I know that you have not been able to believe what I just told you. To present conclusions first would not be the right mode of narration. But often, men cannot think or act logically, a fact that you must, undoubtedly have noticed. Anyway, I will narrate the events from the very beginning.
Like most marriage proposals, this too came through a broker. Things progressed so fast that soon the only thing that remained was the approval of the bridegroom. I set off with a close friend. I thought that as he was a married man, he would have a better insight regarding this matter than I had.
As we were talking to her father and her sister’s husband, she served us tea. My friend nudged me to indicate that I take a good look at her. A shock ran through me when I looked up with a faint smile. Her eyes were cat’s eyes, glittering and pebble hard! Her eyes were curious— the kind of morbid curiosity that you expect to see in a cat’s eyes when it beholds a mouse. A strange languor held me in thrall. I got up without knowing what I was about. My friend made me sit. Beaded with sweat and with bowed head, I sat.
With fear I watched the others depart, leaving me alone with her. When my friend tried to follow suit, I restrained him with cold hands at his wrist. Sensing that something was amiss, he sat. With a tender look at me, he took charge of the proceedings. She laughed at his jokes. I looked at her from the corner of my eyes when I heard her bell-like laughter. She
laughed non-stop with a raised face and closed eyes. Her eyes were crinkled into two thick lines when she laughed. Her tender neck where the blue veins throbbed was enticing. Yet I turned my gaze away for I was afraid that she would open her eyes and look at me with her incisive, rapier-sharp cat’s eyes.
My friend was all for finalizing the wedding. As there were only two girls in the family, half the family’s wealth would be hers. She had a respectable job and she was smart. These were the arguments that he listed in favor of the alliance. With a tremor, I talked of her strange eyes. My friend dismissed my protestation as a trifle. Eyes! He admitted that she had the eyes of a cat but he also felt that it only seemed to enhance her attractiveness. I tried to tell him that her eyes disturbed me, holding him by the hand. He got furious. He said that he could have predicted my response. In the hot afternoons when we had once sat under a pala tree, I had run away chanting the twelve names of Arjuna that was supposedly powerful enough to ward off fear. He was surprised that I had not got rid of such silly fancies on growing up. A man had to be brave! He got worked up, gasped and cursed himself. ‘Why should I blame you? I blame myself for coming with you.’
I touched his shoulder. Tears were frozen in my voice. ‘You are an old and trusted friend. I thought I could freely discuss all aspects of the alliance with you. Who else do I have to share my trepidation?’ At that he subsided. Then he began to advise me gravely. ‘This is life and we have to face a lot of trouble in life. You have to be practical.’ Then he withdrew into silence. I too was buffeted by memories.
The long and short of it was that the wedding took place. Then began the chapter of my disasters. I was sure that she was not an ordinary girl. I switched off the light as soon as I could on the first night after our nuptials for fear of her eyes. But she laughed loudly and teased me for a greedy fellow. I experienced a terrible tension. I turned away from her and edged to the extreme end of the bed. I closed my eyes against the moonlight that streamed into the room through the open window. With a peal of laughter, she pulled me around to face her. She lay on her stomach, propping up her face in her hands and murmured with a feral smile, ‘I was only joking.’ When I saw her eyes gleaming wildly in the dark, I began to perspire. I thought that she was poised to jump on the
unsuspecting prey. A fearful scream clogged my throat. But when she leant on my breast and began to speak of life on low tones, the fire in my heart was doused. When her fingers ran through my hair strands, I was soothed to a slumber and my heartbeats became normal.
Yet whenever we met face to face, her eyes disturbed me. The intensity of her look at night made me impotent. With a racing heart and excuses, I slept early. But on the seventh day, she took revenge. She tried to tempt me by donning enticing clothes. When she saw that I was trying to shut her out, she was angered. She jumped on me with a cat-like yowl. Biting, scratching and pinching, she made love to me. A demon-like lust of a cat! When it was over, I lost consciousness.
For her convenience, we rented a house in the city. With the change of locale, my lifestyle underwent a drastic change. It seemed to me that life was going haywire. The greatest change was as far as food was concerned. The dishes that she served were simple and easily cooked ones. I was soon tired of them. Whenever she was free, she read poems and criticism of poetry. On her pink lips, poems seemed to flower. At times, she took leave to attend poetry-reading sessions! She told me once that the elements of poetry were embedded in her soul and that her greatest tragedy was her inability to take it out and polish it. It was very difficult for me to take it all in. So she persuaded me to read a lot. After getting a job I had read nothing but the K.S.R (Kerala Service Rules) and I found it a great bore. Early in the morning, after a cup of black coffee, I usually lit a cigarette and opened a newspaper. By the time I emerged after moving though each and every line of the newspaper, she would remind me irritably, ‘You give this crap more importance than it deserves. These newspapers are like pavement hawkers who display their wares attractively. What is on offer here is murder, rape or robbery. Knowingly or not, it inspires more crimes. Why don’t you understand that? The less said of their turn of phrase the better. Language too suffers at their hands.’
I got angry. I asked her why she thought it fit to marry a person like me. With a sigh, she said that her horoscope wouldn’t match with anyone else’s. She didn’t believe in astrology but often the prospective bridegroom, his relatives or parents were firm believers. With a smile of self-contempt, she said, ‘I could have remained a spinster but I did not want to challenge nature.’ All of a sudden, she fell silent. Her pebble- hard, light eyes dimmed.
One night when the cats were yowling and fighting, I awoke to find myself alone in the bed. She was nowhere around. I clearly heard someone in the front yard breathing hard. I pressed my face to the grill mounted on the window and peeped out into the all-smothering darkness, for I was scared to step out of the house. On the mound of the sand, I could make out a shape that I knew to be hers. She was lying on her back. I really saw a huge black and white cat jump on her. I started. It was after a long time that she returned to the room. Her clothes were disordered and she was sweating. Her hair hung loose. She smelt like a cat. Without a glance in my direction, she fell on the bed and into a deep sleep. Thus I lost my sleep.
I spent the rest of the night walking up and down the room, waiting for her to wake up. I measured the long hours till dawn with my footsteps. I did not notice when she woke up. She was gazing vacantly at the ceiling when I asked her, ‘Where were you last night?’ She ignored my question. Blood rushed into my hands enabling them to lift her up and grab her by the shoulder. I repeated the question. She tried to laugh but had gone quite pale. Her form unsettled me. Trying to make my voice as calm as possible, I asked her what had happened to her. Wiping her face and neck on the loose end of her sari, she said in a tired voice, ‘I am pregnant.’
My limbs grew weak. When I fell on the bed, a vivid recollection of the black and white cat smote me. I knew that it was not the first time that the cat had visited her. I knew one thing for sure. She had vanquished me only once. That was true enough. But because of that one incident …? Impossible! Gathering my strength, I shouted, ‘This is not my child!’ She got up with a smile. That was when I realized that it was possible to lock so much bitterness in a smile. However, I ignored this. ‘You, you she- cat!’ I shouted at her. I doubted whether the term was appropriate. Then brushing aside all doubts, I went on. ‘This is not my baby! It is sprung from the tom cat that visits you every night!’
For a minute, she stared at me in disbelief. By that time I had acquired a lot of courage. The next minute, she sat on the bed with her face covered. I realized that suppressed sobs were causing her shoulders to heave. After a long time, her sobs grew quieter. With fingers stained with sweat and tears, she held me fast and begged. ‘Look, I think that
something is seriously wrong with you. From the very beginning I suspected as much. Please come with me. We’ll go to a psychiatrist.’
I burst out laughing. ‘You clever devil! You are cleverer than I thought. So you seek to make me a lunatic? Then it will be easier for you.’ While she stood like a wooden puppet, I strode out of the house and walked for a long time.
After wandering for a long time and in many places I hardly remember I came home after three days to find her collapsed on the bed. As soon as she saw me, she burst into tears. ‘I killed my child!’ I stood as one frozen. Truth was becoming clearer to me. She was really a cat. Cats usually killed their offspring, even fed on them. Otherwise, she must be a reincarnated cat!
Don’t you realize now that what I said was true? I can’t bear it anymore. So before things become worse, help me. Which would be the best grounds for a divorce?
“Poocha” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran.
Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 61-67), translated by Hema Nair R.
GRACY. A significant woman writer in Malayalam, Gracy’s stories depict the reality of the woman and seek to highlight the strong currents that constrain her. At the same time, they also speak of the fear that is rooted in the sense of inferiority a man feels when confronted with a strong woman. Her first collection of stories Padiyirangippoya Parvatiwas published in 1991. Narakavaathil (The Door of Hell), Randu Swapnadarshikal (Two Dreamers), Kaaveriyude Neru (Kaveri’s Truth), Graciyude Kathakal ( Gracy’s Stories) and Graciyude Sthreekal (Gracy’s Women) are some of her other prominent works. She was awarded the Lalithambika Antharjanam Award for women writers in 1995. Her story Bhranthan Pookkal (Mad Flowers) won the Thoppil Ravi Award in 1997 and Randu Swapnadarshikal won the Kerala Sahitya Akademy Award in 2001. Her stories have been widely translated into English, Hindi, Tamil and Oriya. Nineteen selected stories of Gracy have come out as a collection in Tamil (Ippothu Panikkalam).
HEMA NAIR R. Teaches English at the N.S.S. College for Women, Neeramankara, Thiruvananthapuram. Her doctoral work was on Doris Lessing. A regular contributor to research journals. Interested in Women’s Studies.