I set to iron out the wrinkles on your shirt. It’s your favourite one. Or perhaps, I should say ours. Like a lot of other elements, ‘yours’ became ‘ours’ when we tied the knot. Like how the train coaches are linked together with the engine; they make a pretty picture as they curve up and down over rugged mountains. It seems romantic to the onlooker, certainly. Who knows what the engine felt or for that matter, the coaches? Did the engine feel the strain of pulling everyone along or were the coaches disgruntled with the fact that they had to follow the engine?
The years have crept up on us with their share of complacency. We have been wearing a worn-out look each day, barely nodding to each other as the days whizz past. Our relationship now hangs over us like a limp cloth, its colour and shine replaced with uneven shades of hue and dullness.
The stubborn creases frown at me. They have gathered up against me in unison. Like a bunch of conspiring teenagers. I press the box down upon the fabric to smooth out the jagged lines, pausing to catch my breath and letting the heat build up. My hands feel weary and my eyes are bleary. I rest my hands on the table and straighten my back that has been arching over the garment much like the manner I’m invested in our relationship. I feel the weight of it more than you do. It’s always me who notices the fuse go off, the leaking taps, the smelly corners, and the empty containers. My mind is a crowded calendar making fresh entries; of check-lists, birthday reminders, school work, home assignments, and more. The cyclic pattern of chores mounts up, even as I axe them ruthlessly.
A fresh wave of weariness engulfs me, shrouding me in a cloak of despair. I look ahead in emptiness. Then, I see her. Hair pinned into a bun, not a strand out of place, she beckons me with a charming smile to come over to the other side of the table. Her space is in stark contrast to where I stand, clean and uncluttered. Her kids are well-fed, happy and doing what they should be doing. Just like the lady, her space is alluring- A warm, cozy home done up in bright hues, the winter sun filtering in through the curtains swathing them in warmth and cheer.
I’m eager to walk to the other side, sink down in one of the clean cushions to rest my bones and mind, but my legs feel cottony. Her eyes meet mine for a brief moment. I’m struck by the familiarity of the face and realize why in a split-second. I open my mouth to call out to her but my vocal chords are choked. And, just as suddenly as they appeared, the lady and her home disintegrate before my eyes. I’m swathed in sweat as I slump on the chair nearby. My breathing is laboured as I struggle to snap out of the loop of how I see life as it could be and the increasing schism between.
The doorbell rings twice, a brief pause punctuating them; I know you’re home. You smile easily at me as you enter the house and dump your bag callously near the shoe-rack. You prop your tired feet up on the clean centre table and remark with a sigh about the increasing traffic on the road which makes the long drive so tedious. Our child rushes in to greet you even as I worry about the loose dirt scattered by the doormat. You scoop our child into your arms and burst out into a small laugh as he narrates a funny incident from school. I envy you your contentment that comes from the warm but simple food I lay at the dinner table.
The night is finally quiet as we sit down to catch a breath. We encapsulate our day’s story in a bite-sized pill. There’s nothing new to report, I lament. That’s when you notice the bags under my eyes. I feel vindicated and cast a reproachful glance at you. In the same instant, I see a pained look in your eyes. For the first time, perhaps, I look closely. Your shoulders are slouched. Your forehead bears the signs of measuring up against your peers and providing for our comfort, even at the cost of time and energy. Being the sole breadwinner cannot be easy, I reckon. And, yet you’re not the one to wear the strife on your sleeves!
Am I, then, justified in laying claim to being a victim of carrying the other’s burden? I ask almost afraid to hear the answer. I fear having my contributions belittled or sounding bereft of empathy. But, I only ask of a similar empathy. Your fingers entwine mine and we slip into a state of companionable silence. The clothes strewn on the floor and the groceries that need to be arrayed inside cabinets are filed away in my head as to-do lists and I sit back to savour these slivers of life.
I squirrel away these snippets into the far recesses of my brain. For, I know these would offer succour on the days I’m lured by the other side of the table. Where I see myself free from encumbrances, living a life fit to be printed on glossy magazine covers. A mirage, I tell myself. On this side is a reality I’m living. The crack in the walls and stains on the couch carry tales of our life; of our child’s carefree laughter and spirited chatter, our stolen conversations amidst crazy schedules, our intense squabbles and comfortable silences. The love is not extinguished, I realize. The fiery blaze has been replaced by a gentle flame. Its effervescence muted by the humdrum of our individual and collective struggles. Yet, it glows in the dark.
I wave back at utopia, strangely content.
Uma Chellappa is a German language specialist turned content writer. She realized her passion for writing after she took to blogging while on a career break. A trained singer, a hands-on mother, and an aspiring writer, she wears many hats. Reading, word games, traveling and watching movies are some of her other interests. She shares her thoughts on myriad topics, including parenting, on her personal blog, “My musings”. She currently lives with her husband and son in Bangalore, India. Connect with her on Twitter: @itsumac