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Was it her responsibility alone to get those batteries? Or get the groceries? Or make a grocery list? Why was it her job to remind everyone of things of common utility?
The bell rang, just as mustard seeds crackled in hot oil. Chandrima rushed to open the door with urgency, knowing well the scheming maid would leave, if not attended to in an instant. She rushed back to the kitchen; only to see fumes emanating from the overheated oil. Charred curry leaves were floating on top of the oil. She bit her lip in silent frustration; letting the maid’s grumbling take a front seat.
Just as she introduced a fresh batch of condiments in fresh hot oil, her mobile phone rang from the bedroom. She glanced at the wall clock, only to remember it had stopped ticking, several days ago. She had forgotten to remind her kids to get new battery cells for the clock, again!
The pressure cooker whistled, the maid continued her bickering; the sofas were littered with everyday tidbits, and her phone kept ringing. A wave of sudden, unwelcome warmth, escalating in intensity by the moment, swept across her body. Yet Chandrima stood frozen at the kitchen counter, tears welling up in her eyes; unable to decide where to direct her attention first.
Her sister’s voice rang loud and clear.
How much more time to this moping, little Sissy? I’m bored.
Chandrima looked up at the wall clock. A round dial with clock hours imprinted in Roman numerals and a rectangular photo frame were attached side by side. A photograph of her elder sister, Poornima, was nestled in the wrought iron frame. Kneading the dough half-heartedly, Chandrima rolled her eyes.
You know the phone is ringing, right?
Wiping her tears, Chandrima huffed out to fetch the phone, her hands smeared with flour. It was her daughter, impatiently calling her for the third time, from the local supermarket’s cash counter. Chandrima’s voice turned shrill over their brief exchange of words. As she turned back to the wall clock, her tears were back.
Oh, for God’s sake, what now? She just refused to go back and get those batteries, right! Why do you have to cry over trifles?
Chandrima sniffed, punching the dough with all her might. Was it her responsibility alone to get those batteries? Or get the groceries? Or make a grocery list? Why was it her job to remind everyone of things of common utility?
Chandu, remember the time you forgot to get henna for Grandma’s monthly hair colouring ritual?
Chandrima smiled at her sister’s photo. Grandma had run after her with a broomstick. She escaped unscathed, wondering why the old lady was overreacting.
You have had quite a few of those broom chases, the brat that you were. But of course, no one could catch you, you were a born athlete.
“Didi, you should not be complaining. You were always the favourite child, obedient, studious, and soft-spoken.” Chandu giggled mischievously, as she divided the dough into balls.
Now that’s like my little sister! Look at your smile, as naughty as it was four and a half decades ago. You were not a cry-baby then, so why the melodramatic reactions now?
A large bead of perspiration fell off her bent forehead on the kitchen counter, followed by a quick trickle down her nose. Chandrima wiped her profusely sweating face on the sleeve of her nightgown. Another large droplet fell, this time on the plate, adjacent to the dough. A snuffle made her realize she was crying as well.
There you go again. Sweat and tears…this menopause thing is getting to you, isn’t it? Thank God, we have nothing of that sort here.
“Seriously Didi?” Chandrima looked wide-eyed. “Lucky you!”
For that, you have to be lucky enough to die of breast cancer at 40!
“Oh, sorry Didi! How stupid of me!” Chandrima flushed like a beetroot, partly in embarrassment: partly with the hot flash searing through her body again.
That’s fine, as long as you get yourself screened for breast cancer annually. You did miss your appointment last week, didn’t you?
Chandrima wrinkled her nose apologetically. “But I am at my wit’s end. It’s like I have no control over my emotions or my moods. I never really had any control over the kids or Aalok anyway. My thoughts seem fogged with these tears that jerk out of my eyes at their own free will! I think I’ve lost it!”
Tears rolled down her greasy cheeks. Her unkempt hair was plastered with sweat to the sides of her face. The door opened and was shut again with a bang, implying that her fifteen-year-old son was back from his tuition classes. Lowering her head, Chandrima fervently rolled out chappatis in an attempt to hide her tears. Shashin sauntered into the kitchen, wordlessly picked a water bottle from the refrigerator, and walked out.
“Did you see that, Didi?” Chandrima sniffled. “He did not even notice I was crying. I’m just like that wall clock to all of them! ”
Give them a break, sista! But I understand, you want to be heard. So why don’t you have a tell-all conversation with your hubby dearest? Take a breather, if you need to. Come let’s have coffee, just like in the olden days…
“Ah! I haven’t sipped one in ages. Aalok is addicted to tea, you know.”
Chandrima was back to her bubbly self, as she positioned a chair in her kitchen balcony, facing her sister. The steam from her foaming mug soothed her stinging eyes, as she sipped the coffee. For a moment, she was transported back to the balcony of her hostel room, where she sipped the first coffee of the day, in blissful silence, before the hustle of the inmates commenced. Life back then seemed to be full of possibilities.
There is only certainty now, huh?
Poornima’s question brought Chandrima came back to the present.
“Yes, the certainty of comfort, of routine; which kills me. But the worst part is I am so addicted to this secure stagnation, I am scared of breaking the pattern. What if I fail at simple things? Aalok is a sensitive husband, Didi. But he just dismisses my mood swings as a passing phase. He does not understand I am actually passing through it. The other day, he was reasoning with me, asking me to go easy on the kids. But then, shouldn’t he get the battery cells on his way back home!”
Damn those batteries! Chandu, why don’t you go get them yourself, if they matter so much? Besides, it would be nice to step out of both, that night-gown and the house, once in a while.
Burying her face in her oversized mug, Chandrima dodged the question. When they had first shifted to this picturesque residential township on the outskirts of the city, she had been enamored by the landscaped gardens, the visibly cleaner air, and the cacophony of chirping birds. Their plush apartment on the ninth floor had seemed like a private haven in the skies. But commuting to the city was a problem since she did not drive.
Chandu, I think you need to stop obsessing over those batteries and seriously consider recharging your own.
“Didi, why are you always right? You could read my mind even before you transformed into this friendly ghost.” Chandrima spoke aloud in jest.
The maid lurked into the balcony, on the pretext of drying a rag. Glancing suspiciously at Chandrima’s giggling face and the wall clock in quick succession, she walked away muttering something about a haunted kitchen.
The sun played hide and seek with the first clouds of monsoon, much like the smiles and tears in Chandrima’s eyes. Humming her favourite song, she maneuvered her bicycle out of the parking lot. She turned left at the main gate, onto the deserted highway.
Pedaling enthusiastically, she let her mind wander to the day she had planned for herself. She had rescheduled her visit to the hospital, to get screened for the demon that took her sister away. She made a mental note of the date; she had got her period after six months. The cramps and bleeding had persisted for eight days now. A visit to the gynecologist seemed warranted. On the way back, she would have a cup of coffee at her favourite cafe, seated in her regular spot.
Her calves burned, unaccustomed to such exercise, diluting the hot flashes that periodically surged through her body. She slowed her pace but never stopped. The gray expanse of night skies was interspersed with a tinge of pink. The sun cast a warm glow all around, and she shone like a speck of dust in the beam of the headlight of cars that whizzed by occasionally.
Thinking of cars, Chandrima smiled indulgently. The car was at her disposal most days now. She would have to drop and pick Aalok to and from work, as was her new routine. She would drive him back home, tapping her fingers over the steering wheel, cursing the rash drivers on the highway. Her hair would fly in the wind, as she tuned into her favourite radio station.
In the kitchen the wall clock would continue to tick, awaiting her.
Author’s note: Menopause heralds a paradigm shift in the lives of most women physically, hormonally, and mentally. An average woman spends more years of her life in the perimenopausal and menopausal periods than otherwise. It is important for us to be more aware, sensitive, and supportive of women during this phase, as a society, and on the work front as well. While menopause comes with its own set of challenges that cannot be entirely avoided, a lot of help is available medically as well as by way of lifestyle modification.
Image source: a still from the short film Juice
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