If Someone Knows Please Tell Me! by Bala SarAnyan
Sophie sits reclining on the back rest, her legs spread over on the cot in flailing disarray. Not the way her mom had taught her to sit, but this is the only defiance she could show.
She keeps glancing at the Gods on her right, between sad thoughts and deep sighs. The one next to Jesus is the patron saint, St. Jude Thaddeus. This Jude is not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus for thirty silver coins.
The small alter is beautiful, gleaming mahogany with streaks of deep rose obscured by the darkness. Under the zero watt lamp, the Gods shine with an aura which is familiar to her. When mother was alive, there was enough space for both to kneel and pray. Now Sophie has grown into a big girl and mother has gone back to Jesus. Artificial violets hang down from the mantle-piece. Sophie used to take pains decorating till last fortnight, not anymore.
Gods do not look in her direction. She lets her head tilt forward overpowered by pall of gloom; she gently places the thumb over the ridge on her nose between her eyes, like the way touch-healers do. All thoughts and bodily sensation seem at once to collude at that spot on the forehead.
Neither she nor despair tend to forsake one another.
Tomorrow is the wedding. Dad wanted her to brush down the coat borrowed from Luther and he wanted it done well. She had put it to air near the window. Luther had worn the dark blue coat for his daughter Annie’s wedding. That was last January. Sophie doesn’t know who wore it before Annie wedded. Luther is a tall, hefty man and the coat fitted him well. The coat will hang awkwardly from the dad’s diminutive shoulders. Dad is not known for sense of dressing or for any niceties. People with long scars on the face are not expected to wear suits. But dad has been dreaming of marching the aisle to the band of the choir, taking Sophie’s arms. It had seemed he lived for that occasion.
May be Stephen is right, too much of importance is given to a vain ritual. The priest would administer the marriage oath, may not even wait for her to say, ‘I do’ and would rush to end the service pronouncing George and her, the man and wife. Marriage is one of the six holy sacraments in a Catholics life, the only sacrament which has spiritual linkage to another person. The other sacraments relate to the individual’s soul. The consort has no relevance. Religion and marriage has no linkage, Stephen said, may be he was right.
The flower girls at the wedding will be Martins and Rodriegos. The cherubic faces and pink checks are going to be the only remarkable thing about the ceremony. During her childhood, many families invited Sophie to be the flower girl. Dad took immense pride. She kept daddy happy, now things are far from honky dory.
Dad’s friends are drinking liquor on the stile in front of the little house. She has known them since childhood. They are like daddy, kind but insensitive. Kindness without sensitivity is like a well without water. Dad has gone to the church to finalize the arrangements. The friends take turn to keep watch on the rear exit. She has been under house-arrest since the last banns was read.
Stephen had objected to the marriage in a loud voice when the banns was read. The congregation didn’t know he was among the crowd until he raised protests to her marrying George. He ran to the pulpit shouting that the bride doesn’t want to marry George. He screamed that George is facing three criminal charges in the Girgaum court and wanted by the police in few others. The priest didn’t want any unpleasantness in his Parish and therefore he continued with the reading. There’s no reason why the priest should behave differently tomorrow.
Bruno whines at the door-step, he keeps scratching with its paws. He has been her only companion. Who will take care of Bruno after she leaves? Stephen doesn’t like dogs, but said it’s alright and she could bring him along. Mom feared, even on her death bed, that dad would force Sophie to marry the son of a gangster like her grandfather did. It’s a life of fear for women born to gangsters.
Where is Stephen? He hasn’t sent her any message since the last Banns. Stephen is ingenious, would have found a way to reach to her in spite of the cordon. Can’t trust dad to be a good man. Has dad sent Stephen to the grave, left his carcass to rot near the Railway tracks? Jesus!
We sat playing chess in the patio outside the Barista outlet in the Diamond Garden chowk. The franchisee provided ornamental chequered chess boards and beautiful set of ivory coins to the clients. From there we could see the K Star mall across the road. In the space meant for children’s amusement, the kids went up and down in the bungee, like birds going in and out of the tree. The lad with brown eyes constructs pretty lovely bouquets; he is allowed to give vent to his imagination whenever the father is away. We chose to sit at the table closest to the florist; I love the smell of flowers. It brings with them whiff of reminiscences.
The game got tough, I played cocky diverting Stephen’s attention from the game with questions. To make it difficult for him to win, I promised I will sleep with him if he wins three games in a row, we were on the third game, the last two I couldn't get past his defenses.
I ask of him looking naughtily, I know my chuckle to throw him off balance:
“How is it the Queen is more powerful than the King?”
“But when the King dies, the game ends.”
“Aren’t you being chauvinistic, Stephen?”
“Look, anyone is bound to think great about his own. Creed or gender or anything he or she represents. It is the way to survival.”
“Wow, sounds profound! But men are chauvinistic aren’t they?”
“In Chess, what I mentioned doesn’t hold good. A rook doesn’t mind slaying another rook, or a horse another horse.”
“Will you marry me, Stephen?”
“Do you have doubts?”
“No, my dad has other plans.”
“It’s your job to convince. He has issues about his daughter marrying a man from the orphanage.”“That sounds easy.”
“I don’t know why people lay so much weightage to marriage. Marriage is a stupid convenience.”
“Ah, I presume men want to spend nice time with girls and walk away.”
“If I were you, I would rather protect the Bishop.”
“Oh, the Bishop is covered by the pawn. Don’t change the subject please. You don’t think marriage is important?”
“Not as much as staying together of two minds. You could be married and not be together. I overheard once a woman admit at the confession booth that she does not like being with the husband. The priest asked her to pray to the Lord. I don’t know what it meant, Pray to the Lord.”
“You will ditch me and go, is that it?”
“Our minds are one, aren’t they? Tell me, Sophie, if that’s so why should we worry about marriage? Standing in front of the alter, taking the vow and signing in the register, and seeking the blessings, partying and all that. Don’t you think, it’s all unnatural?Just a charade?”
“Unnatural? You mean the whole world follows it and you call it unnatural? Here your king is under check. Wait, I think it is check-mate!”
“Did you open this subject this to distract me?”
“No you were not serious. You trivialize everything, Stephen, including the marriage.”
“I don’t like to lose. But this game is out of my hand. I had a lot of stake in it, Sophie. You know what!”
“Rubbish, I would never have consented even if I had lost this one too. Why do you say marriage is unnatural, tell me. You always say that. I want an answer from you.”
“A sermon and service doesn’t change things between us, does it? Ceremonies are mere symbols, nothing more to it.”
“Yes, it’s a happy occasion, comes once in everyone’s life. Part of everyone’s life, nothing artificial. People believe in it.”
“People are made to believe so. I don’t believe that a mere ceremony will bring together two minds and create bliss in their married lives. Matrimonial bliss, you call it? Hmmh. The institution of marriage is stupidity, an artificial bond without rationality. As many marriages fail but are held together in unhappy state by the institution. As many love-locks are marred by the society's fixation with the institution of marriage. No I don’t mean free-living, hoping from one bed to another. I object to the ritual, the importance thrust upon it. “
“What of children born of unmarried couple?”
“What of children married to unhappy couples?”
“I can’t believe that you could talk like this. I want to go. Call for the bill, here take the money and pay it.”
“You look amazing when you are angry, how about another game of chess. You are learning fast.”
“I want you to give me an answer. Will you marry me?”
“I said I would.”
“You said you don’t believe in marriage.”
“I said I don’t believe in marriages, but I will marry you.”
“In the church.”
“Yes. In the church. Will your father agree?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“That’s it. We love each other, been in this. But need your dad’s consent, and without the consent the priest will not solemnize. Your dad knows we are in love. The whole thing is ridiculous; do you get my point now? Things like my status, my orphanage will crop up, though he is a gangster. What if I am an orphan?”
“Please don't talk like that of my dad. I am scared.”
“Let us elope.”
“Look Sophie, I have a friend in Bangalore, he will get me a job, he has been calling me. You dad will never know, let us disappear from here, marriage or no marriage.”
“Let us go. Before anyone hears of this rubbish.”
“Where is Stephen? He hasn’t sent me a message since the last Banns. They surrounded him and dragged him out of the church while he kept squealing, I know not if it is out of physical pain or of the heart. It did sound like a cry, poor Stephen. St. Jude, Hope of the hopeless, pray for us. But Stephen is ingenious, he would find a way to reach me in spite of the cordon. Can’t trust dad to be a good man. Has dad sent him to the grave, left his carcass to rot near the Railway tracks?
Or did Stephen flee, he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. I want him. I want him safe. I too stopped believing in marriages. My marriage to George will be a farce though it will indeed take place. Why are they laughing outside, are they getting drunk? My dad's friends always get drunk marriage or funeral. What happened to Stephen? If someone knows please tell me. Jesus!”
Bala Saranyan is a Mumbai based poet, short-story writer. He fancies the writings of Charlew Bukwaski and Raymond Carver. Planning to write a treatise on Dirty Realism for submission to CLRI.
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