by Shirani Rajapakse
Padmini couldn’t contain her happiness. She
walked around the house a new woman. It was as if everything she had ever wanted and dreamed of had suddenly come true for
her. She was desperately happy. Padmini had never been so happy in her entire life. She couldn’t remember a time when
she had felt so light, so free. Everything was working out fine for her and she smiled to herself as she hummed an old tune.
Padmini was going to England. She who had never set
foot outside the country was going to take an eight hour flight to a strange place. Of course, she had heard lots about England.
Why, practically everyone seemed to have been there or was planning on going there at some point of their lives. But for Padmini it had only been a dream, a kind of dream that would always remain as a dream. That is,
until a few months ago. And she wasn’t going there alone as most of the young people were doing. She was going there
to live with her husband, the professor.
Her husband. It sounded so strange and new. She whispered
the two words to herself as she went about the chores at her home.
“My husband,” she said, a slow smile
hovering at the corners of her lips as she whispered the words.
Padmini had never imagined she would get married.
She had thought she would die an old maid as the astrologer had predicted. But she had always been hopeful. And then as if
by some strange and unexplainable divine intervention her prayers had been answered. She had found a man. Not just another
ordinary man but an educated man. A doctor and a professor.
Piyal had arrived four days before the wedding as
he had said he would. Padmini had been a little worried that he might not turn up after all the arrangements she had made;
bought a new saree, new jewelry, ordered the cake, and all the other things required for a wedding. There were many people
that made promises they would come but would not arrive, leaving the girl to face the shame of it all. She had heard it had
happened to a girl in the other village. The girl had been so embarrassed that she had jumped into a well and killed herself
rather than face the people. They had found her floating in the water, still dressed in her wedding saree, veil and all. Padmini
had been nervous and worried. What would she do if he didn’t turn up? She wondered to herself, biting her nails to oblivion.
Would she have the courage to jump into a well like the girl in the other village or would she be forced to spend the rest
of her days like a Miss Havisham? The thoughts she had made her shudder.
But she really had nothing to be afraid of.
Piyal had kept his word. They had married two weeks ago and although Padmini would have liked to remain for a while longer,
Piyal needed to return to his work. He was after all a professor at an important university in England and needed to return
to his work as soon as possible. Or so he had made her believe. And Padmini had believed him. After all there was no reason
to doubt him.
“Most people even here don’t get so much
leave,” she said to her parents.
They had nodded and accepted. Piyal had taken almost
three weeks leave and that was quite a lot of time off work.
“They must want him to return soon,”
her mother had said simply.
“Yes, three weeks is a long time to be away
from work, especially for such a busy person,” Padmini had said, smiling.
Padmini would have liked to have spent a few more
days with her family before leaving but it was not to be. Piyal wanted her to accompany him. He didn’t want her to travel
alone in the plane to a strange new land. It would be better if she returned with him. Immigration might also ask strange
questions and it would be best he was there with her if things got too sticky. Padmini had hastily packed her things and was
ready to leave by the end of the week.
Everyone in her office had been surprised that Padmini
had found such a man. It didn’t matter that he was ten years her senior, he was a doctor and a professor and worked
in a large hospital in London. He was also supposed to teach at a university. Some of the other girls had been envious of
Padmini, a mere village girl who had only passed her Advanced Levels and had not even gone to university. She was lucky. What
a catch. They had hidden their envy behind smiles and pretended they didn’t really care. But some of them were really
smarting. Thanuja in particular felt it was a slight on her. She had been applying to all the prospective proposals in the
marriage column of the weekly newspapers but had not been able to get a man as yet. The few men that had bothered to reply
to Thanuja’s letters were dull and boring; none of the men living abroad had replied. She could have sworn she had replied
to Piyal’s application but he had not bothered with her, choosing instead the uneducated village girl Padmini over her.
Thanuja just couldn’t believe her misfortune. Here she was, the most qualified girl in the office and not one of the
marriage proposals ever seemed to work out for her. She felt insulted and slighted.
But all the people had not been so envious. They
had been rather cautious. Did anyone know anything about this man? Someone had asked Padmini, but she had assured them he
was the real thing.
“He’s alright,” she had smiled.
“We have been exchanging letters for quite some time and I think he is genuine,” she added.
“You have not spoken to him?” Minoli
asked sounding worried.
“I only spoke to him once,” Padmini said.
“Telephone calls are so expensive.”
“Yes, but I’m sure he could have gone
on Skype,” Minoli said.
Padmini had looked doubtful and had not answered.
“Is he on any social network?” Neluka
“I don’t think so,” Padmini said
“Not on a social network?” Tharindu had
exclaimed. “What kind of century does he live in?”
“He’s a professor and he told me he wasn’t
too keen on the social networks,” Padmini said adding hastily, “he has no time for it.”
Her colleagues had looked strangely at her but had
not ventured further with that topic. Neluka made a mental note to do a Google search on the man when she had the time.
“My parents are happy with it,” Padmini
said, smiling at them.
“Your parents met him at the same time you
did,” Neluka said rather sternly.
“Yes, but they met his parents and thought
they were a good family,” Padmini said.
“And that was it?” Tharindu asked incredulous.“You
agreed to the marriage just because your parents seemed to think his parents were alright?”
Padmini shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She didn’t
like the way they were questioning her. Who were they to ask her all these questions? What did they know about living in a
village and not being married after a certain age?
“You should check him out before you agree
to such a thing,” Minoli had said, but Padmini had brushed it off as ridiculous.
“He works in a big hospital in London,”
she had said and shown Minoli the address of the hospital Piyal had sent their family.
Her colleagues at work had continued to be worried
“How will someone like that manage in London?”
Sunil asked when they were having lunch one day.
Minoli shrugged her shoulders.
“I can’t picture someone like Padmini
living in London let alone going there,” Minoli replied.
“Is he really a doctor?” Tharindu asked.
“She says he is,” Nekuka added.
“What sort of a doctor?” Sunil asked.
“What do you mean what sort of a doctor? How
many sorts are there?” Kamani asked.
“Why, Kamini there are human doctors and dog
doctors and rat doctors … didn’t you know?” Sunil replied.
“Oh, keep quiet. He’s supposed to be
a normal human doctor. At least that’s what Padmini said,” Minoli replied.
“He’s also supposed to be a professor.
That was what she said too,” Tharindu added.
They never got to speak to her after that as Padmini
took leave a week before the wedding. She had to do everything. Her sister and brother helped but there was still a lot of
work. There were the bouquets, the photographer, everything had to be ordered and paid for and she had used all the money
she had saved up. It was a good thing she would be leaving soon because she didn’t have any money left for anything
else. Piyal had bought the ticket and had paid for some things but the major portion was hers.
The wedding took place at Padmini’s home in
the village. Their house wasn’t large and they had to build a shed in the garden for the guests to sit under. Someone
had made table decorations with sprigs of bright yellow and red bougainvillea. Balloons were tied to the pillars of the shed.
Everything looked very festive. Padmini looked radiant. Dressed in an off white saree draped in the osari style she wore the
traditional jewelry, borrowed from the bridal shop. Her bouquet was pink lotus. She looked happy, and she was happy.
Many of her colleagues had attended, despite the
distance from the city to Padmini’s remote village. They were all curious to meet the distinguished doctor professor
from London. They didn’t find anything amiss. He seemed to be alright, although he did look much older than the thirty
five years he claimed to be.
“Padmini’s father looks younger,”
“Maybe the long hours of working in London
aged him,” Sunil said acidly provoking a hard stare from Kamini to keep quiet.
“He’s also balding,” Tharindu commented.
“Who dressed Padmini?” Neluka wanted
“No idea. Maybe someone from the village. Why?”
“Whoever it was has gone to town with the foundation,”
“Yes I thought Padmini looked rather white
and scary. Almost like a ghost,” Sunil said adding, “but I thought it was the way she was feeling. You know, scared
and shocked at the sight of the old guy.”
“Oh keep quiet, you,” Neluka said suppressing
a smile. “Someone might hear you.”
“Who cares?” Sunil said glancing around
to see if anyone at the other table was listening. “They must also be wondering what happened to Padmini’s face,”
in the world did they apply so much foundation?” Neluka asked staring at Padmini seated on the bridal couch with Piyal.
they thought she was too dark and wanted to lighten her a little,” Sunil commented.
“But so much?”
“Maybe the makeup artiste thought that Piyal
might be upset that Padmini wasn’t fair like the English girls,” he added.
“Well, if he wanted a fair girl he should have
married an English girl,” Minoli retorted.
“Maybe none of the English girls wanted to
marry an old hat like Piyal,” Sunil said dryly.
“Boy, but he does look old, doesn’t he?”
“Very old. Do you think he’s the same
age as her father?” Tharindu asked.
“No, not that old. She said he was ten years
older,” Minoli said.
“Ten years older than her father?” Tharindu
“No, you silly, ten years older than Padmini,”
“I wanted to Google him, but I forgot,”
Neluka said staring ahead.
“I did, but there was nothing on Piyal Ranawaka.
No doctor or professor by that name anywhere in the world,” Tharindu said.
“Nothing?” Neluka looked worried.
“No nothing,” Tharindu emphasized.
“That’s strange,” Minoli said slowly.
“Maybe he just isn’t listed anywhere,”
Tharindu said, not caring anymore.
“But how can that be? Everyone is listed somewhere.
And he lives in London. And he’s a doctor. Where can he possibly hide?” Minoli asked looking worried.
“Maybe he’s a boring old doctor that
no one wants to know about,” Sunil grinned.
“Maybe even his students are ashamed to friend
him on any network,” Tharindu added.
“Yes, looking at him I quite agree with what
you say,” Sunil said his grin widening.
“But if he’s a professor shouldn’t
he have written any papers?” Neluka asked.
“Maybe he bought his professorship at some
club,” Sunil commented.
“Oh stop being silly,” Minoli scowled
Two months after going to London Padminire turned.
She turned up at the office one day with tears in her eyes.
“Can I have my job back?” she sobbed
sitting at Minoli’s table.
Minoli stared at Neluka and turned back to Padmini.
“Why, what happened?” she asked. “Didn’t
you like it in London?” she asked gently, wondering if the English weather or something there had been too much for
“What happened, didn’t the people there
treat you well?” Tharindu asked.
The others in the office heard she had returned and
came rushing to Minoli’s room to see her. They hovered around wondering what had brought Padmini back so soon.
“What, back so soon?” Sunil asked, “Does
our professor Piyal have a girlfriend stashed up somewhere?”
This made Padmini cry louder. Minoli scowled at Sunil.
“Shut up, leave her alone,” she said
turning on Sunil.
“Alright, alright, I was just joking,”
he said raising his hands as if to defend himself from Minoli’s wrath. “But these things do happen to most girls.
The men want their English girlfriend and a traditional wife from here as well. They want to have their cake and eat it.”
Padmini stopped crying and stared at him.
“Yes, I have heard stories like that,”
she sniffed. “But he didn’t have anyone. There was no such thing like that.”
“Then what was it? Why did you come back?”Minoli
“He lied to me. To all of us,”
she said fresh tears coming to her eyes.
“He lied to you?” Minoli asked. “How?”
Padmini continued to sob softly. After awhile she
stopped and wiped her eyes with her handkerchief.
“He wasn’t really a doctor,” she
sighed not bothering to look at anyone, “not a professor either.”
Her colleagues stared at each other puzzled.
“But I thought you said he was,” Kamini
“Yes I did,” she said and tears well
up in her eyes at the memory.
“Then what?” Neluka asked.
“He’s no doctor. He digs graves,”
Padmini replied angrily and wiped her eyes. “How do I get out this mess?” she asked lifting her eyes to her colleagues
and looking defiant.
Shirani Rajapakse is a poet, playwright and fiction writer
of Sri Lankan origin. Breaking News, her debut collection of short stories, was published in April 2011 by Vijitha
Yapa Publications Sri Lanka. Breaking News was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize 2010. Shirani has a BA in English
Literature from the University of Kelaniya Sri Lanka and a MA in International Relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University,
India. She worked at the Sunday Times and Daily
Mirror Sri Lanka and in international organizations including the World Bank and Commonwealth Secretariat.