“I used to cry because I had no shoes, until I came across someone with no feet”; I love to make note of such philosophical quotes (if I may add, in my latest model of iPhone). It is sad that many claim but few find time to worry about less fortunate beings. We would like to help but don’t we have enough miseries of our own.
Since the time I began wearing sensible shoes and did not cry any more for branded ones, I feel different and wonderful. I am transformed from being a haughty, selfish person to a ‘civilized human being’, as my hubby, Jack puts it. I saw the look of astonishment on my teenage brother, Tony’s face this morning as he walked into his room, I was not grumbling as usual but instead was signing a song on ‘Life & Love’ while putting his things in order. He, too, is trying to figure out reason for the change he finds in me lately.
As I took in the crisp beautiful morning air as I stood in the balcony, allowed my mind to run over the incidents of that day, exactly a month ago…. Though it was my birthday, I was crying, thinking how inconsiderate Jack was. He never took me seriously and to make matters worse, I turned 30 that day (my friends at the spa place do say that I look a couple of years younger). After four years of marriage, I was miserable that I will have to continue driving my old wreck of a car to work.
Jack was always calm, he seemed so content with life. I envied his optimism but most often I was unhappy that he wasn’t trying hard enough for us. I failed to understand, why he couldn’t share my view that making money for oneself, being able to afford and enjoy luxuries is not being petty or vain.
He wanted me to wait, this loooong waiting was getting on my nerves and I was losing my temper so very often. I had been patient and, as promised, waited for a whole year i.e. until this birthday and we still could not save enough for a down payment on a new Mercedes. Jack had emptied his account and generously gifted it to his recently widowed sister without letting me know. His logic had been, “If I had told you, you would not have let me”. The sister who never had any consideration for us, ever.
She had decided to cut herself off for her hippy, no good husband and been busy in a foreign land, for the past three years. Too busy even to call when I met with an accident in the same old car. We quarreled and Jack had slapped me on birthday. He hit me! I couldn’t believe it. I decided to punish him by leaving everything behind. That day something snapped inside of me. I cried for hours behind the closed bedroom door, trying to drain out all the pain from my tired eyes.
After banging the door for a while, Jack gave up. ‘He gave up the banging too soon’, I thought miserably. I
waited, waited till I could hear his snoring outside. I packed a suitcase, left a bitter note and left home
quietly in the middle of the night. Tony was out on an overnight college picnic, good. I was too exhausted and had been drained of every effort inside me to fight Jack’s ally.
I had no idea where I was headed. It was going to be a cold winter morning and a thick fog was forming in the early hours. I had begun to worry about the little cash I had on me. After the monthly expenses at Saloons, a dress or two, cosmetics and similar necessities, I really prided myself on being able to save at all from my part time administration job in a medium sized organization. ‘Why me Lord?’ I cried as I drove. Why do I have to have a hard life, always having to plan and budget, while some of my rich friends at The Queen’s Club could afford to splurge and how the b***** loved to show off. I cried more as I remembered my friend Sarah, who had married a business tycoon.
I was innocently lamenting to her about how hard it was becoming to manage the household. She said sympathetically, “Regina dear, the worst nightmare a woman could have is marrying a man for Love and then finding out he has no money”. Jack had remarked in a dramatic way “Darling, you have made a real difference in my life”. I was about to smile on that one, but then he added- “I am bankrupt”. I thought he meant it to be joke, but he didn’t smile and Sarah thought it was best joke she had heard in years and burst into sick laughter. How dare he blame me for our situation. His generosity towards his forever needy parents and the rest of his family had driven us to this pathetic stage.
I shook off the thoughts as I got a jolt, the damn car too just wasn’t in the mood. I looked around, it was quite dark but the bright moonlight was a great comfort. I had tried to take a short cut and now was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I gave up in despair, got out and groped my way to a nearby tree, sat down shivering in the cold early morning breeze and dozed off.
I woke with a start and heard loud bellowing of a man. As I strained my eyes against the early morning light, I saw her frail figure in a torn dress and unkempt hair. She resembled nothing of an angel then, an angel who was going to teach me to count my blessings and not my sorrows. You could actually see her bones jutting out at the joints. Her eyes were red and pleading. She fell on her knees, less than six feet away from me. Then this fat, pot-bellied, ugly man with stick in hand, ignoring all her pleas, started hitting her like how you would hit an old mattress to smoothen out the lumps.
I could see some old structures, resembling houses, a little up ahead. It didn’t take me long to realize that the crowd and the woman belonged to that neighborhood. People had gathered around to watch and I was watching too. I was shocked, scared, disgusted all at the same time. After some time of moving around in circles and hitting this 20 something woman, the man got tired and sat down with exhaustion with a thud on a broken wooden bench. He actually managed to look surprised as he realized for the first time that a crowd had gathered.
All I managed to say was a meek, “Errr… Excuse me…” He tried to shoo me away as he lit a cigarette with his fat hand and snarling through his crooked, tobacco stained teeth said, “She is my wife, it is none of anybody’s business. She deserves this and more”. The woman was badly hurt. A disinterested elderly bare foot woman walked past me, balancing a full earthen water pot on her head and one on her hips. She noticed my expression of horror and said carelessly, “I have seen this happen lots here. We women should obey. What can we do without their support? Don’t bother, she’ll learn to behave”.
I kept staring at the frail woman as she sat there with a strange serene expression. I had something new to tell the group of bored women at The Queen’s Club. They seemed to know everything there is to know on men and fashion. How longed to be the center of attention there, if not clothes and jewelry, my sad tale would shift their focus on my kind heart instead. “It is so sickening that men could treat us like their property and be so cruel”. I almost said it aloud and smiled to myself, picturing the reaction of those rich, over made up, hypocrite friends.
I saw a small, sick looking boy of about four sitting by her side, wiping her silent tears with his dirty hand. He started crying loudly. She lifted his thin body and rested his head on her shoulder and walked away. I got thinking, Damn! I wish I had remembered to pick up the iPhone from the corner table and covered that emotional moment. Of course, I would have offered some money to her. It looked as if she badly needed it. Just one picture, which I could copy onto a drawing board with the right colors and a caption that read “A Man’s World Indeed” or “Educate The Girl Child” would have enabled me to enter the painting competition at the Club. I sighed as I recollected that the best painting would actually win a brand new car.
The crowd had begun to disperse and I turned around to my car. I swore at the big guy behind the wheel of a large truck, the a** just missed me by inches. The cheeky guy even looked out the window and blew me a kiss. Almost immediately, I heard a scream and I turned. Suddenly everybody seemed to be hurrying, I saw a crowd gathering. I ran too, this time again I could not resist the thought of the high resolution camera on the phone.
The large truck was parked nearby. The boy’s head had hit the truck and I saw her crawling on her belly towards the motionless boy. As she reached him, her thin arm went around him as she tried to hold him to her breast and sobbed. She planted a meek kiss on his cheek and then, she too, became motionless. The truck driver was saying something like, “It’s not my fault; she got in the way”. Everything began to get dizzy and dark, I fainted.
As I came around amidst the chaos, I made the best decision of my life, got a lift to the main road, hailed a cab and returned to the warmth of my home.
I felt guilty, almost ashamed for hurting Jack time and again with my bitter words. He had done everything he could to give in to my whims ever so often. Instead of feeling blessed for having a patient and understanding husband, I was making matters more complicated than they actually were. I was fortunate to have him in my life. He treats me as a friend, listens to me and allows me to be me. How many lucky women out there were as fortunate as I?
It was 7:30 am and a Sunday morning. The door was half open, as I had left it. Jack was still sleeping on the sofa. I ran past him, reached for the note and frantically tore it till I could tear no more. A short time later, Jack was seated at the table with a shocked expression. I say shocked because in a very long time, I had prepared his favorite breakfast and was serving it with a smile.
I followed up the story. The husband fled the scene, never to be heard of again. Nobody came forward for the bodies and they were buried anonymously. The court acquitted the truck driver, as it appeared, the woman had suicidal tendencies and had made a previous attempt by jumping in the well.
Jack and Tony joked, saying that maybe an angel had descended on me overnight. I had stopped complaining, nagging, was more understanding and even forgave them time and again for making fun of my new image until they got tired of it and began to really wonder if they should start believing in Angels.
Seema Anthony works in the legal department of a reputed US global leading lodging company. She has lived in Dubai for 15 years and this is her first attempt at storytelling.