artist: Tin Maung Oo Mandalay
The Wedding Reception
The group of people dressed in their best stood in the narrow lane, necks stretching to catch a glimpse of the car coming towards them on the bumpy road. They could see it in the dust, rolling as slowly as if it were a horse-drawn cart.
This was the car taking them to the wedding. In their eyes the car rolled on the bumps as if it were a boat riding the waves.
When it was near enough for them to see it through the whirling dust, one of the waiting women exclaimed to the groom,
“Sein Hla, is that the car taking us to the wedding?”
Sein Hla smiled to himself. “Yep, it sure is. Why?”
“You said it’s a van.”
“It is a van, isn’t it?”
It was, but just barely. The back end of car had been cut, remodelled and roofed; it was exactly the sort of car used for transporting vegetables from the jetty to the market.
But they could not be choosy: they were already late, and some of them must go early and hurry back in time to go to work. Anyway, in their part of Mandalay, there never has been such luxury as a car rented for the purpose of taking guests to a wedding. This time, the bride being the schoolteacher and all, and with the groom’s best friend being the owner of a car, transport had been arranged as a wedding gift from the owner.
After making a five-point turn, the car was finally parked with its head towards the road. The first batch of passengers was the young girls who were in charge of handing out sprigs of flowers and cigarettes to each guest. They must be in their places before the guests arrive. There was an immediate uproar about who gets in first, who sits where. The driver obligingly shut off the engine, which shuddered like a malarial victim, before it died.
“Now where is that Sein Sein Aye? She’s always slow... let’s just see if she moves faster to catch a husband, then I’d tear her to pieces.” Before the words ended, a bug-eyed girl dressed in bright red scampered up. Her make-up was exactly like the other girls’...its pink tones clashed alarmingly with her dark skin.
Uncle Than Sein and Grand Uncle Win Maung, as befit their age, had already installed themselves in the front seat.
“Oh, Uncle, take this child on your lap, she’s Daw Aye Chit’s little girl.”
“Come, come, you can sit on my knee.” The girl was overjoyed to be riding in the front seat and her wide grin showed off missing front teeth.
Sein Hla, the groom, tried to pack in as many as possible, for he did not want his friend making too many trips. Gas prices were not cheap, as he well knew.
The car began to look like a piece of candy with ants climbing all over it. It was indeed a happy scene.
To everyone’s alarm the car would not start for a few minutes; then they were off in a cloud of dark smoke
“Now, bridegroom, you’d better go change, what are you waiting for?”
“Well I’m just so busy seeing to things...”
“Never mind! Everything will be fine. You go change; it’s your wedding day, man, look lively.”
“Who'll look after the gifts?” one lady asked anxiously.
“Don't worry, Aunt, there will be someone...go change, Sein Hla.”
The group of ladies who were left standing in the lane began to gossip.
“That red dress Sein Sein Aye’s wearing, whose dress is it?”
“Must be hers, since she’s wearing it.”
“No, the dress is too big on her, must belong to her sister who lives downtown.”
A quarrel broke out between two children about who was to wear the one pair of slippers belonging to both. Kywet Thoe, the best man, sauntered up, hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“Well now, how grand you look; you should look as spic and span as this all the time.”
”Of course I want to, Aunt, but look at me, I’m a mechanic, covered with grease all the time. I didn’t go to work yesterday, that’s why I look this clean. Even then I couldn’t get rid of all the grime.”
He held out his hands.
“How is that old father of the groom? How is he, Kywet Thoe?”
“Better, thank god...we all thought he was a goner, when the invitations were already printed and all.”
The old man had fallen ill all of a sudden and the neighbourhood had held its breath but now, thank god, he’s on the mend.
When the car came back it had picked up the bride Mar Mar Tin from the beauty salon. Anyone in the neighbourhood who was not going such as nursing mothers, old people walking with canes and toddlers with grimy faces, they all came as fast as they could to have a look at the bride.
She did not step out of the car. Her hair was done in a high chignon, and the false tress that dangled on the side was darker than her own hair. The rhinestone hairpin sparkled. Around her neck she wore a gem necklace and a strand of pearls, and in photos they would surely look real.
Her face was pink with the western foundation. Not used to having false eyelashes glued on her lids she kept batting her eyes. The beautician had done away altogether with her scanty eyebrows: they had been shaved off and he had drawn a curvy line in its place in sea-green pencil.
There were comments about how pretty she looked and they all asked how much it cost, the name of the shop and in the melee they heard a piping voice of a girl: “She doesn’t look pretty at all!”
Mar Mar Tin pretended not to hear but her knuckles were itching to rap the little brat on the head.
The groom was wearing a dark golden yellow longyi as near the golden colour of the bride’s htamein as possible. He too seemed to have rubbed some powder on his face because it looked dusty. He tried to open the car door: it did not budge, even with the bride working the handle from inside. The driver, his friend, leant over and pushed it open. The back of the van was already packed with guests.
He remembered his turban only when they drove off. Never mind, he could ask his friend to bring it along the next trip.
“Ko Sein, how’s Father?” the bride asked him.
“He’s had a pee, but couldn’t pass motion yet. I moved him to a sunny spot.”
“Who’s with him?”
“Ma Ma Than from next door’s keeping an eye on him….. he misses mother, you know. He doesn’t say so but I can tell.”
He tried putting his elbow out of the window but the glass could only be lowered mid-way so he felt uncomfortable. He took his arm down.
He turned to his friend. “When father heard you’re helping out with the transport, he wanted to come, too. Said he should entertain his own friends himself.”
“How did you persuade him to stay home, Ko Sein?” the bride asked.
“I told him there’d be all three of us brothers and that we’ll see that everyone’s welcomed properly. Even then he asked to wear a coat, just in case someone drops in at home.”
The wedding hall was filled with guests. The bridal couple live in the same neighbourhood so there were no strangers. As the car went back for the third trip two kids did not stay behind but went back for another ride; it was a treat for them. One kid started to howl because he could not go with them.
The ladies manning the gifts table were busy making a list of the presents, while eating cake and gulping down tea. The elders sat in a group, happily smoking cigarettes. The pop songs blaring out of the speakers mingled with the chatter and the audible clearing of throats as the guests ate the dry cakes. The room was filled with smoke and the scent of cosmetics and perfumes.
All the way back the guests discussed the wedding, the dresses and the cakes. The newly weds had already given pocket money to the young men. It is called ‘Payment for Stones’, a sum paid off to avoid the teasing throwing of stones on the house that night. These guys trooped out joyfully for drinks and food. As for the girls they had promised to take them all to watch TV that night. The children overheard this and demanded that they too wanted to come along. The bride had agreed to keep them quiet but thinking about the one kyat fee for adults and half for kids at the house with the TV, she felt worried about having enough and stole a glance at the borrowed silver bowl holding the cash gifts.
Father had been eagerly asking news from anyone who returned from the wedding. As soon as he saw his son the groom, he asked for his potty. Sitting on it he asked detailed questions about the reception.
As Sein Hla cleaned up his father, the old man asked if it were true about the TV show. “What’s the program?”
“Mandalay Dance Troupe, Father, yes, we promised the girls.”
“Is that so? I want to watch it, too.”
“I’ll carry you then, Father, if you want to go.”
He thought of the sulky face of the owner of the TV and felt a twinge of worry.
The program was a favourite and the front room of that house would be filled with the wedding party.
As the nights were getting chilly he dressed his father warmly in an old jacket. His brand new wife Mar Mar Tin had gone on ahead, carrying his father’s folding chair. There were still traces of the morning’s make-up on her face. As it had cost her all of Kyat 150, she thought that surely she must still look as nice as this morning.
She had the money for the show tucked in her bodice. Her new slippers hurt her feet so she was wearing her old pair. Besides, people sometimes steal slippers at such places where they must be left outside, so its better this way.
Sein Hla showed his father the potty he carried in a plastic bag. “Let me know anytime you need to pee, Father, no need to feel embarrassed, everyone knows you.”
U San Tin the owner of the TV came out to greet Father when they arrived. He seemed happy to have a full house. He was rather strict and he did not allow any kids to eat snacks or throw plum seeds at each other. The audience sat on mats covering the floor. Sein Hla placed his father’s chair at the back. He himself sat on the floor holding the potty bag and his new bride sat close to him.
The program started. Well! How they enjoyed it all: the jokes, the songs, the dancing. It was as if they were all nailed to the floor.
They were still smiling as they took their leave when the show ended. Sein Hla lifted up his father and his face fell: the old man had peed, probably without noticing it. There was a small wet patch on the floor. U San Tin must surely notice! Sein Hla did not know what to do. He grabbed the brand new handkerchief Mar Mar Tin was clutching and made as if to wipe the floor.
“Never mind, my boy, never mind.” It was an unexpectedly kind word from U San Tin.
They said their good-byes, apologizing. U San Tin squeezed Father’s hand as they left. Mar Mar Tin paid for her guests, bargaining with a beating heart to let off four kyat. The TV owners agreed, he said, just for this night.
Mar Mar Tin carried the folding chair with the wet burlap seat wondering how she could keep the make-up on until tomorrow. Sein Hla carried his father, wondering about how this night U San Tin had been so nice.
The audience made their way home, talking about the show.