What Love Is Not
It starts with a pinch on her arm as they waited for their parents after art class. Her skin burns and tears sting her eyes as he continues to laugh and point at her.
She runs to her mother, distraught.
Ammi said ‘He must like you baba, that’s why he bothers you.’
It happened again at that aunty’s dinner party, where he stamped on her foot when they were playing a game.
Her new shoes soiled, she sidled over to her mother with a pout on her face.
Ammi then said ‘Just fooling around no, he must think you look very pretty.’
The boy in the back seat of the school van pulls her hair and she grits her teeth, not wanting to cry in front of him.
Her braid ruined and her face downcast, she greets her teacher.
Miss said ‘Boys having fun, that’s just how they are.’
They’re at a party together; she waves at a friend, he waves back.
She feels his fingers tighten around her arm, fire in his eyes that tells her that she crossed a line with that wave – how dare you.
Massaging the spot, she sits down with her classmates in school the next day.
Her friend says ‘Aw, he was jealous! That’s sweet. He must really really like you.’
Bodies are rushing in a fight outside the club they’ve just been to, she tries to pull him away.
He shoves her backwards, this unexpected reaction causing her to slam into the wall a few feet behind.
Edging dangerously close, he snarls more than speaks when he asks her to back out of his business.
Visibly shaken, she lingers close to the other women she knew who’d seen it all happen.
Her colleague says ‘What an idiot, pushing you like that. Drunk out of his mind, obviously.’
She didn’t even realise what she’d done wrong but as his fists rained down on her, she didn’t fight back, convinced that she’d committed some terrible sin that he was right to punish her for.
Curling up tighter as she slept, the cool of her wedding ring pressed against her cheek, she remembered what she’d always been told.
She told herself ‘He must have been worried for me, that’s why.’
The bruises on her body stand out more when her daughter holds her by the arm, inquiringly looking at the tears in ammi’s eyes.
She wants to know why thaththi shouted last night, why he was mean to ammi.
She knows by now that’s how he is when he’s angry. When he’s drunk. When he can’t blame himself, everything is her fault.
But she doesn’t tell her daughter that.
Her daughter runs through the gate in tears; the neighbour’s little boy pushed her when they were playing games outside.
She trembles as her mother washes the scrapes on her knees, waiting for an explanation.
Ammi tells her ‘Don’t let boys, don’t let anyone, push you around like that.’