A Traditional Wife
By Hannah Thomas
This story was inspired by a Girls Write Now workshop where we spoke about outdated taboos. The inspiration for my piece was the complicated yet consistent dynamic between my two Caribbean grandparents.
Cynthia sat on the rocking chair facing the television—turning over her wrist and reading her small silver watch. She noticed it was nearing 8pm—her husband’s usual time. Just then she heard Papa strutting through their small hallway. He entered their living room, his long body hunched over. He picked up his fedora and Cynthia jumped up to help him put on his coat. He turned to face her as she fixed his scarf over his collar. Both stayed silent. She took her seat again and he turned to leave, tipping his fedora towards her before closing the door behind him. Cynthia turned her gaze to the television screen while she heard the door close.
Hours passed and like always she hadn’t heard from him. She was the furthest thing from worried because she knew where he was. Every night Papa received a phone call, got dressed, and left—all in silence. She’d never asked him where he was going, she was raised not to. But she wanted the satisfaction of him telling her. Every time she built up the courage to ask, she could hear her mother’s voice in the back of her head: “You should never ask a man where he’s going after 8pm.” Cynthia was torn between this taboo, and what she felt entitled to as a wife.
She decided to call her granddaughter, Hailey. Papa and Cynthia had never had kids, so Hailey was the closest thing Cynthia had to a daughter. Hailey picked up the phone quickly. “Hey Ma, what’s going on?”
“Hailey, did Papa happen to mention where he was going tonight?”
Cynthia looked around the room anticipating Haileys answer.
“Ma. You do know all you have to do is ask Papa, right?”
“I just wanted to know if he told you,” Cynthia asked, sounding like a small child.
“You’re kidding right? I feel like I’m speaking to kids,” Hailey responded, clearly annoyed.
“Well then what the hell do you think I should do? He just gets up, and picks up his old coat, and tilts his stupid hat and leaves! He doesn’t even say a word! Not a bye, not a ‘Hey babe I’m leaving.’”
Hailey chuckled on the other end of the line, “Well Ma, do you just want me to call and tell him—”
“NO!” Cynthia responded before Hailey could finish. “He can’t think I’m just some lady waiting until he comes through the door. Mother always said you shouldn’t ask a man where he’s going after 8pm.”
“Ma… it’s 2020! You’re his wife for God’s sake, you should be able to ask him whatever you please,” Hailey protested.
“You may be right.” Cynthia began thinking maybe it was possible to ask him.
“You think about that. I have some work to finish up, so you go ask Papa and let me know how it goes. Love you,” Hailey hung up. Cynthia sat back into her rocking chair trying to think about what good would come of asking. Would he get mad and storm off? Would he think less of her? But most of all she wondered if she would be violating her culture, her mother, and everything she knew and thought to be true.
She glanced at her watch once again. It was 1:00 am. She heard the jingle of Papa’s keys from outside. He opened the door, turning his back to his wife, took off his fedora, placed it on the staircase railing, and began to take off his coat. Cynthia’s anxiety grew as she tried working up the nerve to ask, telling herself it couldn’t be that hard. Papa threw his coat over the railing and started towards their hallway. Without thinking, she yelled after him, “Papa, where were you?” Papa looked at Cynthia from over his shoulder, without turning around. He raised his eyebrow at her, as if he hadn’t understood her question. Cynthia came closer. “I said, where were you?” She spoke in a stern tone but Papa could see right through her. He turned to face her and raised his head, looking down at her. Papa chuckled and shook his head, then turned away from her and walked back down the hallway. Cynthia stayed still, watching. She stuck her hands on her hips. “I’m going to ask again tomorrow,” she said to herself.
Hannah Thomas is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Brooklyn, NY.