I saw her in the frozen food section. It had only been 3 months since I moved back to the city and about 12 years since I saw her last.
She looked just the same. Elegant, purposeful hand movements, her hair, bouncing gracefully as she walked.
“Alia”, I instinctively said aloud. Her back to me, I could see her freeze and her shoulders droop for a moment. She turned to confirm that she hadn’t heard a ghost and looked straight at me. Her face showed no emotion. She composed herself, picked up her basket of groceries and walked past me.
“What do you want?”
I don’t want anything, I blurt out, insulted and mildly agitated. I just saw you and thought I’d say hello.
“Cool”, she said and walked away again. Unable to keep myself from engaging in this typical passive hostility of hers, I walked alongside her and said “You owe me a little courtesy, at the very least…”
She stopped finally, turned to me and said “I don’t owe you anything.”
“It’s funny how you’re behaving like it was all my fault”, I said.
“What’s the point of all this? It was 12 years ago. You’ve moved on, I’ve moved on. Why are you even saying all this? Why are you even here?”, she yelled, softly, through gritted teeth. She was always conscious about not making a scene. Her tone would suggest a yell, but her volume carefully masked it.
“Of course. You moved on pretty rapidly though”, I said, “didn’t take you long at all to wrap things up nicely. Convenient little turn of events in just over a month”, the vitriolic sarcasm in my words peeling away at her composure.
Her voice rising, she fumed “I trusted you. I loved you. To death. I gave my heart to you. Day after day, you punished me for loving you. YOU made it hard. YOU. YOU ASSHOLE. How dare you question me about what I did after you?”
“You’re right. There’s no point talking to you. Go home to that fucking loser”, I said angrily, subconsciously hoping for a full blown fight. I was trembling. This crazy cocktail of grief, heartache and anger taking over.
She hit me hard on my arm with that bony hand of hers. It stung just as bad as it did a decade ago. She was shaking now. “Not a fucking word against him. Not a fucking word”, she warned me. “That fucking loser, loves me. He looks after me. And he doesn’t make me cry. He doesn’t make me cry.”
She dug her nails into my forearm with all her strength, I winced. I could tell she wanted to say something but no sound was coming out of her mouth. After she’d twisted her nails in me, she said, “You know what? I’m glad I ran into you today. You’ve made me realize that leaving you wasn’t a mistake. You’re a vile, toxic man. You may claim to love me but this isn’t how you treat someone you love. I’m so glad I cut you out of my life like the cancer that you are.”
Her eyes welled up. And so had mine. There’s nothing I could say to her that could hurt her more in return. And although she was right in saying what she did, I knew she was filled instantly with remorse. I turned and walked away. “What? You’re walking away? Fucking coward. You were always a fucking coward when someone told you the truth about yourself. Come back and fight now, you fucking coward.” She just stood there while I walked away, there’s no way I wanted her to see me crying.
I was still shaking as I sat in the backseat of my car. I had a lump in my throat and large tears hung precariously on my eyelids. My driver could sense that something was up, he kept looking in the rear view mirror. It gets easier to hold in your tears as you get older. Why didn’t I just walk away? Why couldn’t I have been more polite, less angry? Why did I have to launch into her husband? He really did look after her and her needs. I just hated his guts because he won and I lost. Twelve years ago. But life had given me so much in the last few years, why did I lose sight of that?
Years of therapy undone in a few minutes. Sitting on that backseat, I tried to put the animal back in the cage, muffle it’s stupid mouth and focus on the present. I’m not a bad person, I told myself. I have people who love me and cherish my presence in their lives. Why does this volatile connection to her always burn everything in its path? I close my eyes and try to drown out the voices.
“You didn’t get anything?”, she asked as I walk into the house. “There was a huge line and I was really tired.” Sensing something was wrong, she comes to hug me, “What happened baba?”, she puts her arms around me and I put mine around her slender waist. I force a tired smile and ask if the kids have slept. She nods and says “You know what? You need ice cream”.
As she fills two bowls in the kitchen and kicks the refrigerator door shut behind her, she says, “Alia got a star in school today”. I go pale. “What for?”, I ask. “For being the most well behaved girl on her school trip.” I smile.
“She’s such a lovely girl na, our little Alia?”
“Yes”, I say, “she’s the best.”