This story is by Sana Fayyaz and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Chanda’s aching muscles were relieved under the soothing light of her namesake moon. Although Mrs. Khan offered her a ride from the evening’s festivities, she declined and walked to the station. Catching the last Lahore Metro Bus in the nick of time, she left the refineries of Gulberg and went to Babu Saba. Her humble, little town was alive with food vendors preparing and serving from their carts to the many customers waiting in haphazard lines. The horns from motorbikes and rickshaws and the random neighing from the donkey carts added to the cacophony of people talking the night away in colloquial Punjabi. After a full day of hearing polite English peppered with some exquisite Urdu, the Punjabi was a ringing shrill.
Usually, Chanda would opt for a sweet mouth-watering jalebi, but she was already full with a continental full course meal from the Khan’s grand tenth-year Anniversary party. Working just under six months for the Khan’s, Chanda was honored to serve them and their guests at such a sumptuous affair. Draped in silky saris and dressed in three-piece suits, the guests danced and ate to celebrate the power couple fit to be stars in a Bollywood movie. When Mr. and Mrs. Khan descended from their spiral staircase with their two children, the glittering light from the chandelier highlighted their angelic faces and made the emerald necklace on Mrs. Khan’s delicate neck shimmer. Walking under the dreamy moonlight, she imagined herself to be one of the poised guests dressed in opulence with loving children and a husband who adored her.
Leaving reality, she melted into a waking dream smiling to herself that such lunacy must be the gift of the moon. A motorbike passed by inches away bringing her out of the spell. The familiar license plate dropped her heart into her stomach. “It can’t be him,” she thought. Chanda covered her face from the nose down with the help of the fabric from her dupatta, but it was too late. He had spotted her and stopped to stare. He made his bike roar, but Chanda wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of reacting. With her head down and face still covered, she passed him by thinking about the many times she warmed the back seat of his bike. Walking towards her home, she let the moon illuminate her path.
Upon arriving at the ornate wooden door of her small dwelling, Chanda looked right and left as if she was being followed. With trembling hands, she held the rusty old lock and probed it with her key. Out of breath, Chanda let herself in, closed the door, then threw her purse and dupatta on the bed. The walls were closing in on her as she gasped for air. Drawing the curtains back from the only window of her house, she gazed up at the full moon. Why had her late mother named her after the moon? Had she known that Chanda would be barren like the moon, unable to have children? Her mother couldn’t have known that despite the many people around her scattered like stars, Chanda would be desolate like the lone moon. Tears streamed down her face. Maybe if she had made the relationship with him work, she would not be so lonely. Wiping her face dry, Chanda retired to her creaky bed. As the moonlight cascaded across her bed, Chanda’s last waking thoughts were how the closest she could experience happiness was in the shadows of the couple who lived her dream.
The next day, Chanda arrived at the Khan’s like clockwork. Entering with the right foot and reciting the name of God, Chanda held great reverence for the house that was a means of her livelihood. She went straight to the dining room knowing that Mrs. Khan would be sipping her morning tea browsing her cellphone. Sitting in her usual spot, Mrs. Khan was dressed in her white silk robe with an elegance of a nymph oblivious to her surroundings. Greeting her with salam, Chanda bit her lip right after, as if she intruded on Mrs. Khan’s musings.
“Chanda. The woman of the hour. I’ve been waiting for you.” Mrs. Khan looked up from her phone, smiling.
“Me?” Chanda folded her hands upon her breast.
“Yes. I need a favor. Mr. Khan is leaving tonight for an urgent matter and I’m having a friend over, but the kids’ babysitter is on vacation and I need someone to babysit them overnight. Will you?”
“I don’t know…I’ve never looked after the kids for the night,” Chanda shrugged her shoulders.
“It will be fine. It’s only for one night and the kids adore you. Chanda, I really trust you. That’s why I asked,” Mrs. Khan’s gaze softened.
Swept over with glee, Chanda agreed. To spend a night at the Khan’s with their sweet darling kids was not a chance to be missed. As her mood lightened, she glanced up at the ceiling, then quickly bowed her head as she said a prayer of gratitude for this chance and asked for forgiveness for feeling sorry for herself last night.
With a spring in her step, Chanda started her housekeeping duties by going straight to the master bedroom. Humming, Chanda walked into the attached master bathroom and left the door ajar. Her eyes fell upon Mrs. Khan’s sparkling emerald necklace. Brushing her fingers against it, she picked it up. With her heart racing, she placed it close to her neck and looked at herself in the mirror. Just as she started to admire herself, she heard Mr. Khan enter the bedroom. Jumping to put the necklace back in its rightful place, Chanda’s cheeks flushed a deep red. What would happen if Mr. Khan caught her: a servant trying on his wife’s jewelry? Thankfully, Mr. Khan was busy on the phone as Chanda peeked through the slightly open door. He lowered his voice in a husky tone and said, “Laila, I can’t wait to hold you in my arms tonight…love of my life.” Putting her hand over her mouth, Chanda was shaken to her core as if the floor beneath her feet slipped away. A gnawing grew in the pit of her stomach just like when she found out her ex-husband had cheated on her a few years ago.
When Mr. Khan left the room unaware of Chanda’s presence, her mind was racing through a maze: Did she have an obligation to tell Mrs. Khan, or was she to stay in her lane and pretend she never heard a thing?
Throughout the day, Chanda looked for moments to find Mrs. Khan alone, but she couldn’t muster up the courage. In the evening before the kids were scheduled to come back from school, Chanda finally decided to approach Mrs. Khan in her study. With each heavy step toward her, she thought about the consequences of her action. She could get fired from a job she loved; a job that was a gift from Mrs. Khan because Chanda had no working experience. It was time to repay the favors and generosity of Mrs. Khan.
“Madam, I have to tell you something.” Chanda placed her hand on her heart.
“Yes, Chanda.” After a long pause, Mrs. Khan continued, “Don’t tell me you changed your mind about babysitting tonight.”
“No, it’s not that. You need to know this…” Chanda faltered to find words.
Just then the kids ran inside the room with their bookbags dangling up and down with each step. They jumped on Mrs. Khan for an embrace. Mr. Khan followed them and kissed Mrs. Khan on the forehead. The image of a picture-perfect family stood before her making her second guess her resolve to tell Mrs. Khan.
When Mr. Khan left to be in his lover’s arms, Chanda re-committed to telling Mrs. Khan. Recounting an old tale of the old woman who lived on the moon, Chanda was able to put the kids to bed early. Gathering her courage, she set out to tell Mrs. Khan once and for all. Chanda was about to give up her search when she heard faint noises from Mrs. Khan’s study. As she approached the closed door, she was able to distinguish the voice of Mrs. Khan and another man. Pacing about outside of the study thinking and rethinking her choice, Chanda heard raucous laughter that turned into a hushed sweet melody of sweet nothings whispered between mingling hearts.
The next day, commuting on the Metro Bus home, Chanda caught a moment of the sun rising at the same time as the moon being visible. In the liminal space of multiple realities, a smile emerged on her lips. As she recognized the many individual paths leading to someone’s happiness, Chanda was content with the choices she made in her life.