By Sharon Aruparayil
This short story won first place in the fiction category of the Sekka Literary Prize 2022.
‘Do you know how to cook?’
It was straight out of a Bollywood movie.
The next questions were probably designed to determine how homely she was—if she was the ideal balance between being college educated with a progressive mind set and traditional enough to be content as a housewife for their son for the rest of her life.
‘Oh yes, she’s a wonderful cook! Please try some of these samosas, or even the mithai (sweets). Her chai is the best in the neighbourhood; trust me…’
She was supposed to act coy and not speak, even when she was spoken to. She was supposed to avert her gaze, look up and smile shyly at the correct intervals, while her mother preened and giggled in order to show off how cultured her daughter was. She was supposed to stay quiet and let the adults talk to each other.
Marriages were between families and not individuals, after all.
She was told about the rishta this morning, with dread coursing through her veins as her sisters fawned over the picture of a seemingly mediocre guy. She did not want to look at it.
She did not want to look at him.
She sat down at the cluttered dressing table, rummaging through the drawers for her trusty kohl pencil. As she lined her almond-shaped eyes with kohl, she felt bile rise in her throat and coat the inside of her mouth at the thought of this ‘arrangement.’
She considered whether this was it —the end of her life as she knew it— and if everything she had ever accomplished, including her countless dreams and fiery ambitions for the future, would be for nothing; if marriage would be the only thing her life would amount to – a bleak story that would be told in hushed whispers and subdued voices. She would stop being a person, her identity morphing and trapping her within an invisible prison, existing only to serve her husband and eventual children. She wanted to travel.
She wanted to write books about her travels, the simple people in quaint villages tucked away in the back alleys of modern society, and the stories that were hidden in the bustling, vibrant streets of Dubai. She wanted to build her own home, an apartment overlooking her favourite city, settling in for the evening with a good book in front of a warm fire with a cat purring softly nearby.
Most of all, she wanted to be happy—truly, completely happy; happiness that felt like the radiance of a thousand suns was contained within her being, sunshine threatening to escape through her eyelids. This kind of happiness would light up any room she would walk into, contagious and effervescent.
It would be the kind of happiness that belonged to her, and her only.
It was too late, now.
In her little world, chai was considered an emotion: the warm earthy tones summoned at every celebration, both weighty and mundane, and rainy afternoons deemed incomplete without a cup of chai and a plate of pakoras (spiced fritters, usually made with onions or potatoes).
This story is part of The Power of Words Issue. To continue reading this story and to read the issue in its entirety, click here to buy a digital copy of the issue.
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