Each morning, Gauri watches as Bela walks down the lawn at the front of the apartment complex to the street to catch the school bus. For the first few weeks of first grade, she accompanied Bela, but now that Bela goes on her own, Gauri is grateful for the change, and happy to not have to get dressed and make small talk with the other mothers each morning before sitting down to work for her independent study with Professor Weiss.
Now that Gauri has intensified her studies, she is even more grateful for any moment of peace, quiet, and solitude she can get. This is not lost on Bela, and as the chapter goes on, Lahiri will examine the painful separation happening between Bela and Gauri each and every day.
One morning, after a night of rainstorms, Gauri hands Bela her lunch and sends her down to the street, grateful that the day is now her own until three in the afternoon. A minute later, though, there is a knock at the door; Bela does not want to cross the lawn, as the rain has brought out tons of writhing earthworms. Bela asks to be carried to the school bus; Gauri refuses. Bela then asks to stay home. Gauri wishes she could be like the other mothers, who do not consider a day spent with their child “a waste.” Gauri sees the bus coming down the street and drags Bela down the sloping lawn. The other mothers stare as Bela cries, but Gauri pulls Bela all the way to the bus. At the street, Bela shakes herself free, and tells Gauri that she doesn’t like her, and will never like her again.
This scene demonstrates the ways in which Gauri feels like anything Bela asks of her is too big a demand. Gauri has sacrificed her life for Bela, in many ways—anything more her daughter wants from her is simply too much. Gauri wants to stop feeling this way, but try and try as she might, she cannot see Bela as anything other than a burden and a cruel reminder of all she has lost.
Though Gauri knows Bela’s words were part of a tantrum, they haunt her all day. That night, after Bela is in bed, Gauri approaches Subhash and tells him that she wants to tell Bela about Udayan. Subhash protests that Bela, at six years old, is too young—to tell her now would do more harm than good. Gauri knows that Subhash is right. Subhash asks Gauri to promise him that when the time comes, they will tell Bela together. Gauri reluctantly agrees, knowing that the only thing Subhash needs from her is her help in maintaining the illusion that he is Bela’s true father.
Gauri feels that her frustration with Bela—and her frustration with herself for being so impatient and disconnected—has reached a breaking point, and that the only way to change things is to bring it all crashing down. Subhash helps Gauri understand that her duty is to more than just herself and her own feelings—she has certain responsibilities to Bela, and to Subhash as well.
On campus, Gauri becomes aware of a middle-aged man—perhaps a professor—who often stares at her when they cross paths. Gauri is excited by the attention and begins imagining this man when she is in bed with Subhash. One day, she follows the man into the student union, intending to approach him for sex. As she follows him, though, she sees him go up to another woman and kiss her. Feeling rejected and alone, but still aroused, Gauri retreats to the women’s restroom, locks herself in a stall, and masturbates. From that day on, she takes care never to make eye contact with the man again.
Gauri’s spiral continues as she experiences a desperation for attention from someone—anyone—other than Subhash. Gauri is attracted to this man, despite the fact that she doesn’t know him, perhaps because of the way he sees her, or how he doesn’t. To this man, she is not a beleaguered mother or a reluctant wife; she is just a woman, free of attachments. Gauri is more attracted to this vision of herself than the man in question.
One afternoon, Gauri needs to go out and pick up some milk, but Bela does not want to go with her. Gauri decides to leave Bela alone while she goes to the store—she tells herself that it is just a two-minute walk, and Bela will be fine. Gauri goes out to the store, telling Bela that she is going to get the mail. Realizing that Bela can stay by herself for small periods of time, Gauri repeats the behavior again and again. As the days go by, the minutes Gauri steals away from her daughter increase. Soon, she is spending fifteen minutes or more out running errands at the post office or on campus, requesting applications for doctoral programs that Otto Weiss has suggested she look into. On these outings, Gauri wonders what her life would look like without Bela or Subhash.
Gauri is living dangerously. She is so completely stifled by her life that she starts physically fleeing her daughter, and their home, for a few minutes each day. She is experimenting with what things would be like if she were responsible only for herself—if her only duties were to her studies and the pursuit of her own happiness. Gauri is living in a fantasy world—and an unhealthy one at that, which will only serve to further damage her relationships with her daughter and her husband.
One day, Subhash comes home early to find Bela playing in a pillow fort alone; she tells him that Gauri is out getting the mail, but Subhash knows he did not see Gauri down at the mailboxes. After a few minutes, Gauri returns with a newspaper. At first, Subhash says nothing to Gauri, and instead gives her the silent treatment for a week. One day, he breaks his silence, telling Gauri that she does not “deserve” to be a parent.
Subhash discovers what Gauri has been up to, and he is enraged by his wife’s irresponsible behavior. Subhash has allowed Gauri to pursue her studies and her independence, but knows that the way she is treating Bela is wrong and wants to make that clear to her. His words are violent though, and wounding—even if they are right.
Over the next few months, Subhash turns away from Gauri. In the spring, Gauri is admitted to a doctoral program in Boston, with a fellowship to boot. She begins taking the bus to the city two days a week, and arranges for undergraduates from the campus in Providence to look after Bela while she’s gone. Subhash does not fault her for wanting to spend time away, but still harbors some resentment. He knows that there is no possibility of separating—the whole point of their marriage is to keep Bela safe and happy. Moreover, Subhash knows that Gauri, like Bela, would not survive without him.
Subhash, after realizing the extent of Gauri’s dissatisfaction and resulting deception, finds himself in quandary. He cannot leave Gauri—she is dependent upon him—and in the back of his mind is always the lingering fear of being exposed as an “imposter.” The point of his life—and Gauri’s—is supposed to be to care for Bela at any cost. As Subhash doubles down on this goal, he knows that he cannot stop Gauri from drifting away from it.