A Choice by Meher Joshi

It was seven in the evening when they met at the restaurant. Entering, she knew he was going to ask her to marry him. The feeling of surety reverberated through her bones. She loved him, and the last eight months of her life with him had been the most exciting so far.

She found him sitting at a table near the end of the restaurant, far from the one by the window, which he knew was her favourite. Perhaps he had forgotten. She sat down opposite him, and they ate their meal mostly in silence, which, although not rare for the two, was not particularly appreciated by her on that specific occasion. After dessert he looked at her, and smiled that charming, doting smile that she had first fallen for.

“I think you know why we’re here,” he said. She smiled back at him, “Do I?” Of course she knew. He reached into his coat pocket, and she could not contain her excitement. Outside, the sky grew dark and foreboding, and one could see the black sky slowly swallowing up the pinkish-purple and the purple sky swallowing up the fading orange glow.

He took out a small box, the kind that quite literally carry the promise of love forever. He kept it on the table, but he left it unopened and said nothing. Her smile grew weaker. Then, he bent down and from under the table, lifted a briefcase, the kind that in movies contain hundreds of thousands of dollars, and placed it alongside the little box. Her smile faded.

“What are you doing? What is that?” She was baffled.

“My love,” he said, as he opened carefully the box and the briefcase, revealing, as anticipated, a most exquisite diamond ring and, as suspected, hundreds of dollar notes. “You do, in fact, know why we are here. You’re running from your family, with your sister. It’s why you have been with me this whole time, isn’t it?” She opened her mouth to interrupt him, though she did not know what she was even going to say.

He lifted a finger and continued. “Ah, yes. All the trips. The constant travelling, the luxurious resorts, the best of everything – it has been quite the upgrade from your on-the-run lifestyle, hasn’t it?”

Her heart skipped a beat – did he not love her? Alright. Who was she kidding? He had her story down to the ‘T’. Her criminal family had pushed her and her sister Anisha do some unspeakable things, so they ran away from home seven years ago, constantly changing their lives, their identities, with nothing to hold on to. When she met him, her life began to look up, and he was the perfect cover.

“Marry me.” She looked up, startled. “What?!” she exclaimed, unable to wrap her head around it. How did he just propose to her, knowing all her secrets? “Marry me, and you can stop running from your past. We can settle down and you can be honest with me about everything. Or…” he lingered on the word, “you can take this money, and you can run.” He looked her right in the eye, waiting for a response.

He did not know her family. The Singhania family had contacts one could never imagine as corrupted. Their reach in the continent was extensive and rooted, comparable to that of air on the planet. If he knew about her past, who else could find out just as easily? She was not safe. For years, she had been so careful. If she stayed, she would put at risk lives in the entire city. Her family would stop at nothing to bring her back.

Clouds gathered in the overcast sky.

“It’s time to make a choice.”

Her face grew emotionless. She could never tell when her heart had turned to stone, just that no hammer forged even in the fiercest of emotions could chip off so much as a fragment. She simply stood up and walked towards the door.

As the icy chill in the air gnawed at her face, she did not stop, she did not slow down; she did not turn around to look. This was the fate she was destined to. Clutching the briefcase in her hand, she turned her thoughts off and kept walking.

It was hardly a choice.

About the Author

Meher Joshi is a seventeen-year-old, studying at The Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, India. She has been writing short stories, poems and essays since the age of seven. Her work has been previously published on Speakin Edit and Teen Ink. Two of her poems titled ‘Antarctica’ and ‘Crocs’  received recognition at an international level when she was only nine. Meher has been dancing since a very early age, pursuing Kathak and Jazz. You can read more of her thoughts on: https://chromatic-aberration.home.blog/

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