“Trishan, do you think I’m overdressed for a family barbecue?” Sarika asked me as they walked to where his car was parked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied. “I think you look lovely.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
I was carrying the covered tray with the Jeera chicken wings which she had baked. I had tasted them before times and they are one of the best I’ve ever had but this time I wasn’t looking forward to having them. I wasn’t looking forward to sampling the food or going to the barbecue. I wished I had come up with a plausible excuse not to go. I could have pretended that I wasn’t feeling well and encouraged her to go without me.
I was feeling rotten, miserable and it was because of Rehema. In my mind, I kept hearing her telling me her story. As I listened to her, images of her in bed with the other men flooded my mind, tormenting me and driving me insane with jealousy. I was sick to my stomach and had to get out of there. I heard the anguish in her voice when she begged me to talk to her but had to get out of there. When I got to my car, I sat behind the wheel for several minutes with my hands gripping it and my forehead resting against the top with my eyes tightly closed. I had to wait until the nausea passed before I could bring myself to drive.
I drove straight home and I stumbled into the bathroom, stripped and climbed into the shower. I stood there as the lukewarm water beat down on my back as I rested my forehead against the tiles. How I wished that Rehema hadn’t told me about her past. It would have been better if I had gone up believing that she had been in a bad relationship and after it ended, she decided to come here to London to start a new life.
I wondered how many people knew about Rehema’s past beside her family and Aunt Savitri. What would happen if a man wanted to date her, would she tell him her story? And what would he do? Would he bolt like I did or would he try to have his way with her? Would he think that she was easy meat because she had been duped before? I hated the thought of men taking advantage of her because of her past. She was a beautiful woman who deserved better. Then, why did I run out on her instead of staying and talking it through like she wanted?
“Trishan!” Sarika’s voice startled me. I stared blankly at her. “Aren’t you going to open the door?”
I realized that we had reached the car and she was standing by the passenger-side door staring at me. Fumbling in the breast pocket of my shirt, I retrieve my car key and opened the doors. While she got in, I opened the back door behind her seat and placed the tray with the wings on the seat. I closed the door and quickly walked around to the driver’s side. I slid in behind the wheel and started the car. I fastened my seatbelt before I backed out of the parking space.
“Where were you?” she asked, glancing at me as she strapped herself in.
“What do you mean?”
“You seemed miles away a few minutes ago. It was as if you were here in body but your mind was somewhere else.”
“I was just thinking about something.”
“Oh. I wonder how Gina and Marco are enjoying their honeymoon in Maui.”
“I’m sure they’re having a great time.”
“Where would you want to go for a honeymoon?”
“I don’t know.”
“You mean you haven’t thought about it?”
“I think an island like Bora Bora or Bali would be perfect.”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to talk about honeymoon destinations. I didn’t want to talk about weddings and I know that’s what will come up next. In fact, I didn’t want to talk about anything. I just wanted to think–think about Rehema and what I was going to do about her.
It seemed like everyone was already there when we arrived. I espied Aunt Savitri helping my mother and others to put the food on the table. Sarika and I headed over to them. I hugged my mother first and then, Aunt Savitri. I wondered what she would have said if she knew what happened between Rehema and me. She would probably chew me out. I decided that I would tell her about it another time and probably over the phone.
“You cut your hair,” she remarked.
“Yes. I cut it this morning.”
“It’s a clean cut.”
“Yes.” I wasn’t sure if she liked it. Her expression didn’t say much.
She turned to Sarika and after they exchanged greetings, she said, “I’ll take that, if you like,” indicating the tray.
Sarika handed it to her, saying, “They’re Jeera Chicken wings.”
“Oh, that’s very nice of you, Sarika,” my mother said.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Sarika asked her.
“You can bring out the Naan bread. It’s on top of the kitchen island.”
I excused myself and went outside where my father and some other people were. They greeted me very enthusiastically and offered me something cold to drink which I was glad for because it was getting hot. I listened to them talking about all sorts of things from sports to the latest news about India. Sometimes, I think that my father wishes that he didn’t have to leave his home in Mumbai, which he still calls Bombay, to come here to London and he would probably go back after he retires. I was born here in England but I have visited Mumbai a couple of times with him and my mother where my paternal grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins live. It’s India’s largest city and it’s famous because it’s where Bollywood is. And it doesn’t hurt that it has been ranked as one of the safest cities to live in India. I liked it but I prefer London.
“So, when are you and that lovely girlfriend of yours going to tie the knot?” My uncle Raajeev asked me now, putting his arm around my shoulder. I could smell stale beer on his breath.
Before I could answer, my father said, “Leave the boy alone. When he’s ready, he’ll pop the question.”
“When he’s ready?” Uncle Raajeev exclaimed. “How long have you and that girl been dating, Boy?”
“Four years and you’re still not ready to take the plunge? What’s the matter with you? She’s a beautiful woman and it’s obvious that she’s crazy about you. What’s the matter with you?”
I shrugged his hand from around my shoulder and said, “Nothing’s the matter with me. I’m just not ready to get married. Excuse me.” I walked away and went to my favorite spot at the back of the house where I could be alone for a while.
I was sitting on the ground around the side of the house when my mother joined me. “I thought I would find you here,” she said as she sat down on the bench opposite me. “This is where you always came when wanted to be alone or when you had something on your mind.”
“Of course, I remember. It wasn’t that long ago, you know when you used to live here at home. Your bedroom is exactly the way it was when you moved out. I haven’t touched anything.”
“I’ve had some very happy times here with you and Dad.”
“Yes. I like to remember those times. So, what brings you out here to your place of refuge?”
“I wanted to be alone for a while. I didn’t want to hear any more talk about marriage.”
“Oh. Who’s been on your case this time?”
“Uncle Raajeev. He’s on me again about proposing to Sarika. He said that it’s about time that I did because of how long we’ve been dating. I told him that I’m not ready to get married before I walked away. I wish people would stop hounding me about tying the knot.”
“How does Sarika feel about getting married?”
“She wants to very badly and is always talking about weddings and honeymoons. On our way over here, she asked me where I would like to go for a honeymoon. I hate being pressured.”
“Marriage isn’t something you should be pressured into and dating a woman for four years doesn’t mean that she’s the right person for you. I’ve known people who have dated for years but they don’t end up getting married and I’ve known people who have dated for less than a year and they’re happily married for many years. As much as I’d like to see you settle down, my advice to you is to wait until you’re ready. If Sarika is the woman for you, you’ll marry her when the time is right and if she isn’t, then you’ll marry the woman you’re supposed to marry when you meet her.”
“I’m relieved to hear you say that, Mom.”
“Your father feels the same way too. All we want is for you to be happy.”
“I am happy, Mom,” I assured her.
“Good. Have you lost weight?”
“No. Do I look like I have?” Truth be told, I hadn’t been eating or sleeping well lately and that was on account of Rehema. The more I tried not to think about her, the more I did. So many times, I was tempted to go and see her but I still couldn’t face her. I couldn’t look at her and not think about the men she had been with.
“Yes, you do or maybe it’s the haircut. It makes you face look thinner.”
“You’re looking very well,” I told her.
“Thank you. It must be the Pilates, the walking club and working in the garden. I’m trying to keep fit and I’ve thought about becoming a vegetarian like your Aunt Savitri but decided that I would cut out red meat and just have white meat and fish.”
“What does Dad have to say about that?”
“I’m still trying to convince him that we should stop eating red meat.”
“That’s going to take a lot of convincing. You know how he loves his Indian Beef curry with Coconut Milk, Keema Aloo and Indian spiced Beef stew.”
“Yes. I left him devouring the Indian spiced Beef Kababs which your cousin, Padma made.”
“I stopped eating red meat a long time ago and I don’t miss it although I loved your Kerala Beef Curry.”
She smiled. “It was one of my favorite dishes to make.”
“I wish we could stay out here and talk longer but they’re probably wondering where we are.”
“You’re right. There’s lots of food for you to enjoy. Your Aunt Savitri made her famous Aloo Gobi. Let’s hope there is still some left when we get there.” We both rose to our feet and she came over to me. “I still can’t get over how tall and handsome you are,” she remarked as she slipped her arm through mine. “You got the height from your father’s side of the family and the looks from mine.”
I smiled as we walked slowly towards the door leading to the pantry.