Please Note: This is ep. 14

Please click here for ep. 13

(As everything I write is true, names have been changed to protect identities.) 


The Art of Negotiation

I couldn’t believe he’d called me a bitch, just like that, and in front of all his friends. I was shocked and humiliated. He continued to lecture me about smoking, and it was a big dramatic scene in front of his friends. I barely had any money on me, but I walked off to the tube station hoping to jump a barrier and take a train home. At the station I was stuck, I didn’t have enough cash for a train ticket after all, and I was in central London, not at my local station where no one was around or bothered. Here, there were eagle-eyed staff everywhere so I couldn’t sneak past the barriers.

Maanav reached the station a short while later and in his usual, loving, charming way convinced me to allow him to drop me home. I had no other choice. On the way home, we made up.

Perhaps this could have been the point in my life where I realised that this would be a foretelling of things to come, where I understood my self-worth and walked away for good before it was too late. But, perhaps because of the abusive household I’d grown up in, I thought language like this between couples was normal, and besides Maanav didn’t hit me, so it wasn’t that serious was it?

What he eventually did, however, had a lasting impact, just as great, if not greater, than all the abuse I’d suffered as a child. (More on this later on.) 

There are people in this world who will love you like you are the only person that exists in their world; they will put you on a pedestal and worship you… as long they get what they want from you, as long as you do as they say, as long as they have a certain level of control over you, but woe betide you try to be your own person or don’t fall in line, they can show you a side of them you never thought possible. In the split-second reaction time that Maanav had when he stepped out of the restaurant and saw the smoke in the air around me, I was given a glimpse of this.

“I wish I had better self-esteem,” “I wish I’d known better,” “I wish I hadn’t met him when I was so broken and vulnerable,” “I wish hadn’t found a man with traits like my father.”

These are all things I could have said to myself over the years. But then I wouldn’t be here now, would I? So, I’ve made peace with the fact that what you will read in the following episodes all happened exactly as it had to happen, and that whatever karma had to be cleared between Maanav and I had to be cleared in this very lifetime. It’s true, our bond of love (read attachment) was like no other, and I don’t doubt that we carried it over from a previous lifetime. But, he was also the one who was going to pick up where my father left off and teach me the biggest lessons of my life, breaking me apart completely, ready for Bhagwan to pick me up.

So we’d had our first fight, and we’d gotten through it okay. I said to myself, all couples go through it at some point, I’m glad ours was early on and we made up quickly. Maanav was careful not to call me something like that again, and I tried harder to make all the changes he wanted. It was alright for me to drink alcohol and get drunk with him because he did, but it wasn’t alright for me to smoke cigarettes or weed because he didn’t, and eventually, I gave up eating meat too because he was a vegetarian.

Even after everything I’d told him about my upbringing, the next thing Maanav convinced me to do was to give up my room in Molly Way and go back to live with my parents. I was apprehensive about this because I’d hardly been in touch with them since I’d moved out. As I said before, I didn’t have access to a phone, except for the street pay phone. I had zero contact with my father for obvious reasons, and my brother was out of the picture because he was dealing with his own trauma, plus he didn’t like me very much then either; he held a lot of judgements about me and my lifestyle at the time because I was a talking point for his school mates and he believed what they said about me, so he shut me out. If my brother ever did speak to me it was only to tell me how messed up I was. The only person I kept in touch with was my mother. I spoke to her on the phone once in a while, and once when I was really ill with a really bad flu, she fed me and nursed me back to health (thank you, Naina Mata ji 🙂).

When the day came for them to meet Maanav, my parents were over the moon, I had brought them the perfect ‘let’s make up and brush everything under the carpet’ gift — a man to take over the responsibility of me and finally fix me, the man of their dreams. He was the only son of a wealthy family: Gujrati-British Indians via East Africa too, the same caste, well educated, very polite, charming and all the bells and whistles they could ask for.

All of a sudden, I was the perfect daughter. We all got on as if nothing had ever happened. Maanav would come over all the time; he loved my mother’s cooking and had dinner with us often. He’d even sleep over sometimes. I think my parents were so relieved that Maanav was in our lives that they agreed to anything he wanted. Because we only had 2 and a half bedrooms and a cousin from Kenya had come to live with us at the time, we’d put mattresses on the floor of the living room and Maanav and I would camp out there on weekends after a day out or with my family.

Maanav gave me a travel card so I could go and visit him in the city after work. He took me to restaurants and bars and showed me a life I’d never seen before. I had so many firsts with him. My first concert (which happened to be Michael Jackson’s last), my first West End musicals: The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Oliver and more. As an ex-performing arts student, I was mesmerised by them – the music, the singing, the dancing, the colours, it was truly an extravaganza for my senses. Maanav also took me on my first trip to Disneyland Paris and later, America. 

And he was full of tricks to get things cheaper or to get better/quicker access and entry. For example, he taught me about ‘student standbys’ at expensive, West End theatre shows. I had a student ID card from when I’d been enrolled at college, and even though I wasn’t attending anymore, the card was still valid, so on certain days, Maanav would carry a backpack and a change of clothes to the office with him (otherwise he wore a 3-piece suit every day). Admittedly he had that handsome, boyish face, so he did look younger than his 24 years. Add that to his charming personality, casual clothes, a backpack and a genuine 16-year-old with a student ID card on her, and the theatre show staff were none the wiser. They assumed he was a student too, even though he ‘forgot’ his ID on those days. We got any top-price tickets that hadn’t yet sold, just before a show, at a fraction of the cost.

As we’d gone to Disneyland Paris with another couple (Maanav’s friend and his girlfriend), and he wanted to get through all the rides and attractions without queuing, Maanav had a plan. He’d carried an ankle bandage with him from England. The plan was that the other girl would wear the bandage, pretending to have hurt her ankle, and sit at the ticket desk at the entrance to the parks. Maanav and his friend collected the tickets and pointed out to a staff member that one of our group had hurt her ankle on this trip and required a wheelchair to get around the park in.

It worked like a charm. Disney gave us a wheelchair for the day and with it meant instant access to all the rides. If one was in a wheelchair, it meant the four of us could jump the queues (which could be 30mins to an hour wait for everyone else), straight to the front. And at some point in the day, we found another Disney wheelchair that no one was using, and so of course, I hopped in! The boys walked and pushed while we girls sat; we did the whole park in an afternoon, some rides twice.

It might normally take a couple of days to get around everything, especially with children and during the school holidays (the girlfriend with us was a school teacher so that was the only time she could go), which adds to hotel and food costs. That little trick saved a lot of time and money. (I’m writing this because it happened but not because it’s a good idea. There are people who genuinely cannot walk unaided, who require wheelchair access and it’s wholly unfair to them when perfectly able-bodied people use their access, so please don’t go out there and do this.)

Maanav always said, in the art of negotiation, the one thing that stops us is the embarrassment of asking. We should get over that and get the thing we want. For example, when we were shopping for clothes, he would look for an item with a slight defect in it like a tiny stain or a loose thread, then he’d ask for a discount in his charming way, and he always got it.

I tried it once, but I felt silly; to me, it wasn’t worth the effort. When I was completely broke without even money to eat, I had no choice sometimes but to jump train barriers or use a trick on the payphone. But if I had money in my pocket and could easily afford something, I didn’t understand the point of trying to be clever. My brain would get tired of trying to think of ways to dupe others to save a few pennies or to get my way over them. I wasn’t built like that. 

But Maanav could do anything. To the inexperienced, unworldly me, he was the brightest, smartest, most charming, intelligent man, I’d met. His ideas were ingenious. I couldn’t think up things like that. I idolised him.

One evening, after we’d been dating a while (but before meeting my family for the first time and the trip to Paris), Maanav had decided it was time to take me home to his place. To meet his parents? No, not yet. He wanted to show me his house, his room, well, the entire third floor of the house, which was his.

Out of the 9 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, 3 rooms and a bathroom on the top floor belonged to him. And for some reason, one night, after his family had gone to sleep, he blindfolded me before sneaking me in.

We came in through the garage and kitchen, so no one heard the front door. With the blindfold on, he guided me all the way up until we reached his room. We had to whisper and be really quiet on the way so as not to wake anybody up. When we reached the centre of his bedroom, he removed the blindfold.

I got it, it was a big, impressive room, but I didn’t understand the point of the blindfold. Anyway, we spent the night there.

The next morning there was a knock at the door.

Maanav was late for work, and it was his mother tapping at his door, calling him to get moving.

His plan was to say that he wasn’t feeling well so that I could hide in the room until everybody in the house had gone to work or school and his grandmother and mother were in a different part of the house doing their daily chores or prayers. The house was so big, it would be easy to sneak me out again unnoticed. But his mother was suspicious; why was he late today? why was the door locked? She was persistent with her knocking and calling Maanav to open the door.

He whispered to me to hide under his desk in the far corner, and so, attired in his red, cotton, paisley pyjama set, I scrambled onto my hands and knees and into the little space beneath the desk.

I held my breath.

Maanav unlocked the door.

I was expecting to hear his mother’s voice ask what was going on, but I didn’t hear anything, only silence. Thank God. It sounded like his mother had given up and gone back downstairs, or had she?

Please click here to continue to Ep.15

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