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“Oh, well. Leave them, sweetheart. My kitties are not for boring women. After all, why should men have all the fun?” The hostess flipped her hair and looked at Kanchi with admiration.
Kanchi loaded her plate with a slice of quesadilla and spooned pasta. Her gynae had suggested cutting down on carbs and junk. Not that she was overweight. She had cast aside the regime weeks ago—strict diet, exercise, and those fertility drugs. The treatment her husband had been compelling her to undergo had first saddened her then tormented her.
She wasn’t in for anything against her will and choices.
While her gaze surreptitiously ogled at the cheesecake, Anu, her neighbour, beckoned her towards a painting.
“A famous painting’s imitation; a friend painted it for me,” Ruma, the hostess of the kitty party, said. Her sharp eyes had caught them stealing glances at the surreal painting. “Quite controversial, both the original painter and her paintings.” She explained more about the feminist painter.
Kanchi shrugged; this zoology professor neither had intellect in art and literature nor had heard of Kahlo. Her knowledge of painters was limited to the national legend, Hussain.
Shalini had suggested this exquisite addition to Ruma’s posh house. She was an interior designer, and as Ruma’s closest friend, she understood her friend’s taste in everything controversial, singular, and unique.
Anu added that she liked her paintings because they had a zesty appeal of smashing the patriarchy. Being a lawyer, she read a lot. And she never let go of an opportunity to express her heart.
Despite another scrutinizing glance, the professor couldn’t discern the subtle feminism in the masterpiece. Or maybe it was her tumultuous mind full of dilemma. She wasn’t sure about her decision against the compounding pressure of conceiving a child.
Sighing, Kanchi tried to divert her mind to the kitty. Find your happiness amid miseries, she recalled her mother’s words.
Shalini cut the call. “Nope, my neighbour isn’t coming. She says her son is sick. Sounded genuine to me.”
“What the hell? Can’t her husband take care of their son for three-four hours?” Ruma’s eyebrows furrowed. With a disgusted expression, she labelled the worried mother as spiritless.
“Your last kitty’s adventure was hard on some girls, darling,” Shalini chirped.
Anu agreed. She reminded them how Ruma’s sensational Truth or Dare game didn’t go well with two members. Those two participants, besides Shalini’s neighbour, in the group of seven had chucked. One had planned a sudden trip to her in-laws, whom she usually avoided visiting, for the restrictions they enforced on her. The other bluffed a callous reason no one cared to discuss.
For Kanchi, this was only her fourth kitty in the group, Rainbow Coven, and first at Ruma’s.
Kanchi had an inkling about the sensational dares and secretive truths manifested during Ruma’s thoughtfully contrived game. But, Anu had assured her, no one ever leaked anything out of the circle. Except for one instance when a devious lady blurted something furtive outside. She had shifted her house later.
Being ostracized from the Rainbow Coven was nothing less than a curse.
The professor was still sceptical about shedding her thoughts here.
After the coven finished dinner, swayed their legs on the latest dance numbers, and exhausted themselves to the hilt, it was time. The infamous Truth or Dare began.
While Ruma was fired up, Anu and Shalini didn’t stop pulling her leg. They had planned a perfect dare for their hostess, too. Kanchi, fiddling with her mobile, didn’t look thrilled.
“Hey, you get the privilege to choose the first task as the new bakra of my Truth or Dare.” Ruma chuckled.
When the green bottle pointed at Shalini, she chose dare. Kanchi gave up. She had no ideas for a dare.
“You have to call a stranger and talk dirty.” Ruma pounced on the chance.
Anu’s eyes danced, and Kanchi covered her mouth.
“Who the hell would I call at 10 in the night? And my number will be traced.” Shalini outright rejected the dare.
“If you disagree, you have to shed one piece of clothing as a punishment, darling.” Anu shamelessly imitated Shalini’s style.
“Oh shit.” Shalini regretted forgetting to wear stockings—her plan to tackle the punishment. She was left with no choice now. “What if it goes beyond hands? The receiver can stalk me, trouble me, or blackmail me.”
“Sweetheart, I never play with half-cooked plans.” She fetched a cheap phone with a keypad. “Here, a private number. Now, call any random number. If you want to play safer, dial a landline number.”
Kanchi’s eyes grew wider. In her last kitty group, the biggest adventure she had was night camping by a river. That was serene, but this… was an adrenaline rush. She started enjoying it. This is super fun, she thought. Her mind was away from worries now.
Shalini dialled a random number. In a low husky voice, she spoke to the person on the other side. He grunted. After a minute of playful talks, she asked if the man wanted to meet her. Then, to everyone’s astonishment, he started shouting, which none of them understood. But he surely had hurled profanities at them.
She cut the line.
They reckoned the frustrated man didn’t understand English. The dud attempt was enough for the women to giggle their hearts out.
Anu attempted a dare, and upon rejecting Shalini’s challenge, she accepted the punishment. She was already prepared. Slowly, she removed her floral skirt and revealed her denim shorts.
Everyone booed at her, and Ruma called her a fraud.
When the bottle pointed at Ruma, Kanchi looked at her with bated breath. Anu was ready to blurt her dare. But the hostess chose truth, not her usual dare.
“Looks like someone is trying to be honest today,” Anu said, ready to pose her question.
A pin-drop silence ensued in Ruma’s tastefully decorated apartment. She could blurt anything tonight. Her husband was on an onsite trip for a month.
Kanchi was eager to know what the most glamorous and naughty lady had to reveal tonight.
“Any recent confession or a teenage mistake.” Anu threw her options.
“Confession.” Ruma chose, her face grim. “My husband slapped me last week. He was trying to force his family’s need upon me.”
Kanchi’s jaw dropped. She presumed they were the best couple she had ever seen.
How could anyone think otherwise? Ruma always had vacationed in tranquil beaches and snow-capped hills. An annual foreign trip was a ritual. She owned a luxury car and headed a start-up. Mundane house chores never topped her to-do list.
The pervasive melancholy of Kanchi’s dicey decision shrouded her again, pushing her adrenaline back to ennui.
“I’m sorry, guys. No idea why I said that. My plan was to reveal a spicey truth about an ex who was excellent at the football field but sucked at kissing. I never went beyond that. When the prologue was so drowsy, who had the time to read the novel?” She tried to salvage her situation with her metaphorical satire.
Shalini wrapped an arm around her friend. “Hey, you should talk to him. He can’t slap you. What actually happened?”
“He wants me to appoint his father as the MD of my start-up. I refused.”
Anu said something about the laws on crimes against women and filing a legal case. She started itemizing all possible options.
“Hey, wait. I have avenged in my style.” Ruma’s lips turned into a smirk this time. “I added something in his food when he started for his business trip. And, Anu, don’t you call it a cheap stunt. It feels like whiplashes when your stomach gets bugged in a plane. All through the flight, he was in and out of the loo. He used diaper rash cream for two days.”
The Rainbow Coven dissolved into laughter. Anu clutched her stomach, and Kanchi’s jaw ached. Shalini even snorted and spat her drink.
But the veracity had completely unsettled Kanchi. How can Ruma forgive him?
As if Ruma had read Kanchi’s mind, she thought, my vengeance hasn’t died yet. She focused her unruly mind—ruminating a revenge plan—back on the game.
They spun the bottle again.
It was the game’s final round. Only Kanchi was playing now. Obviously, the bottle didn’t point at her in the first go, but they spun it for fun until it finally did.
Kanchi’s heart palpitated. She had no courage to remove her boho tunic and expose herself in her plain mismatched innerwear. Nor was she daring enough to call a stranger this late in the night.
“Truth,” she said in a low guttural voice.
“Confess something about your husband.” Ruma declared the exact verdict Kanchi didn’t want to fulfil. “This is not a regular bitch party where we tattle about mothers-in-law. Say anything; vent out your deepest desires and hideous sins. This won’t go out beyond us. Not even to those who are absent.”
Anu’s palm caressed the small of Kanchi’s back. She knew what was weighing down her friend for days.
Kanchi looked up at Ruma, whose mascara had smudged with her rosy cheeks. Despite spoiled makeup, Ruma’s face glowed with a vibrant smile. It was enough of an encouragement.
“I don’t want to be a mother.”
“That’s about you, not your husband.” Ruma didn’t look affected by this reveal. Perhaps, she was comfortable with the idea of not bearing a child. She herself had none.
“But it’s a big reveal… her deepest desire. I mean, this misogynist society considers a woman’s life fulfilled only as a mother. Doesn’t it?” Shalini added.
Anu remained silent, but Ruma dismissed her designer friend’s words saying she didn’t care for society.
“I have been taking pills secretly; he doesn’t know this. I could stop pregnancy thus far. With IVF starting soon, there won’t be a way out.”
“What if they detect pills?” Shalini probed.
“That’s the least of my worries. What bothers me is our conflicting opinions about having a child. The first time I told him my views, I was too young to think about it, according to him. That was when we were dating. The next time I discussed it, I was too old to delay any further. Looks like he loves the idea of being a father more than me; he always wanted this.”
“Now what?” the interior designer asked.
“He wants an heir. I don’t want a child.” She finally dropped the penny, “I’m done with him who knew my decision and still forced me to…”
“What have you decided then?” Ruma hesitated for a moment. “Separation?”
Shalini nudged her, rolling her eyes.
“No, don’t stop her, Shalini. I want to call it off now.” She looked at Anu, “Please prepare the papers; I’m ready to sign them.”
The lawyer nodded, still not able to believe the sweetest husband she knew wasn’t that sweet. “You don’t have parents, Kanchi. You will have to face the societal reprimands all alone.”
“Perhaps there is an advantage in being alone,” she remarked. “One is spared the worry. I need worry only about myself.” She shook her head. “And I have learnt not to worry overly about myself. What is the worst that can happen, after all?” She looked up.
The three ladies remained silent.
“It won’t be worse than living with a husband for namesake. If I deny an IVF, which is actually not needed, he’ll ask for a divorce. Whatever I will face, my dead parents won’t be dragged; their dignity might not be maligned.” She sighed. “Living alone will be better than surviving with a child whom I would look at and consider an imposition.”
“Never knew our docile professor is so brave!” Ruma said. “Take this, add in his food, and see the magic.” She handed Kanchi a small glass vial.
“Your party rocks, Ruma.” Kanchi hugged her. “How many drops, by the way?”
The coven laughed in unison.
This story was shortlisted for our August 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Madhulika Liddle says “An offbeat setting for a take on the problems of patriarchy and the idea of a woman’s womb not really being her own”
Image source: a still from Veere di Wedding
After a decade-and-a-half long IT career, Rashmi switched to professional writing as she could not resist her passion to lie weak and ignored anymore. So, she is nurturing her passion now as read more...
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