Myra was a serial thief. She stole flowers from everywhere we went. Public parks, people’s homes, little potted plants in lobbies. She wore pants with spacious pockets and had lightning-quick fingers. She smelled of the musky scent of nature and washed the dark petal stains from her pants by hand. Myra’s favourite place to visit was the nursery. She’d ask me to drive her there. Amid rows of candy flowers, her face would glow bright as sunlight on water, but she’d never smile. She’d look around as if appreciating the peach-honey glow of afternoon (the only time we made these trips), avoid the ‘DO NOT PLUCK FLOWERS’ sign as if it were someone from high school across the aisle in the supermarket, and tuck a fresh rose into her pocket. She was fastidious when it came to which flowers to pick – roses were best because they had dozens of petals in layers. Tulips were good too. Sunflowers were useless, all exposed with their petals fallen back. When we made these excursions, I walked a few feet behind her and avoided the eyes of shopkeepers. Often, I would plonk a bouquet of flowers on the counter right when we were to leave. Myra’s mouth would curdle and her eyes would tighten at the delay but never enough for the cashier to notice. As soon as we were back in the car, she would begin – first, she would rotate the flower slowly so that no angle of it went unseen. Then she would press her finger into the springy green stalk and bring the sweetness to her nose. She would run her fingertips over the creamy petals and start pulling the flower apart. Each petal would be detached gently, the translucent layers dropping away. I could see the reflection of the flower in her eyes when she did this. The first time this happened, I asked what she was doing. “I’m trying to find what’s at the centre,” she murmured. After, Myra rarely parted her lips when she was with her flowers. Myra and I have been together for five years, married for three. We met at a college party with invasive music and impersonal people. We identified each other in the crowd as only people who are equally uncomfortable in a situation can. I yelled, “Do you want to go outside?” at least three times before she heard, and we spent the rest of the night sitting on the cool metal steps of the fire escape. The moon was a round paisa in the sky and warm breeze tried to carry us away. Myra told me that she was majoring in international relations. She’d switched over after getting bored with psychology. “So my professor, every time he sends us an analysis of a theory he names it—” she held up a finger to indicate that I should wait, straightened up, continued, “Theory Anal.” She bent over again, her face gleaming. “He thinks it’s short for analysis…” And she was swallowed by more laughter. Later, we drove to Subway. The silence in the streets made me feel like we were the main characters in a movie. Myra ordered a sandwich with all the sauces and I got one with mayonnaise. We drove to the park to eat but ended up sitting in the car because the ground was insect-ridden. That night we exchanged phone numbers. The next day we exchanged date ideas. Mine – the little bookshop down Kailash Marg that recommends another book for each one you buy, the park with actual grass on the ground and lake in the fish. Myra’s – the frozen yoghurt parlour with the real blueberry flavour, the 24/7 bowling alley at 1 A.M. Sometimes we spent more time trying to decide where to go for our date than actually on the date. Myra began stealing nature’s gifts to earth after God stole nature’s gift to women from her. Myra decided towards the end of our first year of marriage that the time was right to have children. Myra and my mother-in-law would sit on our beige couch, tea cups in hand and parental planning in mind. Myra’s mother had advice to give on parenting techniques (“Always be strict rather than yielding.”), the right time to conceive (“It is now.”) and even the colour of the wallpapers for the child’s nursery (“Light mint is well-suited to a young one’s eyes.”) Myra spent hours looking at squeaking shoes half the size of my hand and chemical- free baby formulas. I felt obliged to do my part and started enquiring about fees at nearby daycares. One morning I woke up to see a gift-wrapped package on my bedside table. I ripped it open (Is it my birthday? Our anniversary?) to see a cardboard alphabet book. A for apple, B for ball, W for what is this, Myra? Myra said that she bought this for the baby (“I know you can read, dummy”) and it’s a valuable purchase (“It’ll work whether it’s a girl or a boy”). This went on for six months, and then we were looking at pamphlets on female infertility in Dr Bannerjee’s clinic. “Not to worry, infertility is more common than you think. In fact, around 10% of women have trouble conceiving…” The octogenarian then pulled out another pamphlet, this one on IVF, and tried handing it to Myra, but the glossy edges pushed ineffectually against her frozen fingers. We went home. Myra slept for four hours. I opened my laptop and triple-checked the same spreadsheet till the indifferent black lines slid over each other. Myra’s mother called, and I told her Myra was taking a nap, she’d call back. At dinner that night, I told Myra that we should probably consider adoption. Her face flickered for a moment. Then she forced the haze back over her eyes, announced, “I’m sleepy,” and burrowed under the covers again. Myra never called her mother. We never gave away the alphabet book. Now we’re eight months away from Dr. Bannerjee’s avuncular voice and ten feet from the entrance to another nursery. “We have to keep switching up, or they’d notice that we come in often but never buy anything,” she says. “I buy things sometimes,” I reply, but Myra has already walked in. Myra walks along the rows of freshly tilled earth for a few minutes, then turns around and looks at me pointedly. I enquire loudly about the blooming period of chrysanthemums, letting Myra disappear behind thick green stalks. Twenty minutes later we sit in the car, and I watch Myra slip away. She wouldn’t notice if I sat and stared at her as intently as she’s staring at the white rose in her hands. I start driving eventually. I get out to go to the bank. When I come back she’s lying with her eyes closed, the late afternoon sun turning her eyelids to tan petals as delicate as the ones on the floor. She waits till I’m seated to open her eyes and say, “Do you remember which movie we saw on our second date?” “It was a Shah Rukh Khan one, right?” “What was he called in that one? Rohan? Raj?” “I don’t know,” I reply, dragging the words out so I can watch her face. “Neither do I,” she says, pounding her small fist on the dashboard. “Dammit.” Myra crosses her arms and lies back down in her seat. Her forehead smoothens again before I’ve even put on my seatbelt. I still wait for a few minutes before I start driving. I come home one day to find Myra sitting on the floor in our spare room, turning the pages of our wedding photo album slowly. All around her are rose petals. It looks like the quintessential scene where the husband scatters petals to surprise his wife, except this husband came too late and this wife has spread her own petals. I begin to wonder if Myra’s eyes will ever unglaze again. I put our pillows on the wrong end of the bed; Myra falls asleep without a word. I serve Cheetos for breakfast; Myra eats the orange junk. I replace the spices in the kitchen cupboard with her nail polishes; Myra adds varnish to our dinner. On Sunday, an invitation to my cousin’s baby shower drops into our mailbox. I tell Myra about it over breakfast. “Chaachi will be offended if we don’t go,” I cajole. She looks at me from behind the large blue lilies on the centre of the table. She swirls the muesli in her bowl. “I’ll go,” she says. The baby shower is held at one of the sprawling lawns of Delhi, where pastel pink bunting and fairy lights show the way to the celebration. My cousin and her husband stand next to a growing tower of gifts and accept congratulations. The baby sits in its pram and blows spit bubbles out of its fat cheeks. Myra and I meet the happy couple and give them our gift (a mobile of stuffed animals I picked up after work yesterday). When we meet the baby, she looks up at us with her giant eyes. I look at Myra more closely than at the baby. Myra smiles softly, then extends her index finger for the baby to wrap its doll-like fingers around. We greet relatives, take a slice of Barbie cake each, and sit down. We realise soon that this party has mainly cold drinks and spring rolls. At the rate people are trickling in, lunch won’t be served anytime soon. After twenty minutes, Myra and I pretend we have another obligation and say goodbye to the hosts, who are sharing a glass of champagne with their old boss, and to the baby, who is smashing her fist into orange marzipan, and head back to our car. When I start driving Myra says, “I’m hungry.” “There’s a Subway down the street,” I offer. Fifteen minutes later we’re behind the same counter we were five years ago. I order and ask, “Do you want to eat in the park?” “The one with the lake?” “The one with the jungle gym.” She nods. We sit on the ground this time, leaning against the primary-coloured jungle gym. The malevolent arthropods of our imagination turn out to be crimson lady bugs, skittering harmlessly across our shoes. Myra eats her sandwich slowly. Then suddenly she says, “What’s her name?” “Alisha,” I reply. “Not your cousin’s, the baby’s.” “I think they’re leaning towards Sarah.” She’s quiet after that, watching a ladybug blend into the leather of her red pumps. The next morning as I’m reading the paper, I hear Myra cry out from the kitchen. I rush to the door and see her holding a small neon green bottle. “Who put this here?” she asks. “I have no idea,” I reply. Later, at work, I remember the astonishment in her voice and smile into my tea. She shakes me awake early on Sunday morning. I sit up straight, thinking stupidly that she found the Cheetos in the cereal box. “Do you think Sarah would prefer this” —she holds up the alphabet book— “or this?” she gestures at the squeaky pink shoes still in their box. I try to speak but the words are swimming in my brain. “Wha—? What time is it?” She glances at the clock. “Five. Anyway, I was thinking both. But I don’t want to shower Alisha with gifts right after the party. I think we should wait for the first birthday.” “Yeah, probably,” I say, still rubbing my eyes. She gets up. “Wait! What’re you doing?” I mumble. “Cleaning the spare room,” she says simply. “I’m coming,” I say. In our nursery room-to-be, Myra and I open boxes and sort all the stuff we bought till sunrays seep into the room, me in my superman T-shirt with the loose strings at the sleeve and Myra in her cupcake pyjamas. “This?” she asks, holding up a Lightning McQueen onesie. “Charity,” I say. By eight the birds outside have started chirping and Myra and I have three different piles – To Give to Sarah, To Donate and To Throw. Myra sighs and sits on one of the boxes. Neither of us realised till just now how many things we’d accumulated. I put the To Throw out for the garbage and put eggs on the pan for Myra and me. I go to the grocery store after breakfast to replenish our breakfast foods supply. Myra says she’ll stay behind, find out which charities we can donate to. When I come back I see the flowers from the dining table are missing. The grocery bags in my hands fall to the ground with a soft thud. “Myra?” I call. I’m scanning the floor for the tell-tale petals. I find her in our room, book in hand and the flowers in the trash, petals intact. I look down at them and then back up at her. “You threw the flowers,” I say. She murmurs in assent, eyes still on the page. “Did you… find what’s at the centre?” She gets up, puts the book down, and when her arms are around my neck she smiles and says, “Yes.”
-- Ashira Shirali is a high school student from Gurgaon, India. Her work has been published in 99 Pine Street, Germ Magazine, Parallax Literary Journal and Moledro Magazine. You can find her reading with a cup of tea on most days.