She giggled, then moaned, then hissed out laughter through her tightly clenched teeth. So many things were so, so urgently funny that day. Oh, everything was. Everything? She snorted deeply and flung her arms over her head. Seemingly everything, yes. The surface of things, for sure. The depths, who knew; but the surfaces were hysterical.
The top-most funny thing being, of course, her husband´s nostril. Can you believe? She had noticed it this morning while he mixed his rice with the lentils she had burned—again. His left one was narrower than the right one, swear to God! And it wasn´t a distortion of the angle at which he was sitting, turned slightly away at the new dining table. No. She had circled him to serve more eggplant, some water, a cup of tea, and she had confirmed the odd, lopsided truth of the matter. She had been this close to burs ting out in glee when her eyes had landed upon the lack of definition to the bridge of his nose.
Wait, wait, now. She had stared at him wide-eyed, taking advantage of his averted gaze, trying to understand how she could have failed to notice until now. He was one of those men, she was finally forced to admit, who seemed to have a sharp bridge of the nose but had, in fact, an ambiguously shaped, some might say vague, bridge of the nose.
She cooed in celebration. One of those men. That type! The indistinct nose-bridge type, the whole brigade of them! She rolled onto her side and shoved her face into the bed spread to muffle her squeals of delight. Ooophh—just in time. Her body squirmed, her fists beat down on the bed, her legs kicked their way out of her sari, She raised her head gasping for air.
It´s all right, she told herself. It´s okay, fine. Despite all indications, pf-pf-ffi-th! It had been days since she had spent her mornings possessed by reckless, ungracious laughter which was, as far as she could see in the flashes of clarity that sometimes followed, directed at nothing in particular. Well, at every thing, but where did grand statements like that get her? Hoping to achieve enlightenment via light fixtures, water bills, the dust that settled inside the television´s ventilation grills. Had she become mad? She contorted her face and crammed her eyes shut and pursued that thought no further; it threatened darkness, and she was in no mood to cry.
She flopped over to stare at the merciful blank white field of the ceiling. She spread apart her arms and legs. Took a few deep breaths, which seemed soothing. She savored this respite.
It had taken eight nauseating months for everything to lose coherence, for the whole point of life to become obscured by the delectable chaos of everyday details. Take, for example, her husband. He used to make sense both materially and non-materially. The unfettered roundness of his face and the delicate turn of his brows had once expressed his gentleness. The scar under his chin had hinted at mysterious wounds in his heart which would be her duty to heal. She had even understood why the hair at the top of his head stood up: to echo the straightness of his heart, of course.
But—so quickly—his brows, scars, hair, moles, the uneven stubble on his face each morning, had stopped revealing the truth of who he was. First, his features had started acting out of harmony with each other: some days his lips would dominate his face, other days his earlobes, his forehead, his chin, with no consideration whatsoever for the overall effect. Then his looks had stopped correlating to his soul. I mean, how could that insistent wagging of his chin signify the inner nature of the poor man? Or those white dots of grease blocking the pores of his skin? No. She refused to believe.
She had lost sight of his essence, and all that remained was the surface of who he was. Well, not quite. He had a terrible way of being somewhat expressive, and this, she could not tolerate. How could she live, for instance, with the downward curl of his lips and the disappointed lumps that formed at their edges? Or the way his arms folded when she entered the room? The way—with a heart-chilling offer of love—he would come too close to her and lay a thick, heavy hand on her? And now his nostrils and bridge of the nose. Things are adding up, she thought, breaking into a wide grin. Up, and up, and up.
A low rumble surfaced from the hollow of her chest: an immodest gurgle. She had never heard herself sound like this: to gurgle, shriek, yelp, scream, chortle, snort, hiss, moan and groan and cackle—this was not her style. Hoo-hoo is not an attractive way to laugh, hoo-hoo. Ya-kha-kha-kha-kha. Wack. Burp. She roared in triumph at her own horridness.
To be honest, she didn´t want to see beyond the surface of things. Who knew what those murky depths contained, and what for should she suffer potentially distressful clarity when the clutter around her was so frightfully engaging? Like the pressure cooker: had it always gleamed so? Last week she hadn´t cleaned it for days just to watch it grow dull and encrusted with food scraps. Then on Friday she scrubbed it with half a bottle of liquid soap and compared it to the shine in her memory: the pot was undeniably becoming tinnier by the day. What did this mean? Possibly nothing. Thank God.
The week before that, she had managed to squeeze a fingernail into the widest of the cracks in the living room wall; she was curious to see if it could widen. It wouldn´t. She had measured the crack for future reference and had composed a poem to help her remember: First measurement is one cm, but will second measurement be too? This poem, she had titled “I Wonder”.
She had fostered such lively interactions with much of her surroundings, but the telephone was the best. She loved it when it rang. She would come to sit beside the machine, studying its cream-colored contours, wondering where that shrill noise came from, who was on the other side. Sometimes the caller would execute six obliging, dutiful rings and at other times up to thirty hopeful, patient, or willful rings. Whoever could it be? Her life partner? One of her family members or friends from her life before marriage? They would ask: how was he, how was she, when was the good news due—even though they had called just to remind her that arrangedly-married couples all over the city wanted to know what their brash love marriage had amounted to.
She rarely answered the phone anymore, but when she did, she prayed for the caller to be a stranger, like someone who had dialled the wrong number. People often mistook their number for that of some government office responsible for fruit. In such cases, “Hello?” she would say. “Department of Fruit Development?” a gruff male voice would inquire. “Wrong number,” she would respond. The caller would sometimes hang up without ceremony and at other times ask, with astonishment, where he had called. She would simply say, “It looks like you´ve dialled the wrong number.” The Fruit Department´s number, you see, was 412348 while theirs was 412438.
She rubbed her face and smoothed her hair, pushed a few bobby pins back into place. She inhaled a lungful of air.
At the heart of things was certainly a big, bad communication problem. So? She should talk to her husband, begin dialogue anyhow, tell him, for instance, the truth about his nose. You must understand how I feel about this, and I must understand your views; they say it is vital to communicate.
But the things they wouldn´t say to eachother contained more life than the things they would: “Is there enough sugar in the tea?” “This bulb burned out,” “Shall I chop the tomatoes?” For he had countered her growing eccentricity with aggressive incomprehension. Before and after office, and on Saturdays, he would edge around her, placing her movements under wary surveillance, sometimes rattling on belligerently about one or another irrelevant topic. Lately he´d focused on the power shortage. Before that it was air pollution.
She burst out with a bobbling belly-laugh. Her poor old man: he is tyrannized by me. She must support him in fearing her; God knew what she was capable of. I have failed to piece together you and your worldly possessions, she should announce tomorrow morning during his meal. Let us declare our life together bewildering. And stop eating those lentils; they were burned by the fire in my heart.
There is danger ahead!She could even sing the national anthem, but you know what he would say? Try to be simple! Bll-11-gg-khh! Wah-hah-hah! Try to be simple, he would say. He may follow with a plea for her to go ahead, do whatever she wanted. Why didn´t she apply for a position at the bank? Why not learn how to use a computer? Why not, indeed? He would never think of ruining her life. Sometimes tentatively, other times confidently, mostly with routine in his voice, he would conclude; you muse feel free to do what you want.
Do you mind if I leave you, then? Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo-hoo! My dear husband, do you mind if I leave? Her stomach convulsed as though it had a life of its own. She hacked and sniggered and writhed in asphyxiated panic as a mute, gut-wrenching laughter engulfed her. How silent was suffocation.
She began to howl for air. Just joking. Just. Joking. Ooof—be careful of what youth ink, wretched woman. Ungrateful, depraved, complicated, sullen, prickly little wretch. You should love him. Look: you ask one hundred people and all of them would say he was a good man. It was true; hadn´t he fallen in love with her despite her caste? He needn´t have married her just because her brother had spotted them at the Shangrila Restaurant.
But he had, hadn´t he? And hadn´t he defiantly walked out of his family, hadn´t he defended her against all kinds of judgement, hadn´t he started working at the consultancy just to support her? Krishna Khadka´s only son sacrificing everything for love! What more could a woman ask for? He was a saint. It was shocking to see how good he was. His goodness was killing her, in fact.
But how could he not understand? That wasn´t you—dear husband—I fell in love with, in that dark corner of that restaurant. I was seduced by life, by every least thing that sparkled of adventure. Being a girl, in this shackled city, to go to a restaurant to meet a boy!—you know. Lipstick, powder, dangling earrings, patent-leather shoes? The thrill of discovering how unlimited life could be. You should have heard the beating of my heart as I stepped into the Shangrila. I thought: I am finally living.
That was, of course, before Kathmandu closed in on me, before my brother reviled me, before my parents claimed I had destroyed our family´s honour, before my relatives and friends and every last acquaintance agreed that I was debauched. I made you want to marry me; how else could I defy such degradation? Love marriage? How could you not see—you simpleton—that our marriage was the punishment for my one petty rebellion.
She convulsed. Pain stabbed into her depths, A mass of emotions welled up and dissipated noiselessly. Her legs doubled over her stomach, and her sari fel1 away from them. Her mouth fell open to gasp in more air.
If they could see me now, she shrieked inside herself, kicking her legs in the air. They´d see how desperately happy I am, waiting for the birth of our child. Proof enough of marital bliss? Would anyone ever guess that my husband and I, we made a bad mistake?
She exhaled till she thought she would die.