Counting to Ten

(published in Catamaran, issue #5 )

One

“Malar, it’s me.”

“Hey, acca.  Long time no call.  What’s up?”

“What are you doing today?”

“Just vegging out, watching tv.  I was working late doing research on a case last night.  Why?”

“Can you come over here?  I could use some help.”

“Sure, with what?”

“Packing.  I’m moving out.”

“Oh.  I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Thanks.”

Two

“Thanks for coming.  Can you start wrapping the china?  I don’t have the right kind of packaging for it, so just use crumpled up newspapers, okay?”

“Kurinji, are you okay?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But what happened?  I thought you guys were happy.”

“Malar, please.  I can’t talk about it.”

“Okay.  Where’s the newspaper?”

Three

“Thanks again for coming.”

“What did you expect?  Should I put the bowls in here too?”

“Whatever you think makes sense.  I don’t know what’s best.  Hey, how are things with Arjun?  You guys have been dating a while now.  What is it, six, seven months?”

“Ten, actually.”

“A long time.  So, you think it’s serious?”

“Kurinji.  I never thought I’d hear that from you.  It’s bad enough coming from amma, from her friends, from mine.  Everyone’s so happy that one of us is finally dating a nice Tamil boy…”

“Sorry, sorry.  I know.  I don’t know why I said that.  Here, use this box; it’s double-walled.  Supposed to protect the fragile stuff better.  Though I don’t know why I’m bothering.  It’s all going to break eventually anyway.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Why is it that when your own life is totally fucked up that you try to fix other peoples lives?”

“I don’t know.  You’re the big sister, you’re supposed to know the answers to these things.”

“I don’t know anything.  That’s about all I know.”

Four

“Can you reach down the champagne flutes for me?  Steve put them up on the top shelf, and now I can’t get them down.”

“Sure.  Where is he, anyway?”

“He’s staying at a hotel for a few days.  We thought it would be easier that way.  He did offer to help with the packing.  Or pay people to do it, if I’d rather.  He didn’t just leave me to do it all.”

“Okay, okay.  You don’t have to defend him to me.”

“I know you never liked him.”

“That’s not true.  I didn’t like that your dating him was making amma and daddy unhappy.  But once you’d been together for a few years, I just wished you guys would get married already.  You’ve been together for so long…”

“Well, it’s just as well we didn’t, isn’t it?”

Five

“I can’t believe we got through the kitchen and the dining room so quickly.  What’s next?”

“The movers aren’t coming ’til Saturday, so we should leave the stuff I’ll need to use in the next few days.  Let’s do the books.  I’ll hand them to you, you can pack them.”

“I can reach the tall shelves easier.  Why don’t I reach them down?”

“Malar, just do it this way.  For once, will you please not argue with me?”

“You’re being irrational.”

“I’m not.  And even if I were, don’t you think I have a right?”

“Fine.  We’ll do it your way.  We always do.”

“Malar, please.”

“I said okay, didn’t I?  But if you have a reason, why don’t you just tell me what it is?”

“Dammit.  Fine.  The books are all mixed up.  When we moved in here, we finally merged the books, after I don’t even know many years of keeping them separate, because we finally knew that we were going to stay together forever.  Okay?  You don’t know which books are mine, which are his.  You can’t separate us.  Only we can do that.”

“Hey.  Don’t cry, acca.  It’ll be okay.  See, I’ve got the box ready for you.  I double-taped the bottom, so it won’t fall out.”

Six

“Malar, you’ve been working for hours.  Take a break.  Do you want some chai?”

“I can make it; you must be tired.”

“No, let me.  You don’t know where anything is.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t come over more.”

“You were busy.  I was busy too.  I’ll have more time now.  No more doing Steve’s laundry, buying his groceries, cooking his meals…”

“Did you really do all that stuff?  He didn’t do any of it?”

“He did stuff whenever I asked him to, or when I got busy with work.  But I liked doing it.  I liked taking care of him.”

“I don’t know if I could do that, take care of a man.”

“You can.  You’ll probably like it.  You were trained to it, same as me.  Trained by amma, by everyone around you, by society.  It’s not really that hard, anyway.  When you and Arjun get married –“

“Shut up.”

“Sorry.  I was just teasing.  Sorry.”

“It’s not funny.”

“I know.”

Seven

“Kurinji, have you figured out where you’ll live?”

“I found a place with a month-to-month lease, near Jackson and Halsted.  It’s actually closer to the office; I’ll be able to walk to work.  So really, it’s an improvement.”

“Isn’t that right near where you guys used to live?”

“Yes.  Some people go forwards with their lives; I go backwards.”

“You could move in with me.”

“You don’t mean that.  And your place isn’t big enough.”

“We could move someplace bigger.  It’s what amma and appa would want.  It’s what they would do, if they were living in the same city as their brother or sister.  They won’t understand why we don’t move in together.”

“They don’t understand that we’d kill each other.”

“Come on.  We’d manage, Kurinji.”

“Malar, you don’t really want to live with me.”

“No.  Not really.  I’d hate it.  But I would do it, if you wanted.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it.  But no.  If I can’t live with Steve, I’d rather live alone.”

Eight

“Enough, Malar, enough.  I can’t do any more today.  Let’s just stop, get some dinner.  What do you want?”

“Maybe Thai?”

“Not Thai.  Anything but Thai.”

“Why?”

“That was our thing.  Going out for Thai food.  That’s what we did the last time we broke up, after hours of talking and crying.  We weren’t hungry at all, but we decided we ought to eat.  So we went out, and ate and talked, and ended up getting back together.  Falling in love all over again.  So Thai food was like a good luck charm; it reminded us how much we loved each other.  But our luck’s run out, so anything but Thai.”

“Chinese, then.”

“Okay.  Malar, you love Arjun, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You know when I first started falling in love with Steve?  It was the day I met him.  We had been fooling around for hours, most of our clothes had come off, and we were on the verge of doing it.  But he stopped.  He stopped and asked if I was okay, if I wanted to stop.  I knew that he meant it, that if I said maybe we should stop, he’d stop.  And okay, any decent guy would stop if you asked him to, but the point is, he’s the one who asked.  He didn’t have to ask.  That’s when I started loving him.  More than ten years ago.”

“You  had sex with him the day you met him?”

“That was not the point of the story.”

Nine

“If you want, I could stay here tonight.  Or for a few nights?  Until you move into the new place.”

“That — that’d be nice.  Yes.   Thanks.”

“Kurinji, I don’t know if this is the right time to tell you this, but Arjun asked me to move in with him.”

“When?”

“Two days ago.”

“What did you say?”

“I said that I didn’t want to live with someone unless I was engaged.  That it would upset my parents too much.”

“So what did he say?”

“He asked me to marry him.”

“What?”

“He didn’t have a ring.  He wasn’t expecting to propose.  But Arjun said he would get one if I said yes.  I could come with him and pick it out.  I know what kind I’d get.  Single diamond, no side stones.  Princess-cut, platinum band.”

“Classic.”

“Yes.  I’ve known what kind of ring I wanted since we were little, playing wedding with Barbie and Ken.  And I’d wear a white dress to the wedding, and a red sari to the reception.  The bridesmaids would wear light gold saris.  The flowers would be jasmine and roses.  I’d make you wear a sari too.”

“You’re not wearing a ring.”

“I haven’t said yes yet.”

“Are you going to?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess it’s a good thing we decided not to move in together.  Just in case you say yes.”

Ten

“I need to know why you guys are breaking up.”

“Malar, I can’t.  Don’t make me talk about this, or I’m just going to fall apart completely.  Drink some more wine and make up a reason.  Make up a dozen, whatever makes you happy.”

Acca, I have to.  You guys seemed so good together.  You loved him so much.”

“I still do.  And he still loves me.  But sometimes there are just — irreconcilable differences.  Isn’t that the phrase?  Sometimes his dreams and your dreams aren’t the same dreams.”

“Is that why you didn’t get married?  Did you always know this day was coming?”

“No.  There were a lot of reasons why we didn’t want to get married, but they didn’t have anything to do with how we felt about each other.  I don’t know if you can believe that, but it’s true. We thought we’d last forever.  We were just wrong.”

“But how can you stand that uncertainty?  How can anyone?”

“Malar, nothing is certain.  You could be hit by a bus tomorrow.  Marry the boy.  I’ll dance at your wedding.  I’ll even wear a sari for you.”

“Do you think that it’s because Steve’s white?  Is that the reason you two couldn’t make it work?  Amma and appa always said that you would never last, that he would leave you.”

“He isn’t leaving me.  We’re leaving each other.”

“But is it because he’s white?”

“No.  Not even a little bit.”

“I wish it was.”

“I know.  In some ways, it would be easier that way.  If our parents were right.  About all of it — love, marriage, kids, the whole shebang.”

“They were right for them.”

“But they weren’t right for me.  The question you have to answer is, are they right enough for you?”

END