Being Cheeky


After I got separated from my husband I told everyone who cared to ask after his health that “He died!”  Depending on my mood and the audience, I would put on my solemn bereaved widow’s voice; or my witch’s cackle; or the shrugging “It’s all for the best” voice.


My audience reacted with varying degrees of sympathy.  Some kept giving me worried looks (having seen him that very morning looking hale and hearty).  Others muttered prayers while making signs of the cross or the crescent.  Still others burst into tears, funny how people can summon tears at will, while a few (Men mostly) suggested, “Shall we celebrate?”


Tales trickling from the other camp had similar gory endings.  “Oh! She turned into a vampire” said my ‘you know who’ or “She got on her witch’s mat one day and flew off, showering curses at everyone who dared to wave at her.  Must have landed somewhere in Siberia,” HE said gleefully.


My favorite is the one about teeth.  “She bites” my husband said. “The old girl has gone off her rocker.  Keep away from her.  She could nip off your ear”.  It’s a gem.


Mutual friends (these are poison-keep away from them) would either ferry back and forth with the gory tales or avert their faces if they met you in the street.


I relished meetings with the ferry people and would embellish the details; right down to the clothes I wore for his funeral.  For some, I wore black satin.  “Isn’t that rather night club?”  Some would ask, “Well, it did turn festive later on”, was my cheerful repartee.


For the face averters, I perfected my witches’ cackle, carried it to a higher note-a mezzo soprano, I think, which frightened them.


If a member of the poison brigade told me that he was looking happy, I would spend hours designing ways of getting rid of “that smirk” from his face.  Occasionally, I would select the most poignant item from our trove of memorabilia (part of which I got to keep) like wedding photos and have it sent over to his house.  After midnight was part of my modus operandi.


Having sent him a particularly touching photo, he phoned at 2 A. M. in the morning “I know you are a vampire and a witch, he said, but couldn’t you have chosen a more respectable hour?  Besides, “what have my ancestors got to do with you?”  This was after I had sent him a black and white photo of his grand uncles, a bunch of fierce looking gentlemen in turbans.


The packages would invariably include a note and again, depending on my mood, they would either have only one word “Enjoy” (ghastly, isn’t it?) or 20 foolscaps of tiny script scribbled on both sides.  He would phone and say “Did you have to write all that nonsense?” I would answer back “It’s my profession, I sell words” and ring off with a “chu – chu – chu!.”


It got to a point where we scrambled over who would ring off first.  Both sides kept scores.


He would phone after having seen me looking good on television (if I may say so myself!) and say things like “You know you are not getting any younger, you ought to settle down.”  “I, not to be outdone would come out with the rejoinder” I’ll send you my admirers’ CVs and would you help me select a suitable partner?”


Once we collided at a restaurant.  I was waiting for friends and he was with a seminar group.  His expression clearly said, “Is the witch going to behave?”  My behavior was quite sweet, holding his hand and telling him about my plans.  He peered closely at my face and came out with  “I haven’t seen that one before”.  I thought he meant my hair-do.  He was of course, referring to the indentations on my face.  What most people call wrinkles and what I call “laughter lines”.


He called my sister one night and complained, “The pest! Why doesn’t she move away to Katmandu?” This was after I had come up with a most innovative strategy to “remove that smirk from his face”.


“Fact is,” my sister said, “The pest” was hoping YOU would immigrate to Australia”.  “Australia? I don’t know anyone in Australia,” he yelled.  At which point my sister said “well, our aunt in Katmandu passed away”.  “I didn’t know you had an aunt in Katmandu”, was his wild retort.


Bumping into a member of the Poison brigade outside the supermarket, I adjusted my expression to the one favored by television stars and called out “hello” in a posh chi-chi voice, waving at him as if he were a minion.  I can’t explain why, but such people always bring out the beast in me.


Sauntering over to him, I extended my hand (two fingers actually) and he said “Thought you were in Siberia” “Oh!” I said, “I had to come back, you know …. Had some unfinished business here, like telling you to ‘JUMP INTO THE SEA,’ I could hardly do that from Siberia, could I?”


He, (my ex) phoned out of the blue and said Saw your admirer the other day, at the club and bought him a drink.”  “Which one”?  I asked desperately, fearing the worst, that he had enumerated all my shortcomings “The “fan” or the club?” he asked.  “Anyway he’s an OK chap, rather thick though” he said.


“Keep away from him you wicked, wicked man,” I shouted down the phone.  Needless to say, the “fan” bade a hasty adieu and made an exit, the coward!


I, on the other hand upon meeting one of his girlfriends at the beauty salon couldn’t keep from mischief and salons, being a nest bed of vipers, the beautician and her retinue played along.


“We did look good together, didn’t we? I said, while staring at ‘girlfriend’s’ reflection from the mirror.  The cobra beautician gushingly agreed while her puff adder of an assistant chortled, which pleased me.


Thrusting the nail an inch further into the hapless female’s heart I went on “Did you know that his special name for me was Siti el Habaib meaning ‘Beloved lady’?”  Not true.   He called me “Tyson” or ‘Matumla’ (during fights) or ‘Miss Piggy” during tender moments, after the TV character and on account of my short nose.


Hammering the nail home, the puff adder added “He always admired your long hair, didn’t he?” Pointedly looking at ‘girlfriends inch long and never to grow longer hair’.


The poor lady left in tears with her hair half done.  I, gave a hefty 10,000/= tip to the reptiles.


Never one to miss an opportunity, I whispered to another of his girlfriends “Poor man, he suffers from a terminal illness.  They say he’ll never recover”.


When she started howling I yelled into her ear “Pull yourself together!”  She went and told him “The cow tried to bite off my ear”.


Strange the teeth motif keeps cropping up every now and then.  Having walked out on a suitor introduced by friends (who can be quite destructive) the man reeked of BRUT aftershave and worse, he giggled, kept shouting “hiriri hoo!” I phoned my ex to garner sympathy.


The first thing he said was “Did you bite him?”  “No”, I sobbed “But I hated him on sight and kept hoping he would have a coronary”.  He said “You know, you ought to mend your belligerent ways otherwise, you’ll have to come back to me because no man would stand your ‘wild activist ways’”.  He, after all calls me Tyson!


Inevitably as in all separations, we fought over who was to keep what.  The bloodiest battle was fought over Chocolate.  He had come to us as a puppy and being brown, sweet and cuddly, we called him Chocolate.


Six years later, we sat in a restaurant waiting for the maitre to find us a table where we had come to “thrash it out”.


“Hiss! Hiss!  That was me (ungrammatical) “Snarl! Snarl!” that was him.  “I’ll sue you in the High Court for custody over Chocolate” I said.  “You keep gallivanting across the country” he said.  You media people are a strange lot.  Chocolate would die of starvation”, he added in triumph.


Curious onlookers, especially those who had known us as an item smiled benignly at us.  Actually, we did look cozy, sitting close to each other by the corner, whispering into each other’s ears.


The battle raged on and we still hadn’t obtained a table.   Feeling cross, I picked up  my handbag and muttered, “I’m going to the wash room”, and left the place.   An hour later, he phoned which pleased me hoping he had relented over Chocolate’s place of abode.  All he said was ‘you could at least have paid for your orange juice”.


Chocolate being a true gentleman chose to die before matters could be resolved.  It seems he didn’t want to be a bone of contention.  Pun intended!


He didn’t tell me of chocolate’s demise. It was after his watchman’s third cousin’s friend’s neighbor who told my watchman’s girlfriend’s sister-in-law that I got to find out.  I sent him a note and accused him “you murdered my dog!” and cried for a week, and took to going to work with my eyes swollen and blotchy.


A poison I met asked, what happened to you, you look sort of, Nairobi eyed”.

One of my friends saw my ex holding a long pole and asked him “Is that stake meant to drive through vampire’s (me) heart?”  A mad gleam came into his eyes and he said “Now, that is a thought!”


“Actually, he went on, I’m quite fond of the old girl.  I miss the cooking – the moussaka; the bouillabase; the cheese macaroni etc.  What I don’t miss is her yaketting.  She talks all the time – yaketty yak, yaketty yak.  You know, when she ran out of things to say which was rare, she would sing, screeched really. Once she recited the alphabet”.


Because I’m mean, I have given names to his girlfriends. One I call “the Bermuda Triangle” another I call ‘Piranha, while the elderly one I call ‘Ajuza’ (crone). In response, I mean fair’s fair, one calls me albino; another says I swear like a stevedore – I felt quite flattered actually.  The meanest says I look like Mao Tzu Dong as he lay on his bier. The Venerable Chairman must be churning in his grave or is it Mausoleum?

Whatever! C’est la guerre.

Editor’s note:  C’est la guerre is French for “It’s War”



“Together We Can Make it Happen”

Leila Sheikh