She looked at her grey eyes from behind the veil. Then she yanked the veil off and looked again. They definitely look better with the veil off, she thought dimly before putting it back on and going to the kitchen.
The boys lunch-boxes all-set within ten minutes, she meekly bid farewell to her husband as he left for office. The boys left too, leaving her by herself in the territory she was expected to master and maintain: the house. The first step, and the reason why she had been fully clad in her baroque burqah, was a short trip to the mall to buy groceries, candles and cake for Amer’s birthday tomorrow, and perhaps rent a few videos to bring home to pass the time later in the day.
She stepped into the simmering heat, but only felt it for a few brief moments before getting into the car and being driven to the nearby shopping complex. She quickly stacked up her basket with all she needed, trying to make sure she could reach the cashier before any of the other hundreds of burqah-clad women did. She recognized some of the gaits, but knew she had to rush if she did not want to get late for preparing lunch at home. She bought the usual gingers and garlics, mutton for the main course, and of course, cardamom for the meat, just as her husband liked it. The aroma made him ‘high‘, he always said to her. Perhaps that is what one is supposed to feel upon drinking alcohol.
Next stop was the cake shop. It was a short few minutes before she was out again. Amer’s favorites were hers too, and it never took long to shop for him or Aazaan. She walked briskly from the cake shop to the video rental store, but turned back when she saw the time. She simply had to be back home, or the meat would not thaw well, or would not cook enough, or something else that her husband would begrudge her, but never say. And that she knew would make her feel even worse.
Back at home, she set to work immediately, setting the cooks to their respective tasks, but keeping the meat flavoring to herself. She carefully measured and weighed each choice ingredient, and made the seasoning exactly how he liked it. When she was done, she knew it would be delicious. She hoped he’d notice, although he rarely gave her any indication. A compliment from him was as rare as a diamond in the desert. But when she got one, she gleamed and glistened for weeks in its brilliance.
Once the cooks had the fires burning and the aroma began to waft through the house, she calmly went room by room, cleaning this and putting that back. This was the part she enjoyed most, even more than cooking. She could feel the presence of her family in those rooms. Her husband’s socks from last night, Amer’s laptop, Aazaan’s punctured football. She sometimes wished the boys knew what life was before the Westerners imposed their footballs and laptops on their peaceful existence. They were too detached now; somehow to them, the screen displayed more reality than their ancestral home and its exciting secrets and hidden rooms. But these things were inevitable, and she admitted that even she enjoyed the sitcoms on television. The Americans never failed to make a joke about anything.
She lazily switched the TV on, all the chores handled well in time. The news had nothing new at all, except that another city had been bombed in Europe. This had ceased to surprise her any longer, and the comments of the newsreaders did not incense her. “Just thank Allah they do not attack us, and continue your life”, her husband had told her once. She had taken the advice as the divine word, and followed it every time she heard of another calamity. She flicked the remote and surfed for a while before coming to the music channel, where inevitably, some scarcely-clad women were gyrating their bodies to electronic music. The video ended without anything remarkable happening, and she mused again as to how little she could remember of the tune, and how she couldn’t remember any of the women’s faces at all. They were just legs and breasts moving in time with an inconspicuous rhythm. She shook her head with pity, wondering when the West would learn.
Lunch was uneventful. She was grateful for it; no event meant not only that the food was appreciated, but also that the menu was tasteful and well thought-out. She noticed him glancing at her hands while eating, but when he saw that she had caught him looking, he immediately looked away. He knows these hands laced the mutton with cardamom’s divine fragrance, she thought with pride.
Amer and Aazaan got back from school and retreated to their rooms without much conversation, and once again she was left alone with the servants to clear-up. She noticed how clean his plate was, and felt gladness blossoming in her chest. No other thought interrupted her happiness as she helped to wash each plate and spoon with tender care.
She went to her room and called Ameera as she was accustomed to at the hour. Neither had much to do in the afternoon, and it was too hot to leave the house, so they chatted to each other over the phone for over an hour, exchanging silly details about lunch, and chores, and music videos. She knew she would get bored this afternoon, and rued the fact that she didn’t bring anything to watch. At least the phone would distract for some time.
She settled with a book then, comfortable and serene in her drawing room’s quietness. As she read the words, her thoughts drifted from nature to movies to the children, but she felt she couldn’t concentrate on the book. She had a clever and restless mind, always working overtime, and today it was at its utmost strength of ceaseless activity. She made some coffee for herself, stopping laboriously over each stir of the spoon, and letting the smell of the coffee beans enter her system completely before she took the first sip. The feeling was intense and warm.
“Ma, can you please explain this chapter to me? The teacher gave so much homework and I don’t understand a word.”
The reverie was broken and she took to the task of teaching her son mathematics with considerable vigor. She had always wanted to be a teacher, but the pressures and duties of the house were enough to occupy and satisfy her, so she had dropped the idea after marriage. Still, she was sharp and knowledgeable, and her sons loved to learn from her.
Two hours later, both she and her son were exhausted, so they gave up studies and left each other alone for a while. Dinner was another task in the waiting, and she thought she might as well get to it sooner rather than later. Another round of rigorous and artful knife-work ensued, and she felt she had succeeded in preparing another hearty meal.
When her husband returned from work, he looked harrowed and tired, and she wished she could do something about it. She immediately prepared some snacks and coffee for him, but sent it with a servant rather than take it herself. She stayed in the kitchen and built up some tension. She wouldn’t go in front of him yet. Not just yet.
He ate in silence, yawning a lot, but seeming to get relaxed with each gulp of hot coffee. She watched him from the kitchen as he slowly stretched his neck’s muscles, letting his head tilt from side to side. He put his legs on the center table and switched on the TV, and surfed until he got to the news channel. He had obviously not heard about the Prague bombings, so he immediately sat-up, and pulled his legs down from the table.
“Ya Allah”, he whispered with disgust and resignation.
And then suddenly there was a change in his persona: he shook his head, sat back in the sofa letting his head bob backwards, and took a long deep breath. Then he changed the channel.
There were the music videos again, and the sitcoms, the family dramas, the sports channels, religious channels, more news channels, but nothing seemed to interest him. Within ten minutes he switched the TV off abruptly mid-sentence. That shook her back from her contemplative mood and back into the present, and she remembered she still hadn’t put the children to bed. He might be angry, she thought with a bit of panic, and rushed to the children’s rooms to get them into bed.
When half an hour later the boys were fast asleep, she returned to her room to find him sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched down and gently massaging his temple with his fingertips. She quietly sat behind him and began massaging his shoulders. Round and round, gently, then hard. She let her palm glide across his neck applying pressure, then releasing it, then applying it again. She could feel his muscles relax as she continued to assuage his tension with her reassuring strokes. She took him by his arm and made him lie face down on the bed, suddenly realizing he had still not set eyes on her since he had come back from office. She sat next to him, her thigh touching his arm, and caressed his back in long, smooth arches with her hands. She felt each tense muscle and kept kneading it until she could feel it thawing, like ice giving into her warmth. He tried to turn towards her, but she turned his head away, and kept doing what she was doing. She moved to his legs and slowly squeezed his thigh and calf muscles and felt him shiver from the sensation. He was breathing slowly now, and she could feel his growing sense of relief and anticipation. She wanted to ask him what had happened at work to affect him so much, but she knew he would hate to talk about it now. So she just kept silent and let her hands take his body.
Next, she put his head in her lap, face up, and used her thumbs to trace lines of pressure from his nose, to his cheekbones and into his hair. She pressed down hard on his forehead, then let her hand relax into a gentle touch, and played her fingers across his face to his lips and neck and back to his forehead again. She brushed his hair with her slender fingers and pulled them till the point of just starting to be painful, then carefully pushed them to the back of his head, and then back to front again.
His eyebrows were no longer furrowed, and he did not have any expression on his face at all, save that of utter submission. She held his head between her palms and pulled him up into a sitting position and turned him towards herself. They sat facing each other, but he had still not opened his eyes, perhaps waiting for her command.
She reached for his eyes with her right hand, and gently touched the shut eyelids as if they were her own. She knew those eyes had not rested upon another woman the entire day. She knew her face, her eyes, her hair, the gentle turn of her chin when she smiled were etched in his memory far deeper than any fleeting glimpse could manage. And these eyes did not have even those fleeting glimpses. She knew they longed to see her, to drink her sight, to revel in her most stunning presence, but she did not pry them open. Not just yet.
She leaned forward and let her lips rest on his eyes, one by one, leaning into him and resting her forearms on his shoulders for support. He leant his head upwards and received her, without ever moving his hands or body. When she kissed them, and retreated to where she had been sitting, she felt completely one with this man she called her husband.
And then, slowly, he let those eyes savour what they so dearly craved. She looked into the pool of love in his gaze.
And she drowned.
“Let’s go have dinner sweetheart”, he said gently.