Taking the longcut

Trying to understand the female body is like staring into an abyss

On a certain evening last month, four women ambled up the winding road on the foothills of Shivapuri. Four women, three in their thirties, the fourth in her forties. They chatted, laughed, stopped once as one of them kneeled down to tie her shoelace that had come undone. Stopped again to see if the gelato place was still offering to sell. But it was 10:30PM and lights were out in the windows.

So in the dimness of the night, partially guided by the moon, the women walked uphill, following the grey path, snaking upward towards their accommodation. Their conversation in fragments, continued to bear the cheerful tone from dinner time. They had met after work, eaten together and then walked past the Panther Crossing and then up and up.

This is lovely, the forty-something-year-old said, recalling that for her 30th birthday she had booked herself a table at a certain pizzeria in town, next to a dreamy garden. She had ordered a paesana vegetarian, some wine, and a salad and had eaten her meal slowly, in silence, except when occasionally interacting with the servers.

Some guests on the neighbouring tables had wondered what a Nepali woman was doing, eating by herself at a Kathmandu restaurant. Some wondered if she had been stood up by someone. But what had actually happened was, the woman had put on her favourite sandals and left home at 6PM so she could enjoy a lone meal.

Between eating, she smiled to herself satisfied with her own ability to make a point. What most women want is to be able to buy their own meals, sit in safe places doing what they like doing and then to go home to some peace and quiet. It’s not any different from what men want. Yet, often harder for women to experience. And much harder perhaps, for those who identify beyond the gender binary.

So as the four women climbed uphill, the forty-something woman shared that the evening was four fold more joyous from what she had experienced on her birthday a decade ago, sitting by herself, eating. For she was now celebrating not one, but four women, mostly single but not unhappy. Four women paying their own bills, chatting unabashedly about their tinder preferences, discussing work interests, trees, architecture and food!

They wondered out loud what meeting each other earlier in their lives would have meant for them-- how and if that would have shaped their personalities, thoughts, life events differently. Perhaps they would have salvaged each other from some of the worst days of their lives. 

For that’s what female friendships are -- they are who see you through heartbreaks and hard times, they are who hear you out when no one else in the world will. Sometimes, female friendships are merely about sitting across each other stuffing your cheeks with food while tears run down your face and you come away a bit more stronger to cope with the circumstances, better prepared to cradle a broken heart.

Female friends are who you go to to discuss your periods, heavy periods, missed periods, pregnancy tests, PMS and cramps. As you age, you go to them to discuss stretch marks and they will say tigresses are gorgeous. You also discuss the imminent perimenopause. What does it mean to acknowledge that the body will keep changing as we age?

Trying to understand the female body is like staring into an abyss. The result of mood swings, brain fogs, hot flushes, and irritability are not part of your personality, but what you go through biologically as your body starts to become a conundrum, and they affect who you become. 

Trying to understand your own reproductive system can be confounding, making you anxious about what lies ahead. It is possible to miss the feeling of having periods when they do not come. 

And if you are a woman without child and you have arrived at menopause, something has been lost forever, regardless of your take on motherhood. You will be seen by the world as a woman who is “barren” and cold and perhaps frigid. But girlfriends will continue to hold you, even as you flounder in uncertainty.

Female friends are like the world holding up a mirror at you. The person in the reflection is a woman thorough with her work. She pays attention to details, loves fiercely, tenderly. She takes care of others and goes through life laughing, sharing, and growing in work even when life is a chase. She keeps their own space, maintains boundaries and opens up when guards must be let down.

The forty-something woman watched her younger companions with a full heart. She laughed when one of them laughed as the dog nudged her awake in the morning. Later, as they sat at breakfast, she watched in admiration as one of them drew fine dark lines around her eyes with an eyeliner, between sipping her coffee.

She noticed her young friends revel at the sight of the light between the trees and sunlight on flowers. She noticed they were not at all scared to take chances, to open up their hearts to love, even if love must eventually be lost.

Many years ago, one of the three young women had said to her that she wanted to grow up to be like her-- to work, to travel and write. And quietly, she had hoped the young girl would never have to be like her, for her own path had been dotted with steeples. 

But over the years she had learned all paths are lined with steeples and we all fly over them when we get there. And as she observed her young friends, hope brimmed inside her. She started hoping that she would become a little bit like each one of them-- unapologetic, thus free.

Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.

Pratibha Tuladhar