Questioning

Part I

I sat awkwardly between two people on the train home. My shoulders tucked and my hands were resting on my knees. I longed to stretch my legs but before me were a herd of school children of whom I was afraid to look at, let alone to almost touch.

On my right was my fiancé of 9 months and one week. The wedding planning had recently become stagnant after we had disputed over every other detail. I imagined a small intimate wedding of perhaps 10 guests from each side in a converted barn with wooden tables, wholesome food and only to be lit by candlelight. He wanted 2 weddings – Hindu and Christian to represent both of our backgrounds, a party with an open bar and a stag do in Vegas of course.

It’s not that we can’t afford it. He’s a respected chef and I’m one of the chief editor at a major newspaper in London – the youngest editor, in fact, according to Reuters. His ideas of marriage were just different to mine. I already knew this, of course, as this was one of the topics which came up in conversation on our first date – or was it second? I can’t remember. Anyway, he had done some catering for some extravagant weddings during his teen years, which, I believe started his lifelong fantasy of seven-tiered multi-flavoured cakes, fireworks and the brides arrival in a helicopter (yes, he really suggested this).

We met at university, about 8 years ago now. He studied Law, presumably by ‘suggestion’ from his mother. I had only met her once, since she died just 3 weeks after her son graduated, but I presume she said something along the lines of:

‘Why don’t you get a degree and you can focus on your cooking after that’

A doctor herself, I always wondered what she must have thought after being told that her only son wanted to pursue a career as a restauranteur. I don’t know if she would have be proud, even today. I digress. 

My fiancé had put up a notice about wanting volunteers to taste test his new recipes. Of course, he was a complete stranger to me back then – much like everyone on campus, since I only left my dormitory to attend lectures. However, something sparked when I saw his notice and I found myself walking over to his dorm that afternoon. 

He lived in the building directly opposite to mine. It had a pool and a screening room. I remember, he smiled as he introduced himself to me as he met me on the ground floor. He was tall, had neatly trimmed hair, a prominent jawline and a growing stubble perhaps after three days on not shaving. He was wearing a white t-shirt which was carefully matched with the black jeans I saw underneath the apron that was wrapped around his waist.

‘Why did you go so early?’ I thought to myself. ‘He’s not even finished cooking yet’.

I don’t remember much from the conversation we had that evening, nor much of the meal but it was something along the lines of fried quail and sage butter. There was a glimpse in his eyes which oozed a certain charm that I cannot describe. I found myself returning to his kitchen every weekend before it became every day. He was my first ‘I love you’ and the first person I had ever truly embraced.

After graduating, we took our first holiday abroad to Vienna. We were on the famous ferris wheel when he asked me to move in with him – romantic, I know. You see, I was forced to move back in to my old bedroom in my parents’ home, since I had not yet gathered enough savings for a place of my own. My fiancé’s father, however, was the owner of a music label (the name of which I cannot disclose), and had gifted his son a car and a three bedroom apartment in London. 

I decided to move in 5 months after the funeral – it was best to give him some space at least. 

Over the years, we both established good portfolios in our chosen industries and eventually saved up enough to buy a house together in Hampstead Heath. Like traditions go, we went on a vacation just before the big move, and to my surprise he popped the big question:

“Tara, please make me the happiest man and do me the honour of becoming my wi- ”

‘Excuse me Madam, you’re sitting on my coat’ 

An angelic voice bought me out of my daydream. It was a woman on my left. 

Back to my homeland.

Part 1

We were delayed in the queue for the visas as it snaked around the arrivals lounge. Why did they work so slowly? Before us stood 4 counters each with a glum looking officer sat behind it, glancing cautiously at the passports of keen tourists, then at them and back at the passport again before handing them back with an even more suspicious look. The queue grew faster but the pace of the officers did not. I looked over my shoulders to three tired children for this was the longest plane journey they had embarked and the furthest they had been from the comfort of their home.

Finally we were let free. 

We caught the eyes of dozens of men asking if we were in need of a taxi. We were warned about them. Ten of them in shirts and ties surrounded us and came up so close as if we were animals at a petting zoo. There were about ten of them and they came up so close as if we were animals at a petting zoo. Our only instinct being to bow our heads and to walk straight ahead without taking notice of them. As I lugged my suitcase out through the air-conditioned airport, I was soon greeted by the sticky, humid air of the capital; its pressure compressing at my throat leaving me gasping for fresh air. It was 4am. ‘Great’, I thought, it could only get worse during the day. 

We waited for what seemed like hours for our ride to arrive. We stood under a perspex shelter; a single sheet of plastic protecting us from the hundreds of mosquitos which were dotted across the early morning sky. It was hard to think through the constant interruptions of screeching tyres and the beeping of horns by frustrated taxi drivers. I couldn’t believe I was finally here after all these years. There were police officers, or traffic wardens – I couldn’t quite tell. They were wearing mud brown uniforms, exactly like you saw in the movies. They blew their whistles at regular intervals, one by one, as if it was the tune to a song. An awful song it was. 

The sun was beginning to rise and the airport grew busier. There was a sudden flurry of locals and tourists wandering in and out of the airport in unison – a sight that was once just merely a dream. We stood still in the middle of it all, mesmerised for this was the place I left all those years ago and had never expected to come back.

We were picked up just before 5 and settled down for our long ride back to my old village. We were driven through the city which was once a place for the rich, now a way of living for everyone. Skyscrapers loomed over us, absorbing in the rays of the rising sun, preparing to start the new day. Just across the road were the waves of the Laccadive sea, crashing against the boulders of the seashore. Stall vendors were situated right along the sea front, preparing their goods for the busy day to come. 

Every road we turned into we were met with an abundance of tuktuks*, motorcycles and school buses, each honking at one another at different tones, competing for their place on the road. The van swayed in and between the lanes, beeping its way passed a motorcycle on which they had managed to fit 4 people. You would think things would have changed since the war, clearly they had not.

There were still no big roads connecting the city to the villages meaning we had to drive almost three hours through towns and villages to reach our destination. It was an extensive and laborious journey. The children were now fast asleep beside me, wrapped in the arms of each other for protection in this unfamiliar environment.

My eyes strained from the sunshine which had now fully emerged and was beaming at full strength across the country. The air conditioning was blasting throughout the car but this still wasn’t enough to replace the humid air. Outside, the villagers were going about their day; elderly men in their lungis** huddled around the tea shops listening intently to the designated reader who was dictating aloud the morning paper. Women hurried around the stalls negotiating the best prices for vegetables and freshly caught fish whilst the stray dogs rummaged around searching for any piece of scrap food they could find, before being shooed off by market owners. I caught myself smiling with an overwhelming sadness. I was now a foreigner in a land where once my future was destined, nothing will change that now.

It was almost midday when we drove passed a familiar pillar. I immediately perked up from my seat, we were almost here. The same old dried Palmyra leaves were being used as fences to separate one house from the next. I opened my window and took a deep breath as the same ocean wind blew across my face, we were by the coast. Cows on the side of the road sat alongside with the stray dogs, taking shade under the looming palm trees. The driver began to pull up by a large blue gate. I was back. I was back after all these years. Back to my homeland. 

*Tuktuk – A three wheeled auto rickshaw that is a motorised development of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw.

**Lungi -The lungi is a type of sarong, that originated in the Indian subcontinent, worn around the waist as an alternative to trousers.

Confronting an old friend

I recently met with a guy that I had dated for a while back when I was at school,  intending to ask him questions about the relationship we had. What I got from him was so personal that it made me reconsider everything about myself hence why I’ve been holding myself from writing this. This was 3 months ago:

It was a chaotic beginning to say the least. We had both arrived at opposite ends of the park and spent a good hour searching for each other. The butterflies were increasing by the minute as I checked my phone, only to receive a tonne of messages from him threatening to leave if I didn’t hurry up. I ignored them since I knew he wouldn’t have left until seeing me. I did find him, eventually, and he seemed to have calmed down from tone of his text messages, making me look like an idiot whilst I was profusely apologising to him. 

I felt safe under his presence, like I didn’t need to look after myself because I felt as if he was doing it for me. He was wearing his usual. Dark coloured jumper, jeans and the light-weight jacket with a sheen of lambency. I could’ve settled for the handshake but he went in for the hug. Just as well because the scent of his aftershave brought back moments of lust. Our relationship began during the school days. He says he noticed me in a maths class. One night, he finally plucked up the courage and messaged me with one of the most ridiculous pick up lines. Before this, I hadn’t even known of his existence. He told me he was drunk but I didn’t care, I liked him. I liked him because he noticed me. Nobody ever noticed me. As we walked under the bridges and along the emptying canals of East London, the sun was beginning to set but conversations only just beginning.

He told me how the failure of our relationship lay on faults of both of ours. Deep down, we both knew – know – that it was my fault. I continued to put him on a status above mine thinking he was far too good for me when the whole time, we were equal. Was it because he was white and that I belonged to an Asian minority? His confidence? Intelligence? Physique? All of this resulted to a feeling of anxiety and resentment in myself. He thought the relationship failed because of communication but really I had trouble communicating with myself. My mind, constantly competing with his gestures. He’s out with his friends today. Why aren’t I out with mine? Oh that’s right, I don’t have any. But he couldn’t know that. I put myself forward as an optimistic conversationalist which knowledge of politics and a tongue of witty sarcasm. He thought of me as a family girl, a vocal in the church choir, a giver. Really, I am all of those. But I failed with him. I gave him the right key to my heart but changed the locks just as he approached it. I was lost, broken, unfixable. All this I was realising during our meeting, all this he was completely oblivious to. All this he is still unaware of.