Maria Fernandez reads out bits of the newspaper to her husband every day, although ink catches on her soap-worn hands. Last thing at night, when the babies are sleeping so he has no excuses not to listen. He dwells on the successful arrests of criminals, she likes stories of royalty that take her back to her Goan childhood, but it’s something they do together. She looks forward to it every milk-soaked, nappy-scented, shriek-filled moment.
“Anthony, the Princess Sophia Duleep Singh’s in court again for not paying her taxes! I thought you said she’d learnt her lesson?”
The Princess is one of her idols, a god-daughter of Queen Victoria. She’d grown up in the spotlight, a debutante, a fashion icon, a child of the last ruler of the Punjab. Transplanted by the British Empire and a man’s promises, shining out like her father’s Koh-I-Noor.
Maria’s read stories of the suffragists, seen cartoons, but she doesn’t read those out. Anthony says they’re all dissatisfied women who haven’t found their proper place. She can’t imagine why a respectable woman would end up in court, what would be worth the shame.
She loiters outside Hampton Court in a fur coat with a placard. Votes for women! What would they do with it? Better they stick to recipes. She’ll give us Indians a bad name” He turns over, exposes his fat reddening neck, and snores.
His rice had been overcooked today, he’d pointed it out for her own good. She’d made it one-handed while soothing their 5 month old who had the colic. She’d learnt to be ambidextrous at the hospital in Goa where she’d nursed him back to health, before she’d followed his dreams of a different life.
She makes sure to burn his favourite dinner the night she smashes her first window.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fuelled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in JMWW, OkayDonkey and X-Ray lit. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, an editor at Mythic Picnic’s Twitter zine, a reader for Bare Fiction and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer
Links to her stories can be found at coffeeandpaneer.wordpress.com