“I don’t think my mom would have any objection”, he said.
“Really? Didn’t you say she’d like your cousin for you?” She reminded him, full of dread at losing him to another woman.
“Okay. May be she’d rather I married her but my word goes. She won’t do anything against my choice”. He said, putting his arm around her.
She felt warm. Even a little proud of herself for being able to lay her claim on him. Who wouldn’t want him, she smirked to herself.
“Let’s move to that part of the beach. There are people coming here”.
Her feelings were always a mix of excitement and self-pity when the conversation took this turn. She loved him and knew that part of love was physical. Purely physical. They moved to a more isolated part of the beach. They were hidden by a giant rock on one side and there was a lone roadside vendor on the other. He didn’t look even remotely interested to see what a young couple was up to in his neck of the woods. Probably had seen more.
She kept adjusting her clothes in response to his touch. She protested a little but gave up soon. She always gave up. She knew it was a small price to pay for the love of her life.
“I had no idea mom would throw such an ugly fit”, he remarked.
She sat there, seething. He had spoken to his mom about her and had heard a no. She wondered why he wasn’t sounding as cocky as before today.
“You said she would be fine with it and that your word goes”, she retaliated.
“Of course my word goes, honey”, he coaxed her. He could sense an angry girlfriend. This wasn’t the first one who was going to go through the moves.
“Then why did she say no?” She asked angrily.
“Because she hasn’t seen you yet. If she saw you, she’d lose her heart like I did” he sweet-talked her like always.
“No! You have to convince her soon. My parents would like me to get married and I can’t say no for too long”.
“Okay. Okay. Can we go back to the car and drive to where we sat yesterday? I don’t want to sit here with the whole world looking at us”.
She felt herself weakening. Her resolve always faltered when he asked her for physical intimacy. She felt closer to him when he kissed or……
But this was also her way of giving something in return for lunches at amazing restaurants. He had given her an expensive watch last week. She couldn’t give him anything. When she asked him what he wanted, determined to sell her gold ring that her parents had gifted for getting into engineering school, he had asked for her to let him make out with her. She had succumbed. After all, he had everything. According to him she should give him something exclusive to her. Something that would linger on his breath for days.
He looked her in the eyes.
“Please! You know when I was arguing with mom last night the only thing that kept me going was how soft your body is and how I can’t let that go”.
She melted. In her heart. And later, in his arms.
When she got home the same feeling of guilt and wrongdoing engulfed her. Why did she always give in? This wasn’t right. If he loved her shouldn’t he not touch her when she so openly objected….. initially?
She blamed herself a little more. She objected initially only and then she was swept by emotion. When he asked how it felt she always lied and said it felt great. But deep down inside she felt hollow and like she was trading her principles for a man.
Not just any man, her heart admonished her. He’s your soulmate.
This thought always made her sleep with a smile on her face.
“Mom wants me to marry her niece, honey. I’m putting up a fight but I’m exhausted”. He said, defeatedly.
She heard with tears in her eyes. She looked at him. He looked tired and like he had walked through time.
“She won’t give up though, I know that”, he added. “She tried to kill herself once before, I told you, right? She suffers from really bad bipolar depression”.
Oh God! Why was life suddenly closing in on her? Why did she feel like she was underwater? There was the sun but it looked like it wasn’t shining anymore. There were sketches of a future life with him in her mind that she had never colored, afraid that it would somehow jinx it all. Turns out, this was jinxed all along.
“You understand, right? You’ll always be the only woman in my heart. But…. I can’t let my mom down. If she does something to herself…….. how will I forgive myself?” He put his head in his arms and she heard his quiet sobbing.
Why isn’t this world perfect? Why doesn’t his mother love me? Why couldn’t I have been that cousin?
She extended her arm to console him and unintentionally drew him closer.
“I don’t want you to go through this. I love you. That will never change. But do as your mother says. Nothing should happen to her. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me”.
The scent of her body aroused him. He snaked his hand towards her waist and said, almost pleadingly,
“Can I kiss you one last time? Just to keep the memory of you with me forever?”
What did she have to lose? If this was going to be their last time together then what did she have to lose?
She looked at the few grays in her hair. She tried to get them but the color brush didn’t quite get to the roots. She gave up.
She picked up her hairbrush and started to brush her once luxurious locks. Her hair never needed this amount of brushing but lately, her hair was always tangled.
She tried to put on makeup but gave up. Her skin was so sallow and saggy, especially around her eyes.
She peered at her reflection. She used to be beautiful. She was chosen because she was beautiful. Her mother took pride in giving birth to the most beautiful girl of the entire family.
But my beauty lasted as long as everything else. Just a few seasons.
Her daughter peeked in the room. She looked just like her, twenty years ago.
“We are ready, Mom”.
Her daughter disappeared.
Her husband entered. She looked at him in the mirror.
“Is this how you’re going to go?” She commented on his casual polo shirt and slacks.
“Yup”, he answered carelessly and briefly.
She sighed. He truly didn’t care.
“Do I look okay?” She asked without caring for the answer.
“Hmm. Let me see”. He came forward and examined her with squinted eyes.
Really? That’s what her husband of twenty-one years had to say?
How was she perfect? She had wrinkled, craggy skin. Her once supple body had taken a lot of beating with two pregnancies and a daily grind at work. Her hair had lost its shine. What was perfect about her?
He realized she was feeling vulnerable. He casually kissed her on the cheek and said lightly,
“There’s nothing that I could say that would truly describe how breathtaking you are. People usually become fat or old or boring with time. You’ve only gotten better. You look better than you did when we got married”.
“I don’t believe you,” she smiled in spite of herself. “How can I look better now in my fifties than I did in my thirties?”
“I don’t know how. You just do. I can’t explain it. May be because I love you so much that I won’t ever find a fault in you”, he shrugged his shoulders and pulled at his shirt.
“This doesn’t look nice, does it? Looks a little too young for me. I’ll change”.
She looked at her husband. The man who came to her through an arranged marriage process. The man who had no expectations of her. She had found it hard to forget her first love. She had found it unforgivable to be discarded as brutally as she was. She had suspected her husband was the same man in a different body. But he wasn’t! He was less like other men and more like her own self. He liked everything to be explicitly consensual. He didn’t touch or fondle or kiss or pull against her will. He loved her wholly and with an abandonment that didn’t necessarily need a physical expression.
She thought about her romance by the sea. How it was defined in its intensity and premise and prerequisite. How it outlined the necessary and the obligatory and the mandatory. How it made her doubt herself during it and more after it ended everyday. Her romance by the sea had a picked out location and a preset time. It had a predetermined theme. It lacked so much. And she never asked for more, afraid she’d lose him. She ultimately did lose him, despite all the sacrifices and compromises, she lost him.
She put her hand on her husband’s arm and gently said,
“You ARE young. We are both young. We just found each other. How can we get old so soon?”