I’m 29. I should have had a husband by now. A well-groomed, kind, and ambitious husband who hugs me and tells me I’m pretty and buys me small, meaningful presents. I should have had a baby by now. The other day I saw a small, fat baby wrapped up in winter wear in the arms of his young mother, rubbing his face into hers, and I honestly felt like someone was stabbing me in the heart. It was all I could do to hold myself up and not crumple like the paper a half-written poem was abandoned on. By now I should have had a house of my own with a kitchen of my own where I could exercise my culinary talents and then invite all my yuppie friends over to parties where I would wear nice clothes and look like a real woman, all made-up and perfumed. I do look great when I’m made up. I am a great cook too. I can make roti and even pizza from scratch. I bake like it’s nobody’s business. You should try my Chicken Biryani, my Karhai Chicken, and my Chicken Sweet Corn Soup.
But you can’t. Because I live as a paying guest where the kitchen is hardly equipped for anything more than boiling eggs. You can’t see how great I look in makeup and nice clothes because I don’t wear any, because the smog that hits me when I ride an auto rickshaw would ruin my face and my clothes. I’m having to relive my student years, right back down to the ghhisi piti jeans, cheap sweatshirt, sports shoes, and baseball cap – attire that is an insult to a woman’s body. One of the bathrooms in my PG has a resident lizard. The sink only runs boiling hot water, and the sink in the other bathroom only runs icy cold water. Someone stole my favourite hoodie from the clothesline up on the terrace. It’s not fun washing my own clothes anymore. My hair is falling out. I thought I’d paid my dues – I lived like a pauper at university, had my heart broken a number of times, and got used to eating meals and going to the movies alone. I’ve worn donated clothes from a church, skipped on personal grooming until I looked like a cavewoman (and then some), and had tears burn my eyes because the winter wind was going through my bones. Later I had a beautiful apartment with a soft cream carpet, huge beach-house windows, a vaulted ceiling, and a shower curtain with butterflies on it. I wore smoky-eye makeup and sexy heels because my new car could protect my makeup and my clothes from the elements. I turned heads in my bouncy skirts. I even used to live next to a Hope Hill. Hope Hill! Could anything sound more meadow-like. And you know what – I gave it all up. Because even the corpses at the local funeral home could be made-up to look alive!
Now I live in one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women. I’m the oldest in a class where ¾ of the folks are in their early 20s and have never had to file their taxes. Most have never even left the subcontinent. I have no handsome husband, no gurgling baby. I used to think that I’d have all those things by 24. All my old school friends on Facebook now suddenly have spouses in their display pictures. I am still listed as in an ‘open relationship’ with my female best friend who’s getting married on Christmas Day. I’m sure most people think I’m really a boy. Every Corolla – heck, every sedan - that passes me by taunts me like a rejected lover, reminding me that I gave it up for this, for standing by the road covered in traffic exhaust and dust, trying to catch an auto rickshaw. That perfumed woman I see in the driver’s seat, the one with the sunglasses and winter boots and lip gloss – she used to have my face once upon a time.
And insha Allah, she will again.