“. . .that all my assets will be handed over to my parents for management after such circumstances,” I muttered, pronouncing each word and committing it to my memory, before signing above the dotted line. 

“Thank you, Donna. This is my reason to hold on living amid the plague. Now I can rest easy knowing that they’ll be taken care of after I die, regardless of some prying hands,” I nodded to my lawyer. All was said and done.

The final act of love was to ensure the bereaved continue receiving your attention despite your death. For me, it was easier to combine money and protection into one bundle of will, which I had signed.

“I’m sure your husband and in-laws won’t like this.”

“They don’t even like me. Surely nobody won’t like anything that doesn’t stand in their side.”

“You need time? You need to walk this through your parents, yeah?”

Shaking my head fervently, “I’ve told them. Frankly, they’re unhappy, too. But it’s more about the gravity of the situation that makes me resort to a legal matter. You don’t know how many times I’ve cursed my idiocy for not signing a pre-nuptial before the wedding.”

“But he never really strikes me as that type,” she tapped the stack of paper twice to her desk to align them, worry was painted over her pale face. “Someone lacking a spine.” 

I sighed heavily, proceeded to sip the coffee she made with a coffee machine. 

“Remember the first story about how his family asked me to buy some land? Kinda dropping the bomb when I was just a few months into a new stable job. What a bold move, something that I or even my parents would be ashamed to death to pull off.”

Even the second-rate coffee brands tasted heavenly on my tongue after the insurmountable burden of getting out of this pandemic alive to make it to hometown and arrange the legal proceedings had passed.

“Kudos to your therapist.”

“I stopped going to one after I almost ran away from home–their home–two years ago. The beauty lies in the acceptance of unavoidable sufferings while placing your hope high that someday things will start to look up.”

Myriad of emotions flashed quickly through her eyes and facial muscles, they confused me. Hopefully, she didn’t experience all fifteen stages of grief only within five seconds. 

“Quite an awesome quote. It baffles me, you know? How the most profoundly aching words come out from the most troubled people.”

“Ain’t it the truth? The universe sees someone troubled then decides, ‘oh, I’ll make their state is more balanced by imparting the capability of waxing poetic about life,” my eyes bugged out when emphasising the point. Guess poetry was a part of me now. A depressed poet with ready-to-make poems, tapping into the stream of consciousness where everything was rated based on their various degrees of pain.

“But do you think I’m exaggerating here? Do you picture me as a penny-pincher?”

“Stop beating yourself up. Money problem is the number one cause of divorce. I understand where you come from, to uphold your religious belief so that you don’t go for that way out. Speaking from the legal perspective here, I’m experienced myself in sorting out the prenups or divorce arrangement. Marriage can be downright awful and messy business without legal backing. You know, people who get married for love and love alone? I call that nonsense. Wait until the honeymoon phases out. The reality will hit you like a train.”

“Dopamine stuff, isn’t it?”

“That’s what I read. Not a doctor here,” she chuckled wisely.

My parents always taught me in humility and raised me in an uncertain single-income household. On the contrary, the in-laws did not actually have to struggle in their past. That was until the breadwinner passed away, my father-in-law that I did not manage to meet was. For them, money should come easily. For me, money was something earned, not given. The difference in perspective should have had turned me off aeons ago even before saying ‘I do’ but as my lawyer said, ‘for love alone’. I saw the irony in the situation now.

I recalled the event where the request to buy a land popped out of nowhere. Well, there was some sort of intro to it, but then the gist of the conversation manifested its rear ugly head.

“Would you be so kind as to buy this land for us? A family heirloom. The elders say it will bless  you with abundance.” That was it if I summarised the context.

“What happened to the aunt? Why does she have to sell the land?” I continued probing after heard the question. Agreeable was never my strong suit.

“She needs the money for their son’s university tuition fee. They’re sending him abroad.”

“But why do I have to?” I continued asking my mother-in-law later that fateful night when the thought refused to leave me alone, keeping me tossing and turning in my bed.

“Because it’s better if the land is bought by a family member rather than sold to someone else outside the clan.”

I understood that after our marriage two years prior, my asset was technically to be spent according to the decision of two people, my husband and I. Given that he practically lived in another island for the job that allowed him only a few times a year back in the city I worked and lived, his mother talked to me about almost everything pertaining to their family. Oh yeah, I lived in his family home along with his mother and a few months later, his sister and her husband with their two toddler sons.

But let’s say the major turn-off I had before the period of his sister and her tugging along her family was asking a wife to buy a property for the sake of her husband’s nephew. 

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he spoke over the phone sometime that week when I pressed him further about this request.

“It’s just not about that. Don’t you sense anything wrong?” I emitted.

“You’re overthinking.”

“No, it’s– you know, today is the land. Tomorrow who knows.”

“Why do you make this a storm in your teacup? This doesn’t have to be complicated. You say yes or no, and then we go about our day.”

“The way they sold it to me as if I’m a potential buyer for a real estate property. ‘We’ll rent the land for a small groceries shop’, they said. ‘We’ll put in on the ads web in case anyone is interested’, they said. They’re deeply clouded with the prospect of the land is sold until they didn’t know what was wrong with it,” I gritted my teeth.

“What’s wrong then?” his grating voice challenged me. Before I gathered my thoughts to respond, he quickly added, “It’s just a normal request.”

“It’s a whole world of difference,” now I was hissing through each syllable. “It’s one thing to ask someone to do a favour in such a small capacity, perhaps paying the whole monthly bills or even buying your mother a new dress. But it’s entirely something else to buy some land that costs me over six months of my salary. Doesn’t make any sense now, does it?”

“As I said, it’s just a favour. If you aid us, then it’s good for us. But if not, then no harm is done, right?”

The pause lent me some silence to think. I couldn’t even comprehend the level of wrongness in this situation. 

“Have my family ever asked something huge from you? Something that would cost you not pocket money?” I challenged him.

No, the fact was no. Never had my family come up with such a request to my husband because that was not what a newlywed couple was expected to do in my family. A couple had to prove their independence and support themselves, finding some footing in the world as the two became one. Not aiding in an irrelevant endeavour for an extended family member while it cost them huge. And it grew even more ridiculous with the age of our marriage when the request came. Two years. A two-year married couple was expected to provide succour worth many months of pay, laughable. To be made aware that my husband didn’t veto the idea before his mother came to me was perturbing. 

“You’re okay? You’re on the trip down the memory lane again, aren’t you?” my lawyer nudged my consciousness back into reign. 

“I’ll give you some time alone,” she added after assessing my expression.

“Yes, please. But, please come back after ten minutes. I don’t want to. . .,” I trailed off before finishing it with ‘spiral’. Too many times my mind had proven to be my grave enemy. One bad scenario led to another, one what-if and the multiverse to rectify my mistakes where I lived as someone else too many. Maybe I could put ‘bifurcating’ as my mind’s special ability.

She agreed then left me alone to mull over.

I recalled a random day years before the wedding when I was still single, my parents ever said to me to be keen on peeling off the layers of potential suitors. Someone might look fine and dapper but who knew about the family behind him. Since in our culture marriage is not just between two people but also the two entailing families, looking over background check never hurts. 

“Your partner will make or break your future,” Dad ever said, left me dwelling with apprehension moments later.

So here I was. Three years into it and already made a will to guarantee his family’s grubby hands would not lay a finger on what I’d leave to my parents. 

“I feel like I’m a cash machine,” I said that with full-on hesitation to my husband over another phone call succeeding the first one. It irked me to resort to a blunt phrase. The situation should have not necessitated the raw honesty. However, a strong bond was forged from baring the souls, wasn’t it? I was prepared to do so.

“Your concept is strange. I’ll never understand your mind.” His words pierced my heart with a serrated knife. Maybe the bleeding from the jagged wound was proven enough to end my feeling.

“Yeah? That’s not how a family works. And for the record, at least my parents understand me.” Looking back to it, I wondered what train of thoughts led me into saying this.

“Your parents only tolerate you.”

My evening went from dark to pitch black in an instant upon hearing that. Of all the time I grew up as a single person, not one soul ever told me that marriage could feel like a battlefield where you had to wear armour and be ready to unsheathe your sword for an ambush. Repeated ambushes. Was it my fault to be defensive that consequently triggered his response, or was it still his fault?

Was it my fault to be in this situation? To have accepted someone’s hand? A wrong someone. 

“We should look at the silver lin–”

“I was just barely over three months getting back to a regular job after being made redundant and your family already asked for some land to purchase.”

He scoffed. “What are you expecting, then? Why aren’t we allowed to ask?”

Scrambling to find the nonexistent answer, I couldn’t muster the courage to say my piece about ‘human decency’. Perhaps, the concept was bizarre enough for them.

“Last week, your sister even asked me about some allowance for her taking your nephew to the beach this weekend. She specifically mentioned that I shouldn’t say a word to you about this.”

He took a deep breath, audible from another end. “I’ll speak to her.”

“My point is it’s your family’s character about asking other people’s money loosely. What I said was just an anecdote of something only a fraction of the land, of course.”

“And then you may recall her faux pas about my aunt. I voiced out my dream of pursuing a master degree but then failed due to no scholarship granted to me and you know what she said, huh? ‘Why don’t you just ask your aunt to finance you? She’s rich, isn’t she?’ Without pondering first whether my aunt needed the money for her cancer recovery medical bills,” I teared up. Maybe he wouldn’t know, I wasn’t sobbing and my breath didn’t hitch. Only a drop of water trickled down my cheek as if the earth had sucked my last string of energy to complain.

“She. . . how could I put this. . . had a basic problem of common sense.”

She dropped out of college for marrying the love of her life who–until today, so they made it for five years already, with two children no less–could not show a bit of effort of providing for his little family. Not my place to interfere as either a mental illness or simply immaturity could be a cause. I learned to keep my mouth shut long ago; I only wished people control theirs, too.

“My point is still not addressed yet. It’s about how your family consider money. You guys had an easy childhood where it was never an issue. Mine, not so much. So you guys keep thinking someone else has to be the breadwinner and making impossible requests for anyone close enough. And this time, it’s me. It’s as if I’m in a transactional relationship.”

“Stop antagonising my folks.”

“Look, I made observations, even subconsciously. That’s the result of living together with your mother and sister’s family, right? It’s inevitable. And the conclusion that I drew was. . . simply put, you need major work to improve everyone’s mindset.”

“It’s a gradual process. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

“I can’t live like this.” I mentally retraced every life decision that led into this and questioning my faculty at the same time as regretting it.

So here I was at my lawyer’s office in my hometown. A visit I dreamed so many times about I engraved it in my mind. I made a point to stay alive during the pandemic so a homebound trip was possible to explain the plan to my parents and got hold of a lawyer from my mother’s law degree network.

I remembered saying on the first day of my arrival, “I’m leaving for my master degree in five months. That means I won’t be around for a while, perhaps longer than a year for I need to find a job overseas, too. And God knows what’s gonna happen during such a long period away.” Not a light topic to say to my parents after who expected a casual reunion, but the daily casualty numbers of this pandemic put things into perspective. Saying what we wanted to say, meaning what we wanted to mean.

My ten minutes was up so the lady came back with a folio envelope containing the documents.

“My parents did not have enough retirement savings, given that my dad had only worked in a small private company,” I blurted out. “If I never specified who my heir is, when I die the savings and funds would go to my husband as the immediate relative. Who knows if he would or wouldn’t cave in to his sister’s assuage. I wouldn’t want my money used by them.”

“Yep, it surprised me, too, that even in this modern time some couples have to support the extended family members. As if becoming the sandwich generation isn’t enough.”

The buzzing in my phone snapped me out of my deep thinking. I had no idea how fate would deal my cards in the near future. And with that, I saw a stroke of marigold creeping in the sky. The dusk was coming closer; and like everything else in the world, the day had to come to an end, too.

September 04, 2020 01:11

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