Roshanara was moving through the street, striding across the pavement confidently. Thinking as she paced, contemplating to the proud sound of her sandals slapping the cement.
Delhi had reached the fag end of August, and the rain settled into its avenues like an ignorant guest. Leaves floated on, adrift on temporary streams, and the wind, pregnant with sticky humidity, assaulted all that walked against its tide. The sky was a cornflower blue, with white whispers fading in and out across its skin. Her cream cotton dress clung onto her, her body wrapped in a film of perspiration and a faint pungency that mixed into her jasmine attar. Her cocoa tresses, alight with golden tips, pirouetted along the current.
It was just after class. She had plugged in her music and listened to ABBA as she walked towards the metro station. The songs fit in as if soundtracks to a scene in a rose-tinted film. The pop romance of the 70s almost transported her into another world. She often thought about these things. Looking at the trees, the sky, the roads, the smoke from the cigarette perpetually between her long wan fingers; gazing with glazed eyes to the sounds of the patterned melody, she would imagine herself being somewhere else. Somewhere foreign and expensive. A place with cleaner air, prettier people, colorful sweaters and sunset autumns. A place with a river walking along its streets, adorned with old cafes strung with sophisticated women talking slowly and loftily in an indecipherable tongue, being scooped out by juveniles on bicycles as they lazily rode on into the lilac evening. She would imagine walking like that beautiful lonely girl in all the films she watched. She could be running to catch a tram. She could be dancing. In all these scenes, Roshanara would imagine herself being better than she was. The Roshanara of her daydreams was iridescent. Luminous. She was beautiful. She was the object of envy, lust, admiration, joy, bliss. She was bliss. She was carefree. Unbothered. Happy, like the pixie girls in the movies. The Roshanara of her daydreams wasn’t alone. No. The better Roshanara was thin enough for that phased out aesthetic the real her saved on Pinterest boards. She was reading great literature, stuff too hard for the real her to commit to. She was flirting unabashedly, having a copious amount of sex. She was living and breathing all that the inhibited libido of the real her fantasized about. The Roshanara of her daydreams was listening to ABBA too, she was also walking along the same street, in the same rain, against the same wet sky. The Roshanara of her daydreams, however, wasn’t coming from anywhere or going anywhere. The Roshanara of her daydreams lasted till the chorus and then evaporated.
It was calming, this disassociation from the present. Calming for the brief ethereal moments where she forgot everything but the song and the dream. Brief. These moments only lasted until the chorus. After that, the song became routine, predictable, sung-out, tired. The second time around, she would nod to the chorus unconsciously, the tune now fading out in the wake of new thoughts and trepidations spilling in. It was the same typical shit of yesterday and tomorrow. Time slavery, loneliness, failure, dying alone, ex-flames and living someone else’s life. It was the same cycle. Chorus after chorus. Like a retarded song with three lines and a beat like a venereal disease.
Roshanara, though constantly depressed by the vicious loop, would muster her best efforts to escape. It seemed like escape was the only exit from her mind. She thought about that a lot too, how she’d escape far too often. She would escape into mindless conversations with people she swore she loved. She knew her promises and declarations were superficial. She was only grateful for the momentary release they offered. Which is why all her relationships failed. Once her gross deformed insecure self had successfully captured the goose, she would fuck it and drop it immediately. She would say it’s boredom. She would even blame it on its shortcomings. But she knew on the last day, just as she knew on the first, as well as after every time she promised she loved it— she was wasting time, and would eventually waste more with someone else once they had dried up and shriveled like a grape sucked of its resin. She would watch films, shows, plays. She would read. She would visit. She would swim, run, walk, masturbate, sleep, starve, eat. Sometimes, she would even study. But that loop would continue to play in the background.
When it got too loud she would cry and break. It got loud in the mornings. It got loud when she was in her car. It got loud when she was smoking alone. It got loud when she stared at her naked ugly body in the mirror. It got loud when she ate too much. It got loud when she stepped on the scale. When she embarrassed herself. When she was confronted or insulted. Sometimes, it was loud randomly. Like a surprise boner, it would come out of the blue, when she was unprepared and had nowhere to go. Most times, when it happened publicly, people could see it play. Her face often gave it away. Or her hunger. Or her rare silence. But when it got loud, their consolation couldn’t drown the base. No. It would only fade when she would distract herself. Escape. She thought about that a lot. She thought about ways to escape, almost as often as she would think about all the possible deaths offered to her at that moment. It was a fun game she played.
She tore her headphones out of her ears and stuffed them hurriedly into her backpack. It was raining again. She walked faster and stood under a tree, staring at its foliage, amazed at its efficiency. It was pouring, but only the occasional droplet found its way through the green leaf umbrella. She zipped her bag open lazily and felt around for her pack. Her wet fingers placed the thin cigarette between her teeth as the other brought out the blue lighter close to the tobacco tip. Ignition. A pull and a cloudy sigh. It was a comfortable routine. The taste of the smoke sat in her throat and she licked her lips dry. She couldn’t calculate the wait, rain being unpredictable. How the once perfect panorama had now rudely descended into being a loud nuisance. Loud, she smiled.
In class earlier, they had talked about how the word ‘husband’ came from ‘animal husbandry’. A husband, therefore, was essentially the caretaker of the pack. The one who sheltered, fed and bred the animals. Many marriages did have a husband. The Caretaker. In a patriarchal prototype, it was the male. In a conventional setup, it could still be the male. In a progressive unit, one could argue that there was no husband. Or that both of them were the husbands. But for single people, single women, for Roshanara, everyone had to be their own husband.
A woman who was her own husband.
She smiled as she took another drag. Her face was a little numb now. Her fingers trembled. The nicotine was cutting off the synapses.
A woman who became her own husband.
What an empowering sentiment. A craftily worded sentence for independent people. A craftily worded sentence to make lonely people feel better about themselves. Pigeon shit is lucky, so is the abnormal birthmark tainting your skin. White lies for lonely people. Lonely. Yes, lonely. A word she could empathize with. Roshanara was her own husband. Had been for quite some time now. Ever since they moved to the big city. Peeled away from the comforts of a small town and a close-knit family, thrown to the wolves—left to fend off for herself. She could’ve involved her parents. But could she? It was much too embarrassing to confess what she was going through. The bullying in the new school. The sadness. The isolation. The loop. All gifts of the city. But she was proud of her silent struggle. It had made her who she was. She now knew how to escape. How to use people like she couldn’t before. She was her own husband, yes. The more she thought about it, the clearer it became.
Roshanara imagined herself being in a controlling relationship with the typical abusive husband, just like she was with herself. A husband who would fuck her almost every night, but cringe at the sight of her nudity. A husband who would taunt her with every meal, every ensemble, every poem, every question, every vulnerability. Her husband didn’t care about what she felt. He wasn’t one to censor his words. No. He had dreams. He hoped she would be a certain way. He didn’t like her, it was a loveless marriage. But they had grown accustomed to each other’s voices and couldn’t remember the pre-marital silence.
She laughed out loud now. Yes, she was her own husband. She was his property.
It had stopped raining now. She threw away the bud in a puddle and pulled her phone out of her bag. The Kinks played Waterloo Sunset and the sky was a cornflower blue again.