January 1, 2022 9:00:04 am
The sea can be a cruel mistress and a mother’s love can blindside. In her short story, writer and journalist Krupa Ge invites readers into a world of maternal affection and a match made in the wrong kind of heaven
1. Mary woke up with the broadest of smiles this morning.
2. If you know Mary, you’ll know why Laranse is suspicious of her smile.
Mary had spent all of her childhood dreaming of getting the hell out of the little big fishing village, one that housed the island’s most ancient inhabitants. Its proud men and women, wore it like a badge of honour, their ownership of both land and sea. No other people could claim what they could, they could bend the laws of a most powerful nation that had in its possession no less than nuclear weapons. Them, they had done it. No coastal laws meant for others applied to them; they had established first claim over the seas, and her sands, and the proud nation had tucked its tail between its legs and allowed them to claim it, even if sometimes it looked the other way when the not-so-friendly neighbouring nation’s navy shot their men down for trespassing in disputed waters.
Mary though wanted to live as far away from water as possible; wanted to wash that wet trail off her skin, her hair, her very being. She was sure of one thing, she would not marry a man who sailed. She would marry a man with a regular job. Any job that did not involve waking up before the sun and crashing into the waves. That did not involve some day never returning from the ocean, wolfed down by the vast empty blue, as had happened to her father; the neighbour’s naval vessel had rammed into his tiny mechanised boat and drowned him in pieces.
Laranse was the sort of man that wanted to be buried at sea. Not only was he proud of his craft, he was also mind, body and soul, in love, love, love with the ocean. She was the only woman he bowed to, he said, he’d heard the cheesy dialogue in a dubbed movie. About death, like his father, he did not give a damn, but when he did it was only to say: When I die, I want to be cremated, not buried. I want my ashes in the sea. So I can become one with the ocean. So I can become the ocean. His day began not when he opened his eyes in the morning, but when he pushed his boat, wind whipping his near-naked body, his feet grainy with salt and sand. And it ended with a meal of the ocean in his mouth. Theirs was a match made in the wrong sort of heavens. When his mother came home to ask for Mary’s hand, she’d said that her son would give up sailing altogether. She’d also said he had a big job in the Electricity Board coming.
You can move out, farther inland, where my brother-in-law has a house, she lied.
You lying, bull-headed old thing, Mary launched into curses, looking northwards to heaven, each morning, hugging herself, kneeling on the floor. That poor woman had had no choice but to lie for her son.
Laranse had come home one night having spotted this angel of a girl with a green nose pin, on the shore. She was plump with grace, draped in a yellow half sari, her hair in a single long plait, a few stray strands framing her face. From a distance, standing on his boat he’d seen her. Like that Kanyakumari whose nose stud guided the lost to the shore, Mary had brought Laranse home. He told his mother he would give her no heirs if they weren’t to come from Mary’s womb. After arranging the marriage as if on cue, his mother had passed on, to join her husband and according to Mary watch the fun from a distance as the fireworks went on in that little home.
Laranse bore the brunt of Mary’s disappointment the very day after his wedding. As she ran out, ignoring but also smugly smiling at the innuendos the rowdy virginal neighbourhood girls — who’d stayed up all night listening to the sounds of their conjugal bliss — were making, he came out behind her, smoking a cigarette, looking dapper, his tight t-shirt hugging his muscular torso and the shorts, a tad shorter than she liked, snug around his spectacular thighs. She’d assumed her new husband had come to see her and walked towards him only to stop midway as he lunged forward into the sea, pushing his boat in.
That’s when she noticed the other men with Laranse. They’d all filed out together. Laranse looked happy, singing, talking to the ocean, as if she were the mistress whose arms he couldn’t wait to return to; that precious mistress, Mary wanted to scream, was sure to kill him one day, like she had done to other women’s men. Cyclones could batter them to death as governments stood there wringing their hands, unable to even bring home bodies lost to the gulf; that wretched black wall of tsunami could come even when all seemed calm; let’s say they learned, as they had for thousands of years, to work around rains, winds and faraway earthquakes too, how would they ever predict the ways of bullets? The sea only made her anxious and over the years, every happy memory had been replaced by thoughts of death, morbid, cruel death that came riding the waves, furious like a truck with no brakes.
Her new husband unaware of his mother’s promises had gone in to work for the day and when he returned with his catch, Mary refused to go out and sell. You lied to me. I’ll have my revenge when I die. You wait and see, she said looking north, on her knees, hugging herself, over and over again. She would not show him her anger, she hadn’t figured out if he was the kind that hit yet, it was too early. And so she sought refuge in these imaginary scoldings. His mother was not going to come back from the grave to defend herself anyway. Laranse did not come to his mother’s rescue either. He was happy in a way, that he didn’t have to deal with the mess she’d made.
3. So you know now, why Laranse is suspicious of his new wife’s new mirth. He hasn’t even gone in to sea. He’s sat all day by the boat, smoking and drinking toddy.
Could she? Would she? he wondered. That damn oracle has ruined my head, he kicked the sand.
He was alone by the shore one day that week, waiting for clouds to pass. And there she had come out of nowhere, that woman with a wand in hand, her hair in a bun, giant red dot on her forehead, her face glowing a golden yellow, as if she’d bathed in morning rays, draped in a deep red sari. To predict his future.
You are a fine young man, you are. Amma tells me you are a good husband. A faithful man, indeed. Amma also predicts someone who hates you all day and all night lives close by. Be careful… Do not believe her, yes, Amma tells me it is a woman. Do not trust your life with this woman. She is out to get
you boy, you cannot win with her. Stay out of harm’s way, stay out of her way.
With that and two mackerels for payment, she’d walked off.
Krupa Ge is a writer based in Madras. She is the author of What We Know About Her (Context), which was longlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature 2021, and Rivers Remember (Context)
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