April 07, 2008

Titis Basino


by Titis Basino

Just like that I let him leave. I listened to the steadily fading sound of his car as he drove away. The motor grew fainter and fainter until it was finally drowned out by the children’s voices. At moments like that I felt that he accepted the freedom I had given him with too obvious relief.

For a while now he could live without demands from his fussy children and his immature wife. I knew his routine so well. As he came to the bend in the road past our house he would look back at the ten children lined up in front of the door. He would wave at them, but no one would wave back. They well knew that their father was not going to his office, but rather to another home, one where someone else would welcome him with that special warmth a wife reserves for greeting her husband.
The car disappeared into the distance and still the children continued to stare up the road. They seemed mesmerized, waiting there on the chance that he might turn back. I wished there were some way to make them forget these scenes more quickly.
Johan, my eldest son, was the first to break away from the group. He bore a strong physical resemblance to his father, but I was certain that he would never behave like him. He was terribly embarrassed whenever we had guests and they asked him where his dad was. He always got flustered and stammered as he tried to think up some excuse. It’s not easy for a child to speak frankly about a painful subject. It was more than he could bear to just come right out and say that his father was with his other wife.

Once or twice he actually lied, but gradually the secret became a farce. Indeed, among those friends who visited us most often our situation had become a main topic of conversation—especially for those who had, or thought they had, the most faithful husbands.

The other children remained by the door, their sober vigil finally broken when one of them pinched another and they scattered in all directions.

Each time he left I felt a terrible loneliness. It was almost as though I had a wound that left no scar. I tried not let my health deteriorate, however. There was no question about what would become of the children if I were to die. They would be taken to their father’s other wife. It was for this reason that I was careful to disguise my emotions and maintain the harmony in our home—a home without my husband. Whether or not the children understood this sacrifice I’ll never know; they were too young to express such thoughts. I simply went about life swallowing my pride with my rice.

I did not want my children to think that their mother was too weak to cope. I was determined to appear capable and intelligent in my own right. It was fairly easy for a woman who had yearned to be considered an ideal wife to maintain this charade. I had always been dependent on my husband and because of this I had worked very hard to keep him happy, albeit in vain.

The evening of my husband’s second marriage I tried to reason with him. His voice sounded so strange that I could hardly recognize it. It was as though he were a child again.

"So you married her?"

"Yes, why not?"

"Couldn’t you have stopped short of marriage? You already have one wife. I can deal with all your needs, can’t I?"

"Are you sure of that?"

"Aren’t I enough to make you happy? I’ve already given you children, an organized household, home-cooked meals, immaculate clothes, a warm and ready welcome for you and all your friends. All you’ve ever wanted I’ve given you before you’ve had to ask twice. Think about it." I droned on in my maternal tone while he remained silent, giving no response at all. "Aren’t you embarrassed in front of the children?"

"Of course, you’re right, but do I have to thank you for all these things? I don’t expect you to understand because you can’t look beyond the tremendous effort you’ve put into this marriage, which nevertheless has failed. I’m not satisfied with this life any longer. I’m tired of waiting for you to take an interest in something, like a club or anything outside of this family. Surely you must be aware that I’ve been encouraging you to do this for some time. I used to ask you to join me in some activity away from home, but you always laughed at my attempts. You seem to forget that when I fell in love with you, you were an involved and interesting woman."
"Is that the only reason you’ve taken another wife?"

"No, there are other reasons, but I don’t feel that I must itemize them for you. They would be much too painful for you to hear."

"Tell me. I want to hear them." I pushed him on this point even though he was already married and any argument was futile. I wasn’t sure why I was pursuing this questioning; it may have been just to annoy him.

"Enough, you must get the picture by now. I give you my promise that I’ll never forget our children, but I will go to her—although less frequently than I come here."
"Why does it have to be like that?" I pulled myself together and shut out my despair. Why infrequently? Why at all? It isn’t fair.

"Do you accept the fact that I go to her?"

"Why not, if it gives you pleasure?" I stared intently at his bowed head. "Do as you please, and I will remain an ideal wife."

"You are indeed the proverbial good woman."

After that night the word "her" took on a unique meaning in our conversations.
I continued to carry out all of his suggestions, whether for his benefit or mine. At the time he married her we had five children; over the years I gave birth to five more sons.

On the nights when my husband was with me and talked about "her," I listened to him with an odd mixture of patience and dejection. Deep down I begged that he would become tired of "her," but he never did. I began to be bored with his stories, and I frowned and became sullen each time he started talking about "her." Finally I learned to tune out his chatter and heard almost none of it. There are some things that simply try a person’s patience too far.

I had a lot of time after my husband took his second wife, so I joined a woman’s club in our city. I was soon appointed to the office of vice-chairperson. It wasn’t that I was all that active, but rather that I was the wife of a high official. My husband occupied an important position, and as his wife I received this sort of recognition. I bustled about here and there as a representative of our organization. I felt like a new woman. The longing I usually felt when my husband was with "her" became almost nonexistent. It was easier and easier to welcome him with a smile because I no longer felt so desperately lonely when he was away. At first he was surprised when I greeted him with such enthusiasm. Perhaps he wondered about the contrast to my earlier self-righteousness. But hadn’t it been my prerogative to be upset with him each time he left me to go to his younger wife?

Once he questioned my embracing him when he came in, and I answered that I was no less passionate than she was. I even displayed an open-mindedness by saying, "Ah, but isn’t it your right to have two, three, even four wives, if you take care of them?"

He became quiet. It appeared that my intimacy had unnerved him. I looked upon it as something normal, as a test. A husband has the right to practice polygamy, and this was a test of my tolerance for it. I devoutly believed that as a woman I was destined to accept and to protect. Had I not believed that, and also considered the fate of my children, I would merely have asked for a divorce and left him.
Sometimes as he lay asleep beside me I felt revolted looking at his bare chest with its sparse sprinkling of hair. It was loathsome to me to think that not only had I embraced him, but also in another bed another woman had caressed this same broad chest. However, moments like that quickly passed. They vanished when I heard the children stirring and heading for their morning baths. I always got up and met them at the kitchen door.

One morning one of the children announced that his shoes were worn out and that he needed a new pair. Another one asked for a school uniform. I smiled, promising to buy them next month if they were good children and studied hard. In my heart I added: Don’t you realize that your father has additional responsibilities now? He has new small mouths to feed and others for whom he must buy clothes and shoes. I kept these thoughts inside and tried to present a cheerful front. I didn’t want to burden the children with my problems. I just felt that they were too young to understand the situation so I just went my way trying to keep things running smoothly.

Then something happened that took the wind out of my sails. I don’t know if there was some invisible bond between "her" and me, but what happened was strictly by chance and not the design of either of us.

Our club was to have a convention, and as usual I was to represent our local organization. The site chosen for this convention was "her" city. She was active in the organization there and I was certain that she would attend. I was prepared for a face-to-face encounter with her. I realized that my friends who knew what to expect were watching me closely. I heard them praise the resolution with which I accepted what could only be an uncomfortable situation, but don’t think there weren’t those who derided and ridiculed me. Some said that I had no shame and little self-esteem to go into her territory like that. But their cruel gossip only went in one ear and out the other.

I came into the convention hall rather late, so I knew neither where she might be nor what her function was there. But I suspected she must be the leader. I was always the chairperson in these meetings whether in my city or in any other, and I saw no reason for it to be different this time.

When the meeting was called to order and Mrs. Hamid was elected chairperson, I assumed it was I being named. It had completely slipped my mind that she, too, was Mrs. Hamid. It was like a scene in a stage comedy, a scene where the audience failed to laugh. They fell silent as both of us began to walk toward the rostrum. Realizing the confusion, we looked at each other with mutually understanding smiles and went back to our seats.

That hall was a beehive of activity. The committee was blamed for not having organized things carefully enough. However, I sat quietly in my place in the front row. After a moment, when the hall was quiet, I heard the staccato clicking of high-heeled shoes approaching me.

"Please Madame, come to the rostrum." I heard a gentle voice and looked up into a lovely young face.

"Do you mean me?" I asked.

"Yes," was all she answered.

Somewhat reluctantly I made my way to the speaker’s platform to the accompaniment of applause. "Why do they applaud me?" I wondered. Possibly this rather impressive reception was a joke or possibly it was praise for her graciousness in handing over the chairpersonship of the meeting to me.

Nevertheless, the applause had a special meaning for me. It was like a rousing chorus in recognition of all the agony and sacrifice I had suffered in the name of respectability. It seemed to say that my rejection deserved to be acknowledged and now I was being vindicated by the very one who had been the cause of my misery. I appreciated her where I had once feared her. Had I met her earlier I would have been impressed with her cunning at capturing a husband; now I was impressed with the graceful manner in which she protected her rival’s feelings.

Everything had turned out for the best. I was now much more content when he went to her, because I was convinced that she was no less dedicated to making him happy than I was. She also had a right to a husband, even though fate had decreed that he also be mine.

cited from http://www.aasianst.org/EAA/her.htm