Lifting my head up from the laptop I was working on, I saw Tahir walk into the sitting room, a small nylon bag in his hand.
‘Welcome home hubby dearest. Did you, by any chance remember to bring home some boiled groundnuts?’ I asked, smiling.
‘Now, why would I want to bring home some boiled groundnuts?’ He replied drily.
‘Because it’s in season, the hawkers are selling it all over the place and also because you know that it’s my favorite local snack.’ I answered.
‘Same old Bint, all you ever think about is yourself. And you expect me to do the same by remembering that your favourite snack is in season and buying it? Well sorry to disappoint you, this little bag contains only medications. In other words, there is nothing here for you to eat.’ He said, walking towards his favourite settee and lowering himself on it.
‘Medications? What for? I mean who needs them?’ I enquired, suddenly worried about his health.
‘They are mine Bint. I’ve not been well for the last two days so today I decided to go to hospital straight from work.’ He explained.
‘You were sick for two days and I didn’t know?’ I asked, rising from the chair I was on to sit next to him. ‘What kind of life do we live that you were ill and wouldn’t even tell me?’ I complained.
‘But I’m a fully matured adult man wifey dear, surely I do not need to be complaining over an illness, as if I was one of the kids. In any case I never allowed illnesses to weigh me down, you know that I always fought against them in the past and went about my normal routine as if nothing was wrong. When did you ever see me lying on a bed because I was sick. It’s not like me to give in to illnesses and idle about.’ He boasted.
‘Are you sure Tahir? I do recall a time when you were so sick you couldn’t go to work for days.’ I insisted.
‘I don’t remember that at all.’ He argued.
‘Well, I have something that can jolt your memory.’ I offered. ‘Just give me a few minutes.’ And with that I went into my bedroom and rummaged through my old books till I saw the particular volume of my diary that I was looking for. I walked back to him and said: Here you are hubby dear, my proof against you.’
“Three times, a baby”
Tahir can be a grouch, a real Oscar-sized grouch that is. But even a grouch, I’ve realised lately, is better than no grouch at all. A few days ago when he came down with fever, he simply wasn’t the man I knew.
Normally Tahir does none of three things when he is awake; he is either working, talking or reading. But not this fever stricken stranger.
The new Tahir would lie down on his bed, or on the sofa in the parlour and simply stare into space. No books lay next to him, as was his usual practice, and the only time he talked was to ask for his drugs or make similar demands; then he clamped shut. To the children he spoke in monosyllables, not one of them could get a full sentence out of him.
Tahir, who was always so alive, so vibrant, became a silent shadow, moving between two rooms and finding every excuse to nod rather than talk. Needless to say, my heart went out to him. I spent much less time at the office, these past few days, because I was distracted over his state of health, I even sought my boss’ excuse to be closing from work at lunch time, to be by his side.
While I went about my normal daily routine, my mind was preoccupied with guessing what’s going on in Tahir’s mind when he engages in those endless stares of his. Is he thinking of death or worse still, is he about to die and leave me alone?
They say people do unusual things when they are at death’s door and that it is only after they are dead others recall and make the connection. Is Tahir bidding us a silent farewell?
Even as I continued to agonise over this, his health began to improve. He began to eat a little better than before, to smile at the children, to watch a little bit of television, but the long silences continued.
Suddenly it was the last Saturday of the month and I had to go to the Ladies Club monthly meeting. I got up early, made breakfast, got the nanny to bathe the children and soon everything was in order and I was about to go.
Then I peeped into the parlour to inform Tahir, only to find out that he had other things on his mind. “Where are you going this early, on a Saturday?” He asked, before I had the chance to greet him.
To the Ladies Club meeting, you know it’s the last Saturday of the month.” I replied.
“Must you go, in the circumstances?” He demanded.
“What circumstances?” I asked.
“You mean you haven’t noticed anything unusual in this house?”
“Except for your illness, no.” I answered.
“And my illness, of course, doesn’t matter.”
“It does a lot, but you’re getting better and this meeting takes place only once a month, if I miss it, I can’t make it up by next week.” I explained.
“So what, if you miss it this month? Look, you have to get your priorities right. Don’t you care at all that I’ve suffered these past few days? If on week days you insisted on going to work, can’t you at least spare the time to be with your sick husband on a weekend?”
“But I’ve been with you throughout, at least I’ve been spending half days at the office in order to be by your side. May be you were too ill to notice.” I said.
“I’ve only been ill, Bint, not senile, so I’ve noticed everything that’s been going on around me. What I can’t understand is why you had to go to work when I was ill.’ He insisted.
“Would you have stayed home for me?” I asked suddenly pushed to the defensive. “If I was down with malaria, the same way you were, nothing would have made you observe half-days just to be with me. The most you’ll do is to probably check up on me around lunch time. If I complained you’ll say that I have the cook and the nanny around. You should at least appreciate the fact that I made this sacrifice for you.” I declared.
“So you call this sacrifice?” He asked sitting up to make his point “then go ahead, go to your meeting, forget that you have a husband and children. Forget that you are needed elsewhere, go to your club”. He gestured towards the door.
“There is no need to blackmail me Tahir, I will only be gone for a few hours and it is no idle pursuit either, we render useful service to the community. To quote you, we are trying to give back to a society that has given us so much.” I argued.
“But at our expense? You want to render public service at the expense of your family? Talk about misplaced priorities. Look learn to make time for us, for me in particular and that goes for whether I am sick or not. I want your company whenever I need it, so just learn to make time for me.”
“You know what Tahir, I agree with you, we don’t need another baby in this house.
When you make demands, you are more than three babies put together.” I was all set to say more when I realised what we were doing. We were arguing again, the grouch is back, I just burst out laughing. Tahir was puzzled, “What is so funny?” he asked.
“Welcome back” I said in between laugher. “I mean I’m happy you’re back to normal.
Anything is better than that silent, brooding Tahir. Tell me what you were thinking of during your long silences.”
“Not much, I just pondered on the meaning of life.”
“Are you sure it was not on the meaning of death?”
“Surely you were closer to death than life when you were ill.”
“On the contrary, I was planning what to do with my life once I got well.”
“Really, and what have you planned?”
“To get three more wives, so that there will always be someone to stay with me, when I fall ill.” He replied.
I reached for the nearest throw-pillow and threw it his way, before I made my way laughing, back to my room to drop my handbag. The Ladies Club can wait till next month, Tahir’s laughter as I walked out of the parlour was like music to my ears. The grouch is welcome….
‘Now would you deny that this incident had happened almost twenty years ago?’ I asked as soon as he finished the entry and gave the dairy back to me. Tahir could only smile and nod his head in agreement.