By Yeshim Iqbal
Just as Molly was about to start eating her wedding dinner, her aunt fell down. There was a giant crash, and people started screaming and running. Someone shouted in English, “Khalamma has fallen!”
For a quick second, Molly thought, of course she has fallen. Of course she’s dead. Of course she’d be dead the very night I get out. In a flash, she wondered if she still needed to get married at all if her aunt was dead.
But Boro Chachi wasn’t dead. She hadn’t had a heart attack or a stroke. She had tripped over a power cord. This was reported by a distantly related cousin who hurried over to Molly and Taher. “My uncle helped her up. He’s a doctor. She’s fine. She’ll need to rest tomorrow.” The cousin glared at Molly. “The wedding has taken a toll on her.”
They ate their wedding dinner. The biriyani was greasy and delicious. Molly tried to take small bites to preserve her lipstick. She was surprisingly hungry. Taher chomped his food with a gusto probably inappropriate. Oh well, Molly thought. It’s his wedding. He can do what he wants. She had a brief, shivery moment of pleasure knowing she’d go with him tonight.
She didn’t know Taher tremendously well, but she liked him.
Oh, god, she was going with him! It was late, everyone exhausted, people falling down, but the wedding was almost over; it was all almost over. Finally, after three years. She remembered the first night she moved into Boro Chachi’s house after Ma’s death. She’d stood in the lone, dark, wet bathroom, eyeing the enormous patch of mold under the sink, the droplets on the cracked toilet seat. This was the house that Molly’s own mother had refused to move into. The house that had only gotten dingier since her mother had not moved into it. Had never been painted, hardly ever cleaned, perhaps because Boro Chachi was too miserly? Or too uncouth, as Ma had said many times late at night when they were gossiping about Molly’s dead father’s family. Being clean has to be learned. Babies were just put straight on the beds, Ma would say. It always smelled of pee around the beds.
For three years, she saw it like she was Ma and not herself. It did smell. Boro Chachi talked too much, and most of it was mean. They’d have moments of connection, Molly and Boro Chachi, because Molly was mean too, and being mean together was the only way to get along. Still, this was rare. That bathroom. The house. Always too hot. Cockroaches flying, suddenly and grossly, whacking into the fan. The TV always, always, always on.
Maybe, at some point in those years, Molly started to like it. Maybe she loved it. The thick disgust in her throat, bordering on panic. The way she felt towards that house, towards Boro Chachi’s sweaty upper lip and pebbly knuckles, was, after all, such an agreeable home for grief.
Living there ended as suddenly as it began. A few dates, many pointed questions, several inquiring texts to other people who knew him. For someone who was supposed to be systematically evaluating her for marriage potential, Taher had a startling lack of decorum, audaciously holding her hands over dinner in his meaty palms. She liked this. He was divorced and starting to bald. She was young and quite beautiful, but had no parents and was likely infertile from an infection in early childhood. This made them roughly evenly matched on the marriage market. It only took a month for her to make up her mind. Boro Chachi complained. Complained before, when nothing was happening (why was nothing happening?), complained when she was seeing Taher (it wasn’t decent), and complained when she said she was going to marry him (it was too soon, and they could do better than bald).
The wedding was the final step in getting out. Molly thanked guests as they started to leave. She looked forward to taking off the jewelry, the nose piece from Boro Chachi, the heavy red sari, and wiping the makeup off her face, somewhere new and clean. She was so eager her jaw hurt.
But she stopped right before they got in the car to leave, and turned around. Everyone stood there to say goodbye. Molly reached out to them, suddenly terrified of what would happen next. They kissed her cheeks. They patted her head, still covered in the sari. When it was Boro Chachi’s turn, Molly could hardly make herself look at her aunt. Boro Chachi’s makeup had melted off her face in chunks, and she had one hand on her backside. Something probably hurt from falling down. They had never loved each other. They never would. But Boro Chachi’s lips were trembling.
Molly leaned forward, and they touched their foreheads together.
Then she pulled away, waved, and got in the car. Taher closed the car door behind her.
They had booked a fancy hotel room for the night, a suite on the seventeenth floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the glittering city. The room had sharp, crisp corners, and various smooth shades of cream and beige. Cold in a way that made her quickly hungry inside her mouth. Taher started taking off his suit jacket and loosening his tie, sighing deeply and happily. Some people know everything about their husbands already, Molly thought, looking at his tall, broad back. Molly felt sorry for them. How boring that must be.
She was not so tired anymore. She told her new husband she’d be right back, and walked into the bathroom, which had a clean, dry countertop of shiny, black marble. She put her hand on the countertop and stood still for a moment, imagining Boro Chachi, alone in that bathroom, rubbing her back and with nowhere to put her bangles or her clothes or her hands. Then, gasping, Molly started to rip the jewelry off.