By Nusrat Jahin Angela
He never loved me.
And I didn’t expect him to.
I found tranquility in this acceptance. We were strangers when we had been forcefully married. Neither of us was asked for consent. While I liked to believe there was no bitterness between us, there wasn’t any warmth either. Deaf indifference defined our relationship. We lived under the same roof, in the same room, on the same bed, because we were required to do so; we’ve been told that’s what married people do. We were like two parallel strings of a guitar, moving in the same direction, never meant to conjoin. And we didn’t seem to mind. Maybe that is the reason it didn’t quite bother me when he left.
Yet I remember the day so clearly.
The sun was scorching, with gold rays penetrating the tiny holes of our hay thatched roof. He was having lunch at the porch. As usual, we hardly exchanged any words. With his back pressed against the mud wall, he crouched forward looking into the melamine plate held loosely by his blistered palm. He finished the boiled rice and potato, his eyes never leaving the rims of the old scratched plate. I passed him the jar of water and he washed his hands over the plate, wiping his thin lips with the corner of his towel. Then he hung it over his right shoulder. He didn’t look up. Each step was naturally followed by another, without any hesitation or pause. It was like the steps of a well-rehearsed choreography that I had seen too many times. And then, nonchalantly, he left to work in the field.
As I picked up the dishes and headed towards the kitchen, I didn’t look back.
Neither did he.
I thought of the life we would have led if he had come back home that day. Would we come in terms with our differences, or would we be repeating the same life like a song on replay? Few days after he had left, I heard that he had been taken away by guards to the other side of the border, to what they now called Pakistan. Like everyone else, I assumed he was dead. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take time for me to make peace with the news. Afterall, people died every day. While it was unexpected, I didn’t think it was painful. Thus, I picked up the straps of life and rode forward. And life, as it always does, went on.
Today, I stood in line with hundreds of people under the blue sky. They told me that the government has decided to release ten people who were captured across borders and return them back to their countries. Behind the barbed wires, I waited patiently. I wondered if I had crossed his mind in all these years. Did he ever think about me? Or was he in a way relieved to be separated? The latter seemed more probable, I told myself. The thought made me question myself whether I’ve thought of him in the last 40 years. There were times, yes, when little things reminded me of him for split seconds. When I saw the empty porch during lunch time, or when I found his old razors lying in the corner of the wooden cupboard. The memories flew by, like a shooting star, but just like never having enough time to wish upon the star, the thoughts never lingered long enough for me to miss him.
The sudden loud gunshots into the air and blaring trumpets jerked me back to reality. After what seemed like eternity, some important-looking people gave speeches and talked about things I didn’t understand. Then they finally lined up the ten men from each side, ready to send them back to their families across the borders. Although I already knew he was one of them, my eyes frantically searched for him for reassurance. As the gates opened, I saw a familiar sketch in the distance walking towards the barbed wires of the border gate. I felt a tingling sensation in my stomach. An emotion I never felt before, I started to hear my heart beating erratically with his every step. I adjusted the crooked side of my saree as my chest heaved heavily. A sense of nostalgia blended with hues of hope raced my mind.
I squinted my eyes to have a better look of his face. Over the years, I had forgotten many of its features. The once unfamiliar face in the distance seemed even more foreign, with dark lines covering the bulk of his forehead. The eyes were dull and his skin barely hanging off his high cheekbones. Handful of messy white beard covered most of his face while the fading hairline almost reached the back of his head. As he sauntered forward, his left leg seemed to hump a little. I couldn’t remember if he always walked like that.
As he crossed the border into our side, his silhouette became a figure, and his figure became a presence. He was only a mile away from me. I looked at the man whom I have lived most of my life without. His weak steps towards me flashed all those little insignificant moments that we had spent together.
And today, when I saw him after 48 years, for the first time, I realized, maybe, just maybe, I do love him.