A Bad Character

Free A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor

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Authors: Deepti Kapoor
and he can unpack and settle in. Would I like to see it? I say I would.
    His apartment is like no place I’ve seen. Cut off from Delhi, cut off from the earth, turned into a kind of maze, then sealed. Terracotta and black granite floors. There are empty spaces cut into the inside walls, they look out into the central hallway so fragments of every room can be viewed, so nothing is private inside.
    He says he designed it himself. As if it were a bunker at the end of the world.
    He walks me around: bedroom, hallway, kitchen, living room, balcony, one looking into the next. It’s only in the bathroom at the rear where the original home remains untouched, old, charming, possessed by the clank of pipes, with the big pale light that streams through the frosted glass. In here you can feel the heat and light of Delhi.
    We sit out on his balcony for an hour in the morning sun, among the boxes of his life that are waiting to be unpacked. The balcony is surrounded by a high bamboo fence with creeping plants all around, so you can only see the sky. Without friends, without family, without servants. He says you can walk around naked if you want, no one would ever know.

    A few days later we’re driving from CP around India Gate. I am holding an empty Coke can between my legs.He looks at it and says, Can I get that for you? Can I throw it away? And I say, No, it’s OK. I like something between my legs.
    Pointedly. A calculated phrase. He looks at me.
    This is all it takes.

    All the marriage meetings I ever had ended in the same rejection. What they never understood was that I had rejected them long before they saw my face.
    The first boy was from a middle-class family much like my own. He had a steady job as an engineer. Aspirational, shining with belief, with the ambition to go to the States himself. He had learned his role by rote. We met in the Defence Colony Barista in the March of my first Delhi year. I had no car then. Aunty escorted me, waiting in the back seat like a pimp while her driver ate chaat in the market outside. She made me wear a kurta and jeans, to be both modern and traditional at once.
    He was already waiting for me inside. He had his laptop open at the low table. I recognized him from the photo in the résumé that had been sent, that had just been thrust beneath my nose, and he looked up and recognized me in turn. Aunty had sent a photograph of me, taken at a studio set up at one of the wedding functions we’d attended. In a sari, a little tipsy, in the glare of the artificial light, with a posed, enforced smile, the photo stripped me of my life.
    I remember very clearly the pen he kept in the top pocket of his shirt, also the new glasses he wore. They were designer, he proudly said. But his face I don’t recall, his was like the million others I saw. He was simply his glasses and his pen and the starched white shirt. He talked to me from the start about the importance of family, about his mother, what his mother thought about things. My mother says, he said many times, and he listed what they looked for in a girl. I sat across from him silent, sullen, angry with myself because I had agreed to be there at all. He said he wanted a girl who was simple, respectful, but educated of course, able to have her ownopinions. But she must be respectful to his mother above all else. They must get on or there’d be no point. I felt quite sick at the mechanics of it. But Aunty had told me again and again, Marriage is not about love, when will you understand this? Love is a luxury that doesn’t exist in the real world.
    I asked him drily if it wouldn’t be better for me to meet his mother alone. Without a flicker of understanding he said no.
    When it came it was one of those polite rejections, where his mother tells Aunty that he’s found someone else absolutely perfect that very same day, what timing, what coincidence. What to do? Aunty smiles. What to do. But she’s kicking herself. What did you say? You don’t know

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