Megha Nayar

The exit protocol

Now that you've made up your mind to leave and picked next Friday as D-Day, you must start preparing a checklist. Do not, however, use a scribble pad or make notes on your phone. Create a new email ID instead and save your list as a draft. Remain incognito and log out after every modification. He often skims through your phone. If he chances upon any evidence of your impending escape, it'll be the end of you.

The most important thing you must smuggle out is your documents - your school leaving certificates, college marksheets, employment offers, resignation letters, salary slips. Your father had meticulously filed these in a brown folder over the first two decades of your life. Don't forget that, because those two decades are all you have now.

Pick that folder last though, just before you exit, not any earlier. It sits on the middle shelf of the study cupboard. He must not notice its disappearance.

You will be tempted to take every single garment, handbag and pair of shoes you love. But let's be practical - the next few months, all you will be doing is ruminating indoors or appearing for interviews. So, pack strictly neutral clothes. Pick the versatile ones especially - black trousers, leggings in basic colours, plain shirts. Of your purses, take one small and one big one. To save space, put the small one inside the big one. Leave your high heels and flip- flops behind. Take your multi-purpose black shoes instead, and wear your best pair of sandals on your way out.

Don't fret over socks, night clothes, underwear. That stuff will find its way to you eventually. A man, even one livid from rejection, will see no point in holding on to your lingerie.

Next, your books. Leave them all behind. Well, maybe take The Palace of Illusions but forget the rest. It will break your heart but this is an inescapable loss. They're too heavy to be lugged home.

Anyway, he doesn't read. He will certainly not burn them. At most, he might donate them to a library out of spite, which is fine because you've read them all. Take that risk.

What about your jewellery? Segregate it into three categories: precious, semi-precious and trinkets. Where you're not sure, ask your mother during a routine conversation, in a by-the- way manner. Like, "Oh hey, speaking of shopping, Mum, do you remember that rose-shaped brooch we bought together for my wedding? Was it real gold?" She will remember. Mothers are connoisseurs of metals. Mothers are also creatures of instinct but, so be careful to watch the tone of your voice. Don't sniffle or speak at a different pitch than usual. If she suspects anything, distract her with counter-questions, like you've been doing the past few months.

Take the good stuff. Leave the cheap baubles behind. Not everything pretty is valuable. But you already know that by now.

Which suitcase will you pick? Take the big grey one. It's brand-new, unblemished by bad memories. Do not pack it right away though. Just keep your stuff ready. You can toss it all in on the morning of D-Day.

Now for the bookings. The 17:20 PM flight is the best option. You'll have to leave three hours before its scheduled departure, around 2 in the afternoon. This is providential timing. You've observed over the past four weeks that he is properly drowsy around that time, knackered by the summer heat. Your cooking can help. If you prepare an extra heavy meal, complete with dessert, he will likely retire for a snooze, shutting the bedroom door to keep the air-conditioning in. It's just what you need to make an inconspicuous exit.

What about money? You've never been allowed to have any of your own. All your government-mandated identity proofs are in his custody too. Now, this is going to take an elaborate scheme.

Early next week, when he is in a good mood, show him the brochure of a distance-learning ELT programme. Tell him this course will help you find a job teaching English online. Since you can do this without stepping out of the house, he won't forbid it. Tell him animatedly about its contents and request him to help you fill the admission form, so he is convinced of your interest in the course. Mention casually that you will need to send them attested photocopies of your passport and PAN card for documentation, along with a copy of the electricity bill as evidence of permanent address. Since you don't have a printer-scanner at home, you will have to step out for the printouts. Do this on the morning of D-Day, around 9 AM, when he is getting ready for work. Tell him you completely forgot that the admission deadline is today, so you need your original documents pronto. He will curse you and declare you a moron for being unorganised, then instruct you to keep the originals back in his study when done. Nod yes, vigorously. Don't do it though. Put them in your handbag once he's gone.

After he reaches office, call him up pretending to be at the photocopier's. Sound breathless. Tell him you need an urgent money transfer because you have to pay the first instalment of fees before noon. Ask for fifteen thousand rupees. He will get annoyed and cuss at you, but eventually send the money without further ado. Fifteen thousand is the right sort of amount, not big enough for him to launch an investigation but good enough to fund your escape. Besides, he has a meeting with wholesalers that Friday morning. It's why you even selected that day. He will be terribly busy. He will forget to ask you to e-mail him a copy of the receipt.

As soon as you receive the money, book the ticket. Hopefully the flight won't be full by then. Pull the chosen suitcase out of the attic, toss in all your stuff, then head to the kitchen to perform your wifely duties one last time.

When he gets home at 12:30 PM, open the door with a wide smile. Disarm him before he has a chance to unleash his inner detective. Thank him for the money and show him the feast of gratitude you've rustled up. Lay out his plate with abundance. Feed him generously. A sleeping pill can also do the job of seducing him into a siesta but you're a woman of ethics. When you've never played dirty, why succumb on the last day?

When he's washing up post lunch, put his phone on mute and slide it out of sight. Softly suggest that he take a nap, considering what a long week it's been. He will agree. Wait for him to recede to the bedroom, for the door to click shut, for the confirmation of his snores. Gently bolt the door from outside. Now, quickly retrieve the suitcase. Change into your happy, non-wife clothes. Check that your handbag has your phone, debit card, papers. Book a cab. On the way out, don't forget to grab the brown folder from the study - it's the foundation stone on which you're going to rebuild your life.

When the entire human race is in peril of being obliterated by a rogue microbe, why must a perfectly capable woman spend the precious remainder of her existence shackled by this small man and his small mind?

As the taxi pulls in, lock the main door behind you. Walk out without turning around for a last look. Know that by the time he manages to break out of this prison, you'll be safely airborne.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020. She spends half her time teaching French and English. The other half, she devotes to learning Spanish, taking long walks, and pondering the purpose of human existence. Writing is her validation and catharsis, not to mention regular dopamine fix. She blogs at meghanayar.tumblr.com and tweets at @meghasnatter.