The Love of a Good Woman

The house stands sullen and gloomy; he hasn’t even bothered to leave the portico lights on. The front door is ajar and a diffused glow along with muffled, static, sounds tells me he is home. He has to be, his whole life revolves around the 7:30 PM news for God’s sake. He kept the volume on mute when she was dying but he did not switch the TV off. By the time the newsreader had moved to the sports section, she was bloody dead and gone. I think he switched off the TV then. Funny how the only time he turned the TV off by himself was when she was no longer around to see him do so.

The steps haven’t been swept for some days and they creak under me. I knock on the door before pushing it open and I pause then, because I realize that this will be the first time that I am in their house without her. Without Aunt Nina, with her loud laugh, her awful jokes, her sweet tea served in white china cups and her frangipani perfume. Without Aunt Nina, a second cousin of my dead mother’s, who stood in as a surrogate mother for me through much of my life and looked after me like one of her own, even though she had none of her own. She was the larger than life, chirpy, beautiful woman who solved most of life’s problems with her trademark cheer and cups of tea. And perhaps because she was larger than life, she married him with his reticent ways and his mumbling, shuffling manner and his grey flannels. He smelt of the old tobacco he smoked and he epitomized all that was vague and grey. He reminded me of an English autumn even as spring gaudily flaunted her wares around his garden. As Aunt Nina cranked up her radio and sang noisily, he smoked his pipe and picked out grammatical errors from the editorial of the “Financial Times”.

I loved her unconditionally but I would soon learn that even when we love someone without any barriers, we do not necessarily understand their choices. I never saw him give her a tender glance, or buy her flowers. He must have been young and charming once but I had no recollections of this, all I knew was that he was ageless because youth had forgotten him.

When Aunt Nina fought her battle with cancer and lost, he didn’t emerge either stronger or softer from her tryst. Instead, he believed that she would tide over everything like she always had, and he pretended that if he ignored the death knocks on the door, they would perhaps go away. I don’t know if he thanked her for the memories, or if he went through her sepia albums with her as she lay dying. Aunt Nina grew worried about him in her last days and made me promise I would visit every week. As she lay fretting over him, he cranked up the volume on the afternoon Poker show and made notes in his barely legible, scrawling handwriting, in his dog-eared diary. If he needed to win a hand to equal his losses with an unctuous fate, he shouldn’t have bothered because he was already losing her. I could have hollered at him then, for being oblivious to the love of a lifetime. “He won’t know what to do without me, how will he handle being by himself?” she had sobbed into her sterile pillows. If she weren’t so sick and if I hadn’t loved her so much, I would have told her that the only thing that could have elicited any emotion from him was perhaps a complete banning of television.

There are places in a man’s heart where the love of a good woman cannot reach and I hated to tell her that for all that love claims it can do, it cannot vanquish the barriers of indifference. I had wept for her instead, for her life that had been wasted around his silences and his indifferences to her role in his life. I had cried for the best years of her life gone unnoticed, even as I knew that a cherished memory is the eulogy of a lifetime. But I had to keep my word and visit him, for a promise to a dying person is really a promise to oneself and that is why such promises are often so hard to break.

So, I walk in through the door and sit down opposite him and ask him how he has been. He waits till the ad break comes on before he mumbles a greeting. I try not to look at the mantelpiece where he has put up her photo taken a few weeks before she died. Her face is gaunt and she wears make-up on her protruding cheek bones. Her hair is wispy and her smile is obscenely brave. His eyes travel to the photo and I hear a sigh escape his lips. I pretend I haven’t noticed because I don’t want to dignify his pain – the man has no emotions, this much I am sure of! “I wanted to remember her like that”, he suddenly says. “Not when she was young and sprightly and beautiful, because youth is always beautiful”. I simply stare at him as he makes the first admission of her death and therefore of her life. “Not many people look beautiful in the face of defeat, she managed to do that, you know”, he is wincing now.

I suddenly want to shake him hard, really hard – and ask him why he didn’t once tell her all this. Why she died the way she did, with what I am sure were cruel silences and an empty miasma of unsaid words and unacknowledged feelings. Instead we both find ourselves in front of her old kitchen cabinet, and he puts the kettle on and brings out her china cups. “It is a crime to judge love by its expression, she always said that”, he says. As he makes me tea the way only she could and adds a sprinkling of sugar like she used to, I know suddenly that silences are not always unanswered questions, sometimes they are merely the questions that don’t need asking.

He shuffles back towards the TV, fumbling with his watch. Through the corner of my eyes, I see him nod at her photo even as he settles into his chair and picks up the remote.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rajavel
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 15:52:56

    beautiful woman who solved most of life’s problems with her trademark cheer and cups of tea.

    silences are not always unanswered questions, sometimes they are merely the questions that don’t need asking

    😦 !

    See you around.

    Reply

  2. Captain Nemo
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 18:30:18

    Awesome!!!

    Reply

  3. ardra
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 13:18:04

    I like to believe that they had their own way and mode of communication…yeah they must’ve had that…

    Reply

  4. scarlettletters
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 09:08:50

    Thanks people. 🙂

    Reply

  5. Vidya
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 18:42:38

    Expressing is far easier! Beautiful!

    Reply

  6. scarlettletters
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 14:14:19

    Thanks Vidya 🙂

    Reply

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