I have been staring out the window watching the banyan trees and concrete buildings blur together. This reverie has fuzzied my thoughts that I don’t notice we have stopped until I hear Massi say to the driver, “Please bring some sweets from the shop.” She hands him a 50 rupee note and he smiles before departing. His smile is genuine and I feel he won’t mistreat my widowed aunt. India is a tough place for single women – spinsters or widows.
As silence settles around us Massi says quietly, “It must be so hard to live alone, yes?” My aunt is very proper and would never speak of personal matters in front of the help. We both know, in India, even the trees know my secrets.
I have always thought Massi to be wise; but she has a dozen nieces so I never really realized that she would recognize pain in me. I like to think I am a pretty good con-artist, disguising my disappointments, losses and pain in a thick coat of humor and happy-go-lucky. It is not often, like now, that someone can steal my words and render me a mute. “It is hard to live alone – for this I know all too well,” she whispers. “It is not easy to do what you did. To take a chance."
We’re not looking at each other. Thank God. I have been on the verge of tears for twelve days. The pressure to appear secure and upbeat for my maternal family is exhausting. We’re so involved in one another’s lives it is borderline emotional incest.
Massi speaks again, “I have money, house, and food. But I am alone…” In the almost 20 years he has been gone, no one on Mom’s side of the family refers to my uncle anymore. We have never recovered from his loss. “I can only imagine how hard it must be for you to live in that Big City. No car, no family, no help. No one to talk at night. No one to eat dinner with. You must be feeling great depression, I know. But you must have faith in God. My beta, you must have faith in God. For God is great."
Oh. My. God. I have to speak. Now. Words must form in my brain and fall out of my mouth. Brain, I command you to think! Mouth, make words! Brain. Mouth. DO. SOMETHING. ANYTHING. Acknowledge Massi. Speak. But I cannot.
“I used to say to God, please, give me one more thing. I have so much. I know. I should not ask. I am not greedy. But please bless my son with a child. And he did. Two children. Now I keep asking for only one more thing, God. Please one more thing…” There is no reason for Massi to tell me her wish. I know it is for my matrimonial settlement. It is why I have traveled 10,000 miles and spent $2,000 in the middle of a recession.
I expect unconditional love from my parents. My mother no longer flinches when I drop the f-bomb in traffic. No one will ever truly “get me” the way my brother does. He can hear one word and know whether to push me away or pull me back. If I need a liver or a kidney, he’s my best DNA bet.
But to hear my aunt praying to her God for my settlement breaks my heart all over again. It must be hard for Massi to love me when I am not of her body, but of her soul. She must feel so powerless against God when she so desperately wants me to find my mate. I can’t bear her worrying for me. I want to be strong like Durga. Maybe I should just marry the next man I meet and put Massi and my parents out of their misery. Sita did it. Why can’t I?