What Will the Neighbours Say?

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A flash fiction story about a woman in the corporate world.

A normal day is a rumble in the concrete jungle for Sunaina. Being the best in what she did seemed more like a curse than an achievement. As she breathed in the final remnants of her cigarette, she was tempted to light another one but decided against it because the five minute smoke break cannot be further extended. As she walked back into the office she cursed herself for not being able to enjoy even a simple smoke.

It is just Tuesday evening and it had been an exhausting week so far. Sunaina knew that she did more work in two days than her peers did in a whole week, simply because she is the best.

As she drove back to her apartment on another cold winter evening she was thoughtful and pensive. It were the same thoughts that kept recurring, ‘why was she working so hard, why does she put up with being cold in sub-zero temperatures, why couldn’t she just enjoy a smoke, why couldn’t she rest for eight hours straight, what was she doing in a foreign land without friends and family, why couldn’t she give up and go back home, wouldn’t that be quitting? But yes, and she was not a quitter’.

Every question had the same answer; the pride of her parents would be shattered if she returned home. They were more worried about what their neighbours would say than the well-being of their daughter at any given moment. That did not mean they didn’t love her. She could just imagine what Mamma would say on the video call today. Mamma would complain about the summer heat. The horrid Indian summer right now felt like a distant pleasant dream in the snowy landscape of Cape Town. Sunaina hardly slept these days and when she did she dreamt about the tasks she needed to complete, the reports she had to submit and the presentations she needed to make. The dreams were so clear that when she awoke she remembered what she read on the said files. Such was life is what her motto had become.

After having graduated from the prestigious university, Sunaina dreamed of this life ever so often. She dreamed of it so much that she had to make it happen and she did. The world thought she was living her dreams but she knew that the dream was banished long ago and she was now living from day to day, waiting for that distant weekend to come.

Another day, another task, another email, three more days to the weekend – another email, another email, another email and fifteen more emails later she could barely breathe. Something was happening to her, something she had not experienced before. She had read about this, it was called a panic attack and realising that she was having one made it stronger. She just had to get out, she was suddenly claustrophobic.

She ran, shaking all over, she walked as fast as she could; she just wanted not to exist in that moment. An hour later she was back at her desk drudgingly gnawing away at her work and her mental situation. Her decision was made. She would visit home and clear her mind.

Sunaina was excited on the day of travel, in seventeen hours she would be eating home cooked dosas. She could almost smell the perfume her mother wore, the smell that she unconsciously named Mamma. Up in the sky as she flew along with several others towards her destination, she felt alone, but not quite alone. She relished the solitude of being away from all communications in the world. No emails coming through, no calls and no text messages and no one wishing to chat about some ‘issue’ on the office chat. This was calm. This was relaxation. The cab ride home, going through her favourite spots of her city meant the world to her in that moment. This was her Mother City.

She could hear Sheru, her mother’s dog, bounding up to the residence gate even before she stepped out of the cab. As she stood there watching her family pile around her emotionally she thought this is home. “This is where I want to stay. This is where I belong” she said to herself. Her mind was made up. She could be a quitter for this peace. This calm was worth more than pride. She was definitely going to quit her job which rendered her more sorrowful day by day than successful. Yes, she could absolutely do that.

She announced the happy decision at dinner where the whole family was assembled. The distraught reactions were not what she expected. She expected happiness, she expected encouragement, she expected emotional relief but all she heard was ‘what will the neighbours say?’ Her father said the neighbours will think she gave up and quit; the exact curse words that kept her unhappy the whole year. Her brother said “people will think you were fired, what are you going to do here anyway? Work in a local company, you won’t make any money”. The nail in the coffin came through the voice of her grandfather, her support, her darling old ‘Dadaji’, who asked “you’re the only child in the family who got a chance to go overseas and you want to ruin our reputation and pride by coming back?” Silence ensued.

The others were silent because they wanted Sunaina to say something, Sunaina was silent because she was too dumbstruck to say and feel anything. “So”, she said to herself, “I am going back, not to resign, but to wait for the winter of my life to end and spring to come and when spring does come I will spend it alone like I did on the flight home”. Home suddenly did not seem like home anymore. She did not have a home anymore; she guessed she would have to now build a new one.

The two week holiday ended and another tiring week at work began. The weekend is still two days away. As Sunaina parked her car in the carport of her apartment, she felt a sudden chill come on, another panic attack she thought, this time again she couldn’t breathe but this time she could also not see. The darkness engulfed her numbing her mind and gradually everything diminished into a painless silence. 

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