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She was trained for marriage from the time she could remember. To cook. To make idlis soft and fluffy. How to make sambhar, just a bit on the tangy side. To roll the dough just perfect so that it doesn't stick. The perfect way to fold clothes. To iron them. And so, when they found the perfect groom, soft spoken and handsome, well educated and settled abroad, she was confident.
How hard can it be to do all those little things she was trained for, without supervision? A week after marriage, she flew with him to start her new life in an unknown country. In a strange place, filled with strange people. She got stares walking around in a saree and the bright red vermilion parting in her hair. And the one time she attempted to blend in with the crowd in a blue jeans and tank top, she felt strangely naked without the red tainting her forehead.
Her husband never said anything. It was like she had ceased to exist for him. He was immersed in his research and that was all she knew. How on earth would she make friends without even learning to speak English fluently. She felt lost in a sea of people. Even when she went out for long walks in the nearby park or simply stood browsing through the local Indian provision store.
Till the day she noticed the young guy in black. He was young, maybe in his early twenties. Probably just a couple of years younger than her or maybe her same age. But she felt old in her saree. And she looked old as well.
At first, she pretended to ignore him. What she noticed first about him was the way he stared at her. With such intensity. What did he want? For the first time in a long time, she felt nervous. The next time she saw him was in the park. He sat by the bench, nursing a cup of coffee. Was he waiting for her?
She continued seeing him, daily on her walks in the park, in the public library that she frequented often. But they never spoke. Merely walked past each other as strangers. As they rightly were.
Till one day, he took the plunge and asked her out for coffee. Her shock must have shown on her face because he smiled as though he knew what her reaction would be.
Don't worry, it's just a cup of coffee, he assured her. But still she was scared and nervous. What was she getting into? With a stranger. With someone who could be much younger than her.
She needn't have worried. She felt at home with him. She could talk to him and he listened. And for now, that was all that mattered to her. Talking to him was like her addiction to coffee. She could not stop.
They started meeting regularly now. It was always in those tiny coffee shops where they would pour their hearts out and seek each other out. Turns out, he was not that young after all. Just twenty four. A year younger than her.
One day, she decided to take the plunge and ask him what it was that he noticed about her first. The reason behind the stalking, if it could be called that.
He smiled. The smile that made the eyes of his brown eyes crinkle. The smile that melted her heart each time she saw it. The smile that lit up his whole face when he saw her.
It was the red in your hair. So beautiful. The fact that you wore your marriage with such pride. The way you held on to your marriage with so much optimistic hope. Despite the sadness in your eyes. Something in me awakened. Something that I had not known existed inside me. With this he took her hand in his.
His words fell on her like a cold shower on a warm day. Married. She was married. No matter how much she felt attracted to him, she couldn't do this. She could never cross the line and take the next step.
She withdrew her hand from his. Kissed him on the forehead and walked away. This would be the last time. She knew it. He knew it as well. His eyes pleaded with her one last time. She pretended not to see it.
The next day, she went to the hairdresser's and got her long black locks chopped. It now lay in a chic layer framing her delicate face. Traded her saree for jeans and a thick sweater. And the vermilion? It was washed off.
She did continue her walks. But never saw him again. And her husband? The only acknowledgement he gave her change was a mere nod of his head that evening. And her? She never took to wearing marriage on her forehead ever again.