The warm breeze against her face soothed her a little. In another few hours, she would be back where ‘she’ belonged, as she had been told. The train only seemed a little too eager to send her there. It scurried its way along, with not so much as a cursory glance at the green fields and looming hills en route.
Perhaps that was where she really had to be. Away from what had been her family. How strange it was that your mother or father no longer formed part of family, once you were married.
The husband is your everything, they told her, he will keep you happy.
Happiness is such a relative term, she smiled to herself, so you never know how it ‘actually’ feels. Her hand accidentally moved to the parting on her forehead as she brushed away a stray lock of hair.
Red with sindoor.
She remembered her tantrums, about not wanting to go back to her husband and her father’s stern reprimands.
‘You have to go, whether or not you like it Mathi, you are married now. You cannot stay with us forever.’
She had felt like an errant schoolchild then, being sent to school with undone homework and dirty shoes. But that’s exactly how she felt around her husband- useless, unworthy, dirty. Her smiles danced around the bottom of her heart in his presence, not finding expression on her face. She was a huge contrast to what she had been a few years ago- vibrant and spirited.
And she did not know why.
Perhaps it was her fault.
She had to learn to compromise and be happy.
‘The train is late’, he said, talking more to himself than to her, wiping his enormous forehead with a brown checkered handkerchief.
‘Yes’, she replied in a low tone, ‘How is Ma?’
‘She is fine, waiting for the daughter-in-law’, he managed a half-smile.
She did not reply.
‘How was your trip?’, he continued, ‘what did your parents say?’
‘Nothing much, had a nice time, that’s all.’ she replied.
Had to come back here anyway.
He barged ahead, jostling through the crowd with her suitcase, as she meekly followed him through the maze of luggage, dirt, people, babies.. and well, hope, hatred, love.
‘TAXI’, he bellowed, once they were out of the noisy, crowded station and onto the road.
A taxi pulled over, he put her luggage into it. She got into it, looking at him quizzically, for he showed no intentions of getting in with her.
‘You go home,’ he ordered, ‘while I get back to work.’
She almost smiled. She should have known that was coming. Looking at his now retreating figure, she braced herself to the thought that she would not be seeing him for another week.
Sitting in the stuffy taxi, looking out at the loud traffic, she wondered…’So this is what married life is all about..’
The rest of the household was asleep. Mathi woke up hurriedly to answer the door, her nightgown trailing behind her. It was 11 in the night and she did not want her mother-in-law to wake up. She was in no mood for another of her scolding sessions.
He walked in, reeking of alcohol. She followed him into the bedroom.
‘Are you drunk again?’, she asked, giving him a long stare.
“Just this night, sweetheart, I am sorry.’
She sat down at the edge of the bed, looking at him as he plopped onto it like a ‘jack-in-the box’.
For a second, she thought he looked funny.
Hilarious, in fact.
It is no big deal, she told herself, so many men come home drunk, besides he’ll be OK tomorrow.
She lied down on the bed next to him, looking at him sideways. He was sprawled out on the bed, his mouth slightly ajar, breathing shallowly.
Does he know right now that I am his wife?, she thought.
That we walked around the sacred fire exactly one year ago?
That he is seeing me after nearly a week?
What scared her more was the fact that it did not affect her at all. Nothing he did moved her. He was just another man she was forced to share a roof with. It was like a child playing make-believe. Soon, somebody would tell her that this role was not for her and she would go back to her old self.
Her old life.
Until then, the least she could do was to enjoy the game. She put a finger to his forehead, feeling the beads of sweat on it. She turned over on her stomach, her hand still on his forehead, and went to sleep.
‘Congratulations! It’s a baby boy!’, the nurse broke the good news to Mathi’s father, who dropped onto the chair , crying out of sheer delight. His little girl, his youngest daughter, the apple of his eye, had made him a grandfather again! How time did fly! He went in to have a look at his grandson.
‘He’s got your eyes, Mathi!’ he exclaimed, not able to take his eyes off the handsome child.
‘Did he call?’ she asked, as an afterthought.
Mathi’s father looked slightly uncomfortable as he told her , ‘yes, he did…but he made no mention of the baby. He just said he’d be coming next month to take you back home’.
She stared at the white hospital ceiling.
When he came a month later, she told him pointblank, ‘I am not coming back with you’.
‘What nonsense!’ he screamed, his voice trembling slightly, ‘I am not going back without you.
And my son’.
Mathi looked at him sullenly. Her mother spoke to the son-in-law, “But son, she said she was missing us a lot back there.. and perhaps one more month here would do her some good.’ He gave her mother an empty look.
‘Fine. You may keep your daughter to yourself.’
His face was knotted with anger and he looked as though he might kill someone. He left that very night, with the same urgency with which he had landed.
One week later, Mathi woke up to a brilliant sunrise. She fed her baby, dressed him and then decided to take a nap. Suddenly she heard her mother screaming, ‘Mathi! Oh my god! This cannot happen!’
Mathi rushed out into the hall. Her father was kneeling on the floor, sobbing. She snatched the piece of paper from her mother’s hands.
SEKHAR DEAD. LIVER DAMAGE. CEREMONY ON 23.
Mathi stared at it for a long time, before she fell to the floor bawling.
Then she stopped.
And laughed aloud.
It’s all my fault, she thought.
I should have stopped him from drinking.
I should have gone back with him.
It’s all my fault.
Funny how you can miss someone you never even loved.