Forensic interpretation of John’s memoir hinges heavily on the event of John’s sharing his vision of life with a woman, in the best of their times, in the worst of their times — in their post-teen days. At this point John has a dream of setting up a family of his own; he hasn’t yet connected to people across family boundaries.
In the battle of the sexes, women have won a decisive victory recently. A century ago, when IQ testing began women were nearly five points behind; psychologists considered women are genetically deficient. But in recent years IQ gap has narrowed; of late women are ahead.
Let us look back to those days, when for most women the world spanned from the kitchen to the house door; they knew every nook and corner of the house, but nothing outdoors. Men, on the other hand, were privileged to work outside and to bring home money and other things.
Here is the story, of those days, of a fresh graduate, John, who has recently started his work career. At the end of every work day, he returns home for having meals prepared by his mother Martina and gossiping with sisters until he meets a stranger — a self-reliant woman.
* * *
Whenever John boards a bus, he takes a window seat. Today, he is habitually on the upper deck, looking down — looking down on the people walking below. Half an hour to home now, he feels a bit hungry; his mother Martina surprises him every day with a new snack.
A big jerk — screeeech — the double-decker halts. John hears the noise — the driver is trying to start the engine — once, twice, a number of times. Soon John hears the announcement, — ‘This bus won’t travel anymore because of a serious breakdown. Another bus would be here to take passengers from this bus.
‘If you want refunds for your tickets please come down to me.’
John gets the refund and starts walking towards home. It would take about 2½ hours, but he prefers brisk walking to indefinite waiting.
No longer in the bus, John is now in the crowd, walking/running through the streets. Will he find some known face here; could he get some passers-by to talk to? Could he hunt for a suitable girl, who would talk to him for a while?
‘Jim, are you?’ John hears from a girl just behind him.
‘Yes’ — John is about to say, dissuades himself.
‘No, I am John; I have a friend, named Jim.’ — says John, ‘we don’t look alike’.
‘Nice to meet you’ — the girl says, — ‘How far would you go?’
‘Far ahead, beyond Green Park’ — John says, ‘May I ask your name?’
‘Sure,’ — the girl said, — ‘Call me Annie’.
‘Tell me a bit about you — anything about beautiful Annie.’
‘I like to listen to handsome John as well. Let’s start with mine. I come off a middle class family. My father is a carpenter, not doing very well now-a-days. My mother has never worked, though she excelled in the university. I am their first offspring. Work during the day and study in the evening. Have a brother and a sister to look after. Brother is studying medicine, while the sister is in high school’.
‘Thank you, Annie. My background matches yours — middle class, lower middle class, transitioning to upper echelon. I just got my engineering degree and started working. I am the youngest among two brothers and three sisters. My elder brother is a chartered engineer; he’s the oldest amongst us, while I’m the youngest. The eldest sister has passed higher secondary; the second sister is a master in mathematics. The third sister is studying music and painting. My father, an accountant, was a government servant, has recently retired.’
‘Thank you, John. I guess, none of your brothers/sisters is married. So are my brother and sister — unmarried and studying’.
‘My parents taught us in the same lines — first, work hard to secure good jobs, then get married and use your charms to win love — thus live happily ever after’.
‘Still you strive for your parents, brothers and sisters as well, John. They all do for you too.’
‘Indeed, till brothers and sisters move away from parents to set up their own homes.’
‘I wish my brother continues to stay with us after he completes his degree in medicine. I am helping him through by paying fees for his school. No time for me to look for love or a better job.’
‘Annie, I just remember — in some tribes Marriage-by-Capture is the custom. If you are a girl of those tribes, you can’t do anything, if a boy captures you. Even your parents would do nothing, as Marriage by Capture is considered legally approved.’
‘Good that we don’t belong to those tribes. John! This reminds me of one movie, where a herd of lively zebras are jumping along the forest; a man comes with a big van, captures a few born-free zebras, locks them in his van and drives to a zoo. Those captured girls are no better.’
‘Even in some of the more developed societies, the rich and affluent often buy girls from poorer families. The police and the legal system can’t do anything.’
‘What do you think would happen, if the marriage is abolished altogether?’
‘Don’t know. I feel thrilled by the idea of Marriage-by-Capture — wish I could steal the right girl. However, in matriarchic tribes the bride is older than the groom. Women adopt babies as their husbands, nurture the babies like mothers do. When the baby becomes a man, the woman changes her role from a mother to a wife.’
‘In developed countries too, I’ve heard, a growing number of older women date younger men; some of these toy boys are devoted to “cougar” women.’
‘I have heard, in some mining towns, men died young because of strenuous and exhausting life. Mining magnates recruited able men from anywhere in the world. There was no social security benefits, widows had to hunt for young men to continue the comfort of conjugal happiness; they couldn’t afford the luxury of cherishing the memory of departed husbands.’
‘Annie, I am tempted to capture you for an hour. May I take you to the Coffee House, now?’
‘I’m on my way to the Uni. I can’t spend an hour with you. Is half an hour enough?’
‘Sure, we could talk a bit more in 30-40 minutes. Let’s get in here’
John and Annie enter into the Coffee House. They manage to get chairs near a window in the upper storey. John looks down from the window onto the road.
‘What would you like to have, Annie’, — John shows her the Menu Card.
John looks at Annie’s face, at her eyes. Beautiful she is, overlooked by John so far. So long he has been busy in arguments. Now is the time to feel the rhythm beyond the logic. Annie looks at John as well — an intelligent boy like her own brother; Annie guesses John could answer a few more difficult questions of life than her brother could have ever done.
‘A Mini-Dhosa and Coffee’ — Annie answers to John.
John’s eyes glitter as he hears his own choice from Annie. He says, — ‘Good choice, Annie, I would also go for the same’.
‘Let’s watch the tennis match in the TV, while we wait for Mini-Dhosa’ — Annie says.
‘Yes, I like Tennis too, I recognise Andy Murray, who is the other player?
‘Fernando Verdasco is playing better than Andy Murray today.’
‘You and I both like Tennis and Dhosa.’
‘Yes, John, I like your arguments as well, though we differ in most points.’
‘What would happen, Annie, if someone like me wants to capture you?’
‘First I would get that someone arrested. Later, if I agree to marry my capturer, I would force one condition.’
‘What would that condition be, Annie?’
‘My capturer needs to support me in my current pursuit?’
‘Work and Study — work to earn enough to meet family expenses, study to get more skilled, more employable.’
‘What about your new family with your capturer?’
‘Suppose, you are my capturer, John, would you contribute enough for your new family?’
‘I have my limitations too, Annie. As per tradition, my brother and sisters must be married before I can. My father is retired, two brothers and one sister are now earning and each of them must contribute to the family.’
‘John, your family would survive even without you. Your father still gets his pension and two of his offspring would contribute to the family. You’ve only just started earning.’
‘True, Annie. I have always been loved and cared for. They have carried out most of household chores, so that I get more time for studying. They all expect I would bring good money to the family. But for their help and blessing I couldn’t have been what I am today.’
‘John. Indeed, you have a very good supporting family. But, would you all continue to live like this forever? What would happen when your elder brother and sisters get married?’
‘Mini-Dhosas taste good, don’t they? Annie?’
‘Yes, John. Look, Andy is playing well too — ’
‘Annie, as regards marriages in our family, our sisters will get married one by one. My elder brother would also get married after at least one sister is married. Finally I shall get married, and start my own family.’
‘So, now is the right time to ask you, John. Capture me, if you can, Can you? Now?’
John can’t speak for a while. Spellbound he gazes at Annie — is it the question for the life which is demanding a YES from him? John looks for an answer in Annie’s eyes, when a handsome man suddenly appears on the scene.
Andy has just beaten Fernando in the third set and won the match. It’s time for John to clap, but he does nothing, he watches the handsome man to get near them.
‘What are doing here, Annie? Aren’t you late for your evening classes?’ the man asks.
‘No, Madison, I would be there in time. We’re discussing our next assignment.’ — Annie said.
‘Take care, Annie, see you later.’ Madison disappeared, showing no interest for John.
‘Who is this Madison, Annie? He cares a lot for you.’ — John asked.
‘Madison is the son of my father’s good friend. He poses like my elder brother, at the same time I won’t be surprised if he asks for my hands someday.’
‘A prospective capturer, is he? Minutes ago you invited me to capture you; does that invitation still stand? Would you like me to capture you?’
‘Yes, John. Can you? Now?’
‘Sure I can’ — John rushed and grasped Annie’s shoulders with both hands.
‘I wish — I could capture you for life. But I don’t like to do that without adequate notice and cooling off period to reconsider. May I capture you for the night, however?’
‘What do you mean, John?’
‘Could we spend the night together — know a bit more of each other?’
‘How? Where would we go, John?’
‘Annie, I won’t take you to my place. There I won’t get much time with you; nor I want to go to your place and confuse everyone. Let’s go to some hotel this evening, spend the night together.’
‘That’s a reasonable idea. But, I need to phone my mum, and let her know why I can’t return tonight.’
‘I am going to phone my home as well; tell them I would be staying at work tonight.’
‘I guess I have to tell my mum that I need to go to Newcastle tonight for work — ’
‘OK, Annie. Let’s go to Oakwood.’
Soon John and Annie go to Oakwood Hotel, check into a double room for the night and phone home.
‘Mummy, I would be at Newcastle tonight. I shall return home tomorrow night. Please ask Shellie to do the home work.’ — Annie phones her mummy.
‘Sure Annie. Please bring for me Joanne’s quiche from Newcastle’.
‘Sure Mummy, if I get the quiche of my choice.’
‘Hi Jack’ — John phones — ‘This afternoon we’ve received important tender documents from News Corps, and we’ve to submit the tender tomorrow. I would work overnight at my boss’s office. I expect to return home at 6pm tomorrow.’
‘OK, John.’ Jack replies, ‘Take good care. Hope Boss will organise some dinner for you. Please get some sleep. Is there any contact phone number for you?’
‘Not quite, Jack, please call my mobile, if you’ve to.’
Now John turns to Annie, ‘Time now is 7:15pm. We both would have to go to work tomorrow. I would have to leave this place at 7:45am to reach work by 8:30. When do you start, Annie? When do you need to leave this place?’
‘I start at 9; I need to leave this place by 8am’
‘Are you happy to miss your evening classes tonight?’
‘I have to. I’m already late. I would ask your help for some assignments.’
‘Really! I haven’t captured you to do your assignments.’
‘I know, John. But I’ve to submit this assignment tomorrow.’ — Annie took out a bunch of sheets from her bag and held out before John. — ‘You are good in Maths, aren’t you?’
‘I would surely try. Please let me have your text books.’
‘OK, John. Here is the text book and here are the sums for the assignment. Please proceed with these, while I go for a shower.’
‘OK, after you I would have a shower too. Let me see what I can do.’
Annie goes for a shower. John sets down to work. John hasn’t done exactly those types of sums before; yet he manages to get the hang of it after reviewing a few worked out examples. By the time Annie returns from the shower, John has completed the assignment and turned the TV on.
When Annie finds what John has done, she jumps with joy and almost kisses him.
‘OK, John. Go for a shower now; I would finish the assignment in my own handwriting.’
Soon John comes back from the shower. It is already 8:20 pm. John says, ‘Let’s not go out for dinner. We would call the room service and get the food delivered here. Let’s get some time to talk our hearts out.’
‘Yes, John. Here is the menu for room service. I would have a club sandwich and yoghurt, what would you?’
‘Annie, I would go for Chicken Butter Masala and Garlic Nan, and diet coke for drinks, what drinks would you have?’
John Calls the Room Service and places orders.
‘Annie, would you be happy if I capture you away?’
‘No, John. I would marry someone I spontaneously love.’
‘Marriage has no meaning to me, otherwise. I know many remain married only to get the privileges from the government, the society and their spouses though they fulfil their passion for love from some persons other than their spouses.’
‘You mean, they aren’t penalised for infidelity.’
‘No, so long they find legal loopholes. A person usually hides the affairs of the spouse.’
‘What remedy do you suggest?’
‘A married person shouldn’t get any privilege, a single person doesn’t have.’
‘Usually those privileges are for the offspring. Annie.’
‘We need to find ways to care for the children and to reward the carers.’
‘Do we have to change the laws and regulations, before you could love and marry?’
‘Don’t know, if I would get overwhelmed to take a decision.’
The dinner is served by the room services. While they enjoy the dinner, Annie brings the topic of sharing the hotel expenses.
‘Thank you, John, for capturing me and organising our stay tonight. However, I would pay half of the total cost.’ — Annie says.
‘No, Annie. It was I who proposed and I would pay for this. Thanks for letting me have the pleasure of your company.’
‘John, we may not have another night like this when I could repay you. Thanks for your company.’
‘No worries, Annie.’
‘Look Annie. We need to wear the same suit and dress at work tomorrow; we should not sleep with the same dress on.’
‘True, John; but I cannot walk about with only underwear on, when you are in the room.’
‘But, Annie, both of us need to sleep, we need to work tomorrow. Also, we need to sleep in the same double bed tonight. I would get out of the room for 10 minutes, in that time you keep your dress in the hanger, get on the left side of the bed and cover yourself fully with the blanket. I would then come, undress myself and take the right side of the bed.’
‘OK, John. Please get out for 10 minutes; I would be lying on the left side of the bed when you return.’
Before John comes back, Annie has been lying on the left side of the bed fully covered by the blanket.
John undresses and gets to the right side of the bed and covers himself.
‘What — John?’
‘Could you lift your blanket a bit? I like to have a view.’
‘No worries, John; Look… tell me when I may slip back into the blanket.’
‘Thank you, Annie. I am flattered and fascinated, put the blanket down. I would now read something to induce sleep; do you have something to read?’
Annie and John start reading their respective books till they are asleep.
Next morning when John wakes up, he finds himself in the unfamiliar bed of the hotel. Annie has emptied her side of the bed; she might be in the shower now. John looks at his watch — 7:15am. John remembers he doesn’t have his shaving set with him, nor does he have toothbrush and toothpaste. He would have to go to work unshaved today and without brushing his teeth — Annie would have similar difficulties as well.
Soon Annie returns from the restroom. John is spell-bound with her soft natural glare; he can’t take his eyes off.
‘Let me wash up a bit before taking breakfast’, John disappears into the bathroom.
Together, John and Annie go down to check out. They pay the room rent and go for a quick breakfast.
‘So that’s the end of our day’ John says to Annie, ‘We would now leave for work — go back to two different places.’
‘Yes, John. We would go back to meet the people we meet every day, but can’t tell them about this day. Alone I would cherish this day.’
‘Annie, keep this card with you. You may like to contact me.’
‘I don’t know, John, whether I ever will. Let me write my contact details behind one of your cards — contact me in special events in your life — if I could do anything for you anytime anywhere.’
Only last evening, John and Annie has met each other for the first time. Yet it seems they have been living together forever, till this time of farewell.
John considers, he would love to spend his life with a girl like Annie — not for her beauty, not for her culinary skills, not even for any promise to bear and rear his child, but for herself, her empathy and inspiration to live.
Annie hasn’t been looking for a man who could win bread for the family; she likes John whom she could love unconditionally.
That’s how Annie and John depart from each other, to their workplaces, to their lives — for long, forever?
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