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The Woman in White Marble

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Backshadow

by Julie Mann

ISBN-10: 0994927703 (Paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-0994927705 (Nook Edition)
ASIN: B00TQE7Y0K (Kindle Edition)

Backshadow is available in paperback and eBook for Kindle (also Kindle for Android and iPad) and the Nook. The book can be purchased at the following:

Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Barnes & Nobel


Some women keep secrets, and some women are kept by their secrets. Like shadows they follow, intimately connected to flesh and blood, a lingering reminder of something past, something dark…

Pinned in India, Japan, and America, Backshadow is the story of three women from three very different worlds. Three whose secrets keep them silent, haunted captives.

When lives ultimately intersect in a San Francisco college creative writing class, the women are drawn into the tentative beginnings of what seems on the surface a most unlikely friendship.

A hard-edged cynic with a load of emotional baggage, much of which happens to be tied to her gender-bending first name, Gregory is the living legacy of a man she’d rather forget: her daddy. Stuck in a life he never wanted, he’d always been determined to make someone pay for his bitterness at circumstance. Until the night she’d had no choice but to step in and stop him.

As a girl of only thirteen, grey-eyed Indian beauty Aneeta is robbed of the one thing she can never get back. By a thief she has both loved and trusted. For years shame keeps her silent. Until the day the balance of power shifts, and she finally finds the courage to speak out. But her revelation unleashes a heart-rending chain of events that see her exiled as a bride to America, and traded from one nightmare into another.

It is duty that prompts Kameko to marry, not choice; her desire to satisfy a dying mother’s last wish and to make amends for long ago disappointments. But as she struggles to fulfill an age-old Japanese feminine ideal in a faraway city whose culture is markedly different from what she knows, she begins to question the choices and concessions she has made. It is the cruelest of ironies that finally sets her adrift, like a fallen leaf upon the stream.

By turns heartbreaking and hopeful, Backshadow crosses continents and cultures to consider some of the most provocative, poignant and stigmatizing issues affecting women in the world today. It is the story of three women catching the courage to confront the shadows of the past, and of the comfort that comes from knowing we are not alone.

 

About Julie Mann

Julie MannA maple-syrup-running-through-my-veins proud Canadian, I am a native of beautiful Vancouver. I am the cream half of a coffee-and-cream couple, mom to three children and various pets. I don’t exercise enough, and eat fewer leafy greens than I should. I tend to be easily frustrated by technology. I love music and dance, champagne and chocolate. When I have half a chance, I like to relax by reading and digging in the dirt. I am passionate about issues affecting women in the world.

Visit Julie on social media:

Website, Julie Mann, http://www.juliemann.net/index.html
Twitter: @juliemann01
Facebook: Julie Mann, https://www.facebook.com/juliemann.author
Author Instagram: @juliemannvan
Julie is also on Goodreads


An Excerpt from Backshadow

Aneeta
Fresno, California

2001

Her first impression of America is formed in the tubular glass and steel corridor. Moving along, the group of them, in a pack of belonging, she thinks of the way cows travel across dusty earth in passels bound by indistinguishable but undeniable commonality.

On paper she now belongs to this family. She lets motorized walkways push her along. Her father-in-law has papers ready in his right hand. On the top, a narrow strip of mint green is longer than the others. She has been told that she should simply remain quiet. She looks down at the simple gold band dotted with a delicate filigree of tiny diamonds. The symbol that binds her to Jovin. Her husband.

They approach a wicketed cage, not unlike many in Delhi. Except to say that this one, with its very high, thick partitions, looks far more authoritative and stern than any she has encountered before. The transparent walls are so dense that they distort one’s vision, lending an out-of-focus cast to outlines beyond. Or perhaps it is only a trick of her eyes; fatigue from the journey.

A heavy, uniformed man sits behind glass. Her father-in-law places his papers before the unsmiling officer and lays, very carefully, passports out over top, in a precise fan. She notes that her passport is the one most hidden by the way he has placed them. Though the peek of foreign lettering makes it stand out from the others.

Hers is the first he attends, slipping it out from under the stack. Aneeta Kaur Malik he reads, loudly, haltingly. He mispronounces the middle name Cow- er. Her unmarried last name he splits, into two twanging parts. She remains silent, as she has been asked. Tentatively, her father-in-law clears his throat. For his part, Jovin stares blankly into space. Into the distance. He stands furthest from her, on the other side of her mother-in-law, who has twisted her face into a sort of grimace-smile that conveys an exasperated lack of tolerance with the man before them. Jovin does not even seem a part of them. A part of her. A husband.

‘So what purpose brings you to the US of A?’ he asks blandly, studying the details at the front of her passport. His lips purse and eyes squint as they gather in her image and compare it to the likeness before him. Paper to flesh. Flesh to paper.

Her father-in-law speaks quickly in a furtive tone that belies his discomfort. ‘She,’ he indicates Aneeta with an incline of his head, ‘has married my son.’

‘S’atso?’ the man leans back in his chair, prompting squeaking with the rearrangement of his bulk. He raises his eyes to take them in, in their disjointed array. A touch of something plays across his lips but does not let itself show enough so that she can tell what it is. Mirth? A sneer? Concern? Doubt? One minute it is hinting at his features, the next moment it is gone. He turns his attention to her. Looks at her carefully, like the old bichola all over again. She expects that the fabric of her suit is a rumpled mess. She has not had the opportunity to change or even straighten it in the overly cramped confines of the tiny airplane lavatory. Suddenly self-conscious, she tries unobtrusively to smooth at her torso without letting her eyes drop.

‘We have required documentation for her.’

‘I’ll be the judge of that, sir, if you don’t mind. Why’nt you show me what you’ve got.’ Her father-in-law fusses with the papers. A shaky thumb and forefinger separate marriage papers and immigration documents from the rest.

‘I’ll take those. We’ll have a look through ’em. Make sure everything’s in order. I’m gonna ask that y’all follow me.’ With that, he rises. The springs of the chair groan at their sudden release. He flicks a switch on the slender post at his side. It turns a lighted 7 that marks his place in the row of agents to dark. She hears a heavy latch click. He opens the side panel of his cubicle, turns sideways to ease through it, and steps down from a raised platform. With her documents in hand, he begins to walk through the high-ceilinged hall. They trail obediently after. Aneeta catches an exchange of looks between her in-laws. Jovin, she notices, does not engage in their silent conversation of the eyes, staring instead at the back of the uniformed man. Fellow travelers from other kiosks regard them with a mix of curiosity and sympathy. Some she recognizes from the flight.

He ushers them into a small room with a wall of glass on one side. The front side. Outward looking. He motions them to a bench and closes the door with a firm and solid sound that seals them off from what lies beyond the perimeter. They are like a zoo exhibit, on display for those in the open space. Across the moving tide of people Aneeta spies a sign in thick black lettering, Welcome to the United States of America. It is decorated by a ring of tiny stars. She feels anything but welcome.

Officer 7 moves toward a nearby clutch of other similarly dressed men and women. Some sit at desks. Some stand behind counters with lines zigzagged in front of them. She watches the man who has deposited them here. Watches as he jocularly converses with colleagues. Watches as he takes a place behind one of the counters. At a computer screen. Back and forth he flicks through papers and passports. He spreads them along the space in front of him. She can see him shifting them in order. Reconstructing details to confirm the story they tell.

It is then that she whispers, ‘Is everything all right then, ji? Is this the way it is supposed to happen?’

Her mother-in-law’s eyes narrow. Her father-in-law replies in barely more than a hiss, with viper-like intensity, ‘How would I know this, do you suppose?’

Officer 7 is now striding back towards the fishbowl room. By his side is someone else this time; an also-uniformed, dark-haired and olive-skinned woman.

To Aneeta’s eye they are an odd couple. He tall and she small. She terribly slim, he bulky and wide. The door opens. Hall noise bursts in with them. It breaks the stilted discomfort. The woman wears a small tag with ‘Mercado’ upon it. Aneeta notices, as she looks to Officer 7, that he wears a similar badge. It reads ‘Bonner’.

‘Aneeta Malik?’ the slight woman queries, though she already knows. She says Malik in the same way as he, Bonner, has. In two parts. Broken in the middle. Ma-lick.

Aneeta nods and whispers, ‘Yes.’

‘Follow me.’ From the way her in-laws look it is obvious that this is unexpected. Control floats up and suddenly out of reach on butterfly wings. Chiffon flutters at her back as air blows past her. She moves after the retreating figure of Officer Mercado, past Bonner who holds the door.

They had been assured the paperwork was complete. Rupees were discreetly handed-off at appropriate levels to ensure that the processing of the documentation had occurred with almost unheard of speed. She wonders if there is something that might make her unwelcome. Ineligible. Inadmissible. What if the door to the US of A, as Bonner has called it, is not open to her? A tremor shivers through her. Maybe it is a small oversight. Perhaps easily corrected. Perhaps. They enter another room. With a narrow table. A chair on each side. Bonner stands at the threshold. Mercado nods to him and he shuts the door, taking his leave. She motions Aneeta to a chair and takes the seat opposite.

Meekly, Aneeta settles into the hard frame. Mercado regards the papers before her. The papers Aneeta recognizes as her own. Her passport rests to one side. There is a quiet tick-ticking of a clock in the corner. 11:18. Almost a full day since her departure. She is coated in the grimy, oily film of travel. Her eyes are dry and hot, she longs to close them. Cold coils in her.

‘Miss Malik.’ The syllables are not broken this time. Though they are jerky, they are not separate.

‘Yes.’ Her voice is soft, so soft.

‘I’m going to ask you some questions.’ Officer Mercado’s voice is loud and slow and deliberate, as if she suspects her of having some hearing impediment. ‘Do you understand?’

‘Yes.’ A little bit stronger now.

‘Can you understand what I’m saying?’

It seems a silly question given that they’ve come this far. ‘Yes.’

‘Will you need a translator?’

‘No, I shouldn’t think so.’ With some assurance.

‘You seem to speak good English. Where did you learn?’

‘At school.’ It is foolish, but she has the urge to laugh.

‘So you are educated?’

‘Yes.’ She knows enough not to offer more than is asked.

‘To what standard?’

‘I have my Class 12 certificate.’

‘For a young woman…’ Mercado, studying the documents, trails off. ‘Will you be pursuing more education? Here in the United States?’

‘I am not certain.’

‘You do not wish to?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘How come?’

‘Because I don’t know about my husband’s family. About what they would expect.’

‘So this marriage was arranged?’

‘Yes.’

‘By whom?’

‘By my mother.’

‘Really?’

Aneeta hears grains of skepticism. ‘Yes.’

‘So if your mother, as you say, undertook to arrange things, how did you come to hear about your husband?’

‘We had a bichola.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘A…’ Aneeta fumbles for the right English term, ‘a wisewoman, elder, what you might call a matchmaker. To help find a suitable match for me.’

‘You weren’t interested in finding a potential husband yourself?’

‘It is not always the way.’ She smiles a little to cover her voice sounding false.

‘I see. So this man? Your husband. He’s an American citizen?’

‘Yes.’

‘Born in the States?’

‘I think.’

‘You don’t know?’

‘I’m not…certain.’

‘On what basis did your families see you as a suitable fit? You know, given that you were looking for a match.’ Mercado exaggerates the emphasis on match.

‘In standing, I suppose. Position, caste. We were considered equals in worthiness.’

‘How long have you known one another?’

‘Just since we were introduced.’

‘And when was that?’

‘A couple of weeks from our wedding.’

‘So it was all already organized?’

‘It happened very quickly, our families agreeing. We hadn’t much of a chance.’

‘I find it hard to believe that an educated young woman like yourself has married a man without at least getting to know him a bit first.’

‘This is sometimes the way we do things.’ She thinks, the way circumstance sometimes forces us to do things. To fix things.

‘Hmmm.’ Mercado’s response is non-committal. ‘So just how did you know that this was the man for you? If you knew nothing about him, or hadn’t had the chance to get to know him?’

‘I…relied on my family’s judgment.’

‘You have that much faith in them? I don’t know that I could trust my family to pick the guy I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with. You seem like a smart girl. How could you be sure?’

She shrugs to dispel the inference, but cannot quell the uneasiness rising within her. ‘I know that they want what is best.’

‘So they send you halfway around the world to a man you don’t know.’

‘On the outside it would seem so, but it is not so unusual.’ She nods to show that she is not at odds with the bargain they have struck on her behalf. It is a better bargain than if she had stayed. Better by far.

‘So you’ve said. You understand the implications of the visa you’ve got papers for?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Your spousal visa.’

‘Oh, yes…I think.’

‘Let me refresh your memory for you. Just so we’re sure you understand. So you’re well aware.’

‘Okay.’

‘That you are involved in a genuine marriage relationship.’

‘Yes.’

‘With one,’ Mercado pauses and looks to the papers, ‘Jovin Singh Arora.’

‘Yes.’

‘And that he is responsible for you. What does your husband do here in the States for a living?’

‘He works in the financial industry.’ There is pride at being able to ally herself with such an important field.

‘Doing what exactly?’

‘I...well…I cannot really say.’

‘Meaning you don’t know? Because the financial industry is pretty big. Employs huge numbers. Workers in all sorts of capacities. I mean, he could be a bank teller. Or an accountant. See what I’m saying here?’

‘I see.’ She nods for Mercado as a knot expands in her stomach.

‘Love him?’ The sudden sharpness of the question catches Aneeta by surprise.

Her words form themselves slowly around her hopes, her fears, around what she does not yet know. ‘He is my husband. Of course.’ After a pause she continues, in the way a more carefree bride perhaps would, ‘I consider myself very fortunate.’ She nods her conviction to Mercado, for the outside world, and for the not at all certain part within herself. I am fortunate. I am. To have such a chance.

‘I see. And that’s all?’

‘Is it not enough?’

‘For your sake, Miss Malik, I hope it is.’

Copyright © 2015 Julie Mann