Reflecting on That Thing We Call “Luck”

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

Just like September 11, 2001 or the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated (November 22, 1963), most of us probably have a good idea of what we were doing on October 3, 1995. The exact date may not initially ring a bell, but most of us probably remember where we were when we heard the following announcement:

“…In the matter of People of the State of California versus Orenthal James Simpson, case number BA097211. We, the jury, in the above-entitled action, find the Defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder in violation of penal code section 187(A)…”

 I was at work, my first real job fresh out of college, and the director of our corporate communications department had turned on the bulbous television set that was nestled in the corner ceiling of her office while the rest of her team gathered around under it, each of us holding our breath as we listened with bated anticipation.

 After the verdict was read, I blinked my eyes reflexively in disbelief at the television screen. Surely I hadn’t heard correctly. I jerked my head towards my co-workers, but the stunned expressions on each of my co-workers faces, combined with the gasping, the shaking of heads in dismay, confirmed what I still couldn’t seem to fathom: OJ had actually somehow managed to get away with murder even though everyone (except those in denial of course) knew he did it.

For years later, any time OJ’s name came up, someone would invariably shake their head in disappointment and mumble the words we had all at one point thought: “He got away with it…I can’t believe he got away with it…”

 If any of us were asked what we thought of OJ and his ability to be acquitted despite the mountain of DNA evidence against him, our response would probably be:  “He is the luckiest (add your own noun or expletive) I’ve ever seen!”

Flashforward to the year 2008. And OJ has been accused of burglary and kidnapping…and sentenced to 33 years in prison, 9 years of which he has to serve before he could be considered for parole.

 Irony?  Perhaps.

 Justice?  Maybe for us…but certainly not for Nicole’s family or to Ron Goldman’s.

 If asked, “Is he still ‘lucky?’” Most of us would reply with a snicker, “Not anymore!” Some might add, “His luck finally ran out on him…” 

 Christians may argue that luck is just another word for what we call grace (unmerited favor) or even God’s mercy….or perhaps just a form of deferred punishment.  It’s easy to think of that definition in terms of most of our lives…but what about that unrepentant soul who has, at least on the surface, no interest in God or anything spiritual? And what about those people who despite all their cheating, lying, bad behavior, who somehow manage to escape God’s swift Hand of Judgment and not only manage to do well, but dangit, they prosper!

 It’s times like that when there seems to be no other word to describe a person or situation that we just can’t help but label them “lucky,” and it’s also then when I’m typically also a little green with envy as I look at my own life and wonder what I lack that I don’t seem to have the same good fortune.

Some people just seem to be born with luck…sometimes it seems they have an invisible magnet that attracts attention, success, and/or money.  It’s a quality that seems to help them prevail despite all odds and despite all their bad choices. Even in their downward spiral, they still manage to garner some weird sort of triumph.

 Case in point…Charlie Sheen.

Yeah. Exactly!

He’s all in the headlines, and you cannot watch one television station without his name coming up. Since he was in his 20s, Charlie’s behavior has been deemed extreme by even the most liberal in Hollywood and he has endured many shaking of heads in disapproval. Yet, despite it all, he somehow continually manages, time and time again, to land on his feet and not only do well, but dangit, prosper

 He’s the highest paid actor for a sitcom in which he, in my opinion, doesn’t even have to really act. I saw a recent episode of Two and a Half Men to see what all the fuss was about. The show featured his character as a playboy and in that episode, his character was sleeping with prostitutes and had a ménage a trios…all in one episode. I felt like I was watching a biography of his life on E!’s True Hollywood Story. So basically he was getting $2+ million an episode on Two and a Half Men for being himself…

Granted, in Charlie’s case, I am talking about “luck” in terms of money.  But he does seem “lucky” in that sense, especially in comparison to the rest of us who often spend up to 10 hours a day, working at a job that we’re half-hearted about, as we try to make ends meet. Somehow even in his manic/drug-induced/whatever-you-think-it-is state of mind, he has garnered so much attention for himself…he is talking and people are listening. In 24 hours of opening a twitter account, he managed to set a record amount of approximately 1 million followers.

Undoubtedly, Charlie has some serious problems (mental, emotional, and no doubt spiritual), but on the surface, he does seem to be…as he himself proclaims…WINNING!  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

But it’s not just the Charlies and OJs of the world that seem to have varying degrees of luck. We all have known or observed people, who, like them, seem to have the ever inexplicable qualities of “luck.”

For the rest of us who struggle daily in life and can’t help but wonder where our dose of luck is, I point you to the scriptures, where even thousands of years ago, people, too, struggled with how undeserving/evil/wicked people seemed to just prosper in the wake of their evil deeds:

Psalm 73

A psalm of Asaph.

1Surely God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart.

2But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;

I had nearly lost my foothold.

3For I envied the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4They have no struggles;

their bodies are healthy and strong.a

5They are free from the burdens common to man;

they are not plagued by human ills.

6Therefore pride is their necklace;

they clothe themselves with violence.

7From their callous hearts comes iniquityb;

the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.

8They scoff, and speak with malice;

in their arrogance they threaten oppression.

9Their mouths lay claim to heaven,

and their tongues take possession of the earth.

10Therefore their people turn to them

and drink up waters in abundance.c

11They say, “How can God know?

Does the Most High have knowledge?”

12This is what the wicked are like—

always carefree, they increase in wealth.

13Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;

in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.

14All day long I have been plagued;

I have been punished every morning.

15If I had said, “I will speak thus,”

I would have betrayed your children.

16When I tried to understand all this,

it was oppressive to me

17till I entered the sanctuary of God;

then I understood their final destiny.

18Surely you place them on slippery ground;

you cast them down to ruin.

19How suddenly are they destroyed,

completely swept away by terrors!

20As a dream when one awakes,

so when you arise, O Lord,

you will despise them as fantasies.

21When my heart was grieved

and my spirit embittered,

22I was senseless and ignorant;

I was a brute beast before you.

23Yet I am always with you;

you hold me by my right hand.

24You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will take me into glory.

25Whom have I in heaven but you?

And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.

27Those who are far from you will perish;

you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

28But as for me, it is good to be near God.

I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;

I will tell of all your deeds.

Amongst all the insane coverage on Sheen, I saw an old clip from an interview with him almost 10 years ago. In it, he’s lucid and talking about how early success, fame, and money, although it was what he craved and what all Hollywood celebrities strive for, are ultimately what led to his addictions and bad behavior.

As I listened to the interview, I realized that I, too, was lucky, but just completely in the opposite way of Charlie.

I’m lucky to have had old fashion, overbearing, unhip, uncool parents who didn’t given into my every whim and expected nothing less from me than the best…

I’m lucky to have had to struggle and work hard for each one of my successes so I don’t take them for granted and waste them away as if they were my inherent right rather than the unmistakable sign of God’s goodness…

I’m lucky that I have a husband whom I occasionally want to strangle because he frustrates and challenges me, inevitably forcing me to become a better wife, mother, and person.

 And most of all, I’m lucky to have a God who hasn’t given me so much “luck” in life that I have to discover a life here on this earth or an eternity without knowing Him…

 So when the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head and you find yourself envying someone who is undeservedly “lucky,” remember, that maybe you’re not as lucky in the same exact way…but you are loved by a God who keeps you 100% dependent on Him…and in the end, maybe that’s what makes you truly “lucky” after all…

 

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Five)

image

In honor of Valentine’s week, all week long, FemmeFuel is proud to post excerpts from A Nice, Doctor Son, written by our very own FemmeFuel writer, Bindu Adai-Mathew.

Loosely based on Bindu’s own personal experiences, A Nice, Doctor Son is about the heartbreak of losing your first love, the importance of giving love a second chance, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the 3rd time will be the charm.

Click here if you missed Excerpt One…

Click here if you missed Excerpt Two…

Click here if you missed Excerpt Three…

Click here if you missed Excerpt Four…

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Five)

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

The sky is pallid and grey, a befitting backdrop to an otherwise barren, dead landscape. The cold, dreary weather permeates the atmosphere, sending a deep chill through me despite the layers of clothing. When I arrive at Central, I see that it is completely empty. Dry, brittle twigs and branches snap beneath my feet as I walk the well worn path, past the swings and slides of my childhood, refusing to veer of to the left or to the right, past the bridge of my youth.

With eyes focused, I march on, refusing to be pulled back into the web of self-pity that had entangled me for so long. I march on forward, eager to see something new. The landscape, once thriving and full of life, now looks naked, stripped of its golden, autumn beauty, which now lays crumbled and gray like ashes beneath thin spiny limbs. But even in the desolate bareness of the trees, there is an arresting beauty. A beauty in its nakedness. A sereneness in its very stillness.

For a moment, it feels as if time has stopped. There is no wind, not even the slightest breeze. I have been here hundreds of times since childhood, and yet here I am, now a thirty-year old adult, feeling like I am seeing it all for the very first time. It was almost as if my vision had blurred through the years, dulling my perception, and slowly without realizing it, I had been looking at everything askew. Now everything seems so crisp, clear, and bright again, and I could finally see what I had once been blind to.  During the winter, everything had always seemed so dead, but now I finally understood that to make room for the new, the old had to be shed. This time, amongst all the barren, bare branches, I saw beauty. The beauty of what once was…and what would be once again.

I breathe in the chilly air, the acrid coldness pinching my nostrils like a sneeze. As I survey my surroundings, I look around the familiar terrain. Was it over a year ago and a half ago that I had come back from India and walked here with Reena as she told me about her engagement? And was it only the year before that when Armaan broke the news of his own engagement? Like the rings of a tree, each of these events mark a significant year in my life, scars reminding me of time passing, serving as a reminder of both pain, joy, and inevitable growth. And now another year has come and gone. And soon enough, this moment, too, would be a distant memory.

I could suddenly feel time ticking again. It is as palpable as my heartbeat. I could feel the grainy sands of time slipping through my fingers. As much as I want to curl my palm into a fist and cling on, it is inevitably slipping through my fingers. I have only one choice, I realize. To embrace it. To embrace this life—my life. Because Life was happening—with or without me. There was already so much wasted time spent on wishing, wanting, waiting…when life was all around me, ready to be experienced and enjoyed.

Our lives are like this forest. Seasons of beginnings and endings, marking both life and beauty as well as desolation and emptiness…all leading us to where we are, where we are meant to be.

I dig my hands deeper into my jean pockets in a futile attempt for warmth and march on, eager to explore parts of the forest that I had never seen. It seems to go on for miles, but how far had I ever gotten? Something had always stopped me from exploring—contentment…laziness…fear. Always saying I wanted to explore, but somehow I never had the time. I was always rushing off to somewhere, and somehow it never seemed to be the right time. But now the trail lies before me, a seemingly never-ending road of possibility stretches before me, winding and twisting, leading me…and now Life has simultaneously presented me all the time, the interest, and opportunity.

As I walk, while some markers are initially familiar, soon enough, I am on unfamiliar ground. I haven’t even gotten farther than a mile when I come upon it—there amongst the brittle, dead, seemingly barren branches—one little leafling, pushing through the lifeless tree bark. The beginning of the budding. Alone in its dark green, fragile glory, it dares to breach its tiny, blade through. It is a reminder that yes, change is on its way and what was once barren would bear life once again. One small bud. Of Hope. Of Life. I smile at the reminder. Lifting my head to the waning sun and with outstretched arms, I twirl around slowly and then faster, faster—for after the winter, the spring surely comes, and with it, I, too, am reborn.

 

A Little Bit About Bindu Adai-Mathew:

For most of my life, I have been a writer in one form or another. Through high school and college, I worked on and contributed to the school literary magazines as well as the school newspaper. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in English and Mass Media and a Master of Arts in English Literature with a specialization in technical writing, I have been working for the past 15 years as a business analyst/technical writer in various fields, from IT to healthcare. While I have written a few short stories, A Nice, Doctor Son is my first novel.

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Four)

image

In honor of Valentine’s week, all week long, FemmeFuel is proud to post excerpts from A Nice, Doctor Son, written by our very own FemmeFuel writer, Bindu Adai-Mathew.

Loosely based on Bindu’s own personal experiences, A Nice, Doctor Son is about the heartbreak of losing your first love, the importance of giving love a second chance, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the 3rd time will be the charm.

Click here if you missed Excerpt One…

Click here if you missed Excerpt Two…

Click here if you missed Excerpt Three…

In the last excerpt, the main character, Sarai, a twenty-something, first generation Indian, is devastated when her boyfriend of 5 years succumbs to family pressures and breaks up with her in favor of an arranged marriage. He wants to remain “friends” with her and even invites her to his wedding…

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Four)

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

It was finished. Armaan had made his choice, and there was no turning back for either of us now. I walked across the lawn, up the stairs of the terrace, but before I walked through the French doors, I indulged myself with one final glimpse at the most beautiful, enigmatic man I had ever met.

As the afternoon turned to dusk, the canopy, which had been lighted with small overhead lights, came alive in the rapidly fading sunlight. A spotlight illuminated Armaan from behind, briefly reminding me of an angel. Despite it being his wedding day, Armaan looked more serene than excited or happy, leading me to helplessly wonder if maybe, just maybe, he had his regrets.

As I continued watching him, his eyes drifted idly from the Hindu priest to his bride to the expansive number of guests that still dotted the lawn and then unexpectedly up to the terrace where I stood, a lone figure in silver and white. For a moment, he paused, his eyes fixated in my direction. I momentarily held my breath, wondering if he had indeed recognized me. But his eyes continued to drift randomly.

I exhaled slowly, resting my hand briefly on the terrace door. I once again gathered my resolve and continued, walking past the French doors, through the open foyer, and past lingering guests. I then jerked open those magnificent hand-carved wooden front doors with determination and allowed them to close behind me with a thud, a resounding finale to a chapter in my life.

As she attempts to rebuild her life without him, Sarai’s predicament is further complicated by her parents’ constant pressure to marry.  At an age where many of her friends are marrying and having their first child, Sarai soon faces questions that plague many single women of today, regardless of their cultural background—where is the man of my dreams? How do I find him? And does he even exist?

Torn between being true to her family’s strict, conservative traditions and following her heart, Sarai finally acquiesces to her parents’ request to travel to India and begin the age-old quest of the “Arranged Marriage.” Within a matter of weeks of her decision, she finds herself in India, dressed in a sari, serving chai to a series of potential suitors who are all vying for her hand and a chance to come to the US and live their own American dream. While she is there, will she find the kind of man she has dreamed about, or will she have to sacrifice her idealized notions of love in order to find true happiness?

Lali quickly handed me the tray of chai, and I followed my uncle into the living room and placed the tray on the coffee table and handed a cup to each guest while I forcefully suppressed my urge to scan the room for my proposal. My patience was soon rewarded. The “boy” sat between his parents, hands resting meekly on his lap as he glanced at me and then quickly averted his eyes, suddenly very preoccupied with my uncle’s ceramic floor tile. He had a full head of hair that seemed to defy gravity and stood like wiry threads in all directions. Behind his thick gold-rimmed glasses, his eyes were small and constantly squinting. His cheeks were full and round and reminded me of someone who was trying to talk when his mouth was still full of food.  He had a pronounced chin and, of course, the standard, full bushy moustache that had been in fashion with young Malayallee males for the last 75 years. 

His eyes remained averted and he only gave me a passing glance when I handed him his cup of chai. There was no light in his eyes upon seeing me, no sign of interest.  And with that realization came an instant sadness. Sadness for my aunt who was already treating them as family as she prompted them to take seconds of her fried banana chips and fried jackfruit. Sadness for my other uncles and aunts who had eagerly left their farming duties to gather at Rajan Uncle’s house in hopes that I wouldn’t be too picky and they would only have to do this once. Sadness for the boy’s entire family who had unknowingly just wasted four hours of travel time to see a finicky American-raised Indian who in the midst of an arranged marriage was still somehow hoping for some semblance of romantic love.

 

A Little Bit About Bindu Adai-Mathew:

For most of my life, I have been a writer in one form or another. Through high school and college, I worked on and contributed to the school literary magazines as well as the school newspaper. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in English and Mass Media and a Master of Arts in English Literature with a specialization in technical writing, I have been working for the past 15 years as a business analyst/technical writer in various fields, from IT to healthcare. While I have written a few short stories, A Nice, Doctor Son is my first novel.

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Three)

image

In honor of Valentine’s week, all week long, FemmeFuel is proud to post excerpts from A Nice, Doctor Son, written by our very own FemmeFuel writer, Bindu Adai-Mathew.

Loosely based on Bindu’s own personal experiences, A Nice, Doctor Son is about the heartbreak of losing your first love, the importance of giving love a second chance, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the 3rd time will be the charm.

Click here if you missed Excerpt One…

Click here if you missed Excerpt Two…

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Three)

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

He was engaged.

For a moment, my mind reeled. Had he misspoken? Surely, he meant to say, I want to be engaged to you. I waited for him to correct what he said. But he didn’t. He looked at me, waiting for the words to sink in. But I just stared at him and repeated his words, “You’re engaged?”

“Sarai…I’m engaged…to Sandiya.”

Just like that. It was that simple. No, Sarai, I’m engaged and I’m sorry. No, Sarai, I’m engaged, but I still love you. No, nothing…but a simple—I’m engaged. As if he were asking me, “and how was your summer?”

I looked at him incredulously, the words taking only seconds to sink in. Now I may have had my tendencies to live in denial. But when the truth is front of me, staring me straight in the eyes, telling me that he now belongs to another, that tendency to be in denial is no longer an option. 

“Engaged?” I asked, my voice belied of a calm that I did not feel. It was someone else’s voice. For my voice wanted to immediately scream that this was not possible. That we were the ones supposed to get married. That I had known it from the first time we met, I had fallen in love with him, hopelessly…deeply…forever…once upon a time…happily ever after. That was supposed to be our story, too.

“I got engaged in India,” he said.

“Engaged?” I croaked out again. This time my voice was raspy, almost hoarse, as I asked, “How is that possible?” My eyes settled on my hand that still lay rested on his shirt, against his heart. His hand still covered my hand and tightened.

“It wasn’t planned…I swear…it was…well, you know they’ve been pressuring me for a while. And I made them promise to leave me alone about it while we were in India. And then we were there. And my father got sick…very sick. Sarai, we all thought he was going to die. He thought he was going to die. And he even had one dying wish…

“To see you married…” I said as I fought waves of nausea.
“Yes, to see me married…”

Unbelievable. I wondered if his family had even staged it. I had seen that in an Indian movie once. The family was so desperate to force a marriage that the father had faked a heart attack. But wait! They weren’t married. They were engaged. He could break off the engagement. That didn’t sound so bad. It was fixable. A hurried promise made in a time of duress. It was excusable, right?

“Take it back,” I said, simply. The solution was evident. Just say no…like to drugs…don’t fight it…don’t justify it…just say no. They couldn’t make him get married like that.

“Sarai, I can’t take it back. Our whole family was there at the ceremony. I think my getting engaged helped my father to recover.”

“You can take it back. You were basically forced,” I said emphatically. Why wasn’t he cooperating? Why wasn’t he thinking of solutions to get out of this? He couldn’t be with this girl. Whoever she was. That was NOT an option.

“Tell the girl you can’t marry her…tell her about me…she’d understand…she wouldn’t want you if you were in love with someone else.”

“Sandiya…” he supplied.

“Tell the girl…” I repeated. I refused to say her name. I couldn’t say it.

“But they’d understand…you don’t love her…you love me…right? Right?!! You just have to tell them. They can’t force you. This isn’t the Middle Ages. This isn’t India fifty years ago. This is America. You have rights! You have the right to fall in love with whomever you want. The right to chose whomever you want.” I pleaded desperately.

But he just shook his head. “Sarai…I can’t.”

What he did he mean he can’t? Every solution, he was shooting it down. He wasn’t even trying to get out of out it. He didn’t want out of it, I realized. Did he want to be with this girl?

“Do you love her?” I asked, hating myself for even voicing that. I don’t think I could bear it if he said yes.

“No! No—how could I love her…I don’t even know her.” I was relieved to hear that because that meant he would never marry her. But the next words killed that momentary victory. ”But I could grow to love her…”

“I don’t understand,” I said shaking my head, mumbling it over and over. Tears were beginning to stream down my face, and I could feel a raw lump developing in my throat. I sat down on the picnic table and then looked up at this person whom I loved and whom I thought loved me back. “What changed? This was just supposed to be a vacation—you promised me that you had no intention of giving into your parents’ pressures for marriage!”

He said nothing and just looked down at me apologetically again. Was he feeling sorry for me, I wondered? Where were his tears? Why wasn’t he torn up about this? My heart ached….my stomach was nauseous…I was fighting a losing battle with the hysteria that building up within me. I was feeling like my life was over. And there he was, just giving me his sad, apologetic puppy dog eyes. Pitying me. I didn’t want his pity. I wanted his love. How could things have changed so quickly? What happened in India? How had they brainwashed him? Where did the love go? How could 3 months have changed 5 years of what we had built? I shook my head. I just didn’t get it.

“What changed, Armaan….really…I need to know. What changed?”

“I don’t know, Sarai…I don’t know…” He shook his head and then looked at me helplessly. “It just got too hard, Sarai. It just got too hard.”

“That’s it?!” I asked, hysterically, my arms flailing like a madwoman. “I gave you 5 years of my life, and all I get is a ‘it got too hard.’ I’d like to know when it all got too hard…because I thought we were happy, that everything was fine.”

“It was…we were…but, Sarai, when I was in India…I have a huge family. They would never accept you, and your family would never accept me. And you know family is everything to me. What about our kids? How would we raise them? Hindu or Christian?”

“We’d figure it out…because that’s what people do when they love each other. They figure it out. They don’t just find someone else to marry just because it’s easier. They stick it out with the one they love. And they figure– it– out,” I said, almost biting the words out. But inside, I knew the answer. He knew the answer. I would have raised them Christian.

“Sarai, I want to raise my kids as Hindu. I love my religion. It’s a part of who I am. It’s a part of my family. And they are a part of me. You’d never allow it—for you, it would only be them going to your church, believing in only your god.”
I resented him implying that I was close-minded. “You don’t even practice your faith! I truly believe mine. For me, Faith isn’t my preference…it isn’t tradition. It isn’t even culture. It’s what I truly believe to be the truth. I can’t change that as much as I can change the fact that gravity exists or that the sky is blue.”

We had had this argument before. In fact, it was truly the only time we ever did fight about anything. It was the one thing I was unwilling to compromise on, and he always seemed to acquiesce. Apparently, I was wrong. He had never given in. And now he had just given up.

Having him break up with me was devastating, but having him break up with me while also telling me he was engaged to another woman was almost more than I could bear. There would be no chance of reconciliation. No breaking up and then getting back together. It was over. Just like that. That simple. For him. But for me, I would be recovering from him for the rest of my life. I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. I didn’t trust myself to have loved someone so blindly. And worse, I just felt empty. Empty with the void that he once filled.

“Sarai,” he said, pleading with me to understand. “You don’t know how hard it was for me there…my father was sick. I thought he was on his deathbed. I thought I could do something to save him, and I did. If I told him about you, he would have died right there. I would have killed him. And then I could never forgive myself, and my mother would hate me for life as well.”

“But your father is fine now…just tell him about us, and they’ll understand.”

He shook his head, “It’s not that simple. Promises were made. My family is obligated to keep them. Our family name and reputation is at stake.”

“What are they going to do? Arrest you?” I realized I was fighting a losing battle. God! What was I hearing? I couldn’t believe he was seriously considering this. I wanted to shake the sense back into him. How could he let go of our love like this? I could never, ever consider anyone else. I looked at him, standing there on the bridge and just shook my head.

“God! Things happened so fast…” he said, pacing back and forth again, running his fingers through his hair. He looked at me desperately “Please believe me—I never meant to hurt you.”

I didn’t understand what the confusion was. ”Just get out of it, Armaan.” I looked at him matter-of-factly.

”I can’t Sarai…”

“Just tell them you can’t go through with it!”

He said it again, this time more slowly, “I can’t, Sarai….”

“So you really are going to go through with it?”

“It’s done. I can’t go back on it. My family would be shamed. And I can’t do that to them. Sandiya deserves better.”

Sandiya deserves better? Sandiya deserves better? “Oh, you can’t hurt someone you barely know, but you can do it to me, the very woman you professed to have loved for the last 5 ½ years?” I asked accusingly.

“I know you won’t understand now, but one day you’ll thank me. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think this is for the best.”

I looked at him like he was crazy. “For the best? How is this for the best? We date for several years, and you break up with me out of nowhere, and somehow that’s for the best? Why didn’t you realize this was the best when you first asked me out? In fact, why the heck did you stay with me for so long anyway?”

His eyes were filled with apology, but I saw nothing that indicated he was in agony like I was over his decision. I continued trying to convince him. “Why should you have to grow to love anyone? Can’t it just be there…from the beginning….like it was for us?”

“It would never work, Sarai. Who are we kidding? You would never go to temple with me. Neither of our parents would ever really accept it. My parents like you, but they’d never accept you as my wife. And your parents would never accept me. Hell, you haven’t even introduced me to them!” he said, looking at me like I was the one who had hurt him.

“How could you say that? I told you I just need the right time to tell them…” I said, my voice no more than a whisper.

“In five years you haven’t found the ‘right’ time!” he said accusingly. He then softened his voice, “Don’t you see, Sarai, if you can’t even tell them about us dating, then maybe this is just wrong.”

I looked at him. His beautiful face. The face I thought I would look at for the rest of my life. The one that made me believe that anything was possible. In our Indian culture, an engagement was almost as official as a wedding. Although it could technically be broken, I knew by looking at him that somehow, between the time he had left me to his return, something had changed. I had lost him. He had made his decision to follow his family’s wishes, and no matter what I said, he would not break it his engagement. He wanted to be with this girl, and he no longer wanted to be with me.

Almost on cue, the sky crackled and rumbled, echoing the discontent, turmoil I felt. Huge droplets of rain started falling at first, and then a deluge of rain followed. My soft, flowing, perfectly blow dried hair was a matted, tangled mess in seconds. I hadn’t expected the slight scent of summer rain to turn into a torrent of lashing wind and pouring rain, but I didn’t care that my hair and my dress were now plastered to me and that I probably looked as attractive as a wet, drowning rat. I stared at him through the rain, endlessly hurt and shocked as I tried my best to digest the moment. I stared at his face, begging with him to change with every fiber of my being, but he just looked at me with apology and pity in his eyes. I shook my head again, feeling utterly defeated. It was over.

It could have such a romantic night…like in the movie Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai…love birds caught in a beautiful summer storm, something right out of a Bollywood film I had come to love, but our Bollywood story had now reached its abrupt, tragic, and very unfair ending. The playful prancing of innocent lovers in the rain was over. Every true love story had an untimely tragic element, and unfortunately, even though I thought I was the star, I ended up being the casualty. It was like the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai where the seemingly main character dies, and by the end of the movie, the “hero” ends up with the secondary character.

“Come on, I’ll take you home,” he said, reaching for my arm.

I shirked away from his touch as if he had just burned me. ”No!” I yelled out, my voice drowning against the loud sound of falling rain. “Just leave me alone. I’ll walk,” I said as I started following the path out of the park towards the main entrance.

”Quit being stubborn, Sarai. I’ll take you home. You’ll get sick out here like this. It’s getting cold and you’re going to end up with bronchitis or pneumonia!” He reached out for my hand but I once again pushed his hands away and stepped out of his reach.

As I walked away, I paused and looked back at him. He was a stranger to me. I didn’t know this person. He couldn’t be the same guy with whom I had just spent the past 5 1/2 years. With my teeth were chattering again the cold rain, I said, “Y-y-y-you have no r-r-r-rights over me! Y-y-y-you gave away that right when you became engaged to another w-w-w-woman-n-n.”
He wanted to argue with me, but he knew I was right….just as I knew it was over between us. Sometimes I would look back at this moment, wondering if there was something I could have said…something I could have done that would have changed his mind. But at that moment, I knew what it took me weeks, months, and years to realize over and over again—that our relationship was truly and irrevocably over.

So he followed me in his car while I walked. A gentleman to the end. No, not a gentleman….because a gentleman would never break the heart of a woman he purported to love. A gentleman would never get engaged to someone while still dating someone else.

But I didn’t go home. In the cold rain, with teeth chattering and in a drenched sundress and cardigan, I walked the half mile back to my subdivision, past my house and two streets down and took another right, a left, and another left— straight to Reena’s home. I walked past her shocked mother who answered the door, right up the stairs to Reena’s bedroom and collapsed on her bed like a rag doll while she tried to comfort me. But how do you comfort someone who’s inconsolable?

A Little Bit About Bindu Adai-Mathew:

For most of my life, I have been a writer in one form or another. Through high school and college, I worked on and contributed to the school literary magazines as well as the school newspaper. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in English and Mass Media and a Master of Arts in English Literature with a specialization in technical writing, I have been working for the past 15 years as a business analyst/technical writer in various fields, from IT to healthcare. While I have written a few short stories, A Nice, Doctor Son is my first novel.

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Two)

image

In honor of Valentine’s week, all week long, FemmeFuel is proud to post excerpts from A Nice, Doctor Son, written by our very own FemmeFuel writer, Bindu Adai-Mathew.

Loosely based on Bindu’s own personal experiences, A Nice, Doctor Son is about the heartbreak of losing your first love, the importance of giving love a second chance, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the 3rd time will be the charm.

Click here if you missed Excerpt One… 

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt Two)

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

It was a beautiful evening, I thought, as I began the trek to Central, a park located just a half-mile from my house. If ever there was an evening for a proposal, this was it, I thought to myself. It was one of those magical nights where the sun, moon, and stars all seemed to be in alignment. Although it was dusk and the sun had settled, it was still eerily bright outside, reminding me of one of those Winnie the Pooh viewfinder scenes I used to stare at for hours on end when I was a kid. The sting of the summer heat had already subsided and a fresh breeze had further cooled off the evening, giving it a light balmy feel. The grass smelled fresh and crisp, reminding me of summer rain. I glanced quickly at the sky and noticed dark, menacing clouds in the distance. They were headed the other direction, I determined. Nothing was going to ruin tonight…because whether Armaan proposed or not, I knew it was going to be a special evening. Besides, even if it rained, the night might even be more romantic. Many a Bollywood love story had blossomed under the nurture of a summer shower.

As I made my way to the bridge, I could see the faint outline of a full moon. Yes, it was most certainly a perfect night! The humidity was low tonight, thank God! Otherwise, my summer dress and matching cropped cardigan would have been drenched in sweat.

Central wasn’t your regular kids’ playground park. Donated by Rudolph Holbus Wolfgang, it was 20 miles of everything one could ever hope to find in a park—a playground, a jogging path, a bike trail, a hiking trail, and a picnic area. The edge of the park jutted against a forest and Lake Juniper. As a child I had gone to the playground hundreds of times, but I had probably only seen less than one mile of what it had to offer. I vaguely recalled taking a kayaking ride with my Girl Scout’s troupe when I was in 5th grade. It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I even knew that there were miles and miles of unexplored wilderness just waiting to be hiked.

In high school, I had ventured beyond the playground and discovered that if you followed the hiking trail for a quarter of a mile and then veered off to the right, you’d find yourself in an empty meadow that in the summertime would bloom beautiful wildflowers. To the right of that was our signature spot—an abandoned wooden bridge that overlooked the most picturesque little creek. It was a place I had only shown to Reena and Armaan. It was one of my favorite spots at the park, and it reminded me of a scene right out of one of those nature calendars that we got from my parents’ car insurance agent, Jerry Knowles, every year. My family rarely traveled anywhere, and I often thought being here was like what I imagined being in upstate New York would be like.

The entrance of the park was the play area, complete with a swing set, jungle gym, monkey bars, slides, and a merry-go-round. The rest of the park was modeled after Central Park in New York City, and the outer back edge of the park was more of a forest. The park wasn’t your typical park. It was 20 miles of undisturbed nature.

All my most significant moments with Armaan took place in this park, right here at the bridge. It’s where we had our first date…and then shared our first kiss. And if Reena’s hunch was right, it might also be where he was going to propose.

By the time I arrived, dusk had settled in. Tall black cast-iron lampposts were already lit throughout the park, making the evening even more magical. I glanced at the sky again and saw that the clouds seemed to be ever so shifting towards us, rather than away from us as I had initially thought. The sky had darkened a bit more, making me wonder if it weren’t going to rain after all. But I wasn’t made of sugar, and I certainly wouldn’t melt. I buttoned the last 3 buttons on my cardigan and straightened the skirt of the dress, wondering again if the outfit wasn’t overkill. Reena was still convinced Armaan was going to propose, but to avoid being too disappointed if he didn’t, I was being cynical and trying to have low expectations. I was trying my best to look casual but still dressed up, just in case our reunion date was more than just that. I pulled out my compact mirror to do a final check. Eyeliner, lipstick, base and mascara were all still in place. I had even spent some extra time to emphasize my best assets—shaping my eye lashes with an eye lash curler I bought a few weeks ago. My eyes, he had always told me were always his undoing. Bedroom eyes, he would always say.

I arrived at the park, quickly walking towards our favorite spot, just in front of the bridge, and to my surprise, Armaan was already there. He was leaning against the railing of the bridge, with his hands clasped behind him, deep in thought. He was wearing his Stanford polo shirt and jeans and his hair was cut very short but his bangs had grown and he wore them neatly combed to the side rather than his signature Caesar haircut. It was a simple haircut, making him appear more traditional than I knew he was.

I tried to sneak up on him and catch him off guard, but he heard my footsteps in the grass and immediately turned around, looking slightly startled. When he saw that it was me, he broke into one of his signature heart-melting smiles. I lunged into his arms, and his arms pulled me tight as my feet dangled just inches off the floor.

“Hello, stranger!” I said, squeezing him and breathing in his deep musky scent that mingled with his after-shave.

“Hello yourself!” he said. He then loosened his own tight embrace and once he placed me firmly back on my feet, he leaned back to look me over. He had a way of looking at me that made me feel as if I were the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. “You look cute. You cut your hair,” he said smoothing an unruly curl. “I like it. It suits you,” he said.

“Thank you!” I said, as I lightly touched his hair and affectionately squeezed his cheek. “You look cute, too…just like a good Indian boy who listens to his mommy and daddy.” I said the latter part of that in a thick Indian accent. He laughed.

“So how are you?” I asked, looking up at him, the adoration evident in my eyes.

“Good…I’m good.” he said, smiling into my eyes. He was still holding me loosely in his embrace as his eyes then dropped to my lips. Armaan was a good looking man, but even I forgot what a strong effect he had on me. I closed my eyes and leaned in for the kiss that I was sure that would follow. But he abruptly pulled away from our embrace and held my hands loosely for a few seconds and then dropped them altogether. He then shoved his hands into his pockets and began pacing up and down in front of me, occasionally raking his hands through his hair.

I had expected him to ravish me in an unforgettable kiss, so I was a little thrown-off when he pulled away. I sensed his slight restlessness, almost like a nervousness. I smiled as I guess the underlying reason for it. Plus, we hadn’t seen each other in 3 months, so even I was a little nervous to be around him.

“So how was your trip? Tell me everything!” I begged, eager to ward off the awkwardness.

He smiled boyishly at me, “Everything, huh? Well, there’s a lot to tell.” He walked over to the bridge, staring at the water, and then looked back at me with a wistful look in his eyes. I waited for him to say something, but he just stood there, staring at me oddly and then turned back to stare quietly into the waters of the lake. I joined him, standing close to him, expecting him to put his arms around me, but he didn’t.

Even a small brook could be so magical at night. The moonlight shimmered on the still water, and I could see hear the sound of the brook as it trickled down the rocks before it eventually joined the seemingly bottomless waters of the lake. The smell of fresh cut grass was now getting stronger, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before the rain started. He was once again looking at me, and my heart quickened in nervousness, but luckily the night shadows hid my blushing. Not wanting to break the magic moment, I remained silent even though every part of me wanted to know why he was being so aloof. He could be so enigmatic at times, but I was sure it was the jet-lag that made him seem even more so…or maybe it was being in India for three months. Our motherland had a way of changing you, of seeping in your bones in the slightest way and making you for a brief time into the person you would have become had you never left her shores.

The moon was full and round tonight. A true Harvest Moon tonight and for a few moments we just continued to stand on the bridge watching the moonlight play against the soft current of the creek. Finally he spoke.

“Sarai, there is something I have to tell you,” he said. My eyes widened and my throat constricted as I nodded in reply. I inhaled deeply as I tried to steady my nerves. This was it.

He cleared his throat and then rephrased his statement. “Actually, there is something I have to ask you.”

I know, you do, I thought silently to myself. Reena had been right. He was going to propose.

He reached for my hands and held them. “You know how much I care for you, right? And you know I want you to be happy, right?”

My heart thudded louder against my chest, almost drowning out his words, which were undoubtedly a preamble to his proposal. Did he realize I knew what he was going to do? I still couldn’t believe he was going to propose. Maybe it was being away from me for 3 months that made him realize that he wanted to be with me forever and that we did belong together.

“Yes…” I whispered. I was partially expecting him to get on one knee, but the poor boy was probably so nervous that he had forgotten about that one tradition.

“Okay, what is it?” I asked, smiling, suddenly feeling giddy. I reached out to smooth a non-existent wrinkle in his shirt. I just wanted to touch him. He had gotten a little leaner, I realized. He glanced down at my fingers, and then with his left hand, he clasped it over my hand. “Sarai…”

“Yes?” I asked gently, my voice tender, almost like a whisper. His face was so beautifully lit up in the moonlight. It was so good to see him. I thought of him every day, every hour, and at times, every minute when he was gone. Knowing he would be coming back to me is what kept me from missing him too much. But being around him again made me realize how much he had become a part of my life and a part of me.

He was quiet again, and said nothing for a few seconds. I could hear the hesitation in his voice. “Sarai,” he began again. But then he paused and looked away. I noticed the reluctance to speak. I looked at him questioningly, wondering why he was struggling so much with the words. Was he that nervous? Although I had expected him to be nervous, I hadn’t expected him to be so hesitant and unsure of himself. He had to know how crazy I was about him! He cleared his throat a couple of more times, and I held my breath, waiting in anticipation for him to say the words.

The night sky stood in the backdrop, providing the most unbelievable ambiance. It was now dusk, and between the smell of rain and the light fog that seemed to cover the ground like a sheer blanket, there was an undoubtedly a dream-like quality to the evening.

“Sarai…when I was in India, something happened…”

You realized how much you missed me and need me, I thought.

“My father had a heart attack, and he was in a coma for a few days.”

And you realized the importance of not waiting…but seizing the moment.

“And I vowed to Vishnu that if he brought my father back, then I would do anything required of me.”

And Vishnu told him to marry the Christian girl he was dating.

“And a few hours later my father woke up from his coma, and I made the same promise to him that I made to Vishnu.”

And you told him about me and how much we were in love.

“And he told me how his wish was always to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor and someday take over his cardiology practice.”

And you’re on your way of fulfilling that wish, I thought, proudly.

“And then he said there were only two things more he wanted.”

A wife and kids.

“He said he last wish was to see me married to the daughter of his childhood best friend, Sumas, and give him grandchildren.”

My heart quickened. What an odd thing to say, I thought. But then you told him about me and how much you loved me and could only be with me.

But then he looked at me, and I saw his eyes, filled not with anticipation but apology.

“And things happened so quickly…the family came to our house, and I met Sandiya and…” His voice trailed off, and he finally raised his eyes to me. They were sad. Those weren’t the eyes of someone who was about to propose. I began to brace myself as I tried to follow what he was trying to tell me. Somehow I knew that whatever it was he had to tell me also was not something I would want to hear.

And you told her how you could never consider her because you were already with someone else.

“Sarai…”

My heart must have stopped beating.

“I’m engaged.”

A Little Bit About Bindu Adai-Mathew:

For most of my life, I have been a writer in one form or another. Through high school and college, I worked on and contributed to the school literary magazines as well as the school newspaper. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in English and Mass Media and a Master of Arts in English Literature with a specialization in technical writing, I have been working for the past 15 years as a business analyst/technical writer in various fields, from IT to healthcare. While I have written a few short stories, A Nice, Doctor Son is my first novel.

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt One)

In honor of Valentine’s week, beginning today through Saturday, FemmeFuel is proud to post excerpts from A Nice, Doctor Son, written by our very own FemmeFuel writer, Bindu Adai-Mathew.

Loosely based on Bindu’s own personal experiences, A Nice, Doctor Son is about the heartbreak of losing your first love, the importance of giving love a second chance, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the 3rd time will be the charm.

A Nice, Doctor Son (Excerpt One)

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

I glanced at my watch. It was exactly 7 o’clock. “Where are they?” I asked in frustration as I scanned the hall for Mani and Rakesh. The talent show was about to start, and there was no sign of either of them. I glanced longingly across the side railings at our seats—front and center. They were the perfect seats with perfect views. They were still vacant, but once the show started, they would be up for grabs by anyone. We were gathered in Jones Hall, celebrating the 50th anniversary of India’s independence, with a fashion and talent show. They had converted Jones Hall to a large makeshift auditorium, clearing out all of the tables and aligning the chairs into rows. The event was sponsored by our school’s United Indian Association to broaden Indian culture awareness. I had been an active member throughout my college years and even served as the vice president during my junior year and as president during my senior year. As an alumnus, I now had earned the right to sit back and enjoy the show while all the underclassmen did all the work.

“You know the guys,” said Reena, looking a lot less perturbed that I did. “They are always late. I think even when they were both born, they were running on Indian Standard Time.” We were supposed to have met Mani and Rakesh over 30 minutes ago before the show began, but they were their usual unfashionably late selves. We waited near the front entrance for 10 minutes and then walked to the side rails, glancing at the sea of seats below us. The lights flickered momentarily and then dimmed, indicating that the show was about to begin.

“Nope, no sign of either of them. Typical!” said Reena, beginning to feel as perturbed as I was. As we stood near the doors, right before the last row of seats began, the MCs began with their opening welcome. We scoured the entire hall for them from our vantage point but nothing. I glanced once again at our reserved, front-row seats, which we would soon lose unless we claimed the seats soon. I turned back to the main entrance for one last glance and then proceeded to glance at my watch. But before I could even glance down to see the time, I saw him, standing alongside the entrance towards the side wall.

All my life I’ve been searching…I could never explain what for…but searching…searching for that sense of completeness…that sense of purpose…that sense of fulfillment. I didn’t get it from school…from work…my personal achievements…and as ashamed as I am to admit it, not even from God.

And it was at that moment, I suddenly knew the answers to questions that I didn’t even know I had. In those few seconds of first seeing him, I knew what every person knows when they helplessly, mindlessly fall in love—that despite the fact that not one word had been uttered…that they didn’t even know who the other person was…yet, they felt a stirring within…almost a knowing…that somehow they had found the one.

As I stared at him, elation, excitement, and lust began exploding within me like a fireworks display—rising within and bursting with a range of exquisite emotion that I had never knew existed, let alone experienced—leaving me breathless, nervous, and nauseous.

Unlike the typical Indians guys in my Malayallee community, he was taller—at least six foot three. Broad shouldered, wearing a simple open collared white shirt with a fitted gray jacket, he seemed to command attention with his confident stance. His hair was the darkest black and his skin, although slightly tanned, was very light by Indian standards. He had a straight nose and defined jawline, and with his dark, roughish good looks, a lesser connoisseur could have easily mistaken him for Italian…but it was his eyes that were the dead give-away. Curved in the corner and defined by the darkest lashes, I had seen his eyes many times before in the painting of mughal princes as they lounged in the court with their prince consort. His lips were full and sensuous. As I stared at him, his smile curved into the most knee-weakening smile I had ever seen. He was heart-stopping, breath-stealing beautiful, and I knew on some level, I was undoubtedly responding to just that. But somehow even as he stood there casually, with one hand in his pocket while the other one rested lightly on the lapel of his jacket, he emanated a presence, an aura that drew me in, and I was as helpless and as hapless as a moth to a flame.

As unbelievable and as unrealistic as these feelings may sound to someone else, they were probably more unbelievable to me, the very one who was feeling this chaotic bliss. I was not the type of girl to react to someone so superficially—at least not before. Although I was surprised at this immediate, albeit over-reaction, I did know myself well enough to know that I had never responded to anyone like this before. And somehow I knew I never would again.

As I stared at my newly discovered beloved, my imagination took over and I began starring in my own Bollywood film. The music began, and like the popular dance numbers for which Indian films are known for, the talent show guests in choreographed unison parted like the Red Sea, creating a distinct path to my beloved. Even the main talent show only served as a backdrop to us. And then on cue, my beloved suddenly turned to me, his arms outstretched as he began singing of his immediate, intense, and never-ending love for me. “Dil churale…oh…me[1]” Unlike the Bollywood stars who typically just mime a song, my beloved could actually sing! But in keeping with the Indian film tradition, I act the shy, innocent ingénue as he boldly walks towards me and pulls me into his embrace. I, after a nervous giggle, sidestep his advance, just narrowly missing his kiss. Everything was perfect in my Bollywood fantasy until I was rudely interrupted by my best friend Reena.

“Sarai…Sarai…Earth to Sarai!” My best friend Reena had arrived next to me. I heard her calling my name repeatedly, and I saw her hand flashing like a windshield wiper in front of my gaze, but even then, I could not focus on anything but the beautiful specimen who stood just a few feet in front of me. When I continued not to respond to her, she followed the trajectory of stare.

I knew the moment her eyes settled on him. First, she said nothing, but seconds later, she stammered out a “Ohhhh——my—–G-O-D….Who is that? He has got to be the hottest guy I’ve ever seen,” she whispered loudly to me. I smiled for Reena was as cynical as they come, especially since just six months before, she herself had gone through a breakup after an intense two year relationship. This was the first time since the breakup that she had looked at another male without rolling her eyes or wanting to throttle him.

For a few seconds, neither of us said anything as we just unabashedly drooled. And just at that moment, his eyes moved from the stage and directly right at me, as if he knew who I was. Our eyes locked. My knees immediately weakened, and I had to lean back and grab the railing behind me so I wouldn’t fall. Like a deer caught in headlines, I was unable to turn away. It was as if he could see right through me, deep into my soul. I, too, became aware of something deeper and even more beautiful inside of him that just seemed to emanate through his intense dark-eyed stare. And then suddenly there it was. The faintest scent of familiarity. Had we somehow met before? A thousand past images, thoughts, crushes, and fantasies all flashed before my eyes, colliding, merging, culminating now into the composite of this person who now stood before me. He seemed to be everything I had dreamed but never thought possible. It was as if in that very moment, God breathed my fantasy into life. My body reverberated with recognition. No wonder he had seemed so familiar…I had been dreaming of him my whole life.

The seconds rolled by as we were unable to tear our eyes off each other when the sudden screeching pitch of the sound system startled us both out of our trance. I winced and covered my ears as the MCs apologized for the technical difficulties. The moment was gone and suddenly I was just another over-eager Venitian drooling over a very desirable Martian.[2]I turned away, embarrassed that he had caught me staring. I stared back at the stage…or at least pretended to as I grappled with those seconds of searing intensity. Had he stared back at me or was I still wrapped up in my initial Bollywood fantasy? I, of course, made the mistake of turning around too soon, only to find him still staring straight at me. His lips turned slightly upwards as if he were amused by something. Beet-red, I jerked back around, gripping the railing even tighter. My heart was racing quickly. Breathe, breathe. Get a grip, Sarai, I told myself, trying to speak reason and common sense into my head. He’s a guy…a very good looking guy, yes…but in the end, just a guy. When did I ever get so quickly worked up over a pretty face? I was acting like a teenage fan drooling over a boy band. And, I, Sarai, was not a boy band groupie!

But like a magnet, I was drawn back to him once again. I turned my head ever so slowly..and there he was, looking as gorgeous as he did 5 seconds ago…his eyes were still focused on mine as if I had never taken my eyes of his. But this time before I turned back around, I did something that surprised even me. I smiled at him. And he did something that surprised me more. He smiled back at me.

Reena had been watching this entire exchange without saying a word. To my horror, I realized that her whole body, in fact, was still facing directly towards him. Aghast at the lack of her subtlety, I said, hiding my clenched teeth beneath a smile, “Turn around, Reena, you’re staring! It’s so obvious!”

“Yeah, you’re right. Because you turning around to stare at him the last two times wasn’t obvious at all…”

I winced. She was right. I was so obvious. But then again, so was he! Unless, he was just staring at me because I was staring at him. Was that all it was? Was there no connection like I had thought? Was it all in my head? Oh, God! Maybe he wasn’t the least bit interested and just thought I was some psycho, wack job. But Reena’s next words dismissed my immediate fears.

“Besides, I don’t think he would have noticed me even if I were stark naked. He hasn’t taken his eyes of you.”

I smiled at the thought that he was no more immune to me than I was to him.

“So any idea who he is?” I asked.

“Nope.”

“Do you know anyone who might know him?” I asked.

“Nope,” said Reena.

“Maybe we should just go up to him and introduce ourselves,” I suggested. As soon as I said it, I realized how silly that sounded. How could I just go up and introduce myself? It would come across as too eager…too desperate, even though that’s exactly how I felt. I shook my head and immediately took those words back.

“Actually, I think that’s a great idea,” Reena said. I stared at her expectedly, waiting for the punchline. When I realized that she was not joking, I was horrified.

“You can’t actually be serious?” I asked.

“Why not? It’s obvious how attracted you are to him and he is to you. Why not just go up to him and say hello?” Reena asked.

It sounded so simple, but I just couldn’t do it. Something deep in me rebelled against making the first move. I couldn’t help feel that as the guy, he should be the one to make the first move. “I can’t, Reen, I’m not bold like you.”

Reena sighed, shaking her head. “Yeah, don’t worry ‘bout it. Besides, that would be way too straight-forward and simple. We gotta drag this out for every ounce of melodrama we can squeeze out of it,”
“Stop teasing. I’m sure there is a more dignified way of introducing ourselves. Something not so obvious.”

“Not so obvious? I think it’s a little too late for not so obvious,” Reena said. I longed to turn back to stare at Mr. Beautiful, but I resisted the magnetic force that seemed to surround him.

“Maybe Rakesh knows him,” Reena suggested. “He somehow manages to know everyone.”

That was true. Rakesh did know most people, especially if they were Indian. However, there was a caveat to that and I reminded Reena of that. “I think he somehow manages to know all the females…the males, he cares less about.”

“Very true…” she said.

“So what do you think?” I asked.

“What’s there to think about? He’s not created for deep thought…he’s created for our scenic pleasure.” She said and then sighed. I just laughed. Well, if that’s what he was created for, he was certainly fulfilling his destiny.

Although we were facing the stage, neither of us were paying any attention to Taj Mohan perform a classical Bharatanatyam Indian dance.

“Hellooooooo, ladies!” Two familiar voices crashed our private interchange, momentarily distracting me from thoughts of Mr. Beautiful. Rakesh and Mani.

“Sorry we’re late. But Rakesh here couldn’t figure out which color underwear best matches his Nehru suit.”

“Shut it, punk!” Rakesh warned, his index finger wagging ever so ominously. “Or I’ll tell them how we had to make two pitstops at a gas station and then at a drugstore due to all your gastrointestinal issues tonight.”

Ewwwwwww…Reena and I exchanged disgusted looks and then before I could say anything, Reena spoke for both of us, “I cannot believe you two. First you keep us both waiting for 30 minutes, we lose our front-row seats, and then you finally show up and start talking about gastrointestinal issues!” Her nose crinkled up in disgust she repeated Rakesh’s words.

Rakesh and Mani smiled sheepishly, looking all of five years old as they wavered between embarrassment and pride. Our glares quickly helped them realize the former and not the latter was the better choice.

“Okay, sorry, laaaadies, you’re right. Tell us what can we do to make it up to you.” He proceeded to wrap his arms around both of our shoulders and leaned in towards me. “A dinner and a movie, maybe? We’ll even take you to see a chick flick… or maybe skinning dipping in the moonlight is what you’d prefer. Anything you guys like…you choose.”

“Anything, huh?” Reena glanced me, raising an eyebrow. “Anyyything?” she asked coquettishly, taking Rakesh by the elbow.

Rakesh, narrowed his eyes, realizing that Reena already had something in mind, and it might not be to his liking. “Well, almost anything, but I won’t make out with you no matter how much you beg.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha! Not! I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself, Rakesh. What I wanted to ask is very simple. Turn around slowly,” Reena instructed, but she quickly had to grab him by the shoulders when she realized he was about to jerk his body around. “I said slowly. There’s a guy there in a standing there in a dark suit. All you have to do is go up to him and introduce yourself and then invite him to join us.”

Rakesh looked at us skeptically. “That’s it?” First, he looked surprised at the simplicity of our request. “But why would you want—” And then it dawned on him. I could almost see the lightbulb that made a sudden appearance and hovered just above his head, “Ohhhh, I get it…one of you ladies likes him.”

The guys turned in unison and not so subtly they gave Armaan the once-over, looking at him slowly and thoroughly like he was their adversary in battle and like they were assessing him for a flaw or weakness. Luckily, he was engaged in a conversation with someone standing next to him and didn’t notice that a group of four people (two who were scowling and two who were drooling) had all turned around and were assessing him from head to toe. Rakesh’s face retained a frown as he turned back and dismissingly said, “oh, that’s Armaan Shah,” as if that should be sufficient and I should then drop the matter entirely.

Shah…the name not only confirmed to me that he was Indian, but that he was probably either Gujarati or Punjabi, which also meant he was probably Hindu, making him (as far as my parents were concerned) completely off limits for anything other than friendship. And even the friendship would have to be hidden from my father. As I stood there, silently grappling and justifying what I knew I was going to do, I heard the voice…

Sarai…what are you doing? Mom and dad are going to KILL you! If God doesn’t strike you with lightning first! It was that voice of conscience…of reason…of obligation in my head…that voice that had held me in check most of my life. The voice that I had heeded since I was little when I chose homework over watching television or going out or when I had said “no” to a drink offered to me by a cute stranger at a club or when I volunteered to be the designated driver whenever we went out for a night on the town. But as I stood there with Reena, staring at my dream come true, I ignored the little voice I had listened to all my life. Besides, I reassured that little voice, it’s not like I wanted to marry him…maybe just be friends….and a date or two wouldn’t hurt, right? Right, I assured myself.

But after Rakesh confirmed he knew handsome stranger, neither Reena and I were ready to drop the matter. “So how do you know him?” I asked incredulously. “And if you know him, how come we don’t know him?”

“Okay, what’s up with these chicas,” he asked Mani, holding is hands up like he was fending off groupies at a rock concert. “You two don’t know everyone I know…you’re not around me 24/7. Anyway, what’s the big deal?”
I looked at him incredulously because he could be dense. “The big deal is he is the HOTTEST guy on this planet, and we somehow missed be informed of his existence,” I said. Rakesh and Mani exchanged looks again.

“I see…so you’re the one who likes him!” Rakesh said, cocking his eyebrow as if challenged me to deny it.

“We’re both admirers,” Reena said, quickly coming to my defense. “And I’m very sure we’re not the only ones in this room either. So spill it…what’s the 4-1-1 on Mr. Shah?”

” Not much…he’s a chill guy…but not your type…”

“What do you mean ‘not my type?’ What makes you think he won’t be my type?” I demanded, wondering how Rakesh could be so evasive sometimes.

“‘Not your type’ unless you’re interested in a guy who is already engaged,” said Rakesh.

I could feel the joy deflating out of me quicker than air out of an overfilled birthday balloon. At first I said nothing and just stared back blankly at Rakesh, wondering if he hadn’t just made that up. But I could see he was serious. Then the words started sinking in, “Engaged? What? He’s engaged?” I said, truly upset. “But he can’t be engaged, he’s…”

“He’s too young to be engaged!” exclaimed Reena, saving me from embarrassing myself.

Rakesh and Mani briefly exchanged brief glances, no doubt surprised as to how strongly I was reacting. Reena was right. They would never be able to understand how I was feeling and would probably think I was crazy for saying that he was my soul mate. Well, I didn’t know for sure if he was my soul mate…but he made me believe, for once, that all my Bollywood daydreams were more than just a silly fantasy.

But Reena didn’t miss a beat. “Okay, since we lost our seats, you owe us now…now you’ve got to introduce us to him!”

“And what do I get out of this?” asked Rakesh, always the bargainer.

“You’ll get my…our,” I said grabbing Reena by the shoulders and holding her close, “eternal gratitude.” We then smiled coyishly, batting our eyes in our best Betty Boop impersonation and gave him our sweetest, cutest, most adorable puppy eyes.

Rakesh crossed his arms over his chest and looked us over unimpressed. “You’re gonna have to do better than that…”

When Reena realized the begging Betty Boop technique was not working, she quickly changed tactics and resorted to guilt. “Either way, you guys OWE us for being so late and for causing us to lose our seats. Now go chat with that guy and then invite him to join us…” Well, guilt, Reena style, which is a combination of demands with a veneer of guilt.

The guys glanced at me and then looked at Reena. “Go! Now!” she said as she forcefully turned them around and pushed them towards Armaan who was still engaged in conversation with someone else.

As much as I was grateful for Reena’s intervention, I knew it didn’t matter. My Mr. Wonderful was engaged…and therefore, as far as I was concerned, he was very off limits.

As I watched the show, I pushed him out of my mind, but he didn’t get any farther than my medula oblongata. The damage had been done. He had opened the floodgates of what I had systematically damned up since junior high. For so long, I was fine being Ms. Single and Independent, but seeing Armaan stirred up feelings of longing and loneliness that I indulged only in my most vulnerable moments. My attitude had always been that it was better to be single than to settle. But lately that occasional loneliness was now burning in me. Here I was…my first year out of college, and I still had not experienced having a boyfriend. I finally met someone whom I thought was worth getting to know, and he was unavailable. What made it worse was that he seemed just as interested as I was in him…and why did it have to be so magical? Why did it seem God had read my mind and custom-made him just for me? Why would he look at me like that if he were engaged to someone else then? What was I doing?

Armaan Shah. The name alone told me he was probably from the Indian state of Gujarat, which meant he was probably Hindu. My parents would kill me. Not just kill me. But skin me alive and then kill me. Well, it was way too soon to worry about anything more than just friendship. I just wanted to hang out with him…as friends…maybe if I were lucky, just go on a few dates, live out my Bollywood fantasy, and then get over it and him and just move on with my life.

“Are you okay?” Reena asked me, probably surprised at my unusual reticence.

I nodded my head and focused once again on Jaya’s dance. Her movements were methodical and precise. It was like watching a one person opera. Each hand movement was a study in storytelling. I envied her ability, even though I knew it was a result of 3 to 5 hours of daily practice since she was 5 years old. But it was an opportunity that I never had. Like many overly strict Malayallee Christian parents, mine had been opposed to me studying classical dance, which they saw as a worship of the Hindu gods. While all I could see was graceful, artistic form, all my parents could see was a form of worship to a Hindu god. Dancing, like many things of my own culture, was forbidden to me.

Rakesh and Mani returned to us and stood by us as we watched. I glanced at Rakesh, attempting to give him a half-hearted smile. Rakesh’s eyes were on the stage and he said, “So your boy Armaan isn’t engaged.”

My head whipped around to Rakesh, waiting for him to continue. “He’s not?” I asked incredulously. “How can you be sure?”

Rakesh’s tone was devoid of his usual pep, “Because I asked him how his fiancé was doing…turns out he was never engaged.” I didn’t have time to dwell on Rakesh’s glumness or what that meant. All I could think about was that Mr. Armaan Shah aka Señor Gorgeous was single, and he was available. Maybe there was hope if he was still interested…or maybe I had I imagined all that.

Before my mind could run away with that horrible thought, Rakesh continued: “He asked about you…what your name was…who you were…and if you… “ he quickly mumbled the rest incoherently.
“And he asked ‘if I what’?” my voice barely a whisper, afraid to assume what I thought I heard.

Rakesh cleared his throat and reluctantly added, “He asked if you were single,” He looked me straight in the eye, almost as if he were trying to gauge how I really felt.

“And what did you say?” I asked. I hope he hadn’t made one of his typical Rakesh comments and ruined my chances.

“I said you were single,” and then he looked away again before somberly adding, “But good luck in trying to date you…many have tried, and all have failed.”

“Ha, ha! Very funny,” I said, mockingly. I had no time to decipher Rakesh’s mood or his comments. All I could focus on was that Armaan was available and wanted to know if I were available.

Surely the angels were singing…for my heart was singing. I felt light on my feet. Just like that, with a few simple words, a renewed energy force seemed to flow through me. Somehow I knew this would be the beginning of it all. And it was. It was the beginning of my Once Upon a Time.


[1] You are my heart…oh my…you are my life…

[2] A reference to the book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.

 

A Little Bit About Bindu Adai-Mathew:

For most of my life, I have been a writer in one form or another. Through high school and college, I worked on and contributed to the school literary magazines as well as the school newspaper. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in English and Mass Media and a Master of Arts in English Literature with a specialization in technical writing, I have been working for the past 15 years as a business analyst/technical writer in various fields, from IT to healthcare. While I have written a few short stories, A Nice, Doctor Son is my first novel.

Each Day is a Fresh Page

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

I remember my first time vividly. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was in Mrs. Sloane’s English class. Not typically one who was tempted to cheat, I had to forcibly suppress my desire to peek a glance at my neighboring classmate’s paper to see what she had written. Sweat drops beaded around my temple as I blankly stared at the pristine white sheet of paper entitled, “My New Year’s Resolution.”  It was written in my signature, calligraphic cursive handwriting. But the handwriting, which had once won me penmanship awards in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th grades now mocked me, challenging me to think and write down a list of resolutions that could improve or change my habits or (gasp!) even maybe my life! I glanced around the room, noting each of my classmates were rapidly scribbling away like seasoned novelists. I glanced worriedly at Mrs. Sloane who stood at the front of the class, forearms resting on the wooden podium as she closely monitored the class like we were inmates at a federal prison. Perhaps it was the “deer in headlights” look in my eyes that finally broke her stoic silence, but a smile broke out over her severe countenance. Smiling reassuredly at us, she addressed the class: “Don’t let this assignment intimidate you. I’m not grading you on what you write down, unless it’s something extremely silly and I know you’re not taking the assignment seriously. You can write down anything you want…just think of even small things you would like to change/improve in your daily habits…exercising more…watching less television…turning your homework in on time,” she added pointedly looking at one of my less studious counterparts. “ Just remember to be specific…”

My head reared up and I sat up in my chair. Really? That was it?! Watching less t.v. counted as a New Year’s resolution? Relief flooded through me. I could think of several things like that! I quickly jotted several items on my list and then flipped my paper over, clasping my hands over it protectively as I patiently waited for the rest of my classmates to finish their lists. My eyes darted from one desk to another, noting that several students were still working on their lists. This wasn’t a novel, for goodness sake…it was a list!  Everyone could make a list! I crossed my hands over my chest confidently. This was undoubtedly the easiest assignment Mrs. Sloane had given us, and I was guaranteed an “A.” Two weeks later I had managed to break every one of my New Year’s resolutions.

And so began my love/hate relationship with writing and keeping New Year’s resolutions. By the time I reached college though, I had all but abandonded writing them. My freshman year, I was so idealistic that I wrote goals that were not realistic, given my current financial situation, such as traveling to Europe. My sophomore year I was so overwhelmed by exams, finals, etc., that I had completely forgotten about them. My junior year I had evolved beyond the need for writing any (I blame that one on my Existential philosophy classes), and my senior year, I was once again so overwhelmed with final exams that I, again, had completely forgot about them.

Then my mid-20s came. There was just something about the end of the year that not only begged for celebration but for self-reflection and self improvement, and so post-college, I returned to the yearly ritual of writing resolutions down each year. Although I had “failed” at keeping them, like a masochist, I, along with the rest of the country, participated in this national ritual. Perhaps, it was my own stubbornness, but I was determined that one of these years, I would actually be successful at keeping them…at least one of them. But as the cycle began again, a new yearly ritual began…seeing how long would I last before breaking one of them? It became a bit of a joke and a challenge between me and my friends to see which one of us could last the longest. But soon the challenge switched to see which one of us would be the first to break it.

Somehow and somewhere in the midst of that endless cycle, I finally had an epiphany in my late 20s. Who said that one day of deterring from my goals was a sign of complete failure? As the old adage goes, if you fall of the horse, get right back on…

And with that realization, came another…who needed to wait until the end of the year to make a New Year’s resolution? Every day was a new opportunity to make a fresh start. Each day is a chance to change/transform myself into the person I aspire to be.

A few years ago, a song came out, sung by Natasha Bedingfield, reminding me that each day of my life was a blank slate, a fresh page for which to start writing the script to my life.  I share those lyrics with you:

Unwritten.

I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned

I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can’t live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your innovations
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten