(A short fiction by Sidharth Vardhan
First written on November 6, 2018)
“we fight and it passes the time.”
– Ernest Hemingway
8 p.m. Major Baldev Singh, the fifty-eight old advocate, returns home. He had been playing chess with his friend ‘Sharma’ for the whole day. He returns home to find it locked and curses the whole universe in general and his wife, Simran Kaur in particular. Why can’t this woman stay at home? He kicks the door. He hates it – not finding her home, waiting for him with cooked food.
He waits for her sitting on the stool just outside their main door and he doesn’t have to wait for long, though it seemed long to him, for she is here in five minutes. She has whitening hair like her husband.
While his legs, one of which had once received a bullet, are giving in; his body is still muscular. She on other hand can still run around like a girl of twenty but has a pot belly. He secretly hates her for going fat just she openly calls him lame when they are in arguing.
“Where were you?” He lets his anger show in his voice.
“I was at Gurudwara with Tejinder.” She answers without showing offense but without any apology in her voice. They have been fighting like this for almost every day for the past 19 years… A few days since Gurinder’s death. “Martyred in Kargil war” her husband would correct her. “No. You killed him.” She had maintained – not ever able to forgive him for letting her son into this army honor bullshit.
She unlocks the house. “Quick. I have been waiting at the door for half an hour. You make me wait every day at my own door as if am a beggar.” A meaningless lie and they both know it. She knows he just wants to pick an argument. She is not giving in today. She hates these arguments and they always end with her crying and him apologizing. God knows why he picks them in the first place
“Why don’t you get another key for the lock?” She asks him as nicely as she could manage.
“DON’T you answer me back like that.” The threat in his voice along with physique would have threatened anybody who doesn’t know him but she knows he is incapable of being violent to a woman.
In fact, she just smiles at the threat knowing it is so ineffective at her because he loves her. For a second, she almost tells him that all arguments end in him apologizing so he may as well not start another, but then checks herself – thinking it would be cruel to tell him how harmless she knows him to be,
“Where is my dinner?” He asks in the same rude tone. It is getting to her, but she is determined not to have another argument. She wonders when exactly they became that old couple who are always arguing with each other. For the first nineteen years of their marriage, they never argued even for once. They argued a couple of times when Tejinder decided to join the army because of his father’s pressure and then were back to being that same loving couple. Five years later he died. And it seemed as though the house has become a graveyard.
“Let me cook you something,” she replies knowing already that she can’t prevent the argument.
“Couldn’t you have cooked something already? I have told you several times before that I want food ready at the time when I am home.”
He has finally managed to get onto her nerves, “You do not have a fixed time to come back home. Do you? And if I cook in advance you will complain it is not hot or fresh.”
“Excuses. Always excuses” he says knowing well that she has a point.
As is the case of paternalistic families, it didn’t occur to either of them to question why should it always be her duty to cook the food even though he has retired already.
They have both fell silent. This is what he hates so much. This grave silence. It had ruled the house after Teji’s death. It was as if they had nothing whatsoever to talk about anymore. And then one day they argued – angry more at circumstances, but you can’t reproach circumstances. You can’t challenge silence for a duel, you can only challenge a person. Only people can act as the scapegoat of your anguish.
She serves him Aloo-bharta. “Same old rubbish every day.” He comments.
“You used to love my Aloo-bharta.” She is offered this time.
She is right and he hated the fact that he was loving it even right now. “It is not about aloo bharta. It is about you not waiting for him when I am out.”
She is furious this time. “So you get to go out and do whatever with those friends of yours and I stay here at this place and let it devour me?”
“All women stay at home.”
“ALL WOMEN HAVEN”T ….” She sighs and, a moment later is already crying at what she is about to say “haven’t lost their only son because their husband is a fool.”
“My son was martyred in the war.” He answers back positively furious, but a part of him is satisfied as it has accomplished a kind of objective.
“He was MY son and I would never be happy to exchange him for that handful of metal which you use for decoration there.” She points to the medal hanging on a wall.
“That is the medal the highest honor given in the country.”
“HIGHEST HONOR, MY FOOT!” She stamps her foot and goes to her bed.
He eats his meal silently. He used to love him for being for a soldier, loved his uniform and all, what happened when his son chose to go for the army too? Was she only pretending to like him for being a solder? No, that is not possible. It is more or less same argument every day but for some reason, they feel need to rehearse it every night. He puts the dishes in the sink in the kitchen and discovers she has eaten her dinner.
He walks to their bed “Eat your meal.”
“I am not hungry.”
“Alright, but don’t you expect me to take you to doctor when you fall sick again.” And he lies down on his side of the bed.
“I don’t expect you to.” She answers back.
They have their back to each other. He is pretending to be indifferent to her but her sobs are making him feel guilty. Also, he is worried now. He doesn’t want her to fall sick. Why does this woman have to get her anger out on food?
He hates her for being so weak. In fact, they are both scared as they look forward to that day when one will be bed-ridden and other must look after him or her. They still both want to be one dying first.
He has turned off the light.
He imagines what life would be like without her as she too has done several times. And he realizes that he can’t even imagine such a life.
She has been sobbing all this while. And he can’t take it anymore. He turns around. She is crying. He wants to apologize, console her but he can’t think of any words. He reaches out and puts his hand on her shoulder. Another quiet moment. The argument is over. And each feels he or she has done something that would have been embarrassing but isn’t because it is done in presence of his or her spouse and they have been doing it for a while – the feeling that somewhat like what they once felt after reaching orgasm during sex.
Still crying, she turns around but won’t look him straight in the face.
How he loves her! she is so ugly and yet he can’t help it. “It is okay.” He mumbles uselessly.
“Why do we argue so much?” She manages to say through the sobs.
“I don’t know.” He says and pulls her into a hug. She continues to sob in his arms as he runs his hand on her back consoling her. Once he she has stopped, he pulls her apart from him and begs “please have your dinner.”
She nods and leaves for the kitchen.
“And oh!” he adds trying to cheer her up “Could there by any chance be some spare aalo-bharta?”
“Idiot!” she turns back to show annoyance but her eyes, oh! the eyes he once fell in love with, are smiling.