Lisa glanced up at the starry skies and sighed contentedly. Life is turning out to be so good. She had completed high school, had passed with flying colours and had recently been appointed “Administrative Assistant” for a local travel agency. The sight of the twinkling stars and the huge moon melted her down. “How mysterious life is,” she mused. “It does have its share of folly, as well as its load of misery but being alive is an opportunity. I shall do my best to live my life fully. Someday, when I will grow old, I want to look back and smile, instead of carrying regrets.” Peace settled over her and she closed her window to settle for sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a new day at work and she wanted to be at her best.
Lisa’s days were quite hectic. She had to get up at five o’clock sharp so as to be ready by six fifteen. She would then walk to the bus station and wait for the company bus which would come around at six thirty. The drive to the travel agency, which was found in the north of the island, lasted around one hour, time enough for her to reach before the opening time which was set to eight fifteen.
She would spend the days juggling between her boss and the clients, dealing with their travel issues, attending to their problems and sorting every problem that might crop up. This would last till five in the evening, after which time she would be able to rest a bit while the company bus would leave her and her colleagues home. She usually reached back home at seven thirty in the evening. Fortunately, her parents never expected her to contribute in the load of housework. Instead, they pampered her and made sure she lived a comfortable life.
Lisa was only twenty. She was a beautiful young girl, the shadows of age had not yet touched her and she relished every single moment that life offered to her. She was a tall and slim girl, she had long straight black hair that reached up to her waist and which framed her small rounded face so well. Her eyes were hazel and large and they always lit up whenever she smiled. When she was not working, mostly during the weekend, Lisa would go out shopping with her friends.
One day, as she returned from the beauty salon, her mother called her to her room and closed the door.
“I have to talk to you,” she said.
“What’s wrong, Mum?” asked Lisa as a worried frown creased her pretty face.
“Lisa,” said her mother on a most serious tone. “You are a young and beautiful girl. You are our only child and we love you a lot, your father and I. We support you however much we can and we want you to be happy. But, you see, we shall not be there forever. We are getting older and older and we are worried for you. Lisa, we want you to settle.”
“Oh,” said Lisa as she breathed out a sigh of relief. “I thought I did something wrong. I know about all that Mum but I am single for the time being and I wish to pursue my studies before settling.”
“Lisa,” said her mother. “We have had a proposal from a good family for you. Uncle Ricky came over earlier and talked about it to your father and I. The boy is wealthy. He lives, with his family, in the same town as we do, in the central part, though, near the vegetable market. And, he has a good job, he is an accountant. You shall be well cared for. You would not need to do any more studies and you will not be required to work. You shall take care of your own house and you shall have servants and maids to help you.”
“Well,” gulped Lisa. “I would like to pursue my studies still before settling.”
“Lisa,” said her mother. “You are the apple of your father’s eyes. He wants you to settle. He is so sad to see you toiling so hard every day. He has asked me to tell you that he wants you to accept.”
“Can I give you a final answer tomorrow morning?”
“Yes. That would do.”
Her mother left and Lisa remained in her room, sitting on her bed and staring through the window till very late in the evening. She did not want to marry at such an early age. She was a modern girl, she believed in her rights, she believed in standing on her own feet. She had seen her cousin sisters going through ordeals at their in laws’ place and she had sworn not to let the same things happen to her. But she loved her parents, and she wanted to please them. She did not have the heart to let them down. The good girl side of her took over her hesitation and her negativity. So, she came out of her room at dinner time and helped her mother set the table. Then, when they were all seated, ready for dinner, she said cheerfully,
“I wish to talk to the boy first before taking a decision.”
“Ok,” said her mother. “I will talk to Uncle Ricky and we will arrange for a meeting.”
This was no sooner said than done. Lisa found herself a few days later, all decked up, in one of her best sarees and waiting in her room for when she would be called to the living room to talk to her possible in laws. She could hear her parents talking and she could hear the hustle and bustle of teacups and saucers as snacks and tea were being served. She could hear the jolly laughs and the respected words in laws share with each other. Her heart was beating fast. Doubt and confusion were still there in her heart and she wondered if she was doing the right thing. Her mother had talked about fate and about how no one could escape from it. If she were to study further, her mother had logically pointed out, she would not have received such a good proposal. Studies were surely not in her stars. Rather, she had been chosen to live as comfortably as a queen. Lisa was so engrossed in her thoughts that she did not hear the door open.
“It’s time,” said her mother.
Lisa looked up, all startled. She smiled weakly and stood up. She felt like an old woman. She had no strength in her knees and she could hardly walk elegantly. She hobbled around to get a good gait and straightened her shoulders.
“Don’t be scared,” said her mother. “They are nice. They may be so rich, as compared to us, but they are very humble. I like them already.”
Lisa lived this new experience as if it were a dream. The boy was called Harsh and though he was not all that handsome, he was the gentlest and the most polite of all the men Lisa had met so far. He was dressed in a suit and tie, was tall but chubby and had on his face, something innocent.
“I like him,” said Lisa to herself.
They talked for a short time, time enough to decide if they would settle together. Lisa was relieved. He understood about her wish to study further and had promised to give her all the support she would need for such to be after they would be married.
“I can even help you in choosing your field,” he had said. “It does not matter if you don’t work after you complete your studies. We have everything at home. You won’t lack anything,”
Lisa could not believe her luck. She agreed to the marriage which was fixed in a few months’ time. She quit her job and concentrated on getting everything ready for her big day.
“Mum,” she said. “You were right about that. I’m happy I chose to listen to you and Dad.”
“Promise me you will always make us proud of you,” said her mother.
“You can be sure of that,” said Lisa. “I will never let you down.”
Finally, the great day came and the wedding ceremony was so fast that Lisa hardly knew what she was doing. All she could think of was how it would feel like when she would be alone with Harsh. He loved her, she was sure of that. And she wanted to show him the feelings she had for him so badly. The rites and the rituals mattered not. She was just going through them as they were expected of anyone wishing to be married. And Harsh looked so handsome, dressed in the traditional bridegroom wedding clothes.
When the ceremonies were over, Lisa got ready to follow Harsh to the car. She hugged her mother tight and fell on the feet of her father. She would see them again, she would not be so far away. But still, tears filled up her eyes. She was leaving her maternal home, the place where she had grown up. The place where she felt at peace. The place where she had dreamt of conquering the world. When the goodbyes were said, she settled next to Harsh in the car. Soon they reached her in laws’ house.
“Go inside,” Harsh told her. “I will join you soon.”
“But,” protested Lisa. “We have to go in together, there are rites and rituals to be completed.”
“Do as I have said,” said Harsh with authority.
Lisa felt hurt. She could only stare at Harsh, open mouthed. What had happened to this gentleman? She could not move, she remained seated in the car until her mother in law came over and opened the door for her.
“Come,” she said.
“Where is Harsh going?” asked Lisa as the car driver backed the car out of the driveway and drove away.
“Come,” repeated the latter. “You will do the rites yourself.”
Lisa obeyed and did as she was expected to. Then, she was sent to her room where she undressed, took a bath and changed into lighter clothes. There was a heavy atmosphere in that house. Everyone was tense. There seemed to be no marriage celebrations here. Something was horribly wrong. Her mother in law called her over for dinner and said,
“My son has married you. I am expecting you to give me a heir. A healthy boy will be ok, two boys will be better. Of course, you will be expected to help us all in housekeeping and in the kitchen.”
“Where is Harsh? He had told me that it would be ok if I study for a three year degree first, before thinking of having babies.”
“My son does not live here. He lives in an apartment in Hilly Woods. He lives with his girlfriend, a foreign girl. I was against their marriage. I liked you, so he accepted to marry you. We have agreed, my son and I, that he would come now and then and help you give me the heirs I desire. We have so much of property, we shall have to give it to someone from the same bloodline. My son will help in raising the kids, financially I mean. As for studies, we had never agreed to such a term. Now, have your dinner.”
Lisa looked at her mother in law and felt her peaceful ethos crashing down. She remembered her promise to her mother, she remembered the respect she held for her father, she could not let them down. She remembered her convictions, her dreams, her beliefs, her choices. She remembered the night she had breathed in deeply before going to sleep. Life was no longer peaceful and serene. She was no longer content. She felt like there was a hurricane in her, she felt like it would break loose at any time. She walked calmly to the table, pulled a chair and sat down. Life would be thus now. It must have been written in her fate that she would smile to the world and pretend to be happy while inside her, hidden aches would slowly but steadily build their nests.