Manu now had his full attention and what she had to say was sobering indeed.
* * *
Oh, he so did not cause offence.
Leila had actually laughed at James’s text. No, she would not be unbuttoning to her phone, but he made her so happy that she felt brave.
Brave enough to handle anything.
Leila picked up her phone and stared, but not at James’s texts. She went to the address book and to where James had keyed her parents’ number into the phone.
She looked at the time in Surhaadi, as James had added a clock with the time there.
It was after dinnertime now.
She knew that the phone rang in the lounge where they had had that terrible row and knew that they would be sitting there now.
Leila held her breath as a maid answered it.
‘I wish to speak with my mother,’ Leila said, and when she heard the shocked gasp, Leila remembered her new manners with maids. ‘Please.’
It took ages for her mother to come to the phone—no doubt she would be shooing out all the servants—and Leila waited.
And she waited.
Leila was starting to wish she had done this when James was here because he had helped her to forget a little how her mother’s spite made her feel.
She was starting to remember it now.
It was the same maid who came back to the phone.
‘She says that whoever you are you are a cruel trickster for her only daughter died many years ago.’
Leila cleared her throat before speaking. ‘Tell my mother that if she will speak with me this once, then, if it is her wish, she will never have to speak with me again.’
Leila closed her eyes and waited and finally her mother came to the phone.
‘Sharmota.’ Her mother called her a whore, which Leila had expected given all that had happened.
‘Mother, please,’ Leila calmly attempted. ‘I know it seems terrible but James is a wonderful man and we are getting married. You know that we are having a baby, please think about it—this will be your first grandchild...’ Leila played the best card she had. ‘If it is a girl we shall call her...’
‘Your dirty street bastard is no relation to me.’
And something rose in Leila as her mother spoke like that about the tiny baby that grew inside her.
‘I am not ringing because I need your approval, Mother. I am just calling to let you know that I am safe and that I am loved.’
‘Loved?’ Farrah’s voice was incredulous.
‘Yes, loved,’ Leila said. ‘James loves me.’
‘He told you that?’
Oh, she tried, how she tried to stand up to her, but even the bed seemed to shake beneath her and Leila clung to the sheet with one hand and tried to resist being dragged back to the mad vortex that she had fought so hard to escape from.
‘Did he tell you he loved you just before you parted your legs or during?’ her mother asked and Leila screwed her eyes closed. ‘Because he does not love you, Leila. Tell me, please, why would he?’
‘He just does,’ Leila said.
Leila’s conviction wavered and she could not answer at first, so she sought James’s words. ‘I’ll be an amazing mother...’
‘As I said, you are not my daughter. There are no portraits on the walls of you anymore.’ She had been removed, Leila realised, and she thought of herself standing and looking at the portraits and now any one with her in it was gone. She had simply been deleted from their lives. ‘Don’t worry for us,’ her mother continued, ‘the palace is happier now without you. Your father has started taking evening walks again, which he has not done since Jasmine’s death. I have started a new tapestry. Even the maids smile more as they go about their day. We are better without you.’
* * *
James arrived home to find Leila in bed and he was just about to say that that she was just where he liked to find her when he saw her face, which was whiter than the shirt she wore.
She shook her head—she could not tell him, she could not find her voice. But he could taste the grief in the room.
‘The baby?’ James asked.
Leila shook her head again and tried to remember how her voice worked. ‘I spoke with my mother...’ and that was all she could say.