It was the final resort after about one month of general dingling-dangling. Nothing else seemed to have worked so far. Conversations still ended abruptly, arguments ensued over petty issues, and tension loomed large over the entire household, like an albatross. The apparent misunderstanding and distrust in each other had reached such huge proportions that one hardly felt comfortable in asking the other for even ordinary help. So much so, that He didn’t even ask her for a glass of water when he had a headache last Friday. He preferred walking over the kitchen himself and fetching it even while She was in the adjoining room, only a shout away.
This, as expected, made living under the same roof very difficult and uncomfortable. It was as if for all practical purposes, each was living alone with the other’s ghost. And having observed all attempts to better the existing situation fail miserably, She was the one who ultimately suggested this particular game to him.
The rules of the game were as follows:
- Each was to ask the other for every help they needed, big or small.
- If the other had agreed to help, his or her doing so would count as a favour to the other person.
- Each favour one did the other on that particular day would be recorded on the white board hung on the kitchen door. There would be two columns made, one for favours done by He and one for favours done by She.
- Before going to sleep every night, the number of favours done by each for the other was to be totalled and written below the corresponding column.
- If the Favour Count for the day for both wasn’t equal, then the one who had done less favours had to compensate for it on the following day.
- Each Favour Deficit would be carried on to the coming days, as backlog.
- Even actions which helped both like bringing the vegetables for dinner or paying the electricity bill would count as favours.
The rules of the game agreed upon, He and She decided to start playing from the next day. On the first morning, He asked her to make tea for him. She made it for herself too but as per the rules, that counted as a favour. Nor did she forget that; she was quick enough to make an entry, inaugurating the white board. She, in turn, asked him to fetch the newspaper from the main door and He was happy enough to have one entry to his credit too. Nothing else happened the rest of the morning. Each made their own breakfast, corn flakes, milk and sugar, not requiring any help from the other.
Evening arrived. Both reached home within fifteen minutes of each other, completely exhausted. He asked her to make tea again for him, to which she solemnly agreed. He, meanwhile got the Marie Gold biscuits and namkeen out to have along with the tea. 1-1 so far. Once it was decided that paneer was to be had for dinner, he brought it from the Mother Dairy store close by. She, on the other hand made dinner for both of them. At night, He prepared the bed, folded the removed bed sheets and put them in the closet. And finally, before going to bed, each tallied their list of favours. For the record, He had beaten She 4-3 on the first day.
Days passed, the white board wiped every morning to give space for a new list of favours. Backlogs also took place for both at times, were brought to zero by heightened effort, and then finally turned to backlogs for the other. That is, on days when the backlog for one was quite a lot, he or she acted doubly kind than he or she actually was, helping the other with almost everything, eager to bring things to zero again. On those days, the other would have a wonderful time, with absolutely no useful work to do, only to find himself or herself in debt by the end of the day.
But after about ten or twelve days of playing this game, both found making entries on the board a very boring and inconvenient exercise. Walking over to the kitchen, just to make an entry in your column was quite effort-taking in itself. So by consensus, they decided that serving the other with drinks, making the bed and other such small tasks could be avoided mention. Now, entries would only be made and favours would only be counted if the work was substantial enough, either in terms of time or effort.
Also, with the passage of time, the entire game started looking rather silly and childish. The thought of playing Mutual Favours between themselves seemed idiotic more than anything else, when one considered that they were still Husband and Wife. The prime example of such a feeling was when She fetched him a glass of water in the middle of the night once, when He had suddenly got up holding his head, wincing in pain. He never asked for it but She brought him the water and Crocin anyway. When He asked her to update her table with this latest favour, She just stroked his chin and said that it was hardly necessary.
So as one is bound to expect, one thing led to another. With every passing day, more and more activities ceased to be seen as favours, seen now only as duties a man and a woman must perform quietly to keep the house running. The day came when entries were forgotten and many favours were done out of goodwill and affection. Slowly and steadily, the board ceased to be of any use at all. But none of them dared to move it from its position on the kitchen door. Conversations might still have ended abruptly, arguments might still have ensued over petty issues and tension still might not have left the household, but the board reminded each of the fact that all the above was no excuse to stop caring for each other, to stop loving, to stop existing as Husband and Wife.
Therefore, the game of Mutual Favours was a draw. It was a draw, such in which both sides had triumphed.
The author drew inspiration for this short piece from A Temporary Matter, one of the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri's debut book, The Interpreter Of Maladies. He uses the word 'inspiration' and the reader is expected to take it as that only.