Arranged Marriage: Stories
whose father was the roof thatcher in your grandfathers village . They lived near the women’s lake. She was an only child, pretty in a dark-skinned way, and motherless, so her father spoiled her. He let her run wild, climbing trees, swimming in the river. Let her go to school, even after she reached the age when girls from good families stayed home, waiting to be married . (You know already this is a tale with an unhappy end, a cautionary moral.) He would laugh when the old women of the village warned him that an unmarried girl is like a firebrand in a field of ripe grain. She’s a good girl, he’d say. She knows right and wrong. He found her a fine match, a master carpenter from the next village. But a few days before the wedding, her body was discovered in the women’s lake. We all thought it was an accident until we heard about the rocks she had tied in her sari . (She stops, waits for the question you do not want to ask but must.) Who knows why? People whispered that she was pregnant, said they’d seen her once or twice with a man, a traveling actor who had come to the village some time back. Her father was heartbroken, his good name ruined. He had to leave the village, all those tongues and eyes. Leave behind the house of his forefathers that he loved so much. No, no one knows what happened to him .
    For months afterward, you lie awake at night and think of the abandoned house, mice claws skittering over the floors, the dry papery slither of snakes, bats’ wings. When you fall asleep you dream of a beautiful dark girl knotting stones into her palloo and swimming out to the middle of the dark lake. The water is cool on her heavying breasts, her growing belly. It ripples and parts for her. Before she goes under, she turns toward you. Sometimes her face is a blank oval, featureless. Sometimes it is your face.

    Things are not going well for you. At school you cannot concentrate on your classes, they seem so disconnected from the rest of your life. Your advisor calls you into her office to talk to you. You stare at the neat rows of books behind her head. She is speaking of missed deadlines, research that lacks innovation. You notice her teeth, large and white and regular, like a horse’s. She pauses, asks if you are feeling well.
    “Oh yes,” you say, in the respectful tone you were always taught to use with teachers. “I feel just fine.”
    But the next day it is too difficult to get up and get dressed for class. What difference would it make if you miss a deconstructionist critique of the Sonnets? you ask yourself. You stay in bed until the postal carrier comes.
    You have written a letter to Aunt Arati explaining, asking her to please tell your mother that you’re sorry. I’ll come home right now if she wants . Every day you check the box for Aunt’s reply, but there’s nothing. Her arthritis is acting up, you tell yourself. It’s the wedding preparations. The letter is lost.
    Things are not going well between him and you either. Sometimes when he is talking, the words make no sense. You watch him move his mouth as though he were a character in a foreign film someone has forgotten to dub. He asks you a question. By the raised tone of his voice you know that’s what it is, but you have no idea what he wants from you. He asks again, louder.
    “What?” you say.
    He walks out, slamming the door.
    You have written a letter to your mother, too. A registered letter, so it can’t get lost. You run outside every day when you hear the mail van. Nothing. You glance at the carrier, a large black woman, suspiciously. “Are you sure?” you ask. You wonder if she put the letter into someone else’s box by mistake. After she leaves, you peer into the narrow metal slots of the other mailboxes, trying to see.
    At first he was sympathetic. He held you when you lay sleepless at night. “Cry,” he said. “Get it out of your system.” Then, “It was bound to happen sooner or later. You must have known that. Maybe

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