SHORT STORY | THE CASE OF THE CHEATING SPOUSE – Part One

Something is up! I can feel it in my bones and in the whiffs of strange perfume that I get off and on from him, my husband. It is becoming more and more difficult to deny that he is having an affair. I, Batool Alam, 63 female, have been married to Qayum Alam, 65 male for forty years. In this day and age of fluid gender identities and unexpected unions and myself being a person of broad mind and zero judgmentalism, I wanted to clear who I am. My pronouns are she/ her. And despite all this other confusion and torment visited on me by his (most probable) affair, I am sure that QA’s pronouns have always been he/ him.

I teach English and Music at one of the leading international schools in the capital city of Islamabad. I also think it is pertinent to mention that Islamabad is considered one of the most beautiful capitals in the world – among the top five I think. That bit of aesthetic cum patriotic information by its very rarity, is essential to place in this narration in case it finds its meandering way beyond our borders. I am an ardent believer of the fact that in this day and age of passport strength being a thing, and us being among the hapless five bringing up the global rear of that hierarchy, that one must always grab opportunities to be an ambassador for one’s country.

I teach both, eastern and western music. I prefer the film and musical theatre melodies of the 70s and the 80s but I must add that I do allow the occasional Adele and Ali Sethi tunes to be performed and discussed in my class. I am tolerant like that. Open minded.

So as I was saying, my husband is, in all probability, cheating on me. I have sorrowfully but with great sangfroid (that’s one of my favourite words) made a list of all the evidence that has presented itself over the last month or so to arrive at that unhappy conclusion.

The first damning clue was the fact that after twenty years, Qayyum Alam made an excuse to not attend the fortnightly poetry recital at GAB Center. The Ghulam Abbas Baabul centre is the generous endowment of a connoisseur of the arts. Our benefactor is an entrepreneur who lives in Yucca Valley in California. He comes twice a year to Pakistan and then the best poets and playwrights of local and international renown grace the centre and enthral us all with their creations. I myself like poetry that has rhyme and meter – it shows skill. Free verse like a free range chicken just goes all over the place even if the end result is wholesome and salubrious. Give me a rhyming couplet even if it is of obscure meaning with only a passing nod to semantics. That is poetic license; arguably the best kind of license they have given out to date.

So as I was saying, my husband is most definitely having an affair. The Attar-e-Gulab* is the undeniable second clue. I myself prefer lighter, floral fragrances but each to her own I suppose. I just wish QA had let both the scent and the dame be rather than dousing himself in one while carousing with the other.

The third clue is his distractedness of late. I have not heard the satisfied hmmm after his first sip of afternoon tea. He has been gazing into the distance and just downing the cup like it was water rather than a potently brewed pot of ceylon tea. He has been wearing odd coloured socks; the only other time he did that was when he sat for his CPA examination forty five years ago. I wasn’t there of course but my mother in law (may she rest in peace) used to cackle when she used to tell the tale of Qayyum Alam’s mismatched socks being the third time lucky charm. You see, he had twice before failed the exams and had to resit them. These clues (subjective and circumstantial thus far) have been wafting around me for the past six weeks now, peri-confirming my suspicions. That just means one substantive evidence short of being fully confirmed. (Like peri-menopause. My experience with that peri phenomenon is a whole other story).

The summer holidays have begun for us teachers too about a week ago, so I have had a lot of time to hone in on the many indications of my husband’s recent waywardness. I myself am not one to wash my dirty linen in public but I had to talk to Jasmina Khan about it. She’s an old school friend. We barely see each other but our relationship is practical with none of the painful fluff of endless pleasantries and the ego hassles of unrequited social visits. I have to admit that I sometimes do feel a pang of guilt for not visiting her after she comes over to my place – (she does lives a forty five minute drive away and doesn’t work. I wouldn’t say that to her face though). Jasmina however, has never stoked my guilt into the dogged competition of who gets visited most. That is a quaint side effect of the hospitality of us South Asians: Guilting people into developing entirely new personalities and social lives. It is not always a bad thing, having multiple personalities to do justice to the various social commitments, but it is tiresome. I myself tend to fall somewhere between the hermits and the butterflies of the societal demographic. I think most people do. But i digress. This is about my husband; and his recent case of infidelity.

I called Jasmina and asked her for advice.

Batool, she said, rein him in at the earliest. Men sometimes like to go to other pastures. Not because they are greener but because they are elsewhere. And that is the enticement: the otherness. Not the betterness.

She told me about this private investigator, Inamullah Karamat. His office is in a small, nondescript building in the heart of Aabpara market and is difficult to find, for obvious reasons Jasmina had said. Getting caught out is not something people aspire to be and so there have been instances where the malefactors (the spied-upon) have taken the law into their own hands and tried to ruin and even beat up I. Karamat for uncovering the bitter truth. No, people don’t like being found out Jasmina had said, especially if they’re cheating, thieving or simply just eating too much. She told me of a friend who had her son followed to see what and how much he ate. He had, on discovering the spying enterprise (which was initiated solely for his betterment), unrestrainedly applied the full force of his 300 pounds on the ill-fated Inam Karamat. The investigator had come away with two broken ribs and a hairline fracture in one of his wrists. I was amazed at the dogged determination of the detective – it takes a man of courage to voluntarily and unflaggingly lead the charge in other people’s affairs. (It has to also be said that it takes a rich and guileful cuisine like ours to drive people towards breaking their calorie resolutions and their scales).

Jasmina gave me the number of Inamullah Karamat the proprietor and lead detective of the agency. I had a lot to think about (including whether in fact “betterness” is a word).

Jasmina’s pithy advice reverberated in my head and my chest the whole of that evening and the next day. She always knew what to do about some of the most convoluted and stigmatic issues; things people usually kept to themselves until they had fermented body and soul into a bitter soup. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be one of those sad, soupy types.

I am quite clear and determined about what I have to do.

Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/08/11/the-cheating-spouse-part-two/

Read Part Three here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/08/12/cheating-spouse-part-three/

* Attar-e-Gulab: perfume or essential oil obtained from the petals of roses.

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