Virginia and Lalitha – two distinct women.  It’s almost going to be a week since I met them and I have been trying to figure out how to tell their story. 

It was a cold and foggy 8 degree Melbourne last week when I went for the usual Thursday morning walk from the gym which is always followed by light step classes and stretches. I enjoy this one as the walking is fun and there are generally so many of us. After my long holidays it took me a while to get my ass on the gym, unlike my enthusiastic Lolo who these days is also busy brushing up his guitar skills. Besides it is so cold nowadays.

I was a bit disappointed that there were just two of us for the walk. But Virginia was as pepped up as me, I found out later she had just enrolled. I see every new member in the gym begin with such fervour. Some like me get slack with time. I feel I have no time for the gym!

We crossed the pedestrian light and walked towards the park. I had to tell her my ankle was just recovering from a bad sprain and that she could stride ahead.  But she preferred to wait and talk. I liked that. Keeping note of the time – we had to do 30 mins walk, head back and begin the other classes – we did the laps and enjoyed it. She is a schmoozer, just like me. 

Virginia came from Lithuania to Australia 27 years ago but still had a pronounced accent influenced by her mother tongue. I like this country for the cultural consumption that exists. When she described the story of her dog, her companion of 19 years who had to be put down because of failing health, we had actually stopped at the middle of the park: “As the vet injected her, she looked at me for a long time, looked again and then closed her eyes forever.” Silly enough, we were both wiping our tears. I told her my own story of Dylan and how my baby and I got separated. Nostalgia came in a whiff of sadness. Sometimes, sharing a moment of sadness also leads to a moment of happiness in the fact that someone understands the depth of that emotion. Human beings do not like to be alone especially in moments of grief and when you get that arm of understanding, even from a stranger, you end up with a lighter heart. 

Gym over, I swung by the shop next door to say a quick hi to my old friend Uma didi. She wasn’t alone, I wasn’t surprised. This time it was Lali, short for Lalitha, a Singaporean-based Indian now an Australian of course. I wanted to know a good place for threading because here most people don’t thread their eyebrows, they just wax! But some Indian run beauty parlours do the traditional threading which is a lot less painful. Lali was quick with suggestions. Few minutes later I found myself in Lali’s car heading off to High Street where she had to buy fish and where I could repair my eyebrow.

Inside Lali’s messy but warm car, her life enfolded, enough for me to pour out in fiction. Just three weeks after she had migrated to Australia, her husband left her and her three babies. Her life was thrown in total disarray, she found herself working and working to look after the children who are all grown up now. The question that still haunts Lali is: why did a man who was such a loving father and husband and who showed no signs of betrayal leave her? She seems to have arrived at an answer. Years later when she visited her family in Singapore, she learnt he had married a much younger woman and settled there. One day when she found him sitting with a group of friends, she did give him a piece of her mind much against her children’s advice. "But that gave me mental peace," says Lali.

Lali’s husband has never kept in touch with the kids. Lali reasons that it has to do with having an Asian wife who sees keeping contact with the ex as a threat to reconciliation. Had it been an Australian woman, there would have been no issues, she says. Maybe, maybe not. Human beings are different but what does confuses the mind is how a man can be so stone- hearted as to not want to see the children he fathered even once.

Lali says she has had enough of looking after her children who are doing well except for the youngest, her son, who took to drugs and crime and has been convicted once. That she says is the bane of her life as she has to look after him even now. “I am so tired, I now want a life, I want a companion someone I can go out for coffee and not necessarily for the sex.”

But none of her Indian friends seem to understand her. “Why at this age you want a companion?” she is often told. They rationalise her life as the work of karma. In fact, Uma didi tells me, “She has to pay for her karma as she has eaten five men.” Lali has been linked to five affairs and for the Indian society here that is something abhorrent. In her defence, Lali says the Indian men only want to take advantage of her. One late night, a friend’s husband dropped by in the pretext of giving sweets. “I was in the area so I thought I would drop this off to you as well,” he said to her. When Lali thanked him and told him she would call his wife in the morning to thank for the sweets, he got so panicky that he begged her not to as she didn’t know he was calling on. Lali did not call the wife but she ripped his presence with a straight line. Pointing at her forehead, she asked the man, “Is the word F*** written here? Get out at once.”  I liked that.

Two women, two different stories. It was a Thursday to remember.

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