Call Me:

People, especially young people, tend to think great love stories only happen against great landscapes or great wars. They have to be literary love tales, they think; wretched sometimes, other times enormous and magnanimous, eventually bigger than the people who live through them. These days its trendy to play age down- to erase boundaries between young and old and be part of some homogenous populace where everybody is equal and knows equally valuable things. Of course, young people are smarter now than we ever were at their age (or any age). They are well spoken and confident; even the women. My God! The women are fabulous and so unafraid. They speak freely about sex and romance. They are critical of love. It is in their constitution now, to perform a prompt analysis of relationships. It must work in their favour. The rumour is, that life is far too long to spend with one man.
 Things have changed and age is glorified less. But ever since I joined the ranks of the slow moving army of hags at the CMH grocery store, I’ve learnt it is an important glorification (read: falsification). It is important to go around lying to us. We need to be glorified, or we’d all up and die of our respective hernias before crunch time. Because really, its such a misery being old. Even then, there are a few things that only (and only) age can give you. The understanding of love is one of them. A great love story only reveals itself to you when you are old, so old that there is no looking forward. When the daily ups and downs have turned out into a vaster kind of existence, when your children have all left home, when you can no longer remember to keep the really small grudges and when you have seen each other through the loss of important people. Then I think, you know, if you lived through a great love story.
G, my second husband, was a gentle person (though he was a Pakistani politician). I was his sister’s age and as children we played tennis together in the courts behind the PAF base where our fathers were stationed. When we met again so many years later, I was newly married and he was not looking for a wife.
I was happy enough in my marriage, though nothing about it thrilled me. I did not love my first husband but he was a decent person, a major in the army with the loud sensibilities of an average Pakistani man. But the associations of childhood are strong.  You never forget that you were children together, and there is a common tenderness that arises from that experience. G and I had seen each other’s souls. He remembered my muddy dresses in the summer. I remembered his toy planes, and how loudly he cried when his cat died. Romance is easy when you have been children together. We enjoyed each other’s company. The first book he ever gave me was a collection of poems by Faiz. My English wasn’t very good, so he stuck to Urdu reading in the beginning.
A year later, amidst a scandal that had the city by its throats, we were married. Here is a side note about scandals: they go away if you are strong enough to face your mistakes. I had so many apologies to make, and eventually I made them all. After a year or so of society whispers and cruel words, G and I had our first child. Here is another side note about scandals: Children allow people to forgive you. Suddenly, you join the ranks of the common and relatable once more.
We were married thirty five years, and last year, just like that, G died. I will hold it against him for the rest of my life. At first it was only a fever that wouldn’t go away. In a week we were told it was cancer, that it was serious and silent. In four months, he was gone. That was when I found love everywhere I looked. Everywhere that I missed him; on his armchair, in his car, in the toiletries around his wash basin, I found new pieces of my love for him. They were all spread out, over years and things, and so many rooms. I thought of my father’s funeral. He did not speak to me all day that day, but I saw him in the background of all things. He ran around making arrangements, speaking kindly to people, shaking hands, chasing dogs away from the food tables. That night I was angry with him because he had not held my hand, or looked at me on the darkest day of my life. Now I remember him sweating under the August sun, pouring glasses of water for the Maulvi Sahib, and I feel thankful. But if I am to really tell you why I believe ours was a great love, it is contained in the smallest details of his habits. Here is my favourite one: he used to put my slippers by the side of my bed every night so I could slip my feet easily into them when I woke each day. And in this gesture, perhaps laughable to many of you, lies the greatest love story I will ever know. When I wake up and have to stumble around for my slippers these days, I miss him more than ever. That man who made it so much easier to begin each new day.
You’ll understand when you’re older. Then you’ll know just what I mean.

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