“Hurry up, Zack, or we’ll be late!” I hear from the other room.
“Mum, mum. My tie, mum. My tie,” Zack said.
I fold the corner of the page from the book I’m reading and place it on the desk beside me.
“Here,” I say to him, rising from the sofa. “Let me give you a hand with that.”
His eyeballs stay unwaveringly focused on my hands as I wade through the steps of tying his tie.
Zack and his mother, Elaine, are going to the wedding of a family friend. Elaine’s long time friend’s daughter is getting married. My mother, who is good friends with Elaine and the mother of the girl who is getting married, is also attending the wedding. I, too, would have been attending, though Elaine’s daughter, Sandra, is feeling poorly. And so Elaine had asked me to come over to the house and watch over her while they went to the wedding (Sandra is seven years of age, she was born mute and almost completely blind). I told her it was no bother. I wasn’t so keen on going to the wedding anyway. I packed a novel, a small lunch and my pen and pad.
“She’s getting married to an accountant from New Zealand. God knows how they met. The mother had told me some time ago, but I’ve forgotten,” Elaine says to me as she peers at the Elaine in the mirror who meticulously applies a thin sheet of eyeliner. “Isla. Beautiful girl. Not much older than you, actually.”
“Uncle,” Zack says. “why aren’t you coming with us?”
I kneel to him and place my hand on a shoulder of his. “I’m staying at home to make sure Sandra’s well.”
“To make sure Sandra is well and gets better?”
“Mm-hmm. Now you go have fun. And behave yourself.”
Five or so minutes pass, and as Elaine does her last minute scurry-around for anything she might’ve forgotten to pack with her, she says, “There’s a leftover casserole in the fridge that you could warm up for you and Sandra at some point. I think there’s some garlic bread in the freezer, too, if you want to put some in the oven.”
I hear the steady roar of the car engine, and listen to it as it gradually fades off until I can no longer hear it. I stretch myself languidly onto the sofa for some moments and remain motionless – physically, and also in state of mind (to whatever possible extent the mind can be motionless).
It was well into the spring of 1993. A lax downpour of sun spread itself over the church building, and around its steeple a small company of wrens praised cordially beneath the sun’s generosity. The church building was brimmed with men, women and children – all suited in their cleanest, sharpest attire – smiling uneasily at one another. There were awkward verbal exchanges amidst an abundance of forged, nervous laughter. The mass awaited the arrival of the bride in sour and frantic anticipation. There was a peculiar air of tense excitement about the place, though it all weighed fickle, as if everyone couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with.
The bridegroom sat in one corner of the church building, alone, gently though unconsciously stroking his knees with the sweaty palms of his hands. He was nervous, and whenever he felt this way, his hands seemed to take on a mind of their own. Like some strange, independent organisms that latched themselves onto the end of his forearms. He took several deep breaths.
Friends and family members approached the bridegroom multiple times to either check on him or provide him with some urgent piece of information of which he needed to receive. If they had nothing he deemed important to say, he’d send them away hastily, almost foully. I need to think, I need to prepare myself, he’d tell them, Go find something else to do for now! Understandably, he was erratic and impulsive – he was about to echo wedding vows to a woman he’d never met before in his entire 47 years. The bridegroom’s father and the parents of his soon-to-be-wife had met a few times beforehand, and had spoken even more frequently to each other than the couple who were about to be married.
It was an old tradition that both families kept; if a man’s daughter reached a certain age and had not found a husband to marry, the father of the unmarried woman would find a husband for his daughter to marry, regardless of whether she desired the chosen man or not. It was a custom that went back several generations.
“It’s stupid,” said the woman, exhaling smoke from her nostrils. A stern look daubed her face as she glared into the mirror before her. With both hands, the woman slicked back the few unfettered strands of hair on either side of her head. A Marlboro Gold burned between her lips. A young lady was crouched at her waist, tugging at any pleats or minor creases on the woman’s wedding gown, and scrupulously checking for any visible imperfections. Eyes and hands still trained on the wedding gown, she said to the woman, “I think it’s a beautiful thing to get married, regardless of how it comes together and happens. The ceremony, the vows, the celebrations the—”
“Are all meaningless,” the woman then interjected nonchalantly, though with evident undertones of conviction and antipathy. The young lady paused and sighed. The woman continued:
“The vows are nothing but hollow promises spurted in the moment. I’ll literally be repeating what the vicar says without an iota of passion or real meaning. I don’t know the guy [She drew in one last pull of her Marlboro Gold deep into her lungs before crushing its remains into the gravid ashtray behind her, then she looked back into the mirror]. It’s all an act for my parents. They want this, not me. All I know about him is that he dropped out of med-school after two years and decided to chase his seemingly unsuccessful career as a musician slash comedian, he’s in his late forties, and he has a wealthy father who has four wives. That’s it. Technically zilch. Nothing of importance, nothing that’ll make me mean it when I say I’ll love him in sickness and in health and all that shit.”
The young lady stood up and placed her hands on the woman’s left shoulder and gave her a half smile as if to say, ‘I understand what you mean, I really do, but…’.
She said to the woman, “I understand what you mean. It’s all true, but what’s also equally and unequivocally true is his side of the coin, too, right? His wealthy father… well, essentially bought him his wife, in an indirect sense, of course, but you know. He doesn’t know you either. This is also an unexplored landscape for him. I know the difference is he was looking for someone to marry and you weren’t, but what’s done is done now, and the only way you can make it work, is to make it work! Together. That’s the only way it’ll be bearable. Don’t let this crumble before you’ve even started building it. You never know, you could learn to like him at least, if not love him. Think of him as a friend. A very close friend whom you must live with and share your entire life with. But once you get a little comfortable with each other, you can begin to draw the lines. You know, set rules and make things clear and stuff. He knows just as much as you do that, from your part, at least, this is all an act for your parents.”
The woman’s eyes didn’t avert from the young lady’s eyes not for a millisecond. The words which emerged from the young lady seemed to penetrate right into a receptive canyon of the woman’s soul, and perhaps left an impression.
“Look, Elaine”, the young lady concluded, “I cannot imagine how it must feel. And I guess I kind of envy you for that. But please, please. Try. You’re 42 now. Tradition is tradition at the end of the day. We are all equally, though unjustly constrained and chastened by it.”
The young lady was barren, and, by the ruling of her country’s tradition, was not allowed to get married.
Thank you for reading. With this piece I was focusing mainly on narrative, and so have left character and scenery descriptions to an absolute minimum. Feedback and criticisms are very much welcome!!
P.s – I sincerely apologise for not following up ‘Washed Up on Love’ with the part two I initially promised my readers, but I will be working on plenty new material when I get some time! (or discipline myself to make time. Yes. Make time).