Sense of an Obligation
Akhrielie, my childhood friend, my long lost friend sat before me restlessly; trying to be formal when he need not, at times still, sneezing and coughing in between, now and then adjusting his rough red Burmese shawl, as though he came to an inappropriate place, where he shouldn’t be. I could sense him swallowing his salty green mucus as he coughed into his throat – he had dare not spit it out on my kitchen floor, which my wife used to mop daily. He could have spit into the hearth which I would not have minded – it would have disappeared with the ashes. My wife too, had brought a dustbin for him, before retreating to the living room where we kept our television, but he hardly seemed to notice it and I had to remind him of its utility thereupon. After the children had gone to sleep, my wife had prepared for herself a cup of ginger tea, and gave us space to guzzle our beer which she had agreed to for my exceptional friend. I had invited him twice earlier some weeks back to come in for a drink, but he refused my invitation both times, saying that I had a family and my wife whom he had never met, will not be happy. But we had done that and more during our early rebel life as teenagers. Off course! She was never happy when I brought a friend over for a drink, thinking it might increase my drinking habit. I had to convince her with a combination of great and gentle persuasion to allow my friend to come for a drink, saying it will be an exceptional one. She often brooded over my drinking habit even though I am a light drinker, spoiling myself mostly on weekends. Akhrielie and I had grown up together but twelve years made a lot of difference, a lot of water had flown and you never know where life might takes us; destiny had its own way of paving the path for the brevity of man, so we went our ways. But here we are sitting again together after so many years. My wife had put the children to sleep, and with her dinner over, she had arranged the necessities for us. She snapped at the six beer bottles near us and stared back at us, “You don’t necessarily need to get drunk, you can leave some for tomorrow also,” she lectured and retired to the living room, along with the lone electric heater to watch her favourite TV family dramas as was her ritual, which had never interested me. I didn’t say anything as I knew she would not disturb us anymore once she was hooked with the soaps. I had bought a case of beer since Akhrielie told me he wanted to drink to the fullest – if I really wanted to treat him – and indeed he was drinking to the fullest. He had already finished four bottles with no sign of drunkenness, and I was not going to stop him. My wife had already prepared his accommodation in the room adjacent to the living room opposite the children’s bedroom.
It’s already winter but we were guzzling beer along with smoked beef chutney marinated with fermented mustard sauce, my wife had prepared, in my cosy kitchen unmindful of the chilly early December night; with the warmth of the lava charcoal in my stove. The hearth had long been put off, since it consume too much firewood. With marriage comes responsibility and my wife control the expenditure of the family, she will waste no time in reminding me to be thrifty if she notices me going a little far away from her calculations. He too any way seems to be enjoying it. We were reminiscing our childhood years and our ventures after we departed. But I was more interested in his stories. For me he was always playful and energetic, so I don’t have any doubt that he will tell me his adventurous stories.
Akhrielie and I grew up together at New Market Colony in Kohima, at an age where football more than anything was the favoured pasttime of our locality boys. Win or lose, even the youngest who did not as yet kick-about and the old picked sides and boisterously cheered their team. At Kohima’s only local ground, though I was not one of the regular players, I would go to cheer as well or because Akhrielie asked me to come. Still, we were mostly together, attending the same schools till we finished our higher secondary when he and his family shifted to Potter Land where his father had constructed a house. They had sold away their old wooden home at New Market and so we departed and with that our contact with each other too withered. Neither of us, I like to think, tried particularly to get in touch again, as I got busy with college and he probably was at ease wherever he was, with his easygoing nature and popularity. He was always sporty and playful and was the pet of the uncles of the colony. He was always loved wherever he went. He was also never short of pocket money and I would not begrudge the admittance that that was also probably one of the reasons I like his company. He was always ready to pay first. He didn’t have the hypocrisy of pretending to fiddle and fish out his purse while waiting for others to pay. But more importantly, in the classroom at school, even when he was just in class VI, he never tried to get attention in any way that would seem out of sync with his happy nature. What he got was a gravitation of peers to his talent and he was the centre of people in his own way. His father was a compounder in the Naga Hospital and he was the only son after three sisters, and being the only son, was pampered by the family. Like every patrilineal family, his mother named him Nuokhrielie which literally meant ‘the cared child’ and they literally followed it in caring that little bit extra for him.
My Father Akho was a sprightly man and light on his feet, climbing electric posts whenever there was a complaint or the current refused to come back on, and in this way among others, earned enough for two boys and one girl. But one can gather that this was hardly enough money, and there was little to spare us and none to leisurely spend at will, and he tried to make sure we would never go wanting the things our more affluent friends had. So if Akhrielie had a new pair of shoes and I had one that was priced lower, I learnt to never hold it against my dad and mom, and I strove to be satisfied with what was provided, and we generally enjoyed our simple life. In high school, Akhrielie was always the first choice as group football captain, and being confident and easygoing, was also good with the girls. And being bashful and quiet, when I could not get one at the 11th standard, he had already moved on to the third girl, and during our final higher secondary year, he has reached half a dozen. “Henry, life is only once, you have to get one,” he advised me when he was seeing his fifth girlfriend; in his philosophy, you’re not truly enjoying your life if you don’t have a girl. I stayed aloof, partly due to my dad’s strict moral notions honed by a Catholic upbringing. None of my siblings to my knowledge were as worldly-wise as me (I like to think that way). They would spend more time in church than me, which was probably why my dad was always grumpy at me. In any case, my dad never expressed his disapproval through corporal punishments as was the wont in school, and save for some occasional outbursts of “You lazy fellow boy or you never tries to listen to others,” but we were always given our space. His taking exception about the regularity of church attendance was not a topic to harp upon as my mom, Sanuo, was hardly a church going person, and dad himself would more often than not miss service it would seem, as an on-call electrician he was often summoned somewhere or the other at odd times. Being from a different generation they didn’t even use their Baptism names, but they preferred to call us by our baptism names, keeping our surname Salie in our school documents, after father’s surname, which was drawn from generations ago when they had once lived in a faraway village called Kevijuria, where we had never been taken to visit.
Suffice to say, Akhrielie was full of the marrow of life. He was popular among the girls with all his talents; they always shouted and yelled his name whenever he was in the ground; he also had a fine pocket money, was a good football player and a good guitarist; what his feet could score, his hands could do better with equal ease. He could belt out the tune of every MLTR song, Eagles, Boyzone, Smokie, Bon Jovi and other popular bands of the time, at any time, with his guitar. He became more popular with each goal he scored on the field and each number he sang. No girls would reject my versatile friend; he was popular everywhere, and I was characteristically aloof, but somewhere, somehow, our friendship persisted during our childhood, until Akhrielie and his family shifted. It was perhaps also because he needed his homework done, and he could copy mine after I had finished or he was too lazy to note down the teacher’s notes and had to copy them down after class, just to make his parents believe that he was studying. He was unmoved by the many reprimands he got at school for this but usually escaped because of his other talents. His parents said they thought that I was brought up well, and encouraged our friendship.
Now after almost twelve years, we are sitting together. He kept on telling me his part of the story, his ventures and mostly, should I say his tragic story about the love of his life. He no longer seemed interested in sharing a friendly boast about his love conquests, as he used to in our teenage days. Of course! I am a good listener and my wife I could make out, despite her reservations, did not mind him; in any case, I’d always offer a patient ear to the storyline of her TV soaps almost every morning. He had finished his Bachelor’s degree in Science (??) after we had parted and had got a job in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Health, but left because it was not a good career for his talent that was what he told me. He went on that with his talent, he thought he could be a state player, so he went to Bangalore for three months training at a private Bangalore football academy, and came back because he couldn’t became a state player. After that, there were also some failed business ventures, but by then, I was more touched by his sad love story, about the girl whom he could never get back, whom he loved very much, for whom he seemed ready to give away everything to get her back. Akhrielie, a breathing magnetic node for girls, and inspite of all his colourful past, lamenting for a girl, this greatly surprised me.
We are two people with contrasting characters, with different views of life; it was just by chance or destiny that we were born around the same time, in the same colony, and grew up together and went to the same school, that we became friends. I am, in admission to myself, mediocre in most things, of that I am sure of myself. If there is someone who wants to hear a story, mine would bore anyone. Still, that doesn’t meant I thought of myself as a non-entity. I lived in my own world, and most times thought I had achieved at least something. My friends and classmates live in their own worlds, a myriad of things happened everywhere, and life went on. I was not perturbed by most happenings surrounding me, preferring a quiet and non-distracted life. My brother Mathew had gotten married, my sister Mary got married. I have had, I hope so, no issues with them and they with me; as far as my knowledge of my being is concerned, that’s what I am. After Akhrilie and his family left, I went on to study in St Joseph’s college and was busy with my college life although I had never actively participated in any of the college activities. Not unlike my high school life, then too I was always regular in the class and with that foundation, without much aplomb or flourish, I became a primary school teacher and have remained thus, without too meticulous a calculation or flurry of idealism. There was a point when the tides of my peers took me out of Nagaland, and I went to Delhi to study and take coaching classes, and my people probably thought and expected me to come back an IAS officer. But, in Delhi, I tried but could not get direct admission into Delhi University as I could not clear the entrance test. I did my Masters through correspondence with Economics as my major paper in the same university. This was a secret I kept myself, never getting the nerve to inform my parents. A correspondence Masters just did not evince the kind of confidence and prospect as a regular one. In their eyes I was a good boy and in the eyes of my neighbours and acquaintances, a studious one. Only, my parents have modest expectations, like myself, but they too know that I am not a person who will go astray so easily, happily enough since I didn’t bring friends home too often; that was one of the reasons for them to have enough confidence to send me out on my own. I was the youngest so I got the privilege. Neither my brother nor my sister got a chance to go to Delhi. My brother became an electrician following my father’s path; my sister, she became a high school teacher in a private school and then a marriage proposal followed and she got married to a well-to-do businessman who owns a baked-goods factory.
I remember I went to Delhi by the Brahmaputra Mail with four of my college mates; Riiko’s friends, two of them with long hair, came to pick us up at the station and took us straight by auto to their tiny flat at West Mukherjee Nagar. I felt suffocated, but my friends were delighted. Two days we stayed in their flat and then we decided to go our separate ways. Riiko and Obed preferred to share a flat together, while I preferred to be alone. James and Solomon went their separate ways and I didn’t know where they eventually put up, but they lived somewhere in South Delhi, being from wealthier families, visiting me sometimes; once we were all settled, Riiko and Obed along with Riiko’s friends helped me in purchasing everything I required. And I start my journey alone, almost with tears the first night.
While in Delhi I attended coaching classes regularly. With only a modest income my parents were confused as to why I had to spend the tidy sum of twenty thousand rupees for my admission into the university, but I did manage to use some of the money for my admission at a coaching centre, Radha Institute in Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar colony, the same colony that I took up rent in a single room. I attended my classes regularly but never got the attention of my coaching teachers as I, out of a combination of a habitual reticence, dared not respond to their questions, and also I remained aloof resulting in not having too many friends, though I did get along with Riiko, Obed, and their acquaintances who helped us search out our flats and institutes for coaching, However, they didn’t disturb me much as I am not a good entertainer nor could I enjoy and spend money like them with the little pocket-money my parents sent me every month.
Once one of Riiko’s friends, the taller lankier boy Chris came with half a bottle of McDowell’s Whisky and we drank together. I was still grateful to him for his help, so I went down to the market and bought half a kilogram of chicken inner parts and we had that together with the liquor. The next day he invited me to their flat, and of course I went there and I purchased the liquor this time. I met some of their acquaintances, around four more, and we drank together in addition to what they were already having before I brought my share, but soon felt uneasy by the huge group who seemed to be chain smokers and talking only about their girlfriends and their latest conquests and the business their parents were upto. I realised I was not meant to be part of their company so I left early after food although they were still going to buy more. The next time they came, I didn’t offer anything confessing that I had no money; I enjoyed what they had brought but turned down their invitation to go to South Delhi the next day. Since that day they never invited me again.
In my two and half years stay in Delhi I was able to visit only the Qutub Minar, Delhi Zoo and the Lotus temple, and the Batra Cinema Hall at the adjoining market for movies. The third year when I was appearing for my exam my father called me from my landlord’s landline number and told me to come back as soon as possible. I told him I needed three more months and he told me that beyond that he will not be able to support me. My sister’s marriage the previous year in November had taken a heavy toll on his financial situation and he had become a little hard tempered the following year. I had never had any grudges with him although I wish he had allowed me to continue to study for my civil service exams. I never got the chance to see the Delhi metro, which people talked so much about those days, I went back home when they were still trying to dig the tunnel at Chandini Chowk towards Mukherjee Nagar. I was young and ambitious then. I later realised that I was not tempered for the civil service exam, when I could not get through the prelims in Nagaland Civil Service exam even after three attempts. And thought at the fourth attempt I passed the prelims but could not clear the main exam, my parents were beginning to wonder if I would ever get a job and started asking me to even open a small paan shop, saying I needed to do something to survive, which infuriated me. I did not go to Delhi to come back and open a mediocre shop in Kohima, so I started hibernating in my room with my studies.
You are blessed in different ways; I passed the primary school level teaching exams only after a single attempt. I grasped the job and never attempted any more exams. I was posted in the Uphill Colony of Kohima, a choice of name I always wondered about considering of all the places in Kohima, it was the lowest lying one with narrow roads. But life went uphill for me literally when I caught sight of the most beautiful girl I had ever been fortunate to meet, Mhalevinuo, a fellow teacher, who became my partner forever. She giggles and laughs like a teenager but acts with tremendous maturity when needed; she always keeps herself organised. She was fair, short, with a birth mark on her left eye that makes her more beautiful in my eyes; a girl, a woman, her good nature always a delight to me. But I was not a romantic who would do anything to win the hand of a girl. She hardly ever approached me except for some unavoidable conversation the few times we were herded to the same social setting. Though my parents had started to pressurise me to get married, I felt my heart pulled to her, even without their goading. So chivalry was what I practiced as far as I could tell that this is what is was in my mind, and I always thought I had learnt over time to appreciate the bond my parents shared for me to understand what I myself could consider as a courtship. I did not try to be a stooge but started my decision to woo her by being myself – polite and reasonable, approachable and positive, hardly the bombastic traits associated with the great romances, but not without affect either. What takes time requires patience. I was and am always courteous with her. Small talk and chivalrous acts of concern, even now, pull at my heart for it is she I do such things for. Those days, she sometimes had to go to town after classes which gave me the opportunity to accompany her and allowed me to sometimes pay for the bus fare as I had to cross the town to reach my home every day. I always offered to carry her things for her. I also intentionally slowed down the pace of my gait, so as to chat with her. Steadily, she showed signs of liking me and would invite me to share a cup of tea during recess, I was elated then and elated now when I think about our younger days, unsure then, perhaps unsure now, but together. I had always wanted to propose to her, but it seemed to me that we were rarely ever alone by ourselves, our colleagues and mutual social circle at work was the only space afforded more often than not. In 2008, when we were the only teachers to arrive early after Durga Puja holidays, the moment had suddenly arrived. In a government job, one had the luxury to make one’s own holidays even after the scheduled holidays are over, and our colleagues took such an opportunity and only two others had turned up that day and the headmaster of the school was not happy to take classes with only four teachers. So Mhalevinuo, whom I referred to by then by the more informal Alenuo, and I, decided to head to town on foot, as she had some groceries to pick up on the way. It was by no means a proper or romantic enough place to propose the girl you want to choose as your life partner in the dusty roads of Kohima town, but I had to seize the moment before it stretched to further futility. It begin with some small talk as always, since I was nervous and not particularly keen to talk about anything much at all, but I enquired about her, how she might have spent her holidays.
“I prefer to spend my holidays in the village, it gives me peace and rest, and my parents are still there,” she told me, as if she longed for her parents every day, fussing with her hair with her pert fingers.
“I thought these past two years you were with your parents here in Kohima,” I replied.
“No they live in the village, all my sisters and brothers are married there.”
“How many siblings you have got?” I enquired quizzically, after all, I would have to know her family members if she were to accept me.
“Big family, three brothers all older than me and two younger sisters, all got married,”
The word marriage came out and so had the opportunity to prolong the topic.
“How come your younger sisters got married before you? And you, here, alone?” It surprised me anyway so I thought I could venture the question.
“They were dropouts, the youngest at class nine refused to go to school the next year and the other one followed suit when she was in class twelve although my brothers asked her to continue. I was lucky I managed till my Bachelors of Arts, my brothers enquired if I wanted to continue but when I gave the exam for the teaching job I was able to get through so I didn’t continue with my studies.”
My goodness I went all the way to Delhi to get this job, I thought, but chose not to confess.
“Your parents are not doing anything?”
“No, they’re cultivators. My brothers are all employed in the village, the eldest is the village high school headmaster, the other is a primary school teacher, and the youngest is the Kigwema VDB secretary at present.”
“Wow!” I interjected. “Your brothers are achievers and your parents did a great job by educating all of you”
“Yes they did their job, only we girls were a little too foolish, my sisters could have continued with their studies but got married one after another.” It surprised me that she was this frank. We were still on our way and I felt bold enough to quiz her more about her life.
“What about you? When are you going to get married? Any lucky guy in your life?”
She gave me a stare, perhaps it was for a second, but felt longer, and replied, “No, not right now, what lucky guy?” she replied and gazed at me again.
“So you’re still waiting for the right guy?”
“No! Not that, but no one has approached, and I don’t want to go through some messy love marriage.” Coming from the village she has the view that boys approaching girls first is the convention still, I thought, and feared my chances lean since she seemed to prefer an arranged marriage, But I persisted.
“So you’re looking for the right man to approach?”
“You ask too many questions,” she replied and walked facing ahead. I had probably irritated her, but she did not show any sign of it. At length, she continued, “In our society if a person approaches a girl’s family, if the guy is good than there is nothing wrong when the girl marries him, if my family wishes and like him, then I will!” She crossed her arms and squeezed her shoulders.
“Yes … yes … very true,” I replied and mulled for a while whether I should say it or not. There was silence for some minutes. I gathered my courage. I lifted my head, and turning to face her while still walking on the roadside, she too lifted her head up, probably uncomfortable by our silence. The traffic that day was not so busy, although the road we were walking by led to the Accountant General’s Office as well as other government offices. It appeared that here too the employees took their own holidays.
“Alenuo … !” I said rather lowly. She appeared startled when I call her name.
“Yes, anything?” she asked.
I held my breath, and looking front, added thoughtfully, “I’m not a good person, or a rich person … but I like you, and I want to have a person like you as my wife.”
She seemed agitated. “What are you saying!?”
“Will you accept me if I ask for you?”
“Oh you, don’t joke!”
“I’m still asking.”
“Ohhh … I don’t know … I don’t know … I’m not sure … ”
I felt defeated, I had no chance, so I kept walking, head down, embarrassed by my bravado.
“I’ll discuss with my parents, I’ll tell you what they think,” she said after some time, what seemed like eternity to me. It helped dispel some doubt for me, but also felt that she had said it just to stop my embarrassment. Nevertheless, what she said soothed me somewhat and saved the situation. Although she didn’t tell me what she thought about me except that her parents decision would be important, I could not hold anything against her anyway.
“I’m not seeking an answer right away, I also don’t know if I am the right person that you would seek, and there’re many good men everywhere for people like you,” I replied and thanked her in my heart for her saving grace at the present predicament.
“Okay … okay,” she replied looking at me, then she gave me the most beautiful smile, that I love and remember so clearly even now. “You are so funny when you look embarrassed,” she added and giggled.
“Do I look embarrassed?” I asked, relieved, joining her fun which was thrown at my expense.
“Yes! You do … You were, weren’t you? I thought you were ready to run away without looking at me.”
“Really?!” I gave a short run as embarrassed a look I could muster. She, closing her mouth with one side of her hand,
standing, laughing at me, the other hand pressing her belly. I, laughing with her; that day, for the first time in my life, I felt more than I ever did, for I did not know till then that I could make someone laugh so heartily.
I offered to pay her fare in the minibus when we reached the main town bus stop and she accepted it as usual, but when we reached the town and the time came for me to depart, I did not want to, and invited her for a cup of tea and snacks at the canteen near by the Old MLA Hostel. She turned down my offer courteously.
“Next time, not today, I have to purchase many things today,” she replied.
“Next time, it will be in my house,” I said, despite my embarrassment. But she just giggled and left with a “see you tomorrow”.
I had a sleepless night wondering if I had taken her courtesy and friendliness towards me in another sense, but I also knew that she was the only one I wanted in my life; so in a way I felt satisfied that I had said what I had wanted to all those months. That day, I had asked the biggest question ever. The next day, normal classes began and we were busy with our own classes and she made no mention about my proposal. In the coming days, my tension and anxiety increased; she never mentioned anything and behaved as though I had never said something important. I have to give her the credit for that. All her actions and dealings with me were as normal as before, and I tried my best to be comfortable with her but was unable to bear the tension within me, neither did I dare ask her what her or her parents’ decision was. I am not a person who could bear embarrassment easily. Two weeks passed by but still no sparkling news, so I had started to feel I had no more chance and felt I should stop dreaming about her, stopped remembering that I had ever propositioned her. Probably she too had forgotten it. October month had gone and November began and autumn was fading away. With the season I too floated into more isolation and life seemed to be colder; dejected and standing outside in my yard, observing the bleary lights simmering my sight. Dejections make you emotionally lonely and think of the forlorn past.
With both my siblings married and having their own houses I became my parents’ pet child again at twenty eight, with mother often cooking all my favourite items for curry, and always enquiring whether I needed my clothes washed. Father had purchased an old washing machine and being an electrician he could repair most of the hardware too, so mother put it into good use. In our house we had all kinds of used hardware implements which people threw away or didn’t use anymore which my father mended, fixed and repaired.
Soon my mother started pestering me that I should have a family of my own. My siblings are like birds that had flown away and I too had to be on my own.
“We are not going to live forever,” was always her emotional advice. I wonder what my replies will be now. The last time she said that I told her about Alenuo. Blind confidence, I thought, had led me to believe Alenuo would readily agree to my proposal. My life became as bleary as the distant lights that splinter beyond my balcony, my yard, my colony. I thought about how foolish I was. We just knew each other for around two years. Maybe I had rushed.
I went to class, wished my colleagues as usual, behaved as usual, and would come back home, avoiding her as I went, would sometimes go up to the town, buy some magazines especially India Today, Outlook, The Week, roll them up and bind them with a tape and come back to my room to read. Reading was a habit I had imbibed in my high school life, mainly to stave off boredom. I had already purchased a Compaq laptop that gave me company every evening. I hardly had any friends. Those with whom I used to hang out with in the colony had long settled down when I was attending coaching in Delhi. Sometimes I would think of Akhrielie, my childhood friend, wondering where he might be and whom, funnily enough, I hardly thought of when I was in college or in Delhi. I sometimes dhared a drink with my father in the kitchen; he was a man of few words, so we didn’t talk much. He knew that I was already mature and didn’t need to be lectured on the dangers of excessive drinking. Sometimes he would buy, sometimes I would. He would give a wrinkled smile and we would drink together while my mother cooked for us. She became a teetotaller after marriage. Otherwise she would take rice beer when she was growing up in the village, was what she told me. Perhaps that was the reason she didn’t grudge us our drink. Of course I had never seen dad drunk even once in my life. He takes everything in limit, that’s the best part of his habit which I had always tried to cultivate, but of course, I lacked his discipline.
I kept going on as best as I could, trying to make things as normal as possible, but my mother might had noticed something. One evening, that November, my mother looked at me thoughtfully in the kitchen, when warming myself at the kitchen hearth. She had finished putting all the ingredients in the dish and was waiting for it to be cooked.
“Henry, is something going on? Is there anything going wrong in your school?” she asked looking at me.
“No,” I replied.
“No, something is going on. You are looking so absent-minded these days.”
“I don’t think so, I am okay I guess.”
“You are not in your normal, I can see it,” she crooned.
I wondered how she could notice what was happening inside me, my feelings and my thoughts which had not disclosed to anyone. But after all, she is my mother. How could I tell her that I tried but could not get her a daughter-in-law? She would have arranged for a proposal from her connections, but I did not want it to be that way. My father is not a person who worries about our personal life; he would just generally advise me of the need to settle down, once in a while. I left the kitchen without replying further to my mother’s queries, and decided to accept my fate.
December came and soon we were going to have winter break. People started busy enjoying their Hornbill nights and talks centred about concerts and night carnivals. All this never interested me and I started distancing myself more from those kind of conversations. I tried to be normal with Alenuo but could not, being near her meant more awkwardness and shame on my part. Just the previous week, while having tea; we were alone at the same table in the school tea stall, which off course was at her behest telling me not to be so aloof. This made me more uneasy around her. Since that day I had tried to keep a little more distance from her.
Two days away from winter break, it was a Wednesday. It was around one in the afternoon, but the dreary winter fog covering the sky made everything all the gloomier. I was preparing to leave immediately after class when she hurried in, her Khadi bag hanging untidily on her shoulder. She asked me to drop her to the town excitedly. Since the day I had proposed, that was only the second time that she had made such a request, and whatever my feelings were at the time, it give me a sense of reassurance when she asked me for such small favours. She asked if we could walk to the taxi parking area. It was a short walk and the taxi would be costlier than the bus fare. But considering the hazy winter and the biting cold, I concurred, and she giggled happily, reminding me of the same old days.
On the way she put her hand on my shoulder gently, “Henry, why are you behaving so different?” she giggled out.
I didn’t know what to reply so I kept walking.
“They accepted, they agreed,” she said still giving a low laugh. I didn’t know what she was saying.
“What! What agreed?” I asked blankly.
“Oh ho…. at least say something, please smile, my parents agreed to your proposal,” she replied and shoved me lightly.
“Really!?” I smiled, I had already receded in the vagaries of my fate, and was caught up in my own world, after all these months.
“Yes.. Yes!” She said and laughed.
“Why did you take so long?”
“What do you think? I should say yes that very moment, or give you the news the next day? I have to think a lot. This is my life and I have to decide.”
I didn’t say anything but placed my left hand on her shoulder and looked at her. We had already reached the Taxi stand.
“Come let’s walk,” she said in a commanding way. I had to accept, I should. The lousy weather disappeared and my heart palpitated.
“How did you decide?” I asked dumbly, honestly, curiously.
“I don’t know, perhaps because you are dumbo… I guess,” she giggled and smacked my shoulder. “And you… you… behaving foolishly all these days, people think you are going crack.” Now a small fist jabbing my shoulder.
I thought I was behaving quite naturally and I had been giving credit to myself for my stoicism all these days. First my mother and now Alenuo. I guess woman are more sensitive to human behaviour. Except the previous week when we were at the table in awkward silence, I thought I had always behaved normally.
“I don’t know, I was always myself,” I replied honestly.
“Don’t lie, don’t pretend, I had noticed the next day itself after you proposed me. Anyway, my family said okay by the first week of November when I went to the village. I had phoned them and told them two days after you proposed me, because I didn’t want to put you in a dilemma… in tension… but I decided afterwards I would disclose this to you at the right time… and I thought today is the right time.”
“But why! Now it’s already December,” I asked, surprised by her candour in the matter.
“Only in February this year my aunt died and my Father thought, not even one year and it’ll be too early to have a feast within the family,” she replied. I believed her but was surprised by the customs. My own father never mentioned these practices.
“But why do you think now is the right time?”
“I don’t want to let our colleagues spread rumours about us; you can’t see they always gossip during their free time? And my brothers are saying January will be the right time. I can’t bear rumours about us or people mocking us till then.”
Complicated girl, I thought, but I was not so sensitive to rumours, and we were after all only seven teachers. I never had judged anybody, and I didn’t mingle with many of my colleagues, only some small academic talk mostly with the headmaster Vekho, but I guess she was right. I looked into her eyes. We were still on the road; people around us were busy in their own work, up and down, crossing us, unmindful of us, and what we were discussing for life.
“I may not be the best person, but I promise that I will give the best of me to you,” I said sincerely.
“Let’s see that in the future,” she said, matter of factly, “but first my parents want to meet you. Come and meet them as soon as possible before they change their mind,” she teased. “Inform me when it is possible, tomorrow or day after tomorrow.”
“Where here in Kohima?”
“No! In the village, all my brothers and sisters will also be there to see their future brother-in-law,” she smiled.
“Okay,” I replied, quite intimidated that the whole clan would be there.
My marriage was proposed and settled on the road.
That day, we had tea together at the main town bus stand, but she didn’t come with me to the town to buy her things. I got her message; she only came with me to tell me the wonderful news. We had tea and puri not at my place but at Japfii Tea Stall near the bus stand which leads toward the main town.
My life no longer floating in a mirage, there was elation and worries, wondering what life would be like with the girl you want in your life. Life’s full of contradictions, you want something and when it is there, you get worried about the consequences, especially more so for a fickle-minded person like me.
That evening I went to inform my mother first. My dad is not a person who gives his decision so fast and I needed a fast decision and my mother always moderates on matters concerning the family. After all, she was the one pestering me to get married, and she was the one we always turned to when faced with worries in our childhood.
“So this is the reason you’ve been restless and silent all these days,” she teased. But she informed my dad who called up Mathew. We discussed the whole thing the next morning before I left for school.
“If we need to go then we’ll go,” said my dad, as always, a man of few words. Mathew, who had acquired leadership mettle after taking up a position in the church, now began to lead the family and decided that we would go to Kigwema by the coming Monday. “We shouldn’t let people wait for our decision,” he said. I was glad.
I informed Alenuo during break that day that we would come to her village. She told me she would be going ahead to the village by Saturday, but would call up and inform her father in advance.
We went to Kigwema in my brother’s second-hand Maruti 800 to meet my future in laws. My brother had done well for himself; he had widened his professional ventures by opening an enterprise selling electrical parts.
My in-laws to be were a neat family. Alenuo’s eldest brother Avilie had built a modest concrete building next to their traditional house and we had our meeting at his place. After shaking hands and exchanging niceties, we ventured into the business of the discussion.
The brother is a man of sturdy build though not in an intimidating way. The middle brother also has a similar personality, but is of a leaner frame. The two teachers in their family had the same manner. The youngest has a mild brownish complexion resembling his father the most. Her youngest sister Nisanuo is more like a twin sister of Alenuo except that her hands were rougher, and she also seemed more mature than Alenuo, signifying her motherhood and the toils of the soil. We couldn’t meet the middle sister; we were told that she would not be able to come because of some kitchen problem. Almost all the brothers appeared to have an air of similarity, both in looks and nature. Except their skin colour, all of them seemed to have taken the side of their father, who was of middle height, and mild nature. Their mother was short and fair, her fairness had been passed on to her children.
Our two families sat in their living room opposite each other and were soon deep in discussion. Alenuo didn’t giggle that morning, and she just sat quietly next to her sister and mother atop a bamboo stool. She was serious when discussing serious topics; I came to learn that day. On my side, Mathew did the talking and my dad signalled his approval while on their side, her dad did the talking and her brothers nodded their agreement. They were a very amiable family and of course my father had told them in the beginning that we would accept whatever decision they made, and asked for their blessing on me and Alenuo, the most serious thing he had said then. So it was decided that the wedding would take place by the second week of January. My brother as per the custom asked what requirements would be desired from our side. They said they on their part required nothing but would consult their clan and inform us. My dad requested them to inform us early, saying it was the festive season and would not be easy to get things arranged. It was just a matter of fact and they nodded in agreement.
That night Alenuo messaged me in my phone, “Good night Mr. Alenuo, dream of me.” She rarely messaged me, and it quite surprised me when I got her message. I lay in bed wishing to dream of her in my sleep.
With her amiable family, we had to contribute only a cow and a pig for a small reception at her village. We were married in their small village Catholic Church in the first week of January. On my part I didn’t invite the church youth of St. Francis church, since I am not a regular church goer like my brother Mathew, and people hardly knew me. My father and mother invited our relatives from the village and their friends in the town, like during the time of Mathew’s and Mary’s weddings. Only because of those two events did I get to know some of my relatives. I invited some of my friends and of course all our colleagues were invited by both of us but only the principal Vikhotuo and two of the older ladies Akali and Sanuo turned up. Riiko, Obed, James and Solomon all came much to my delight. Solomon had become a Sub-inspector, while James had already became a Post-graduate teacher with a little push from his parents. Riiko, now a college lecturer in a private college is doing well for himself, while Obed runs a hotel after four years of trying to clear civil services, but by then his hotel was earning well. One of my uncles whom I hardly knew turned up with a brand new Swift to drop us to our colony from Alenuo’s village. For the first time in my life I travelled in a new vehicle, that too with my brand new bride Alenuo. This thought still amuses me.
Alenuo had done well for me and has always done well by me. We celebrated our honeymoon right that night; there were no hesitations or inhibitions as we had known each other well by then. We were comfortable enough to discuss things that a newly married couple might hesitate to raise. Alenuo was always frank and we communicate easily. The next Janaury, we were blessed with Cicilia, after two years John followed suit, than came Thomas. Alenuo’s genes was perhaps stronger, since all of the children take after their mother.. We decided that will be enough, considering our income and work load, but I believe I am the happiest family man. It gives me a sense of joy, a full satisfaction, seeing my children crying, playing, complaining and doing mischief. Alenuo changed my faith too, in the beginning she would drag me to the church, something which my siblings and dad could not do; now I believe there is always optimism when you have faith, and the credit goes to Alenuo. Sometimes I wonder what life would be without her.
Petevilie Chasie is the author of the Novella “Short Stories (The other side of the Moon and the odd couple)”