Author : Ranjith Vallathol
Company : Alamy Images India Pvt. Ltd.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
A cockroach seals her marriage
If ever, a story is written about her, she would not be the protagonist. She would be the meanest of human beings, a witch who would rub the juice of negativity around people. Ann was awakened to these thoughts. Unlike her usual lazy mornings, Ann woke up like she had left important work unattended, alert and purposeful. The needles on the clock stood still at 4:00 am, the seconds’ indicator on a constant vigil around the periphery with a tik-tok of its walking-stick, as if to ensure no one disturbed the flow of time. A sudden yawn pained her jaws. Her cheeks were still a bit numb. She walked into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror, beautiful eyes that could do with some more rest. The monogram of Saju’s fingers on her cheeks left a reddish pink mark. She had never been slapped in her life. She remembered the words her husband spoke in a delirious fit. “Shavam” he had called her, a corpse, a bad omen. Outside the skies broke and a sharp blade of lightning flashed her bedroom. She could see a curled up figure of Sherin, her 3 year old daughter and a large frame of Saju in the lightning. It was dark again. A deafening thunder followed. It was silent again. Perhaps Mother Nature understood her pain.
Rains are special. Kerala, because of its unique geography receives two seasons of rainfall. Trade winds carrying water in their womb travel from the far south of the planet. Those full-term clouds, heavy with prolonged gestation, meet the mighty hills of the western ghats of Kerala, in the mid of the Malayalam month of Edavam; the beginning of June. This is a rendezvous of two magnificent forces of nature. The all powerful, vast winds with speed by its side pull the clouds along their unstoppable flow. The immobile hills, locked together, toe to toe (some hip to hip), stand like warriors prepared to defend with nothing but their earthy- green, proud and determined chests. The effrontery of the hills and the doubtless speed of the intense winds culminate in a spectacular south-west monsoon. This divine tete-a-tete happens year after year, with precision.
The second monsoon happens in the months of October and November (Malayalam month of thulam, the month of Libra also called thulavarsham) . This is a more boisterous, rowdy version of the previous one, like it were the Quentin Tarantino version of the rains. This time the winds bring along cheerleaders for the show. Lightning that crack the vast lap of the skies and illuminate the midnight chill for a few brief seconds, followed by thunderbolts that rattle two things – windows and ribs. Children cry, women run for cover, men act brave. Folklore has it that during the thulam, don’t put your finger onto the rains or it would be sliced. For that was the force of the blade of each raindrop. Brief, but beastly.
Down in the valley, in the human world, where we think it’s us who control everything. Roads are marred with umbrellas new, half torn and colourful, raincoats sticking to the skin. Nights are strained with enthusiastic, incessant sex calls of the frogs. Nature celebrates. The Progressive, logical, free-thinking people of the valley, however, have one phrase on their tongues “nashicha mazha.” The godforsaken rains, they say.
Ann sat aware, feeling the new mound on her cheeks. The words Sajus spitted angrily on her churned her insides. After her love in college had died it’s death, Ann had gone into depression and had taken time to be normal again. The passionate but ephemeral relation she had, lasted a few months but left a scar forever in her. She considered herself a dissolute woman unfit for a society that upholds ‘sabhyada’ or culture as it’s epitome. The labyrinth of relationships was something she never understood. Ann had known only to be straight-forward. She had purged herself of her past and had agreed to marry someone her parents choose from a Christian matrimonial website. Saju’s profile was instantly liked by everyone at home. An MBA from a reputed college (not one of those pay and buy degrees from Tamil Nadu), working as a senior software engineer in the best IT firm in Thriuvananthapuram, and on his way to be a project manager. Saju was scaled 6 feet 2 inches, was adorably dusky and had muscular hairy arms.
Ann started life afresh after marriage. She built her nest again, diligently, straw by straw. She ensured Saju was never upset, all his wishes taken care of. From time to time, the child within her would wake up and nudge her to dream. Her hibernating feelings to be an independent make-up artist would slowly develop wings. Sagaciously, Ann would keep those dreams apart, locked in a far cornered cellar in her heart and go on with her life like a good wife. Saju was obdurate and unromantic. He was logical and handled life with surgical precision. Every paisa accounted for, every second spend usefully. Movies, shopping and little talk were a waste of time, although he had his moments to testosterone rush to flood Ann in a virile show of affection and it would pass like a dessert storm, only to appear whenever it pleased. Saju was a protective lion to his wife and daughter. Ann was a rigorous wife to a little family and Sherin was the bud in their garden being nurtured day by day. “What a lovely family” they said on wedding receptions. Ann smiled and mingled and did her social dance with ease. The silent centre of her being wanted love and attention. Her dreams would flutter life flies stuck in a bottle, never to fly freely. Ann expertly put up a smile and hardly thought about what she wanted.
At this thunderous day, it all came back like a large wave engulfing an island. She was not fit for relationships. In spite of her efforts, Saju was unhappy and managed to slap her. She looked to the deep breathing outsized outline of her husband. Her mind played a scene of her kicking him. Saju would not have slapped her if he had respected her views a bit. He was just one of those male chauvinist pigs that Kerala is full of. “Bloody……” and her wound churned inside her and she felt a warm streak of tears flowing down her soft, bruised cheek. She had to be strong and very soon it will be the time for the mad rush. Ann woke up and walked straight into the kitchen where she had a mechanical task of doing six different things at one with only two hands to help. Dosa for breakfast, with coconut chutney and yesterday’s leftover sambhar. Sherin would take a banana and sandwich to school. There was lunch to be made for Saju and herself. She would also make the dough for the dinner’s chapatti. In between, there is the morning tea for Saju and a glass of milk for Sherin. And yes, Sherin had to be brushed, bowel cleaned, showered and made ready to play school. That was the toughest part as Sherin would happily speak of her world all through the process and Ann would listen, nod and smile. Occasionally she would make exclamatory faces which would encourage Sherin to speak more about the hair colour of her friends Barbie doll.
One thing she hated about Saju’s routine was his slavery to technology. He woke up to check his messages and sleeps of fiddling with his phone. Conversations with him had become interruption of his phone time. Saju sat with his phone on one hand and newspaper in the other. Ann walked with pre-meditated stride, placed the tea on the table and turned around and left like a robot. How she hated the man who had slapped her. A dark illustration of a young girl in the English newspaper caught Ann’s attention. It was the news of yet another child molested by her sir in school. Sherin walked in like the warden of the kitchen surveying things. Ann was worried but acted brave. How one could ensure a girl child’s safety these days, she wondered. The other moron was anyway busy married to his phone, how would he be worried after all. Ann never really cared for the newspapers. She did not like the fact that one politician said something and the papers drum it around like nomads in the dessert who carry news of death and scandals from one oasis to the other. That news will be thrown to the dustbin of history and a new statement will be uttered by another leader and that would be the sensation. She often glanced at the sports pages to get a glimpse of Rafael Nadal whom she had a huge crush on. If Ann ruled Kerala, she would make Vanitha and Grihalakshmi daily newspapers. The world will be filled with news of super stars, recipes, health solutions and interesting interviews. Her solutions to all these problems were that simple. There would be no political remark that will be decorated and paraded around town. There would only be stories of positivity and glamour. (And oh yes, a little gossip. Wouldn’t the world come to an end without the occasional overheard news about the big celebrities?)
Two hours flew like a blizzard and they were late to office, like always. Saju was waiting, all dressed up and on a call with his client. Sherin was all set with a frilled white frock with pink and blue flowers. Ann rushed from one end of the house to the other. The used clothes had to be put in the laundry bag and in the evening had to be washed. There was no time for a good hair style. Ann decides to tie her hair in a strict pony. Chocolate mauve lipstick it is today. She wets her lips with a balm then sweeps some lipstick with her ring finger and applies it on top of her eye lips like an eye shadow. This was her trick when short of time. A slow, detailed and double coating of gel based eyeliner and her sleepy eyes suddenly looked rejuvenated. Quick dabs of blush on her cheek bones, the blush brush sweeping in circular motion. The final touch of Chocolate mauve matte finish lipstick and she was good to go. She swept all her cosmetics in one wave into her bag, took her office tag and rushed with the waiting family.
The car ride to office was uncomfortable. Ann felt the strain of the tension between them. None spoke. Sherin was dropped at play school and it just got worse. The roads were wet and traffic slow. Ann wanted to lower the windows and feel the breeze, but decided not to ask him. She closed her eyes and laid back into her dark world of little insecurities that went unattented. All she needed was one hug. A sorry would be enough. But this heartless man would never do such an act of kindness. The pain on her cheeks returned. Her feminine fragility crushed and abused poured out as a tear and she wiped it clear. A young couple sped on a bike past their car. The girl hugged the boy tight. Saju honked an angry horn at the effrontery of the boy. She smiled, for no specific reason. Bengali immigrant workers walked like cement bags on a conveyer belt. A movie poster of a voluptuous heroine dressed in a scarce tight plastic band had its navel torn away revealing the poster beneath. Shashi Tharoor, Oomen Chandy and Sonia Gandhi smiled at her while Che guvera’s eyes passed on a determination to move on in life. Technopark was another world altogether in this sleepy town.
The receptionist was there already, noting down instructions with the right hand and supporting the phone with the left shoulder. Heads moved as she walked past workstations into her seat. Kiran, the IT manager came with his customary smiling over-friendly good morning and a pleasing comment about her looks. Ann carried herself with an earthy friendliness that instantly attracted people and a sophistication that gave men second thoughts about approaching her. She was neither fair, nor dark. Her skin was the tone of the sand on an evening beach. Her college boyfriend called her bronzy. Ann’s eyes were beautiful to the last detailed, like god had worked overtime on them. She was athletic and had hips that were broad had an element of motherhood in them.
Vidhya barged in from behind and instantly noticed something was wrong with her. Ann was glad she had at least one friend in whose company she could keep aside the mask of maturity, sabyada and be herself. Ann sometimes smoked in utter secrecy. She did it to feel like a man. Although she coughed violently when the tobacco burnt smoke unknowingly enters her wind pipe. They decided to catch-up after lunch. Ann had recently read in the Vanitha that women had extra supply of the hormone oxytocin which was the socialising hormone and hence made them talk to each other about their problems. Ann weighed the option of acting like a man and keeping the slap insult to herself. But when it was lunch time, she wanted to speak to Vidhya and they strolled out to buy a cigarette. The men drooled; one after the other. If men in India secreted pheromones every time they looked sexually at a woman, the Indian streets would stink to decay. The two spoke. Contrary to her fear, Ann did not cry. She spoke like a kid complaining about school politics and Vidhya listening with serious eyes and constant nod. “All men are the same” and a few other consolations. Vidhya gave no solutions to her problems and Ann liked it. She just wanted to unload and Vidhya was perfect for it.
Back in office, she was wondering about the to-do list at hand, the amount of work at home to be done and the new story she needs to invent for Sherin tonight. MBA is not what you get from colleges. Manage a home and then you get a practical MBA. Not a man realises this. Ann always wondered where all the development took the human being. She was not an intellectual who dreamt of developing the world or an activist who worked towards removing every canker from society. She was a woman with small dreams in a small world. Ann wondered that when she was Sherin’s age, she played in the fields and the dirt in her home in Thiruvalla. She returned home with mud under her nails. Sherin today hardly touches the earth barefoot. Nor does she ever get a proper playtime in the sun. Sherin was also deprived of the joy of swinging by the branch of a tree and sometimes falling from another. Her child’s world was more digital. She clicked a button and a character jumped branches. Were human beings less happy then? What has development achieved? She finds herself and her colleagues lonelier than ever, inspite of digital social media tools that aim to bring people together. The developed world has far more diseases than before. Was slavery to technology development? Development in her terms was to free mankind of artificial bonds that the society had placed. Development for Ann was the ability of a man to help another man with an open mind. Development for her was not depriving a couple of their loving time together, to be replaced by gadgets engaging husbands and wives separately.
It was raining when Saju picked her up. He was talking on the phone and she took her seat in the back. Sherin was picked and sat in front. She was trained to keep quiet when papa was over the phone. Sherin sneaked to the back seat and opened her bag to display today’s spoils of war, a drawing that looked like an abstract. Sherin said it was a boy ringing a bell. And a few crafts she had made.
It was back to a mad rush for Ann. Cooking, engaging with Sherin and housekeeping. Just two hands available again. To add to it was a man who had abused her and slapped her and did not have the courtesy to say sorry. Saju was not a man who would apologize romantically. A dinner date or a flower would mean he has lost his mind. Sherin was unsure what to expect but it his rigidity hurt her. He casually walked in to the kitchen and kept his lunchbox on the counter and left. “Better keep it in the sink. I don’t have all the time in the world to do every detail of work in this house. Neither is I a maid.” Saju turned back to the stern, cold words and kept the lunchbox in the fridge. Their eyes locked but Ann angrily continued with her work. Was there a faint apologetic look on his face? Unsure. It’s so easy if one is born a man in this world. It’s a man’s world. A Male Chauvinist world. A divorce is out of question with Sherin growing up. What a trap had Ann been in? Ann murmured as she chopped the carrots fiercely. In the complex process of making every work to be completed, Ann attended to Sherin’s constant melodrama as well. It was time for the clothes to be in the washing machine when the vegetables were on the boil. Ann swiftly moved with heap of clothes and opened the washing machine to dump the clothes.
There was a hysterical shriek from the bathroom, one that meant danger to life. Sherin ran to Saju. Saju darted to the bathroom and saw Sherin with both hands waving in air, like a person drowning looking for any stick that one could hold on to. An alarmed large cockroach stood motionless on the tiles of the bathroom. Ann could not handle insects. The creepy creatures gave her the chills. She did not hate them but the thought of their sticky hair on her skin made her vomit and die. She was phobic. Saju held Ann’s hands from behind and lifted her to the door. His firm, farmer-like fingers leaving a mark on her skin, again. The goosebumps on her skin was still not settled. Saju then took a small polythene cover and kept it on the cockroach. The alarmed animal immediately accepted the invitation and flew in. Saju opened the cover in the balcony and the scared cockroach flew to better, more peaceful homes hoping for lesser paranoid women in them. Saju then came back and asked if Ann was ok. He smiled, rubbed her hands and left.
That was a knight riding his black, sturdy stallion galloping towards her and sweeping her by her feet and saving her from the wicked looking cockroach. He had saved her and that’s all she wanted. He had smiled. He had rubbed her hands. That was the icing on the cake. They Cherry on the margarita. She wanted to hug him and smell his hairy chest. Ann smiled and continued her work. She felt light. Like a feather in the misty morning. A cockroach had sealed her marriage.