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A Veiled Friendship

The discovery of her relationship with Mary emboldened Savithri and drove her to ask Mary how she had married George. Hesitant at first, she started by saying, “In Chandrashekarapuram we hardly came into contact with outsiders. Particularly, girls were not allowed to even talk to strangers.” Looking straight ahead and choosing to simply listen, Mary continued drinking her coffee without responding. “My mother would not even let me go to school alone. I always walked with all the neighborhood girls or Rangan, my brother.” Still silent, Mary looked up at Savithri and smiled gently. Finally, “I have wanted to ask you this from the first day I met you, how did you end up marrying a Nasrani?” blurted out Savithri reddening a little.

Mary who had probably guessed at what was coming smiled, “You should have just asked me. I would not have minded because I know it looks odd, me in a madisar, with a name like Mary and married to George Varghese,” said Mary smoothening a crease on her immaculate, deep violet madisar. The color looked stunning against her smooth fair skin. “The husband that my mother chose for me never really cared for me. He married another woman. I did not want to live with him anymore so I chose to leave with George who lived in the church quarters neighboring our village.” 

The explanation seemed incredible to Savithri, who knew that a woman from the agraharam, especially a married one, rarely ever came into contact with men outside the family unless they were workers and even then, everything was from a distance. She stared at Mary who was now looking like she was ready to leave. “What was the name that your mother gave you?” asked Savithri skeptically. Mary merely sighed and looked at her resignedly, “I have left my past in Guruvayur. I don’t want to think about my life then. I like you very much. Please, let’s not talk about who I was before I became Mary.” 

Savithri was embarrassed enough to burst into tears. She had not expected Mary to shut her out in this manner. She was innately curious but in this case, she felt she had a right to know since Mary was her relative. Savithri nervously brushed an imaginary strand of hair from her face and looked down at her fingers biting her lips. She continued to stare at her fingers, her face a deep crimson by now until she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up she met Mary’s calm, steady gaze. “Please, I am asking you to leave my past in Guruvayur. We both have a new life now.” Savithri only nodded, looking down at her fingers, like a child that had just been reprimanded. Mary would never ever talk about how she married George and it would be many years before Savithri would sort of understand the truth in a very vague manner from gossip that would trickle in from various people arriving from Guruvayur in search of a new life. By the time she thought she finally understood Mary’s marriage to George, it would cease to be a matter that intrigued her. 

In the months that followed, Mary continued to visit Savithri as she always had, like she had never had that conversation with her. Savithri who was awkward initially could not continue that way for too long in the face of Mary’s genuine warmth and desire to be a close relative and friend. Savithri would not visit Mary’s home and Mary never asked her. It was like a tacit understanding they shared. George rarely accompanied Mary but when he did, he was extremely respectful and friendly. As much as Savithri was suspicious of him, as in the back of her simple and gullible mind she was convinced that he had kidnapped Mary and forced her to be his wife, she had to admit that she found it difficult to dislike the man.

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