He was a good husband. No one could deny it. He let her have her own way, indulged her, even. When the kitchen was remodelled, for example, and she wanted pink and grey tiles even though he preferred white. White. A clean colour. A colour he believed to be innocent, just like his wife. He was traditional as an Indian man could get. He had expectations from his wife. Demands that had to be fulfilled. She would dress as he would tell her too, sleep with him when he wanted her to. Not only that, she would provide him with a son and a daughter. The duty of every Indian wife was to give their husband a child, regardless of whether they wanted to or not.
He would be the provider in this relationship. She would cook and clean at home while he worked. It was tradition after all and he was very traditional. However, when he did put his foot down he would often soften his no’s with kind remarks. There had been two occasions that he strongly remembered in which he had to be firm. Like when she wanted to get a job and go back to school or buy English clothes. Nobody in his family had ever worn English clothes, except for the men that is. His mother, his mother’s mother and sisters had always dressed in Indian clothes…no matter what the occasion.
He preferred Indian clothes on his wife too. After all they hid her body. The loose blouses didn’t reveal her breasts like some English tops or show an unnecessary amount of cleavage. The endless mounds of fabric concealed his wife’s legs and waistline. He believed his wife’s body was just for him to look at. Why tempt other men to look at his wife’s curvaceous hips or low cut neckline? The soft remarks that often accommodated his no’s were mostly, “What for? I’m here to take care of you” or “You look so much prettier in your Indian clothes, so much more feminine.” He would pull her to his lap and give her a kiss and cuddle, which usually ended with him taking her to the bedroom.
That was another area where he had to be firm. Sex. His wife was constantly pleading with him, “Please, not tonight.” He didn’t mind that. She was, after all, a well-bred Indian girl. She had good Indian values that he felt all Indian women should have. Her dreams in life were those of his mother’s. She wanted to marry, have children and live a contented life in a glorious home. She was conservative and an introvert. Not a woman who would cause him embarrassment in front of friends and family. Timid…someone who needed support and he believed that he was indeed the support she needed.
But her reluctance went beyond womanly modesty. After dinner for instance, she would start on the most convoluted household projects, soaping down the floors, changing the liners in the cabinets. The night before she had disappeared she’d started cleaning the windows, taking out the Window cleaner and rags as soon as she’d put the boy to bed, even though he had mumbled, “Let’s go.” Surely he couldn’t be blamed for raising his voice at those times (though never so much to wake his son) or for grabbing her by the elbow and pulling her to the bed, like he did the night before she disappeared. He was always careful not to hurt her, he prided himself on that. Not even a little slap. And he always told himself he’d stop if she really begged him, if she cried, After some time, though, she would quit struggling and let him do what he wanted.
But that was nothing new. That could have nothing to do with the disappearance…after all that was his right. His grandfather had done the same with his wife, his father had treated his mother the same way too and she had turned out fine hadn’t she? So, why should he have treated his wife differently? She too was an Indian woman and for generations Indian women had been afflicted upon. So what made her so special? Why couldn’t he behave the same way with his wife as his male ancestors had with theirs?
Two weeks passed and there was no news of Zeneve, even though the husband had put a notice in the local newspaper as well as a half-page ad in India West, which he’d photocopied and taped to all the neighbourhood lampposts. The ad had a photo of her, a close up taken in too bright sunlight where she gazed gravely at something beyond the camera. “How on earth will you come up with that kind of money?” asked his friend’s. The husband confessed it would be difficult, but he’d manage somehow. His wife was more important to him, after all, than all the money in the world. And to prove it he went to the bank the very same day and brought home a sheaf of forms to fill in so that he could take out a second mortgage on the house.
He kept calling the police station, too, but the police weren’t much help. (They were working on it apparently.) They’d checked the local hospitals and morgues, the shelters…but there were no leads. It didn’t look very hopeful. So finally he called India over a faulty long-distance connection that made his voice echo eerily in his ear. He told his mother what had happened. “My poor boy!” she wailed. “Left all alone” (the word flickered unpleasantly across his brain, left, left.) “How can you possibly cope with the household and a child as well?” she added. And when he admitted that yes, it was very difficult, could she perhaps come and help out for a while if wasn’t too much trouble, she replied “Of course! I’ll come right away and stay as long as you need me too and what was all this English nonsense about too much trouble? You’re my only son aren’t you?” She even said that she would contact the wife’s family too so he wouldn’t have to deal with that awkwardness.
He was relieved at his mother’s kind gesture. How could he possibly face his in-laws at a time like this? How would he tell them that there one and only daughter may never come back? Within a week his mother had closed up the little flat she had lived in since her husband’s death, got hold of a special family emergency visa and was on her way. Almost as though she’d been waiting for something like this to happen, said some of the women spitefully. These were his wife’s friends, though in his opinion, acquitances would be a more accurate word.
His wife had liked to keep to herself, which had been just fine with him. He was glad, he’d told her several times, that she didn’t spend hours chattering on the phone like the other Indian wives. He was livid when this gossip reached him (perhaps because he had the same insidious thought for a moment, when at the airport, he noticed just how happy his mother looked.) “Really” he asserted to his friends, “some people see only what they want to see. Don’t you think it is a good thing she has come over?”