by Rinu Antony
Resigning from her job wasn’t easy. She felt choked up and teary for days. But she had no choice. Every day she felt as if she was standing in a crowded bus without a pole to hold and support herself. Uncertainty could be frightening. But leaving her job wasn’t the only cause for despair. Lippi didn’t know what she wanted to do in life or what she was about to do was even right or not.
The sound of her mother calling her felt like grating sound of sandpaper against the walls.
It was unusual for her to feel this way. She wasn’t irascible or quick to outburst but that changed recently.
Lippi’s jaw tightened. God, help me! I don’t want to snap at her. But that’s exactly what she felt like doing. But she wouldn’t. Just two days ago, when her mother called her repeatedly and entered her room, Lippi’s response was to yell at her mother angrily. But her mother’s shocked expression instantly melted her anger, leaving behind only remorse. Her mother didn’t say anything and left the room. Lippi didn’t apologise nor did her mother express her disapproval with her angry outburst.
Something changed. In her. And her mother was aware of it.
Was she worried about her marriage? When her mother’s friend brought an arranged marriage proposal two months ago, Lippi was intrigued. Before the first meeting with the prospective match, and a few days after that, she was bursting with excitement. Her colleagues and relatives remarked that she radiated happiness and glowed like the summer sun. But no one made such remarks anymore.
Was it because she rarely smiled or looked happy anymore?
Happy! Lippi wasn’t sure why she wasn’t happy. The profound feelings that she experienced more often was that of forlorn and dread. But why?
Her mother stood at the threshold, silent. Lippi lifted her eyes from her knitting, and smiled sadly at her mother. Her mother sighed. Maybe her mother knew what bothered Lippi.
“We got to begin our shopping for your marriage, Lippi.”
Lippi began to knit again to shrug off the dread snaking through her body. She had been putting off shopping over two weeks now, and her mother’s tone implied she couldn’t do so anymore.
Reluctantly, Lippi looked at her mother, “My marriage is after five months, Maa. What is the hurry for shopping? There’s plenty of time.”
Only five months!
Her mother refused to budge. She studied Lippi’s face intently, masking any emotion. Lippi felt uncomfortable.
Could she see? The dread and forlorn snuggled inside me?
Then, her mother sighed and looked around her daughter’s room.
“Get ready. We’ll leave in half an hour,” Her mother said and left her room.
Her mother and aunt were still inside a clothing store from which Lippi made a brave escape, a few minutes ago. She made an excuse of a headache. Her mother frowned but grudgingly acceded. Since Lippi already selected three sarees and an Anarkali suit for herself, she wasn’t needed there. Once out, Lippi drew slow, deep breaths to ease herself. Her aunt and mother’s exuberance made her queasy which was exacerbated by her decision to skip breakfast as a defiance to shopping.
They had been shopping non-stop, for almost three hours, but Lippi couldn’t blame her mother. Her parents were the sort of couple who begin to save money for their future child. While growing up, she would often hear her parents discuss money for her education and marriage. Following her father’s death, her mother had been extra careful, to the point of being thrifty at times. One day, out of anger, Lippi called her mother a miser.
Unlike the turbulent life experienced by most of the people, Lippi’s life had always been smooth and seamless. Nine months ago, she joined a marketing company as a front desk executive. She was happy with her salary and job, till she met her future husband.
Good-looking, courteous and soft-spoken, Joshil was a male version of her. Lippi could see in his eyes, and smile, that he liked her. He was also very shy on their first meeting, and a smile remained on his face till the end.
Lippi liked him too but was disheartened by the end of their meeting.
“You did a Masters in Microbiology? Why are you working as a receptionist then?” Joshil had asked, after the waiter placed their tea on the table.
“It’s a small town. I didn’t find any job related to my degree,” Lippi had replied.
Joshil nodded, “Quite understandable. You could easily get a job as a microbiologist in various sectors in big cities.You could have also pursued a PhD or become a lecturer. Don’t you think working as a receptionist is a waste of your skills and education?”
Lippi looked down at her tea as she answered, “I don’t want to leave my mother.”
At that, Joshil had laughed drawing Lippi’s eyes on him.
“Sorry. But, what will you do after marriage?” Joshil asked, looking amused.
That’s when it hit her. She’d have to leave her hometown and mother after marriage. She didn’t want to leave her job even if her designation wasn’t envy-inducing. She liked her work. She liked her colleagues. She loved her mother and hometown. She didn’t want to give up any of it.
Lippi was confused about what to opt for her higher education. It was her father who suggested she take science in bachelors and microbiology in Masters. Since she was good at science, she followed his advice. Though she had never been passionate about her chosen subjects, she always scored good marks, and in the final year of her Master’s degree, she even entertained the idea of becoming a food microbiologist in the food manufacturing industry. After the final exam, Lippi returned home from Delhi. Three weeks later, after having his dinner, her father suddenly developed chest pain. He died on way to hospital.
Days following his funeral were very difficult. Overwhelming emotions and sense of uncertainty kept her company for days. Getting used to new life situations and coping with changes took her and her mother months.
Standing outside of the clothing store, her eyes skimmed over the unfamiliar faces of people walking past her. Lippi was getting impatient with her mother and aunt. She was also thirsty. Not far from her, on the other side of the road, she noticed a lemonade seller. She looked back briefly, for any sign of her mother and aunt. Since the store door remained closed, Lippi sighed and crossed the road.
Just as she approached the lemonade cart, two customers finished their drinks and walked off. The lemonade seller, a lady of middle age, sat on a plastic stool briefly, but sprang up on her feet when Lippi stood before the cart.
“One glass,” said Lippi.
“Soda or plain water?” asked the lemonade seller.
The woman nodded and got to work.
“How much for a glass?” asked Lippi.
“Just 10 rupees.”
The woman handed Lippi her drink.
As Lippi drank her lemonade greedily, her eyes landed on a little boy at a distance, trotting towards the lemonade seller. He stood beside the woman and smiled at Lippi shyly.
Lippi smiled back.
“Is he your son?” Lippi asked, as she handed back the empty glass.
“No. He’s my neighbor’s son. Both his parents work in a brick facility. They return late in the evening. So after the school, he comes here,” the lady said and drawing the boy against her, she tousled his head affectionately, “since I live alone, I love his company.”
The boy whined playfully and sat on the plastic stool.
Lippi’s hand was on her purse but she paused briefly, and her questioning eyes settled on the woman. Deeming the question inappropriate, Lippi opened her purse and handed money to the lady. The lady took the money and put it in an aluminium cash box. Then she answered the unspoken question.
“I don’t have children. Three months after my marriage, my husband left me for another woman. I don’t hate him. He had been in love with her since childhood. That’s what he told me. But she was of another caste, so his parents were against their relationship. The only thing I hate about him is that he could have stood up for his choice and spared me the pain and humiliation.”
Lippi’s eyes furtively landed on the boy to check if he was listening to them.
With a bored look on his face, the child was scrutinising his toenails. A sound drew their attention to the road.
Wedding procession! The groom, decked in traditional Indian finery was atop a white horse while a bunch of people danced around him.
Lippi looked away. Marriage procession never appealed to her.
“Hope neither the groom nor the bride is forced into the marriage. Otherwise, their marriage is doomed to fail.”
Suddenly Lippi wondered if Joshil had a girlfriend. He seemed genuinely interested in her. But what if he was pretending?
“Why didn’t you remarry?” Lippi asked the lemonade seller.
“I was scared. What if my second husband turned out to be like my first one? What if he was abusive or had a drinking habit? Marriage is a risky business. We barely know the person we end up with in marriage.”
Lippi gave a tight, awkward smile, “You could always have a love marriage.”
The lemonade seller looked into Lippi’s eyes. “My distant cousin had a love marriage. She and her husband hate each other now. If it weren’t for their children, they’d have separated long ago. It’s all the same. The idea that, a time would come, when I’d have to tolerate the presence of my partner, scared me.”
Lippi felt it was time for her to leave.
Leave. Leave. You had your lemonade. You also paid your money. Move your legs now!
But her legs refused to move. The lemonade seller regarded Lippi with confusion. The silence turned awkward and eight seconds later, the lemonade seller felt compelled to ask Lippi questions.
“What are you doing in this area?”
“Shopping. Shopping for my wedding.”
Instantly, the lemonade seller looked remorseful and said, “You see, some marriages are successful.”
Lippi smiled to assure the woman that her view about marriage didn’t affect her.
Or did it?
“My parents loved each other dearly,” Lippi said, after a moment of thought.
“So did my parents.”
Then, could there be similarities in our case?
“Love or arrange?” The lemonade seller asked.
“In a few months.”
“You might be excited?” The lemonade seller tried to sound cheerful but Lippi could detect the scepticism underneath it.
Lippi gave a mirthless laugh.
“I’m not sure.” Lippi surprised herself by saying that. Maybe she shouldn’t have said that. Maybe, she should have lied and said that she was indeed excited about her marriage. But it didn’t feel right.
“It’s quite natural to feel nervous, unsure or trepidation before a big life change like marriage. Since you’re stepping into unfamiliar territory.”
Lippi’s cell phone began to ring.
Flashing an apologetic smile at the lemonade seller, Lippi answered the call “Hello?”
It was her mother asking where she was. Lippi told her and both her mother and aunt expressed their desire to have lemonade as well. In a few minutes, they reached the cart.
“Two glasses for us,” said Lippi’s mother to the lemonade seller. Then, turning to her daughter, she said, “I bought two more sarees for you. You would love it.”
“Soda or water?” asked the lemonade seller.
“One with soda and one with water,” said Lippi’s aunt. “Thank God! The weather is perfect for shopping. Now footwear. I know a wonderful shop for footwear two streets from here.”
The lemonade seller handed the ladies their drinks.
“Jewellery?” asked Lippi’s mother in between sipping her lemonade.
“Don’t worry. There’s enough time for that” said Lippi’s aunt, patting her sister’s shoulder.
“That’s true. There’s enough time for that because I’m not marrying Joshil,” said Lippi.
Stunned, both the ladies looked at Lippi. The lemonade seller was also looking at her now. Lippi’s mother looked at the lemonade seller to check if she was overhearing their conversation. Immediately, the lemonade seller looked away.
Lippi’s mother’s voice shook as she studied her daughter’s face, “Lippi?”
“I’m not ready for marriage now, Maa.”
“Don’t be foolish, Lippi! You’re getting engaged in a month and married after five months,” her aunt said.
Lippi was looking at her mother, “I’m not ready for it, Maa. I’m not happy about it.”
Two more customers came and the lemonade seller busied herself in making their drinks, but at the same time, tried to overhear their conversation.
“Lippi, it’s quite natural sometimes to feel nervous and uncertain about marriage, but that doesn’t mean you should call it off.”
“Someone else told me the same,” said Lippi without mentioning the lemonade seller. “But it can also mean I’m just not ready for it now.”
“What are you talking about? You should be excited now instead of being nervous. Don’t worry, you’ll feel alright once you get married,” Lippi’s aunt tried to reassure.
Lippi was losing patience with her aunt, and controlled herself from snapping at her.
“I’m not getting married now, and that’s final! I’ll call Joshil and let him know,” She turned to her stunned aunt, “I’m not saying I’ll remain single the rest of my life. I’m just not ready for marriage now. When I’ll be ready, I’ll let you know.”
“What do you mean by ‘now’? You are getting engaged in a month! You can prepare your mind till then,” said her aunt, looking incredulous.
“No, I can’t,” Lippi began to walk away.
“Lippi, wait,” Lippi’s mother called out.
About the Author:
Rinu Antony majored in English literature from Nagpur University in 2016. Her stories have been published in Universal Journal, Borderless Journal, and Indus woman writing.