“It was a heart attack,” she told Monica that evening. “Poor thing died of a heart attack.”
“Oh no,” said Monica, pouring herself some coffee. “She would be in her sixties, na? Her husband must be devastated. Did you see him in the morning?”
“No. He wasn’t in …”
“Forty years together. Amazing.” Monica rolled her eyes and muttered something Mrs Jhaveri couldn’t quite catch, but she could be sure it was about Akhil, her ex-husband.
“Poor Mr Morgan,” she said hurriedly, in an attempt to get Monica’s mind off that taboo subject. “He had a stroke a couple of years back. I was here then.”
“Yes,” Monica stirred her coffee absently. “He was in the hospital for a long time. You visited him, right? With his wife?”
“That’s right. I went every other day with Sian. I used to make lamb stew for him, and we’d smuggle it to his bed.” She smiled at the memory. She remembered having to dodge a particular nurse who always seemed to station herself by Mr Morgan’s bed during visiting hours. It felt like such an achievement to get the food past her.
“Well, who’s going to look after him now?” she wondered.
“Ma,” Monica said, sharply. “This is not India. He doesn’t need anyone to look after him. Men are much more independent here. Not molly-coddled by their wives. He’ll probably get married again. You watch and see.”
“Monica,” exclaimed Mrs Jhaveri. “What nonsense. He’s an old man. Show him some respect. Don’t let your bitterness get in the way of everything, beti.”
Monica jumped up and threw the coffee into the sink. Her eyes flashed in the fluorescent light and she stomped out of the room.
Mrs Jhaveri sighed. Her daughter needed time to sort herself out. Akhil had left her for an older woman. A white woman with two children and who wore war-paint for make-up. Monica’s self-esteem had been shattered. The beauty with the brains had not been good enough for him.
How can I help her? This was Mrs Jhaveri’s mantra. Her daily chant. How can I help my daughter?
She went up to Rani’s room. She was sleeping. A smaller version of Monica, with her black, shining hair and ivory skin. She slept blissfully on, unaware of all the tumbles of life. Or, maybe not. At five years of age, what explanation could convince a child of her father’s absence? Of her mother’s progression towards a breakdown?
“Fortieth wedding anniversary,” whispered Mrs Jhaveri. “Mine ended at thirty-five. Monica’s ended at six.” She brushed aside her tears and closed the door. She lay down on her side of the bed and stroked Rani’s hair. She thought about Sian and whispered a prayer for her. Finally she settled down to sleep.
At two o’clock Mrs Jhaveri woke up with a start. The moonlight seeped in through a gap in the curtains. Like pearl shine. She shot up in bed, and immediately groaned. Her back rebelled against any sudden actions.
She knew what had been niggling at her brain. She had dreamt of Mrs Jones and her conversation with her. She dreamt of Sian, on the floor, her pearls scattered across the bathroom, her violet dress bleeding onto the floor. But the shoes were not right. Sian could never have worn black shoes with her violet dress and off-white pearls. She was a very fashionable woman. She was always well turned out, even at her home, whenever Mrs Jhaveri visited her for elevenses. She had once opened her shoe closet in the hall by mistake, thinking it to be a toilet. And she had been amazed to see rows and rows of beautiful shoes in there. Mrs Morgan had laughed self-consciously and said she could open a shoe shop with her collection. It was her only indulgence. Mrs Jhaveri had smiled politely and tucked her sandals under her sari. They had been quite tired-looking.
“Sian Morgan could never have worn black suede shoes with her dress. She had to have matching shoes to off-set her pearls. Didn’t Mrs Jones say they were not on her feet?” Mrs Jhaveri muttered to herself. “Something is very strange going on here.”
She stumbled across to Monica’s room, brimming with excitement. But Monica was snoring ever so softly under the duvet. Her heart reached out to her poor, troubled daughter. No, let her sleep, she thought. It’s probably one of the few nights that she’s restfully sleeping.
She went back to bed, and planned to visit Mr Morgan the next day.
The next morning, after struggling with Rani’s breakfast and getting her into two mismatched shoes, she managed to reach the school gates by ten to nine. She also tracked down the child wearing two right-footed shoes and got her to exchange one with Rani’s. Then she plodded back to see if Mr Morgan was at home.
He was. But so was a tall, scrawny policeman who kept shifting from one foot to another.
“Sorry, m’am,” he said. “But, I’m afraid you’ll have to visit some other time.”
“Why?” gasped Mrs Jhaveri. “Is something happening? Mr Morgan, are you ok?”
Mr Morgan looked at her blankly and turned away. The policeman led her towards the gate. “Now, m’am, we don’t want any rumours spreading. This is just routine work.”
Mrs Jhaveri nodded. “Of course, of course. I just wanted to see if Mr Morgan was alright, that’s all.” She started to walk away, then suddenly she turned around and looked up into the policeman’s eyes.
“Do you really think she died of a heart attack?” she asked. “I think not. It’s very strange business.”
The policeman stopped. “What do you mean?”
She smiled at him and mumbled. “Well, one doesn’t wear black suede shoes with a lilac dress. Certainly not Sian.” She walked away as fast as she could. There, she had said it. Sown the seeds of doubt in the policeman’s mind. Now it was up to him to uncover the truth.
To be continued...