Amit Chaudri: The second time
Although one of them lived in Kensington and the other in Bayswater, they didn’t know each other. It was that evening, when he’d come out of the Underground and walked down the road glittering with light and rain, and gone back home to speak to his parents on the telephone, that he’d first heard about her. A second marriage! What was marriage, after all? The back of his overcoat was velvety with moisture as it lay drying on the sofa, where it had been roughly put aside. Once, after a couple of meetings, it was agreed that the idea of a second marriage was congenial to both of them, they decided to put it to execution. They had no idea, really, what it was all about; members of both sides of the family became like co-conspirators and decided to keep the fact a secret till they had an inkling as to what the shape and features of a second marriage were. As far as they were concerned, it was still as formless as the rain on Kensington High Street. Last time, the rituals, like some vast fabric whose provenance they knew little about, had woven them into the marriage, without their having to enquire deeply into it; Arun remembered, from long ago, the car that had come to pick him up, his eyes smarting from the smoke from the fire, the web of flowers over everything, including the bed, the stage, even the car. The first marriage had been like a book into which everyone, including they, had been written, melding unconsciously and without resistance into the characters in it that everyone was always supposed to be.
They met at an old pub near Knightsbridge, and ordered two coffees. This time Prajapati, or Brahma, would not preside with wings unfurled from the sky or the dark over their marriage; nor would this wedding be in that ageless lineage that had begun when Shiva had importunately stormed in to marry Parvati. This time the gods would be no more than an invisible presence between their conversation. They sat there, two individuals, rather lonely, both carrying their broken marriages like the rumours of children.
"Sugar?" she said, with the air of one who was conversant with his habits. He was shyer than she was, as if he needed to prove something.
"Two," he said, managing to sound bold and nervous at once. They were like two film directors who had with them, in script, a plan, but nothing else. There was both exhaustion and hope in their eyes and gestures, which the waitress, saying "Thank you!" cheerfully, hadn’t noticed.
"Two?" she said, noting that he was overweight. A gentle affection for him had preceded, in her, any permanent bond. It was as if it would almost not matter if they never saw each other again.
"Are you all right?" said the waitress, coming back after a while.
"Oh we’re fine!" he said, his English accent impeccable. "Maybe you could bring me a few cookies."
The cookies were pale, star-shaped squiggles, or chocolate-dark circles. They had brought a list of invitees with them.
"This is Bodo Jethu," she said, pointing at the name, A. Sarkar, on the top of a piece of paper. "You’ll see him during the ashirbaad at Calcutta."
Withdrawing her finger and looking at a name, she said, "That’s my only mama." He stared at the name she was looking at.
Six years ago, these very people, six years younger, had blessed her at the ashirbaad ceremony before her first marriage. Now they would have to be summoned again, like figures brought to life a second time from a wooden panel where they’d been frozen, resurrected from their armchairs, or old age homes, or holiday resorts, or wherever they happened to be. The embarrassment, the fatigue, of blessing a niece, or a grandniece, or a daughter, a second time! Some of them had developed a few aches and pains, inexorable, since the first time; though all of them were still there. Now they’d be brought back like soldiers who had been disbanded and were caught loitering happily and absently.
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