I first saw K through her bedroom door. A servant (seriously) was carrying my suitcase up an enormous flight of spiral steps when my eye glanced for a second and caught her writing with a pen and paper. A very odd activity, I thought, even if this was Pakistan. I couldn’t see her face properly, but she had a look of total contentment.
The image registered in my head for only a second and was then discarded. It didn’t seem important. I was much more fascinated by a young man carrying my suitcase and an elegant art on the walls of what would be my new, albeit, temporary home.
Later that same day, I met K, face to face. We swapped all the necessary small talk……
K – Hi. How are you?
Me – Fine, thank you, and you?
K – Thank you so much for visiting.
Me – Oh, no. Thank you so much for having me…
(bla bla bla)
I have these kinds of ….. pleasantries, a lot recently. I kinda feel a bit like I’m on autopilot. This encounter was no different. K had a lovely smile and opened her arms and gave me a big hug. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love a good hug. My hugs have broken noses, caused police to whistle, damaged property, stopped traffic and almost killed someone…. I do love a good hug. She was wearing yellow. A little bit too much yellow, if I’m honest… In the hazy Pakistani heat, you could possibly mistake her for a life-sized lemon, from a distance.
K – Are you married?
Me – I’m not.
I used to say “No. It’s illegal in my country because I’m gay.”
But that excuse just doesn’t work anymore. Thank you very much, liberal Ireland.
K looked a little disappointed, but she didn’t wear that typical expression of pity. You know the expression I’m talking about. That look that says “wow this temporarily a bit awkward but frankly I don’t give a crap.” No, her look was a bit different. Like something wasn’t right with the world. I didn’t dwell on her facial expression for long. I moved on, mentally speaking. I starting thinking of something else…… probably about Delhi Belly and when all the spicy food was going to shut my stomach down and I would mercilessly shit all over myself. That thought, has been following me around a lot recently.
Over the next couple of days, I learned that K was not married and never had been, which is very odd for a woman of her standing. She had a lot of money and I don’t mean a lot like, she could buy everyone a round of beers. I mean, like a lot. She could forget the drinks and buy the whole brewery. And in her slight old age, she had become, what I could have easily imagined, a bit negative, bitter and quite sarcastic (basically…. me, now!)
K was the aunt of my friend whom I was staying with. She didn’t arouse my curiosity until I realized how negative she was.
Friend – She is a really negative person. But she is also very funny.
Me – Negative people are always funny. You can either laugh at them or with them. But there’s definitely something to laugh about. Why did she never…..? Isn’t it a bit odd, I mean, given her age and the culture?
Friend – Yeah it is. Very odd.
Me – Sorry, I shouldn’t probably have asked. I didn’t mean to be pry.
Yes, I did. Yes, I totally did. Good family gossip for free. Woohoo.
Friend – She was engaged. But my grandparents never approved of him. In the end, he had enough.
Me – He killed himself….
Friend – No, Shane!!! He just remarried. It’s sad, though. She never loved anyone else.
Me – Oh, God. That is sad. I bet it must be very hard for her to love your grandparents.
Friend – No. Not really. She never talks bad about them, but I think they were very selfish with her. Once the wedding plans fell through, they simply used her as a nurse and decided that instead of marrying, she would look after them.
Me – That’s so selfish.
Friend – You know she doesn’t mention it, but I think it broke her heart that he didn’t put up more of a fight.
Me – Who? The husband or the husband to be, I should say.
Friend – Yes. You see on the outside, it might look like my grandparents were the villain, and in some ways they were but everyone here is used to the demands and difficulties of trying to get your lover approved. You have to put up a very big fight.
Me – And he didn’t put up a fight…?
Friend – Oh, he did. But it just wasn’t enough to convince my grandparents. And I guess, since it didn’t convince them, K has always felt like he could’ve done more.
Me – Oh, God.
Friend – He let her go. And she thought he was the person who valued her more than anything. I think it made her question her worth as a person.
K had told me that she frequently argues with her sister (my friend’s mother) over her relationship with her servants. Culture would dictate that you keep a respectable distance and although you see them everyday, there is an element of formality (I like to think of it as Downton Abbey meets Bollywood). K, often spoke about her servants as if they were her family, and in many ways they were her family.
Me – But now that your grandparents are gone, can’t she start again?
Friend – Doing what?
Me – Oh, God, I don’t know. Anything. Other than writing letters and looking out the window.
Friend – It’s too late for that now. She’s stuck in her ways. They are probably not the ways she wanted, but they are her ways now.
Me – She has so much money. She could travel, she could start a company, she could find loads of …
Friend – She’s not you.
Me – Right. Point taken….. So she’s just……. given up.
Friend – I think so. It’s very sad. That is why when she is a bit moody and negative, we kind of just let her get away with it.
Me – Because she has given up……
Friend – Wouldn’t you?
I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. I gobbled up my spicy chickpea breakfast, layered on the sunscreen while security loaded the gun and driver started the car. Woohoo, another day of sightseeing.