He has been roped in. It’s not that he resents it. He has a car after all. Might as well use it. He just hopes that his friend gets the girl. After all, that’s what it’s for. Isn’t it? They have a concert to get to after this. Best get moving.
They heave up the luggage, mounting the winding staircase, a strange conceit in a house so small. The walls gargle with ancient plumbing. He is eager to get back to his own apartment, in the north of the country. It is sleek. This one smells of everything he has worked all his life to get away from. Why anyone would want to go back to the beginning is beyond him.
He collapses on the mattress. It is stained. He tries not to look at it. Perils of a flat share.
What you got in here? Bricks?
This is a shit hole.
Well, it’s a houseshare. I don’t know anyone here, it was easier to get.
She stands there, apologetic. She hasn’t lived up to his expectations. She isn’t sure why she should but she feels bad anyway. She likes to live up to expectations.
Look, isn’t there time to change your mind. Take a year out? Are you sure this sure what you want to do?
I’ve always wanted to teach.
Since when? Anyway you wouldn’t do this if you knew that you had no other choice. This only works if you know you’re going to get married and you’ll have a husband to support you. Don’t be like other girls, dude. I thought you were better than that.
He’s always been blunt. You had to hand it to him. This was a guy who spoke his mind. His friend sighed. The girl looked down, cleared her throat.
Who said anything about marriage?
She’s a new bride in the glaring white heat of summer. Her feet seek the cool of vermillion red floors. Her eyes trace the archaic lines of the green shutters that have been drawn against the sun.
She’s thrilled with the romance of it. A new bride, a young one at that. There’s an image embedded in her mind. It is a jewelry advert. There is a girl sitting on the floor. Impossibly young, she is resplendent in her bridal red benarasi. Her throat and chest are laden with unending ropes of gold and pearls, stars fall from her ears. While one hand (on which the skyline of the city is in the process of being traced) is offered to the unseen mehendi artist, the other rests on the cool grey keyboard of a MacBook Pro.
This was a bride who could have it all and gazing at it, she had wanted to be her. And now, she can be. She just has to find a job.
The doorbell rings. She is excited by the prospect of opening the door, of heaving off the heavy bolt and of clattering open the collapsible gate.
It is her grandfather’s friend and she is delighted. She wants to show off.
He is delighted too. He looks around the vast home with a proprietary pride. He was the one who fixed the match after all. The one who knew a boy of marriageable age and a girl of marriageable age at the same time.
He has been crowing ever since their horoscopes matched.
She staggers though. What is she to do now? Offer water! Sit the glass on a plate because that’s how it’s done? Offer sweetmeats? What are you meant to do when you are a grown up and somebody visits your house? What are the rules?
This isn’t really her house at all. She’s barely lived her one week.
Should she get the sweetmeats from the fridge? Would her mother-in-law be angry? Would the maid laugh? What are you meant to do when someone from your family comes to visit? Treat them casually or formally because you are not their family anymore?
Sensing her distress, he smiles. He declines all of her stuttering offers. He reassures her that he is perfectly capable of making himself comfortable. He sinks down into the red couch. It’s cushions are well worn, he remembers instructing the deliverywallahs when they carried it into the house.
What are you doing?
Looking for a job.
She smiles. He will be pleased. He used to always ask after her marks.
Less sure now, she replies.
Well, I’ve always worked.
But you gave it up.
It was too far to travel, that one. I wanted to give more time.
She gestures vaguely at their surroundings. Her hands take in everything from the windows, the floor, the dusty pot pourri in the corner to the showcase stacked full of her husband’s trophies and toys. An only child, the room is a shrine to his existence.
Here. I wanted to give more time here.
But if you are working, how will you give time?
She gives a nervous little laugh. Little is exactly how she feels.
This is the problem with you girls today. You manage. You manage everything so you manage nothing. This, all this, who will manage all this when you are managing outside? You won’t make much money anyway. Not in your line. This household doesn’t need your money.
It’s not for the money. I want to…
You can still work. But have some dignity. Give tuitions, for free. Have some respect. Help the needy. Think about others.
It is the maid who rescues her, bringing in tea and little white sandeshes heaped on a plate.
I’ll go and call Ma, she says.
She leaves, shaking.
They look at her serenely, the two women. They peek at her over the tops of their glasses.
We paid you too much, they say. Now you need to pay us back.
But the money, she stutters, I don’t have the money.
But you should have it. We gave you too much.
I spent it.
That’s not our problem.
I don’t know how I’ll do this.
Well you are married aren’t you? Surely your husband can support you.
I don’t like to ask him.
They look on, unblinking. They are extraordinarily beautiful, she thinks. She had wanted to be like them. Corner office, glossy and polished.
I thought it was my money. You’re asking for my savings.
Please try to understand, it was never your’s. You are going to have to make some changes because we paid you too much and now you need to pay us back.
How could you not tell? How did you let it go on for so long?
Mistakes like these happen. We will support you. Your husband will support you. You are married after all.
Oh but don’t you see…?
She cries into the phone. Clutching it, pale yellow knuckles ripe with despair.
I can’t just leave. I don’t have any money. I am financially utterly dependent on him for everything.
But he cheated.
He cheated me out of a life too but I can’t just leave, I have nothing.
I’ll never hear the end of it. I put myself here and now I must stay.
Because of money?
Because of money.
Yes, it’s sad.
Ma’am if you wish to stay in this country, we will need to see papers and statements to prove that you can support yourself.
I work part-time.
That’s not enough.
That’s all I could find.
It says here you are living with your partner. I’ll tell you what, write us a letter, submit his statements and your’s. We’ll see.
His glare finishes the conversation.
She thanks him, feeling cowed.