Ruth’s Retreat – Sreya Sarkar, Boston, USA

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Ruth had spent a good part of her morning supervising her maid as she cleaned out a recently vacated room in her Airbnb. She still believed in old fashioned hospitality, with clean white sheets, sweet smelling towels, and polished mahogany furniture. She hand picked the blossom from her garden each morning to include in the vases that went to the rooms. She sent to the lodgers’ fresh tea in China pots in the afternoons. In other words, Ruth took her Airbnb seriously, just like she did everything else in her life. All objects and entities in the universe have their place and specific roles to play and her humble role was to run her place with devotion. She believed that Ruth’s Retreat was not just a bed and breakfast, it was much more, a special experience wrapped in the finest kind of luxury for her lodgers.

Hours later as Rajdeep and Priya walked up the short flight of stairs leading to Ruth’s Retreat, she was there to greet them.

“Welcome! My name is Ruth Williams. As you know by now, this place is meant exclusively for couples.” She paused and explained what she meant by that comment.“I think it takes a lot of work to keep living together for a long time. My little place helps rekindle the old fire. We have special dinners and programs planned for you. You will receive information about them in a while. If you need anything, please let me know. Here are your keys.”

She handed them a set of keys with Mr. and Mrs. engraved on them as her ancient but charming face crinkled into a broad smile.

“Your room is upstairs. Dorje will take you there.”

She instructed her bell boy to help with their luggage.

Priyas wept her mascara-lined eyes appreciatively over the antiquated but well-maintained insides of the bungalow, pausing briefly on the neat foyer. It was decorated tastefully with Victorian show plates and potted plants. Her scrutiny delved deeper into the dining hall with a big and magnificent looking fireplace. A twinge of guilt poked her ribs as her gaze rested on a black and white wedding picture hanging over it. She recognized a youthful Ruth in a wedding gown next to a smiling Englishman. Her face had aged but her smile was still as dazzling.

Priya withdrew her eyes and followed the bell boy leading the way up the stairs. Dorje was wearing a butler uniform complete with a bow tie. How fancy is this place! she thought smiling to herself. Rajdeep and Priya wanted to get away from Kolkata for a while and could not believe their good luck when they got a two-night deal at the charming Airbnb. The only other option available was the government circuit house with its unaired rooms and dusty curtains.

                                                ___________________

“Why did you tell her that we are married?”

“What else could I do? They mentioned on the website that this place is only for married couples. They were not letting me proceed with the booking until I answered “yes” next to the “Are you married?” question. What is this big deal about being married? I don’t understand,” said Rajdeep nodding his head in exasperation. His face was so symmetrical that Priya thought him lovely, if that can be an attribute given to a grown man at all.

“That nice old woman is so trusting and we are…lying to her.” Priya shook her bangs away from her forehead forcing her eyes to look away from Rajdeep.

“Had we not, we wouldn’t have had such a nice room this late and…” He pulled her on to the bed. “I would not have the privilege to see you curled up beside me on this plush four-poster bed.”

The bed was splendid looking and so was the room. Flowing lace curtains framing the tall windows softened the severity the high beamed ceiling offered. A mellow shade of green gave the room a peaceful ambiance. Two pairs of smooth, padded slippers were placed beside the bed. A pair of soft bathrobes with Mr. and Mrs. embroidered chest patches hung in the adjoining bathroom. Two jumbo-sized umbrellas were placed in the ornate brass bucket just in case the couple chose to venture out in the lush greenery surrounding the retreat. It was truly a couples’ paradise. Rajdeep took in Priya’s dainty features as she cast an appreciative look around their room and wondered why this brand of enchantment was missing in his daily life. Why couldn’t he feel so alive when he was with his wife? With Priya, he felt desired, like his mere existence mattered tremendously.

Ever since they met a year ago, they were stricken by an inexplicable force of mutual attraction. They knew that it was not forever, yet they could not shake off their fascination for one another. “Let us go on a short vacation,” he had suggested for they never seemed satiated with each other. Each meeting made them long for more so she had agreed to come away with him.

There was a gentle knock on their door that jolted Rajdeep out of his thoughts though Priya still looked lost in hers.

Dorje had come bearing a tray laden with tea and biscuits. There was also a little note tucked in. Ruth had invited them to a special dinner later that night.

“Oh…,” said Priya. “I hate cheating that nice lady. Can we not go, please?”

“That would appear rather rude, won’t it?”

“Make up some excuse. We have not come here to attend dinner parties, have we?” There was a sharpness in Priya’s voice.

“There is no need to get so agitated.”

Rajdeep gave Priya’s hand a gentle squeeze. When she did not draw away her hand he covered her lips with his. She draped her delicate arms around his broad shoulders and let out a sigh. Priya craved for this, otherwise she would not be here with him, she reminded herself. The afternoon gently turned into a cool evening as they seeped into each other.

“Perhaps we could go out for a walk to avoid the dinner, I understand your awkwardness,” said Rajdeep as his heartbeat returned to normal. But the black clouds perched on the hills behind the bungalow, burst out into an angry downpour right after, squelching the possibility of taking a walk.

Priyasighed. “We have to eat. What is the point of going anywhere in this rain? Let us go to the dinner we are invited to.”

“After all, It’s just dinner.”

                                                            __________________

“This Shephard’s pie is magnificent.”Rajdeep complimented Ruth. The other couplesitting at the dining table nodded their head in agreement. The food wasnot the usual slipshod fare that passes out of ordinary kitchens.It was flavorful and intricate.

“It is a special family recipe. It was passed on in my husband’s family for generations like a beloved family heirloom. My late husband loved entertaining. I try to follow in his footsteps, you know. So, I serve my guests special family recipes.”

Ruth moved her lodgers to the parlor after dinner for coffee, where the conversation meandered towards how the couples had met. Rajdeep cast a worried look at Priya as her smile shrunk. The other couple narrated their story with smiling faces. As their turn came, Rajdeep naturally drew a blank.

“Our story is not that special. We met through our parents. It was an arranged marriage so we didn’t have much to do with it,” he lied, trying to turn the focus away from them but Ruth would not let it pass.

“In every ordinary story, lies something extraordinary,” she said.

Rajdeep was hoping that Ruth had not noticedPriya’s discomfort. Unable to think of anything else, he narrated the story of his own marriage.

                                                            _______________

Priya sat by the window overlooking the hill behind them. It had finally stopped raining but there was a hint of moisture hanging in the air, brooding under the weight of undefined grudges. Rajdeep’s commentary about his relationship with his wife had made her think about her own marriage.

“My husband is not a bad man,” she said suddenly. “He is just very predictable.”

She unmindfully played with the lace curtain. “I feel that if I have to sit through one more of those conversations where he tells me about his office and I tell him about mine, I will either kill him or myself.”

Rajdeep was not used to seeing her this pensive, and it made him uneasy.

“Good, we met then, right? Otherwise, you would have to kill your husband.” He let out a shrill uncomfortable laugh in a poor attempt to defuse the tension building between them.

Priya turned her head sharply at him. “That is not funny! It is… rather disrespectful.”

She pushed him away and wrapped herself in a woolen shawl. “I am going for a walk.”

“Give me a minute, I will go with you.” He put on his windcheater hurriedly and followed her outside.

“I thought you were tired and wanted to rest.” He did not understand why she was in this dark mood. What had he done to bring this upon her?

“I changed my mind. The room feels claustrophobic.”

“It is such a big room…how do you feel stuffy here?”

“If you like the room so much, why don’t you stay back and enjoy it.”

Rajdeep was baffled at her abrupt rage.

“Don’t rush, the path is steep. You might slip and fall.”

Her eyes glittered with unshed tears.Her words came out in a hoarse whisper. “I have fallen already.”

                                                            ________________

Ruth’s bedroom was on the top floor, above the rooms she rented out. It had a sweeping view of the entire compound around her. She sat at her window reading a book. It was past midnight. How she wished she could fall asleep like others. She would have given up everything she owned for a good night’s rest, but sleep mostly eluded her. As the cool breeze coaxed a spell of tinkling from her wind chimes, Ruth draped a sweater over her housecoat and stooped over the wooden pane. She thought she heard someone talking. It sounded more like an argument. The middle-aged couple who had checked in earlier that day were exchanging heated words it seemed.

If only she could tell them how useless all that squabbling is, ultimately. A thread of memory flashed in her mind. She used to argue with her husband just like this. It was a true privilege to have a partner to argue with, she realized at her elderly age. Albert was headstrong and controlling and sometimes drove Ruth crazy. But he also had a childlike enthusiasm towards life.

Albert was born into an English family. His father managed one of the sprawling tea estates in Darjeeling during the British era. The British left eventually but Albert’s family stayed on and grew roots in Darjeeling. There were only a handful of English families in India who had stayed back after India’s independence.Ruth’s family was one amongst that skinny lot.

Ruth had spent the first seventeen years of her life in Ooty, a Southern Indian hill-station. Her mother had died young and her father was struggling with a weak heart. She was married off to Albert just as she turned eighteen.

To keep her from missing Ooty, Albert involved her wisely in acquiring new skills. He taught her how to play the piano. He encouraged her to learn the game of Bridge, which he believed to be the most sophisticated card game in the World. He even bought her a pony to ride. Albert was overbearing and took to strange fancies that drove her insane at times, but in his forties, Albert had developed the most irritating habit of losing things, which was most uncharacteristic of him. Handkerchiefs were often lost, hats misplaced, and watches mislaid. The bad habit had reached such a height that Ruth had her husband followed sometimes just to remind him about small things. Had she not unwittingly embarked on that path, she would have never found out his secret.

When she had him followed, she had learned that her beloved Albert had become forgetful because he had given his heart away to someone else. Sweet Ruth was crest fallen to discover that her husband was capable of adultery. Her health deteriorated in spite of the ministrations of the several doctors her husband arranged for her.She was on the brink of death when Albert realized that it was his disloyalty that had caused her incurable sickness. He wept and asked for her forgiveness. She forgave him and then together they lived a long and wonderful life.

Seven years ago, a freak accident killed Albert leaving Ruth alone. Her grown-up son wanted her to sell their house in Darjeeling and shift into his urbane Mumbai condominium, but Ruth could not dream of leaving her beautiful Bungalow. By now, it had become her friend, her close confidant.

“It is such a big house and you are not getting any younger, how will you maintain it?”

Her son had a point, but Ruth was resourceful and found a way to keep her house. She turned it into a bed and breakfast. Her decision to make it “couples only” had intrigued her son and employees but, she stuck to her decision. “In our lifetime, we have so many responsibilities that we put aside our needs as a couple. This sanctuary will help them feel rejuvenated,” she explained.

Now seeing the arguing couple, she felt sad. “Poor dears,I should do something for them,” she said to her chimes that tinkled on peacefully, filling the air with a divine calmness.

                                                       _____________________

Rajdeep woke up with a dull headache the next morning. His first ever fight with Priya had left him feeling desolate. He had come to Darjeeling to forget his emotional wrangles with his wife but it had nevertheless followed him to the peaceful hill-station. His relationship with Priya had seemed easy and straightforward, something that gave him uncomplicated pleasure but lately, she had entered an unfortunate phase of moral judgment and that was ruining everything for them.

Priya on the other hand, felt remarkably fresh and calm this morning. Her bout of agonizing was over and a sunny disposition had peeped out of the gloomy clouds again. She took a hot shower and put on make-up. Rajdeep was awake but pretending to be asleep. He was still sulking about last night, she could tell. Priya tiptoed to him and looked at his even features. With his eyes closed, he looked even more handsome than usual. How could she be upset with such a lovely creature? Her lips spread in a smile as she ran her fingers through his tousled hair.

As his eyes fluttered open, she said softly, “Get up sleepy head, I have some fun planned for us today.”

Rajdeep reached for his pack of cigarettes and lit one.

“How are you feeling now?” He looked mildly apprehensive.

“Much better,” said Priya straightening her floral print sweater.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but if you are feeling uncomfortable, we can leave today.”

Priya blinked at him with a sheepish smile. “I am sorry for how I reacted last night.”

Rajdeep continued smoking his cigarette silently. Priyarested her head on his shoulder. “There is a nice tea estate nearby. Do you want to gothere?”

What Rajdeep really wanted was a cup of tea and not just any tea. He wanted what his wife made for him when he had a headache. She prepared a special concoction of tea, ginger and some other heady herbs. It cured his headache like nothing else could. For a fleeting moment, he also wanted to catch a glimpse of his wife’s face. She gave him so much grief with her constant surveillance and for the most part of his married life he secretly loathed her strict regime but this morning he yearned for her familiar presence.

                                                ___________________

As Priya came down the stairs she saw Ruth in a fleece pantsuit, arranging flowers in vases. Priya hoped that she would not initiate a conversation and much to her relief, Ruth dropped a polite good morning and turned back to her task.

Priya stepped out to explore the garden outside. The seasonal flowers were in full bloom filling the air with an unfamiliar but sweet smell. Last night’s mist had disappeared. The sunlight bathing the trees with its generosity seemed to have exorcized last night’s phantoms and doubts. Priya filled her lungs up with fresh hill air and walked in a circle around the house.

She found Dorje the bellboy, hammering away at a box in the shed behind the house. He looked different without his uniform, oddly disheveled and rather grim. He went about performing his task with a serious focus but as he caught her looking at him, his fierceness was replaced by a tentative smile. “Good morning,” he said pausing in his activity.

She nodded her head in acknowledgment, taking in the large number of boxes stacked on each other.

“What are these boxes for?”

“Ruth madam sometimes sends them off filled with fruits to friends and customers.”

“What kind of fruits?”

“Apples,Oranges and sometimes more exotic fruits like Plums and Cherries,” said Ruth handing Dorje a bowl of discarded stems and leaves. “Drop this in the compost hole,” she directed him. She had walked around the house with Rajdeep while Priya was talking to Dorje.

“I could pack you a box if you like,” she said turning towards Priya.

“That would not be necessary,” said Rajdeep a bit tightly.

Priya did not like Rajdeep’s tone. She threw him a sharp look and said to Ruth softly, “I will think about it and let you know.”

As they set off on their short hike towards the tea garden, Priya looked back at Ruth’s diligent housekeeping activities and smiled. “Why didn’t you take up her offer to pack us a box of fruits? That would be nice.”

“I thought you disliked her overfamiliarity.”

“She is old-fashioned,” said Priya still observing her.

“She is over the top, that is what she is! Shewas asking me if we can come for a glass of wine this evening. Who does so much forcustomers?”

“True. She is really nice.”

Rajdeep paused to glare at Priya. He did not understand her change of heart. Till last night she was complaining about how nosy Ruth was and now she was all smiles about it.

“She seems queer. A bit obsessive…and how she went on and on about her late husband last night,” Rajdeep complained.

Priya let out a sad sigh. “Just because we don’t talk about our spouses with much fondness, it does not mean that others would have to be bitter about their partners.”

“I don’t feel bitter towards my wife. I don’t know why you assumed that. She has her problems but she is sincere in what she does.”

“You never really talk about her.”

“No, I don’t. Nor do you talk about your husband. How is he like?”

“He is simple. He is someone who is content with how things are around him.”

Priya had turned a bit reflective ever since she had arrived in Darjeeling. She was always practical and sorted about what she wanted and did. So, why was she getting all soppy,suddenly? The greenery and the hills around her were so tranquil, the mist hugging her so sincere, and Darjeeling air was so pure, so clean that the only entity that looked adulterated was she herself and of course her lies. She felt a wave of anger for Rajdeep and herself pulsate through her chest.

“If you are not bitter about your wife, then what are you doing here?”

She caught a flicker of guilt pass over Rajdeep’s features. “I don’t know if I can explain. It’s not really her fault. After you have children, things change. It becomes so much about them and about doing the right things that it takes a toll…”

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t have children.”

Rajdeep raised his eyebrows to that.

“I can’t have children. After the third failed IVF, I gave up.”

There were a lot of things they didn’t know about each other, and perhaps that was deliberately so. A small sacrifice to keep a certain amount of mystery and excitement alive between them for familiarity almost always bred contempt.

They reached the estate right in time to see the tea leaf plucking. They had to watch it from a distance for that was the estate rule for visitors, but later they got to taste the prized, floral smelling tea the estate was famous for in their brightly lit canteen. By the end of the guided tour of the delightful tea estate, Priya and Rajdeep were smiling at each other, touching one another’s hands flirtatiously again but their afternoon outdoor adventure was cut short by another spell of shower. They had forgotten to take the umbrellas from their room and were drenched by the time they returned to Ruth’s Retreat.

Dorje sat at the foyer reading a newspaper, again looking neat and clean in his uniform. He stopped Rajdeep as they were running up the stairs.

“Sir, you left your wallet in the room,” he said with a smile.

“Oh!” Rajdeep touched his pocket.

Priya rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t have noticed. I paid for the tea at the estate, remember?”

                                                  _______________

The afternoon spent outside had revived Priya’s energy and appetite for Rajdeep, and that made her turn to him with such exuberance that Rajdeep forgot all about missing his wife and her perfect cup of tea. It appropriately fueled his lust for her as well and created a cocoon around them that had immunity from families, responsibilities, and duties. Moments trickled by languorously stretching their arms and legs and taking their own sweet time to spend themselves.

Later in the evening, satedat last,Priya reached out to her cell phone on the nightstand but instead, knocked over Rajdeep’s wallet. As she picked it up she saw a few items sticking out of it. The usual. Credit, debit, ID,an old bill and then she saw his family picture. His two children looked so much like him, thought Priya as she took in his wife’s profile. It was a serious face that didn’t smile too often it seemed. She walked to the adjoining balcony where the cute wicker chair beckoned her to take a seat. She took a quick look at Rajdeep’s sleeping form and sank back into the depths of her thoughts.

Priya’s bond with her husband had loosened in the last few years. He was still the gentle, loving partner but a part of her soul had shriveled and died with the demise of the hope of becoming a mother. She had inched away from her home and hearth little by little and immersed herself in her work. Her workplace with time became her place of refuge and she focused singularly on winning promotions and rising up in her career. It is at a work seminar that she had met Rajdeep.

He had looked at her with such visceral abandon and longing that she was almost offended but later, in the privacy of her room she had smiled at his audacity. It was delightful to be thought of as someone desirable after such a long time, and not just as a work-machine or a “poor thing who cannot have children”. They had met again the day after and this time she had indulged his impudence with unguarded brazenness and ended up enjoying his company. She deserved to be desired, she deserved to be touched as much as she wanted to touch. She welcomed Rajdeep with a sense of purpose. Her relationship with him was very basic and clearly defined, but now sitting in this rain-washed balcony she was not sure about what she was doing anymore. Was she really as sorted she thought she was or was there a scary mess hiding in her repressed psychological crevices? Why was she doing this? Who was she really cheating?

Rajdeep twisted his torso and curled out of his nap to find Priya sitting listlessly in the balcony. There was a frozen torment written all over her face, that seemed too personal to break into unannounced. His wallet lay open on the nightstand with a tiny photograph sticking out. As Rajdeep pushed the picture back into a flap, he remembered about his older son’s upcoming birthday. He had demanded an impossibly expensive theme party and his wife had advised him not to give in to his wishes for he was getting a bit too willful these days. Rajdeep had defended his son and said that he was just being influenced by his classmates. 

“This is exactly what happens when you admit your son to a posh private school,” his mother had grumbled and his wife had reacted with a sullen face to that.

Rajdeep was tired of his family tussles. He was a caring man who took on more and more tasks upon himself to help everyone around him, but the more he showed consideration the more he got taken for granted and the tighter stretched he felt. Rajdeep’s life was taken over by repetitive duties and tasks and had reached a point when he went through the motions just because he was supposed to, perhaps because his mother had brought him up to do the right things in life. Everything felt like a drill, nothing was enchanting or interesting anymore. He had forgotten what he had last done to make himself happy. He was almost drowning in a pool of blandness when he had met Priya.

Yes, she was attractive with her make-up and well-tended appearance but that was not uncommon in the corporate sector. Everyone looked well-groomed and sharp as a tack. So,it was not just her physicality that had attracted him, it was her sad set of eyes. She bore a look of a person who is busy yet rather lonely. He knew that look too well. It was exactly the kind of look he had caught lately in his mirror reflection.

                                                         ______________________

Ruth kept watchful eyes on Priya and Rajdeep that evening when they had gathered with the rest of her lodgers. They seemed much more relaxed than last night, she noted. They smiled and lingered on, sipping wine and munching on the finger food.

Priya moved towards Ruth with a soft smile on her lips. “Thank you so much for the lovely arrangement. I really enjoyed our stay here. I thought I will tell you how much I appreciate it just in case I don’t get to say bye to you tomorrow.We leave early.”

Ruth smiled back gracefully.

“But there is one request I would like to make. Could we take a box of fruits from you?”

“Of course. Let me quickly put in your order,” said Ruth and asked for Priya’s credit card.

“Dorje has set up an online account where I would have to put in your information. Sorry for the trouble.”

“No problem at all.”

“I will be back with your card and the bill shortly.”

Ruth shuffled up to her room to get Priya’s order ready.

                                                         ______________________

Next morning as Rajdeep backed the rented car out of the driveway, Dorje and Ruth stood waiting for them with the box of fruits.

“The fruits are delicate. It would be better if you carry them on your back seat instead of placing them in the hood,” advised Ruth.

As Ruth and Dorje watched the car ribboning across the hill, descending towards the valley below, Ruth asked, “Did you include the more exotic fruits in the box?”

Dorje did not respond except nodding his head.

“I hope you didn’t nail the box too tight. The fruits need to breathe.”

“This is not the first time I have packed a box. It was prepared the way it should be.”

Ruth looked carefully at Dorje’s slanting eyes. It was difficult to judge what he really felt because of his unreadable mask-like mien.

“What we do here at Ruth’s Retreat is more than just housing lodgers. We give them an experience they can remember and at times even learn from.” Her spiel sounded practiced, something she had repeated to her staff again and again.

“But some do not remember, nor learn, do they?” said Dorje in a low voice.

“Yes. Some of them never change. They remain liars and cheaters forever,” said Ruth her voice cracking under strain.

Dorje took her frail hands in his. “That is okay. It is their choice, not ours.”

                                                       ____________________

Ruth stood staring at Albert’s picture on the wall next to her bed. She had loved him so much all her life. So, why wasn’t her love enough for him? Why did he need more from another woman? If only her Albert had not cheated her again, he would be alive and with her today. Eight years ago, she had discovered much to her dismay that Albert had never given up seeing the other woman. He had just taken extra care to hide it. The tea estate club meetings she thought he was attending, the charity organization that he said he had joined requiring him to travel, were all elaborate lies to deceive her. She got to know about it this time when his lover’s son came to talk to her.

Dorje was just sixteen back then. He did not know how to break the cycle of mistrust except telling Ruth about it. Dorje’s bland unemotional face had masked the depth of his anguish but his voice held pain and it had also sounded determined. “My father killed himself. He could not tolerate her disloyalty and now I…have nothing else left in my life.”

Ruth’s heart had shattered once again as she heard all that the boy had to say but along with that there grew a hard resolve in her this time. She decided to step beyond the limit of morality, outside the range of right and wrong and clean up her house in her own way, once and for all. She did not deserve to be treated unfairly repeatedly.

Ruth had planned carefully like she planned everything else, with precision and watchfulness. When Albert died of a snakebite no one was suspicious of her. She was not even present in Darjeeling that night. Dorje’s mother was heartbroken after her lover passed away and died soon after in an equally mysterious way.

                                                ___________________

Rajdeep threw a quick glance at Priya. “You were right. There was something suffocating about the place.”

Priya looked at Rajdeep and a faint frown spread across her face. “I don’t think the place was wrong, it was actuallyquite all right, so pure and pristine, but we were the wrong kind of people for it.”

Rajdeep read the sentiment under her loaded words and fell quiet. Suddenly, he wanted to get away from Darjeeling as fast as he could. He pressed on the gas pedal and the car gathered speed taking a jerky turn around a sharp corner.

The car shook up, surprisingPriya.

“What are you doing? These hilly paths are tricky. Please don’t take such reckless turns!”

The box behind them had been rattled as well.

“I hope the fruits have not fallen out of the box,” said Priya looking back in concern but, what she saw choked her words and made her tug at Rajdeep’s arm insistently.

Shortly after the car swerved off a cliff. It tumbled down the steep overhang and hit the ground, bursting into flames.

                                                  ___________________

Dorje walked slowly to the shed. Like Ruth, he had not slept a wink last night. He lit a cigarette, a new habit he had picked up to calm his nerves and thought back to the events the day before. The maid had handed him the wallet that she had found in Rajdeep’s room and he had taken it to Ruth. She had gone through the wallet one item at a time, found the family photograph and showed it to Dorje.

“He has a nice family,” he had commented. “But Priya does not seem to be a part of it.”

“I had a feeling that they lied to me.” Ruth had nodded at him, her face darkening.

Dorjehad peered at the photograph carefully. “Maybe this is his ex-wife?”

“I don’t think so.”

That evening when Priya handed her credit card to Ruth, Dorje did an internet search on the two and found out all they needed to.

Ruth’s sadness had immediately returned to her, a sense of betrayal filling her soul’s hollow cavern with sharp, broken glass pieces crushing against each other. Dorje comprehended how she felt for he felt the same. He knew by then that he had to do once more what he had done seven years ago to Albert and his mother.

Dorje went deep into the shed and unlocked a door at the back. Hissing sounds emanated from the big cage behind it. It was full of snakes, all kinds, some striped, some black as the night. He had inserted one of them–an exotic Krait in Priya’s box of fruits.


About the Author Having spent her childhood in a civil servant family surrounded by voracious readers, Sreya nurtured a wish to write from an early age. She did her undergraduate studies in Political Science from Kolkata’s Presidency College and post-graduation from JNU, New Delhi. After her second Masters in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked in U.S. think tanks and published non-fiction articles and op-eds for newspapers. More recently she has penned short stories that have been published in print and e-magazines in India and the U.S. Sreya currently lives in Boston with her husband and eight-year-old son. 

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