It’s afternoon, a sunny and cool fall day in the leafy cul-de-sac in a suburb twenty minutes outside Toronto, but she isn’t enjoying the crisp air outdoors. Instead, she’s in the family room upstairs busy pulling the blinds down, having switched on the computer and made sure the door downstairs was locked, lest her son come back unexpectedly from school. It feels slightly immoral to be doing what’s she about to do when her husband comes online on Skype — take off her clothes and watch him pleasure himself on the 21-inch computer screen before her.
Their sex life had not been discussed as much as the other issues involved in moving to Canada from their home in the Middle East, but of course it was very much present in their minds once it had become clear that her husband would have to stay back at his well-paid job due to the lack of comparable job opportunities there. The family would be split. Decisions had to be made regarding schooling, housing, money transfers, etc. But what was also there in their minds was how would they cope with the imminent physical separation. In particular, it would be his problem, since she’d grown up believing that males are supposed to have more of a sex drive. What could she do to make it bearable? Make love a hundred times as reserve before leaving? When one has been fortunate enough to have real communication about sex (she’d read once that most South Asian wives had never seen their husbands in the nude, and that sex in most homes was mostly about procreation, and remembered thinking, poor souls), this was a serious matter. But other than having to bear it, what could one do?
Well, one could be innovative. Technology has its uses, and long-distance lovemaking suited their needs. The time difference was appropriate, and it could be done Monday through Friday, especially Friday, a regular school day for their son here in Canada but the weekly day of rest in the country that had been their home till a few months back. She doesn’t remember who had brought up the idea first, though she remembers squirming initially when the first session became a reality rather than a foolish thought. When her husband had first asked her to take off her shirt in front of the computer screen and show him the breasts that he so missed, she had balked at first, imagining that her nudity could be seen by unseen techies who huddled in a room and oversaw the messages and visuals going across the world. He had to reassure her, saying that no one was privy to the images and the technology didn’t have minders as such, but she wasn’t very convinced. Even after that first hesitant session, her fears about her pictures being kept in some digital storehouse remained. Several sessions later, the absurdity of the situation sometimes made her giggle inwardly even as she wondered if her husband felt the same too.
Once he had asked her if she fancied any of his friends, and she had just gagged on that thought.
If she was fully truthful, she would admit that these sessions also seemed illicit, and surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, this added an element of titillation. The addition of a third invisible party, the medium of the internet, somehow enveloped the whole enterprise in a slightly sinful aura, just as it did to the conversations they had had about a possible threesome. Her husband had confessed that it was a favourite fantasy of his, to have her and another female in bed, and she couldn’t make up her mind if the images that conjured up repulsed her or attracted her. They had discussed it many times, with him detailing what he would do if that became a possibility, and their lovemaking on those occasions had an edge to it, a coarseness that would never have been associated with their seemingly sedate selves. Of course, once they ventured into the practicalities that a threesome required, they had to give up on the idea — after all, one didn’t just talk about this sort of thing with friends, and neither had the gumption to follow it through and call in a professional. Does her husband feel disappointed? She sometimes resents the fact that he expected her to do everything, even take the lead in this. Letting the idea fizzle out had been one of her silent rebellions. She wonders, though, if that venture would add to her marriage, or harm it irrevocably. Once the barrier has been broken, how easy would it be for her husband to find new partners for himself on his own?
It’s ironic, she ruminates as she waits for her husband to come online, that he would not have these apprehensions. Despite the fact she too misses him physically, she would not be suspected of taking on a lover in Canada. The mythology of women being too good for their own good wouldn’t allow for it. Women are supposed to bear separation with good grace, or maybe not be strongly sexual at all. She remembers one of her husband’s friends jokingly saying to her, “Better watch out, he might take on a second wife here now that you will be away in Canada.” She had retorted, “Well, perhaps he better worry about my finding a second husband there.” She recalls the friend’s silent, censorious shake of his head. Why is the onus always on women? Her husband doesn’t feel guilty about the decision to stay apart from the family — it was the sensible choice, after all — so why does she? She wonders now what he thinks of her confession of sometimes watching the adult films on cable those lonely Friday nights when her son has gone off to parties and she is alone with nothing but memories of making love with her husband of twenty-four years to sustain her.
Yes, this is a fifty-year-old woman who sits at the computer, with some lipstick on, hair brushed to a shine, ready to do a striptease for her husband who is more than ten thousand kilometres away across oceans and plateaus. And now there he is, smiling on the screen: a slim, greying man, the love of her life, the person she calls her Rock of Gibraltar. He’s been faithful to her in every way and a great provider, and she’s proud that they can talk about this most private area of marriage with ease and abandon. The fact that they were aware of this aspect of immigration — the physical separation — had led to her saying that if the need became too much, he had her permission to enlist the services of women who could fulfill those needs, but please could he be careful and use protection, because one never knew. He had laughed, protested and chastised her for even thinking such a thing. Of course, there was no such offer for her, because he knew that she would not even consider it. But, now the niggling thought comes to her, what if she wanted to consider that option?
Once he had asked her if she fancied any of his friends, and she had just gagged on that thought. Truly, she had never had felt the desire to be in bed with someone else. Of course, perhaps if it was George Clooney … but mostly it just felt like so much work. For the life of her she can’t imagine these Hollywood couplings, with dozens of casual sex partners. Her husband had once told her that for men it was different, that there weren’t many feelings involved except the obvious one, and when she had protested that she still didn’t see it that way, he had told her that she didn’t have a penis and hence couldn’t think of it “that way.” She had let the matter rest, knowing that if she ever contemplated having another partner it would be because their minds shared an intimacy greater than what she had with her husband, and not due to the attractions of a body with a six-pack toned to perfection.
Another gesture with his eyes and she now moves the camera slightly, so that the screen travels onto her navel and beyond.
Maybe that was old fashioned. People thought differently now, just as girls these days don’t think much of “saving” themselves for marriage. Come to think of it, even she had flung virtue and the rules of her generation out the window after she had fallen in love with her austere-seeming classmate, this quiet, serious-minded person who was now asking her about her day. He was taking time to ease into their virtual lovemaking just as he did in their bed, holding and caressing her till she thought she couldn’t wait a second longer and would curve into him, impatient for the real thing. But he would tease her out, taking his time.
So it is now, and all she can think of is that imminent moment when a pause will signal what’s to follow, that look, developed after years of togetherness, a shorthand for private pleasures … already her mind is feverish with desire, but as usual she waits, and here it comes now, that half-smile, questioning and complicit — “so let’s do it, shall we” — and she, still conversing in the silent language of love, starts opening the buttons slowly (he likes that). Time seems suspended, even though she can hear a plane passing overhead on its way to Pearson Airport, as she now takes off the red top, to reveal the black bra that encases her still-bountiful breasts. Her husband gestures, and she gets out of the chair and then walk towards him, starting from the edge of the room. She does that, a little shy and conscious of her droopy stomach and the extra fifteen kilos she carries (she really should switch to thinking in pounds as people do in Canada, but that would make the extra weight seem heavier), but then the familiarity of his look makes her forget what she weighs, because she can see what her image is doing to him. He’s always been a “breast” man — she used to laugh about his weakness for this part of the female body, and she was happy about the fact that he so loved hers. His hand upon her breast would be the first intimation that he was in the mood. Some nights, when she was really tired, she wished she could have had detachable breasts — she could have happily unzipped hers then and given them to him, so that he could knead, fondle and generally delight in to his heart’s content. It was just amazing what breasts could do to him, and he often marvelled at their softness and feel. He’d confessed to her that his eyes automatically went to a woman’s breasts first, and she thought, well, women don’t look at a man’s crotch but then she didn’t want to make it a gender issue. As long as he thought hers were fantastic, she wasn’t going to complain.
So she walks towards him, and once back in the chair, she takes off her bra, and cups her breasts — he nods, gestures again and she leans in closer to the screen, and the camera faithfully captures the spherical beauties, and her husband makes a moaning sound as the image dominates the screen. The first time on Skype, she had asked him to lower the camera on himself, so that she could see the turgidity that she so missed, but now she doesn’t. It’s enough for her to see her power over her husband online, on the computer screen. Another gesture with his eyes and she now moves the camera slightly, so that the screen travels onto her navel and beyond. Subconsciously she draws in her stomach, and then slowly peels away her undies. (She’d actually gone to a fancy lingerie shop to buy a special set for these occasions, embarrassed by what she imagined were the smirks of the young salesgirls there. The one tending to her, with perky breasts and an attitude to match, had raised her eyebrows at her enquiry about a particular style and intoned that the store didn’t carry her size. “Sorry,” she’d said, not sounding sorry at all, and at that her courage left her, and she’d fled the huge pink emporium, feeling humiliated and sure of suppressed laughter behind her. She can now laugh herself, at her nervousness, but at that time all she could think was that the young can be very cruel.) Her husband’s face registers his approval. He’s never liked hair down there, not even “a triangle or a landing strip” as Samantha had once enquired of Carrie Bradshaw on a particular Sex and the City episode, so she is always smooth and hairless, as she now thrusts her pelvis at him, offering herself to her husband across nearly half a world.
A part of her can imagine how pathetic it must seem, two “old” people engaged in this ancient pastime, oblivious to time and distance. But, mostly, she doesn’t care. Immediate needs are most important, and if that is what their marriage needs, she’ll do it. She moves her body, writhing as if in bed with him (and not in a chair bought on sale from Staples), encouraging him on until the space in the room fills with the imminent implosion of their virtual coupling.
Afterwards they are both occupied with practicalities as they tidy themselves up. She retrieves her clothes and puts them on, conscious again of the pathetic picture they make. Loneliness seizes her for a moment, at the anti-climactic realization that she and her husband are still separated by thousands of kilometres. At the same time, the thought that one item has been crossed off her to-do list for today pops up in her head, and she dismisses it instantly, knowing that she will have to acknowledge this and many other issues later on when in bed alone. Her husband now looks ready for his bed, lonely as it is, because his body is at peace now, sated, and she’s glad that she can do this for him even now. They smile, speak in half-sentences, because really, what is there to say except that they miss each other very much.
So they say their goodbyes, and he clicks off first. She exits the program, then checks the time, as she also has to fix up a big lunch for her son who would be coming home ravenous as usual. At sixteen years old, appetites are healthy. As she thinks through lunch menus while clicking off the computer and putting the blinds up again, she wonders randomly if her friends who are in the same situation cope the same way with their loneliness. These might not be the problems that would strike people who write papers on immigration, and she wishes that more people were aware of the cost of immigration in emotional terms. She knows of marriages that have collapsed, or relationships that changed as wives stayed on in Canada with the children while the husbands supported them through well-paid jobs in Dubai and other Gulf cities. Families are split, not only physically but in myriad other ways, as newcomers like her struggle to make a new home in Canada. She has wept many nights at the turn her life has taken, trying to cope with being a single parent to a teenager as confused as she is by this sudden change in life. Her son still retains his anger and bafflement at being moved from his comfort zone, but lately seems to be cautiously catching up in his high school world. She hopes he will come to see this country as home, but knows it will be a difficult journey for him and for her as well.
For now, though, she’s content, and as she moves out of the family room, she checks to see if she has forgotten anything. Once, since the blinds had stuck, she had hung one of her scarves to cover the window, and had forgotten to remove it. Her son had immediately asked about it when he got home that day, and she had said that the sun’s glare had been making it difficult for her to watch TV. He had accepted the explanation, shrugged to accept mothers who couldn’t even manage blinds, and then fixed the problem. Of course, she had squirmed inside, praying that he would never, ever guess what she had been up to. Years of practised parenthood had come to her rescue with that glib explanation.
So she goes to the washroom (she always has to, as the excitement builds up a different type of pressure that has to be relieved too), and then pats the lipstick down (her observant son had once commented upon it, and she didn’t want to say that she had gone out when she hadn’t, easier to just remove the lipstick). Ready for the kitchen, she walks down the stairs. Maybe pasta today for him, and a salad, with some rice and grilled chicken for her, and that leftover chocolate pudding from yesterday. She’s hungry too.