The Stranger

The end came swiftly. One day the man was there. The next day he was gone, leaving behind a stunned family – a mother, a wife and a grown-up son. However, the man was the wise and the organized type. His accounts were in order, as were all his papers. So though the loss was insurmountable, his wife did not have to run from pillar to post trying to streamline her life-after.

After the funeral was over, the man’s mother went back to her village. The son had a good job in a far-away place and he too could not stay away for long. The wife had a large enough support group and she braved staying in the same house where they used to live in the city. But the memories of being together, of the years of their married life, hounded her and at a point in time, she thought of moving.

Her own siblings and even her son encouraged her to move to another town – one that was hundreds of miles away from the current one and had the added advantage of having her aged parents nearby. She was not averse to moving to the small town, where her parents resided, but having lived an independent life for so long, she had some hesitations. So before resigning her job, selling off her house and making the commitment, she wanted to try out the small town living. The town was not new for her, because she had grown up there. But in some ways she was a stranger now, having stayed away for almost twenty-six years. She decided to stay with her parents for a couple of months in the beginning.

That was when I met her. Her family is distantly related to me and since I was in the same town on some work, I thought of visiting them. Though I did not know her or her siblings that well, I do have a lot of affection for the elderly couple. One is a retired professional and the other one, before arthritis restricted her movements, used to chair a socially-conscious organization. They are kind and help out people in need, and are looked up to by the people in their community.

I reached their house around eleven and it was the daughter who opened the door and led me into the living room. She used to work for a multi-national company in the city she had just left and I had heard that she was extremely good at her job. Her move would probably now mean parting of ways with her long-time employer. That must have been a tough decision.

What she was planning to do here, I wondered.

She did have a few choices, she told me. There were a couple of good schools very keen to take her in. The organization, which her mother had chaired for a long time, had also reached out. But she had not come to any decision: she was still looking around.

Why was that, I asked.

She was very forthright in her answer. Though she lived in this town during her growing up years, sometimes it felt that she had outgrown it. It did have a small-town way of thinking.  She was not sure she could handle being watched and judged at every step after living in the selective anonymity and the relative independence of a big city. Once she could come to a finality of decision, a job of her choice should not be a problem.

At that point, her parents walked in. They were, as I had seen them a few years back. Except for the labored walk. They were genuinely happy to see me. We had tea. A little later, their daughter excused herself. She had to meet someone for a job interview.

As she left and it was just the three of us, I sensed for some reason, that the mother was not very happy. Something was troubling her.

How her daughter was coping emotionally after such a huge turmoil, I asked.

‘As best as she can. What is left for her now? Is there any life for a widow?’ The mother said.

I was taken aback. I have heard these words before in other places, but coming from the lady whom I considered enlightened and forward looking shocked me.

‘But she is still young. And I see her trying to put her life back on track.’

‘That is the problem.’ Now the father spoke. ‘She does not realize that people here talk. A widow has to maintain certain decorum. But look at her. See how she dresses and how she conducts herself.’

The mother added, ‘Work at a social service organization has a lot of dignity. But she is thinking of a job that requires travel and interaction with a lot of outsiders. How does one put some sense in a woman who is almost fifty?’ It was more of a lament than a question.

I was silent. Soon the conversation veered towards a few inane things. I left shortly after.

I have not met them ever since. But the last that I heard about the daughter was that she moved away to a different city. Far away. Someone told me, she has bought a nice apartment in the new city and now leads her life the way she wants to.









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2 Responses to The Stranger

  1. lu ellen schafer says:

    I admire that the women in your story was flexible enough to return to her home time and strong enough to leave. And how lucky to have those options…

  2. Anu Partha says:

    Nice Susmita. Enjoyed reading it. So similar to many of us – we want to consider what the older gen says but eventually we make our own call. There is a certain enjoyment in living your life at your terms.

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