The Space Between Us: Chapters 19 Through the End

The Space Between Us: A Novel

Hi, Bookies:

Welcome back for our final pages of The Space Between Us.

We start our final section with Bhima revealing to Maya more of her family’s tragic history. Maya’s discovery of the powerful letter that Gopal left behind for his wife is painful. Bhima hears this letter for only the second time, and it’s how Maya learns what happened to her mother and her uncle. Gopal writes openly about his frustration with his marriage, his job loss, his drinking. He reveals his plan to move back to his village and take their son, Amit, along with him. What a chilling letter, beautifully expressed but here’s the pain again of this mother “losing” a child. She couldn’t change Gopal’s decision and what this must be. Were you surprised/upset too that she didn’t even try to stop this from happening?

We go back to Sera’s home, where we see Dinaz and Viraf enjoying each other’s conversation and reminiscing about Feroz. And next they take a trip to the beach where Sera recalls her happy visits there with Feroz. Soon after, he is not well and after a brief decline, he dies suddenly. “It was over. Her marriage was over….Feroz was gone…husband and oppressor; lover and tormentor; victim and victimizer. No man had ever loved her as passionately; no man had done more to strangle the love she felt for him.” In just this passage, the writer reminds us how Sera had such conflicting emotions for her husband, even with the violence she endured. Did it make sense to you that she’d be so torn?

Next, we’re at the Chowpatty café with the pivotal scene of the families’ two worlds colliding. Bhima is so happy to see the very pregnant Dinaz and when Maya reluctantly greets the family and angrily refers to them helping her to lose her baby, Bhima is shocked. Maya had always been so gracious to Bhima’s employer and family, so where is this coming from? And then that moment when Viraf and Maya look at each other and all Bhima can see is guilt. Why Viraf’s guilty look, she wonders? Did you realize in that moment who had fathered Maya’s unborn child? Did you realize that the issue had never been addressed since early in the book, when Bhima accuses a college student of impregnating her granddaughter? “…A world in which none of the old rules, the old taboos apply….a world in which Maya and Viraf…” Her thoughts trail off. Maya confirms Bhima’s fear and shares the details about Viraf’s attack on her.

The chapter about this event is painful and intriguing: the two worlds crashing, Viraf’s complaints about his tired and cranky pregnant wife, looking to their servant family for a sympathetic ear. Maya is clearly puzzled by his openness but finds his charm appealing. And quickly Viraf is complaining about his physical soreness and tension and Maya is offering (obeying without choice?) a massage. “She had never touched a man’s back before…Maya felt important and strong—powerful.” Did you wonder about Viraf’s intentions? Was he attracted to Maya at all or just using his male (and socioeconomic) powers over her? Did you sense that Maya felt needed, perhaps even happy to play this role (before she was raped)? “And her awe turning to pride and the pride turning to panic…she protested; she did not protest. It did not matter because it was inevitable what was about to happen…”  Again the writer brings us into the worlds of these women, so full of conflicted thoughts and feelings and loss of control.  The chapter ends with Viraf convincing Maya what happened wasn’t anyone’s fault and that it should never be discussed. He will hold this power over her.

Bhima is full of hate, “ready to inflict pain on Viraf.” In the car together, “she opens her mouth to threaten him, to curse him, to make him understand monumental outrage and what comes out instead is, ‘Viraf, baba, whywhywhywhywhy, oh, whywhywhywhywhy…?’ ” It’s described as a wounded cry of pain, animal-like. The sound is clear. She need not say more. Viraf explains they all need the strength to move on. Once again he uses his male/wealthy power to shut a woman down.

Sera and Bhima are together again and Sera wonders why Bhima seems so upset, why so dark? She advises, “But Bhima, we can’t give up. We women live for so much more than ourselves.” And suddenly the world gets even darker. Viraf returns upset about “missing” money. And the only one who he “knew” could have seen that money is Bhima. And quickly he’s accusing her of theft. Sera is visibly torn, Bhima is shocked that they are even considering she stole from them and furious that Sera is not supporting her; she sees Sera receding from her and about to side with Viraf. Bhima has no choice but to tell Sera what Viraf did to Maya; this is clearly a trap.  And furiously Sera responds: “What Maya did is her business….She can be a whore with fifty men…Get out of my sight.”

Bhima’s world has collapsed. Out of a job, her trust stolen, her only family member raped. And this family whom she loved as her own have banished her forever. “She begins her slow, tortured descent in the lower levels.” Were you shocked at the turn Sera took against Bhima or did you think there was nothing else she could do? How tragic this turn, but in light of their two opposing worlds, perhaps not particularly surprising.

Back to the sea—such a place of comfort—as Bhima struggles with the pain, sadness, anger, and panic she feels.  How sweet is the sea and the balloons she purchases—she starts to find a touch of joy, release, pleasure. Perhaps she can go on. She releases the balloons: “A new day. She will face it tomorrow. For Maya’s sake….It is dark, but inside Bhima’s heart it is dawn.”

So Thrity Umrigar does give us a tiny piece of light, of hope, of promise. I found this last line a perfect way to end the story and I felt the strength she gave Bhima. Were you pleased with the ending?

Remember, send along any questions you might have for Thrity Umrigar—just post them below by next Thursday.

—Claudia

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