By the Rules


I know she never believed I loved her. My clumsy attempts at expressing myself were a testament to inexperience and indifference. She was a convenient wayside flower that I felt free to pick.
        We were constrained by the axioms of a culture carried on the backs, and in the baggage of our ancestors. The iron rule of migrants with inflamed aspirations ensured neither of us got to taste the contraband on offer to our counterparts in school or on the street. We could dip our toes into the wellspring of temptation, only to be pulled back from the brink. Parched, I started to drink from her fountain.
        The first time I grasped the tiny bud of her breast, little more than an areole, she looked startled but did not pull away. I knew she would have gleaned enough from her diet of teen magazines, which had bypassed the vigil of buzzard-like parental eyes. She would have recognised this as a release from the prison of our solitude. Later I would replay those shared moments in my mind, whilst completing what could not be finished with my unformed flower. I would wipe my shame on the cloth of familial censure, then return to my studies.
        I was the apple of everyone’s eye, the mango and the guava. I saw disdain taint her face when she was urged to emulate my scholarly behaviour. Her parents closeted us together for hours with textbooks, presenting me with further opportunities. She fought back, refusing to yield. I told her beggars couldn’t be choosers, and encouraged her to close her eyes, to imagine I was an idol from the outside world, a world beyond our reach. I made her reach inside my pants.
        I was cautious, having a reputation to uphold. Announcing my intention to follow the prescribed plan in accepting a chosen bride, I envisaged stepping into the marital bed to find my own flower uncorrupted. Adulation from the patriarchs soared.
        Years of prohibition meant I excelled where my classmates foundered. I chose to pursue my father’s footsteps, and become a pillar of society. I saw the glint of pride in my Mother’s eye, as I embarked on the true path, a route from which one could not deviate. It was as if a web of my Mother’s clothing strapped me to that life, tightly constricting my body and mind. We cannot stray from certain thoroughfares. It is the way, the only permissible course.
        I stripped the final parts from my wild flower, remembering my forthright words and shuddering at my own hypocrisy. I saw her remaining petals wash away, bruised. She transformed. Her apostasy led to reckless behaviour and depravity. She was ostracised for breaking the code, whilst I basked in praise for not yielding. It feels safe to be wrapped in the chains of obligation.
        For several years I watched her drift away from the sanctuary of our community.
        I know she never believed I loved her.
        I never did.


Nod Ghosh

Nod Ghosh was born in England, to parents from India. She moved to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002. She is a medical laboratory scientist, specializing in the diagnosis of certain cancers. Her writing has been accepted by NZ publications Catalyst, Takahe, Express and Christchurch Press, as well the NZ issue of Penduline. “By the Rules” explores hypocrisy in the context of cultural constraints, based on observations of dual standards within migrant Indian society. No apologies to those who inspired this; you know who you are.

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