Praveena replayed her conversation with aunt Kameela before realising the one thing that bothered her more than any other: Aunt Kameela had said college was to prepare her for marriage. Had the other students known this earlier?
So had they spent three years in college just to gain the mental maturity that they would need to raise a family in future? It distressed her. Now it explained the goofing-around that most students had done all the time.
“But that’s how things are,” she could imagine aunt Kameela’s argument. Now that she thought of it, she remembered her female lecturers mentioning something like that. They had said college was the most important part of their lives because that’s when they could enjoy their lives as they wished. ‘But,’ her inner voice interrupted, ‘remember what James said? He said, “Enjoy life, guys. After three years here, you deserve it!” See? Joy isn’t limited to college — or anything else.’
Praveena took a deep breath. ‘Alright,’ she thought. She needed a break from this confusion. She decided to put the matter to rest. Meanwhile, she knew what she needed: a talk with Ms Marrie.
Praveena dialed Ms Marrie’s number. After years of not being able to reach her, this time, Praveena heard Ms Marrie’s voice on the other side.
“Hello?” Ms Marrie said in exasperation. ‘She must have had a tough day at school,’ Praveena thought before answering.
“Hi, Ms Marrie. It’s Praveena.” She realized Ms Marrie wouldn’t have recognised her new number. When she replied after a little hesitation, Ms Marrie was surprised. “Praveena!” she exclaimed, sounding quite unhappy. “What’s up?” Praveena detected no enthusiasm.
She was taken aback. She had thought Ms Marrie would be happy she had called. What had she done to offend Ms Marrie? She wanted to find out.
“Er — Miss, can I meet you?”
There was a pause. Praveena realized Ms Marrie was debating with herself, ‘why though?’, she wondered.
At last, she responded. “Alright,” Ms Marrie said heaving a sigh. “Lunch today?”
Smiling wide, “Sure, Miss” Praveena responded, the excitement showing in her voice.
“Okay then. How about Green Leaf restaurant, at one?”
Praveena agreed and Ms Marrie disconnected the call.
She arrived at the Green Leaf restaurant at 12.45. It was a bright Thursday afternoon and the hotel had the blinds drawn to create a dull and quiet ambiance. Praveena liked the surrounding. It was appetising and welcoming. She sipped on her second glass of orange juice when Ms Marrie walked over and took a seat facing her.
There was such a difference in Ms Marrie. As a student, Praveena had admired Ms Marries quick and noiseless strides. It was still noiseless, but Ms Marrie walked much slower now. Her long dark hair was now short and Praveena saw streaks of grey. Her eyes too were sunken, and appeared sad. She had combed her hair carelessly and wore a modest floral white sari that complimented her dark complexion. ‘She’s pretty,’ Praveena thought, ‘except her eyes,’ her inner voice added.
Ms Marrie broke into her thoughts, “Hello, Praveena.” It was a plain and blunt greeting. There was no emotion or a welcoming tone in her greeting, and that bothered Praveena.
“Hello, Miss. How are you?” Praveena didn’t let her thoughts hinder her compassion for Ms Marrie.
“I’m good, and you?” Praveena grew irritated. Ms Marrie smiled, but Praveena only saw formality in the smile; the concern she was used to had gone. ‘Something is wrong,’ she realized. ‘This is so unlike Ms Marrie,’ her inner voice helped.
“Is something wrong, Miss? You sound so stiff and uncomfortable,” she leant forward, her voice soft. “Much like the way I was after my mother died.” she observed as an after thought.
Ms Marrie said nothing. But Praveena watched, distressed, as Ms Marrie’s eyes swelled with tears. She blinked them away.
Praveena raised her eyes at Marrie, “What happened Miss?”
Ms Marrie shook her head in reply and smiled, a warmer smile than before, “I’m glad you thought of talking to me.”
Praveena could see Ms Marrie was hiding something, but she decided not to bring it up. Instead, she said, “I tried calling you many times over the past three years, but I couldn’t reach you.”
“Oh,” Ms Marrie exclaimed, apologetic, “my phone’s been giving me a lot of trouble lately.” She smiled again. “So, what do you want to talk about?”
“Oh, nothing important,” Praveena lied just as easily as Ms Marrie. “So,” she asked “shall we order?”
They ordered their meals and while they waited, “How’s your husband, Miss?” Praveena asked instinctively.
Ms Marrie gave her a long hard look before saying flatly, “he’s dead.”
Praveena shock showed all over her face; her eyes widened and her mouth opened in a fit of silent disbelief. How could such a thing happen to her beloved Ms Marrie? “When?” she could hardly get the words out of her dry mouth. Her voice came out as a whisper. Though she had never met Ms Marrie’s husband, she was knew it was a love marriage.
“It’s been three years,” Ms Marrie smiled through the tears peeking through her eye lids. “He met with an accident — the day before the marriage.” Praveena hadn’t asked for the details, but Ms Marrie told her anyway. Praveena knew it would have been difficult for Marrie to speak of the matter. She swallowed the pity she felt for Ms Marrie. She knew her teacher hated it when others pitied her, and Praveena didn’t want to hurt her further. She remained silent.
Their lunch arrived, but Praveena didn’t feel like eating anymore. Ms Marrie however, started eating and gestured Praveena to do the same. As Praveena tried to munch on her meal, ignoring the lump in her throat, Ms Marrie spoke.
“You know,” Praveena looked up at her, “I was cut off from people after Kevin – he was my fiancé – died. I shut my emotions and became cold towards others. I wanted somebody to blame, and I couldn’t tolerate it when I couldn’t do that. That’s why I didn’t attend your calls.” She smiled at Praveena’s look of disappointment. “But, when you reminded me I was being like you used to be, I realize that it’s time for me to leave the past behind.” She smiled broadly now. The tears were gone.
“Thanks a lot, Praveena.”