A few snatches of conversation and soon, we were having dinner together. He was all that I had imagined, and so much more. As he spoke, the fascination grew, and I knew that the conversation would not end there. For the first time, I did not go home alone…
I found myself falling in love. He was all that I had looked for in a partner, and the next few weeks flew by, in hours of passion and elation. I had never been so happy, so carefree. We spoke for hours, and as I spoke of myself, he hung upon my every word. He wanted to know everything about me… my personality, my hobbies and my job. When I tried to change the subject and talk about him instead, he shook his head, insisting there was nothing interesting about him. I, on the other hand, was an enigmatic contradiction.
The only piece of information I got out of him was that he was a widower, and that his wife had died in childbirth. His eyes sparkled with tears, pools of sorrow, as he bared his heart to me one evening. I held him close, trying to console him, but he shrugged off my words, back to his fascinating self the very next moment.
Two days later, as I walked into my office, I found my co-workers huddled together. As I passed them, they greeted me, but I was aware of some strangely curious looks. I sat on my chair and called in my secretary. What was the huddling all about? She appeared flustered, and I had to raise my voice before she responded.
“Madam, there is a magazine item…!” her voice died away.
I was aware of a frisson within my stomach. A sense of foreboding came over me, as I asked her to bring the magazine to me. She did so in silence, and as she held it out to me, I saw my own photograph on the cover, dressed provocatively, in the very persona that I had sought to keep concealed from my work environment.
My senses reeled as I read the whole piece… it was titled ‘Ms. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde’ and it brutally tore my reputation to shreds. No wonder, I had been subjected to all those stares as I walked in. My whole life was on parade, along with graphic photographs. It was as though someone had held a lens to my lifestyle and painted me worse than I was. Tears rolled down my eyes as I went through the whole piece, and I wondered who hated me enough to do such a perfect hatchet job on me.
I had the answer soon enough. The photograph was like a dagger through my heart.
“Why? What did I ever do to you but love you?” My voice was controlled, but he heard the quaver in it. He seemed like a stranger to me, his eyes cold and passionless. Why had he changed towards me? I yearned for some explanation that would keep our relationship on keel. I was so much in love with him that I was willing to forgive him, even after his dreadful deed.
His voice was even, and as he spoke, my heart sank.
“Do you remember the advertisement you created about a mother and her unborn baby? The details were realistic and graphic enough to cause a real-life mother to commit suicide. Don’t you remember?” His voice rose suddenly, and I started. Of course, I remembered. That was the one time when I had rued the decision to run the advertisement, but it had raked in much money.
For the first time, his voice broke as he looked at me levelly, his eyes filling with unshed tears.
“I lost my wife to that horrific advertisement of yours, along with our unborn child. That day, I decided that I would hound you and make you suffer the way I had suffered. My wife was a young girl, and what you did to her was unforgivable.”
He stood up, and I pleaded with him. “I am so sorry… please don’t leave me. I love you. I will not be able to live without you.”
The look of disgust in his eyes shattered me. There was nothing more to be said. As he stood up to go, he added, “It was hell pretending to be in love with you. However, I had to make you pay for what you had done. I condemn you to a life of ridicule and loneliness. The facts are there for everyone to read, along with some fiction that I added on. Creative licence, a writer’s prerogative, after all.”
I watched him go with a weeping heart, aware that my whole life had fallen apart. There was only bleakness ahead.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Andaleeb Wajid, author of 27 published novels, scattered across different genres such as romance, YA, and horror. Her horror novel It Waits was shortlisted at Mami Word to Screen 2017 and her Young Adult series, The Tamanna Trilogy has been optioned for screen by a reputed production house. Andaleeb’s novel When She Went Away was shortlisted for The Hindu Young World Prize in 2017. Andaleeb is a hybrid author who has self-published more than 10 novels in the past two years.
The cue is from her latest book Only You that releases on March 5 on Kindle.
“I wasn’t too close with the people at work for these very reasons. They would all make plans to go out somewhere after work. To decompress, they called it. To have fun. I had to come back home so that my parents didn’t worry about anything untoward happening to me. But it was more to satisfy the wagging tongues of the many aunties in the family who were appalled that my parents were ‘letting me work’ instead of getting me married.”
Image source: Adobe Stock
Words have always played a vital role in my life. Short stories, poetry, humorous pieces
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