Sita could have bitten off her tongue.
“There – I’ve done it again!” she sighed, as she watched her father’s face turn from a ruddy flush of anger, to the sick pallor of resignation. “It must be in my genes – the really wicked genes I’ve inherited. I’m a sadist.”
Helen watched, as Martin walked to his car, his shoulders sagging. Ever since Sita had begun to challenge his authority, the sparkle had vanished from his eyes and the spring from his gait. He seemed to have lost the dignity of his position as head of his family.
As Martin turned on the ignition, he wondered for the umpteenth time about his daughter,
“Does she need psychiatric help? Or is it just adolescent rebellion? She’s unpredictable and very rude, and makes me out to be a monster.”
Helen too was worried.
“How difficult it is to be a parent and love a child who is so heartless and selfish unconditionally!”
Sita didn’t care. Tall for her age, the blouse she wore, enhanced the contours of her budding figure, and the beaded belt that held up her pleated billowing skirt, drew attention to her slender waist. Her skin was fair like a European, but the dark hair, which cascaded in waves over her shoulder, was a give-away. Her black eyes could be coy and inviting one moment, but in a flash, scorch a person like a laser beam. Large rings in her ears gave her the appearance of a flamenco dancer. And that’s what had started the argument.
“Sita, can’t you dress in something sober? Your teacher has complained that your costume is inappropriate for a classroom,” Martin had said.
“I’m sixteen, and I’m pretty. The teacher has no business to complain when he ogles me all day. And haven’t I noticed the look in your eyes sometimes? Don’t you sorely regret that I’m your daughter, and you can’t lay hands on me?”
He felt debased and hurt by her ugly insinuations.
Now she turned to her mother. Her demands for money were increasing. They were made when Martin was not around.
“But we already gave you your monthly allowance,” protested Helen. “Dad will be mad if he hears about this.”
“That’s sheer ill-treatment. The lady from the Social Service is always ready to listen.”
Blackmail always worked with her timid mother. It felt good to have the upper hand. She had also seen fear in Helen’s eyes.
Helen and Martin lived in a small town on the banks of theRhine. Both held good jobs and were reasonably well off in life. All they wanted was a child to complete their happiness. But after ten years and a battery of tests, there seemed no hope at all.
In the late sixties, the town felicitated two nurses, who had completed fifteen years of service at a hospital inMalabar,India. The nurses spoke with great concern about children abandoned at their hospital. They urged couples like Martin and Helen to go in for adoptions, as many social factors discouraged Indian couples from taking in such children.
“We have so many infertile couples in this country. Why can’t they open their homes and hearts to such children?” asked Miss. Davies, one of the nurses.
“But don’t you think it will be difficult for children from a different culture and country to be integrated into our society?” Martin asked.
“Why not? The earlier they are adopted, the easier it will be. The process however, may be long drawn out and sometimes, frustrating.”
Martin and Helen were convinced that this was the best solution to their barrenness. The screening procedure was extremely detailed. Psychologists, social workers and the Church investigated every aspect of their lives. Helen and Martin had never felt so exposed and vulnerable before.
Sita arrived four months later – a pretty doll-like baby with a mop of dark hair, large black eyes and a cherubic face. The couple fell in love with their beautiful daughter. Everyone wondered how an Indian child could have such a light complexion. Helen gave up her job and became a perfect mother attentive the baby’s every need. And Martin couldn’t wait to come home each evening, so that he could cuddle and coo to his daughter.
Two years later, the Wiecks adopted a second child. Prem was very different from Sita, but just as precious. The children were extremely fond of each other. Prem the younger was protective of his sister. But as they grew up, their different behavior patterns caused concern. Prem was a normal boy, full of mischief, but very intelligent. Sita – beautiful but willful, self centered, and often difficult to manage. She had the cunning of a devil, and could turn on her charm depending on her moods.
A counselor advised, “Adopted children are insecure. They need more love and attention than biological ones. “
Martin pampered them both with all the love he could muster. But as they grew older, he realized that disciplining them and guiding their restless energy, was a part of loving and good parenting.
“Prem is such a good boy. We have no trouble from him. But how are we going to manage Sita?” he asked Helen. “She threatens to go to the Social Services to complain about us. She can be very convincing too, and the authorities are always suspicious of adoptive parents. They feel that the children may be subjected to violence or overwork or abuse of some kind. If she ever does carry out her threat, it will be a difficult thing to convince them she is lying. It has reached such a stage that I don’t like to be alone in her company, or even look directly into her face. The whole situation is pathetic.”
“I think there’s a streak of the sadist in her. She loves us in her own way, but she loves herself best, and can’t stand restraint of any kind,” said Helen. “Prem is sufficiently intimidated by her that he’ll never dare say a word in our defence.”
She was indiscriminate in her choice of boyfriends, and when told that sixteen was too young an age to be intimate with the opposite sex, she’d fly into a rage, accusing her parents of envying her youth. Sometimes, she stayed out overnight or went missing for a couple of days, without bothering to inform them. When questioned she’d say,
“What a fuss about nothing! I was with good friends, and you don’t have to create such a shindig about it.”
One day she announced she was done with school. “I’ll find a job.”
“A job?” Martin looked worried. “What kind of a job will you get? What about a good education first?”
“I’m going to work on a farm. They have a few horses too. That’s more to my liking. Who wants an education?”
She was back a fortnight later. The sun had tanned her skin. Her fingers were calloused and her nails cracked.
“It didn’t work out there. I’ll be damned if I lose my complexion and ruin my hands on a stinking farm”
This was the beginning of her drift. Neither the advice of her father nor the tears of her mother made a difference. She visited when Martin was at work, helped herself to a good meal, and wheedled out money from Helen.
“You’re encouraging her loose living,” Martin scolded. “Tell her to visit when I’m around.”
Like his father, Prem too had grown quieter, and stuck to his room. The boys at school teased him about his beautiful sister, and wondered where she had disappeared.
Sita found a job on a passenger boat that plied on theRhine, betweenKoblenzandCologne. Her job was to keep the tourists entertained. A mere smile and a toss of her head, and she had them eating out of her hands. She joked and teased both young and old. She chucked the teenagers fondly, and tweaked the ears of little boys who followed her around. She flirted outrageously with young men, and made the old ones laugh. Even the women grudgingly admitted that she was Beauty personified.
Sometimes she would sing a catchy love song, her clear melodious voice reaching out from stern to bow. In the evenings, she changed into gorgeous dresses, and cavorted around to the music of a band.
“Sita is a damn good investment,” chuckled the owner of the boat, “What with her hypnotizing charm and animal magnetism, tourists are thronging the ticket counters to buy a seat on my boat. My competitors are worried that I may run them out of business. Can’t tell how long my good luck will hold. Sita is not the type that one can pin down. She has the mindset of a gypsy. And underneath that captivating exterior, I’ve seen flashes of temper. These artistic types are unpredictable. Below their smiling faces there are a million seething emotions inside.”
Prem too had heard of Sita’s job. He decided to investigate and hoped he could bring good news to Mum and Dad. He boarded the boat and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.
If she knew he was spying on her, she wouldn’t hesitate to throw him overboard.
Prem was shocked. She came through as a cheap whore, flaunting her assets. What thrilled her most was the power she wielded over people. And here was one guy with his back towards her, looking out across theRhine? He had on a brown jerkin, and his hair had grown long, so she obviously didn’t recognize him from behind.
“Hey Man, are you blind or deaf or both?” she asked, placing her hands on his shoulders and turning him around. Her face was an inch away from his lips. Then she drew back in surprise.
“Prem – what are you doing here?” she said through clenched teeth. “Has Dad sent you to spy on me? Don’t you dare tell him anything. And don’t mention to anyone on this ship that you are my brother. People think I’m European, so you better not mess up things for me. Get out at the next stop”
She gave him a peck on his cheek, and moved away. She didn’t wait to see the hurt and disappointment in his eyes.
“So did you manage to see her?” Martin asked.
“She’s doing fine Dad. Has a steady job, so you can stop worrying. She won’t starve. Sita can take care of herself.”
Life in the Wieck household had gradually begun to change. There was hardly any conversation, because it always ended in recrimination.
“Where did I fail as a father?” Martin wondered, “I gave her the best I could – Love, Security, Comfort. How could she disregard all the values we stand for? Is she some kind of sociopath, born without a conscience?”
Helen constantly accused him of driving Sita away with his insistence on discipline.
They were growing apart, and helpless to bridge the gap. Conversation always veered back to the subject of Sita, and ended in bitterness.
“It is you who are at fault Helen. Bringing out your cheque book whenever she made demands; cowering when she raised her voice. Sita has neither a sense of responsibility nor accountability. What audacity to accuse me of being strict!”
………….TO BE CONTINUED