Raleigh Review vol. 1 (2010), pp. 15-18.

Spell Phillippines
 by Annie Zaidi

     Philippines. Phillipines. Which is it? Phillippines?

     I can't ever get them right. The doubles. Like illicit. I kept spelling it illiccit. And like occasion. Ocassion? It can get really difficcult because you have to use the words all the time.

     Like On the occassion of our daughter Lekha's fifth birthday party. I had invited twenty of our couple-friends, the ones with kids. Three came. Lekha's class teacher came. She's divorced. The widow upstairs came too, though I was not expecting her to. She does not even have children. I'd only sent her an invite out of courtesy.

     Minisha and Tanya called to apologize. The rest of them were his friends. They would have called to apologize to him if they had to apologize at all. But then, his phone doesn't work. Not since he went to the Phillippines. Why did I say 'Phillipines?' Of all the difficult places to spell, I had to pick that.

     But they say the women there are called Filipina. Not Philipina. Why are they Filipina and not Filipinians?

     We're Indians.

     I think Filipinas must be nice. Sweet, like custard apples, round and small. They sound nice. I can see it happening: him going there and falling for a Filipina. It's hard to think of them as “other women.” They sound like they deserve to be wives. The kind of women who love gently and responsibly and wait for the men who are lost to war, and who work till their backs break but even then, their hearts are solid.

     He went away on business, I told the upstairs widow one day when we met on the stairs, even though she hadn't asked. I shouldn't have done that. She just nodded in a kind sort of way. She held my hands a long time before saying goodnight. Maybe I shouldn't have invited her to the party. Ever since then she stops to talk to me on the stairs.

     One of his office friends called before Lekha's party, wondering where he'd dissappeared, and if he was going to be back in time for the next stragety meeting. I expected that sort of phone call, though I'd thought his parents would be the ones to call first.

     On the phone, I just said, “Oh?” and I went silent. Then I said that he had told me he was going away on a business trip to Manila. At the last minute, I added that he had said it would be an intensive training visit and wives were not allowed to come along.

    Then his friend said “Oh!” and went silent.

    Since then, it's been a loaded word: Philippinnes. Nobody says it to me, because word has been going around about what he might have told me and what I should be told now. But the company has quietly gone and terminated his services. They sent a letter saying they have adjusted his notice period against dues etcetera and something else in abstentia, reason stated: failure to show at important client meeting in Phillippines without due cause and failure to attend work.

     Lekha has stopped asking. At first she wanted to know why he wasn't returning. I just told her that he didn't say. And he didn't. He never said much to me and I had never asked much—where he went, what for, with whom he was going. I knew, he knew.

     I considered asking Lekha's class teacher about vacancies at the school. But there's no need yet. Besides, I'd make a terible teacher. My spelling is atrocious. The doubles, specialy. Specially? I also get very confused when the same letter appears twice close together in a word. Like strychnine. I had to spend half an afternoon over that. Strynchnine? Or strychninne?

     There is no logic to this, you know. Is there any point to having two letters in the same spelling? I understand about vowels. Like two o's or e's. But why would you have two l's or two n's? It is a nonsense system. But I worry. I don't want Lekha to grow up and think her mother is stupid. Because I am not. I know how to do things. How to manage things alone. Spelling isn't everything. But in her school, they make it look like that.

     But Lekha is going to be okay. She's going to be fantastic. She's not insisting that I sleep with her any longer. The class-teacher says she is doing better than most others. And I've started her on Kathak too. Things will be okay.