“The girl arrived; I thought her handsome; and as I doubted not that you would be mortified by my absence, I did most sincerely hope that she would be able to dissipate something of your ennui: for it is the fidelity of the heart alone that I value.”
― Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut
As I sit down to write this, the sounds of vehicles passing by fill my ears, loud at first and then their whooshing sound receding with the distance. I hear clearly the honks and the occasional siren of a passing ambulance, its flashing red light siren filtering through my window and dancing on the floor of my dim room. I hear people walking past my window with their loud voices and muffled words. People whose faces I cannot see but who unknowingly share bits and pieces of their lives and their personalities with the conversations they have not knowing I am there. Not knowing how much I wish I could be them instead. Anyone else but myself. Any other life but this. This wild regret that lasts just a moment till I remind myself that my life is exactly what I made it out to be. All that happened was my choice, I chose it knowing full well what I was getting myself into. It was all me.
The city seems to be alive and happy yet faraway. I am in it but all by myself. And although the sounds are all around, all I feel is a dark deep silence that is gnawing at my ears. A silence that is drowning everything else that I can hear. And I know I cannot free myself from these shackles that have claimed my life until I share my story and break the silence.
And like all life stories mine too has neither a grand beginning nor a clear ending, but all I can say is that it is a true story of a life that I lived with all my heart but in more ways than one was not the kind of life me or anyone else would ever wish for or dream of. And although, it wasn’t perfect, it was my life and I lived it with all the honesty I was capable of.
This is my story.
It was late at night and I was in my parents’ house back in Sangli, on a vacation from my job at the school in Pune as a Dance Teacher. We weren’t married yet and now when I think back to those days, all I can only see and feel are the possibilities that at that time I could not perceive I have. I had already told my parent’s about our wish to marry each other. They were unwilling as we had predicted and they knew with the instincts that only parents have that this would not be a good decision for me. They felt that he with his unstable job in the film industry, may find being loyal to me challenging, that he may not be the stability and security that they had wished for me.
I was thick-skinned to all their comments. After all I thought that it was an absolute stroke of luck that someone as intelligent and driven as him would consider marrying me, a simple girl with broken English from a village town. I was in awe of his work and the thought process behind everything that he did. He had creativity bursting through every pore of his body and all I saw when I looked at him was a light emanating from him which even then I could have done anything to touch. I was barely seventeen and all the world was outlined with a glittering hope of the great things to come. I believed that everything I had ever dreamed for myself is exactly what is going to happen in my life. It could not be any other way. The village girl will come to the city, find love and be the most famous dancer from this part of the world. That was just how it was going to be.
It was all these things that pushed me to go against the wishes of my rustic parents. And as I lay down to sleep that night after a day full of arguments, ultimatums and tears, I closed my eyes to see his face smiling at me, his eyes full of promise of the great things to come. And as I imagined him in the most loving manner possible, replaying sweet things which he had not yet said, I found myself conveniently ignoring the presence of her between us. I wanted to forget that part so badly. I heard the phone ringing. It was a Mumbai number, so it could only be him. But why was he calling me at this hour of the night when he knew I was safe at my parent’s house and under their unapproving glances I would not be able to whisper sweet nothings into the phone at any hour of the day or night. I picked up the phone with my heart racing as it always does to hear from him or see him.
“The doctor thinks I have Malaria,’ he said. “I am alone, there is no one to take care of me.” Fighting with my parents. Waking my father up at four a.m. in the morning so he can ride me on his rickety cycle to the train station and I can travel for 24 hours straight to reach our city. ‘Our’ because had it not been for him I would have never found myself in this large and heartless city. The only link that ties me to this city is him. And you can imagine how weak that link is. I returned to this city of partial belonging as I return to the house that we inhabit together but the house that will never be ours. We return home to find comfort and protection but I find neither in the small room we share overcrowded by our silences and broken dreams. I return to the city to find him waiting for me at the railway platform. He looks thinner than I last remember, the snug jeans he always wears now hanging loosely on his hip, a half-smoked cigarette sticking between his teeth. “You didn’t even bother to put on some lip-gloss,” he snorts, “She always wears lip gloss when she comes to meet me.” I stay quiet and nod in agreement.
For every single night for six months after we got married, he mumbled in his drunkenness that he made the biggest mistake of his life by marrying me. That we made the biggest mistake of our lives and that this marriage is a disaster. And I held him as I made my throat go sore repeating reassuring statements and making him feel the comfort in this relationship that I had resigned to never having. On some nights he slept somewhere in the middle of my reassurances which now I feel were more for myself than for him. While on other nights he struck me, always on my face, where it would be visible, where my colleagues the next day would ask me questions about and not believe the strange accidents I described to them, always laughing, half-believing in them myself.
The sex. What shall I say about the sex. The fact that my body shuts down when he touches it, startling itself at times, till it figures out whether the touch is sexual or aggressive. Those are the only two reasons he touches me anyway. Unlike me. So when I lay my head in his lap, in desperation for affection and comfort, he mistakes my intentions for desire and rolls over me, although he feels nothing for me, but to prove that he is a man with appetite, to claim me as his, he enters me, and I try not to wince, and pain and sadness is all I feel. Sadness so deep that I cannot even begin to separate it from myself.
“Had it not been for the fact that we are married, I would never want to share this bed with you.” Like I was some lesser entity. Like I was never going to be enough for him. I think I believed that too. So when he spoke to her over the phone, sitting next to me on our marital bed, I felt no surprise. I advised him later when the conversation for the night was over, on what he could have said to make her fall for him.
I was being supportive. With his high intelligence levels, I felt he needed something more. More than me.
Don’t mistake me for a prude, I assure you I am anything but that. I always knew that about myself admiring the fluid boundaries of love, the freedom of expression, everything my dance idolizes. But I will be lying if I said I haven’t shed a single tear on those nights knowing somewhere in a small crowded room across the city, he was flamboyantly giving away what was lawfully meant to be only mine.
But I never said anything to him, I never said anything to anyone but all of this has been brewing inside me, turning into something vile and viscous. Turning me into this person who wants to die. And yesterday when I had to lie to my parents who were visiting about why there aren’t enough groceries at home, and my mother looked into my eyes and knew that he had not kept his word, he had been unemployed for most of our marriage and he has spent all my money on that bottle of beer he claimed he must have to stand being with me. She knew and didn’t say anything. An unhappy daughter is better that a separated or worse divorced one. But something in me flipped. So when they left for home, and he left to find someone who will buy him the day’s alcohol, I cried. And after the tears wouldn’t come anymore, I made the final choice of my life. I will die. And without guilt because, after all he will not be alone. There will always be, her.