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He was like a whiff of fresh air. He was the first guy I met who laughed at my one-liners. Most importantly he didn’t make me feel conscious about my body.
The carousel turned around and the multicolored giant-looking horses jerked up and down. They appeared grotesque and immediately I turned my eyes away with vehemence. I stared at the cotton candy stall for a while, but my mind was circling in a whirlpool of unexplained emotions. It was as if time stood still. The carousel never stopped though. It turned around as boisterous children and adults giggled away to glory.
“Veronica, here you are sweet pie. I thought you were lost.”
I was transported back to the present in a split second. There stood my husband standing with a wide grin plastered on his face.
“I am not a kid Sam. I was just loitering around”. I exclaimed attempting to conceal my derision.
“See, I told you. Coming to this carnival wasn’t the worst idea,” Sam beamed as he let out a hearty burp while throwing a beer can away.
Saturday night, done right! I almost muttered to myself and sighed.
Now before you judge me for being fastidious, let me tell you, I wasn’t always like this. I used to be a cheerful young lady who loved her life. Of course, there were some roadblocks in my rather buoyant life. For example, my mother, whose sole aim in life was to constantly remind me that I was ‘fat’. Yes, we used the ‘f word’ extensively and quite liberally in our house. As much as I felt hurt by my mother’s jibes about my plus-size body, I refrained from letting it affect me. I feigned insouciance and went on with my day. I turned to humour whenever I felt getting worked up about it.
“But Ma, just imagine how I would take the world by storm if I am smart as well as thin. Let there be some room for improvement,” I would proclaim winking at her.
My father had passed away when I was eleven and my mother raised me single-handedly. I knew how hard it had been for her. And she was my mother, she meant well. I had far too many issues to be presented in the Indian marriage market. As if my being voluptuous wasn’t enough of an impediment, I was also a kindergarten teacher. My mother never really approved of my choice of profession because she had recently retired as a high school teacher. The money wasn’t enough and the hazards of the job were boundless. I understood this as in the last few years I witnessed how her throat was perpetually sore from shouting at the kids and how her patience was now hanging by a thread.
But, irrespective of her unfavourable opinion, I chose to become a teacher. I loved being with children, particularly little ones. My own childhood had been dreary and so I found solace in their unadulterated actions.
So in between my weighty issues and a job, my ma didn’t approve of, life was almost hunky-dory for me. But then one day ma registered my profile on a matrimonial site and things got tense. I was never against the idea of marriage but I didn’t know if I was ready for it. My mother didn’t buy the ‘I am not ready yet’ card and so I was let loose in the Indian marriage scene.
It was an exhilarating process, to be honest. I had never in my life gotten involved with boys or had a boyfriend. I had good male friends but I always steered in the friend zone. So, it was sort of a blind date scenario for me. In the beginning, it was interesting enough, as if I was on a mission. But, as I got rejected by an array of guys, I was infuriated.
And just when I had given up on the whole matrimony business, I met Sam. He was like a whiff of fresh air. He was the first guy I met who laughed at my one-liners. Most importantly he didn’t make me feel conscious about my body. By now I had gotten accustomed to the look on the face of my so-called blind dates when they first laid their eyes on me. They all looked stunned and not in a pleasant way. But Sam was different, I thought. So, on that breezy October evening, three years ago, as I caught him gazing at me with that lopsided grin of his, I fell in love.
Sam was a software engineer and a few months after we were married, he got an opportunity to go on an onsite project in the US. I went along with him brimming with excitement that I would get to experience a different world full of possibilities. Newer pastures were calling out to me and it filled me with mirth.
When we reached the US three years ago, I had envisaged it to be a temporary stay. But soon months stretched into years and before we knew it, we were looking to settle in America and live the American dream. When I moved here with Sam, I left my job as a teacher. We never really spoke about it. It was a no-brainer that I had to resign. And, I couldn’t continue teaching here because my Indian qualification did not equip me to work as a teacher in the States. Initially, I did not brood over it. I liked this new way of life. I socialized with Sam’s Indian friends and their families. We celebrated Indian festivals and went on trips. But gradually, the hollowness of my being began to gnaw away my happiness and melancholy gripped me like lightning. Sam noticed the change in my usual jaunty countenance.
‘’Lighten up Veronica. Consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to work because I can provide for us amply. Just sit and relax, watch TV, join a book club,” Sam would often say similar stuff in a patronizing tone.
I somehow held my words and merely smiled. I watched TV, I read books and even met a couple of my girlfriends. But nothing seemed to dispel the sense of emptiness that had engulfed me. My friends and family back in India had conjured up a rosy picture of my life in the US. And they were not entirely wrong. I did live a good life and Sam was a decent husband. But something was amiss. I could not talk to my mother about it. I could gauge where that discussion would veer. She would ask me to have a baby as that would ‘dispel my miseries like a magic wand’. Also, she always told me that I ought to be grateful to Sam for marrying a ‘girl on the heavier side’. And so, I wore a garb of normalcy and shoved my anxieties in a secret corner of my heart.
Days turned into months and then like a eureka moment I came upon something that rustled up long-lost aspirations. As I sat in the library flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine, I came across an advertisement for models. What caught my fancy was the fact that they asked for ‘plus-size models’. I stared at the page agape as I never knew that voluptuous women could get into modeling. It was unchartered territory but it brought back memories of my teenage years when I used to practice catwalk and walk like models. It hadn’t lasted long though as social conditioning soon put me in my place. ‘Fat girls cannot do modeling.’ So, I felt a sudden surge of excitement run through my body when I realized that I could be a model too. The advertisement asked for ‘plus-size models’ for the cover of a fashion magazine and they preferred women of varying ethnicities. It was as if the pages of that magazine were calling out to me to fulfill a long-lost dream that I had once harboured. I made a decision.
“Are you out of your mind? A ‘plus-size model’? Is that even a thing? And even if it is, what makes me you think you are fit for it”? Sam stared at me hard as he sat on our oak breakfast table.
“Well, I think I am fit for it because in case you haven’t noticed I am a plus-size woman,” I smirked. I resorted to humour whenever I was nervous. It was my coping mechanism.
“Stop being funny. This is serious business. I will call your mom and tell her about your outlandish career plans”. Sam looked at me with spite as he put his coffee mug on the table with a thud.
“So, you will tell on me. Grow up Sam. I am an adult. I can make my own decisions”.
“Even when your decisions can affect the people around you? And since when did you become interested in modeling? I thought I married a simple kindergarten teacher,” Sam growled.
“Oh, so you are worried about society. I thought you belonged to the so-called ‘woke’ section of people. And as for me being a teacher, well let me quote Virginia Woolf. She said, ‘A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living’. Modeling excites me. The very idea invigorates me. I might suck at it for all you know. But I want to give it a shot. Please for once try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.”
At this Sam merely sat there with his brows furrowed, lost in thoughts. After a few minutes, he stood up and left for work.
I was a bundle of nerves. My hands shivered as I unraveled the packet. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to bring out a shiny magazine. On the cover page, my own face stared at me dazzling in a blue summery dress. Tears of joy trickled down my cheeks and to my astonishment, splashed on the pages of an American magazine I didn’t see a ‘fat’ woman but a model so comfortable in her skin that she didn’t care about any labels.
And just then I felt a hand on my shoulder. “You did it Veronica and how,” Sam grinned from ear to ear.
“Thank you for believing in me. I clasped his hand and smiled”.
“It is all you. I am proud of you Veronica. And now dress up quickly. I have made dinner reservations to celebrate your first project. Don’t you know, one cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well”. He chuckled as I looked at him dumbfounded.
“What! Only you can quote Virginia Woolf?” he quipped.
I laughed heartily as I hugged Sam.
And suddenly my mind lingered back to the carnival where a few months back, I stood near a carousel utterly sick of my life. And just then like an epiphany it struck me. The carousel never does stop turning. One just needs to enjoy the ride and make the most of it. And at that moment, I resolved to enjoy it to the hilt.
This story was shortlisted for our May 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest.
Image source: gregory_lee from Getty Images Free for Canva Pro
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