Two Pink Lines
AS the plane gracefully glided through the air, making large slow circles above the airport, I knew destiny had called me to the stand today. I stood up, sat down again, became self-conscious, stood up again and walked to the nearest windows to look out. There were three small cargo planes stacked in a horizontal row on my left, and two huge jets neatly parked waiting for fuel. Lightly pressing my forehead against the glass panel, I prayed wordlessly in gratitude.
It was the hottest day of that year, I recall, the weatherman had issued a list of advisory precautions to defend against heat strokes and dehydration. Stay indoors, carry water bottles, move slowly, and don't stay out for too long under the sun. By six in the morning, you could already tell by the heat that the day was going to be a killer. As I quietly re-checked your luggage mentally checking off all the items you had packed, I wished it was just an ordinary Sunday.
You were in the bathroom showering and shaving. I quietly entered and saw your naked body through the opaque glass doors. There were scattered spots of foam on the sink from your shaving which you had forgotten to wipe clean. Ordinarily that forgetfulness would have incited an argument between us, but today I couldn't, didn't, and wouldn't care. Fear lodged in my throat, but I had promised us I would not cry. I could not cry. I had shed enough tears leading up to this day. I had implored, cursed, threatened, and even prayed. But to no avail. You always gently explained you were obliged to serve your duty and your country.
As the water trickled to a halt, I quickly left the bathroom and went downstairs to make breakfast. Today of all days I wasn't going to send you out on an empty stomach. The rooms already seemed empty, vague, and unfamiliar. The house seemed distant, distrustful, and almost a stranger. Were you feeling the same, I wondered? Were you, too, feeling the air of foreboding encroaching upon our tiny abode? For Chrissake Anira, I'm a shrink, just a shrink! How much action do you think a shrink sees in the military? Come here, don't be ridiculous! All I'll be doing down there is listening to the soldiers' talk about themselves, that's all. I most certainly won't be in the front line fighting the damn Talibans by making them pour out their innermost secrets to me!
“Mmm, what smells so wonderful? Is it possible that Anira is actually preparing breakfast?” you jokingly asked, as you walked into the kitchen. You grabbed my waist and swooped down your head for a kiss.
“Ha ha, funny, funny,” I retorted, as I tilted my head to meet your mouth. “You're not the only one who can cook, Sam.”
“I know,” you chuckled.
You picked up the plate of toast and the pot of tea and sat at the table. For a large man you were quite agile in your movements. As I whisked the eggs I observed you engaged in the morning papers. Five years ago if you had told me I was going to be with a shaada man, least of all a soldier, I would have laughed in derision. Raised in a family of soldiers, I grew up detesting the rigid disciplinary lifestyle imposed upon my brothers and me by our father. Departing to America was a welcoming emancipation from my family. My rigidly Bangladeshi family. They didn't approve of you. I wasn't surprised. Amma's silence at the end of the line when I announced my engagement told me all. I had fooled myself into believing they would relent knowing you too were descended from a military lineage. But Baba didn't care to know about you. As far as he was concerned I had betrayed my roots and my culture by marrying a shaada. I didn't dare tell them you were fifteen years older than me and a divorcee. I never got that far.
“Eggs need much beating, darling?” you asked, with a mischievous grin.
“Huh? Oh, sorry, was just thinking.” I shook away my reverie and proceeded to fry the omelettes.
“Here you go, darling. A feast of delight, if I may say so myself,” I gaily announced, placing the plate on the table. “It's Spanish Frittatas.”
“I'm impressed….mmmm…it even tastes good,” you said, and dived into the food with gusto.
I didn't want to ruin this ordinary breakfast, I swear I didn't, but I couldn't stop the words as they propelled through my mouth. “So, where are you stationed?”
Your chewing momentarily paused. As a shrink, I knew, you always took the time to carefully use correct and
unthreatening words to convey your point. So, I was ready for your clinical response.
“Darling Anira…I told you already. I'll be temporarily stationed in Kabul. If and when needed as determined by HQ, I might be posted in one of the hotter regions. But that depends on whether they require my service.” Chewing ensued. “For now, baby, I'll be safely cocooned in Kabul, far way from any form of action.”
I nodded. I had nothing left to ask.
There were several families clustered in a line saying their last goodbyes to their departing partners. We were one of them. As you were greeted respectfully by your subordinates, I hugged and kissed some of the wives I had befriended since our marriage. I was the youngest among them. The only brown one. But together we shared a bond that transcended color, age, and geography. Together we shared the fear, the longing, the uncertainty, and the inevitability of having our beloveds depart for an unfamiliar and enemy-laden terrain without knowing if they will ever return. I knew I had their support to get me through the nights and days I found myself alone in our home.
“Darling, it's time,” you softly whispered, as you cradled me once more in your arms.
I buried my head against your chest. I wrapped my arms around you and held on tight, embarrassed by my tears. I couldn't speak. I was scared of the words that would fall out of my mouth. I was scared of my fears. I was scared of the unimaginable.
“Oh darling…oh my baby…” you whispered softly, “take care of yourself. You know how much I love you…don't worry honey…oh don't worry about a thing…I've been on so many missions like these and I always never see any action…please don't worry. Oh baby…my precious…I love you so much..”
I grabbed you tighter unwilling to let you go. Don't leave me here alone, I shouted silently.
“Baby, I must go…I have to go…Oh Anira, I'll be back…you'll see…in six months I will return.”
“Sir, we are boarding,” announced a subordinate, hovering anxiously, embarrassed at having to interrupt us.
You nodded and the solider quietly walked away towards the plane.
“Anira…baby…I love you,” you said one last time, as you pulled away from my embrace. “Take good care of yourself….stay safe…and I'll call you as soon as I find a phone.”
I nodded, still too scared to say anything. I clamped my mouth shut. You leaned towards me and kissed my forehead. Then you walked away.
As you neared your plane, and turned back once more to look at me, I ran. I ran, I ran with sudden propulsion and flung myself in your arms again.
“Come back….promise…come back to me…” I implored.
“Promise” he muttered.
The instructions read two minutes for the results to appear. Two minutes. I placed the thin strip down on the counter and sat on the edge of the tub. I buried my head in my hands. How could this be? How could we be so careless? I tried to decrease my throbbing beats, taking slow deep breaths; I tried to concentrate on something, anything. Two minutes. I checked my watch and saw I had a minute and ten seconds left.
I never skipped a month. Never. That alone should have been a harbinger. But I was too naive. Oh, what will I do now?
I stood up and paced the tiny bathroom space. I glanced at the strip to make sure it was still on the counter. I wish I could speak to someone. I wish I could speak to you. But you were stationed at Tikrit now. You rang consistently but oftentimes for three minutes or less. You sounded quite well. A bit agitated at the escalating violence, the desolation of your surroundings, the deteriorating conditions of the soldiers who sought your help; but you put up a good façade for me. You told me small snippets of your life there, what you ate, who you saw, in general, informing and assuring me that you were safe. Those brief calls did not allay my fears. However, I duly came to accept its presence. It is rational; I told myself, it is perfectly normal to have those fears. You told me so yourself.
One minute. I sat down again but my legs started shaking. Uncontrollably. What shall I do? What if..? No, I can't be. I'm not ready. We aren't ready. We had spoken about children once, when you were courting me, and we were trying to figure each other out. I was still in grad school. You came to our school to give a series of lectures on the modern affects of post-traumatic stress on the soldiers' minds. You were the sole thing I took away from those lectures.
Forty seconds. What will you say? Will you be happy? Are you ready?
Thirty seconds. Am I ready?
Twenty five seconds. I think I'm ready. We had talked about this, and negotiated based on your age, and both our careers, that we could have two children. I wanted two girls.
Twenty seconds. I knew you wanted a son. A son with whom to play baseball and basketball, and other typical American games fathers played with their sons. You wanted a son to carry on your family's military legacy.
Ten seconds. The phone started ringing. I glanced at my watch and knew it had to be you. You usually called around this time. I neared towards the strip. I had to receive your phone call.
Five seconds. Two pink lines appeared on the strip, growing darker by the seconds.
I crushed the strip in my hands and hurried to pick up your call.
You had kept your promise. You came back to me.
The descending plane smoothly graced upon the landing strip. As it neared its hangar, the group of subdued families moved towards our designated waiting spot. I recognized some faces, we quietly exchanged looks. Words failed us at this time.
I followed the wives outside towards the hangar, panting slightly, carrying my enlarging body. Amma walked beside me, gently holding my arm. She was so concerned about me now. I heard her, last night, plead to Baba imploring him to convince me to go back with them to Bangladesh. But I couldn't, I wouldn't now. I knew what I had to do. I wasn't going to leave you alone. A few of the wives smiled at my expanding abdomen and whispered helpful hints to me. I nodded without hearing them. I do that now. Words have ceased to be of use to me. I just use them to speak to you when we are alone.
The air was thick with grief and disbelief. As the coffins draped with stars and stripes flags were gently lowered from the plane, I smiled. I was the lucky one, I told myself. I was the fortunate one among the rest.