— by Sneha
My gaze wandered out the window. I could hear and see him loud and clear despite the commotion of the gathering crowd.
“Yes, yes! My wife loves to cook.”
Yes, yes! I used to love to cook. I didn’t even think I was good at it but it was still something I enjoyed. It’s different now that I do it every day and have a fifty year old hag nagging over my shoulder.
“Reet, how is the kheer? Is it ready?”
“Uh..no, not yet. Almost.” I gave her the usual – a sweet, apologetic smile and a half shrug.
“Okay. That’s fine.” It wasn’t. “Hurry up.”
I stirred the kheer and watched her leave from the corner of my eye. Reet, is the food ready? Reet, where are you going? Reet, I told you to not go out of the house without my permission. Reet, why don’t you ever listen?
Screw her, I thought. Screw this house. Screw this family.
I heard him call me his wife again from outside. It was something I always wanted to be called when I was younger, but it irked me now. I missed when I was the one out there dancing my heart out to Bollywood songs. Back then, I was told it would be my turn soon, but I didn’t pay it much heed. Of course I knew it was coming, but that was later.
And now was later, and here I was remaking the pudding that I burnt while thinking about the soap I started watching earlier.
It all felt very authentic now. I actually got so bored I started watching soaps! I was becoming like my mom, and my grandma, and every woman before them. Would I yell at my future kids as much as they did? Would I sit here and never go to school again, although I had been promised I would after a couple of years? Would I sweep the entire floor while complaining that no one was helping me? Was I really just stuck here..forever?
It was him. “Yeah.”
“Just bring out what you have. It’s okay.”
That’s not how it worked with kheer, I wanted to say. The whole thing had to be done before I brought it out. “It’s almost done, I promise!” I said instead.
“..Okay. But if it isn’t, don’t worry.” he smiled. It felt genuine. “Everyone wants to see you.”
I stopped stirring after he left. He seemed nice and sweet from the get-go. He was good-looking too, according to everyone. Maybe he’d grow on me, and I him. I couldn’t tell if he liked me yet. It had only been a few months since I moved in.
I could tell he wanted me to feel comfortable here. But there was his one time where his mom went batshit on me for not doing our dishes as well as the neighbors’ ones since their sink was broken. Back then, I approached him, and he told me that was just the way she was.
But being here probably wasn’t even that bad. I always did tend to make the worst out of every situation. Oh boo hoo, poor Reet, she just hates cooking and cleaning and sitting and sleeping and asking and bearing and wondering and sighing.
Poor, poor Reet.
I went out into the living room. His little brother was playing Fortnite on the desktop, and the rerun of the soap I was watching was playing on the TV. I saw this episode a while ago. It was the one where the main girl was being dragged out of her house to get married to the evil landlord two blocks down. She was crying and crying and sobbing but her captors didn’t listen and just gagged her and threw her in the back of a truck.
I wish I had something to actually complain about. I was reluctant about the whole arrangement to begin with and yes, life here was irritating, but I managed to let it pass with all but a weird discomfort in my chest. He was well-off, and the house was nice, so what else could I possibly ask for?
I looked back at the kid. Why wasn’t he outside with the others?
“Hey, could you help me carry this out?”
He looked at the desktop, then to the controller in his hand, then back to me. He was occupied, message heard loud and clear.
“Please? It’ll be quick. Then you can get back to whatever you’re doing.”
He got up with a groan and then we brought it outside.
A hand on my shoulder.
I put on my brightest grin. “Yes! That’s me! Nice to meet you.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Reet.” At first glance, it looked like it was, but there was something in everyone’s eyes that gave it away. Maybe they thought I would be prettier. A little thinner. Have a higher pitched voice. Whatever it was, no one looked particularly impressed. This never used to get to me but now it did, for some reason. I was usually on the quiet side, but in this setting, being expected to behave myself didn’t feel good.
“There you are!” Him! He began to hold my hand but redirected it to my back.
“So, you guys got acquainted?” He raised an eyebrow at the woman I just semi-introduced myself to, and she nodded with pursed lips.
God, I had never felt so pathetic in my entire life. I spent three hours doing my makeup in the morning. I only wore this sari once in my entire life. My jewelry came all the way from my mom’s town in India. Why would no one look at me? I was pretty, right? No?
I felt like jumping into a well, but I swallowed it down and sat down where some people were taking pictures. I wondered if I could inconspicuously photobomb all of them, so when they went home, and saw the girl in their picture with the beautiful sari, they would ask who it was and look her up on Facebook and find out it was me. But that would never work. I didn’t even have a Facebook.
Everyone looked so happy dancing and I thought, yeah, I could join them. But my feet were grounded to the grass.
A guy started singing an old song way off key.
Musafir hoon yaaaaaronnnnnn
Na ghar haiiii na thikanaaaaa
Mujhe chalte jaana haiiiiiiiiii
Bas chalte jaaaaaanaaaaaaa
The translation goes something like this: “I’m a traveller, friends. I don’t have a home nor place. I have to keep moving, just keep moving”. I’ve never heard this song being sung at a wedding. God, he sounded like a dying donkey. Why was no one complaining? If I could, I would’ve taken the mic out of his hands and knocked him out with it myself. I could, but..I wouldn’t.
I leaned back in my seat, let my eyes droop shut, and pretended that this man was singing it for me.
The girl being married into our family today was sweet and pretty. Maybe I would finally have someone to talk to. She looked really excited the last time I saw her. I certainly was, a few months ago. I was entering into a new chapter of my life, but at the same time, wasn’t taking as big of a step as I thought.
I caught his gaze when my eyes opened. He was looking at me like I was a thirteen year old dawdling around at a family gathering, which wasn’t too far from the truth. I turned away for a second. When I turned back, he was gone.
There were a group of girls my age standing by the back gate. I got up to join them, then found out they were gossiping about someone who wasn’t here.
“So, how are you guys enjoying everything so far?” I tried to slide in.
“It’s fine, I guess.” one of the girls smiled, her eyes narrowing a fraction. “I’ve been to like three of these this week.”
“Same.” I said, even though I haven’t. I’ve been stuck here cooking for as long as I could remember.
“So…” Another girl started (a roundabout way of saying: “who the hell are you?”).
“Oh, I’m Reet….a. Reeta. Just a family friend.”
“Ok. So you know the groom? Or the bride?”
“…Yeah. I’m good friends with the bride.”
“Okay, whatever. Wasn’t the kheer great?!” A girl who was clearly more excited than the rest squealed. I inwardly congratulated myself for this.
“Sure. I kinda just want to leave.”
“Same.” I said. “I know this place pretty well – if we leave through the back, no one would notice.”
“I don’t really give a shit if anyone notices, but okay.”
Well, I did. Maybe I was making the wrong decision.
But then I said, “follow me,” and beckoned them inside the house. After giving the girl some of the leftover kheer, we hurried to the back and shut the door behind us.