That night when Talia gets home, as expected, she hears it from her Mother. In Talia’s stubbornness to work versus her parent’s agitation to find a match to get her married, the mounting tension has finally erupted and the ashes of Talia’s misunderstood tears are not empathised with. Yet her placating nature is not able to last, when she actually has been keeping quiet and attempting to compromise. It is not only overwhelming, but this inward fear instilled in her of being shackled to another human for the rest of her life from a very young age turns into a raging fire that doesn’t let her give in so quickly.
Yet how long can the fire burn for? For that, it needs oxygen, and the lack of air surrounding her is suffocating.
However, it’s after meeting Michael wherein she realises that she can actually battle for her aspirations.
Closer than Talia perceives, Michael is sitting at the head of his coffee table and relaying the events transpired during his day to his friends. Alongside this he’s receiving jabs and punches on the shoulder, being tormented and teased with questions about how hot the girl is and how long he’s going to wait before he asks her out.
As he lays in bed that night, finally without any anticipation of upcoming nightmares, he knows the answer to that already.
It’s not going to happen.
He came here to complete and attain his true purpose. His long-term calling was simple this; going back home and thus being able to help his people in opening up the hospital and finally being able to provide the medical amenities that were so lacking. Till then, he just had to keep working at it. Frankly, he wasn’t interested in staying here any longer than he had to. With his own dreams to achieve – which were challenging enough already considering everything – this was the priority.
And a newfound friend didn’t change that. It just gave him some hope that when he left all of this it wouldn’t be filled with bitterness.
Each morning out of habit he still leaves home early as to avoid the crowd. Although in the evenings, he chooses to walk around and over to the park, and as per routine he meets Maya and Talia, side by side and waiting for their evening chats. Initially, he’d felt a little awkward and unsure of going over all the time for their small conversations, yet the pattern becomes comforting for his last few weeks. Over the days it becomes easier for the two of them to share their stories about college; the contrasts so diverse and distinctive in their experiences that it truly provides perspective about the challenges that each have faced. One, free to explore the world, but restrained by stereotypes. The other, less restrained, yet still handcuffed by the gender disparities.
For Talia, it’s an exposure like no other. Being able to talk to someone like Michael who contains such an objective perspective being out of the picture truly provides her with the understanding of where her parents and their concerns come from; bound by society and their need to marry her off into a good family while the community will accept her for their age. However, this is versus her own aspirations, and the independence that she can achieve and that can henceforth allow her to make a mature judgement when it comes to her own life – be it in matrimony, career or otherwise. Marriage is a lifetime commitment, if Talia was planning to trust herself to get into it, she wanted it to be done with mature judgement, when she’d built a foundation for herself in which she could stand upon.
And for Michael? It’s the fitting ending for his last few weeks before the semester break and before going back home. Maya’s continuous enthusiasm only adds to the budding friendship between the three to blossom into a truly unique one – for all the stares and unnecessary judgement they receive are happily ignored.
Despite the dejection so clear in her eyes when she mentions that scenario of how arranged marriages work here, Michael understands that she’ll be able to move forward, whatever decision she makes. The determination and understanding that she doesn’t yet have to give up on her dreams of traveling elsewhere, meeting new people, and establishing herself up in her career.
Not that it was so different back home. In the more rural areas, it was in fact so similar that Michael found the similarities astounding; the forced arranged marriages at a younger age which girls had no escape from.
On the last evening before he sets off, she’s discussing about her latest proposal that her family wants to pursue.
“Why is it that I have to be married by a certain age? Why can’t I build myself up into an independent woman who can take care of myself?”
He agrees with her thoughts.
“You don’t have to get married to have someone complete you. It should be out of a union of love, or acceptance to be married, because you want to get married, not for the purpose of being ‘taken care of’ or out of an inferiority complex.”
An agreeable silence makes way, with not even the chains that Maya is swinging on as a disturbance. She sighs. Despite these paved thoughts, she knows she’ll have to meet the guy.
“What do you think will happen?”
“Meet the boy, have him judge me, evaluate me, ask me personal questions.”
“You don’t know that!” Michael lets out a bark of laughter. “And aren’t you going to be doing the same thing?”
“That’s not the point. I’m not in a phase where I want to get married. I’m in a phase where I want to chase my dreams.”
She shakes her head in frustration, and then to clear her head.
“What about you? What are your plans once all of this is over?”
“I’m looking at the UK for further studies; not now, wouldn’t be able to afford it, but perhaps in the next three to four years if I can find a good job back home, especially since I can’t stay here and work. No one would accept that; and I don’t really want to.”
She gives a sad smile in sympathy.
“When do you leave again?”
“Tonight, and speaking of which, I need to get back home and finish up packing.”
They both get up and pick up their belongings, and Maya jumps out of the swing in glee. Michael gazes at her with a warm smile.
“It’s actually because of her that I regained some hope.”
“Definitely because of me.” She nods her head childishly.
“Are you excited for fourth grade?”
“Of course! And our playground has this amazing swing; so I won’t even need to come to the park again.”
Thank goodness I met you when I did then, Michael thinks to himself.
Smiling at her younger sister’s antics, Talia brushes her hair out of her face, and then looks up at her newfound friend, feeling a little despondent that she’s going to have to say goodbye.
Michael’s eyes reflect the same.
Yet they don’t say it. They both don’t exchange numbers or anything to keep in contact. From their first conversation after they had met, it was just understood that this was going to be for the short-term.
And that was okay.
“So you must be excited to go home right?”
“Of course, I’ve been really missing it.” He smiles at the thought.
“So I know I’ve never asked you this,” She looks embarrassed. “But where is home?”