Chanu had not beaten her yet. He showed no signs of wanting to beat her. In fact, he was kind and gentle. Even so, it was foolish to assume he would never beat her. He thought she was a "good worker" (she had overheard him on the telephone). He would be shocked if she lapsed.
"She is an unspoilt girl. From the village."
She had got up one night to fetch a glass of water. It was one week since they married. She had gone to bed and he was still up, talking on the telephone as she stood outside the door.
"No," said Chanu. "I would not say so. Not beautiful, but not so ugly either. The face is broad, big forehead. Eyes are a bit too close together."
Nazneen put her hand up to her head. It was true. The forehead was large. But she had never thought of her eyes being too close.
"Not tall. Not short. Around five foot two. Hips are a bit narrow but wide enough, I think, to carry children. All things considered, I am satisfied. Perhaps when she gets older she'll grow a beard on her chin, but now she is only eighteen. And a blind uncle is better than no uncle. I waited too long to get a wife."
Narrow hips! You could wish for such a fault, Nazneen said to herself, thinking of the rolls of fat that hung low from Chanu's stomach. It would be possible to tuck all your hundred pens and pencils under those rolls and keep them safe and tight. You could stuff a book or two up there as well. If your spindle legs could take the weight.
"What's more, she is a good worker. Cleaning and cooking and all that. The only complaint I could make is she can't put my files in order, because she has no English. I don't complain, though. As I say, a girl from the village: totally unspoilt."
Chanu went on talking but Nazneen crept away, back to bed. A blind uncle is better than no uncle. Her husband had a proverb for everything. Any wife is better than no wife. Something is better than nothing. What had she imagined? That he was in love with her? That he was grateful because she, young and graceful, had accepted him? That in sacrificing herself to him, she was owed something? Yes. Yes. She realized in a stinging rush she had imagined all these things. Such a foolish girl. Such high notions. What self-regard.
The bleeding seemed to have stopped. Nazneen turned off the tap and wrapped a piece of kitchen roll around her finger. Who had Chanu been talking to that day? Perhaps it was a call from Bangladesh, a relative who did not come to the wedding. Perhaps it was Dr. Azad. Tonight he would see for himself the big forehead and too-close-together eyes. Blood spotted through from the cut. She discarded the kitchen roll and watched the red drops fall on the silver sink. The drops slid together like mercury and rolled down the drain. How long would it take to empty her finger of blood, drop by drop? How long for the arm? And for the body, an entire body? What she missed most was people. Not any people in particular (apart, of course, from Hasina) but just people. If she put her ear to the wall she could hear sounds. The television on. Coughing. Sometimes the lavatory flushing. Someone upstairs scraping a chair. A shouting match below. Everyone in their boxes, counting their possessions. In all her eighteen years, she could scarcely remember a moment that she had spent alone. Until she married. And came to London to sit day after day in this large box with the furniture to dust, and the muffled sounds of private lives sealed away above, below, and around her.
Nazneen examined her finger. The bleeding had stopped again. Random thoughts came now. She would speak to Chanu about another sari. Abba had not said goodbye. She thought he would come in the morning, before they went to Dhaka, to the airport. But when she rose, he had already gone to the fields. Was it because he cared too much or because he cared too little? She needed more furniture polish. And bleach for the lavatory. Would Chanu want his corns cut again tonight? What was Hasina doing?
From Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Copyright Monica Ali 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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