Right From the Beginning

by Deepthi Krishnamurthy

When do cracks form in relationships? Deepthi Krishnamurthy tells the story of a man recollecting everything right from the beginning: chocolate-coated wafers, a kiss on the highway, potbellies, a second car and melting cheese fondue.

I remember now that you hated chocolate-coated wafers. You said you’d rather eat sawdust. You said they were wafers pretending to be chocolates. I told you that it wasn’t pretence if everyone knew they’d find wafers inside the chocolates before buying them. You maintained that there was hypocrisy involved. It used to amuse me when you said such things. I filed them under the broad category of things you did that I called ‘cute’. Later, of course, I found your pickiness about food about as tolerable as a fork scratching a plate. But I have a confession. Remember the time in college when I bought that big box of wafer chocolates for your birthday? Well, I hadn’t just forgotten how you hated them. I thought that if somehow I made you eat the whole box, you would end up liking them. I thought that if you spent enough time with me, you would end up liking everything about me—the moustache I was trying to grow, my laziness, my disregard for your friends, everything.

You thought my hair was just a bunch of unruly springs. You thought men with potbellies were just plain disgusting. You said you would never date someone with one. You were afraid I would grow one because my father had one. When I accidentally forgot your shopping bag in a cafe, you told me that your friends thought you were out of my league. I lied to you that my friends thought I was out of yours. You stared blankly at pigeons that evening. I knew you had bought my lie. You never admitted it, but you began to think that I was smarter than you (even though you did better in exams). I took you on a longer route to the railway station that night. I knew you would miss your train to Chennai. I drove you to Chennai. I knew you would be thankful. I knew we would pull over on the highway and kiss. I might have wanted to show off my father’s car that day. To you and possibly to your family.

I thought your mother’s voice was shrill. I criticised your father’s financial decisions behind his back. My sister wore diamonds and a bit too much make-up when she came to meet us at a café. No one stopped you, but that day, you didn’t feel like ordering the samosas that you usually did. You thought my family didn’t miss an opportunity to show off their wealth. But I, for one, could never pick out clothes for myself. I wore a t-shirt and jeans to your brother’s wedding. You found a hole under the collar of my shirt. You looked beautiful that day, the way your hair fell on the back of your blouse and your waist, the deep black of your kohl and the bangles on your delicate wrists. I might have told you this but surely not in as many words. I wanted to snatch you away from the crowd and keep you to myself. I saw in your eyes that you might have wanted that too—to be snatched away.

It seemed natural for us to talk about marriage and make our parents agree with us, which they did. But quickly, your excitement and the fuss about our wedding began to irritate me. Weeks before the wedding, on the day we went shopping, I complained a bit too much about women and shopping when I was actually just plain tired. I pretended I didn’t hear it when my sister casually joked about your ‘middle-class taste’. I hated the fuss about the honeymoon too. I found the planning and logistics too much of a bother. Kaushik estimated how much it would cost. I knew it meant a lot to you but I told you we couldn’t go to Mauritius. I told you we had to save or else depend on my parents, which you wouldn’t want yourself. You were unimpressed with Goa. I suspected that you were unimpressed with me. I started shaving and getting regular haircuts. You always talked about making a ton of money so we could retire early, so you could bring home a dog and I could write my book. You always talked about how spectacular my book would be when I wrote it. I loved and hated how your eyes shone when you said things like that. Deep inside I knew I would never write it.

In two years, you got a big raise and were making more than me. Kaushik laughed for a full minute on the phone when I told him. I told him to shut up and that I wasn’t jealous, not at all, not one bit. I kissed you and said I was proud of you. That night I asked you why you were friends with your manager on Facebook. You stared at pigeons the next morning. You hadn’t made coffee for me for the first time since we started living together. You said you thought I was tired and might wake up late.

I started growing my moustache again. You started ignoring Kaushik when he came over to watch football. You started asking me to eat healthy. I started joking about your cooking skills. You started putting on weight. I started wondering how much weight you’d put on when you’d become pregnant. I sometimes didn’t hit ‘like’ on your pictures. Who doesn’t ‘like’ their spouse’s pictures? When you drank a bit too much one day, I had to carry you to the bed. We were laughing and joking till I reminded you how you thought I was the one who’d grow a potbelly.

I was scaring myself with the number of cigarettes I smoked every day. You thought I only smoked when I drank, which was still about twice a week. You bought a new car. I kept telling you how happy I was for you. We started to take your car when we went out together. Our old car became ‘my car’. Your car became the new ‘our car’. I started getting funnier with my jokes about your driving skills. You started coming home later and later. You always had your earphones on. You were always either on a call or listening to music. I stopped asking you which one it was at the moment. Don’t mind me, you’d say, feel free to interrupt. It started to seem like a bother to interrupt only to tell you how cool a movie was or ask if you’d seen my blue shirt.

I joked more and more about your girlfriends. You started dropping out of plans that involved Kaushik. You said you didn’t mind me being friends with him, just fucking hated the fact that he was my only friend. I started hanging out even more with Kaushik. You started finding strange things in my browser history. I started finding strange men on your friend list. My cholesterol and your thyroid decided to remind us of our age. You lost a lot of weight. Your frame shrank and wrinkles emerged on your neck. Your nose seemed to stick out of your face and your eyes sank deeper, giving you a severe look. I quit smoking but started drinking more. I now had a beard along with the moustache. You started to straighten my back like a yoga instructor when you found me looking lost in the balcony. Silver springs had started to emerge on my head, and sure, a potbelly had begun to take shape too.

At a bar, a woman accidentally bumped into Kaushik. He asked the man next to her to keep his bitch on a leash. A lot of swearing and punching followed. Before we could process what happened, Kaushik and I found ourselves behind bars. We paid the cops off and got away. You decided to quit your job. I decided to avoid Kaushik and buck up at work. He called me a pansy. You started taking yoga lessons and went on expensive retreats. You started a cactus garden. Soon we had three dogs and I hated the thought of coming home to them. You seemed almost happy. We went on a vacation to the Swiss Alps. I barely made the EMIs that month but couldn’t have said no to you. We both seemed almost happy as we dipped bread and vegetables into velvety cheese fondue and looked into each other’s eyes. For the first time, I noticed how exhausted you were. You thought something about my mouth reminded you of my grandfather. The tea light that kept the fondue warm seemed to melt something between us.

We decided to have a baby. After a year of doctor visits, tests, diets, workouts and prayers, you showed me the two lines on the pee stick. We sat on the edge of the bed and didn’t know if we were crying out of joy or some deep unacknowledged sadness.

I can remember all the details with acute clarity now. I can lay out everything on the table and see how the pieces would never have fit. The diagnosis is as clear as the reports about abnormalities in our foetus. I can see now how everything can be wrong right from the beginning. I see you staring at pigeons, and in your eyes, I see that you can see it all too.

Deepthi works at an e-learning company in Bangalore. She likes taking long walks and writing short stories. She attended the Bangalore Writers Workshop and the short fiction workshop at the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis.
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