Short Fiction ~ Aneeta Sundararaj
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 17
Two husbands? Before thirty?
These were my thoughts every time the waves hit the shore when I couldn’t sleep in my sea-facing studio suite at the Holiday Villa. When I arrived in Cherating two weeks ago, I had it in mind to inform anyone who enquired as to my whereabouts that I was on a photography assignment for the papers.
Not a soul bothered.
In truth, I was running away from my second husband, the OB/GYN Edwin, and my first, the medico-legal lawyer Vikram.
On day sixteen, when the hotel’s capacity was at ninety-eight per cent, a waiter asked if wouldn’t mind sharing my space with another. More statement than question, I nodded in agreement.
Man, was Anand chatty! Running his hand through a mop of shoulder-length curls that hadn’t seen a barber’s pair of scissors for months, this medical student shared that he was violently in love. Unfortunately, the young woman’s parents objected to this romance because he was of a different race and religion. He’d retrieved his father’s supplementary Platinum credit card and booked a room at the hotel ‘to think things through’.
Since I simply stared at him, he further explained, “People are not nice unless you have a title to your name. I must get that doctor title, no?” He lifted his chin that bit higher.
This was teetering on deep – exactly the kind of conversation that I was desperate to avoid. I smiled, called for the bill and retreated to the sanctuary that was my room.
Even though Vikram and I had both qualified as law graduates, he loved legal practice and soon stood out for successfully pleading obscure legalese on a regular basis. I lacked a similar mental stamina and pursued a hitherto unsuccessful career as a writer, instead.
Shortly after our fifth wedding anniversary, I joined Vikram for a five-day medico-legal conference in Kuala Lumpur. On the second morning, tempted by the breakfast buffet spread of the luxurious Istana Hotel, I was deciding whether or not to abandon my resolve to be vegan when I sensed someone staring at me. Reciprocate I did, but I stared at the man in awe. He said his name was Edwin and asked to join me. I nodded.
On the final morning, there was a rushed air about our breakfast. Unsurprisingly, there was a collision of crockery. Since he had to present a lecture pronto, I hurried Edwin into my hotel room to clean up the mess. He pulled my arm, I turned into his chest and in seconds, I committed adultery.
You see, this was no affair for that implied that there was a continuity in what we were doing. At least that’s what I told myself. In fact, the very night we returned home, I made sure to fulfil my wifely duties with such vigour that Vikram was astonished.
A month later, I received a WhatsApp message from Edwin: ‘When can we meet?’ I didn’t reply. Instead, I confessed everything to Vikram.
“Okay, Lola. You go now,” he said. “But we are meant to be.” He kissed my forehead and walked out of the master bedroom of the single storey home we’d built together.
I married Edwin out of a sense of propriety three weeks after my divorce from Vikram came through. One year to the day, I checked into the hotel in Cherating. Two months, three weeks and three days later, I received a WhatsApp message with an attached PDF file duly notifying me that Edwin was initiating divorce proceedings on the grounds of that catch all phrase, ‘irreconcilable differences’.
It was time to stop existing and start living. I accepted the guilt that came with the knowledge that I’d compromised my own principles. No amount of solitude could erase the fact that I’d let something that should never have happened get so out of hand.
I wrote to Vikram and asked him to forgive me. He replied, within the minute to say: I will always love you. We agreed to meet in Kuala Terengganu a week later. A city at the north eastern tip of the peninsula, it was unfamiliar to both of us and, therefore, the perfect way to start all over again.
The evening before I left, Anand became both my tour guide and driver. We’d crossed state borders and came to the one-street, seaside town of Chukai.
“Think about it,” I said to Anand, “Chukai can be cukai¸ no? The Malay word for tax on traffic that passed through here. It could even have been part of the trans-land trade route between China and India once upon a time.”
“Suppose so,” with the same kind of interest that an aged dog shows a gregarious puppy. “Speaking of China,” he said, pivoting the conversation to his favourite topic, “I cannot bear to watch Kylie sleeping, you know. It’s such a solitary act, one which I can never be a part of. For at least one third of our lives, we’ll have to be apart.”
I stared straight ahead. In that moment, I felt that the only appropriate response would be to strangle him for his innocence.
How lucky he was, this Anand. Love was simple to him. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy waits for girl, they marry and live happily ever after. I met boy one, married him, divorced him, met boy two, married boy two, now being divorced by boy two, returning to boy one, and no longer believing in the myth of happily ever after.
I turned to look at Anand just as he handed me a crumpled paper and said, “It’s for Kylie, but you can have it.”
In neat penmanship, so unlike a doctor-to-be, he’d written:
As the day turns into night, it hits me that we will always be as close as two people can ever be. I think of you with every breath I take. This is a beautiful moment.
Aneeta Sundararaj is an award-winning writer. She trained and practised as a lawyer before deciding to pursue her dream of writing. Her writing has appeared in many magazines, ezines and journals and, to date, she’s worked on some 13 book projects. Aneeta has contributed more than 250 feature articles to a national newspaper. Her most recent and bestselling novel, The Age of Smiling Secrets was shortlisted for the Anugerah Buku 2020 organised by the National Library of Malaysia. In the past, stories about the real-life Ladoo, Aneeta’s much-loved dachshund, were compiled into a collection called ‘Ladoo Dog: Tales of a Sweet Dachshund’. Throughout, Aneeta continued to pursue her academic interests and, in 2021, successfully completed a doctoral thesis entitled ‘Management of Prosperity Among Artistes in Malaysia’.