Saturday 6 June 2020

'The Prospective or What I Tell the Man in the Cafe' by Sudha Balagopal

My parents sent me to the movie theater with a man they found in the matrimonial columns of a Bombay newspaper.

They made concessions for this prospective from America. I went out with a man, alone, for the first time, at twenty-one.

My eyebrows stung—they'd been threaded and shaped into perfect crescents. The crimson on my nails and lips felt vulgar. I wanted to pull out the pins in my French braid, let my hair loose.

They told me he was a romantic, a Bollywood aficionado. Perfect for someone like me who read  Austen.


You ask to meet with me and you stare at your potato chips as if you don't recall 1989. The bag of chips has spilt its contents on the cafe table and over the check. Your hair is gray and the glasses outsize, your shirt's cuff folded to the elbow. You still wear a gold wristwatch.


Inside the movie hall, The Prospective snacked from a theater-sized sack of red chile flavored potato wafers―which I declined―his bony shoulder a jostle away, his elbow solidly on the armrest between us as we watched trailers for yet-to-be released movies and product advertisements.

A condom ad appeared on-screen.

I studied the glint of his wristwatch, counted the shiny buttons embedded on the seams
of his jeans, observed his sneakers―ghostly gray in the theater's light―while an actress sang, “Two children is enough.”


At the end of the feature film, the hired car that brought us to the theater took us back.

Questions thrummed in my head.    

The Prospective, in a post-celluloid trance, asked to be dropped off before me. “It's the jetlag,” he said.

When I got home, I thanked the driver, offered him a tip.

“The girl yesterday wasn't as polite or as generous,” he said.


You ask to meet with me and you pulverize the chips with your fingers.


My family pounced on the phone, they shed tears and laughed. The Prospective's parents said he'd agreed to marry me before he returned to America.

“Why would someone eight years older choose me,” I asked my parents. “What criteria did he use?

Shouldn't he have asked me what I wanted? I don't know what I want, how could anyone else?”

They said,”You ask too many questions.” They made wedding arrangements.

Six days later The Prospective's parents called to say he'd locked eyes with this girl on a bus, “in true Bollywood style.” He married bus-girl on our wedding date.


You ask to meet with me. Yes, my son's twenty-two, in college, and your daughter's a high-maintenance twenty-eight with a four-year-old child.  You fold and unfold the check, leave greasy marks on the paper. What did you think I'll say?

'The Prospective or What I Tell the Man in the Cafe' was first published in X-r-a-y Literary Magazine, February 12, 2020.

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