<%-- Page Title--%> Fiction <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 107 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 30, 2003

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The Tamarind Tree II

Razia Khan

That night Munir did not refuse the chicken-curry which his mother usually ate with obvious relish. But he could sense Roxana's doubts about the return to their previous life. Roxana had felt a similar fear of Munir leaving without her. Lily's glum face was at last, more relaxed as she served dinner.
“The cherry-blossoms are out. So are the magnolias,” Feroze reported on the telephone. Roxana uttered one word, “Temptation!”
But in her innermost being she felt reluctant to return to a broken home where Anne and her children must have left indelible traces. To Munir these were minor concerns. He longed to be hugged by his father, to go fishing with him. He also wanted the man-to-man talk about pubic hair, female menstruation; knowledge that Feroze had chosen to deliver in small, consecutive doses afraid of upsetting the boy. Munir wanted to know more about the reproductive process. He could only exchange guarded whispers with his classmates. Munir did not like Lily's lonely repast. He wished she could have joined them at the table. His mother suggested, “Ask her!” In answer Lily laughed and said, “I eat a lot of rice. If I sit with you I might go hungry.”
“That's good reasoning,” Munir declared glumly. Roxana's heart ached when she thought of having to leave the harmony and independence that she enjoyed here. No, she could not go back permanently. Moreover Lily needed a steady job. Roxana could not leave her in the lurch.
Munir eagerly wore the clothes sent by his father. Roxana was surprised to find perfumes for herself. She e-mailed Feroze to thank him and to remind him that he was heavily in debt and should not make such frequent telephone-calls. The house at Chestnut Hill had put him in debt already and Anne's lavish living now left him totally broke. She was not a good housewife -- eating most of her meals in restaurants -- paying a huge salary to the cleaning maid and going on expensive holidays. She had Americanized the house totally. Roxana, visualizing the kitchen overcrowded with every possible contraption, cans and juices, winced with distaste. Now would she care for the dull fabric Anne might have chosen for curtains and upholstery. Roxana liked burgundy-coloured velvet, set off by cream satin cushions and curtains. She was delighted by the variety of the local stuff being manufactured in Dhaka. Her entire apartment had the look of a garden. Steel-coloured local damask for windows, floral tapestry-fabric for her cane-furniture, greenery in unusual containers had helped her to achieve a distinctive look while staying within her narrow budget. The thought of having to hoover those musty carpets during the damp months of winter; having to throw loads of salt over the driveway to move the snow which made it impossible to start the car -- gave her the jitters. Then there were the regular invasion of rodents and cockroaches. Here if anything went wrong the university plumber and electrician were available. Here she had time for tennis, for a hair-cut, for evening elegance. There she wore baggy trousers and T-shirts all day -- not bothering about her looks and hair.
“A penny for your thoughts,” pleaded Munir, perturbed by his mother's self-absorption. The frown had reappeared on her temples.
“That's a very English expression. Where did you pick it up?”
“From you! What were you thinking?”
“About the rats and cockroaches back in Boston!”
“You have them here too.”
“Somehow they seem more squalid over there.”
Munir pulled a long face fearing impediments destroying his dream of a united life. Roxana cheered him up, “We'll go there in summer. During the vacation.”
“What about school?”
“You decide where you want to study. I'll not be in your way. This is a promise!”
Later, burrowing into the innermost corners of her soul Roxana realised with a shock that it is neither Anne's American taste in home decoration, nor the weather and vermin which disinclined her to return to her previous life -- but it was her disenchantment with Feroze which was the real cause. That he could inflict on her such a lethal blow had made a part of her grow cold towards him. She herself could never do this to anyone. She told herself that she was not in love with Feroze anymore. But Munir's happiness mattered more than that and she would be prepared to act the happy spouse for a while. Next day when Feroze phoned again, she took hold of herself and became as friendly as she could.
He said, “I miss you.”
“We too miss you,” was the reply.
“I can't wait to be with you.”
“It'll soon be summer vacation. Munir, dad's on the phone --”
“I am wearing the clothes you sent Abba -- they are a perfect fit. Thanks. School here is good, but I miss baseball. Say that again -- what? Mom, he wants to speak to you.”
Roxana took the phone, her heart beating violently.
“With this war going on, I cannot linger here. Sooner or later we'll all have to leave this place. I have sold the house and given Anne her alimony -- that should be enough for the girls. What little is left is enough to see 'us' through for the next few years. Say something.”
“What is there to say. I'll fix your room. But --”
“Yes -- speak up! Don't hold back what is in your mind.”
“How can this divorce be revoked?”
“Not many people know about it. I had to take it to avoid charges of bigamy.”
“Things sound complicated. Munir will be heart-broken when he hears about the house.”
“You need not tell him yet. I have taken a year's sabbatical leave, if the trouble subsides I can resume my job. When can I come?”
“It's upto you.”
“You don't want me to come?”
“We have to think of Munir.”
“Give me a fortnight to wind up things. During your vacation we can go to Darjeeling or some other cool place.”
“As it is it won't be easy to get visa.”
“But you are both American citizens!”
“I for one want to give up that citizenship.”
Munir, his eager face laced with traces of vague anxiety looked hard at his mother who kissed his head and said, “Not to worry. He is coming?”
“He is?”
Munir repeated the dancing motion he had resorted to around the tamarind tree -- along the long verandah displacing the wet clothing hanging on a line -- breaking a flower-tub, scattering the wheat grains Lily had left to dry before she took them to the grinding machine. Roxana shook her head in mild disapproval but said nothing. She had her own problem. Any intimacy with Feroze seemed somehow obnoxious to her. She had got used to being an abstemious anchorite like Lily in her subconscious self there was a phobia.

To be continued…


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