Reuben sat cross legged on the floor with a plate of food before him. Slowly he stuck out his hand and picked up a small piece of taro and tasted it. He was bored with Vero’s cooking. It was the same old sticky rice and tinned fish cooked with greens. He could hear the clatter of plates and cups as Vero washed up in the tiny kitchen. Her cooking seemed to have gotten worse since they began arguing about the baby. He picked up the spoon and moved the greens to one side of the plate and began eating the rice. He had taken two hours for his afternoon walk home from work and his dinner had since become cold. He turned towards the kichen and eyed Vero’s slim silhouette against the afternoon sun streaming through the kitchen window. She was beautiful. “Sexy” was the word.
“Vero!” He called out in a commanding voice. “Bring me some water. “ He hung his head over his head as he scooped the rice with his spoon. He heard Vero pull open the refrigerator door and poor some water for him. Vero came out the kitchen and silently placed the plastic cup of water before him. Without raising his head he waited until she had returned to the kitchen before he continued eating.
In the kitchen, Vero was rinsing the last of the plates when the pain stabbed in her lower abdomen. She leaned on the kitchen sink and waited until it subsided. Reuben was never the perfect husband for her. He never could be. He never listened when she tried to tell him how she felt. He’d say it was all hogwash or some mysterious illness that occurred only among females. They had married three years ago. Back then he was perfect and for a young girl who had known the comforts and restrictions of her family, Reuben was all she had ever wanted. He was free spiritied and strong minded. He also had a job and a house and only he could offer her the security she longed for. But things were a lot different from what she had immagined. She now had to face up to the reality of living with a low wage earner in a tinly cost house in one of the worst crime ridden parts of Lae City. She looked out o the window at the passing traffic. The dust rose and settled on the flywire each time a vehicle passed. It was depressing here.
“Aaaah! Vero!” Reuben let out a starting yell. “Come here and take this cup away, this minute, you stupid idiot! Reuben shouted even louder. “This bloody cup is greasy. Don’t you ever use soap?!”
Vero said nothing. She too was fuming but she did not want to say anymore. Reuben was like a kid who cried louder when you tried to explain something to him.
“Hey! I’m talking to you…” he stood up and shouted after her. He wanted to grab hold of her head and land a fist in the middle of her face but he restrained himself. He sat down and continued eating his food. It was pointless . He knew very well that the tension between them was because she refused to give him what he wanted. Why couldn’t he undertand that he wanted a child? She listed all the resons for her refusing to have children but they were just lame excuses.
Vero had told him that he had to stop drinking, to stop treating her like a slave and starting acting like an adult.
“What kind of an example will you be if you come home drunk and throw your tantrums about dinner when you’ve spent all your money on beer?” She had asked him. That question was badly timed. Reuben had responed by giving her a black eye and a spit lip.
It was getting dark outside and their next door neighbour had begun their fortnightly battles again. She heard the children screaming frantically for their mum and dad to stop fighting but it was useless. The endless crying of children crying while their parents fought was a frequent occurrence and she still had to get used to it. She wondered if her child – if she had one – would become like them. This was what scared her most about having children. It scared her enough to cause her to stop sleeping with Reuben. With Reuben’s explosive temper, there was a risk he would take it out of the little one. Patience was not one of Reuben’s qualitiies. When she met him, education didn’t seem to matter then. She hated herself for her own stupidity. For dropping out of grade 12 to marry someone who turned out to be a sexist and a suppressive dictator. Once she asked him to help her pay for a business corresspondence course for her but he reckoned it was a waste of money.
The pain in her abdomen seemed to grow with each painful thought. She made her way to the bedroom. She really had to lie down.
The afternoon traffic was beginning to ease as Reuben walked to the nearby squatter settlement where he knew beer would be plentiful. Vero was a headache. He wanted sex and he wanted children and that didn’t matter to Vero. It didn’t matter how he felt. She seemed to think it was an unecessary urge that had to be suppressed. All he wated was a son who would carry on his name. Why couldn’t this woman understand that? He walked into the tarpaulin covered clubhouse with an ear to ear grin. For the moment, all his problems with Vero could be tossed aside. He went strraight for the bar. His wallet filled with two thirds of his fortnightly pay. “Give me a six,” he said slapping his hand on the counter made from roughly hewn timber. He tapped a beat idly and waited for the barman to bring him his beer. Here, the beer cost almost twice as much as the regular price. The good thing was that you could get it anytime even when there was a liquor ban. Even the cops got their beer here too. The hours passed as he went back for his fourth and fith round of drinks.
Vero was up early bustling in the kitchen. She was a light sleeper and with the early morning traffic she was unable to sleep beyond 6am. The nauseating stench of her husband’ s beery breath and vomit filled the tiny room.
She hated drunks. Her father was a drunk. But it was no use complaing about it. She was married to one. She leaned against the kitchen sink and waited for the pain to ease. It has become worse. She had to go to the doctor. He went to where Reuben lay snoring. He looked quite different from the man she had fell for. He had a beer gut now and ugly fatty folds under his armpits.
“Reuben…Reuben…” She said tugging at his toe. “I’ve got pain in my abdomen. I have to go to the doctor. “
Reuben mumbled something in his sleep and then went back to sleep. Useless bugger, she said to herself. She had wanted him to accompnay her to the hospital. But she would have to go alone.
Reuben was sitting on the concrete steps on the house when Vero arrived just after midday. She would have prefered it if he was still asleep. They would avoid the argment she knew was brewing.
“Where have you come from?” he asked with a hint of impatience. Vero knew more questions would follow.
“I went to the doctor while you were sleeping like a log.”
“If you must know, Reuben,” Vero replied calmly. “I was told I can’t have any children. I have to go for an operation. They think I could have cancer.”
Reuben’s face became twisted with anger as he stood up unconvinced. This was another lie. Another excuse to deny him sex that was rightfully his. But he didn’t say it.
“What!” he yelled at her. The neighbours had started to gather around the both of them. You kept me thinking you were alright when you hid the truth from me! And I stuipid!”
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me, alright. The least you could do is acknowledge the fact that I am sick and that I could die. You are never home when I needed to talk to you about this and other things. How did you expect to find out when the only time you stay with me is when you want sex.
Silence. Reuben know he was beaten but his shattered male ego was slowly pulling together.
“It’s a good thing I can’t have children. What kind of a father would you have been to them? You are selfish. You are a drunk!
“Shut up woman! Don’t talk about children if you can’t have any. There are lots of woman who are willing to carry my children.”
Vero rushed to the room and stuffed her clothes into a small bag. This was it. She would rather be alone that be with this brute. Reuben charged into the room after Vero. His tempter was boiling over.
“Go on go, he screamed as he picked up Vero’s bag and hurled it out of the room. Turning around, he lifted one foot and kicked her in the back sending her reeling towards the wall. Vero was crying in pain as Ruben pounced on her with the left and a right. Draping her by the collar, he pulled her towards the door and shoved her outside. Neighbours, too scared to help watched helplessly as Vero’s bag flew out after her.
“Get out of my sight, useless woman!” he shouted at her. “Liar marrying me when you knew you were as infertile as an old empty bilum.
“Vero picked herself up painfully. Her teenager dream of meeting the perfect partner was now shattered. Ruben’s relationship with her was based on his desire to have a child to who would carry on his name.