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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

The Pillow knows our Secrets

Makura (”The Wooden Pillow”): Sleeping women with their heads on the makura, Japan.

The greatest playground of humanity is the chamber where you make love. The first time he turned away from her after, she let it pass. Her heart contracted a little, her smile wavered momentarily, her skin prickled with goosebumps and she displayed inexplicable hostility by throwing a pillow in to the wall when he wasn’t looking. However, she chose to ignore it and they made banal talk for a few minutes, following which sleep claimed him, and eventually her. Oddly, however, the more often it happened, and it happened without fail every time they slept together, instead of her growing more accustomed to his vagaries, each time grated her heart a little harder than the last.

They had been together, in every sense of the word, for three months now. She was an architect and he worked in marketing. His parents lived in a town in another state and she was old enough and established enough for her parents to make daring stabs at liberality. They had been friends ever since he did some marketing work for her firm and it didn’t take long for amour to barge its way into their frequent meetings and dalliances. He was smart, decisive and ambitious. She was demure, pensive and fond of reading fantasy novels. They complimented each other well and their relationship won quickly, the approval of friends on both sides of the fence. They watched movies together, had short work-day lunches and long talks on the mobile after dinner. He made her laugh, she made him happy and it was what it was - the beginning of a wonderfully average romance.

The decision to take it to the next level was made convenient one winter day. Tempers had been flying at her firm, with her in the eye of the storm, owing mainly to several unmet deadlines and a severely strained budget. She had to work late and that meant cancelling the long-awaited dinner date with him. He sounded colder than the evening air on the phone and his presumed lack of understanding drove her up the wall. She railed and ranted, mostly in her head, then made the grievous error of sending not a few texts, full of self-pitying accusations and gnarly end-of-the-world sentiments. Although it is easy for love -gurus to preach abstinence from expectation, expectations unwittingly become the cornerstones of most relationships in our transactional world. He must pay for the date… she must not interfere with his friends… he must be nice when she’s PMSing… she must… well you get the picture. No one, sensibly enough or perhaps not, discusses these things openly before getting in to a relationship and for the most part, they do not matter. Unless of course, one or the other partner fails in their unspoken commitment. Then the edifice of love and mutual trust threatens to fall apart under the strain of equalling scores and one-upmanship.

The point is, her career was important and as such, by failing to respond amiably to her standing him up, he had in effect failed her and thus, at least in her head, deserved the ill-worded tirade that criticized everything from his ability to love to his inability to keep the dishes in the sink after a meal.

She worked furiously past midnight, channelling much of her anger in to complicated diagrams of spaces for the client. Her resentment was, however, by no means spent, and she fully intended to continue the fight the next day, as soon as she was brushed and flossed. It flabbergasted her beyond imagination then, when she walked out of her nearly deserted office building, with its lecherous night watchman, to find him waiting for her, shivering on his bike.

“Didn’t want you to catch a cab this late,” he mumbled as he kicked off, literally charming the pants off of her with his possessiveness.

He took her to his place of course, where pizza and thoughtful pints of beer awaited and by the time he was done placing the plates in the sink, she was ready to explode with sensual excitement. She had had men before, but he was the first she attempted warming the bed with, and though inexperienced, she was willing. And he… well, let’s just say she had never ripped a pillow apart with her bare hands ever before.

And then when her body was pleasurably aching, her mind spinning and the commode threatening to be clogged by used condoms, he had turned away.

Now, most people believe that women have this unnecessary longing for the post-coital cuddle. For a woman it completes the act, for a man, it probably means having an arm numb in the morning after a night spent pillowing a sleeping head. It is hard to say what is the norm and what is negotiable in the bedroom, but feeling alone after the most celebrated act of coming together is probably not the best way to end the night. But she was determined not to be stereotypical. There’s enough whining about sex in American soap operas and lifestyle magazines and as a woman of today, she became determined to invest herself in the activity and reap the maximum pleasure.

So there were weeks where she furtively googled positions at work, wore expensive perfumes, acquired a taste for Victoria’s Secret and basically tried every intelligent girl’s tool to becoming the hottest thing to hit the bed. How many times in a night, how many nights in a week – it became her manna and her labour; his desire and her propensity for arousing it, a yardstick for her vitality. And by her own measure, she was as vital as they got.

But still, the doubt remained.

Initially, he made his excuses ––

“Have to use the bathroom.” ______

“Need a smoke.”

“Just going to fix us a drink.”

“Have an important email to send.”

“Auf, its hot… need to turn on the fan.”

But of late, all he did was finish and turn away and she ended up caressing the pillow instead. She wasn’t dissatisfied, not by a long shot. Their life together was as adorable as ever. And he was a gentleman in bed, the kind who was also a secret agent and just what Her Majesty ordered. But even multiple orgasms began to lose their appeal in the face of that simple end-rejection.

Six more months went by. The wound began to fester and perhaps she could have used communication as the balm. Friends told her as much and remarkably, it did occur to her that it was impossible for him to know what she wanted unless she told him. He had after all, exhibited none of the finer traits of mind-reading. But it was a conversation for which she could conceive no beginning. How do you tell someone that all the delightful things they do for you - the surprise weekend getaways, the being nice to your parents, the statuses on Facebook - are fogged indistinct by their unwillingness to hold you when you need it?

And it is exactly questions of this sort that shouldn’t be going round and round and round in your head when you are pulling out in to rush hour traffic on any given Monday. To say she never saw the car coming would be an understatement. Although, to be fair, whoever considers the possibility that a perfectly sane driver, moving his car under the speed limit in the right lane would run them over? She was helped to her swaying feet by half a dozen strangers who, very well-meaningly, told her, she was lucky to be alive and that, forget driving, she probably shouldn’t touch a steering wheel with a ten-foot-long pole. Little did they know their admonishments were in vain because there are few things in heaven and earth that can cause as many calamities as a girl in love.

On the gurney in the emergency room, she tried to fixate over an irrelevant point in space to blunt the pain of the stitches and found her mind involuntarily drifting to him. She imagined him holding her hand, squeezing it, his eyes scrounging up just slightly as the needle made its excruciating way, five times, to her head, his hand caressing her hair as the nurse smooshed tincture all over her bruises in the most inhumane way possible. She watched in her mind’s colour, his brow knitting in anger as the doctor scoffed at a woman’s road sense and felt, very sincerely, his arms closing around her protectively as the needle came closer to her skin than he would permit any sharp thing to come. And if she left the clinic, bamboozling the doctors with her inane smile, well, who could blame the poor, moonstruck child?

She sat in her room later, cuddling a pillow, being pampered silly by her parents who, like many of their generation, believed that scalding hot chicken soup and overreacting were the solution to all problems. Well, at least they cared, her parents. As for him, she didn’t tell him about the accident, but a mutual friend who had to be informed so she could cover for her at work let the cat very much out of the bag. He called her then.

“Why do I have to find out that you have had an accident through someone else?”

That was the first thing he said to her.

He never asked her if she was wounded, or if she needed anything or even if she was okay. In the middle of his asserting the alleged authority of boyfriends, the shots of painkillers the nurse had rammed in to her just this morning seemed to stop working and so she hung up. But cutting the line didn’t mean she could severe his voice. She remembered how for the longest time, sometimes in a joke, sometimes when they fought, especially when she tried to bring up her intimacy issues, his reason for everything was that she couldn’t see the larger picture. He never explained what he meant by that and she found herself feeling too puzzlingly insecure by the comment to third-degree him about it.

And today she felt more than ever that she couldn’t see it - the larger picture — and perhaps getting her nearly killed was the Universe’s universe’s way of gently reminding her to get some goddamn perspective.

And just in time too... for he came to see her in the evening, after work, carrying an electrifyingly yellow bunch of gerberas.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that her heart couldn’t stand anymore doldrums, or that she had needed help to visit the bathroom seven times today or maybe that she had a few days of paid leave from work to regret her actions in, but as soon as her parents, enthusiastic as ever, left the immature girl and her super-loving boyfriend alone...

“Will you marry me?” she blurted out.

And here he was expecting to hug her, hear the story of the misadventure and get home before the big game started.

“Are you alright?” he ventured as a come-back.

Too late for that now.

“I’m alive and I’d like an answer.”

Silence... also didn’t work.

Staring intensely with five stitches over the brow... worked.

“I don’t think I’m ready,” he said.

A fair enough answer, if only he hadn’t been palpitating like a llama in heat.

“Soooo... when will you be ready?”

Waiting a little longer.

“I can see your jaw moving a lot, but there are no words coming out of your mouth.”

What followed were a series of audible clicks, ‘hmmm’s and coughing, that were either a new language or just what a man would do if, say, his girlfriend beat him in an arm-wrestling spat, on the second date, while his buddies from school were watching with beers in hand. After a few minutes, even the neighbour’s dog would have guessed that what it had sipped at the toilet had been their relationship going down.

The end is always abrupt when you’re not expecting it.

He left, ears red and head confused, never to return to the girl he had slept with for nine months. And she lay there, injured and hurt, watching the man she loved and needed, turn away for the last time.

Then she turned to her pillow and cried.

This story was written a long time ago. It is one of my three published pieces. It was part of a collection of short fiction Urban Shots YUVA, published by Grey Oak/Rupa in 2013

The image used for this story is a photograph donated by Principal Preben von Irgens-Bergh to the National Museum of Denmark. I found it on Flickr, like a lot of the visuals being used on this site. I used it here for two main reasons. One, because Japan, duh! Two because the idea of women sleeping on wooden pillows kinda resonates with this story.

Also, the wooden pillow or Takamakura, like so many everyday things, has a fascinating history. It was used by Geisha and Samurai to protect and preserve their hairstyles. To learn more about it, check out this very interesting piece on

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