She looked at him with exasperation. He was not childlike — as she used to believe, in the early days of their courtship, with the conviction that only those who have just fallen in love seem to find a way to muster — but rather a complete child. How can he be happy about that, she wondered.
She could never be happy about such things, she knew. Was it her conscience? That cliched concept — invented and abused by society, which was responsible for banalities like “being able to look at oneself in the mirror” — was that the source of all this unhappiness she was carrying around? Unlike him, who could be shamelessly happy?
Was it better to be a good person and be unhappy, or be a horrible person and be happy?
“You can’t be happy if you’re not at peace with yourself”, she had tried to console herself with the pop wisdom many a times. Yet that peace was just peace with one’s conscience. But wasn’t this conscience itself cultivated? Or was it programmed?
As a child, she could remember being cruel,and happy. She remembered how she used to severe legs of ants, till they couldn’t walk, and would leave them out in the sun, till they died a painful death. Was she unaware of the pain? On the contrary, she was well aware it. In fact, that pain was the leitmotif of the exercise. She never really believed in the mythical innocence of kids. Kids were cruel and happy. Just as he was (maybe, that ability to be naturally cruel was innocence, she wondered at times).
So was it better to be a good person and be unhappy or a bad person and be happy?
That bloody conscience, she thought. Should people who have an underdeveloped conscience actually bother developing it? What was the point, if unhappiness was all they could expect as the result of that development? If he were to be a better person, more circumspect, more aware of the moral context of his action, would he be childishly happy, like he is? And yet, was this shallow happiness really happiness? And who was she to judge?
Is conscience just a way for societies, and religions (or societies through religion), to make people conform to an idea of goodness? For societies won’t function without such a concept internalized by most members.
And what about the defaulters?
“What are you thinking”? he asked, as he lit a cigarette as they lay in the bed.
She hated that. She hated him smoking anywhere in the house, but she positively loathed it when he smoked in the bedroom. He, on the other hand, loved to smoke in bed — especially after sex. It was a kind of romanticism for him. It’s genesis, no doubt, was in teenage impressions; something he had watched his one time favorite Hollywood actor do in some movie. He had even offered her a smoke the first time they made love, knowing fully well she didn’t just not smoke, but hated smoking — the very idea of smoking.
In those early days of their relationship, he had stopped doing that when she told him how much it bothered her. He did not do it because he really cared about the fact that it bothered her, but because the fact that it bothered her killed all the romanticism of that imitation.
Now, however, it was the barometer of the health of their relationship — his doing or not doing it. Like today, for instance, it was so bad, that he needed to take refuge in his pulp romanticism.
“Nothing”, she said.
“You’re always thinking of nothing these days”, he said, trying to humor her in his post-coitus high. Something he didn’t bother with, anymore, otherwise.
“Well it’s better than thinking about some things”, she retorted, regretting it instantly. It sounded childish. And she had no wish to compete with him on that front, of all things.
She hated how he could always bring out the worst in her these days. But then had he ever really brought out the best in her? Even at the very beginning, she wondered, was it him, or was it her habit of living up to the best in her.
Whatever it was, it couldn’t be sustained for long. And now even she had resigned to the decay.
Maybe, I need the worst in me — it may let me be happy, she thought, turning her back on him — literally.