By Supriya Rakesh
“So what do you think?” she asked, eyes shining with enthusiasm. “Do you like it?”
On the floor besides the sofa lay the proud conquests from her trip to the shopping mall, still wrapped in their plastic packages. It had been a great shopping day for Priya. She had found everything she was looking for — a pair of slightly faded ink blue jeans, skinny fit as were in fashion; a lime green tunic with a fresh floral print, very ‘spring-summer’; and a pair of open-toed beige sandals, perfect for all occasions, casual and formal.
Yes, it was important for Priya that all things be perfect, every decision be correct, all events occur as planned, and their outcomes unfold as predicted. All purchases were made after thorough research and well-planned lists. So it was quite unlike her to buy something on an impulse, especially the kind of thing she now displayed proudly.
It was a monkey on a chain (quite literally) — a neckpiece designed as a long golden chain, with a monkey-shaped trinket dangling in the centre! Brought to life by its large green gem-eyes, a coiled tail and an ear to ear monkey-grin, it looked unfettered by the chain-leash trying to hold it captive. She twirled it between her fingers with child-like glee.
It was two and half months ago that Priya had first set eyes upon the little devil. It was a humid April afternoon, she remembered. It had been an early day at work, so she had driven with her friend Rita to the mall to grab some iced coffee, and just look around.
Rita was her co-worker and a good friend, especially great to shop with — the perfect combination of strong opinion and good taste. Her spreadsheets were as confidently put-together as her outfits. Unlike Priya, who was annoyingly indecisive on both fronts.
“You think too much!” Rita was always telling her.
So, on that particular day, the careless window-shopping amble had taken them next to an eclectic junk jewellery display, when the quirky animal caught her eye.
“How cute!” Priya had laughed out, playfully pointing to it.
“How freaky!” Rita had replied alarmed, her raised brow signalling disapproval. And that was that.
But the love affair with the monkey would not end there. Well, does it ever?
The following month, Priya went to the store twice, discreetly and both times alone. The first time, she noticed the grinning little fellow again, but cautiously avoided eye contact. She couldn’t explain why her heart was beating just a little bit faster. But clearly, if he was still there, nobody else had picked him either, she reasoned.
But the heart wants what the heart wants.
The next time, she couldn’t help but approach the counter again. The monkey’s eyes were mischievously gleaming in her direction, drawing her in. She picked up the chain in her hands, and after a long lingering moment, placed it back on its hook. The movement caused the monkey to sway back and forth, as if teasing her.
Later that night, she pondered over the day’s events.
“Good that I didn’t buy it” she rationalized with herself, thinking of Rita and her raised brows. “Who wants to own a freaky piece of jewellery? I couldn’t carry it off anyways, it’s just not who I am.”
But today, Priya was in a particularly good mood. Next week, she would fly with her husband Rishi for their two week Europe vacation. Their very first trip together since the honeymoon, their very first trip abroad. And Europe was her dream! Ever since she was a child, even before she met Rishi, ever since she watched her first Bollywood heroine being serenaded against the Swiss Alps.
Promises of a romantic getaway had somewhat lowered her inhibitions. Unable to resist its charm any further, she decided to bring the monkey home. Now he dangled from her fingers, turning to face his first and most forbidding adversary.
“So what do you think?” she asked again.
Rishi shifted uncomfortably in his seat; two years of marriage had taught him something about being tactful.
“It’s…different.” he managed after a long pause, avoiding looking her in the eye.
“What does that mean?” Priya glared at him. “Good different, bad different?” she prodded further.
“Just different,” he replied, his tone as non-committal as possible. “I mean, I haven’t seen anything like it before.”
There are some moments in life when tact fails against a woman’s intuition. Rishi learnt this the hard way that night. Just ten minutes later, they were deep in tense argument.
“Why can’t you just be honest with me?” Priya cried out in exasperation. “If you don’t like it, just say so!”
Rishi took her word for it, and admitted that he found the monkey, “err…somewhat scary”, and “kind of weird to wear as jewellery”. The conversation ended with her storming out of the room in a huff, slamming the door shut behind her.
“Why do you even ask me?” He called out after.
Yes, why did she even ask him? Priya thought furiously, fighting away tears as she put away the new purchases in her closet. Because he was her husband, and his opinion was important to her. Why couldn’t he just say it was nice? Now she could never wear the damn thing on their trip; he clearly hated it.
Distressed, she put away the monkey in her drawer. He could not seem to stop smiling, proud of the trouble he had managed to stir up.
It was now three days since the big fight. Rishi had done all the right things to forge a reconciliation- bought her flowers, sent her sweet texts during work, and ordered dinner from her favourite Italian restaurant. Just a small precursor to the vacation.
He had also made some very logical arguments in his defence — he understood nothing about fashion and hence, his opinion was not to be taken seriously. Why didn’t she ask Dee?
That seemed to make sense- Disha or Dee (as she preferred to be called) was Priya’s baby sister. Fresh out of college and all of twenty, she had recently assumed the role of the family fashionista, bestowing unsophisticated mortals with her new-found wisdom.
It took a fifteen minute phone call to explain the context of the emergency.
“I won’t know what you are talking about till I see it!” Dee finally said. So she received a picture, the contentious devil grinning happily . “Uggh… It’s a little creepy. Its eyes- why do they shine?” Dee was not one to mince her words.
This rejection was the very last straw. The dalliance had to end — it was ill-considered, and ill-fated from the very beginning. It could not withstand the disapproval of others, especially others she cared for. With a heavy heart, Priya decided that the monkey would have to be returned to where it belonged. As she went to bed that night, she put it away in her handbag, glancing at it longingly, one last time.
But sometimes, destiny has other plans.
Over the next few days, Priya was swamped with work- all the tasks to be completed at the office before her long break. Then the final packing list, rechecking the bookings, last minute arrangements- to make sure everything would be just perfect. So, the trip to the store had to be postponed till the very last day. That evening, with a hundred things still left to be done, she drove towards the mall through the early July rains.
Her thoughts inevitably returned to the impending decision. Was it a good idea to return the chain? She liked it, but clearly it was a stupid buy. Everyone seemed to think so. What was decided was decided.
But she had failed to account for fate, or the store’s exchange policy.
“No returns on jewellery!” even the shop girl seemed to stare in amusement, while explaining this.
Dejected, Priya drove home in silence. With so much work pending, she had wasted an hour on this. This was not the mood she wanted to be in right before her perfect holiday. She could feel tears rolling down her chin as she honked impatiently at the slow-moving rush hour traffic. The monkey, perched on the seat besides, looked least perturbed.
It was now the sixth day of their trip. After soaking in the Mediterranean sun in the south of France, they had taken a train to Paris last night.
Some things had gone as planned, but most had not. Yet, somehow, it had all turned out okay. On day one, they found out that their ‘bed and breakfast’ didn’t offer any breakfast- but soon discovered a quaint bakery cafe down the road. A forgotten camera-charger led to two hours of panic, till they realised that the phone camera worked just fine, and had additional beautifying filters.
The bottle of SPF 50 sunscreen was lost on the train, so Priya now had a rosy glow. She was worried she looked too tan, but Rishi loved it. As if to prove he meant it, they had spent the last few hours making love. That meant skipping some of the museums on their itinerary — but no one was complaining. Feeling quite upbeat, and on a whim, she decided to throw on the monkey-chain.
In her last minute rush, she had absent-mindedly packed it along. All the deliberation and the thinking, all the stress had diminished the charm of the monkey. But today, proudly displayed around her neck, he looked rogue as ever. As they walked out of the hotel lobby, hand in hand, Rishi noticed him and gave a chuckle.
“I told you” he said, relieved to see her happy, “If you like it, you should wear it.”
As they walked towards the subway, the passers-by seemed to glance at them, all three of them — some with wonder, some with amusement. Priya tossed her head and smiled at them as she walked, seeming not to notice.
She stood in the middle of the alley blocking traffic, to point at a funny-looking hoarding. With a playful glint in her eye, she pulled Rishi closer and whispered flirtatiously in his ear. She laughed with wicked abandon, as he turned away, red with embarrassment. The wide grin stayed on her face as they rode the subway together, holding hands.
The monkey had never looked more befitting on her.
Supriya Rakesh is a social researcher and writer from Mumbai, India. Her work engages with the notion of ‘storied selves’ in multiple ways- biographical research, community theatre, and writing fiction. Her stories are often set in urban India, exploring the lives and choices of young adults in a society-in-transition. Her work was recently published in Kitaab, Active Muse, Culture Cult magazine and anthologies titled ‘The Other’ and ‘Rapture’. She is a Visiting Faculty at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences; and the Editor of ang(st), a feminist zine. She loves the Mumbai rains, strong cups of cappuccino and stories of unrequited love. You can find out more about her at www.supriyarakesh.com.
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