Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Cure - 4

I was devastated. Completely crushed and shattered. It was like my mother’s death all over again, only this time there was the added shame and the humiliation. People talked, and asked my family embarrassing questions. My family didn’t say anything, and I was glad not to hear the accusing “I told you so” from anyone, but I could tell that it was in their hearts. My colleagues tried their best to act normal, but it was very awkward for them too. Because I never talk about my personal life to anyone they didn't know how to react, they all knew what happened but since they didn't hear it from me they were not sure what to do. I knew that the mothers wanted to console me and the younger unmarried ladies wanted to discuss their boyfriend problems and commiserate with me, but nobody knew how to approach me and how to bring up the subject of lost love. I was my normal quiet self, did my work perfectly, came to work on time, and as far as appearances were concerned I acted exactly the way I used to. But inside I was hurting, and cried myself to sleep every night.

Two months after I left Makuka I discovered I was pregnant. When I missed my period the first month I thought it was due to stress, but when I missed it again the second time in a row I became suspicious and bought a pregnancy kit and tested myself. Positive. I took two more tests, and they all turned out positive. It was like fate had slapped me in the face; I didn't expect it coming, and it stung. I became angry because it was all so unfair. I didn't want the baby, I didn't want a reminder of the most painful experience of my life, and I definitely didn't want to bear the child of a person who stopped loving me and will most likely never love me again.

I thought of aborting the baby. I had never known anyone who has had an abortion, and I wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. Did people go to obscure clinics, or approach doctors who knew them well? If they go to a big hospital what was the procedure? Who do they consult? Did they see a normal doctor with some lame excuse and suddenly announce they were pregnant and wanted to get rid of it? I thought about the dangers, I knew full well the risks involved. I'd read about women dying because of botched abortions, of some unfortunate ones never being able to have children again. I thought about the social stigma that came with it. I hadn’t told anyone about the pregnancy yet, but bad news always finds a way to reveal itself somehow, and there’s nothing more entertaining than a scandal that involved sex and badly behaved women.

I called Makuka many times, intending to tell him about the pregnancy, but somehow our conversations always veered into how he had cheated on me and what a control freak I was. It always ended with someone hanging up the phone. The fact that we couldn’t have a proper conversation like two grown up adults made me angrier and more determined to cut off all connections with him, including his baby. I stopped calling, and he never once called back. 

The idea of dying then came to me. If I die, the baby would also die. No more heartaches, no more anger, no more tears. I wouldn’t have to see any more sympathetic faces and hear the gossip about me. I could sleep forever, and it would be so peaceful.

I looked at the pile of pills on the kitchen table. There was no way I could swallow all of them. So I crushed them till I got a nice little mound of white powder in front of me, and took out my favourite tea cup from the kitchen cupboard. It was ironic, really, I was going to die after drinking from my favourite cup. I wondered if it would be painful, and it was then that my mother came into my mind. She died in her sleep; did she feel any pain, or did she simply drift off and wake up in heaven?

I decided to take one last look at my mother’s face. I took out her album which my father had carefully preserved, and studied the photographs closely. Here she is with her school friends. Out on a picnic in the fields. With her younger brothers, dirty little boys, my uncles. I laughed out loud. Her wedding picture, she looked happy.  With her first child in her arms. I turned the black and white photograph over, and behind it was written in her spindly curvy handwriting, “Laldinliani, 2 months, September 1974.” And below it, “My baby, my life.”

I had never seen that before. I was her baby, I was her life. And now that she was dead, I was living for her. She lived in me, through me. I must have stood there for what seemed like an eternity, although it could not have been more than ten minutes. I read the words over and over again.

My baby, my life.

And here I was trying to end my life over a love affair that ended in tears, not knowing that if I die my mother would once again die, and a part of her that lived on in my baby would die too. The enormity of what I almost did hit me, and I lay on my father’s bed and cried and cried until I could cry no more.  My baby should live, I should live, and my mother’s legacy will continue. Here I was, pregnant, not knowing that I was the only hope for my family’s blood to live on. Kimteii wanted to have a baby but fate had decided otherwise, and I who had been blessed was planning to end it all. 

I got up, walked to the kitchen, threw the powder into the sink and washed it all away, and then scrubbed the sink until it was sparkling and spotless. I felt cleansed, redeemed, and forgiven.

I put my hands over my stomach, and smiled.

My baby, my life, my legacy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Cure - 3

It was a terrible mistake, and it was my idea. Eloping was the last thing on my mind when I set out to go shopping with Makuka on that fateful December day. It was Christmastime, schools and colleges were closed, and people flocked to the market. Laughing friends, sulking children, harassed mothers, siblings, lovers, everyone had come to buy something for Christmas. There was an air of festivity all around, and everyone seemed so happy and content. I was suddenly overcome by a sense of emptiness, a feeling of aloneness. It was then that the idea of eloping formed in my head.

Makuka and I had discussed marriage before, but never finished a conversation. It was as if there was something blocking us, preventing us from being together; something unknown, unseen, unspoken. After two years of us seeing each other my family still wasn’t convinced, ticking him off as someone I would soon get bored of, a mad phase in my life. They were still waiting for me to find a ‘real’ man. On that cold winter day as I looked at the people around me I felt like I was the only one who would be alone that night. I could not bear the thought of going home and eating a silent dinner with my father and then sleeping alone in my cold empty bed.

I called up one of my colleagues who had recently moved into a new house with her husband. They didn't have children, and their house was in an isolated part of town, so it seemed like the perfect place to go. She really didn’t want to be a part of the plan but I persuaded until she said yes. Makuka too was not very enthusiastic, said it wasn’t proper behaviour for two sensible adults. But I was adamant, saying it was now or never. So we spent the first night of our elopement on the living room floor of a colleague who wasn’t even a good friend.

Eloping was supposed to be fun, and romantic, but what we did was far from fun and romantic. There was nothing grand or wonderful about it; it was cold and we were so worried that we barely slept.  I called Kimteii and told her to inform my father, and Makuka called his parents and told them we would be returning the next day. I spent the whole night waiting for one of my uncles to burst in through the door and yank me home, but no one came. I waited for my father to call me, but there was not a word from him. I was edgy, nervous, cold and uncomfortable. It was nothing like I had expected or imagined, but even then I didn’t want to change my mind and go home. I still believed everything would be fine when morning comes.

The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn and went home to Makuka’s house. His parents were still asleep and we had to wake them up. They were very nice to me and made me feel very welcome, but it was a very embarrassing moment. I had met them before, but suddenly turning up at their doorstep as their new daughter-in-law was a completely new experience for me as well as for them, something for which I was totally unprepared. I still wore my clothes from the previous day, my hair was unkempt, and with no makeup on I was far from the beautiful bride they would have envisioned for their youngest son.

And so I was married. Even though we didn’t have the wedding ceremony yet we were considered to be husband and wife, as is the Mizo custom. My father wanted me to come home, but Makuka’s parents said there was no need for that, I was their new daughter now and would live with them and one fine day when the date was fixed Makuka and I would get married in church. My father reluctantly agreed.

They say you never truly know a person until you have lived with him or her. How true that was! Makuka was like a small boy at home. He stayed up late, woke up late, and was often late for work - by then he had got a job at one of the private middle schools. He lived like a dirty schoolboy, and I spent one whole weekend cleaning out his room. Because of our sudden elopement there was no time for his parents to make a new room for us, so we slept in his small bedroom which was full of rock posters and dirty clothes and shoes. I threw out all his old clothes, took down all the posters, and rearranged the furniture to make some space. A few weeks later the wall between his room and his brother’s old room was taken down and we then had a new big room.

I tried to be the perfect wife, the perfect daughter-in-law, and was determined to make our marriage a success. My father had generously given me quite a large sum of money which was lying in my bank account. I spent most of that money buying new furniture for our room, and new clothes for Makuka and for his parents. I knew it would have looked odd, the new daughter-in-law buying new stuff with her money, but I consulted my in-laws and they were okay with it and we needed the new stuff.

I didn’t see the signs. I thought our marriage was, well, if not perfect at least satisfactory.  Makuka stopped going out at nights and his parents were happy, I was happy because I was with the man I loved, and even though we were not yet legally married it seemed so like the real thing. We spent each night at home; I watching TV with my in-laws, Makuka shut up in our room, playing computer games or interacting with his online “friends”. I considered it harmless, he was at home, and he went to bed every night with me. I didn’t even imagine that he would leave me for a college girl he met on the Internet. Sometimes he would stay up very late, and I’d drift off to sleep without waiting for him because I thought he was playing online games and it would take forever to end. Only that I didn’t know the kind of games he played behind my back, literally. And on the days when he came home very late from work and said he was held back at school giving tuition to the kids I had no reason to doubt him. I knew about the pressure teachers put on children in order to gain a good reputation for the school, and I was secretly proud of him for being so committed to his work. If only I knew that he was committing himself to a girl who was almost half my age!

So dear reader, you can imagine my shock when after fourteen months of living together as husband and wife Makuka told me to pack my bags and return to my father’s house because he was in love with someone else. He said I was too much for him, too controlling, suffocating and too clingy. Words that I once used to describe him. He said I forced him to get married before he was ready, and that he didn’t like the way I tried to take over his life and tried to change him. I cried, I begged, I pleaded, I promised I would change and do whatever he wanted, but he wouldn’t change his mind. I didn’t even ask about the other girl; I didn’t want to hurt myself more with the details. His parents too wanted me to stay, but what could I do when my “husband” himself had told me to get out?

And so I returned to my father’s house; rejected, brokenhearted, disgraced, and pregnant.

(to be continued…)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Cure - 2

Love at first sight is something that happened only in movies and in books, has always been my opinion. But Makuka, the hopeless romantic that he is, claimed that he fell in love with me when he saw me at the reunion, and that his belief was confirmed when he saw my pictures in the camera I forgot at his place. He wasn’t a classmate, but the younger brother of Siami’s husband, the one who we thought stayed put in his room that reunion day. He and his parents came out for dinner, and he claimed he saw me then and “his heart beat a thousand times faster” as he put it. Of course I was easy to spot - at five feet six and a half inches I towered over all the other girls and some of the guys. Quite tall for a Mizo girl. Tallness runs in the family, Kimteii is five six, my mother was five-five, and all my uncles on my mother’s side are well above five-ten.

Makuka got my phone number from Siami, and came to my house to return my camera. It wasn’t long before he was a regular visitor. He proclaimed his undying love for me every day, sending me cute text messages and calling me every night before he went to sleep. At first I thought he was not serious, but as time wore on I realised that that was just the way he was. He was very sentimental and not afraid to show his feelings. I liked him very much, he was funny and made me laugh, but I wasn’t sure if I loved him because love was something I had never truly experienced. What I liked most about him was that he was different from the other men I knew. It didn’t worry him that at 27 he was four years younger than I was, and not once did he mention my height which was quite a relief after a lifetime of hearing people always telling me how tall I was. He was of average height, not good looking, but had the most beautiful smile. When he smiled his eyes twinkled and his whole face lit up. How I lived for that smile!

I would often inspect myself in the mirror. What did he love about me? I am not beautiful – my eyes are too far apart, my forehead too wide, my hair too curly. I am not clever or funny, I am terrible at conversation. Yet he remained true. He said he loved my innocence, and my truth. How could one argue with that? If I’d only known that he would break my heart and cause me so much pain I would never have given myself to him. It took me a year before I finally opened up and admitted my love, but he waited patiently.  If I’d only known that he would hurt me so much to make me want to give up my life I’d have made him wait forever.

When I was with Makuka I felt young and alive, as if I had just recovered from an illness and the air was buzzing with life and activity. It was as if the world was made just for us, for us to live in and to be happy.

But there were times when he scared me with his intensity. He felt everything deeply, strongly, passionately. I was his greatest love, the best thing that had ever happened to him, the answer to his prayers. He said I meant more to him than his siblings, his parents, his friends, that he wouldn’t survive the day if he didn’t see me or hear my voice. I thought nobody ever actually said those words, but Makuka said them to me (“When I don’t see you or hear your voice I feel empty, incomplete”).

And there were times when I felt suffocated, smothered by him. He was like a faithful and loyal puppy, eager to please and desperate for attention, sometimes too protective and possessive. He’d call me, send me text messages, come to see me everyday; he wanted to know everything, what I ate, what I did, whom I saw, what I thought. I'd never had anyone so interested in me before. It was an unbelievable experience – being in love was the most incredible thing I had experienced in my life.

My family and friends didn’t approve. My aunts said he was after my money (What money, I asked, the money that my father accumulated with unfair means, or my monthly salary?) Though my father didn’t say it out loud I could tell from his behaviour that Makuka wasn’t exactly the kind of man he wanted as a boyfriend or husband for his daughter. He probably preferred someone who was gainfully employed, someone God fearing and a regular church-goer. My friends claimed to know all about him, telling me he was a no-good person who drank alcohol and who never attended church and didn’t participate in any of the social activities. Hearing them talk you’d have thought Makuka was a criminal who was only a few steps away from prison and eternal damnation, who didn’t deserve a church-going government-job-holding God-fearing girl like me.

They were right. He was unemployed and wasn’t the most popular person in town. But he made me happy. He made me believe that I was the most wonderful, most beautiful person in the planet. I truly believed that love would conquer all and that we’d live happily forever. All my life I had followed all the rules, colouring inside the lines, always doing the ‘right’ thing, and never once strayed from the path. Being with Makuka made me feel bold and adventurous, made me feel brave and daring. I felt free, and alive.

I will always remember that day- 12th June 2007, a cloudy Tuesday. My father had gone to Calcutta with Kimteii and her husband. After nine years of marriage they were still childless and it worried everyone. They had consulted a stream of doctors, seen healers and evangelists and pastors, and prayed every day for a child. My father too desperately wanted a grandchild; the baby born of his special child. I was my mother's child, and since childhood Kimteii was always my father's. He gave her everything she wanted. So when Kimteii and her husband heard about a fertility clinic in Calcutta with very high success rates, my father immediately announced he would bear all the costs. They called the clinic, made an appointment, and were off. I took the day off from work and went to Lengpui and waved goodbye to my family.

It was the first time I was alone in the house. All by myself. I called Makuka and invited him to dinner. He had never been invited to eat at our house before, what with my family not thinking too highly of him. I felt lightheaded and delirious, as if I was suddenly set free. I didn't remember what we ate or what we talked about. But I can still picture vividly the expression on Makuka's face when after dinner he took my hand and led me to my bedroom and closed the door behind him.

Six months later, we eloped.

(to be continued....)