Anjali’s Red Scarf Ch. 01

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Chapter One: An Accidental Arrangement

This is a F-F story, with BDSM elements, although it takes a while to get there. Chapter 1 is introduction only; there’s no sex until Chapter 2.

Posting schedule: I’m submitting Chapter 2 immediately after Chapter 1, after that I expect to post new chapters about once a month. I’m expecting the series to run to about eight chapters altogether, but last time I said “four to six chapters” and it ended up running to fourteen, so maybe you shouldn’t put too much stock in that.

If you want to be notified when I post a new chapter, you can use the private feedback option to send me your email address.

* * * * *

“I’m thinking of becoming a kept woman,” said Anjali, as calmly as if she’d been commenting on the quality of the café’s coffee.

I froze, hiding my reaction behind a forkful of cake. “A… a what?”

I didn’t know whether to take her literally. Anjali was a peculiar mix of deep knowledge and childlike naiveté, and it would be just like her to misuse an expression she’d read in a book somewhere.

“A kept woman. You know? A mistress. But I wanted your advice.”

Literally, then.

I caught the eye of the waiter and beckoned him over; I could see this was going to be a two-coffee conversation. Before I take that any further, though, let me explain the nature of our acquaintance.

* * * * *

We’d met seven years earlier, back when I lived in Sydney. I was halfway through a doctorate in operations research. I had a friend by the name of Kavita, an Indian-Australian student in the engineering department, and both of us had been doing mathematics tutoring to help pay the bills.

Kavita had been engaged for as long as I’d known her, with no definite date set, and then suddenly the plans all came together and the wedding took over her life with little warning. She asked if I could take on some of her students, and that’s how I came to be tutoring Anjali Kapadia.

“She’s a smart girl,” Kavita told me, “she’s going to be a doctor.” There was no if in that sentence. “She won’t be any trouble, but you must be on your best behaviour. Her parents are very very strict.”

Anjali was sixteen when I met her, a slightly-built girl who wore great big glasses that made her look like an owl. She was in her second-last year of high school, attending a private ladies’ college that her parents had most likely chosen for the height of its perimeter wall and the cast-iron spikes at the top.

She wanted to do Extension Mathematics Two, which is the hardest maths stream in the NSW system. It’s the course for hardcore STEM nerds like myself, but it’s also popular with kids who want the high marks to get into medicine or law.

E2 is hard work even for a bright kid with a good teacher, and unfortunately Anjali didn’t have a good teacher. The college’s Head of Mathematics had just retired, and the replacement teacher was out of his depth with the harder content. That’s where I came in.

Tutoring Anjali was the easy part. She was bright, and not just willing but eager to work. That worked well for me. I’m a good explainer but a bad motivator, and E2 is tough enough to feel like serious punishment to anybody who’s just doing it for the marks. I’d been tutoring a lot of wannabe med/law students who didn’t really want to be there, so it was a relief to have a pupil who wasn’t going to ask “why do we even need this?”

She loved to spend her lunchtimes alone in the school library, reading anything she could lay her hands on. As a result, she could reel off facts about anything from the history of watchmaking to the moons of Jupiter, and she’d do so at the slightest opportunity.

For all that, though, she could be deeply clueless on some matters. She had an impressive vocabulary but found literature classes immensely frustrating because she always missed subtext; she could recite the “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech from memory, but never noticed how Antony uses that speech to manipulate the crowd.

Once we had a very confusing conversation where Anjali insisted that Australians used to eat mammoth meat. It turned out she’d been reading an old novel where somebody had a “mammoth sandwich”, and hadn’t understood that the author just meant a big sandwich.

I soon learned never to laugh at such mistakes. She was very sensitive to embarrassment, to any situation that made her look foolish, and it was easy to bring her close to tears with a careless remark. I had been much the same at sixteen; I struggled to make friends of my own age, so I worked overtime trying to impress adults with my intellect, and failure was unbearable.

A little later in my own life, I would be diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, what’s sometimes misleadingly called “mild” autism. (I’m not fond of that expression; “mild” just means that I’m good enough at faking normal that I don’t inconvenience people around me too badly. It says nothing at all about what it’s like for me.)

Looking back, it’s blindingly obvious that Anjali bahis firmaları was a kindred spirit – although more obviously so than myself – and perhaps that’s why we got on so well. But at the time, I just assumed her naiveté was the consequence of her sheltered upbringing.

About her parents. I don’t mean to be too harsh on them. They most certainly were strict, excessively so, but they weren’t mean. They doted on their girl, they were proud of her achievements, and they wanted the best for her in everything.

Unfortunately, their idea of “the best” involved wrapping her up in cotton wool. Her mother drove her to school and collected her again every day. The only computer she could use was in the living room, so that her parents could keep a watchful eye on her, and it was locked down with parental-control software that made it almost useless for anything beyond word-processing. The TV was switched on only for parentally-approved content. And so on.

One afternoon when my bike was in the shop for repairs my then-boyfriend Edgar gave me a lift to tutoring in his car, and knocked on the door afterwards to pick me up. They said nothing at the time, but on my next visit Mrs Kapadia asked for a word with me before the lesson.

She offered me a cup of tea and then explained, very apologetically, that Mr Kapadia considered it inappropriate for Anjali to see me with a boy I wasn’t married to. In future, should I be unable to ride, I was to call them and she would come pick me up herself. Mrs Kapadia was as polite as could be, but I was left in no doubt that this was not to be repeated. For her part, Anjali seemed quite startled that I might be dating such a scruffy-looking lad. (In my defence, Edgar wasn’t a scruffy-looking lad when we started dating, but more on that later.)

Perhaps the hardest restriction of all, she wasn’t allowed a mobile phone until her seventeenth birthday, long after all her classmates had one. Her brother Mahesh, two years younger, got his the same day she did. There’s no justice.

Privately, I thought the Kapadias were making a big mistake. You can’t keep your child in a bubble forever, especially if she’s going to med school. Sooner or later Anjali was going to meet the Big Wide World, and then she’d need to learn the life lessons she’d been missing. But there wasn’t much I could do about it – or so I thought at the time – so I just took my seventy dollars an hour and did my job.

Like I said, I’m a good explainer and she was a good pupil. Sometimes it took a while for her to understand a concept, but once I got it across I never had to explain the same thing twice. I wasn’t surprised when her father told me she’d topped the school’s Year Eleven maths exams, and after they returned from the annual trip to visit family in Mumbai I agreed to continue for her final year.

In Year Twelve the content got tougher, but she was equal to the task. Solids of revolution, integration by parts, polynomial factorisations, conic sections, she learned it all and then practised until she could do it in her sleep.

The one topic where we ran into difficulty was complex numbers. It wasn’t that the subject was too complicated for her; the rules were simple compared to the other E2 content, and she could have memorised them easily enough.

No, it was an ethical dilemma. She was being asked to work with the square root of minus one, a thing that simply didn’t exist, and that bothered her deeply. “If it’s not true,” she asked, “why are we learning it? In mathematics? Why should I try to believe in something that isn’t true?”

That was a tough one to resolve. In the end I had to go home and spend a couple of hours with my undergrad textbooks before I could figure out an explanation that would satisfy her. (In brief: all numbers are abstractions that only exist inside our heads, but they give us a useful way of thinking about things that do exist in the real world.)

Of course, Anjali Kapadia was only a small part of my schedule. I had plenty of other things going on in my life. I had my other tutees; I had Edgar, and my own family; I had a doctoral project that was gradually mutating away from its original outline and threatening to eat my entire life if I couldn’t wrestle it into submission. But I liked her, and I felt a little pang when it came time for the last of our weekly tute sessions.

Our final session was a couple of days before the big exam. We ran over all the major topics, and I reminded her to make the most of the reading time. “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble, but if you do get stuck on anything, go on to the other questions and come back to it later.”

She gave me a little card signed by the whole family, and Mr Kapadia insisted on giving me a bonus. Then I wished her luck and rode home, wondering how her life would turn out, and thinking that I’d probably never see her again.

* * * * *

My phone woke me at one in the morning. I fumbled for my glasses, and saw it was Anjali, and wondered why on earth she’d be calling me. It was late kaçak iddaa November, and her exams should all be over.

For a moment I assumed that she’d hit my number by accident, and I almost ditched the call. But then I noticed that I had two unread messages that had arrived while I slept, and I realised that it wasn’t like her to be calling anybody at one in the morning. Something was up. So I answered it, padding out into the hallway to avoid waking Edgar.

She was talking very quietly; I could hear loud music in the background, and people who sounded drunk.

“Sarah. Sorry, sorry, I didn’t know who else to call.”

“What’s up?” I mumbled groggily.

“I’m at a party with Ellie.” I remembered the name: one of her classmates. “My parents don’t know I’m here. Some guys wanted me to drink something and I said no, but Ellie’s passed out and I can’t wake her…”

“Shit.” Suddenly she had my attention. “Where are you? In the house, I mean.”

“We’re in the living room.”

“Okay, good. Stay there with her.” It sounded like there were lots of people around. I just hoped they weren’t all scumbags. “Don’t let anybody take you anywhere. Or her. No matter how nice they seem. If you have to hit them with a bottle or tell them to fuck off, you do that. Okay, where’s the party?”

She gave me a North Shore address.

“Right, got it. I’ll call the police.”

“No, please. My parents will kill me.”

In hindsight the sensible thing would have been to call the police anyway. But it would’ve felt too much like a betrayal, and in the heat of the moment I didn’t even think to bring Edgar along. “Okay, kid, hold on. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Remember, glass bottle.” I grabbed my things and headed for the car.

Twenty-five minutes later I was standing on somebody’s doorstep, rapping the knocker loud enough to be heard over the bass thumping inside.

A hairy man-boy opened the door, then took a step back when he saw me. It could have been my bed-hair and my outfit – dressing gown, unicorn pyjamas, scuffed black Docs – but it could also have been my angry expression and the claw hammer in my right hand.

I stepped towards him, smiling extra-wide like I’d practised in the car mirror, and he started to look like a frightened rabbit.

“Hi!” I said in my perkiest voice. “I’m here for Anjali and Ellie. Where are they?”

Frightened Rabbit pointed me to the living room. There were half a dozen lads, drunk and rowdily singing along with some auto-tuned wonder on the stereo. Behind them was Anjali, sitting on a sofa next to an unconscious girl who I took to be Ellie. I was pleased to see she had a beer bottle clenched in her hand.

In a better world, I’d have found out who the drink-spiking arseholes were and put that hammer to use. But I’m not an action hero. My job was just to get Anjali and her friend out of there.

“Come on, kids, time to go home.”

I glared at the boys until they got out of our way. Between the two of us Anjali and I got Ellie out to the car. I drove far enough to put us out of sight of the house, and then I stopped to call triple-0 and let the cops know there was a party that needed a visit.

By the time I hung up, Anjali was pretty agitated. “We’re supposed to be staying at her place. Her parents are out. Can you take us back there?”

I shook my head. “I’m taking Ellie to hospital. We don’t know what they gave her and some of those drugs can seriously fuck your liver. Now, did you learn first aid at school?”


“Good, you’re in charge of making sure she’s breathing okay, while I figure out where the nearest hospital is…”

The emergency ward was busy, but unconscious people are high on the triage list. So they took Ellie off for an appointment with a stomach pump, and after we’d done some paperwork they left us to wait with the less urgent cases and the other hangers-on.

Anjali let out a long sigh. “Are my parents going to find out?”

“Maybe. The police may want to take a statement from you. You’re a minor, I think they may have to notify your parents.” Then I thought of something else: “The hospital is definitely going to have to call Ellie’s parents, and I’m guessing they’d tell yours?”

Her face crumpled. Poor kid. I handed her a tissue and patted her shoulder, let her cry for a bit. “Tell you what. Let me call them, okay? Let me handle this one.” She sniffled assent.

In the normal run of things, I’m terrible at fast-talk. But if I have the element of surprise on my side, and a little time to plan things out, I can just about manage to ambush a sleeping target. Or even two.

“Mrs Kapadia, it’s Sarah Weber, I’m sorry to wake you, but I’m at the hospital with Anjali-”

“What did you say, Sarah? She is in HOSPITAL?”

“Yes, don’t panic, she’s not injured but the police may need to take evidence from her-“

I heard Mr Kapadia in the background saying something in Hindi, and she replied. Somewhere in there I heard my name. Then he said “give it to me,” and took kaçak bahis the phone.

“Hello Sarah? What is the situation please?”

“I’m at the hospital with Anjali…”

Like I said: strict, but not mean. I knew they loved their girl, and I hoped that a scare might remind them of that. Call me cruel, but it was in a good cause.

I told him nothing that wasn’t true. I said that Anjali was unharmed but really upset, and that she and Ellie had gone to a party, and somebody had spiked Ellie’s drink. I said that thankfully, Anjali had been smart enough not to drink, and brave enough to stay there and protect her friend. And that she’d called me, because she was scared of what they’d say.

All through that he said almost nothing, other than to relay information to his wife. I think I’d succeeded in throwing them off balance.

“She’s here, do you want to talk to her?”

Of course they did. Anjali took the phone about as eagerly as if I’d offered her a grenade, and then began talking in Hindi. It was hard to tell, but from the tone of voice I didn’t think they were tearing strips off her.

Eventually she said, “Shukriya. Bye, Mama,” and handed the phone back to me. Her father came back on. “We will come and pick her up.”

After he’d said good-bye, I put the phone away and turned back to Anjali. “How were they?”

“Ah. Better than they could have been. Th-thank you.”

It was a warm night, but she was shaking. I shrugged off my dressing gown and made her put it on, although it was too long for her. “Come on, kiddo, let’s get you something from the vending machines.”

As we waited for the machine to sputter out a cup of hot chocolate, I put my arm around her shoulder. “Okay, listen up. Two things. One, I know this seems like the end of the world right now, but it’ll blow over. You made a mistake, you dealt with it. I don’t think your parents are going to stay mad for too long. If they are, well.” I shrugged. “You’ll be eighteen pretty soon, and then you’re an adult and you get to decide how much say they have in your life.”

As any grown-up knows, this is not exactly the complete truth – and, Anjali tells me, it’s even less true for a good Hindu girl – but I figured it was true enough for the moment.

“Second thing. I’m not your tutor any more, so if you ever need an adult who’s not beholden to your parents, you have my number. If something like this happens, or if you just want a sanity check on anything, you can call me. Okay?”


I gave her a hug. “But next time you call in the middle of the night, you owe me a coffee. Got it?”

“Got it.” She managed a weak smile.

Her parents showed up not long after that, and she ran straight into her mother’s arms. Mr Kapadia gave me a gruff but sincere thank-you. Then I said goodbye, retrieved my dressing gown, and drove home to where my bed awaited.

* * * * *

I messaged Anjali the next day to check how she was doing, but she didn’t reply. Much later, she told me she’d been grounded for a few weeks without phone privileges. By her parents’ standards, that was pretty mild, and all was forgiven when she made it into a prestigious medical program.

After that Anjali faded into the background of my life. It wasn’t that that she was ungrateful for my help, far from it; there just wasn’t room for friendship to develop just then. We were moving in different circles, and both of us were tremendously busy with our studies. I was trying to get my PhD under control and find employment opportunities, and Anjali was starting on a six-year medical degree. As if that wasn’t enough of a course load for any sane person, she’d managed to enrol in a couple of astronomy subjects “just for interest”.

So we kept in touch, but only barely. I’d copy her in on my annual happy-new-year message along with everybody else in my phone book, and she’d return the greeting, and that was about the extent of it. It would be another two years after that late-night rescue mission before we met again.

* * * * *

Once again it began with a call out of the blue. This time it wasn’t in the middle of the night, but the timing was nearly as bad. I was about to head overseas for a year-long postdoc in Leipzig, and I had a mountain of packing and tidying to get through before I flew out in the morning. I didn’t even have Edgar to help; he’d been called away to visit a relative at short notice.

I told Anjali I couldn’t chat just then, and she said it was no problem, but she sounded disappointed. So I added: “You can come over and talk while I pack, if you like? I’d love to catch up.” And she did.

She’d changed, and she hadn’t. Although she’d filled out a little and gained an inch or two in height, she still wore the big owl-glasses, and the shalwar kameez that I remembered from our tutoring sessions. She still lived with her parents.

I thought she’d matured considerably. She seemed much more comfortable in her own skin now, no longer in such a rush to impress me. Nor was she so easily shocked; between my gothic tastes and Edgar’s fondness for power metal, the flat was decorated in a style that would have horrified seventeen-year-old Anjali, but the nineteen-year-old edition didn’t bat an eyelid.

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