tagInterracial LoveMother's Consent

Mother's Consent

byoggbashan©

Copyright Oggbashan August 2017

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.


I see Mrs Rajni Patel, not her real name, almost every evening.

She owns and runs the convenience store close to my home. I already know that she is a widow with three married sons and two daughters, one unmarried and the older one is divorced. The older daughter and oldest sibling is now a senior manager in my company.

The sons and their wives run other convenience stores within a five mile radius of Mrs Patel's shop. Mrs Patel's younger daughter Asha helps to run Mrs Patel's shop and source the stock for all the shops. Most of her staff finish before she does and I drop in shortly before the shop closes.

Eight years ago, shortly after her husband died of a sudden heart attack, she asked me, as a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, for advice about the mechanics of transferring the family businesses to her name. She would have asked her older daughter except that Shakti was on a contract in Dubai. Shakti had returned for the funeral but couldn't stay long.

I was pleased to help Rajni. Her sons, then in their twenties, were reluctant to see a woman, even if she was their mother, as the head of the business. Now they are used to it. Their sister and their wives have been far more active in the management of the shops than their husbands had thought was seemly. However the men have now accepted that joint management works well. Their sense of male superiority is so strong that they are unable to realize that they are in fact the junior partners. Mrs Patel, her daughter and daughters-in-law, let the men believe what they like. The women know what really happens.

Rajni and I have a standing joke. I ask:

"How's business?"

She shrugs. She asks:

"How's business?"

I shrug. Sometimes she asks me first. If her eldest son Sanjit is around we don't ask. We just look at each other and shrug. Once when I asked Rajni when he was nearby he objected strongly. He thinks it is impertinent for me to ask about their business. He still resents the help I gave when Rajni's husband died even though I gave it without charge.

My wife almost became jealous of the time I spent sorting out Ranji's business. She didn't. She was Ranji's friend too. I still miss my wife five years after breast cancer took her from me.

Sanjit thinks that I know far too much about the family's affairs, and that he, as head of the family, should have sorted out their problems. Unfortunately he was and is too hot-headed to deal calmly with complicated legal matters. Rajni can. Sanjit's wife can. They do, ignoring Sanjit's irritation.

Most of the time Rajni wears an overall dress just like the staff. Sometimes, and I like those times, she wears a sari. She wears her sari as if it is part of her. Even when carrying stock or filling shelves she moves in her sari as comfortably as if she was wearing an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She arranges it as unconsciously as if it was much a part of her as her long black hair.

We chat as she puts my basic groceries through the checkout. Until recently I had been an infrequent shopper at Mrs Patel's store. I was less involved in running the family property rental business, having handed over day-to-day operation to my deputy manager Alan Jansen and Rajni's eldest daughter Shakti, my next most senior manager. I was working with my son to diversify the business beyond residential property to commercial premises. Then Alan Jansen was slightly injured in a car crash and had to take time off for a few weeks. Unfortunately for me that coincided with my son's extended visit to the States.

I had stepped back into my role as Managing Director and General Manager. I hadn't realised just how much work that would mean. Our company had expanded and was even more successful. That wasn't because I'd retired but because I had bought out another property company when the owner retired. Their portfolio complemented ours and had included some commercial premises, offices and a small industrial estate.

I was eating sandwiches at my desk or in my car and buying instant microwaveable meals from Mrs Patel. My diet was dire. My son would be back in a week's time but he and I would still have to work together on the existing business for the next month.

Apart from at the office, my only social contact was with Mrs Patel. I appreciated her calm serenity after the frantic pace at work. If Shakti became like her mother she will be very pleasant company. Sometimes I bought a cup of Rajni's machine made coffee just to stay talking to her before going home to my empty house. Even ten years on I couldn't get used to the space my wife's death had left in my life. I'd often think "I'll ask her..." and then be brought up short. She couldn't answer from the grave.

Rajni had been wearing a sari this evening. Was it my imagination or had she been wearing saris more frequently in recent weeks? Her daughter Shakti sometimes wears a sari at work. Both of them wear saris more often in the summer months. I admire both mother and daughter's bare navels and the strain their large breasts puts on the fastenings of their cropped blouses. Rajni is slightly larger up top than Shakti but both ladies have massive delightful breasts.

There had been no other customers and one of the staff had been filling shelves in the depths of the store so I had stopped for instant coffee and a chat. We had discussed the recent poor summer weather. Rajni said that the only effect the weather had on her was that the shop floor had to be cleaned hourly if not more often. Even though there was a large mat in the entrance, customers' shoes made marks on the floor. She held up the hem of her sari.

"Look, Adam, I can't wear this for more than a few hours when it's raining."

The inside of her sari's hem was lined with a plain strip of cloth about three inches deep. It was streaked with mud stains on the first inch. I saw the stains but I had noticed Rajni's delicate feet in her golden sandals more. She dropped her hem covering her feet again. I felt a sense of loss. I'd liked those feet. Why? When she wore an overall dress the hem was a few inches below her knee exposing the rest of her legs and feet. Was it more exciting to see her feet when they had been hidden under her sari?

"Adam?" Rajni said and stopped.

"Yes?"

"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"No, Rajni. Whether I'll answer? That depends on the question."

"OK. I'll ask. You don't have to answer. Do you like it when I wear a sari?

I almost blushed. I hesitated. Rajni looked at me.

"Yes." I replied.

"Why?"

"I'm not sure. I would have to think about it... Perhaps because you seem more elegant... No. It isn't that. You seem more relaxed when you are wearing a sari. You wear it as if it is natural to you. You move differently when wearing a sari..."

"I'm glad you like me wearing a sari. I wear them just for you. So does Shakti."

That was almost a declaration. How could I respond?

"Thank you. Both of you brighten my day."

"Then, Adam, why haven't you done something about Shakti?"

That really put me on the spot.

"I've been very busy recently... Wouldn't Sanjit object..."

Rajni's finger pressed against my lips.

"Excuses, excuses. Are you afraid of us?"

"No."

"Perhaps you should be. Sanjit doesn't run this business. I do. Sanjit doesn't even run his part of this business. His wife does. Sanjit doesn't even run his own family. His wife does. Even when my husband was alive I ran this business and him. He did what I said -- always. You know what Shakti does for your business. Now I'm telling you, Adam. I want a response from you. Do you want to see Shakti just as a friend or as something more?"

"More," I blurted out before I could stop myself.

"Then tell her, Adam, tell her."

"I should..."

"When you've asked her, Adam, you need to seek her mother's permission. I might make conditions to that consent, but I won't make getting permission too hard for you. Shakti might. She was disappointed in her husband but she knows you better than she knew him before they married. She likes you. I like you. You like us, even if you might look too much at our assets. As a husband and son-in-law you could get closer to them..."

We were embarrassed by the directness of our conversation. I think I might have actually blushed at one point.

Rajni reached up to kiss me briefly on the lips.

+++

Rajni had made me suddenly aware that Shakti was the woman I wanted to marry. I had become used to seeing her around at work and interacting with her as a colleague. Next morning as she walked into my office to ask my view on a new project the sun glinted on her glossy black hair.

This was the woman I should marry -- if she'd have me.

I don't know what I answered to her question. She looked at me oddly.

"Adam? Are you OK?"

"Yes," I replied, "Why shouldn't I be?"

"Because you have just spouted a lot of nonsense, totally unlike your usual crisp analysis."

"Oh," I said. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking about the project."

"That was obvious, Adam. What were you thinking about?"

"The sunlight on your hair," I blurted out.

"What!" Shakti burst out laughing.

"The sun on your hair," I repeated. "It shone and glinted."

"Have you been drinking, Adam?"

"No. You know I don't drink, and anyway it is only ten o'clock in the morning."

Shakti sat down on the visitor's chair and her blue sari spread over the carpet. She made it such a graceful movement.

"What are you looking at now?" she asked as her face came back into focus.

"The way you sat down."

"Adam? Are you sure you are all right? Are you taking any medicines that have side-effects?"

"No. I'm sober and drug-free. I just..."

"Just what?" Shakti's voice was soft and caressing. I brought myself to with a start.

"I just realised that I want you to be more than an office colleague."

"Ah. I thought it might be something like that. You have been a little strange whenever we are together for a couple of weeks. So. What are you going to do about it?"

"Ask you out to dinner?"

"You know that's not possible, Adam. You know enough about my culture. Either you are a potential husband or you are nothing."

"Then can I be a potential husband? How do I do that?"

"What makes you think I want you as a potential husband? You haven't asked me."

I came from behind my desk, dropped to my knees in front of Shakti, took her right hand in mine and said:

"Shakti, will you marry me? Please?"

Shakti's hand remained in mine for a few seconds and then she withdrew it. She stroked the top of my head.

"I'll consider it but I cannot say 'Yes' without my relatives' approval. You know that I have no dowry."

"Dowry? What would I want a dowry for?" I spluttered. "All I want is you. I'd give you whatever I can if you would be my wife."

"Even a dowry for my sister Asha?"

I was about to respond 'of course' when a thought like a cold shower hit me. Dowries could be very expensive. Could I afford such a commitment? How many sisters did Shakti have? I thought it was one but I didn't know.

"That depends," I said cautiously. "I might be able to help..."

"That sounds more like the sensible Adam I know," Shakti giggled. "I don't want you to give all your money to Asha."

My heart jumped. It sounded as if Shakti was thinking of me as a possible husband.

"What happens now?" I asked.

"First, you get up off the floor. Anyone walking in might think..."

"...that I was proposing?"

"Yes, and until we have gone through some formalities that could be very awkward for me. You are aware of that, aren't you Adam?"

"Yes," I said heavily as I stood up, went behind my desk and slumped down into my chair.

"You have put me in an embarrassing position. You know that, don't you?"

I nodded.

"If I or my relatives refuse you I will have to find another job. I have enjoyed working here. It gives me status and purpose that I hadn't found elsewhere. It took much effort to get my relatives to agree to allow me to work outside the family businesses. They are happier now that I earn more than anyone they know but their demands are not just financial. When I started at the previous company I used to be escorted to and from the office by my mother Rajni. The relatives insisted."

I listened. I knew that Shakti's culture was very protective of women. I had thought she was free of it during the week.

"How will your mother react if she knew?" Shakti asked.

"My mother?" I had to think. "She would be pleased if I married again. She has been dropping hints for a couple of years. She would approve of anyone I married. If she didn't she wouldn't tell me, or my wife. She spends so much time in the US or on cruises that I doubt she'd notice once I was married."

"She wouldn't interfere?"

"Of course not! I wouldn't let her." I was indignant.

"I see. So I wouldn't be your mother's chattel?"

"You might be her friend. She'd like that. If..." I stopped. I was about to mention children when we hadn't even got past the proposal.

"She'd approve of coffee-coloured children?" Shakti was more direct than I expected.

"She'd approve of her grandchildren, white, black, coffee or green with pink spots. You know my son's children. You've seen them."

Shakti thought.

"They're brown, aren't they? I can't remember."

"I suppose the two girls are brown. The boy is black. So is their mother. A beautiful glossy satiny black that looks wonderful on her."

"So your mother wouldn't mind a coffee coloured daughter in law or coffee coloured children?"

"I wouldn't describe you as coffee-coloured. It is too mundane. I think of you as a golden bronze or... I can't think of the right words to describe what your skin means to me."

"I'm more interested in what you think of me as a person, nice though your compliments are."

"I want you to be my wife."

"I know that. Why?"

"Why? Because I love you. Why do I love you? Apart from the way you look I think it is because of your intelligence, your sense of humour, your calm acceptance of things you can't change... A whole host of things."

"What about friendship? Could you be my friend, Adam?"

"I thought I already was. I don't think I could stay just a 'friend'. I would want more than that but friendship is part of what I feel for you."

"Would you do anything that might hurt me?"

"No!" I protested violently.

"Not even if I had to say 'no' to your proposal?"

"No, Shakti. If you had to say 'no' I would disappointed, heartbroken, but I couldn't hurt you. If you chose someone else I would give you a wedding present. I couldn't come to the marriage. That would hurt me too much."

"OK. I know enough about how you feel and what you want. I will talk to my relations. They will make the next move. Until then... please just treat me as normal. We have to work together."

"That will be hard to do, Shakti, but I'll try."

"Please? It is important to my family that I am not compromised. Once they know that you want to marry me they might want me to leave here. I don't want that."

"Then yes, Shakti. I will not speak about this again until your relatives contact me. I hope they will be in touch soon. Not knowing if I have a chance will be painful."

"I think you have more than a chance, Adam, but I shouldn't say more. Now, back to this project. Do you want to take another look, and this time look at it, not at me?"

We reverted to a working relationship. I found it agony to talk to Shakti as if she was just another senior manager.

+++

I thought back to the time when I first met Shakti. She had been working as an Assistant Manager for the company I had taken over. The owner had explained the rating system he used for his tenants. That was similar to mine. Good tenants deserved more sympathetic treatment if they had temporary difficulties. Bad tenants were watched more carefully for damage to our properties.

His retail tenants were different and new to me. He had owned several parades of shops and had provided linked CCTV so that any of them could monitor suspicious activity along the whole row. They worked together if shop lifting was suspected. They could work together for other activity too. He mentioned Shakti particularly.

"Adam," He had said, "You are taking over Shakti as well as my company. The other senior staff are retiring when I do. I value Shakti. If I had been intending to carry on the business I would expect Shakti to be the General Manager in a couple of years. But..."

"But...?" I prompted him. He seemed reluctant to carry on.

"Shakti has had a hard time in the last few months. She was divorcing her husband and that makes her unpopular in her community. Husbands can divorce wives. Wives are expected to accept their role. Shakti wouldn't. Her husband was a..."

He paused.

"...a cheat, an arsehole... I haven't got strong enough words for him. He lied when their marriage was arranged. He didn't have the qualifications he claimed and certainly not the assets. He spent Shakti's dowry on himself and his relations, and for the six years they were married he was spending almost all she earned. She was struggling to survive even though she was paid well.

When he was served with the divorce papers his house of cards collapsed. He would go from being a kept playboy to an unemployed and probably unemployable bum. She was suing him for return of some of her assets, particularly jewellery. He fled the country, back to his relations. He had retained a local lawyer there who had promised that not only would the husband not have to return the dowry but he could claim maintenance from Shakti. It wasn't true, but he was drunk, celebrating what he saw as his good fortune, when he was run down by a truck and killed.

Shakti had to pay for his funeral. His relations couldn't. She went there for the interment and was abused so badly by his relations that she needed Police protection on the way back to the airport. His relations have threatened to kill her if she ever returns to the country, even though she still has some of her family there. She returned to work three days ago.

She isn't herself today and won't be for weeks. She's worried about your takeover and how you will treat her. Please be patient with her. She is worth it and you will see what a great manager she is if you wait a month or so. Please? I want Shakti to be herself again, and happy."

I had promised him that I would be careful with Shakti and let her recover from the funeral. I thought he might have been overstating Shakti's talents but being kind to a new employee having temporary stress wasn't an unreasonable request.

I have never regretted it. Shakti's shock at her husband's death and her treatment by his relations turned to anger when they tried to sue her family for her husband's non-existent assets. She employed a competent lawyer and her former husband's family only just escaped jail sentences for perjury and fraud.

The angrier Shakti became, the harder she worked for me. She seemed to want to prove something to herself and perhaps to me. Within weeks I knew that her former boss was right. Shakti became invaluable to me.

That was two years ago. Now I wanted Shakti to be more than my deputy. I wanted her to be my wife.

+++

The next few days dragged past. On Thursday morning Shakti rang me from the foyer.

"Adam. My mother is down here and she wants to talk to you. Can I bring her up?"

"Of course, Shakti," I replied. "Is it about...?"

"She'll tell you." Shakti put the phone down.

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