“How do I trust you? How do I believe everything you’re saying is true? It’s been a year and a half since we’ve been apart,” Ram said, trying to sound convincing, pacing back and forth simultaneously. “It’s not that I don’t, but it’s been a while, and we’re only humans, you know. Things happen. People change,” he added, running his fingers through his hair as he continued to pace.
“It has been fourteen months to be precise”, Sita said looking up, and paused for a moment, “…and three months after that from the time we started seeing each other again”.
“Yes, fourteen months,” he said without lingering on the tiny detail. “But how do I know for certain you didn’t meet anyone when you weren’t with me?” Sita didn’t like the way Ram’s face looked at that moment.
“And you’re only realizing this now? After three months, to be exact? After I told you I’m pregnant?” she asked without getting up from the bed, her voice getting louder with every word that was coming out of her mouth.
“It’s not about the pregnancy, Sita!” he almost yelled.
“What is it about then, Ram?” she screamed as if competing with the sudden rise in his voice. “Could you please explain to me what exactly this is about? Because I’ve just lost all of my comprehending abilities just like you seem to have lost your reasoning abilities!” she tossed away the sheets that covered her body while looking for her clothes underneath.
“I just need to know. I need to be sure that we aren’t making a mistake.”
“And you didn’t think about it all this while? It was all very romantic until the consequences of casual sex caught you off-guard, wasn’t it? Because that’s what it looks like to me.” She didn’t seem to be keen on finding her clothes but kept searching hastily, without actually making an effort at locating them.
“I don’t know…What if you met someone and you’re just not telling me? Don’t get me wrong, that’s not at all what I’m implying, but there’s this voice at the back of my head, and I just can’t shake it,” Ram was now crouching by the bed where she sat. She was still searching for her clothes. “I wish I could read your mind so we could save each other this argument, but I can’t,” he said, reaching for Sita’s hand. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” he stroked her palm as if trying to soothe her growing anger.
“Well, you don’t get to know Ram, you’ll never know!” Sita stood up half-naked, trying to get in her dress that she just found. The unzipped piece of clothing fell off her shoulders. “Guess you’ll just have to believe what I say, don’t you?” and shrugged mockingly, as if to enrage him on purpose. “That’s how a relationship works! They’re built on trust and faith!”
“You don’t understand. I love you, you know I do, but the people, the society, I can’t deal with their filthy minds, their contempt.”
“Wasn’t it you who didn’t care about the society or your family when we met after all this time? Or was it the rush of hormones, the heat of the moment?” Sita felt like her heart was beating faster, blood rushing to her face. “Then you didn’t seem to care about the bloody society or this contempt that you’re so obsessed about all of a sudden!” she was screaming now, louder than Ram.
“You’re getting it all wrong, you’ve been so patient with me all this time”, he followed her and tried to help as she struggled to zip up her dress. “Can’t you do this for me one last time? So…so we can be done with it once and for all?”
“No, I can’t. I can’t deal with you anymore because it was YOU who couldn’t make up your mind,” she said jerking his hands away. “Because YOU weren’t sure whether you even wanted me, Ram! Because I don’t have to justify the fact of being pregnant with your child!”
“Prove it then.”
“Prove what?” Sita looked at him in equal parts of rage and disbelief.
“Prove that you didn’t meet anyone.”
“You must be out of your mind!”
“No, I’m serious.”
“How the fuck am I going to do that?”
“I want you to do a prenatal DNA paternity test, I’ve done the research. It’s expensive, but it’s safe, it’s non-invasive. It will shut them up.”
“Shut who up? Why are you doing this? You could’ve just walked away. You could’ve just told me you didn’t want to be a part of this, that you weren’t ready,” she sank on the couch, not having control over her body, and covered her face with both her hands, resting her head for a minute from the pounding, unable to face the reality.
“I just need to know. You know, for my peace of mind.”
“And what about my peace of mind, Ram? How is your insecurity my fault? I waited for you to make a decision, wasted all these years so you could finally make up your mind, even after we broke up. And just when I thought you did, you don’t trust me anymore? Isn’t that what you’re saying? Is this some a joke to you?” she wanted to say so much more but struggled to find the right words.
“No, this is not a joke. And that’s exactly why I want us to do it.”
“It’s not us, WE aren’t doing anything. It’s going to be me. I have to do it. Not you!”
“I’ll have to be involved too you know. I’ll be there with you. They’ll need my samples too.”
“Thank you so much for your kindness and consideration, Ram. But I was referring to the humiliation of having to prove my godforsaken devotion to your highness!”
“Can we not be so dramatic about this?”
“Or what? You’re going to leave me? You’re going to do that anyway, Ram. Whether or not I take this test!”
“I don’t know. I just need you to do this”, he kept repeating. “Things aren’t going to be the same between us if you don’t, that I’m sure of.”
“What makes you think they are going stay the same now anyway? What makes you think I’ll even consider going through with this?”
“Please, for Ma and Papa, do it for their sake. For both our families, I just want to prove that they are wrong about you.”
“Which archaic era have you emerged from? I don’t care what they think of me! I’m in a relationship with you, not them. Correction. Was. Was in a relationship.”
“But, when we get married, they’re going to be a part of our lives too. It’s not just us who are going to be married. It’s our families too…”
Sita couldn’t hear what Ram was saying anymore. His explanations, his clarifications weren’t making sense. Nothing made sense anymore. She felt hot, extremely hot, and felt her temperature rising. Like she was burning, inside and out. She felt a tingling sensation in her fingers that went up to her arms. Then slowly to her shoulders and down her back. Her ears were ringing, and her legs had started to tremble. She forced her legs to stop the shaking, pulled her hair up, and tied it in a bun. She grabbed her bag lying in the corner, made sure her dress was zipped up, and started walking. She felt as if she was walking on burning embers. The soles of her feet hurt, her ankles hurt. Her knees too, but she kept walking. She didn’t know where she was going but kept walking anyway, away from Ram, away from his mindless chatter. Away from his reasons. His judgment. His opinions. His insecurities.
When the test results came in after ten days, confirming Ram’s paternity, Sita mailed them to Ram with a note that said she didn’t want him to be a part of it and that it was over. She asked herself repeatedly why she wasn’t surprised, even slightly, at Ram’s reaction to her pregnancy. He was never sure, and he would never be. She had been fooling herself. She knew that all along. But how could one give up on the sliver of hope? The hope of making the impossible a possibility, the hope of changing the course of destiny, the hope of reversing an irreversible tragedy? That night was a mistake. Their relationship was a mistake. Seeing him after they parted ways was a mistake and her expectation that it would be anything more than it was, was her mistake. She was sure that she didn’t feel any sadness, just indignation towards her stupidity. She knew she would get over it. It was just a matter of time. How much time, she wasn’t very sure.
On her way back from the post–office, walking upstairs to her apartment, Sita met Bhumi. Bhumi had been her neighbor for almost five years now. He had been living in the building from the time she moved in. Bhumi, who kept looking for reasons to talk to her. To knock on her door. To deliver her mails, despite her asking him not to. He checked on her every other week to know if she was doing alright; if she needed anything. She realized how she had never noticed him throughout the years. How she never paid attention to his enthusiasm every time he spoke to her. Or how his face lit up when he looked at her. His smile never seemed to fade when he was around her. She wondered if he was in love with her. Wondered if he had always been in love with her and what it would be like to have been with him. Even if just for a night. Not that she would now anyway, but she needed the distraction. She still had complete control of fantasies, if not her life. She lay on her bed and thought about his perfectly rugged frame. It didn’t look like he worked out a lot though, he wasn’t chiseled like most men were these days. But rough like he was involved in a lot of physical labor. Maybe even construction work. His eyes, however, were that of a poet’s or even a painter’s. Like they had a lot of stories to tell, just waiting to be spilled of the dark secrets he kept locked away safely, in the disguise of his exterior brawniness. She thought about the uneven texture of his skin and the scar on his chin, wondering where he got it from and what it would feel like to run her fingers through that scar without feeling even the faintest shred of remorse or shame. She thought what it would feel like to have his arms around her or to nuzzle his neck. What it would be like when he gently threads his fingers through her hair, slowly tracing downwards from there, across her face, her neck, the rising and falling of her chest, mapping the deep grooves that lead in up to her navel. She imagined what he would look like underneath the grey T-shirt that he always had on. The T-shirt, that sometimes clung to his torso when he was working, glistening in sweat, giving away the hardness of his core. She thought about the night when he stayed at her apartment to keep her company when the power was out. She knew he wouldn’t hold back if only she had approached him. She remembered the way his eyes grazed all over her. Not in lust but in painful longing, a longing that burgeoned with time, only making it insufferable. Maybe she should have approached him, and that would have proved Ram right. She laughed at the thought of his dumbstruck face, but she didn’t want to think about Ram. At that moment, she wanted a whiff of the yearning in Bhumi’s breath. She wanted to taste the aching desire on his lips. She wanted to be consumed by him. Consumed by Bhumi, slowly and then all at once.
This story was an assignment to subvert a myth in a modern setting from a creative writing workshop I took a couple of years back. According to the Ramayana (one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India), after being separated from Sita for many years during her capture by Ravana, Ram is unsure of his wife’s fidelity. To prove that she has been faithful, Sita willingly undergoes an ordeal or trial by fire. Prehistorically it was believed that the innocence of an accused criminal could be proven if they survived extreme physical punishment such as burning or drowning. Sita survives the trial and descends into the womb of her mother, the Earth, for release from a cruel world as a testimony of her purity. Bhumi in Hindi means the earth.