She is stunning in a white and gold sari, a princess more
beautiful than any of the German fairy tales. White suits her far
better than it could have any of the those milksop blond maidens. She
seems cool and calm, despite the August heat. His palms sweat in the white
New England church, his pale skin incongruous against the sea of brown
faces. All he thinks as he breathes is what a shame that custom binds
her hair, studded with carnations and gold.
They’re tying the heavy thali around her neck, the crimson-
clad mother stepping forward to help the trembling groom. Mrs.
Annadurai was born and raised in a village near Jaffna, and believes
in her heart that it would be a very bad sign if he dropped the
wedding necklace, though she’d never admit it even to her Indian
friends. And then they exchange the rings, and raise their voices
in hymn. Most of the church is silent, filled with Muslim and Hindu
He remembers suddenly, sharply, the way she falls asleep
immediately after sex, unlike the few other women he’d known. She curls
trusting into a slightly flabby shoulder, and he rocks her gently,
unbelieving of his luck. The scent of sandalwood clings to her skin,
long after the incense has burned away. She burned it often in those
days, whenever she had been thinking about the rift between herself
and her parents.
They’re filing out now, having skipped the traditional kiss,
to the discomfort of the few white faces in the crimson-flowered
church. Groom and bride, hand in hand. And Radhika is smiling,
though perhaps looking a little nervous; standard for the bride.
Despite her college experiences with men, she has, after all, never
been married before. Her plump parents, however, show no such
restraint in their smiles.
When he first met her parents, they were so polite.
Surprisingly charming, these New England doctors, to a man they
insulted to her face. No hint in their eyes of the screaming hours
over the phone, as Radhika tried, over and over, to reconcile them to
her life. Face, what he’d once thought an East Asian concept, was
terribly important here. Though Mrs. Annadurai had managed to avoid
shaking his hand then.
She does not hesitate now, and the triumphant glow of her
face as he walks down the receiving line twists the bitterness
inside him. Even drowning out the beauty of Radhika’s sad and private
smile, as he wonders what he could have done, should have done to keep her.
Bitterest, is that he suspects he could have done nothing at all to
change her mind.
Charming to the end, they’d even invited him to the wedding.
You are cordially invited
to the wedding of
Radhika Marie Annadurai
Matthew Aravinden Koneswaran
April 20, 1994