He took a knife and slit the tape that had been holding the cardboard box shut for the last twenty-five years. He poured out a glass of red wine, thick as blood and with an odour of marzipan. Taking out an envelope of photographs, he began to look through them, a quarter of a century collapsing like a house of cards. There she was, in various stages of undress, an inverted ‘V’ of dyed auburn hair framing a smiling brown face.
As he looked through them, Rohani on the toilet, naked in the shower, laughing in a university class photo, he realised perhaps why he’d loved her so much. That smile, visible in nearly every photograph, exuded laughter and warmth and, yes, joy. Plain simple joie de vivre.
Of course, she’d known how to use that slim brown body and those smiling red lips; she was the best lover he’d ever had. Better not go there. But now, perhaps for the first time, he realised it was more than that. It had been about her presence, just having her with him, having fun together, something that had been sorely missing from his life.
Her name was unusual. He’d bet she was on Facebook or some other social media. What would she do if he contacted her after all this time? Impossible to say. Would she even remember him? Surely she would, after living together and battling her irate husband and family for a year. Rohani, Rohani, where art thou?
He gazed into those slanted brown eyes. Eyes that seemed to smile out of the photograph at him. He remembered occasions when she would see him in the street and run towards him, throwing her arms around him, hugging him. “I’m with John!” she would exclaim when they first met under clandestine circumstances to go to concerts together.
Then another batch of photos. A huge Wendy house that his sister had owned, and at its windows, his sister, two nephews and a niece, and Rohani. All smiling and happy. He felt a lump in his throat, knowing that his niece had been killed in a car crash.
Rohani played the piano and he’d played the drums, but also the violin. “John, we play duets tonight, I practice the Dvorak.”
So, they’d sit in their music room, and he’d play along to her piano accompaniment, wondering why she still couldn’t play in time, but knowing it gave her great pleasure.
“John, close your eyes. Whatever you do, don’t open your eyes!”
He’d felt something heavy placed in his hands. There was a book, a coffee-table book of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the latter being her family home. Inside, an inscription, ‘To John from Rohani, I will always love you,’ followed by a line of x’s.
He pulled another photograph out. One where Rohani was laughing, standing against an outcrop of rocks. Yes, a place called Great Mynde, a high ridge of moorland with huge rocks and a waterfall. “Why can’t you be like your brother, John?” she’d asked, “He earns good money, has a nice house.”
That was all she thought about, he remembered now. Money, and how much someone had or didn’t have. And come to think of it, he remembered her waving a bag of mushrooms. “I only pay twenty pence for this mushrooms, I phone my friend and tell her!”
“These mushrooms, it’s plural! And why bother Sofia about some bloody cheap mushrooms!” She earned a high salary as a Certified Nurse Midwife. What did it matter about saving a pound or two?
He looked in an envelope file in the box. A torn-up letter from Rohani’s husband. ‘Mr John, you are a man with no shame. A man who takes another man’s wife. A man who takes a woman from her children.’
Bloody hell, he hadn’t forced her to come and live with him! And then there was all the subterfuge. “John, I sorry. I have a meeting after work. They change all the rotas. We have to discuss.” Then finding out that Rohani had secretly been meeting her husband to plan buying a house together. A house they expected him to move into with her, in order to pay the husband rent. And Rohani was no doubt giving her husband ‘benefits’ in the meantime to keep him sweet.
In fact, it seemed hard for her to distinguish between truth and lies. For one, she had at least three different birth dates recorded on various documents. Something to do with how she’d wangled coming to the country, he assumed, but which she refused to come clean about, even with him, the man she supposedly loved.
He remembered now that it had reached the stage where he couldn’t believe anything she said anymore. Then one day they’d been sitting in the back garden in the sun when she’d said, “I go back to my husband. I miss Rasheed.” That was her youngest son, still at home with his dad. “Go on then,” he’d said. And so, she had.
Rohani had made a few half-hearted attempts to get back together with him, but the negatives had outweighed the positives. She’d been a cow at the end of the day.
There was a ring at the doorbell. It’d be Lionel, come to collect some old pallets for the charity bonfire night. The previous year, they’d had the biggest bonfire he’d ever seen. On impulse, he threw the photos and letters back into the box and quickly sealed it up with several strips of brown tape. He opened the door to Lionel’s friendly face.
“Have you got the pallets, John?”
“Yeah, sure. Lionel. Look, I was wondering, could you put this box in the bonfire? Right in the middle, make sure no one sees it. Maybe pour some petrol over it?”
“Sure, John, don’t worry,” Lionel winked, “whatever’s in there, it’s not my business, but it’s gone.”
He smiled. “Thanks, Lionel. I owe you one.” Good riddance to bad rubbish.