I’ve loved him to death.
And I haven’t just killed him. I have killed Sophie Mol. I have killed Chacko. I have killed my family. Not motherauntbrother, but EsthaRahelAmmu. My family. We are going to be split up. Rahel, my bubbly, impetuous, headstrong daughter, will stay here, at Ayemenem. I will leave, go to whoknowswhere, find a job, and work until I can afford to support myself and my children on my own. Estha, my serious, practical, composed son, will be Returned to his father, my ex-husband, the biggest mistake of my life.
I was young when I agreed to marry him, young and naïve and desperate. I thought that Anything would be better than living forever with my parents—one violently bitter and the other bitterly resigned—and so I married him. And discovered that he was an alcoholic. It was not worse than before. But it wasn’t better.
After his manager began to covet me, after my husband began to try to beat me into acceptance, after he started beating the children, too, I left. I returned to my parents, to the life I had wanted to leave. Anything turned into Nothing, and I was worse off than I was before. I was Divorced—disgraced—with two young children. There was no welcome home, no community holding out its arms to me. I was a pariah, the one who had tried to leave, who had dared to step outside the bounds that society put on women, and marry the man who I picked without even consulting my parents. They likely considered me to have received my just desserts.
And so I was trapped again. But even more trapped this time. There would be no escape this time. No one would want to marry a Divorced woman with two children. I was dependent on the beneficence of my family. So I worked hard, doing my best to help keep the pickle factory on its feet. But even then, I gained little. My work made me more tolerable to my motherbrother, perhaps. But the factory, the land, the jams and jellies and preserves were still Chacko’s. He made a point of reminding me of that regularly. I had no Local Standing.
And this was what I had to look forward to for the rest of my life. Thankless work. Baby Kochamma’s resentment. Nowhere to Go. Growing old, slowing pickling myself along with the mangoes and bananas and pineapple. I was Trapped. Trapped between father and husband.
I have no surname at the moment. I am trying to decide between my married name and my maiden name. Do I pick the name of the man who beat my mother and me, driving us out into the cold to hide in the bushes, the man whose burning resentment at life drove me into the arms of my husband? Or do I pick the name of the man who seemed to promise me everything, but delivered nothing, who beat me back to my father’s house, burdened with two small lives to care for? It’s not much of a choice.
Choices are not something I have had in abundance in my life. I have been trapped, hemmed in by my femaleness—sending a woman to college is a waste of money—my poverty—no dowry means no suitors, and no money of my own means I must now depend on my family to provide for my children—my Indianness—I am not a perfect British woman. I am just one brown Syrian Christian Divorced woman with two brown children and no Local Standing.
Unlike Chacko. He is a man. He is divorced, too, but That’s Just the Way Things Are for a man. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. So of course He Knows Best. And he has a daughter. A British daughter. A white daughter. A daughter who I killed.
I wasn’t trying to. I didn’t even know it would happen. But one choice can lead to other choices which can lead to the destruction of dreams.
I chose to marry. I chose to divorce. And from those choices I now have twins to raise. So I raise them. On my own. I must be their Ammu and Baba and love them Double. But wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. More than just to be mother and father to two children. More than just an Ammu-shaped Hole in the Universe.
And then I saw him looking at me across the yard that day that Sophie Mol arrived. And I knew. I knew he knew. And I loved him for that.
We were two outcast Holes in the Universe fighting not to be sucked into the void of the Invisible. The nevermarried Untouchable-Paravan-Hole. The Touchable Divorced-woman-Hole. We couldn’t help each other in our fights. We would never be able to be Together Forever. We knew this. And so we gave each other our tonights, and our hope for Tomorrow.
Naaley. The whispered Small dream of those who have been taught by the powerful to not hope for anything Big. We had thirteen Tomorrows, fourteen nights when fears were forgotten and we had each other. Warm. Hard against soft. No need to look into the endless future.
And then it ended. Our dreams were pulled down, sent crashing to the ground. I killed him. And I knew it. As soon as I was locked in my room, I knew it. And in my grief, I lashed out at my children. I told them they were the millstones around my neck, that I should have left them at an orphanage when they were born.
I didn’t mean it, not really. While I would have been less trapped without them—without having to worry about caring for two other lives, lives which are so small and fragile, and still so innocent—my life still would have been a bleak march of day into day. And I wouldn’t have had their faces to light up my days, their love to remind me that I was not all Alone against the world. But in that instant, all I could feel was that I was Here because of the twins. I had reconnected with him because Rahel had been in his arms. It was because of them that I felt my heart breaking. And so I didn’t think.
And they didn’t know that I didn’t mean it. I forgot all about what I had said until Baby Kochamma asked me if I knew why the children had disappeared. And then my heart clenched in fear. I knew. But I couldn’t tell her. I knew. And it was my fault. And I could do nothing.
So I threw the pillow against the door. I would not reveal my failings to her. I would not give her something to gloat over. I didn’t need it rubbed in.
And then they brought in Sophie Mol’s body. A fisherman had found it floating downstream. And I knew that I had killed her, too. And when she died, Chacko died. So I killed my brother as well.
If I had no Local Standing before, I have less than none now. I have done the unthinkable, in their eyes. I have touched that which Should Not Be Touched. I have more than touched it. I have loved it.
They can’t handle that. They don’t want to acknowledge it. I am destroying their construction of the universe, the order they hold so dear, the order that says who can be loved, who can be Touched, Who can do What. And so they turned on me. But not just me. They turned on him, too. Even more than on me.
For I am a Touchable, and therefore my life has value. But he, he is Untouchable. Lower than animals, Worth Nothing. A being whose existence is not meant to ripple the universe. And so they killed him. Because of me. Because I loved him.
Of course, that is not the official story. They would never admit that they acted out of Fear. Their story is that he tried to rape me, that he kidnapped the children in revenge for being foiled in his lustful desires. That he murdered Sophie Mol.
But I know the truth. I gave myself to him. I drove the children away. Sophie Mol died because of me.
But they won’t let me tell the truth. They have turned on me. They are determined to keep me quiet. They would not even let me see his body.
I know that it would have been broken. That it would not be the body that I loved, that I made love to. That he would no longer resemble the man in my dreams, the man with one arm and a chocolate abdomen. The God of Small Things. The God of Loss.
When I was with him, I forgot that Small Things are always accompanied by Loss. That because the Big Things fear the Small Things, they exact a punishment from the Small Things. No happiness is without its price. He and I are Small Things, surrounded by Big Things. And the price he paid for our happiness was his life. I will pay in grief and guilt.
He trusted me. And I killed him. I have taught my children that no one—not mother, not sister, not brother, not best friend—can be trusted. And I have shown that not even lovers can be trusted.
I didn’t mean to kill him. But I did.
And now my dreams and my fears have been torn down and rebuilt. Before, I feared becoming useless, I feared the endless predictable days stretching from now until my death, with not a single unexpected event to enliven them. I feared being washed-up, turning into a sallow-skinned, saggy-breasted old-young woman whose vitality was past. And I feared madness. Madness brought out from the hidden recesses of my ancestry, brought on by boredom and monotony and the slow stifling lack of freedom. I dreamed of freedom, freedom from Ayemenem, freedom from having no choice, freedom from the tension between what I should be and what I wanted to be.
And in his eyes, I saw it offered. Even if it was only when I was with him, only during the night, only hidden away from the world. . .
Now, I fear that I will never regain my children. I fear that I won’t be able to find a job. Everything has become unpredictable. I don’t know what will happen next. And I fear that I will not be able to stand up to it. I still fear madness, but now the fear has doubled, tripled. In the uncertainty of the future and the turmoil of my brain, madness could easily slip in. I might already be going mad.
I now dream of stability. I dream of having my children with me, forever until they grow up. I no longer need to dream of being free from Ayemenem, from the expectations of those around me. Motherbrotheraunt have rejected me. Ayemenem has rejected me. I am on my own; I can choose what to do with my life.
But I am not free. Instead of being trapped by family, by expectations of propriety, I am trapped by Grief, by Guilt. I had freedom for two short weeks, for fourteen nights. I was happy, even though I knew I was flouting the Rules, even though I knew that it was dangerous. I had made the choice to be with him. I had allowed out the part of me that I usually kept hidden, the part that dreamed, hoped, planned. The part that led me to marry in spite of my parent’s wishes. The part that loved music and long walks. The part that didn’t care about my children. The part that screamed in rage at being ignored, pushed aside, overlooked, dismissed. The part that fought against the Big Things trying to crush me.
This is the part that he touched, that he stirred to a passionate frenzy and then soothed with his hands, his mouth, his body.
Hands, mouth, and body which are now mangled and broken, according to the twins.
The twins. My sweethearts. I fear that I may have killed them, too. They loved him by day. In the open. Doing what I was not allowed to do. They loved innocently. They loved everyone. I feared that they would be hurt by their openness, that they needed to learn that love leads to pain. I think they’ve realized that now. Because of me.
I’d considered hurting them somehow before, when I became so frustrated at their naïveté, their belief in the goodness of the world. But I was never able to actually do it. I loved them too much. And I’d certainly never planned to do something that would hurt them this badly. I wanted to protect them from the worst of life. I wanted them to grow up without knowing the full extent of how ugly and cruel men can be. I failed.
They were born in a time of trouble, in a dark hospital room lit by candles and warmed by rumors that China had beaten India. If I were more superstitious, I would say that the timing of their birth doomed them to an unhappy life full of strife. I’m not superstitious.
But Estha and Rahel certainly have had to struggle. A drunkard father, who beat them. And then no father. An aunt who resents their presence. A cousin who was everything they were not. English. Son’sdaughter. Mysterious. Unknown. White.
It is not Sophie Mol’s fault that she was British and white. Everything our CCP family dreamed of being but was not. It was not her fault that Joe died and Chacko invited her and her mother here. It is not her fault that Margaret decided to come. To come with the curiosity of the Civilized, expecting to see exotic Culture. Exotic people.
She exasperated me. That is part of the reason I went to him that night. Because I needed to get away from the worship of all that was British, from the veneration of the “perfect” ex-wife and the “perfect” whitedaughter. I went knowing that he wouldn’t see her as any different from the rest of them. Just one more Touchable.
I went knowing that he was kind. I remembered the gifts he would give me when we were children. Carefully crafted. Carefully offered. Just the right way so that we wouldn’t touch, wouldn’t break the Rules. I knew that he understood the struggle between what Should be and what was Wanted, because he’d changed in the years he’d been gone. He was no longer quite the perfect Untouchable. He was too confident. Too unwilling to bow and scrape. Only his smile was the same. The warm smile that he would give me every time I accepted one of his gifts.
I wanted to see that smile again. I wanted to be with someone who understood. I felt my life slipping by. So I went down to the river. And he came to me.
And as we met, two people-shaped Holes in the Universe filling each other, I loved him. When we were together, I was happy with the Little Things. Each night. One night at a time. And each night I loved a little more.
We never talked much. We didn’t need to. I knew he knew. And he knew I knew. Being together was enough.
Now, there’s a love-shaped hole in my heart. And a Chacko-shaped Hole in the Universe banging on my door. And a Sophie Mol-shaped hole in the ground.
I killed them all.