At first when they heard about the disappearance they didn’t believe it. “Why, we saw her the other day at the Ram Ratan grocery store” they proclaimed. “Yes, didn’t she wave to us yesterday with her little boy? He looked just like her. We spoke to her the other day, she had that salwar-kameez on, yes she never did wear English clothes.” “Terrible” others whined. “Its getting so that nobody’s safe here in London these days.” Because that’s what everyone thought. Crime. It must have been. How else could an Indian woman in a bright flowered lime sari and Nike walking shoes just disappear?
So thinking the worst, that maybe Zeneve had been abducted, raped or maybe even murdered, her husband reported her missing that very night. She’d been out for her evening walk he told the police. She took one everyday after he got back from the office. Yes, yes always alone. She said it was her time alone, time for herself. Away from the bubbling curries in their non-stick pans as they hissed on the cooker, away from the never ending chores that had to be done, her own tranquil world where the domesticated wife was non-existent…that’s how she had put it to him. (He didn’t quite understand that, but was happy to watch his little boy play football with him, perhaps, until she returned to serve them dinner.)
“Did you folks have a quarrel?” the policeman inquired with a stern look on his podgy face as he looked up from his notepad. “No” the husband retorted, looking directly into his eyes, “of course we didn’t.” Later, he would think about what the policeman had asked, while he sat in front of his computer in his office, or while he lay in the bed, which still seemed to smell of her. (But surely that was his imagination-the linen had been washed already.)
He had told the truth about them not having a quarrel, hadn’t he? (He prided himself on being an honest man, he often told his son how important it was not to lie, see what happened to Pinocchio’s nose.) And even now when the boy asked him where Mama was, he didn’t say she had gone on a trip, as some of his friend’s wives had advised him. “I don’t know”, he rejoined. And when the boy’s thin face would crumple he held him in his lap awkwardly and tried to stroke his hair, like he had seen his wife do, but he couldn’t bring himself to say what the boy needed to hear “She’ll be back soon.” So over and over again he simply exclaimed “I don’t know.”
They hadn’t really had a fight. She wasn’t, thank God, the quarrelsome type, like some of his friend’s wives. Quiet. That’s how she was, at least around him, although sometimes when he came home unexpectedly, he would hear her singing to her son, her voice slightly off-key but full and poised. Or laughing as she chased him around the family room, “Mama’s going to get you, get you,” both of them shrieking with sheer exuberance, until they saw him. “Hush now,” she would tell the boy, “settle down.” And they would walk over sedately to give him his welcome home kiss. He couldn’t complain though. Wasn’t that what he had specified when his mother started asking, “When are you getting married? I’m getting old. I want to see a grandson before I die.”
If you can find me a quiet, pretty girl, he wrote back to her in his letters, not brash like Calcutta girls nowadays, not with too many western ideas. Someone who would be relieved to have her husband make the major decisions. But she had to be smart, at least a year of college, someone he could introduce to his friend’s with pride. He’d flown to Calcutta to view several suitable girls that his mother had picked out. But now, thinking back, he can only remember her. She had sat, head bowed, jasmine plaited into her flowing, black hair, silk sari draped modestly over her shoulders, just like all the other prospective brides he’d seen. Nervous, he’d thought, yearning to be chosen.
But when she had looked up at him gracefully, that’s when he fell in love with her. That’s when he knew she was the one. Her heart-shaped face and dusky radiant complexion created a flow amidst the room. Her sultry, almond eyes met his, filled with dreams, aspirations, needs to be fulfilled. The rosebud lips, outlined with a deep magenta and retroussed nose complemented her plucked eyebrows as she sat confident…almost disinterested, as if she were wondering if he would make a suitable spouse. For him it was love at first sight. This sophisticated, incandescent, credulous woman had stolen his heart and turned it into candle wax…he knew she was the one. They were married within a week in spite of his mother’s protests. (Had she caught that same look?) That something about the girl just didn’t feel right, his mother had grumbled.