Her last Christmas

Who would have thought it was going to be her last Christmas? I was the one who was ill and tried desperately to hide it because we had family visiting. Nothing could escape her eagle eyes. I was cornered on one of the long drives to meet the family. She purposely chose the seat next to me and that meant only one thing, a lecture was coming, one of those excruciatingly long-winded ones. I groaned mentally. She could be quite persevering when she wanted to extract information. One whole hour of this? Somebody kill me!

The minute the driver revved the engine and we were on the way, she leaned towards me and whispered that she knew I was unwell. I looked at her quizzically knowing full well I had not been healthy for a while. She went on to point out to me that I couldn’t hide anything from her even if I wanted to. Everything was internal how could she have possibly guessed? I rolled my eyes and admitted that I had not been well for weeks and launched into a lengthy explanation of what was going on. As much as possible I would hide all sorts of ailments thanks to my father. His first reaction was to always yell and then once he had cooled down considerably he would ask what had happened. I would mostly hide things to avoid his melodrama. I guess that is something that hasn’t changed.

I was never too happy about the whole family visiting because that meant an invasion of space and endless lectures. The good part of it all was that my parents’ home was rather huge and I could lose myself anywhere. Most times I would just stay locked up in my room and meet everyone at meal times. I was never good around people anyway and I never mastered the art of being a good hostess. How my mom would point that out and I would just ignore. “When I grow up I won’t be entertaining anyone.” I would retort. My dad, knowing what a spitfire I was, made me promise to be courteous and “civil”. “…but they hate me,” I whined at him. “Do it for her, it could be the last time we meet one of them. Age is catching up with us and you never know.” Wow! That was pretty big coming from my dad if you knew him on a personal level.

Ah well, all was forgotten the minute mom started making Christmas sweets. Now who could stay angry when one was surrounded by such aromatic fragrances constantly wafting through the house? I offered to help! I was feeling generous.

“Are you going to help make the sweets or make sure they find their way into that stomach?” my mother poked my ridiculously flat stomach.

“I’ll help, of course, the eating will happen on the side. One has to be sure that the sweets are edible,” I rolled my eyes.

“You know the rule,” she began, firmly. “The perfect cookies go into the box and the misshapen ones can go into your mouth.”

“Yes, yes, the perfect ones in my mouth and the…,” I teased her.

“I will whack you with that hot ladle,” she threatened.

My idea of “helping” was always hovering around her, getting in her way and eating everything that was put on the tray.

Christmas passed with no major calamities or fights (which was a regular feature of the house). Post-Christmas, now that was when it all began to some extent. I had to have an operation just before New Year’s Eve and I daresay I was quite excited about it. I had a readymade excuse to stay away from all social events. “Oh hey, I had an operation yesterday and I have to be home!” Totally legit! I planned on watching TV until I felt sick. I think they were playing the Phantom Menace that year.

That whole Christmas week got me thinking about what my dad had said. We were waiting for the results of the biopsy. Could it be my last Christmas? Weird thoughts raced through my head. What if? Who knew? I was in pain but post-operation pain was nothing new to me anyway. I was ready to take on anything.

Dad’s words kept playing in my mind like a broken record. I thought back to all the past Christmasses. My mom loved Christmas and we went out of our way to cooperate with her and her flamboyant plans long after the magic and belief had died for us. For us, it was just another day but for my mom, it was a day she could do extra stuff to make her family happy. Chocolate hampers, special breakfast and lunch, dinners were usually spent with people who didn’t have anyone to spend Christmas with. My mom would invite them over and we were forced to stay home, not that I minded, I was happy not getting out of the house most times. Sometimes she would invite her friends.

I thought back to how she would gather us together, set a date and time to put up decorations. We had to keep the morning free. She would play her favourite Jim Reeves LP even after we had a cassette player and a CD player. It had to be played on the record player! Oh so vintage but the sound was reasonably clear.

Then there were those chocolate hampers. Long after we grew up and stopped believing in Santa and all things Christmassy the chocolate hampers never stopped. Every Christmas without fail there were all our favourite chocolates and candies carefully put together in our boxes that we had had since our childhood. The stockings had become part of the decorations but we would never outgrow mom’s legendary chocolate hampers. Had I known that was going to be the last chocolate hamper…

I have to admit that December was always an exciting time of year because friends came home. We would plan a couple of outings in between family time but that year I was ill and I had no idea what was going on with me.

Flashback after flashback hit me. I remembered one Christmas my aunt and cousin were down. My dad escorted Santa to our garden where we were all waiting.

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The entire household would gather around and our neighbour would join us from behind her wall and of course there was a gift for her too.

Then there were the years we would go Caroling before everyone grew up.

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These evenings were always fun. We were allowed to stay out late. Our neighbours would wait for us to get to their houses. These times were magical. The weather was much colder than what it is now.

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My mom loved this Santa and every year he was diligently placed at the entrance of the house for every passerby to see. I used to be embarrassed by the attention he attracted and a number of times strangers would ring the doorbell and ask if they could take pictures of the big guy.

Then there was mom’s birthday celebration and we were allowed to choose one location for a photograph.

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My choice was a big Chinese Jar which cannot be seen in this pic. I was intrigued by this antique. It was easily over a hundred years back then and I have no idea where my maternal grandfather sourced it out from. My mom would tell us stories about how her mother would store rice in it during the Second World War.

Growing up, midnight mass was the most exciting thing about Christmas. We were allowed to stay up late. I was part of the choir and I enjoyed that. My parents were also a part of the choir and so were my best friends. Everyone gathered together to celebrate Christmas after midnight mass was over.

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My dad would play the piano accordion and everyone would join in singing Christmas Carols. Yes, it was a magical time indeed. Everyone was happy and excited. Somewhere between then and now we all grew up.

Whatever it was, whatever happened, mom really worked hard to make Christmas as magical as possible from preparing our favourite sweets to making sure our favourite meal was all laid out for lunch. She went the extra mile to put chocolate hampers together and who knew that year would be the last?

Last year and this, I found myself pining for Christmas at home with my parents. How I wished I could just be there one more time. Just for one more meal, just to swipe sweets off the counter while they were being prepared. Just to aggravate the maid while she stirred a cauldron of dodol (a toffee (sort of) made out of coconut milk, jaggery (a sweetner made out of sugarcane), finger millet. A southeast Asian sweet.) Just to put up all those decorations that would make me agitated thinking about them. Just to put an ornament on a tree or to unwrap the statues of the crib. The magic has long gone but the memories linger on like silhouettes pirouetting in the background.

If only I knew that it was going to be her last Christmas I would have done things differently, played the Carols she wanted instead of making her listen to more modern Carols by various singers. Mom obviously preferred Elvis Presley to Michael Bolton. Heaven forbid I played Firehouse or Twisted Sister or any of those bands. Mom would have definitely pulled the plug on that music over Christmas for sure.

Mom is mom and Christmas with mom was so different. Now it’s hard to tell what I miss more, the magic of it all, receiving that chocolate hamper along with a pile of gifts, or the food through those Christmas weeks. In a way I think mom was trying to keep that magic alive, trying to keep us believing that family and everyone we truly cared for were the most important especially this time of year. Even though I don’t believe in the festival or anything else, I believe in family and the people I care for. I still believe that this time of year a family should be together no matter what the problems are because that’s how my mom always strove to make us believe. She held on and taught us how to hold on and maybe, just maybe, the magic never really died!

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(My biopsy results were negative. I received that a couple of weeks later. That was one of the things that changed my life, my thinking, and no I don’t speak about it. Those couple of weeks were a nightmare.

My mom died two months and three weeks after our last Christmas together. Life then changed completely.

Mom always used to say that being alone this time of year is extremely difficult and last Christmas I finally learnt what she meant by that.

Now Christmas for me is spending time with my in-laws, and everyone who is available that day. My home is always open to anyone who doesn’t want to be alone.)

(A couple of days late, I know, but it’s been a bingeful, sinful time of year, and I have been working feverishly on another project which hopefully will be complete in the upcoming months (something for me to look forward to next year). It’s probably the annual itch but I’ve been a little unwell (coincidentally).

To everyone who spent Christmas with family – You have no idea how lucky you are! Cherish these times.

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Trying to…..

Trying to find a place I belong
Trying to keep my feet on solid ground
Trying to fit in
Trying to stand out
Trying to keep quiet
Trying to shout
Trying to breathe
Trying to stay
Trying to leave
Trying to stray
Trying to hold on
To sanity
Trying to be me
Trying to hide
Trying to stay alive!

(Another two minute experiment. Don’t read too much into it. This is totally random and extremely cheesily “rhymey” on purpose, it made me smile though!)

Learning to hope!

(Before I start writing what I’m about to write I’d like to say that it took me a little over 24 hours (and this was a year ago) to make up my mind about whether I wanted to publish something so open, so personal, and a piece from the depth of my… existence(?) (I don’t know how else to say this) and I decided that I should.

It’s not my entire journey, just a section and not an entire chapter. It might come across as little haphazard or confusing but that’s exactly how it’s meant to be. Feel free to stop right here and close this tab.

P.S.- You still have a chance to stop reading!)

Somewhere down the line a part of my soul died, or a part of me died, or was it a heady mix of both? The pain will make you stronger they said. So strong that it breaks you? It killed the person who had big dreams, it erased the smile off her face. So strong that it numbs you inside?

I read a quote somewhere “There’s a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in” (I don’t remember where I saw this one and who said it!). Perhaps this is why we need to be broken sometimes, to allow the light to shine through the cracks. Really now? Like the chinks in a curtain allow the morning sunlight to interrupt an already-disturbed sleep? No thanks! I hate curtain chinks that betray me by letting in the light. I’ve grown addicted to the darkness, my darkness, that has stemmed from pain of the past and present.

Somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow the darkness enveloped me, the cold became noticeable and the numbness? That was a very welcome feeling. It means that you’ve been tossed around like a sailboat out at sea braving the turbulent waters. That numbness. Yes, that’s addictive. Are there anymore pearls of wisdom that I can reject or refute? Do I care enough? Do I want to care? Sadly, I’ll never know.

Sometimes I don’t know what makes me continue holding on when inside I have already let go. At times I think I’m a fool. I coax my outer self to meet my inner self and convince her to let go but outside there’s a glimmer of hope. Maybe the hope lies in the cheerful chirping birds at dawn, or the golden sunset skies at dusk or… maybe… just maybe… it’s the lyrics of a song that’s constantly playing in my head on repeat mode.

“At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky…”, there’s always a golden sky so I choose to walk on with hope. Hope for newer golden skies or the sweet silver song of a lark. I guess I’ll keep walking on with hope, towards the golden sky at the end of the storm.

If you chose life, you’ve been brave enough to live another day. You chose to live another day, keep going!!!

(The song “You’ll never walk alone” was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein (my favourite duo when it comes to lyrical and musical magic).

No one saw…

Broken

She hid behind her fairytales. Every single one of them had a happy ending. It helped her escape until reality hit.

No one saw her loneliness. No one saw the pain in her eyes when she smiled. No one saw the depression she hid behind her mask. No one heard her heart break. No one saw the silent tears she cried at night until her pillow was damp.

No one noticed that her dreamcatcher had broken. No one saw the demons she slew in her waking hours. No one saw her sit alone and stare at her walls, battling the silence. A silence she once welcomed was almost deafening. No one saw her struggle to stop her mind from thinking, not thinking. No one saw her struggle to sleep at night. They saw her anger, her hatred but no one saw her hurting inside.

No one noticed she was so numb inside that her tears no longer flowed freely. She was broken inside and no one saw.

She was alive and that was all that mattered!

Isaac Mutant!

Sometimes we just find something that touches our soul and stirs up emotions and thoughts we never knew existed within us. It took me a long time to settle into the area but now that I have lived here almost a decade I have grown to love and enjoy the sights and sounds the place has to offer. The different animals and birds, oh the birds! An ornithologist’s dream corner right through the year from Golden Orioles, to Magpie Robins, sparrows and pigeons, Pariah kites, Brahminy kites, waterhens, Egrets. Sometimes I stay awake until 4 a.m. just to hear the farmers head to work. Sometimes I wake up at the crack of dawn just to watch them water their crops. Sometimes it’s only to peek at a Black-rumped Flameback (woodpecker) who diligently visits the coconut tree outside my window at the first hints of daylight. If I’m lucky I get to see the Mongoose family scurrying about. A common sight are squirrels who have just been added to my “To-be-fed” list…

…and then there was Isaac Mutant. The first time I saw him I was in awe. Yes, he is a common crow with a story. I was tempted to call him Mr. Crowley but that didn’t quite cut it so Isaac Mutant it was. I love this crow for his uniqueness. I started feeding the birds leftovers. I watched him struggle to get food off the ground because of his beak. The other crows would seize his food before he could get at it because he would take long or rather the other birds were far quicker than he was. The poor chap had to tilt his head to get a grip on the food.

Isaac Mutant

Isaac Mutant

Now not only has he mastered the art of picking food off the ground, he has no problems piercing bags open with his freakishly long beak. The struggles were real but he overcame them. Animals do have their struggles too and if we are lucky enough we get to witness their growth and ability to fly above their adversaries.

I have been feeding the birds (and now squirrels and a waterhen) since I moved into this place and it’s been almost eight years now. Today I managed to get a close up of him without him taking flight. Most times he’s perched safely on a branch of the jamun (blackberry) tree and watches me through his black beady eyes.

The crow that never gave up

The crow that never gave up

Why did I write about a common crow? I don’t know really but looking at Mr. Mutant every single day I see a soul, I see a bird who persevered and beat the odds, I see hope and most of all I found something that could be turned into a beautiful story.

I look around me and I see people fighting silent battles, depression, stress, health issues, struggles of holding a home together and a job or two or three, then there’s Mutant, the crow that didn’t give up. A living being without rationale. Everyone’s struggles are real, as real as Mr. Mutant’s, the only difference is; not everyone rides through the storm the way Isaac Mutant braved through his. To me he is no longer a “bird” but a symbol of hope!

The Goa I once knew!

Looking back to the simplicity of life, I miss it. I miss those days when I could just walk out of the house at any given hour and I knew I would return safe. I miss those days when we could just lie on the road and stare at the stars without bothering about speeding cars or traffic past midnight. I miss the clean beaches, the warm friendliness of people around me. I miss the way the roads were, how clean and unlittered the place was. Everyone lived in perfect harmony. No one questioned your religion. Growing up we only figured out friends’ religions by their last names and it never bothered us in the least. On the playground we were one happy family. Festival times were the most fun because we celebrated everything be it Ganesh Chaturti, Diwali, Id or Christmas. We went over to friends’ houses and enjoyed festivities alongside their families.

I miss those days when we could hang out with whoever we wanted without the fear of our drinks and food being drugged, without the fear of date rapes. I miss the days when people lived simple lives and did not seek to destroy families and relationships because avarice won them over. I miss those days when technology had not entered and complicated things. The joys of being out of the house and no getting pestered by constant calls.

I miss the clean beaches, the clean streets, the safety, handwritten letters, postcards, birthday cards, Christmas cards, the excitement of running to check the mail and the joy of seeing your name on an envelope. Someone across the globe remembered to wish you. The days when we would gather in friends’ houses and watch movies together because there was no cable TV. The bunch of us watching “The goonies” and “Karate kid” (which are still in my list of favourite movies) over and over til we got the dialogues. I miss those days when “entertainment” was sneaking off to the beach, swimming and collecting pebbles.

I miss the days when not every home had a telephone and one had to go to the neighbour’s house to make/ receive calls. When neighbours gathered together to watch TV, the Asian games, cricket matches, the weekly feature film. Days when we could just land up at a friend’s place and have a sumptuous meal with them. Food was always better in my friends’ homes. I miss those days when we would take a picnic lunch to the banyan tree and spend the entire day out in the sun. I miss those days running around without a care in the world because we lived in the most peaceful place filled with the simple things of life. I miss those days when owning a cycle was the coolest thing you did. You were king if you could pop a wheelie! The excitement when you got a skid right without falling down.

I miss those days when petty thefts made the headlines of our otherwise boring dailies. I miss how everyone would leave their homes and gather around if there was a problem or death in the neighbourhood. How we lived in harmony without malice or pettiness. All we read now are rapes and murders, thefts make it to the unimportant news bits if at all they are mentioned.

Toddy tappers! What are those? Who sees them anymore? Coconut pluckers are so few and far between. Our bakers would come around on cycles with a big basket at the back, some bakers still do that. The baker who comes around to my area rides a non-geared two wheeler. Even our postman comes around on a motorbike. When did all this change?

I look at Goa now and I see most of our people have acquired Portuguese Passports and left in search of greener pastures selling their ancestral lands to anyone with the highest bid. Selling a piece of our precious heritage. It is a free world, no doubt, but look at how it’s changed. Goa is no longer safe. No longer that unknown haven people would flock to. The little corner of the world that was popular with the hippies back in the 70s and early to mid 80s.

What happened to the Goa we knew? Greed took over. People left. Outsiders moved in. Crime increased. Murders, riots, we were never in this kind of place. Everyone lived in harmony. People respected each other. Now? Now you can’t leave the house without the fear of getting attacked. The traffic is chaotic, the roads (if you can call it “roads”, I prefer to call it potholes with a little road thrown in for fun!) are horrendous. The riders and drivers are nightmares the way road rules are broken. Nobody cares! Lives are lost on the treacherous roads every single day but who’s counting? Everything negative seeped into our pure lands leaving barely nothing to call our own.

What happened to this peaceful place? The beaches are littered, the seas have garbage floating with the waves, the pavements are littered, there’s garbage everywhere. What happened to those pristine beaches? What happened to the cleanliness? Every time I have gone to the beach I have seen broken bottles, empty plates, plastic bags. We took pride in Green Goa. Our greenery has been replaced by grotesque buildings. Greed has turned our beautiful Goa into an unwanted concrete jungle. Goa was never like this.

Foreigners claiming that Goa is not safe! That is a real low blow. Not safe and Goa all in one sentence. We would pride ourselves of being a hospitable and friendly race. Some of us have even welcomed complete strangers into our homes and given them a hearty Goan meal. What happened to that Goa? When did things go wrong? How did we earn ourselves such negativity? Who is the cause? What is the cause?

Goa is not safe

I saw this picture and my heart broke. I grew up in clean, green, peaceful Goa and I continue living in hellish Goa. It’s heart breaking when we can’t feel safe on our turf, leave alone how foreign tourists will feel. Reading the list: –
“Do not go out alone,” (A guy cannot go out alone? Wow! When did this change?)
“Do not argue with the locals” (Really? Are we Goans so capable of doing someone in? Are we capable of such heinous things?),
“Do not trust “people” or police” (Yes, a lot of us locals do not trust the police! Can’t argue here. Sorry! No trusting locals!!!! That’s a mighty big blow right there. Peace loving, warm, friendly, hospitable Goans not trustable. That’s a big pill to swallow or perhaps I am drowning in a sea of Naivety. This saddens me. When did we change? Is it us or is the influx of other communities living on our land and giving us a bad name?)
“Do not run out of money”. (This is good advice. No one would want to run out of money while on holiday.)
“Do not buy drugs.” (Another piece of good advice.)

I was quite shaken up reading this. Flashbacks raced through my mind of what Goa was and I can’t fathom where it all disappeared. Change is inevitable but this drastic where an entire race changes the essence of themselves? How possible is that?

Our land has been not only being raped but it’s being tortured and murdered before our eyes. Our hills have been cut through for railway lines. Surely there was another route that could have been planned out instead of destroying the beauty of our interiors. Our once-upon-a-time-pristine beaches are strewn with garbage and one has to walk barefoot cautiously. Open water swimming sessions is such bliss, especially when you see plastic bags floating besides you. Our roads…. oh the wonderful roads we pay taxes for every year… I’m at a loss of words at this point. Road taxes for potholes! No longer can I brag to friends outside Goa about how clean Goa is, how lovely our roads are, how we never have a single flooded street during monsoons.

If you grew up in Goa in the 70s, 80s and 90s you will know what I am talking about. The days when the Flea market was a flea market. Hippies would gather in the area and try to sell their guitars, cassette players, records, and whatever they could sell to make enough money for a flight ticket home. No one batted an eyelid at a foreign tourist sunbathing “clotheslessly”. No crowds gathered around to gawk at a fair maiden clad in a bikini. Now? It’s shamefully quite a different scene. One fair skinned sunbather and there’s a crowd trying to get her in a selfie which is being strategically taken in front of her.

The recent events in this tiny dot on the map has left my head reeling. This is definitely not the Goa I grew up in.

What kind of Goa will we be leaving for the next few generations? Will there be traces of our heritage and culture? What are we leaving behind? The Goa I once knew as a child and the Goa I live in right now doesn’t feel like the same place any more. I had a very interesting talk with a group of boys/ men ranging from the ages of 16-31+. It was refreshing to see their levels of awareness and their drive to see a change happen.

I want to be the change, I want to see change, I want to see Goa how it used to be but I can’t do this on my own!

Everything and Nothing to lose

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. Her face was expressionless, her eyes were blank. It was almost like gazing into a gulch. Her hair was well groomed, not a strand out of place. Her makeup was impeccably flawless that it made her look like a porcelain doll that had just stepped out of a horror movie. Her composure was admirable yet it looked like she had been through the mill. She inhaled the overpowering fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans that permeated the air. The smell of the “magic beans” was intoxicating. There was nothing better than relying on the aroma you love to release an exceedingly generous amount of pheromones into your system.

Her eyes quickly darted around, scanning the couples and people seated sipping on lattes or mochas, some people were having a quick bite before heading home after work. Even though the café was full no one bothered about her presence. She glanced down contemptuously at her Yves Saint Laurent handbag for a fleeting moment.

“Elena, I will be coming home late tonight. Don’t wait up,” Brad’s bass voice boomed from the kitchen as he grabbed his leather briefcase off the kitchen counter and swung his laptop bag carelessly on his shoulder.

Elena ignored him. These were just hollow words that were repeated day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. She had grown immune to those late nights, weekends “with the guys”, not showing up an entire night. Thankfully the children were in boarding school. They wouldn’t have to see the tears while she sat in front of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, nursing a crystal tulip glass before her. Sitting in that large mansion alone every night was not as easy as she made it seem. The loneliness slowly shattered her mental equilibrium but it didn’t show on her face.

She had been with Brad for twenty years. He fell in love with her the moment he saw her walk down their college corridors. She stood out in a crowd with her “devil may care” attitude and confidence. They were in different departments but he had made it a point to introduce himself to her during her first year. He went on to becoming an affluent businessman and she was a stay-at-home mom.

Their marriage was a social affair. He treated her like a princess. There was nothing that she could possibly want from her Chanel handbags to her Gucci shoes. She was always well turned out. Brad loved having her on his arm at the social dinners and at the elite cocktail parties. It was quite evident that she was his trophy. She had always been his prized possession right from the moment they started dating. He was equally striking with his V shaped physique and height that resembled a beanpole. She had to admit they made a handsome couple, and even passed their mid-forties they still made heads turn.

She tried to figure out where they went wrong or more likely what went wrong. She always did what was right. She kept the house exactly how he liked it, cooked his favourite meals, and maintained her looks so that it concealed her age. Was it the excitement of cheating or the excitement of doing something wrong? It was all blurred. Somewhere down the line Brad decided to start dating another woman. Elena knew who she was. She was younger than Elena by an entire decade but not as tall or pretty. Elena’s beauty was enigmatic and still made men dizzy with infatuation.

Elena gritted her teeth in anger trying to figure out why Brad would choose to go scurrying after such an inexperienced “plain Jane”. She knew she looked far younger than her forty-five years, her skin was flawless; her hourglass figure could send any woman into a frenzy of jealousness. Her legs were shapely and athletic.

Violence had seeped into their loveless marriage. Whenever Brad was home he would pick a fight on imaginary issues. She didn’t use the right softener when she laundered his clothes, the vegetables were not cooked the way his mother made them, her car was parked at a slight angle and he couldn’t get his car out, the dog had greeted him with muddy paws all over his Versace suit. Yes, he had a very vibrant imagination; she had to give him credit for that.

Brad knew that Elena was aware of his mistress and he couldn’t help wondering why she had not filed for a divorce taking all his assets with her. He was even ready to let her have it all, his entire estate, his fleet of cars, and his business. Heck! He would even pay for the best divorce lawyer if he had to. Elena maintained her composure and decided to see how long the two of them could play this game of cat and mouse. Six years went by and they were still playing the same game. He was violent behind closed doors but in full view of the public eye he made sure he came across as the world’s greatest husband. His manners and suave personality made it all very believable.

Elena had toughened up over the past few years. She had been going for Muay Thai classes to keep her mind and body sane and fit. She planned a secret weekend out to surprise her estranged husband. Perhaps it was her who needed a break away from the prison she used to call home. Maybe she should go on a road trip and catch up with friends in nearby states or fly out to meet her parents who lived in the other end of the country. She bought herself plane tickets and got ready for her break. Brad could handle the food since he did that anyway despite of her cooking all his favourite food. She was definitely going to take a break from the manor and its sprawling, well-manicured lawns. She wouldn’t even miss the place.

She informed Brad well before the day. He told her that he wouldn’t be able to take her to the airport because of his work overload. She translated that excuse to “You know I’d rather spend that time with my mistress than drive you to the airport”. She yawned to let him know that she knew what he was implying.
The day of her departure turned out being a stormy one. She got a call informing her that her flight was canceled and her money would be refunded. She was pleased about it because she would now get a chance to see what her husband was really up to. She staggered upstairs to the attic and hid her bags there. She set up a makeshift bed and bid her time. This was one time she was exceptionally pleased about concealing cameras around the house and linking them all to her laptop. She had to make sure that she was safe since she was alone most of the time.

Elena knew she was safe in the attic because Brad was confined to the kitchen, their bedroom and the attached bathroom. It was almost as though none of the other rooms existed for him. Even his office that opened out into the emerald lawns overlooking the summer gazebo meant nothing to him.

Elena covered the tiny windows with thick blankets and made sure no light could be spotted from the outside. She had stocked up the tiny antique cupboard with tinned foods and basic essentials. She typed in her password to link up to the cameras and in a few clicks she could see the entire house and all the rooms. She swapped between scenes. She just needed the important areas. Brad was not due to be home until much later that evening.

She did not have a long wait. Brad was home earlier than expected and he was not alone.

“I should have known he would bring that tramp along and let her sleep in my bed!” Elena fumed and turned up the volume on her laptop after plugging her headset in.

“We have to be careful and cover our tracks,” Brad said. “She has to be somewhere in this house. I called up the airport to check on her flight and I was informed that the flight was canceled. She does not have anywhere else to go. Please don’t do anything rash.”

“You don’t do anything rash,” the thirty-five year old woman retorted. “What if she is here and watching our every move? Do we follow through with our plan?”
“What plan?” Brad was confused.

“The plan to eliminate…,” his mistress replied in a nonchalant tone.

“The weapons…,” he trailed strategically.

“Are taken care of,” she ended his sentence.

Elena had been expecting something like this for a long time now and was well prepared for the day. She rummaged in a trunk for her gun which she had kept loaded and ready. She had hidden a gun with an attached silencer in their bedroom and one in the kitchen. No one knows the kitchen better than the lady of the house. She groped around for a dagger. She knew how to throw the knife to hit the target exactly where she wanted to. She tucked the dagger in the band of her skirt and gripped the gun so tightly her knuckles turned white.

“Let’s split up,” Brad suggested.

“I’ve never been here before. I wouldn’t know where to go,” his woman hissed.

“Fine, in that case we’ll just stick together,” he sighed agitatedly.

“Do you know where she can be?” she asked him.

“We’ll check the bedroom first,” he suggested. “Come on.”

Elena quickly changed to the camera in the bedroom and waited for them to enter. Brad looked under the bed and checked the bathroom.

“She’s not here,” he stated.

“Captain Obvious!” she smirked.

He smiled. He loved the way she kept him feeling younger than his years whereas Elena was just a reminder of how much older he had gotten. He tried to forget about his graying hair and receding hairline. He felt much younger than he looked.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Elena had not installed cameras anywhere else after the bedrooms on the first floor. She had no choice but to switch off her computer. Without waiting for it to go off, she slid it beneath an old wooden trunk. She slipped off her pumps and crept to the door. She knew that she would have an advantage if she was caught behind it. Her heart pounded like a train on a track. She thought it was going to burst out of her delicate frame. She knew that her estranged husband had a gun with him but she was not certain about what weapon the other woman had.

She heard the knob on the door open slowly.

“Elena, I know you’re in here,” her husband crooned, tantalizing her. “We’re right next to you. Come out, come out wherever you are my darling.”
He stepped into the attic hesitantly, signaling to his girlfriend to stay back. Elena slowly lifted the gun. He opened the door and switched on the light.
“She’s not here, let’s go,” the woman whispered quite audibly.

“There’s nowhere else she could have gone,” he said. “We checked all the rooms, remember?”

“We didn’t check the garage,” she pointed out, agitatedly.

“Go check the garage. I’ll meet you there,” he said and without warning he slammed the attic door shut.

Elena aimed at his head and pulled the trigger. He fell flat on his back. He was dead before he hit the floor. The mistress heard the thud.
“Brad?” she called opening the door. She found herself face to face with an enraged Elena.

“Hallo there! I’m Elena, Brad’s widow. Pleased to meet you,” Elena’s smile was psychotically sinister. “Fancy you dropping by to see me. You must be Leigh.”

Leigh charged at her, brandishing a kitchen knife she had found on the counter. Elena grabbed her wrist and twisted Leigh’s hand behind her back forcing her to drop the knife. She pulled out the dagger and stabbed Leigh in the jugular vein. Leigh collapsed to the ground. Elena then fired a shot straight to her head.

“Nice to meet you too darling,” Elena snarled.

She retrieved her laptop, handbag and shoes from their hiding place and stepped out of the attic. She locked the door. She knew she had enough time to dispose of the bodies and the car in the estate. She wrapped the dagger in the blue silk scarf that was slung over her handbag and headed downstairs. She got into her car and drove to her favourite coffee shop. She parked her sedan neatly in the only vacant spot there and got out of the car. She straightened her skirt before reaching out for her handbag and scarf. She walked in and ordered a coffee. She found an empty table by the window, grateful that she had a splendid view of the breathtaking sunset. She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf.

“CUT!” the director yelled jubilantly, grabbing the clapper board from his assistant and slamming it with a burst of enthusiasm. “…and it’s a wrap, pun intended!”

Not everything is what you think it is or what you assume it might be. Sometimes life is nothing but a mere illusion.