‘Are you okay?’ Cindy chirps down the line.
The sound catches in my throat, I smile down the phone at her, clear my voice and play it up as a bit of an itchy cough. I’m grateful she doesn’t hear the slight hesitation that slips into that single word. If you come from a normal existence, you don’t detect the small nuance of abuse in others. You don’t expect it to be there. I would never have noticed it myself in the past.
Cindy has been over for a few fleeting visits during the past eighteen months. I think she knows all is not really well, but she doesn’t know to what extent. I told her I didn’t want to talk about it and she left it at that. For now, anyway.
She is very busy at work, so we don’t talk often these days, in any case. The distance and time difference also give me perfect excuses.
Lisette is resenting the whole thing. Time and again she scolds me. This is a business; you shouldn’t bring your problems here.
‘Maddy, can I be brutally honest with you?’
She corners me one day, and she dives straight in, without waiting for my consent. I expect I should be thankful she even asked.
‘I’m worried, Ishan is worried. The episodes are more and more frequent, and the violence is getting worse. He’s clearly not what you thought he was. He’s been abusing you for over eighteen months now. I don’t understand what you’re still doing with him.’
Her expression softens.
‘You haven’t told Cindy, have you?’
This is not a question; Lisette knows the answer. When I shake my head, she puts her hands on mine.
‘Pull away, Maddy. Honour yourself. I’ve seen it all before. He’ll never change. Trust me.’
She doesn’t understand, nobody does. Neither do I. But she doesn’t see the hurt child behind the confident man. She doesn’t cuddle him in her arms when he cries, distraught about his life. She doesn’t know the damage that was done to him.
I don’t catch the innuendo in the I’ve seen it all before. I’m too caught up with trying to excuse Kiri’s behaviour and to deny the abuse, to pay attention.
I fight on, feeling less and less able to talk to her, trying to cover everything up with Cindy and feeling more and more alone as time goes by.
I shied away from life for a long time after Kyle left. It feels like I’m doing the same now. I don’t want to talk about what’s happening, what’s in my head, how I’m feeling. I can’t reach out to anyone. Nobody would understand.