A nun, a Priest and Geography
Syed Badrul Ahsan
In case you didn't know, I happen to have a wife. So? So you know I am married. And what's so special about that? Nothing really, until you stumble on the truth that my wife and I live apart, literally. Between us there are thousands of miles of land and rivers, bits of the sea and what not. When we speak to each other, the conversation is akin to that of teenagers. She says she misses me and misses the changing contours of my face. It is then that I begin to wonder if she will really be able to recognise me when next we meet at some airport or the other. The last time we met --- and that was after I had tumbled out of a long flight --- I pushed her, almost, into a state of outrage. Don't blame me. All I could see before me, as I waited for her to turn up in a taxi and take me to her apartment in London, was a very roly-poly woman coming my way. She walked beautifully, despite all that weight on her, and I wondered about the girth her husband must have given himself. After all, it's not unusual to find a husband-wife team united not just in spirit but in an accumulation of fatty matter as well.
And then I looked away. It was a sin, I murmured to no one in particular, to stare at a woman not your wife. And then, to my horror, I noticed that the woman was making straight for me. And then she spoke, 'Why are you looking away from me?' That was a familiar-sounding voice. I looked again and realised that the chubby woman before me was indeed the woman I had married many summers earlier. She was still beautiful, in that plump kind of way. As I later learned, she had been feeding on too much chocolate in the ten months I had been away from her. She said whenever she thought of me, she ate that chocolate. For me it was not worrying at all, as long as she looked graceful and laughed the way that she always did. But, even as I say all this, in the hope that I can draw a romantic picture of how life has been for the two of us in this past decade, I realise we are both getting on in years. Only the other day, when I called her long distance, she said with quite a good dose of anger in her voice, 'Phone calls are not enough to keep a marriage going.' I agreed with her, and then went a foolish bit further, thinking I could defuse an imminent bad conversation through a few slices of humour. I told her that I was actually looking for a rickshaw that would take me all the way from Dhaka's Mohammadpur to Leytonstone in London. That went down badly. Suddenly there was a click at the other end. She had put the phone down.
It is all so rather intriguing, all this blowing hot and cold across deserts and mountains. My wife keeps reminding me that we are both getting old. That is nothing new for me, for I have felt old since my schooldays. There are faces that you can do nothing about. Mine happens to be one of them. No matter how much I tried giving myself a filmstar look in my schooldays, there was always that seriousness that dampened all chances of my ever being regarded as a handsome human being. In college and at university, I was a wonderfully emaciated-looking young man, sunken cheeks and popping eyes and all, who wrote poetry for the pretty classmates he fancied. The women liked the poetry and wouldn't touch the poet with a barge pole. I was like a wrapper out of which you take the hamburger and then throw the wrapper away. But I went on being a wrapper, right up to the time when a beautiful, suitably endowed woman came down to this city and bumped into me. She said I reminded her of Woody Allen. I liked the way she smiled. One day she gave me a cassette of Shahnaz Rahmatullah's songs, which I returned the very next day without listening to it. I told her, though, that the songs were charming. She said I didn't have to lie. The tape, I hadn't noticed, had stayed at the precise spot where she had stopped it before giving it to me. I stayed out of her sight for a few days. Embarrassment reigned supreme.
But then came a time when the wrapper married this wonderful woman. A few nights ago, in a mischievous tone, she told me that if she hadn't married me, I would still be looking for a woman to call wife. That sounded interesting, but then I said to her that I missed my bachelor days and wished I hadn't been sucked into marriage. Those words appear to have flown past her. She simply served warning on me that if I delayed seeing her any more, she would send me the papers. Of course she wouldn't. That warning, if I have read her correctly, was just one more sign of how she keeps loving me. It's a case of the nun continually being in love with the priest. That is how I put it to her and then added, in dramatically Shakespearean fashion, 'Get thee to a nunnery.' The moment I did that, she narrated, yet once again, how in her late teens, back in Calcutta, she had accosted some Christian missionaries and asked them to initiate her into the church. The holy mothers smiled, spoke to her gently and then sent her home to her conservative Muslim family.
It rains in the afternoon. Deep in the night I think I will go looking for tales of old love to read. At some point, the phone will ring. If she is not in a happy mood, my wife will speak to me in English. I love it when I practise my English on her, with her. Her British accent, she thinks, is far superior to my rustic Bengali one here. So?