Bhoomi ran to Anita’s home and came to an abrupt halt. A gleaming white car stood in the driveway. Bhoomi wondered who the visitor was. Anita had not had a single visitor in the ten months Bhoomi had been visiting her. Feeling hesitant in entering the house as she usually did, she skirted the house going to the back where Harish and Makhan’s room was. Bhoomi found Harish playing there with Sheroo. After petting Sheroo, she asked Harish who the visitor was. Harish gave a disinterested shrug and replied that some angrez Laat Saab had come. Bhoomi gave an irritated look to Harish, she was curious about the unknown stranger. On further prodding, Harish divulged that when Anita had seen the stranger, she had gone white with shock. The gentleman had called her darling and had taken her hand. They both had then gone inside and been there for the better part of an hour. Bhoomi was mystified. She had never seen Anita get even a letter, then who was this stranger who called her darling. Questioning Harish more didn’t help. He didn’t care about Anita’s visitor, he was more interested in finding if Bhoomi had managed to borrow some money from Shalini for the kite strings, which Bhoomi hadn’t. Bhoomi played with Harish and Sheroo, but her mind was on the car and the stranger. Suddenly they both heard the car door slam shut. They ran to the front of the house to see the car reversing away from the driveway and Anita standing quietly on the verandah. Bhoomi could see that Anita seemed a little agitated by the way Anita stood, with her arms crossed across her chest. Bhoomi ran to hug Anita to ease her discomfort. As Anita’s hands came around Bhoomi to hug her back, a tear trickled down Anita’s cheek. Anita’s heart had been disturbed by the visitor from the past. She couldn’t believe that after twenty years, Derek Rogers was back.
Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, Derek had been the equivalent of royalty in the British community of the town. Derek and Anita had known each other when children, but their lives had diverged as they grew up. Derek, following his family’s tradition, joined the army. Soon he was posted overseas during the second world war. Anita grew up to be an exotic rose. Full of wit and beauty, she was much in demand, with many suitors. One day, while hurrying out of the bakery with a cake for her best friend Edith, she bumped into a solid male form in an army uniform. It was Derek. As Anita looked into Derek’s blues eyes, both felt a sizzle between them. Anita blushed and stammering an apology, rushed away, leaving Derek staring at her back. Thus started the courtship of Anita and Derek. It soon became very obvious to the town that they both were deeply in love with each other. Each day that Derek could spare from his leave were spent with Anita. With the war soon over, Derek had started thinking about resigning his commission from the army and joining his father’s business. A year passed by in daydreams and whispering sweet nothings to each other.
It was a crisp autumn night. Derek and Anita were enjoying a dance party at the club. Derek looked exceptionally handsome in his Army uniform and a row of medals gleaming on his chest. At twenty-five, he was filled with good humour, ready to lend a helping hand to a friend. Anita wore a peach coloured silk with silver heels. Her neck was adorned with the pearl necklace her father had gifted her recently for her nineteenth birthday. Her dark, wavy hair inherited from her mother, were cut into a fashionable bob. She glowed with happiness and love. After a vigorous foxtrot, Derek held on to Anita’s hand and drew her outside, away from prying eyes. There, under the twinkling stars with air perfumed by the roses, Derek went down on one knee and proposed to Anita. At Anita’s excited nod, Derek gently put on the sparkling ring on Anita’s finger. As Anita breathed in Derek’s cologne, she couldn’t believe her good fortune. Not only had Anita found her Prince Charming, but he also loved her deeply enough to ignore the fact that Anita was half-white. Anita knew that while her beauty and money had opened the doors of society for her, she was still not totally acceptable. They called her an exotic rose not only for her beauty but also pointing to her mixed parentage. That night Anita felt as if she was the luckiest girl alive.
While the two lovers were lost in their world of love, the world around them was changing. India was undergoing a metamorphosis. The dashing new Governor-General had announced that the British would be leaving India, leaving behind two countries instead of one. The mad frenzy of partition had not yet reached Anita’s town. Life on the surface continued its placid pace, but there were rumblings underneath. The British community realised that they now needed to make a decision about their future. Slowly, the families started packing and leaving. Anita’s father was in a quandary. He was white, but he had been born and brought up in India. Britain was alien to him. He had no desire to start life afresh in a cold, uninviting country, leaving the life of luxury he enjoyed. India was dear and familiar to him. India was the country that had given him the love of his life, and where she was buried. He decided not to leave Ethni, the home he had built for his love.
Two months after their engagement, Anita sat on the verandah, pensively thinking about all the friends she had already waved goodbye to. When Derek roared up on his two-seater Roadstar, Anita’s face lit up with a radiant welcome smile which faded on seeing Derek’s serious face. He brought ill tidings. His father had sold their estate to an Indian princeling. His family was moving to Britain by the end of the month. His father didn’t want to stay in a country governed by “darkies“, said Derek. Derek had the option of either staying with his parents or continuing in the British army. Either way, he too would be leaving India. He had come to beg Anita to elope with him, to start life afresh in a new country, leaving everything behind.
Looking into Derek’s handsome face, Anita wanted to move into his arms. She wanted him to take her away with him. Anita was totally sure of Derek’s love for her. However, she couldn’t help but focus on the word “darkies” uttered by Derek. Anita was aware that Derek’s parents had not been happy with their engagement even though they had not verbally said anything untoward to Anita. But hearing the word had made Anita aware of the fact that if she did elope with Derek, the word would always be in the background. Here in India, in this house, Anita was free. If she chose to go with Derek, she might have to face the animosity of his parents later. Anita’s heart wanted to shout “yes”, but when her lips moved, the word that she spoke was a soft “No”.
Derek couldn’t believe his ears when Anita said no. He raved and ranted, asking her to come to her sense. Even though Anita did not understand her decision herself, she refused to budge. Intuitively, Anita realised that she would have to suppress her Indian half to please Derek and his family. Seeing Anita implacable, Derek roared off in a cloud of dust, leaving Anita standing on the verandah with unshed tears in her eyes, alone.
This is post has been written for Blogchatter’s #BlogchatterA2Z challenge.
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