ANOTHER PLACE TO CALL HOME

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Chapter 4 – The inevitable dinner and meeting with the Groom to-be

Aruna didn’t have to wait long. She looked at herself in the mirror one last time after the doorbell rang. She opened the door to see her sister standing outside, resplendent in a simple pale blue sari with white trimmings. She was a beautiful woman. It was no wonder that her brother in law was smitten with her. Aruna complemented her sister and told her how she thought she looked so lovely in the blue sari and asked her in return what her sister thought about her outfit and appearance. Her sister’s eyes lit up and shone with admiration. “You are gorgeous child,” her sister said happily. Aruna was glad to hear that. It meant that what she wore met with her sister’s approval and she smiled back in return.

They took the lift down to the reception area to meet her brother-in law who according to her sister, had gone down to the lobby much earlier to see if the driver had arrived to take them to Amma’s house The driver was booked into a budget hotel right across the street from their hotel and as it was just a few blocks away, her sister told Aruna that he wouldn’t take long to get to their hotel.

When the lift door opened, Aruna saw her brother-in law standing near the lift, looking out for the both of them with an expectant look. Her brother in law looked smart in a white shirt and dark brown trousers. He saw them coming out of the lift and walked up to them and greeted them with an admiring look and a smile, commending her sister and Aruna on what they were wearing and walked hand in hand together with them to the car. “Two beautiful women to escort me to the dinner,” he said and Aruna smiled happily.

It was still bright on their way to Amma’s house, considering that it was nearing seven PM. Kuala Lumpur was just beginning to wake up to night life. Aruna’s thoughts went back to the sunset that graced the skies while she was on the ship, which never failed to amaze and mesmerize her. It was with awe that she waited every evening to witness its breathtaking display. She recollected the time when it rained heavily. It was an evening to remember because not only did she miss watching the sun set, she had witnessed how the skies had grown so dark and seen flashes of lightning streak across the skies, creating a thunderstorm that even shook the huge ship she was travelling in.

The heavy rain pounded the deck and the winds were so strong that Aruna felt herself thrown about here and there while she stood observing on the deck. Aruna wasn’t at all fearful of the thunderstorm. She wanted to be a spectator to the uprising of the waters both on the sea and of the skies. The sea water was thrashing against the ship and looked frightening when she saw the waves rise in the turbulent waters. The choppy waters took on a violent stride as it rose and fell with the high tides caused by the strong winds. Aruna thought then that the vicious side of the sea as opposed to the calm waters she encountered every morning was nerve wrecking. It totally destroyed the peace surrounding the sailing ship that day.

Anyway that day she was privy to another side of the sea. The heavy thunderstorm persisted the whole night but apart from seeing the tempestuous waters through the cabin window that night, she didn’t feel the effects much while inside her cabin.

The next day much to her delight, Aruna watched as the sun set and was happy that the weather was back to normal. She didn’t want to be caught in another thunderstorm any more.

As she looked out the moving car, it was a different sight that captured her attention this time of the evening on their way to Amma’s house. There was no view of the sun setting in this part of town and Aruna was a little nostalgic about the whole thing. Sunset and its entire exquisite splendor was something that she missed very much, she realized. On all those lonely days out at sea, the sunset always managed to take her to another realm where paradise awaited those aligned with the cosmos. She came out of her poetic reverie to the present.

Kuala Lumpur on the way to Amma’s house was slowly being lit up in neon. As they travelled in the car, one by one those lights came to life, brightening their route and leading them out of dark’s way. Aruna was taken in by the whole image of the town. It was like a picture come to life. The dazzling lights, its shadows cast on dimly lighted streets, the vivid structures and buildings, the people too were all dizzyingly varied, of different race, size and color, they all came together to make Kuala Lumpur a city of contrast. At night time, it stood out as the City of Lights.

Amma stood by the entrance just as she did earlier in the day to welcome them. She had a big smile on her face. This time Amma wore a sari instead of the sarong and blouse that she had worn earlier in the day. It’s going to be a decorated night, thought Aruna dryly.

Aruna noticed a car parked in their driveway which wasn’t there during the day and wondered if it was the boy’s car. Her heart was thudding in her chest erratically. She felt her jittery nerves take over and knew that the smile she flashed Amma in return was one laced with apprehension. Did Amma notice her nervousness? She wasn’t sure because she ushered Aruna into the house, warm heartedly and full of love. This time Amma had a recognizable smile directed at Aruna, one that told Aruna that she considered her part of her family. It was a pleasing smile. However, Aruna felt the edginess in her surge when she saw that smile on Amma’s face.

Amma took them into the living room, and almost immediately, a man walked into the room and all three of them stood up to greet him. He was a well-spoken man and she could tell that he was a learned person by the way he conducted himself.

It was how he introduced himself, so humbly yet making a distinct impression to the people he spoke to, and he had a polished way of saying things. He was much fairer than Amma and she thought suddenly quite handsome too. He would have been quite something during his younger days. She thought of the photo on the wall in the dining room. The boy with the big eyes looked more like Amma than the husband and did not inherit the looks of the father. But then again, the photo was taken so long ago. People change over time, she thought a little rationally.

They say some people age with grace and grow older more distinguished looking than they were in their younger days. They become endowed with wise maturity and very often portray a cultured humility. Well, Amma’s husband certainly had all the attributes of a man who grew older with a distinguished personality and cultured humility.

Cultured humility? Aruna bit back a smile at the phrases and thoughts that conjured up in her mind as she had a dialogue with herself. She only had her thoughts to keep her true company and she was glad that no-one else could access it. It was her private entity, her private domain. She could travel far and wide in her thoughts. Have the most irrepressible notions and still manage to fool the world with a naïve outward appearance. She knew that she was far more matured in her way of thinking than most people gave her credit for. Maybe her youth and young stature deceived them.

Did she say that she had grown into adulthood overnight the day she left India? Yes she did and everything that took place from then on was with a newness that she was soon getting accustomed to. It came with so much responsibility and adulthood was not a good place to be, Aruna thought a little pensively.

Amma’s husband was one such person who had grown older with an outwardly distinguished personality, polished character and notable humility. She liked him as he seemed like a sincere man to her. Sometimes one could just tell if a person was sincere and he was one such person. He was someone Aruna sensed who, she could have lengthy conversations with on just about any topic. He had an approachable quality about him.

As the conversation progressed, Amma turned to look to her direction with a broad smile on her face and told Aruna to call her husband “Acha”. Acha meant father in their mother tongue – Malayalam. Aruna nodded her assent, her smile still not quite right on her face. Acha looked at her warmly and smiling broadly at her, told her kindly that he would like that very much. He already thought of her as his daughter-in law and couldn’t wait to have her wed his son and become part of the family.

Aruna’s stomach started churning when Acha uttered those well intended words to her.

Well, the father seemed quite genuine enough, she thought a little dryly, still not quite used to the idea of being part of someone else’s family. One that she was practically forced into, at that! Of course, her thoughts did not reflect on her face or at least she hoped it did not. She promised herself that she would not hurt anyone’s feelings earlier in the evening and that was what she was going to do henceforth. She was getting tired of explaining herself while the rest seemed oblivious to her insecurities and fear.

They sat down again after the initial introductions to Acha and after a few minutes into the conversation, Amma went on to tell them that she had cooked her special chicken vindaloo for dinner that night. It was one of her son’s favorite curry dishes and directing a look at Aruna, Amma told Aruna that she hoped that it would be hers too. Again, Aruna smiled tightly at Amma and her words, trying hard to suppress a sudden cough that rose in her throat. Aruna knew exactly what Amma implied and that it was an indication for her to learn how to cook the dish from her so that she in turn, can cook it for her son. So in a way it is true, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, Aruna thought candidly. Aruna suddenly suppressed a giggle, thinking about that adage. Men and their 101 reasons why they should be feted and spoiled by a woman!

Aruna’s awkwardness must have shown on her face because her sister noticed it and quickly jumped to her rescue by telling Amma that chicken vindaloo was one of her favorite dishes too, and that she made sure she cooked it as often as possible. And then as an afterthought, her sister quickly added that she was sure Amma’s vindaloo would taste even better and that she couldn’t wait to taste it!

Amma let out a hearty laugh hearing what her sister had to say. What a co-incidence, Amma remarked. Amma probably thought that she hit the nail right on the head with the right curry dish that she cooked for dinner that night, for the girl and her family, that is. Was that sentence veiled with sarcasm? Aruna had no answer to that or maybe she didn’t want to accept that she had become critical of everything and everyone the past few weeks. Her dialogue with herself was getting more venomous, she acknowledged. Anyway she was not about to reveal what her favorite curry was to Amma and hoped that Amma wouldn’t ask her what it was. Amma didn’t. And then Aruna wondered whether it would matter in any way to Amma what her favorite curry was. Why should it not, she was going to be her son’s wife after all.

Aruna wondered if Amma was in anyway a succumbing wife who listened to everything her husband said or was the role reversed, and she the one who managed everything in the household. Amma seemed to be in control of the conversation most of the time as Aruna noticed that she did most of the talking while her husband sat and listened with a smile.

Acha only came up with monologues agreeing to everything Amma said. However, he seemed to be happy to chat with her brother-in law quite a bit and the both of them hit if off well when they met for the first and start talking to each other. Maybe Acha was a little uncomfortable discussing the wedding plans and what it entailed, unlike her brother-in law who had a lot of say in the discussion. Her brother-in law showed clearly to everyone seated there, that he wanted to take an active part in the wedding plans.

Thinking about the boy’s favorite curry, Aruna thought that that was another thing brides of arranged marriages had to do. They had to find out all the likes and dislikes of their husbands to-be and just the thought of her having to do the same, got her fuming inside. Why couldn’t it be the other way round? Was Amma subtly trying to tell her what her son’s favorite food was and telling her to learn how to cook it? Aruna was quite sure that was the case and is what Amma indirectly implied to her. Once again, Aruna started hyperventilating thinking the same thoughts again.

As they were talking about Amma’s chicken vindaloo, they heard some sounds coming from outside the house, and Amma walked out of the living room to check what it was. Then, almost immediately, they heard Amma announce loudly in a sing song voice that her son had returned home from work. After a few minutes, both the mother and son walked into the room to greet them. It was so clear that he was the apple of her eye.

Amma’s eyes had lit up at her son’s arrival and she looked at him with apparent adoration. She was gushing over him, holding on to his arm and introduced her brother-in law and sister to him first, before introducing her with a broad knowing smile on her face. Aruna cringed.

At first glance, Aruna was quite taken aback with what she saw. He was not at all like she had envisioned. He was much taller than she had anticipated, had the same smile and color as his mother and looked just as chatty and had an approachable look about him, like his father. His eyes were not as big and round as in the picture and he had a boyish look about him. He was actually quite good looking!

When he took her hands in greeting, she flinched and pulled her hands away as quickly as she possibly could. It was a spontaneous reaction and if he had noticed it, he didn’t show it. Thank God for that, Aruna thought. He sat down on the chair opposite where she sat, not really looking at her and keeping his eyes on her brother-in law and sister. She heard her brother in law ask him about his job and the whereabouts of his work location. He answered him and Aruna noticed that he spoke with much respect in his voice for her brother-in law. While they were deeply engrossed in their conversation with each other, Amma excused herself and went into the kitchen.

Aruna looked at her sister just then.

When her sister saw Amma get up to go to the kitchen, she gave a quick glance at Aruna and got up at the same time, indicating with her eyes, to follow her into the kitchen to help Amma. Aruna got up from the sofa a little hesitantly, unsure of what to do and how she could be of help to them and followed her sister into the kitchen. Amma smiled when she saw them, and thanked them both for their thoughtfulness. She was happy that they could assist her in the kitchen and told them that they could help dish the curry from the pot for her and set it on the table. Her sister, who was much more adept with helping out in instances like this, set about getting the cutleries.

Amma pointed to the showcase cabinet where the cutleries were kept. Unsure of what to do, Aruna stood a little transfixed by the doorway of the kitchen, unable to think of how to help out in the kitchen. She did not have any experience cooking, she thought suddenly. She then decided to help carry the cutleries to have it rinsed, as she saw her sister busy opening the cabinet and taking them out one by one for use.

Aruna was sure that Amma noticed her uncertainty because she handed Aruna a napkin to wipe the plates and bowl before her sister could dish out the curry in it and set the plates on the table. In the meantime, she was sure that Amma with her keen eye was also noticing how Aruna coped with kitchen work.

Aruna took the napkin from Amma’s hands and started wiping the dishes and plates, one by one. She had to be very careful not to drop any. She was grateful that she had something to help out with.

Mother-in laws had ways to test the prowess of their daughter-in laws. They also expected them to be capable in all their wifely duties! Aruna wasn’t really sure if she could meet the expectations of a capable wife. For one, she hadn’t really helped out in the kitchen even in India, as her sister-in law did all the cooking. She was totally unprepared to be a wife. Well if Amma wanted a pro for her son, she should have asked the hand of another maiden who had all the attributes of a good wife – to put it mildly! There were so many waiting for a chance like this in India and all Aruna could think of was how unlucky she was to be chosen for a role like this, when she was not ready for it at all.

She carried the Pyrex cutleries with extra care, hoping that it doesn’t slip and fall off her hands, as she carried it to the table. She had very slippery hands when it came to handling fragile things, and was always prone to dropping them. Didn’t she break the new vase that her sister-in law bought for the house one Diwali? How about the expensive glass figurine that her brother had got his wife on one of her birthdays? It just dropped from her fingers while she was admiring it. Her sister-in law who was heartbroken since it was quite an expensive vase, had run crying to her room and for hours refused to come out or talk to anyone.

Aruna remembered how crest fallen she had felt at her clumsiness and had apologized profusely to her over and over again. And to make things unbearable, for days her sister-in law had kept a distance from Aruna until one fine day, her brother-in law got the same figurine when he went shopping to town, and that had been the ice breaker between Aruna and her sister-in law. They had hugged each other that day and made up. Aruna promised her sister-in law that she will be more careful the next time. Her brother had chided her for her carelessness too, and reminded her to be extra vigilant when it came handling fragile things. She was always breaking something or other in the house, he had shouted at her angrily!

Aruna knew that there were so many things that she had to adhere to and do to make a good impression on Amma and the rest of her family members. It was almost like she had to please everyone in the family including hers. The thought suddenly stifled her. She knew that she would always be on edge with her in laws, trying to please them and do what was right. How could she not? She had her family name to uphold and represent.

After they had laid the table, Amma called out to the men in the living room who were still in deep conversation about something or other, to proceed to dinner. The men were hungry, Aruna was sure. They immediately got up from their seats on the sofa and seated themselves at the dining table.

The aromatic smell of the chicken vindaloo was so inviting. Aruna, hungry heard her stomach growl. She couldn’t wait to have her meal. But as with tradition, the women would serve the men first, before they sat down to eat their food and Aruna waited expectantly for the ladies to be seated so that they could commence dinner.

She observed Amma and her sister dish out the rice and curry for the men on their plates. Amma poured Acha a glass of water after that. Aruna stood watching the women, standing a little apart from the both of them, and feeling a little unsure of herself. She was sure that she would have to do the same once she was married.

Amma noticed Aruna standing a little apart from everyone and continued to serve her son next. She wondered what Amma was thinking when she looked at her. As always with a smile on her face, Amma told Aruna that she would normally serve a generous amount of the chicken for her son, as it was his favorite curry.

Since he sat opposite her, Aruna caught him stealing a glance at her briefly, maybe trying to see her reaction to what his mother said. She turned her face away from him and smiled at Amma, acknowledging her comment to her. Amma was trying to make sure that Aruna knew what to do for her precious son once they were married. As she had done for her husband, Amma poured a glass of water for her son after serving his food.

The ladies finally sat down to dinner after completing the ‘ceremonial tradition’ of serving the men. Ceremonial! – Her sarcasm caught in her throat again! It did seem like a ceremonial custom! Why couldn’t it be the other way round? She questioned yet again. Why couldn’t the woman be seated at the table together with the men and eat at the same time or even be served by them. In fact, Aruna thought that it was better if the men served the woman! After all, women were the fairer sex, weren’t they? Well, according to Aruna’s books, a woman should be treated like a queen!

She noted that her sister fit into her roles so perfectly - a splendid wife, a confidante to her husband and a respected member of society. Her sister didn’t seem to mind any inequality between a man and a woman. She was consenting to all of the stupid customs and traditions without any objection and even showed Aruna that it was an accepted customary part of marriage.

So then, Aruna wondered with women so subservient, will there ever come a time for them to have an equal voice with their life partner. Why was it so important to follow when to lead together will bring better understanding in a relationship? Anyway her sister and brother-in law’s relationship was a little different, she had to admit. They were both very much in love and looked after each other’s needs consciously. Aruna noticed the easy going relationship that they had, and was happy for them. Maybe when love happened in a relationship, things were different in a marriage.

Aruna had to sit down next to Amma just like she did in the afternoon. Amma pointed the seat next to her yet again before the ladies sat down at the dinner table. Was that going to be her permanent seat in the house when they were eating? Aruna thought irritated. What about when she was married? Would she be able to sit next to her husband? Aruna was quite sure that once they were married, Amma would have a say in everything they did.

Aruna ate quietly, engaging in the conversation at the dinner table, with either a smile or a nod and tried hard not to look at “the boy” at all. Although she was famished, she couldn’t eat her fill like she would have if she was at home.

She had to eat just about the right proportions to show that she was not a glutton for food. However, Amma did add a little more curry and vegetable onto her plate of rice and told Aruna to eat a full good meal, as that would make her very happy. “You are far too thin child” she said to her. Those words made Aruna do just the opposite. She didn’t want to make Amma happy right then. She was upset with the whole shenanigan and she wanted more than anything to sit in a corner and sulk! She wanted to get away from everyone and she didn’t really feel hungry anymore.

What Aruna’s main concern right then was to know if she was going to have to be an almost invisible voice in the proposal and especially in the marriage? Would she have to just sit down and listen to everything everyone says to her without objecting if she didn’t think something right or unjust? She wanted to have a say. She wanted to voice her opinion and be treated with equality. She didn’t want to be just an obedient wife. She more than anything wanted to show Amma and everyone else that her thoughts mattered too. It was quite frightening to think of being subjected to being a mere puppet, at the beck and call of people around you. Being a girl was the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being; her angry thoughts reverted back to her.

After dinner, the men went off to have a drink in the living room. Acha proclaimed very proudly at the dinner table that he had some whiskey an English friend of his had presented him some time ago, and he wanted to open the bottle and share the drink with her brother in law. It was a very special occasion after all. She heard her brother in law retort that it was a pleasure for him to have that drink with him, and while they are enjoying the drink, they could discuss and finalize the details of the marriage at the same time.

Aruna nearly dropped the plate she was carrying to the sink right then. Her sister caught her reaction and this time bit back a smile. Did her sister think it was funny? Perhaps, she had conducted herself well this time for her sister to have a smile on her face.

Amma was oblivious by Aruna’s discomposure or maybe she just didn’t notice it. She instead left the kitchen to join the men in their conversation, asking Aruna and her sister to follow her to the living room as well. “Don’t worry about the dishes, the maid will be here in the morning to clean up” Amma said as she hurried to the living room.

It seemed to Aruna then that Amma didn’t want to miss out on any of the conversation related to the wedding between her husband and her brother-in law. Aruna was quite sure Amma wanted to be part of all the intricate details spoken or suggested between the two men. It was so obvious to Aruna that Amma didn’t really trust her husband to say or do the right thing during the conversation. She saw it in the way Amma hurried to the living room when she heard her brother-in law say that he wanted to talk about the wedding preparations further over the drink.

Amma had responded quickly in reply before her husband did and agreed with her brother-in law that it was a great idea to discuss details of the wedding and then remarked quite pompously that it was also a good time to let the boy and girl have a little private time to get to know each other as well. Amma had it all figured out, thought Aruna feeling a little intimidated by her.

Hearing how she is supposed to get some alone time to get to know the ‘boy’, Aruna felt another sinking of her heart. Her heart raced in her ribs. How much time would that take? How much time did they need to get to know each other? Aruna thought feeling her stomach churn. What did she have to say or talk about with him? She felt like throwing up. Her sarcasm rising up like bile caught in her throat again. Well, didn’t they have a lifetime to get to know each other? She thought seething with rage and a little harried at Amma and her never ending suggestions. Again, the woman should have known better than to pick her to be her son’s bride! She was incapable of handling the duties of a wife, for God’s sake. What was Amma thinking? She was still a child – her heart cried out!

For a while, Aruna stood there by the sink, soaping the plates over and over again. She did not know how many times she soaped the plates and rinsed it and then soaped it again. It was only when her sister came over to her and whispered to “hurry up with the washing”, did she end her task. She refused to look at her sister, then.

It was partly her fault too. Putting these ideas into their brother’s head and making her cross oceans to start a new life when she was perfectly happy where she was back home in India. And the worse of the matter was that she found out about the whole proposal from a gossiping friend in school!

Aruna and her proposal, and not the mention the curiosity the boy and the family invoked to the rest of her schoolmates had been the topic of conversation and giggles till the day she left school. She still felt her heart go cold just thinking of that last day in school. It was a terrible feeling when it finally arrived. Her friends had lined the doorways and corridors as her brother signed her out of school, some crying, some visibly affected and others just looking at her, maybe even enviously.

Her teachers had also expressed sadness at her leaving without finishing her studies but wished her the best. One told her brother that she had so much potential to really get good results and make something of herself. Her brother had just nodded, smiled without really meaning to and walked away from that teacher. Aruna gathered that her brother was not keen to listen to anyone’s advice or comments on her proposal especially if they didn’t agree with what he was doing.

Aruna remembers not really looking at anyone’s face as they walked out of school. Nila had walked with them to the gates of the school with another of their close friend accompanying them. As she got onto her brother’s motorbike, she had waved at them one last time and they in return but everything before her was blurred by the tears in her eyes.

As they were leaving, Aruna looked at her school for the last time and sobbed all the way till they reached home. Her brother had been quiet the whole time she cried bitterly on the way back. Aruna had always told her brother how she loved school and that it was the best part of her life. She had always been so eager to go to school and never once failed in any of her exams. Well, that part of her beautiful life was over now, Aruna thought sadly. She stacked the plates neatly on the rack, wiped her hands and followed her sister to the living room. Amma was already there and having a conversation with the men.

Before Aruna knew it, she was sitting in the living room listening to the adults discuss her wedding with so much enthusiasm on their part and pure disdain on her part. She stole a quick glance at the boy this time. He didn’t seem to be affected by it all. He sat there, with a quiet foreboding look, in the midst of the rest of them, looking relaxed and unperturbed. He had a ready smile on his face and seemed to agree to almost anything they said. Didn’t he have anything to say at all?

Aruna wanted so badly to have a say in what was going on. However, her sister had pointedly told her not to speak unless spoken to and not to show her displeasure at anything she was not happy about. Did Amma tell the boy the same thing too?

Aruna was sure it was only on the part of the girl, comments like these were uttered to. Anyway, she wondered how Amma had described her to him after she had seen her earlier in the day. Would Amma have told him how skinny she was, like she told her while they were eating at the dining table in the afternoon? Did Amma think her beautiful enough for her son? Well, Aruna was not in the right frame of mind to think about anything without a note of sarcasm added to it. Does it in anyway bother you, what they think of you, Aruna, her tiny voice of reason questioned her within.

After a while of sitting between the elders who were busy talking about their plans for the wedding, Aruna heard Amma ask her son to take her out to the garden and have a chat with her. They could get to know about each other a little, Amma said to him with a knowing smile. Amma was sitting beside him and she nudged him a little when there was no response on his part. They could have some alone time, Amma went on to say to him after a short length to time, while the rest of them in the living room and she would discuss the marriage arrangements and in turn inform the both of them of all the details later on.

Aruna squirmed at the thought of being alone with her son and felt herself fidget like she always did when she wasn’t comfortable with something. Anyway, the boy stood up from his chair and with his hands in his pocket walked slowly out of the living room. He didn’t look at her or give her an indication to follow him. Aruna thought that was really rude of him.

Was she to follow him meekly without a word or glance from him? Amma nodded in her direction, prodding Aruna and encouraging her to go ahead and join her son. Her sister looked at her reassuringly too and smiled kindly at her. She didn’t smile back at her sister. She knew she had a worried frown on her face, it showed and she now blamed her sister for it. She heard Amma’s voice breaking through her thoughts, telling her that there was nothing to worry about vaguely as she followed suit and walked behind her son, to the garden outside.

She was glad in a way to get away from the stifling environment in the living room. All the discussions about the wedding was nerve wrecking to Aruna. Outside in the garden, Aruna saw the boy walk up to the pond and stand by it, looking into the waters. Was he also unhappy with the proposal just as she was? He didn’t look like he wanted to talk to her, Aruna thought unhappily. He waited for her to walk to the where he was standing and then he pointed at the stone slab built around the pond. He asked her to take a seat on it and once she was seated, he sat down too, a little further apart from her.

Aruna noticed how he didn’t look her straight into her eyes. He always managed to avert his eyes from hers as soon as she caught him looking at her. But then she did the same too. She saw him looking down at his hands when they were seated. It was like he was thinking deeply about what to say or how to begin the conversation. They sat on the stone slab by the pond in silence for a while.

Aruna felt relieved for a moment that nothing was said between them. It was awkward to start a conversation and she knew that if anyone between them had to start talking first, it had to be him.

The fluorescent lights outside of the house, cast its rays on the silky waters and she saw it reflect on the fishes. The waters shone and danced. Their silky movements lent an enchanting setting to the whole pond. The waters calmed her nerves quite a bit right then and she put her hands into it to touch it. The tiny ripples caused by her fingers circling the water playfully was soothing and refreshing to her eyes. The warm waters tingled her avid senses and Aruna felt a sudden release to all her inhibitions, leave her stressed body. The gentle waters which were so calming calmed her nerves and placated her anxious thoughts.

It was a beautiful night. The garden looked lovely with its pruned flower shrubs and well-tended lawn under the lights. There was a swing at the corner of the garden which she hadn’t noticed when she had entered the house earlier. She hadn’t noticed it even during the day on her first visit, she thought suddenly, which was quite surprising because Aruna would normally notice every little detail of things that was of interest to her. It was a red and white swing and her eyes lit up when she saw it at the corner of the garden, almost hidden by a bougainvillea shrub. Maybe that’s why she didn’t chance upon it. It was hidden from view. It was the perfect addition to the impeccable garden that Amma kept, Aruna thought giving the woman a little credit for her gardening skills.

She wanted so badly to sit and swing on it but considering she wasn’t alone, it didn’t seem a good idea just then. How could she sit on the swing alone especially since she and her husband-to be were supposed to be getting to know each other somewhat better?

She didn’t dare look at him sitting at the far end of the pond, but she knew that he was staring at her hard. After a few minutes, he cleared his throat almost like he wanted to say something to her but said nothing instead. She supposed then that he felt as nervous or as uncomfortable as she did about the whole thing. She looked at him from the corner of her eyes again. She wondered once more how old he was. It was something she had forgotten to ask her brother. But then she suddenly realized that she didn’t really want to find out anything in detail about him from the time she had heard about the proposal. Everything she knew about him, was something she had heard in passing or told to her so that she had somewhat of a rough idea about the man she was going to get married to.

He looked to be somewhere in his early twenties, she thought thinking about his age again. It was not really nice to inquire one’s age and she considered that it would be a rude thing to do so during their conversation just then. Not that she really wanted to ask him anything, she reminded herself even if she was dying to learn as much as she could about him all of a sudden.

For a long while, he didn’t say anything and Aruna thought that perhaps he was trying to find the right words to start a conversation. She didn’t really give him the encouragement needed to begin a conversation with her. The silence between them was deafening. Even the ripples in the water sounded louder. Aruna hoped time would fly by and that she could just get back to the hotel!

Then he tried speaking to her one more time. This time he began with introducing himself. His name is Goku, he said. That was the first time she had heard of a name like that. Who had a name like Goku? She bit back a laugh then. He caught the laughter in her eyes and he smiled broadly at her. “Is something funny about my name?” Goku asked in jest. Aruna thought that he was quite relieved that he managed to get a smile out of her. It was sort of an ice-breaker and gave him a chance to converse with her.

She didn’t reply him but kept looking into the waters. Then he continued talking. He was working in the administrative department with the Government’s office. He worked seven days a week from 9.00am – 6.00pm. He had a busy schedule in the office so most of the time he had to stay back late to finish urgent matters that almost always came up at the last minute. He took up the job right after finishing his high school when the vacancies opened up in the Government sector. He was lucky to get that job, he told her smugly as he was chosen among hundreds who applied.

Aruna listened to him talking and could see that he was really trying hard to keep the conversation going and maybe impress her at the same time. She realized too that it was a difficult situation for him to face, because she was not responding to what he said constructively.

Goku stopped for a few minutes and took in a deep breath before continuing with the conversation. This time, his face took on a serious look when he began talking. She looked at him when she heard the tone in his voice change and turned away. Aruna knew that the situation they faced merited the seriousness of the matter. She believed Goku was trying to impart to her that she should view what he was conveying about his personal issues was really important to him and that she should take it seriously. Goku continued talking about his job.

He was due for a promotion soon and he was looking forward to find out which department he will be transferred to, Goku explained. Beforehand, he had to sit for an exam and pass it to be considered for the promotion. And he was glad he got through the examination in order to be promoted. It will give him the much needed boost in his career and a good raise in salary, he proudly stated. Aruna listened thinking that it was good that he got the promotion and it seemed to her that he was also a very ambitious person. That is a good trait to have in a man, thought Aruna in a rational manner.

Aruna wanted to congratulate him on his promotion but the words got stuck in her throat. She kept quiet instead, still looking down at the waters. She was in a way glad to be able to focus her attention on something other than the man who was sitting opposite her and talking, she thought suddenly. She knew it was a one-sided conversation but just couldn’t bring herself to say anything in return to Goku. Not even to tell him her name, she realized with dread. Did he know her name? She didn’t hear Amma introduce her by name earlier when the introductions were on going in the living room.

Amma only said this is your bride, son when it came to her turn to be introduced. Gosh this was so nerve wrecking, Aruna thought anxiously. She tried so hard to pluck up the courage to say something to Goku, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to say anything! What would he think of her silence? He would probably think that she was being insolent or something like that, because that was it looked like even to Aruna.

Goku carried on with his conversation in spite of Aruna’s silence, telling her that his mother had been quite adamant and insisted that it was also the right time for him to get married. It’d put some responsibility on his shoulders if he got married and if he had a family of his own, his mother decided. Goku told her that he had always trusted his mother’s judgment and just left the whole thing up to her to find him a suitable match for a bride. He knew that Amma would only do the best for him.

He shrugged his shoulders after saying that. The words that Goku said about him trusting his mother enough to leave it all in her hands to find him a suitable bride, rattled Aruna quite a bit. Of course, Amma would only do what was best for him, she thought irritably. And then to add salt to the wound Goku added that Amma knew what kind of a person he was and all his likes and dislikes and she told him that she would someone who would be a compatible life partner to him.

He had left it all in his mother’s hands Goku told Aruna and he had actually forgotten all about it until out of the blues, one fine day Amma informed him that she had finally found a suitable match for him. She was a nice girl from India, Amma informed him, and from a reputable family and wanted him to meet her. Amma also told him that Aruna had some family living in Malaysia who was of good standing in society. She showed him a photo of Aruna before he agreed to the proposal. So there he was now meeting her in person, he finished, in a tight voice. Aruna realized that he had not got any response from her and it bothered him and hence the tightness in his voice.

Well, well, Aruna thought as her blood started boiling in her veins. Now, if it wasn’t her sister who would have passed that photo of her to them! In a way, she was also angry with her sister and brother-law for agreeing to the proposal. And to think that she had no idea how her future husband looked like since no one showed her a photo of him.

She hadn’t even seen Amma while she was in India. Aruna thought a little contritely that she on the other hand, had to come all the way from India to Malaysia to see the man she was going to be married to. How ironic!

Goku broke into her thoughts quite suddenly and asked her if she had seen a photo of him before she agreed to marry him. Aruna said No, very simply. She was glad that she could say something to him instead of maintaining her silence. She however didn’t feel like elaborating on her answer. A simple No should tell him how she felt about not having seen his photo before agreeing to the proposal. He lifted his eyebrows with a look of surprise etched on his face when he heard that. How come he asked her in a quiet voice? She didn’t reply him. How could she tell him that she was not at all interested to know anything about him? And anyway, she was not in the right frame of mind to answer him or tell him what and how she felt right then, she wanted to scream out at him, that’s what she felt like doing more than anything.

Instead, she just kept quiet and listened to him question her, her eyes fixed on the water in the pond. Why was he asking all these stupid questions, she thought angrily. She just wanted to listen and not talk at all! If he wanted to tell her a little something about himself then he should just go right ahead and not expect her to say anything in return.


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