For Valentines Day, Written Words presents an excerpt from the opening of Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s award-winning Love Comes Later.
This novel won Best Indie Book, Romance, 2013; was a Finalist in the Romance Festival New Talent Award in 2012 Best Novel; and a Finalist in the 2013 eFestival of Words.
They returned from the funeral to gather at the home of the grieving parents for the ’azaa, the receiving of condolences. Abdulla rode in the back seat of the Land Cruiser, his father at the wheel, his cousins and brothers messaging friends on various applications. For him there was no sharing of grief. This was his burden to bear alone.
He was the last to climb out of the car, but the first to see Luluwa hunched on the marble steps of Uncle Ahmed’s entryway. The lines around her mouth, pulling it downward, aging her face, drew his attention; the stooped shoulders spoke of a burden heavier than grief for her sister. His mother saw it at the same time and hurried over to the girl, concerned.
“Yalla, what is it?” she said, pulling her up.
Luluwa shook her head.
“Go inside, habibti,” said Abdulla’s mother, but Luluwa shook free and drew back, panic in her wide eyes. Abdulla’s mother turned her face back to the men. Then they heard the shouting.
“When? When did this all start?” Hessa’s voice screamed, raw and startling, from inside the open door. “Leave this house.”
The family halted in their tracks, exchanging uncertain glances.
Ahmed emerged, looking shaken but defiant, a weekender bag in one hand. Abdulla’s father, the eldest of the brothers, stepped forward and took him by the arm.
“Everyone is upset,” he whispered harshly. He was trying to lead him back inside, as his wife had done a moment ago with Luluwa, when Hessa burst forward into view, her face aflame with indignation.
“Tell them,” she spat at her husband. “Tell them now, so when you don’t come back here everyone will know why.”
The words made no sense to Abdulla. His first thought was to speak up and still the voices. He had already forgiven Ahmed in his mind. The accident hadn’t been his fault. “There’s no reason to throw him out,” he called out, half-climbing the steps. “It was my fault, not his. I should have been driving them.”
Hessa turned towards him and laughed in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Who needs to throw him out when he’s leaving?” she said. “Leaving his daughter to a house with no man to look after her. She might as well have died with her sister.”
“Yuba, no,” Luluwa cried, moving toward her father, but her mother grabbed a fistful of her abaya and spun the girl around by the shoulders.
Abdulla’s mind whirred to compute what they were witnessing. A sudden white-hot rage stiffened his spine. His gaze narrowed on Ahmed. So the rumors were true, he thought.
“He doesn’t want me and so he doesn’t want you,” Hessa hissed, nose to nose with her daughter.
The family froze in the entryway as understanding sluiced them like rainwater. Ahmed stood for a moment in the glare of their stares. He shifted the weekender bag into his opposite hand.
Saoud, the middle brother, stepped forward to question Ahmed, the baby of the family, but Hessa wasn’t finished yet. “Go,” she screamed at her husband. “You’ll never set foot in any house with me in it ever again.” She collapsed onto the floor, her abaya billowing up around her like a mushroom, obscuring her face.
Saoud moved quickly to stand in front of his brother as his wife helped Hessa up. “Think of your daughter,” she added pointedly. “The one that’s still alive.”
Abdulla brought Luluwa forward. Her face was tear-streaked and her body trembling so hard it was causing his hand to shake.
“Keep her, if you want,” Ahmed said, his glance flickering over Luluwa’s bent head. “My new wife will give me many sons.” He sidestepped Mohammed and Saoud, continuing on down the stairs towards his car.
The look Hessa gave Luluwa was filled with loathing. She dissolved into another flood of tears.
The girl darted inside. Abdulla followed as his parents tried to deal with the aftermath of his uncle’s leaving. His aunt looked as though she might faint. His cousins’ faces were ashen.
Mohammed and Saoud murmured in low voices about the best way to deal with their brother’s child. She couldn’t live in a house with boys; one of those boys, her cousins, might one day be her husband.
He followed Luluwa’s wailings, sounds without any force, the bleating of a cat, like one of any number roaming the streets of the city. Without a male family member to look after her, she would be as abandoned as those animals. And, in the eyes of their society, as susceptible to straying. He found her on the sofa, typing away on her laptop, and hoped she wasn’t posting their family’s mess on the internet. Wedged next to her hip was an opaque paper bag stamped with their grandfather’s name, the white tops of a few pill bottles visible.
Abdulla came and sat on the sofa next to her, unsure of what to do next. He was assaulted by her screensaver, a photo of Fatima and Luluwa on the evening of the wedding reception. He hadn’t yet arrived with the male relatives; the bride and the rest of the women were still celebrating without hijab. His wife’s eyes stared back at him even as her sister’s now poured tears that showed no sign of stopping.
With trembling hands Luluwa wrenched open the bag of medicine and dug around for pills. She let the laptop slip and he caught it before it hit the floor. As he righted it, the heading of the minimized Google tab caught his attention: suicide. For one moment he allowed himself to admit that the idea she was apparently contemplating had begun to dance at the edge of his own mind.
“Don’t,” he said. “What will we do if both of you are gone?” He put the laptop aside and, as if calming a wild colt, reached out slowly, deliberately, to take the bottle from her shaking hands. With little effort he wrenched it from her, and with it any remaining shred of strength. She dissolved into incoherent sobs, a raging reminder of what it meant to be alive, to be the one left behind.
Abdulla folded her into his arms, this slip of a girl who used to hide his car keys so that her weekend visits with her sister and brother-in-law wouldn’t have to end, this girl who had already lost so much, a sister and now a father and mother. Instead of shriveling into himself, as he had felt like doing from the moment he saw his family in mourning, Abdulla’s heart went out to Luluwa. He murmured reassurances, trying to reverse the mirror of his own loss that he saw reflected in her eyes.
“We can do this,” he said. “She would want us to.”
She pulled away to look at him.
“Together,” he said. From deep in his own grief he recognized the despair that would haunt him for years, and made a pledge to keep the decay he felt growing inside him from tainting someone so young. He would bear the guilt. It was his alone to bear.
He would speak to his father. If nothing else, perhaps Luluwa might gain a new brother, and he a little sister. Small comfort, but tied together in the knowledge of the loved one they had lost, a bond that might see them through what was to come.
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to a full time passion. She has since published seven e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me, a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories, and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace.
Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life, the day to day dynamics between housemaids and their employers.
Since joining the e-book revolution, Mohana has dreamed in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website or follow her latest on Twitter @moha_doha, on Facebook, Youtube or Pinterest.
You can find Love Comes Later on Amazon and visit Mohana’s Amazon Author Page. Also, visit her Author page on Best Selling Reads.