The Imperfect Match
by Payal Chakravarty
Jia was almost sure Arnab was not the one. She toyed with their wedding invitation, absent-mindedly nodding to what he was saying on the phone. “Are you sure you want to do this, Jia?”, asked Arnab. In her heart she wanted to say “No”, but all she heard herself saying was “What a silly question, Arn. The engagement is tomorrow.”
There were many moments in the last four years when Jia had wanted to say “Arn this is it!”. But she could never say it aloud. There was no reason to. Arnab was perfect in the eyes of the world.
He was a well-settled lawyer from an eminent family. “We would never find such a perfect match even if we tried”, her middle-class parents had said, with tears in their eyes.”Keep them happy, Jia.”
“What else do you want, Jia? I wish my husband would give me space, handle my finances and surprise me with gifts. You are so lucky” , her friends would say.
To Jia, the relationship felt like a permanent date – where she was constantly working hard to impress him.
She had made the first move to ask the articulate and handsome Arnab out, in the first year of university. She now considered it pointless searching for flaws in him. Instead, she melded herself into his life’s mould. She accompanied Arnab to all the parties where he mesmerized people with his wit or musical talent, introducing her as his ‘beautiful fiancee’.
She made polite conversation or sipped wine in a corner, wishing she had the evening to herself, reading a book. Jia also hung out with Arnab and his friends at the pub pretending to enjoy death metal or soccer games when all she had ever enjoyed was The Beatles. She made fish curry exactly the way her mother-in-law had, disgusted internally with the smell.
But she could not say No to Arnab. Arnab had this invisible control over her. It was always his decisions, his preferences that overshadowed hers. Whether it was their topics of conversation, social activities, home decor or travel plans. “Let me choose the honeymoon destination Jia, it will be a surprise that you will love”, he had said. “If only you knew what I really want, Arn”, she thought to herself.
The wedding happened with everyone’s blessings. The honeymoon, not much to her surprise, was in Singapore. They dined and partied, while she wished for a hike in the Himalayas. Arnab shared their honeymoon photo album with all their friends. “Arn, our honeymoon is personal, not for the world to discuss on Whatsapp groups”, Jia snapped. The fight continued for three days till she gave in when he got her fresh orchids.
There were days when Jia tried hard to change plans. “Let’s skip the party today, Arn. Come sit with me, let’s solve this crossword”, she asked, sitting on the balcony, enjoying a cool breeze with a cup of tea. Arnab sulked but agreed. He also solved the crossword effortlessly deciphering one clue after another. That too had annoyed Jia. “You are a genius, Arn” , she remarked sarcastically.
While Jia continued her daily attempt to keep up with their perfect life, she shared less and less with him.
She filled this void by talking to her childhood best friend, Joy.
“Had such a deep conversation on so many topics”, she said after hanging up an hour-long conversation with Joy, getting back to pairing Arnab’s socks. “Must be refreshing”, Arnab remarked and smiled, barely looking up from his laptop.
As months passed, Jia accomplished the art of excusing herself from social engagements. She encouraged Arnab to go for a guys’ night out while she practiced Ikebana at home. Joy came over to give her company sometimes and they read poetry, ordered Chinese and watched classics together. Arnab often returned home and joined them.
One such Friday evening when Joy was over, he mentioned meeting their long-lost school friends on Facebook.
“You should join our school group, Jia. Our entire class is on it.”
“I had created a Facebook account long back, Joy, but I don’t log. It is way too public a forum for me”, said Jia.
“Even Megha and Shiv are in. They had a baby last month.”
“Really. Is there a photograph?”
“Yeah. Log on, I’ll show you”
They logged on and had fun going through profiles of childhood friends, discussing how people had changed.
“Check out Srilatha”, exclaimed Jia. “She is wearing such short dresses. All I remember of her is pleated dupatta and oiled braids. Ritesh is now a researcher -wow! He barely passed”
As she browsed through various profiles she came across Arnab’s profile.
She clicked on it, half wondering if it was him. “He doesn’t have time for me, but time to be on a lame social network”, she thought to herself.
There it was – her Arnab. The photo was one taken during one of his trips abroad.
Here for: Dating
“Is this for real?”, she said looking up at Joy.
She traced his communication with others. “I think you are beautiful. Let’s be friends?”, he had written to a girl with blue contact lenses.
“I like your smile. Lets talk”, read another post to a girl who barely looked sixteen.
“There are tons of fake identities, Jia. You think Arnab has time for this?”, said Joy.
Jia did not reply. She continued to browse.
Joy excused himself. “I think I should leave now Jia. Go to sleep. Don’t jump to conclusions”
Jia logged on regularly to the social network and followed Arnab’s posts. Everyday he liked and commented on the profiles of several girls, inviting them to connect with him. Some replied, some did not. Some abused, he deleted those. She created a dummy profile to entice him to interact with her. However she withdrew considering this her chance to tell him how their relationship had become an obligation anyway.
After a few weeks of playing hide and seek and sleeping before he returned, Jia was desperate to escape from this mental mess. Arnab was traveling to Delhi on business. It was a perfect opportunity for her to take time away from their life to decide how she wanted to handle the situation. She decided to take off to Darjeeling where there would be no familiar faces. The next available flight was in two days.
As she walked around their apartment, confirming her flight with the travel agent while cleaning the living room, she noticed the various things around their apartment that reminded her of their six year old relationship.
Their perfect photos taken in perfect poses stared at her from photo frames all over the house. The terracotta vases that they had brought from their first visit to Arnab’s ancestral house, the potted plants that they took turns to put out in the balcony, the hanging lamps at the corner of the living room that they had fixed together last Diwali, the Persian rug that her mother-in-law had sent for their first anniversary, every single object spelt ‘Arnab and Jia’.
As she stacked away the business magazines on their side table, she noticed one of Arnab’s socks. She didn’t want to put his things in place anymore. She didn’t feel like being the wife anymore. She realized the first thing she would need to do to escape was to get out of their house.
She packed a duffle bag with a few essentials, asked her maid not to come for two days, turned off her phone and walked out of their apartment. She hailed an Uber to Joy’s place.
“I am here for a couple of days”, she said entering his apartment and taking her shoes off at the entrance.
“Jia, what’s wrong?”, asked Joy, taking her bag.
“Don’t feel like talking now, Joy. Am sleeping on your couch.”
She sank into the couch, picked up the remote and started flipping channels. Joy stood there watching her. He turned off the television and sat down on the floor in front of her.
“If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay Jia. I’m here if you need me.”
He got up to go away. Jia pulled his hand and broke down.
“It’s ok, we will get over this”, Joy consoled her.
She did not say a word, just cried on his shoulder and wet his t-shirt. As Joy comforted her and Jia lay in his arms sniffing, she, for the first time, felt sparks that did not feel platonic. But she did not make an attempt to stop herself. “Are you sure you want to do this?”, Joy asked. They made love that night, several times.
In the middle of the night Jia woke up. For an instant she expected Arnab’s familiar face next to her. Suddenly she wished this was just a nightmare. She got out of bed, tiptoed into the restroom and splashed water on her face. As she looked at herself in the mirror she did not know whether to feel guilty about cheating on her husband or sleeping with her best friend. Either ways she knew the path forward was going to be a difficult one.
She went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. As she hunted for the tea leaves in the unfamiliar kitchen, it dawned upon her that this wasn’t her territory. She got a glass of water and entered the study. She picked up her bangle from the floor next to the beanbag, where she had placed it last night in the hurried process of undressing herself.
She sat at the computer table. Joy’s screensaver did not have a password. She went inside her mailbox. The compose button seemed to invite her to write and tell the world. She closed the window. She opened another one and typed the URL of the social network in the browser’s address bar. The page appeared. It had remembered the last user.
Her heart paced and hands trembled as she opened the Uber app to head back home to her perfect life.
This story is a product of the Short Story Writer’s Gym (Power Training). This is version 2.0 of Payal’s story, after getting feedback from the group, as well as Rashmi Bansal.