Reverie's End

May 16, 2017
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They reached the corner of the street where the dirt turned into pavement. Pamela called out a goodbye before crossing to the other side. Samar, her fourteen-year-old brother waved in return. He did not follow her. He stood, waiting for the bus that would take him to his school across the city.
Her parents had put all of their savings into the school he attended. It was one of the best in their city, at least for a boy of his age and social class. The school guaranteed to give Samar a  successful career, preferably in one of the tall office buildings of the city. Her family was proud of Samar and his promising future.
Her family owned several goats and a small strip of farmland on the outskirts of the city. Money had always been a struggle for the family, but last year was worse than most. They had been forced to replant half of their crop after losing it to a flood brought by spring rains. Pamela had to leave her small girls’ school to help pay expenses.
Pamela tried to push that thought out of her mind. You should be proud of your brother, she thought to herself. You should be proud of the honor you are doing, working for your family. Still, a weight tugged at her. It was a sadness, a longing of sort, that she had not been able to get rid of since the day she learned she would be leaving her school.
She had wanted to receive an education and one day attend a college. As a young girl, it had always seemed like a distant dream. But on her sixteenth birthday, only a year ago, she realized that it was more tangible than she had led herself to believe.
Her class had just been dismissed for lunch, and the girls were eager to get outside and  enjoy the unnaturally cool day. Pamela had just stepped out when she noticed two foreigners standing outside of the classrooms. They wore brightly colored tunic dresses that contrasted against their honey blond hair.
The women introduced themselves. They told the girls they were from an American organization that fought for women’s rights and equality. They talked of the women in America who ran for political offices and owned businesses; they talked of women who commanded the military.
“Do you have plans for the future?” one had asked Pamela.
Pamela had been shocked at the question. No one had ever questioned her about her future before. She hesitated before offering up a response. “I want to go to college. To become a doctor. But my family-they wouldn’t have the money, and they wouldn’t approve.”
The woman had smiled, a look of understanding in her eyes. “We could help you go to college. Our organization, it could get a grant for the tuition.”
Pamela still remembered the flutter she had felt in her stomach at those words. For the first time since a young girl, she had allowed herself to see the possibilities for her future. The woman had given her a name and phone number, and Pamela had gotten in touch with the organization. Shortly after, she was forced to leave her school and her dream got pushed aside.  
The gate approaching in the distance brought Pamela back to reality. A crowd was gathered outside of it.
“Goodmorning, Pamela,” a girl not older than seventeen called out.
Pamela, still mildly drowned in her thoughts, smiled at the girl. Before she had a chance to reply, the gate swung open and people rushed forward.
“Will you meet me for lunch?” the same girl asked.
“Sure, Myra,” said Pamela. “Two o’clock?”
And with that, the girls veered off into opposite directions, Myra to the Mann’s, and Pamela to Mrs. Heffings’ house.
Mrs. Heffings was an unconventional woman. She liked to wear large, elaborate hats, and  the greying hair that popped out from beneath them led Pamela to believe she was in her early sixties. She had grown up in South Africa to a rich, high society family, and lived in New York as a young woman, years before she had met her husband and moved to India. Her husband was rarely home, but Mrs. Heffings didn’t seem to mind. She always had a cocktail in hand, and she threw elaborate garden parties on the daily.
Pamela had gotten a job as her maid last fall. She cleaned the large, extravagant house: the marble floors, the staircases, and the four guest bedrooms. Pamela didn’t mind the work. Mrs. Heffings left her alone, and she paid well. Pamela would often let her mind wander to the thought of college as she washed and dried the laundry or scrubbed the kitchen countertops.
At two o’clock, Pamela put up the vacuum and made her way through the garden to the street. She spotted Myra in the distance.
“How’s your grandmother doing?” she asked as she approached.
“Better. The doctor gave her a medicine to help her pain, but we don’t know how long it will help,” Myra said sadly.
The girls talked about the day, their families, and their work. She felt at ease with Myra; they had known each other for years. They had attended school together until Myra had left three years ago.
When she finished her lunch, Pamela said her goodbyes and headed back to Mrs. Heffings to finish the day's work.
“Pamela,” said a flustered looking Mrs. Heffings as she reentered the house.
“Yes, Mrs. Heffings?”
“Have you seen my champagne glasses? I’m throwing a party tonight and I simply cannot find them.”
“I think they may be in the dining room cabinet.” Pamela found the glasses, and spent the rest of the afternoon helping Mrs. Heffings set up the house for that night’s party.
At half past five, Pamela strolled up the path to her family’s house. She walked through the doorway to find her mother at the table preparing naan for dinner.
“Pamela, how was your day?” her mother asked before pulling her into an embrace.
“It was good. You’re in a good mood today.”
She beamed. “We are expecting a guest for dinner tonight.”
“You’ll see,” she said, hiding a smile.
  Pamela, curious as ever, entered the small bedroom of the house, where her grandmother sat at the foot of the bed.
“Good evening, grandmother.”
Her grandmother turned towards her. “Pamela!” she exclaimed. “You are so beautiful. You should wear this tonight,” she said, pulling a gold bracelet with a red jewel out of a box.
“Grandmother,” Pamela smiled, shocked. “That’s beautiful. Thank you,” she said as her grandmother clasped it around her wrist. “Where did you get it?” Pamela asked, concerned of the price.
“It’s an old family relic.”
Pamela kissed her head. “Who is our dinner guest?”
“Ah. You’ll have to wait and see.”
Pamela headed back into the kitchen and was just carrying the curry chicken to the table when her father entered through the front doorway.
“Pamela,” he said. “I have someone I would like you to meet.”
Through the doorway walked a man, clean-shaven and dressed in a starched white shirt. “Hi, Pamela,” he said, flashing a nervous smile.
Pamela’s mother, grandmother, and brother entered from the kitchen. Pamela glanced at her mother. “Hello,” she said, not bothering to hide the confusion in her voice.
“Pamela, Rajeel has offered to take you as his wife,” her father said, looking at her with pride.
Pamela stood in a state of shock. She said nothing.
“Now listen Pamela. Our family has been struggling with money for some time. Rajeel is offering you a great opportunity. It will help cut our expenses, and you will have your own house to live in and even a family of your own someday.”
Pamela felt sick to her stomach. Arranged marriages were common in their culture. Her parents had never even met before their wedding. They came to love one another with time.  Pamela respected that, but could not imagine it for herself. She supposed she had always secretly hoped to fall in love with a man of her own choosing.
The dinner table was lively, her father talking of the season’s crop and her grandmother reminiscing on the early days of her own marriage. Pamela was quiet, but she smiled politely and tried to look interested. She could feel Rajeel staring at her. She snuck a glance at him once, before quickly looking away.
Rajeel left shortly after dinner. Pamela felt her tension ease at his departure. She sat down in a chair and closed her eyes.
“Are you happy with him, Pamela?” her mother asked, concern in her voice.
Pamela could not admit her feelings to her mother. It would hurt her, and nothing would come out of it. The settlement was already reached, and she would have to marry him. A thousand voices screamed inside her head, but Pamela simply nodded.
“Good,” her mother said, relieved.
She could not sleep that night. She heard the buzzing of crickets, and the sounds of cars and rickshaws moving through the city. She pulled on an overshirt and walked out into the dark night. Her hair stuck against her skin in the humid air. Blindly, she walked down a dirt path. She heard the rushing of a creek flowing ahead of her. She sat down near the edge, and for the first time since her childhood, she allowed herself to cry.

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