She was always on the outside, looking in. It was her birthday party and yet, she was farther away than the guests. A stranger to her own friends. Her cake didn’t look good enough, nor did the games, the music wasn’t what she’d have liked. The food was the only thing she’d approve of. And strangely enough, today, after so many years, she couldn’t remember the cake she had that fateful birthday.
34. Old enough to have teenaged kids if she hadn’t been foolish enough to go in search of an abortion clinic. As old as her mother had been when she had sneaked up on her little 14-year-old’s diary and ruthlessly discouraged the cause of young, puppy love. 34 — a nice, neat, empty little number.
Maya took her clothes off and gave in to the warm smell of her own body, gently twisted with traces of smoke-and-aftershave from another’s. She slowly turned the evening over in her mind when she started to detect the faint spit-smell of his kisses on her skin. What a nice thing it was to be with a well-groomed man. Or a well-spoken one; even a talented one who played really well the violin, a flute, a woman. Ah, but poets, those are the ones that were best left for a weekend; and also left behind at them. Going anywhere with a poet was a fascinating journey till you realise he is making this journey up as you went along. That he has no clue where he’s going is not the bigger crime, it is that he has no regard for his companion, was the bitch. She took off her shoes: like she said, best left for and at the weekend. No more.
The neutral beauty, the dry, clean floor more importantly, of the bathroom beckoned. How foolish to give this up for togetherness, no? She walked into it and realised 34 was indeed here. She couldn’t get away with leaving someone’s bed and heading back home, no matter how late it was. Her skin was paying the price. In this case, it was 3.45 a.m. She’d have much rather stayed the night, if it hadn’t been the imagined horrible moment when she’d look at his face in the morning and wonder if he was thinking why she was still here. Every single time. No matter who it was. Sometimes, just before she woke up she’d semi-dream the noises of a sunny morning and with a man staring at her sleep, watching her come awake. Then she’d wake up fully, in her own bed, bright, white and alone. The water came on and she stepped out of that picture. That wasn’t meant for her. That was meant for teenage girls who didn’t know what it was to be liberated. Who didn’t know the comfort of waking up in their own beds and having the power to leave a man to wake up to himself, without as much as a note. No matter how tender the love making was. It was for needy, impressionable, clipped-winged women who didn’t have a feminist mother. It wasn’t meant for women like her.
She rubbed her wrists gently as she scrubbed up her hands and face, smiling at the tingling the memory of last night brought her. Velvet cuffs had been too soft for her. She wanted to feel a little more powerless. She said that to him, in a low mocking tone. The manipulation took effect. He had looked around for a minute as she lazily watched him, and had torn up the sheets into strips to tie her wrists, wrinkling her skin there and slowing down blood supply to her palms, not stopping for a second before he tied her feet up too. And it was that lack of hesitation, that complete confidence that this move would pleasure her, a near-stranger, which had her plummeting into a violet swirl of passion all evening. It helped he was younger than her and completely enamoured with her curious nature. There was something to be said for youthful enthusiasm.
Bondage. What a strange thing. A word, a feeling, a concept that she had been driven away from, all her life. Bondage: that word she had been taught to hate since that fateful birthday when her mother had calmly sorted through her presents and found not a single one worthy of her daughter who was going to be no man’s woman, for a daughter who was going to join the suffering sisterhood, for a daughter that she would shape when she had the time and convenience to. Bondage: Maya’s final and comfortable undoing.
That birthday, Maya’s eyes filled with wonder as present after present tumbled out of impatiently torn-up wrapping paper, pink and wonderful. There was a breakfast set, a bead-jewellery making kit, a doll that needed to be picked up and pretend-fed when it cried, a book that told stories of lizards, princes and far away lands. A world of presents she had waited all year long. A world of presents in complete contrast to her pale, recycled wood modeling kits (dinosaurs, vehicles, insects – she could build just about anything), presents nothing like her books that had been signed, “With love, C”. Once, when she had been a teenager, she had taken her room apart in order to find one book, one memory, one ice-bound moment in time where her mother had acknowledged that she was her mother. All she ever found was, “With love, C”.
Well, at least there was love, she thought. Like tonight. Tonight, with this young and exciting man she had met two weeks ago, there was something akin to love. Her worshipped her and she, well, she was a slave to all that he brought out in her. He let her revel in her anger; she had so much of it. He scooped up her helplessness, when she wasn’t watching, and carried it in the palms of his hands. She unraveled when she undressed for him and he gathered her up, gently winding her around the serenity of his acceptance. He never asked for more, and she didn’t know a better of way of ensuring that he’d get all that he never asked. She left him, and he came back every single evening. She cried and he kissed whatever it was she was crying away. She stepped up the wildness and he cut her down to size. She shone and he caught her light, showing it off. When he approved, she bloomed, slowly climbing to a high that her dancing had never given her; an applause that made her audience’s seemed like a whisper. Tonight, it wasn’t just her arms and legs he had tied, it wasn’t just her femininity and sexuality he had dominated over. With his cool aggression, he had shown her gentleness like she had never known, with every disregard for her manufactured protests, he had acquiesced to her each unspoken demand, with every single caress that was designed to meet her need and yet make her feel powerless, she felt strength in trembling leaps and bounds. His need to subjugate had set her free. In tying her down, he had set her up to fly. And flown she had, until his snoring had woken her up and she came back home, unable to shake off a habit of over a decade.
She eased into her bed and stared at a ceiling that was her graffiti wall. Her mother’s face swam before her eyes. Her feminist mother who didn’t help her buy her first bra. Her firebrand mother who was a sister to any woe-begotten woman who came to her for help, her feisty, dogged, cowardly mother who didn’t know what to do with a child she had made the mistake of having. Her lonely, famous, ambitious mother who taught her to not defile her body by having children; who taught her that men were only worth a couple of emotions, if at all; who taught her that nothing was more liberating than being able to pack up her bags and go off to Macau, at the drop of a hat, if that is what she wanted. At once, she knew why love and hate were the same thing. She looked around to see a picture of neutral femininity – no colours or frills that would have made her happy but her mother sad, no touches of perceived softness. A spare dressing table, a mirror that had been reflecting her beauty to her blind eyes for years, a bed that was stately and even handsome. A bed that was lonely. A bed that hadn’t known the tears that came from joy of making love to a man she loved; a bed that had never been damp with the milk that flowed from a mother’s breast if she slept through feeding times, a bed that forever was strong, proud and alone.
34. Empty, bereft 34. Her tongue softened the Ambien against the roof of her mouth, first one, then another and then a few more. She’d wake up tomorrow and deal with 34, she’d hunt for that dripping faucet of pain that she had cemented shut, the one that had been asking for children; tomorrow, she’d ask if he had flown with her. Tomorrow, she’d wake up and deal with her mother. Or not