It was a wonderful weekend and they decided to cook together in the kitchen. She knew how much he enjoyed good food. To her, cooking was a celebration, a ritual and a way of life. She cooked with her heart, adding a pinch of love to her dishes. It was her way of showing him love. Helping her out in the kitchen was his way of demonstrating how understanding he was. Without objecting her ideas, he readily followed and allowed her to lead in the kitchen. He arranged the plates on the table and lit the candles. She placed the curry on a hotplate and the flatbread and saffron rice on the side.
He did not say anything when she ate rice gripping it with all her fingers. He did not judge her from her posture. There was something about him that made her feel comfortable. She did not have to pretend to be someone else.
‘Is the curry too spicy?’ she asked, noticing how slowly he was eating.
‘It is fine,’ he said. ‘I like hot food.’
She noticed his face was closed, his expression unreadable, as he glanced at her and then back at his plate. ‘At least you are not a coward, you do not run away from chillies.’ She looked at him and waited for a laugh.
He did not laugh, but simply said, ‘Don’t you think we need some time off? Someone or the other is always hanging around. Either your cousins, aunts, uncles, or neighbours…’
‘I feel too lonely not having people around me,’ she said. ‘It is good to keep in touch with relatives, is it not? There is hardly anyone from your family. I feel so sad about it.’
‘My family believes in privacy,’ he explained. ‘They visit only when invited.’
‘Is it not too formal?’
‘I do not need anyone else. I have you.’
‘What about family and relatives?’
‘We plan and organise, when we feel like meeting them.’
‘It is awful to take an appointment to meet your own parents.’
‘That is how it is. You do not just drop in without a notice. As much as mixed marriages are exciting, they can cause much stress,’ he made a statement.
‘Why? You do not like living with me any longer?’ she curled her eyebrows together.
‘I never say that, but…’
‘It can be difficult for two people to understand each other if they are from different cultures. Look at us. We were born in different countries, we speak different languages, we think in different ways,’ he said.
‘We speak English, a common language. We are similar in many ways.’
‘It is another story if two people do not know each other,’ he added. ‘For example, we have a new colleague in our office. She has just moved here from Asia. She hardly understands me.’
‘You do not have to understand her. Unless you want to live with her,’ she said, sceptically.
‘I do not want to live with her, I work with her. It is so difficult to understand a woman from a different culture.’
‘Is it easy to understand a woman from your own culture?’
‘Easier,’ he answered.
‘So you do not know me?’ She tied her hands and sat back on the chair, as if ready for confrontation.
He thought, he should not have said that. Now it was too late. ‘Of course, I know you. It just took me longer to understand you.’
‘Longer than who?’
‘Someone from my own country…’
‘You regret marrying me,’ she declared.
‘I did not say that.’
‘That is what you mean.’ She poured some wine into her empty glass.
Oh boy, he thought. ‘It is not about us… According to statistics, many mixed marriages end up in a divorce.’ As he said this, he realised it was a fact and no one could deny facts. It was impossible that she could argue on facts.
‘Figures and studies.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Your life is difficult with me and you hardly understand me. You want to get separated from me.’
‘I did not say that,’ he repeated, feeling cornered.
‘What did you say then?’
‘Mixed marriage couples are different,’ he corrected himself.
‘Yes, they are open-minded. They have to compromise a lot in life.’ She held the wine glass too hard; it broke and fell off from her hand. ‘Ah,’ she cried, looking at her bleeding hand.
‘Wait,’ he ran to the bathroom and came back with the first aid kit. He took her hand, wiped her finger with a tissue and put a bandage on the wound. ‘It is not deep.’
She got up to clear the table.
‘Leave it, let me do it,’ he said.
‘That is okay. Our marriage is stressful, I cannot stress you further.’
‘No, for god sake.’
‘That is what you said, did you not?’
‘No, I did not. It is ridiculous. All I am saying is that two people from a different background tick differently,’ he explained.
‘You regret marrying me. I was not born in your country as you. We are different.’
He glimpsed at her. She was watching him. Her eyes were bright, and her face was beautiful. ‘This is stupid,’ he said.
‘I know,’ she said, ‘but let us just say…’
He took a deep breath. He had won the argument but felt confronted. ‘Say what?’
‘…that I was not brown but white like you…’
‘Honey, do not talk like a racist.’
‘We are different, you just said it.’ She wanted to make a point, ‘Colour difference is obvious, is it not?’
He knew the conversation had gone the wrong direction.
‘Let us assume,’ she continued. ‘I was not brown, but white. Would you love me for who I am?’
‘I am thinking.’
‘I cannot believe that you need time to answer that question. Let me answer it for you on your behalf. You would not. You are going to say no.’
‘I cannot so easily answer that question. I need to think of circumstances.’
‘I knew it,’ she said and walked away.
He followed her into the living room, stood in the corner and observed how she turned on the television. He knew that she was too angry to watch anything. She pretended like she was busy, mimicking him. Sometimes he did the same to avoid conversation with her, especially when he wanted his Me Time. She was showing him that she could do the same, could not care less. She wanted to hurt him, and she was successful.
He had no choice but to show his indifference to her. He had his own self-respect too. He did not have to yield to her stubbornness every time. Quietly, he picked up his jacket and went outside into the garden. The night was cold. He shivered and blamed his wife for quarrelling with him. She picked on every small opportunity to disagree. All he wanted was a quiet weekend, without any trouble. She did not allow him to live in peace. Not that he disliked problems, but he did not want to have any that day. She tried her best to create tension between them.
How could he walk out? She felt like she was burning inside. She had not finished talking out her feelings to him. He did not care about her. He did not care how she felt. Surely, he did not love her. If he did, he would not leave her alone in this dilemma. He only thought of himself. His ego was hurt so easily. He had no idea how difficult it was to live with him when he behaved like a know-all-better. Statistics had their place but how could he let numbers decide on their future? What would the world look like if we lived our lives based on statistics?
A couple walked down the street hugging each other. Watching them, he felt lonely, already missing his wife, his life partner. He thought of all the years they had spent together; how close they were and how well they knew each other. He decided to go for a walk and let fresh air clear his mind. The thought of being alone in the world frightened him. Overriding his ego, he turned around to go back home.
The house was dark when he went inside. He searched for her without turning on the light, as he did not want to disturb her. ‘Honey?’ he called. ‘Where are you?’
She did not answer. She was not at home.
She drove her car to a parking area at the foot of a hilltop on the other side of the city. She took the steps and walked to the top of the hill and sat on a rock, watching the busy city in a valley in front of her. It was one of her favourite spots; she had been there many times before, especially when she felt lonely. Life did not make sense, she thought, but she had to have faith. It was like wearing high-heeled shoes to look tall even though they hurt her feet. Or, telling herself to slim down but the stubborn soft belly remained bulging, no matter what, the belly simply would not go away. Still, one needed to have faith and work on the stubborn belly. Many mixed-up thoughts cluttered her mind.
One day in the future, she would be dead and gone. What would it matter who had won the argument? Why bother who was right or wrong? She had to let go her stubbornness. She felt a knot in her throat and could hardly breathe. But one question mattered a lot to her. She had to know the answer again, for the zillionth time – if he still loved her just the way she was, that their marriage was not over, and that they were together not only out of habit.
From top of the hill, the streets appeared silent. The city lights dazzled and flashed, as the evening haze turned into clear darkness. The air was cool, pure and fresh. She looked around, unsure whether to go home or to stay there longer. She wished that he would appear, by magic, to tell her that he had been so worried about her.
When she turned her head, she saw him there. He had been standing behind her, watching her. God knew for how long. A feeling of joy crept within her. She knew he was there only for her. Holding her hand on her chest, she realised how his presence had changed her being. In a strange flash of light, while holding her chest, she decided that she would never quarrel with him again, that she would never let him go away from her, not even for a minute. There was joy on her face, but her smile seemed distracted.
‘Honey, I am sorry,’ he said, coming close to her and kneeling next to her.
‘Sorry for what?’ she asked. Her voice sounded the same, like when she argued.
‘That we quarrelled,’ he said. ‘That I left you alone. I am sorry that I needed some fresh air. I promise you…’
‘You promise me what?’ He noticed her voice had softened.
‘I promise to marry you for the next seven lives, no matter where you were born, no matter what colour of your skin. I like our differences.’ He knew he had come up with the right answer.
She hugged him, passionately, the way she had held him in her arms the first time. He alone knew what made her happy, he alone knew what she wanted to hear from him. They laughed, letting out their differences, joyously holding each other.
(Published on the literary journal Muse India - July 2019)
Copyright © Anu Kay 2022 - 2023