Sara was getting more annoyed by the minute. This was not how she had planned on spending her precious Saturday night, away from the children and arguing with her husband in front of all their friends, at a party at an uber posh restaurant in town. It was really so typical of them to be fighting about something so trivial, yet neither she, nor her husband Ali seemed to want to concede.
“Really, you could be a bit more sensitive to my feelings next time. I’m not some meek housewife who can’t make a single, important financial decision!” exclaimed Sara.
“Well, if perhaps you had shown more initiative, then I would have asked for your opinion before sealing the deal!” retaliated Ali in irritation.
A few of their friends sitting at the table exchanged uncomfortable glances, not wanting to fuel this discussion any longer. Sara noticed their reluctance and felt even more embarrassed for fighting in front of their friends. It was such a shame too, because she and Ali had enjoyed such a lovely day together with the kids up till that point – the family outing to the Singapore Zoo in the morning had been a fun and relaxing start to the weekend. If only Ali would listen to her now, if only he would stop being so stubborn, if only he would be the kind, caring, and attentive husband that he usually was, if only he would stop fighting with her in public, if only….
At that precise moment, her eyes turned to look at Tanya and her husband Umair who had just entered the swanky restaurant. In her flowing and beautiful white dress with her hair blow-dried to perfection, Tanya looked the absolute picture of happiness, hand in hand with a smartly dressed Umair. He reached over to pull out a chair for her, all the while nodding and making polite conversation with those around him.
Sara glanced over at them wistfully. They seemed so perfect together; the very picture of marital bliss. She looked over at her own sullen husband across the table and wished they too could appear so poised and perfect together. Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice to her left:
“Excuse me; I’m the restaurant manager Michelle. I hope you are enjoying the food tonight?”
After receiving a general murmur of approval from the table, Michelle started walking to another table when she noticed her neighbour Diva sitting at the corner table, who caught her eye and waved her over excitedly.
“Hi Michelle, I didn’t know you’d be working tonight! I’m here with my friend Anita, we’re having a rather rare girl’s night out together, since Anita doesn’t have a helper and can only leave the house if her husband is home with the kids. I seriously don’t how she manages!” exclaimed a smug Diva in one, continuous breath. It was obvious that Diva pitied Anita for not being able to afford to hire some help around the house, like most households in Singapore.
Michelle turned to Diva to ask about her latest vacation. As Diva regaled her with tales of their fanciful Caribbean cruise; a special treat by her loving husband, Michelle listened to her, wishing she too would be able to afford a dream vacation someday. But for now, it was back to work. At that moment, her cell phone rang and an exhausted Michelle excused herself and took the phone call, while standing next to the restrooms.
“Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry you are sick. Mummy will be home as soon as she has finished her job okay, and will read you your favorite bedtime story and tuck you in good night” promised Michelle to her sick 7 year old daughter.
Her conversation on the phone was overheard by Diva, who was at that very moment on her way to use the restroom. Her loving words brought tears to Diva’s eyes. Only she knew that her latest extravagant vacation had been arranged by her husband to take her mind off her recent miscarriage; her second this year. Who knew if she would ever be able to have children? She looked envyingly at Michelle, before going into the restroom to dry her eyes.
As Diva entered the restroom, she walked in on Tanya who was desperately applying handfuls of foundation and concealer to her cheeks.
“Tanya, I didn’t expect to see you tonight, how are you? Is everything okay?” asked a concerned Diva.
“Oh yes, I just came in here to touch up my makeup. How are you, it’s been a while since we caught up for coffee!” exclaimed a very nervous Tanya, as she continued to lather on another round of concealer.
If Diva had taken a closer look at Tanya, she might have been able to notice that even the expertly applied makeup was not able to hide the sadness in her eyes. You see, only a few hours earlier, Tanya had borne the brunt of her husband’s Umair’s fury – and his fist. In no condition to see or be seen, Tanya had spent nearly two hours at home to cover up her bruises and to dry her eyes before she carefully picked out her clothes and accessories, ready to show to the world what a happy couple they were. By now, she could carefully go through the motions, without seeming any different to anybody.
Finally satisfied with her immaculate appearance, Tanya headed back to the restaurant to join her friends. Tanya glanced across the table and her eyes settled on Sara and Ali, who still seemed to be fighting about something. Now theirs was a real marriage she thought; full of fun, laughter and its share of inevitable fights. Tanya envied Sara for the ability to be able to speak her mind with her husband; a luxury she certainly did not possess. They seemed comfortable in their own skin, to actually be who they were and not bother to put up outward appearances. What true freedom that must be!
The last person to leave the restaurant that night was Anita. After having enjoyed a fun girl’s night out with her friends, she was looking forward to going home to her loving husband and kids. Tomorrow was Sunday and that meant a family grocery shopping trip, followed by a lovely afternoon with her husband as they chopped, diced and sautéed the evening away, preparing dinner together, talking about the kids and making plans for the coming week. It was these little moments that she had truly come to treasure so much, and she was very, very happy to enjoy some special, quality time with those who she loved the most.
And such is life. Appearances can be deceiving. Happiness may only be a carefully maintained façade. Someone who appears to have it all may in fact be missing something important. Whereas someone whom you pity may actually be perfectly content. And while we often find ourselves envying others, we may not realize that someone else, at that precise moment, might desperately be wishing to be in our shoes instead.