Misery. Head-to-foot misery.
Tessa couldn’t find other words to describe her life and that of her mother.
6.00 p.m. It was time for her father to come home. And once again he’d be drunk. Tessa was sure. He was no longer the man who brought home snacks, the warmth of a smile or a hug for his 14-year-old daughter. He had become so different.
Seven, maybe eight, months now since he’d fallen into this thing: alcoholism. Only his world mattered. Others drank too but at least they went to bed quietly. Her father had to make a beast of himself. She despised it. She hated him.
Tessa felt her skin crawling with fear. Was there going to be yet another scene? What a despicable temper he had when drunk! He would shout crass words and it was such an embarrassment as the neighbours would be listening to his verbal explosions. She had to close all the windows tight. She had picked up more foul words from her parents’ noisy arguments than from anyone else.
His return was always dreadful. She wished he never returned. She had had enough of being looked upon in the village as the wife-beater’s daughter. She couldn’t make out what alcohol contained in it that transformed him into a wild creature. Otherwise he was calm when sober.
The last time he had raised hell was almost two weeks ago. A shiver went down her spine as she recalled that evening. He’d pulled his wife by the hair roughly and hit her. Mother has started shrieking but nothing had stopped him.
Bruises, swollen cheeks and a conspicuous lump on the forehead was the result. He had smashed her against the wall and when Tessa had intervened, he’d grabbed her by the shoulders and shaken her like an empty sack, making the world spin around her.
Tessa had scrambled to the door to seek help from outside when she noticed her mum crumbling on receiving a punch.
He showed no remorse at all.
Tessa loathed her father’s coarse hands striking her mother. From what she had heard, she could gather that somebody had poured venom in the husband’s ears about his wife being unfaithful. She felt ashamed at his stupidity. How could a man believe his friend or friends rather than trust his wife? He was making a fool of himself by inflicting cruelties on them.
They could no more walk in the streets. It was a torture.
Because of the disfigurement, her mother had been compelled to stay away from work at the textile factory.
The situation had aged her mother. The brutality was taking its toll on her studies. How many times was she going to spin lies one after another to the teachers about homework not done? She was the only one in her class with the highest record of detentions. She was uncomfortable about it. One day she had confessed the truth to one of the teachers. This had been dismissed as an invention.
Why was mother not quitting him? Why was she submitting to his abuse?
On one occasion they had packed off but mother had returned. For what reason? Tessa couldn’t say.
“Hadn’t we better leave for good?” proposed Tessa.
“Where?” asked her mother.
“Anywhere. Where there’s quietness.”
“What’ll people say?”
“People?” Her mother’s question infuriated her. “But we can’t go on like this.”
“You’re young. You don’t understand. It’s not easy for a woman separated or divorced to live on her own. Some people have a poor opinion of her. And you’ve men prying about.”
“One day,” said Tessa, “he might do something, like setting us ablaze. Then what?”
“If we leave,” continued her mother, “it’ll confirm his doubts. He’ll always think of me as unfaithful, as someone who has betrayed him. I need to try to clear his suspicions. If I succeed, he might then change to better ways.”
Her daughter looked at her vacantly. Traces of the bruises and the lump were still visible.
The mother felt that she had to make her point again. “Going away will not do. If he continues being bad, we’ll alert the police. This much, I promise you. But I’ve to give this home another chance. I’ve to take up the broken threads and re-make a family.”
Tessa was getting impatient and bored.
“I feel things can brighten up. Remember he does run the house anyway. This home needs to be as before.”
Tessa was torn between a wish to stay with her and share her turmoils and a desire to run away from all the wretchedness.
She could not understand her mother. When two elephants fight, it is always the grass that gets trampled. Couldn’t her mother, for once, see things from her perspective?
Life without the father would certainly be difficult but at least there would be peace and absence of fear.
She wanted to live on her own. That was all.
Misery. Head-to-foot misery.