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     Volume 4 Issue 43 | April 22, 2005 |

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The Routine

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

The sound of the Fajr Azan pierced through the complete stillness of the morning. Through a sticky, filmy screen of sleep she opened her eyes and switched on her bedside lamp. The sleeping figure beside her stirred, his bedcovers wrapped around him like a protective shield. She switched off the lamp. She stumbled in the dark to the bathroom and turned on the tap. Right wrist, left wrist, mouth, nose, face, right hand, left hand, head, ears, right foot, left foot. There was comfort in the routine. She had never been particularly religious. Praying was something that her parents made her do on Eid, or during Ramadan. She never really thought that she would do it voluntarily until about a year ago, when she started having the thoughts. They would beat at her during the day and tear her in half at night. So she turned to God for solace, in hopes that He alone would give her peace from the thoughts that plagued her day and night.

As she bid the angels on each shoulder peace, she got up and folded the prayer mat in four. Every routine in her life was important to her, because that is what she had been living on for the last year -- like a robot. Even now she winced when she heard her mind thinking the words. She looked guiltily over to the bed. He hadn't moved from his spot. He was so unaware of what was happening inside her. She knew that if she ever told him, that he too, would be plagued by her inexplicable thoughts.

He was a good man, her husband, a sweet man. When she first got married her friends had all told her she was so lucky to find a man like him. Her parents agreed. They had met four years ago at a dinner party. He was a cousin of a friend of a friend. She had been wearing a bright yellow sari with silver sequins, dangly earrings, yellow churis almost up to her elbows and a touch of make-up. She looked stunning he had told her later, he could not keep his eyes off her. When they were finally introduced she had smiled at him in such an endearing way that he could not help but follow her around for the rest of the evening. She had never told him that she had noticed him before he had even seen her, that she had bided her time and pretended not to notice him, that when he had handed her a plate and his fingers touched hers, she had felt a horde of butterflies churning around in her stomach. He stood out from the moment she saw him -- his quiet laugh, his perfectly shaped lips, his puppy-dog eyes. She had never told him how much she was drawn to him, even after they got married.

He had made her friends laugh, he had impressed her parents and within a year of them dating, they had gotten married. The first two years of their marriage were almost perfect. She couldn't imagine being more happy. He was so patient, so kind, so supportive of everything she wanted to do. She doesn't know what came over her, or when exactly she fell out of love with this sweet man who was so good to her. She only knew that she had been trying to fight this feeling for a year, that she ignored it, didn't think about it, until it started coming to her in her dreams. That was when she started praying. That was when she knew that she would have to turn to God, because no one else could help her.

She had about an hour of peace, an hour of not pretending before he woke up. And the routine would start again. He would smile at her, and she would have to smile back. He would put his arms around her and ask if she slept well and she would say yes. She would make them both breakfast while he showered and they would sit in their kitchen talking about their plans for the day. Once he left she would shower and start her day -- a day of pretending to all her friends and family that she was happily married with the perfect husband when inside all she had was dark thoughts and schemes of how she could run away, how she could escape this unfeeling, cold, indifferent existence.

She knew she would never run, though. What basis did she have for giving up a perfectly good marriage? He didn't mistreat her, he didn't disrespect her, he didn't cheat on her, he didn't keep her waiting -- he had none of the problems that many of her other friends had with their husbands. In fact, most of her friends would come to her for marriage and love advice because she had supposedly hit the jackpot and succeeded -- passed through the game of love with flying colours. How ironic. Because as many problems as all these women had with their husbands, they all tried to make it work, because they had the one thing that she didn't have for her husband -- love.

She convinced herself for a year that love didn't matter because it didn't. In the long scheme of things, where did love ever play into a relationship? What really mattered was trust, compatibility, friendship, and she had all of that with him. But she realised that what really scared her was her utter indifference for him. The truth is that if he never came home one night, it would make no difference to her whatsoever. It's not that she would be happy. She just would not care.

Was she just a horrible person? How can someone just not care about her husband? What kind of person does this make her? These questions, this unbearable guilt kept her up at night. She had become an expert at pretending. She knew just how to look at him to make him think that she was interested in what happened at the office that day, or how to smile at him so that he thought she was as in love with him as he was with her. She had even learned to lie and say I love you to him, in just the right tone. Inside however, she felt nothing. That was probably the worst thing for her. It would be easier if she felt some sort of emotion -- like anger or hatred, but no, she felt nothing. She was numb inside. And that numbness itself was what drove her to the point of insanity.

She saw him stirring to consciousness and sitting up. She was still holding the prayer mat and standing at the foot of the bed staring at him, thinking her thoughts. Was this cycle ever going to end? He slowly sat up on the bed while she put the prayer mat away. When she turned back towards him, he was smiling at her. Pushing her thoughts away she got ready for another day, and smiled back.

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