"They forced you?"
"No," she said. "They just chose him for me."
"But you said yes?"
Her lips stretched into a shy smile.
"It was the right thing to do. It is my culture, you know?"
"Oh," I said.
"If it's my culture it must be a good thing, doesn't it?"
"It could be," I said. "It just seems strange to me."
Saraswati pushed her lightly curled black hair behind her ear.
"It's strange to me too. I'm not really connected to this culture anymore, but I wanted to make my parents happy."
"And that is more important than your own life?"
"It seemed right at the time."
"Well," she said. "Now things are different. I guess I learned to think more about myself."
"My mother passed away."
"Oh," I said. "I'm really sorry."
"It's okay," she said. "I miss her every day, but she was sick for a long time and I was happy that she didn't have to suffer anymore. Still it changed things. Without her there, it was just me and him."
"And you didn't want to be with him anymore?"
"I never liked him because he never cared about who I was. He just saw me as another possession, a possession that every man needs to have, but not one that he needs to respect. He chose me for my inheritance and I guess because I was attractive back then."
"You still are."
"I suppose he felt that I was unhappy. And he probably also felt that I wasn't attracted to him. That was one of the things that made him angry."
"He drank a lot."
"And he wasn't a good person when he was angry, but it was okay while his parents lived with us. He was never loud or violent when they were around — but sometimes they were visiting his sister for two or three weeks at a time, and during those days he was a different person."
"You mean, he was violent?"
Saraswati pressed her lips together and her eyes shut.
Then she nodded, just slightly.
"He wasn't a bad person, you know? He just was so angry because of work and then, when I didn't please him, it only got worse."
"You don't have to go into detail," I said.
She closed her eyes again and shook her head slowly from side to side.
"Okay," she whispered.
"And please don't blame yourself," I said. "Sadly, this is not very uncommon. People just don't talk about it very much."
Her hands quickly wiped across her eyes. Then she looked at me again.
"I suppose," she said. "It's nothing you tell your neighbors about."
"Exactly," I said. "But what happened then?"
"His parents had a car accident. His father died right away and his mother was badly injured."
"I felt bad when it happened," Saraswati said. "But mostly I was scared of being alone with just him. I didn't like his mother very much and they told us she would never walk again. But I was happy when she finally got home."
She held a hand in front of her chin and coughed.
"But she wasn't the same anymore. Her eyes were all glazed, as if she wasn't inside her body anymore. She just stared into the distance for most of the day. I had to feed and bath and dress her. And he refused to touch her; he said the way she breathed disturbed him, this slow rattling breath. He refused to even look at her and whenever I tried to talk about her he just poured himself another drink."
Saraswati scratched the corner of her left eye.
"And then," she said, "I got pregnant."
"On purpose?" I asked.
"I guess he wanted it," she said.
"And you didn't?"
"I'm not sure," she said. "There was just so much going on and I never really wanted children. I didn't watch out for my period and then I began to feel sick every day. That's when I knew."
"How did he react?"
Saraswati forced a smile.
"He poured himself another drink. And then he said, 'I hope it's a boy.'"
"But you had a daughter?"
"We didn't find out for a long time," she said. "At the beginning they can only guess and the doctor told us it was likely a boy. But it didn't change anything; I kept cooking and cleaning and caring for his mother who grew so thin that she couldn't even sit anymore, and he kept drinking and shouting."
"And you didn't want to leave him?"
"You can't leave your husband. That's our culture, or at least I thought so back then."
"I thought so," I said.
"Well," she said. "I was in the sixth month already when the doctor told us he was sure."
"Sure of what?"
"Of the gender. That it was a girl."
"And he wasn't happy about that."
"No," she said. "He wasn't. We went to the doctor together and afterwards he didn't even talk to me. When we got back home I changed his mother's diaper and fed her and he sat on the couch with his whisky."
"And you tried to talk to him?"
"I knew it wouldn't work. I just put his mother to bed and I talked to her for a while. Of course she didn't react, I wasn't even sure if she still heard me. I cried while she stared into the fog and breathed as if there were marbles in her throat. And when I couldn't cry anymore I went to sleep. And just a few minutes later he came too."
"To the bedroom?"
"Yes," Saraswati said. "And then he just started screaming and shouting. He said I had failed him and that I should have given him a son. And then he started hitting me."
"He hit you even as you were pregnant?"
Saraswati lowered her head.
"Yes," she said. "He even tried to hurt my daughter. I tried to block his blows, but he kept punching my stomach and it hurt so much. I begged him to stop, but he just kept going. It was all his angry shouts and my screams and so much pain. I pulled the blanket over me, and then he started screaming 'Stop! Stop!' and stopped punching me. And then he started screaming in panic and I heard some slashing and clicking sounds."
"I didn't dare to look. I was so scared of him. I thought he was going to kill me. He kept screaming for a while, but then he stopped and all I heard was his breathing. I felt him climb on the bed and I pulled more of the covers over me, but then he just slumped down next to me and it sounded like he fell asleep. His breathing was right next to me and then it turned into a gurgling sound, and then a rattling sound."
"It sounded like an animal, like a dog."
"I was too scared to look, but the rattling just stayed, breathing in and out, over and over again, until I finally dared to slowly shift away. The rattling didn't change and there was no other sound, so I moved a bit more. I felt my whole body in pain and my daughter was moving wildly inside me, but the rest of the world seemed suddenly still, except for that breathing."
Saraswati wrapped her arms around her chest.
"And when I finally managed to get my feet on the floor I saw a hand down there, lying on the ground, and I was terrified because the rattling next to me had stopped. I quickly jumped from the bed and tried to get to the door, but it hurt so much that I couldn't run. I had to bend over and hold onto the wall and I tried to push myself away."
"And then I saw his head down there, on the ground. His eyes were open, but he didn't move. And there was a lot of blood over his neck and on his face."
Saraswati looked at me.
"I know what the courts said," she said. "But I didn't kill my husband. I would swear my life that I didn't."
She nodded but her eyes were still fixed on me.
"When I looked back there, towards our bed, there was his mother sitting on it. She had blood all over her chin and clothes. When I looked at her, her eyes fell shut, but just before that, just before she died, I know that she was looking at me. And her eyes weren't glazed anymore."