Mridula Koshy makes her debut as a novelist with Not Only The Things That Have Happened. In this exclusive excerpt, Koshy tells the story of Saramma as she returns to her family after living as the sexual keep of a wealthy man
Saramma John Verghese hurries to pack. She has been living in the Young Master’s shed for ten months now. Leaving it weekly for the long walk home, arriving in Cochin past midday, a stay overnight with the children, and then the walk back in the early hours of the next morning. Saramma will do this no more. She is packing to leave this shed, to return to her daughter.
She bundles her clothes. Stands still as she works something out to herself. Then she hurries with the bundle to the garbage pit. In the dark, she stumbles at its edge, changes her mind and hurries back to the shed. She will leave the clothes in the shed after all. Perhaps the labourers, when they discover her gone, will make use of her clothes. More likely they will shun the clothes as they have shunned her. Or burn the clothes in the pit. She shrugs. Why, they might have happily burnt her in the pit. Well, it makes no difference to her now. She is leaving.
She knows what they say: prostitute from the city. Even that she is the devil, and Young Master’s sold himself to the devil. Only once did she forget to tidy away her basket of clothes and cooking vessels in the shed where the Young Master housed her. She’d left as she did every morning to make way for his labourers. She returned in the afternoon to basket and contents trampled, torn, crushed, spat upon and left in the centre of the shed for her to find. That’s how the powerless behave. She was free and they were not. Why begrudge them the expression of their frustration?
Chinks of light peep in from between the boards that make up the walls of the shed. Nearly morning. She must hurry.
And it wasn’t that they shunned her so much as they feared her. So afraid, they pretended she wasn’t there. And this perfectly mirrored her sense of herself.
Altogether, non-existence has pleased her. Days of the most exhilarating loneliness. And nights, the Young Master came to her shed, ensuring more such days were hers to have.
She unwraps the bundle she had meant for the pit and begins arranging the items within. Will they trample these today or will they understand her gesture? Her presence was a humiliation to the fathers and young husbands among the labourers. They should have been grateful instead. The nights he had failed to come had frightened her. She, and they — the husbands and fathers — they were united, those nights, by their helplessness. Weren’t they?
Saramma shakes her head in anger. Why is she thinking of the nights Young Master found his way to others? She tries to return to the memory of the afternoons she spent wandering this land, the ecstasy of freedom from want and obligation. It had come to her in those wanderings that no one in any of the stories she had ever heard as a child, certainly not the biblical ones, no one in her childhood home nor in her adult life, certainly not Jose, who gave up his belief in the solidarity of workers to replace it with a drunken confusion of guilt toward his family, no one has lived the life she lives — freed from living for others.
She is free to leave this shed and the man who kept her in it. And the daughters of the men who toil on this land, those young girls who are not free, as their parents are not free, they will have to once again resume their nightly services to him.
And her clothes she will leave because it is inconceivable that Jose should ever smell him on her. Or that she should smell him while with Jose. Yes, that is why she is discarding these clothes. A fresh change of clothes, purchased just for this departure. She knows how to do these things. The change of clothes has been with her for three months now.
And the four sets she is leaving behind — she cannot throw them in the heap that lies smouldering behind the shed. Burn them? No, some girl must wear them. And when the Young Master finds his way to that girl, as he surely will, then he will remember Saramma.
Not Only The Things That Have Happened (Harper Collins India) by Mridula Koshy will be out in November.