All the tomorrows, p.1

All the Tomorrows, page 1


All the Tomorrows

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All the Tomorrows




  Copyright © 2017 Nillu Nasser

  Cover Art Copyright © 2017 D. Robert Pease


  ISBN (EPUB Version): 162253784X

  ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-784-6


  Editor: Jessica West

  Interior Designer: Lane Diamond


  eBook License Notes:

  You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

  This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.


  We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


  In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of Nillu Nasser’s second novel, HIDDEN COLOURS., which releases/was released on 3 December 2018.





  NILLU NASSER’S Books at Evolved Publishing

  In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of the literary/women’s fiction YOURS TO KEEP OR THROW ASIDE by E.D. Martin.




  E.D. MARTIN’S Books at Evolved Publishing


  For Jan,

  who believed and was patient.

  Table of Contents

  Title Page




  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Book Club Guide

  Interview with the Author

  Special Sneak Preview: HIDDEN COLOURS by Nillu Nasser


  About the Author

  More from Evolved Publishing

  Special Sneak Preview: YOURS TO KEEP OR THROW ASIDE by E.D. Martin

  Chapter 1

  The sun hung like a molten pendant on the horizon as Akash rolled away from his sleeping wife. He cursed as the bed creaked in protest, threatening to wake Jaya. He tiptoed across their bedroom, heavy with the Indian heat, and stubbed his toe in his eagerness to escape the confines of his marriage and reach his lover. In his arms he carried neatly folded clothes, and he eased through the door without a look back.

  Safely on the other side of the threshold, Akash’s heart rate slowed. He dressed quickly and headed out into the daylight, where honking rickshaws already jostled for space on the road despite the early hour. He threaded his way to university through littered streets, where rats the size of his forearm fought with street urchins for the right to scraps.

  “Soraya.” Her name felt like sherbet on his tongue.

  Fifteen minutes later, he turned a corner into the university grounds, and there she sat on a bench nestled amongst roses, a woman secure in the knowledge of her own beauty and her hold on him.

  The streets pulsed with people but Jaya paid no heed as she pushed on. Her husband was up to something, and today would be the day she unravelled his secret. The note she had discovered inside the door to their bedroom, the one that proved her instincts had been right, lay like a stone inside her shoulder bag. A stranger’s elegant handwriting adorned its jagged form:

  7 a.m., the university rose garden

  Jaya passed street vendors blackened by the sun, selling sugared almonds and bright bags of turmeric and chilli. Thoughts tumbled through her head: how Akash stole away each morning from their marital bed, leaving her to wake alone in a house laden with silence; how he spurned her touch, making her question whether she knew how to please him; how even the liveliest conversation fell on deaf ears.

  A year ago, they had been strangers; a brief introduction later, betrothed; now, husband and wife. She’d spoken to Akash only briefly before their marriage, with her mother watching intently from the sidelines. She’d searched him for a sign that everything would be all right, and had taken his silence for shyness.

  Did you ever want me, Akash?

  Her parents had ensured she understood the importance of the match for their family. Her father could no longer afford to feed them all, and if she wanted to complete her studies, the marriage was essential. She would live with her in-laws, two families would be one, and her father would no longer have to pay for her upkeep. The old way, to have a marriage arranged, suited her parents, and Jaya had agreed, determined to make it work.

  The wedding had taken place in a marquee on the outskirts of Hyderabad in the height of summer. Hundreds of well-wishers had arrived in buses, dressed in sequins and bright hues, sweat-stained even before the first ceremony. Jaya’s hands and feet were painted with intricate mehndi the colour of earth. It trailed up her arms, a tattoo proclaiming to the world that she was a bride. The mehndi artist, playful and coy, had hidden Akash’s initials within the pattern in the crook of Jaya’s arm, for her husband to find on their wedding night.

  A good match, their families had said.

  Then why do I feel such distance between us?

  She wanted to hold him to account, but instead her anger ebbed and despair set in. She looked down at herself, wishing she had made herself more beautiful for him, wishing the city had not already left its mark. The dust from the Bombay streets mingled with her feet through her open-toed sandals. Chipped nails peeked from behind worn leather. At the university gates, she stopped to hand a few rupees to a street child holding a broken drum, all forlorn eyes and scraggly hair.

  She forged on through the gates, her chest heavy. Her instinct told her not to question Akash, but to test him. What could he be hiding? Jaya knew one thing: she loved her husband enough to overcome anything. If even the smallest piece of him belonged to her, she could sa
ve them.

  “I will find a way to make us work, Akash Choudry,” she said. “Mark my words.”

  The lovers stood in the overgrown alcove in the rose garden. The heady fragrance of the blooms filled Akash’s nostrils, competing with the scent of Soraya’s newly-washed hair.

  She curved her body into his, her pelvis pushing against his thighs. He closed his eyes, and she shook him, laughing lightly.

  “We can’t do this here. What if someone sees?” she said.

  “I don’t care. Let them see. This is the best part of my day.”

  He didn’t feel guilty for his deception of his wife. He didn’t care if he and Soraya received censure for their public displays of affection. Their illicit meetings brought him joy: Soraya’s touch, her smell, the lilting timbre of her voice. To deny himself would have been too painful, and so, week after week, month after month, their affair had continued, wherever and whenever it could, with no regard for the vows he had taken or the damage he inflicted.

  He tangled his fingers in Soraya’s hair, still damp from her shower, and pulled her closer. Their lips meshed, and he savoured the plump moistness of her closed mouth, then pried it apart with his tongue.

  She reached up to loop her arms around his neck, and then jerked suddenly, her fingers caught on a thorn.


  He sat down on the worn bench and pulled her down onto his lap. Then he took her finger, drew it to his mouth, and gently sucked.


  She nodded, kissed his ear, and rested her head on his.

  “You know,” he mumbled into soft swaths of fabric at her chest, “you are the only person I’d happily serve all my life. Did I tell you that myth I love about Arjun, the greatest archer in the world? He was equally proficient with left and right arm, trusted and loved by Krishna, a man cursed never to be king, always to serve.”

  Soraya groaned. “You’ve only told me that about a hundred times.”

  Footsteps sounded ahead of them, and Akash hesitated. Despite the risk of discovery, he remained reluctant to push Soraya away.

  Just a little more.


  A voice he recognised.

  It struck him like a whip, a note of discord on a perfect morning. He froze at first, then looked up, hoping his ears had betrayed him, that he would be able to laugh at himself for this moment of panic.

  “What’s going on?” His wife stood before him, eyes filling with tears. Her bag lay at her feet, its contents spilt across the pathway. Time slowed while she looked from him to the woman on his lap, her features twisted with distress.

  Akash pushed Soraya off his lap, blood rushing to his face.

  “Jaya....” He stood and reached out to his wife, but she flung his hand away and pivoted, stumbling on her strewn possessions before running through the gardens, away from him, towards the throngs outside the gates.

  Panic marred Soraya’s face.

  “Oh God, Akash, I’m so sorry. Aren’t you going to go after her?”

  He sank back onto the bench. “What would I say?”

  He hung his head in his hands, reeling, unable to ignore the consequences of his actions any longer. Jaya’s pain was clear, and finally, after all this time, the consequences of his actions confronted him. How had these stolen moments with Soraya spiralled so out of control? He couldn’t put an end to their affair, even if he wanted to. He was not capable.

  “Find her,” Soraya said. “Tell her you’ll make it up to her.”

  He pulled her to him, the woman he had chosen, and his hands trembled as he framed her face. “I don’t want her. I didn’t choose her. I want you, Soraya. Us. This.”

  Soraya set her lips. “This? This is just fun, Akash, until it’s not. Your wife knows. Why are you still here? We’re from different worlds, Akash. Do you really think your Hindu family would accept a Muslim wife for you? What we have—what we had—was good, but it was never meant to be forever. Go after your wife. Save your relationship.”

  She gathered up her purse and cardigan, and reached up to kiss his cheek—perfunctory, as if they had never been lovers. As if he could fit the pieces of his life together without her as easily as a jigsaw puzzle.

  Akash stood statue-like, listening to the clip-clop of her heels as she left him amongst the blooms.

  “He was with another woman, Maa.”

  Tears streaked down Jaya’s face in the cramped kitchen of her parents’ home. She craved comfort, but her mother had other ideas.

  “Just look at all these bills piling up, Jaya. I don’t care what he has done. We cannot afford to have you back here.” She flung her hand to her forehead. “Oh, the shame of it! I will not put any more pressure on your father. You sort this out. You will not dishonour our name.”

  “But Maa, I’ve been trying. For months I’ve been trying. I think he regrets ever marrying me. He’s hardly home, and now I know why. I saw his face, the way he touched her. He has never shown me such tenderness. He doesn’t want to sort this out. I just know it.” She sobbed, grasping the toilet paper her mother pushed her way.

  She thought back to her wedding, to the weight of the gold-embroidered wedding sari, which had suffocated her. Their future had lain ahead, resplendent, symbolised by the heavy jewellery that adorned her and the painted elephant Akash rode. She teased him about the red turban that struggled to contain his buoyant hair, but he remained solemn. Disappointment dampened Jaya’s excitement.

  The ceremony had begun, and her father, stern and upright in his sherwani, gave her away. Kanyadaan. They held their hands over the holy fire to signify their union. Panigrahana. Finally, Jaya followed Akash around the flames. Sanskrit washed over her as they traversed seven times around the fire, bound together, each round a promise. Saptapadi. After the ceremony, when the dhol player leapt to his rhythm, the crowd began their celebrations.

  I am yours, she thought at that moment, and you are mine. She’d glanced shyly at Akash from beneath thick lashes, careful not to be bold, but his gaze had remained fixed at a point in the distance.

  Even as newly-weds, Akash rarely touched her. On their wedding night, he made no effort to find his name hidden in the curl of her wedding mehndi. His lips remained downturned, his body rigid. She feared her overtures had come across as brazen, and that Akash would be perfectly happy if she did not initiate contact. Now she knew that the closeness she craved with him, the child of her own, would never come to fruition. He remained absent, even when they occupied the same space, even when she had caught him red-handed.

  Her mother continued, determined to shape her daughter into the woman she herself was. “Don’t you think we all have our problems, Jaya? This is the real world. Men cheat. It’s your job to make sure he plays at home. Feed him, wash his clothes, let him have his way with your body. What else are women here for?” She scrubbed the floor by the cooker where spices had fallen. When she rose, her knees were red, her eyes accusing. “It’s these studies of yours. Did you want to send us into ruin? I knew it was a bad idea, giving you ideas above your station. You don’t have enough time for him.”

  “Maa, I promise you, I wait for him there. He never comes. Where is he now? I caught him in the act, and even now he is not here.”

  “All I hear are excuses, Jaya. Come what may, you are not coming back into this house. Your father would be furious. What would our neighbours say? We’d be the laughing stock of the community. I can hear them now, gossiping about how we raise our daughters, how they are not even able to keep their husbands happy. And you wonder why women long for sons.” Her mother drove her finger into Jaya’s chest. “You make this work.”

  Jaya shrank bank into the corner of the kitchen.

  “I can’t sit around here all day. I promised your father I would make him vegetable samosa, the tiny ones he likes. I need to go and get chilli and coconut for the chutney. Make yourself useful if you are here and fry the samosas, will you?” She pointed to the row of floured pastry pockets, perfe
ct triangles filled with vegetables. “It’s lucky you came. Your sister was going to do it, but the lazy girl is napping upstairs.” Her mother patted her arm awkwardly. “And don’t worry, you will get the hang of this.”

  Jaya’s mother squeezed through the small archway on her way to the front door, and left without a backward glance.

  Jaya followed her progress down the street, watching her mother’s swaying hips through the open kitchen window. “Can I rescue us?” she asked, alone with her darkening thoughts.

  She fried the samosas, watching the ghee spritz out of the pan as she worked.

  He looked so happy with her.

  Batch by batch, she continued.

  I am not enough.

  She poured more oil into the saucepan.

  Am I enough?

  After she fried the last of the samosas, she laid them out onto kitchen paper to absorb the excess moisture, and sat down heavily on a stool by the cooker.

  He still has not come to find me.

  Her bag probably lay in the rose garden where she dropped it. It would not take a great leap of faith for Akash to follow her to her parents’ house. He should have come by now.

  He does not care.

  Next to her, the oil bubbled and spat.

  Her eyes glazed as she took the pan off the cooker. Oil residue on the handle caused her grip to slip. The world continued to turn—men worked, women cooked, children played—as she poured the contents of the pan slowly on the hem of her sundress, first at the front, then each side, and as far back as she could reach. She cried out as her flesh seared, but still she continued.

  It is my fault.

  The sky-blue dress darkened with the liquid, and her legs became raw where the hot oil splashed against her skin. She welcomed the physical pain.

  There she stood, thinking and unthinking, playing with a box of matches from her mother’s drawer.

  A knock on the window startled her. Akash appeared, peering through the crack.

  “Jaya, can we talk?”

  She turned to look at him, a flash of colour in the dingy kitchen, her movements robotic.

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