Please Note: This is ep. 13
Please click here for ep. 12
(As everything I write is true, names have been changed to protect identities.)
Maanav had stayed over at my place, had met my roomies and the people I hung out with, and knew everything about my life. But, aside from what he’d told me during our dates, I guess I didn’t know so much about his. That was about to change.
One evening, Maanav and his friend picked me up from Molly Way in the friend’s car. The plan was to head to Maanav’s house to pick up his car and drive into town for an evening out.
I didn’t think much of anything as we headed towards the leafier ends of the North West London suburbs that we lived in, but then all of a sudden we approached a wide road with huge Grecian style pillars either side of it and a sign saying ‘Private Road’. I didn’t even know such roads existed, I mean who had I heard of that lived on a private road, the Queen of England?
We drove along under the long canopy of trees and I saw the sign for the Private Members’ Golf Club. This road and its acres of gardens backed onto a full-sized golf course. We passed perfectly manicured green hedges and tall shrubbery, between which I caught glimpses of the biggest houses I’d ever seen. Well, I wouldn’t even call them houses, these were mansions, with expansive range in between them (I was sure many a couple had a glorious argument or two here and their neighbours didn’t hear a thing). And each of these houses was completely different, not like the side-by-side cookie cutter dwellings I’d known to date. One was like a Mediterranean villa, one was in the style of a rambling, English country cottage, another, a Tudor style mansion, and so on. And just as unique were the house names, such as Kingscliffe, Cervantes, and Willow Mead, instead of door numbers, displayed on an elaborate plaque at the gate or entranceway.
As we pulled up into the driveway of the family home Maanav shared with his grandmother, parents, and two younger sisters (whom I hadn’t yet met), I heard the crunch of the pebbled ground under the tyres, I looked up at his palatial red-brick house with huge windows, sloping roofs and a portico — a house just as grand, just as large as the others, and my heart sank.
I sat quietly in the friend’s car as I watched Maanav enter the house and switch the lights on in one of the ground floor rooms facing the driveway. Through the window, all I saw was dazzling white — bright, white lights from the ceiling bounced off the pristine white cupboards and sparkling granite. It must be the kitchen. He opened a drawer, collected his car keys and the next thing I knew a huge door was whirring opening at the side of the house. The garage was bigger than some houses I’d been in.
I sat with Maanav in his car — a black, VW Golf Clipper Cabriolet (cabriolet is just a fancy way of saying the roof comes down) — and before we’d even pulled out of the private road, I said to him, “We have to end this.”
Maanav seemed genuinely shocked. He didn’t understand why. I tried to explain to him that we came from such different backgrounds that it wasn’t going to work. How could someone with his kind of family, education, and privilege really understand someone like me, and how was I ever going to fit into his family.
Not only were they wealthy but they were deeply respected in the East African, Indian, Hindu and Jain communities. Maanav’s father was a well known business man and the head of a major charitable organisation. He’d worked hard for his fortune and stature, and Maanav, born into all this privilege, as the only son, would of course be expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and garner the same standing in society.
That house represented all the disparity in our lives. Seeing it for the first time, reality kicked me hard in the shins.
I asked Maanav to drop me back to Molly Way, back to my little room above the chippy, where I could shut away all of this and get on with my life, but he was having none of it. He cancelled our plans with his friend and spent the rest of the evening convincing me why it would work and telling me how much he loved me.
I loved him and I could see how genuinely in love with me he was too, but thoughts of my family, my relationship with them, my mental health, the way I lived my life and the kind of person I was, trundled through my mind trying to stomp out all traces of love. I didn’t deserve it and I was sure to mess this all up at some point. I always did didn’t I?
But as they say love is blind, true love will always prevail… and the rest. So, after an emotional evening of hearing him out, I allowed myself to step into my new reality, the fantasy world that Maanav was offering me. All doubt fell by the wayside. He was my hero, my savoir, he pulled me out of the gutter, and held tightly by him, I arrived hurtling into his world of privilege, confident now that it really would be alright. We loved each other and that was enough, wasn’t it?
And so here I am, at this bar, about to meet all his close friends and their girlfriends for the first time. I had asked Maanav if Tina could come too, but he’d said he didn’t like her hanging around me. Tina was eighteen and living at the local YWCA (women’s youth hostel) because she had problems at home and had to leave too; that’s how we’d connected and become friends when we met in Molly Way. But Maanav didn’t like her, so, no, she couldn’t come and it would be best if I were not friends with her at all. And that was that.
“Don’t forget, tell them you’re eighteen and you’re a model,” he reiterated as he took a final look over me to make sure I looked presentable enough. I couldn’t wear my baggy jeans and trainers here, it was a formal coat, elegant shoes and scarf situation.
I nodded in agreement but felt awkward trying to hold a conversation with the girls who were either professionals, or at university reading law or pharmacy and the like. I had to lie about everything so I mostly kept my mouth shut and the girls just thought (they later told me) that I was conceited. Not the best start.
A week later, Valentine’s day was fast approaching and all the couples had booked a group dinner at a London restaurant. By this time I’d gotten a job manning the phone of a small, two-man office on the same high street as Argos. On my first day at work, a flower delivery man walked in with the biggest bouquet I’d seen in my life. They were so big they took up most of the space on my desk. I think my boss wondered what on Earth I was doing working for him for peanuts when someone was sending me flowers like that. And on Valentine’s day Maanav sent me a red rose, again like I’d never see before; the stem was almost a metre long and thick like my finger, the head of the rose was the size of my fist.
That evening we’d just finished dinner at the restaurant and the group gradually made their way outside while the rest were still picking up their belongings and chatting before heading out. One of Maanav’s friends was a smoker and offered me a drag of his cigarette. I took a pull and exhaled, a moment later Maanav stepped outside. “You bitch,” was all I heard. I was winded by his words. I stopped breathing for a second.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Did I say I would try to give up smoking at his request? Yes, I did. But of course it wasn’t going to be easy. I wasn’t going to be able to change overnight, although I was really trying to be everything he wanted me to be.
Click here to continue to Ep. 14