Zahra Khan



Zahra Khan


One Last Try

One Last Try

9 mins 33K 9 mins 33K

Today was going to be the day. One last try. I owed it to myself. I owed it to her. I owed it our marriage of 15 years. A marriage that had taken place when I was about 25 years old, freshly armed with not only a Master’s degree from the United State of America but also with an offer of a high paying job from a very prestigious company. It was a no frills arranged marriage where I got to see her once before tying the knot. I did not have much time after all. I needed to back in 2 weeks to join my high paying job. It was quite an exciting time for me at that time even talking to a girl outside of family was considered taboo. I was thrilled that I could not only get to see the girl I was going to marry but pretty soon would be able to talk to her and do things to her. My heart had started to beat faster when I realized that I could even do things to her that I had watched only in English movies.

She for her part had kept her head down, not even glancing at me. I could not imagine what she was worried about. My mom was being so nice to her. Telling her how to keep me happy and how to get herself trained to be a part of our family. My would-be-wife just listened nodding her head from time to time. My mom even told her about all the dishes I liked so that she could get herself ready to serve me after our marriage. I watched my mom proudly as she imparted such precious knowledge to her future daughter in law. Knowledge that was crucial in carrying out her duties as a part of our family.

Instead of appreciating my mother’s words of wisdom, the girl just sat there staring into oblivion. I know brides in our culture are supposed to act all coy and bashful but she seemed to be carrying it to the extreme. She just sat there with a blank expression as my sisters told her in no uncertain terms that women doing a job after marriage in our family was forbidden. That meant she would have to leave her job as dictated by our family values.  She did not even nod to that one. Maybe because she was relieved that she did not have to work so hard anymore.

On our wedding day, she was miserable, I could tell. I put it down to her being nervous about getting married and leaving her family. I could not understand why though. After all she was getting married into a family that was much better placed than hers. She was getting married to a man who had such a bright future. I did not quite like the idea of getting married until my parents told me the real reason. With the dowry amount they would be able to get back all that they had spent in sending me for my higher studies and then some more. On her part, my wife would be getting a rich and successful husband. She came from a poor family. It was win-win situation all around as my father put it. But somehow that did not seem to be the case with my wife. She was clearly not very excited about getting such a great deal. To be frank, I could not care less. I just wanted to be with a woman. I was tired of living alone and looking after myself. I needed to be with a woman. I needed a wife. Everything else was just a bonus.

After the first few months, the novelty of being with a woman wore off. All my physical needs were being satisfied and for the those first few months, I thought I would never tire of wanting her. I thought I would come home every day to my wife and want to make love to her. Whether she wanted to or not did not quite matter. She never said no and I was very happy about it. After all I had heard stories from my friends that their wives were not in the mood sometimes. Not my wife. She never said no to me. She always turned towards me whenever I would reach out for her in the night. She would let me do whatever I wanted, never quite complaining about anything. She went along with whatever I did.

Food would be ready waiting for me after I got back home from work. I loved it. Gone were the days when I had to trudge home all my myself and come back to a vacant messy house, an empty kitchen and a bare refrigerator with rotting food. I was as happy as I could be. I would devour the piping hot food. My wife would be missing from the action but I could not care less. I was happy to enjoy my food in peace. The only place I reached out for her was in the bedroom and she seemed to oblige. She hardly was around for anything else. I was thankful once again. Thankful that I did not seem to have to deal with wifely tantrums and pestering. All those things my married friends and colleagues were routinely dealing with.

By the time I realized that all was not hunky dory with the situation, it seemed too late to correct it. We had both fallen into a rhythmic charade of alternatingly playing the roles of being a provider and consumer as and when the need arose. There was one difference between her and me though. Her demeanor did not change whereas mine underwent a drastic transformation. I went from being happy, content and generally an amiable person to one who was sullen, unhappy and irritable. I longed to see some sort of emotion from my wife. I longed to see her once reaching out to me, calling me when I was at work or even picking up a fight with me. But she remained like how she had been since the time I had seen her for the first time. Head down, not a peep out of her mouth.

In the beginning ego prevented me from asking her what was wrong. Somehow that meant, I was on the backfoot and responsible for her sorry state of affairs. So, I kept quiet. But after trudging along in life next to her for another couple of years, I could bear it no longer. I asked what the matter with her was. She gave me the same vacant look that she subjected me to every single day. I had to control myself with all my willpower not to lash out.

“Why are you like this?” I asked holding my head, tears streaming down my helpless face.

“I have always been like this.” She replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“What does it matter?” she countered.

“It does.”

“It didn’t before.”

“I was a kid before, I am not anymore. I want my wife to be a willing participant in my marriage. Vibrant and alive. I feel like I am married to an emotionally dead person.” I blurted out.

“So, what if I am? As long as I am not physically dead.” She replied.

Her words stung.

“How come you don’t feel affection towards me? Even animals develop affection towards each other if they live together for long.” I said.

“We are not animals.” She said before walking out.

Her tone had not changed. Her voice had not faltered. She was in control. As usual. I was not.

I stopped trying after that. The only other option before me was to separate and I frankly had no idea how to live without her. I had gotten used to the idea of coming back home to her. More than the piping hot food on the table, it was her presence that seemed to matter more. The incredibly delicious dishes that she cooked – food that I had to eat all by myself. I had asked her more than once to join me. She had made up one excuse or another. I already ate, I don’t feel well….

Today was the day I decided to give one last try.

I came home. She opened the door. Head down, eyes downcast. I walked to the table. She had made her heavenly Biryani. She walked towards the kitchen as always busying herself with the after-meal tea I invariably took.

I sat waiting for her to come out with the tea cup in her hand. She did. If she noticed that I had not eaten, she did not give me any inkling of it. She placed the cup on the small table by the sofa like she did. I got up.

“I need to talk to you. Please.”

She sat down.

I moistened my lips.

“Happy 15th anniversary.” I said.

She did not even smile. It had taken me 15 years to wish her on our anniversary. She was not even surprised.

“I want to apologize to you for the last 15 years. I want to apologize for all that I and my family put you through. I don’t have any excuse to give to you except to say that I was young. I just carried out what I was taught to do. I was never taught how to treat women. I was always told that me being a man meant that I somehow was superior to women. I always thought of them as being there to serve us men. To love us, to care for us, to give us their lives. I was never told otherwise and I never bothered to find out either. I am 40 years old now. I see things differently than I did all those years ago. I am embarrassed at how badly you were treated and I don’t blame you for shutting me out completely. I deserved it. Even if I realized that what I was doing was wrong, ego got the better of me. I am sorry it took me so long to own up to my shortcomings. I can’t even ask you to forgive me. I have made your life a living hell from the moment I set my foot in your life. While I cannot give you back those 15 years, please allow me to set things right in the next how many ever years are left. Please, forgive me.” I said.

She got up and walked towards the table.

“Are you done? Should I clear the table?” she asked.

“I am not. I want to eat with you. Please sit down with me.” I implored.

She started walking towards the kitchen.

“I love you.” I whispered as I collapsed on the sofa watching her walk towards the kitchen. I wept like a baby. There was nothing else I could do.

I heard her coming out. I looked up to see her walking towards the table with a plate in her hand!

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