It’s two o’clock in the morning. The green glow of the alarm clock on Parvati’s bedside illuminates the room, colouring the sterile white walls with an eerie radiance. Parvati is lying wide awake, stretched out flat on the bed with her eyes open, waiting for the moment when her husband’s snores will become slow and deep enough to tell her that he won’t wake when she climbs out and leaves the room.
An ambulance, or perhaps a police car, rockets past the London flat and Parvati stiffens, her heart racing as the sound pierces through the thin walls and the lights penetrate the useless curtains like bullets through a stomach. She waits for a few minutes after, making absolutely sure that Krish is sleeping peacefully. Then, she sits up, her heart beating ever faster, so fast that she’s desperately worried that he’ll hear it, that his eyes will snap open and he’ll ask her where she’s going. She’d planned for that though, she’d say that she was going to get a glass of water, and maybe check on the babies.
But his eyes did not snap open. Parvati turned until she could gently rest her feet on the floor, then stood and held her breath as the floorboards creaked under the pressure of her light body. The sheet rustled a little as she stood and Krish rolled over. Parvati sucked in a sharp breath and smothered her mouth with her hand, as still as any statue. Her husband snored and rolled back, his hands flat underneath his cheek, as if in prayer.
Feeling able to breathe again, Parvati trod as lightly as she could in the semi-darkness until she reached the door, glad of London’s permanent state of half luminescence. The door handle was silent, she’d oiled it the day before while Krish was at work, and it closed silently behind her.
There was a bag in the airing cupboard with all of her necessities inside; some clothes, but not all of them; several pairs of underwear; money; toothbrush, toothpaste, tampons and the like along with some diapers, baby food and some clothes for the girl to wear. Parvati had planned for this as thoroughly as she could, and lifted the bag onto her shoulder, walked slowly and steadily to the front door and left it there.
Next, she went into the bathroom, where she had hidden a pair of jeans and a jumper behind the loo that she changed into without closing the door behind her or turning on the light. Once changed, she left her matching pyjamas on the floor where Krish was sure to find them and went into the nursery, where her daughters were.
Tears escaped Parvati’s eyes even though he had promised herself that she wouldn’t weep as she stood over the one cot that the girls shared. They were identical, down to the clothes that they wore and the tufts of soft black hair on their heads and yet she knew which one was Aafreem and which one was Salila. She briefly wondered if Krish would be able to tell before pushing the thought aside. Of course he could tell, he was a good father, but he wasn’t a good husband and he didn’t believe in the end of marriage: Parvati did.
One of Parvati’s tears splashed on Salila’s forehead, and as she reached over to wipe it off, she decided which one to take. In no time Salila was in her arms and Parvati was groping around for the sling in which to carry her. She was struggling not to make a noise now, she felt like she was choking so intense was the desire to steal both of her babies away, but she was aware that she was being selfish enough already. Young and selfish, young and selfish.
It chanted in her mind like a dreadful mantra.
With the sling on and Salila safely inside and miraculously silent, all that was left was for Parvati to leave, but it was too hard. She knelt down in front of the cot and held the bars in clenched fists, leaning her head against it, resisting the urge to cry out and bang her skull on the wood until she couldn’t feel anymore. She shoved her fist in her mouth and squeezed her eyes shut, forcing out the last tears that she would allow herself to shed that night. Then, using the cot to steady herself, she hauled herself up and picked up a couple of Salila’s favourite toys. She took one of Aafreem’s too, to remember her by.
She snuck out of the door, the door that had the names of the girls on it, but would only have one name soon enough, and released her fist from her mouth in order to pick up the heavy bag, slick with saliva and snot. Parvati wiped her eyes and hardened her expression, then took a key from the hook and turned it in the lock. Her heart jumped when it clicked.
The cool night breeze tangled her hair and dried her tears as she eased open the door, and Aafreem had just begun to cry as she closed it behind her and ran into the night.