The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan

My old flame, the Lucky Bastard, he of the nefarious intentions and the devastating lines, jets back into town on a borrowed Scooty, reeking of pleasant aftershave and profound desperation. He lifts his sunglasses with cinematic somnolence to the top of his curly head, sighs, and says: 'The tides were high and the moon was just rising. If you had come when I called you the other night we could have had epic sex.'


'We've already had epic sex.'


He looks at me. I look at him. He crosses his arms and poses against the bike. He's an archangel but only in profile. He's a cenotaph. Whenever he bit my nose, the diamonds pinned to it disappeared into his mouth.


'Ever heard the story about the chick who would ride between Pondy and Madras every weekend?' I say as he starts the engine.




'So every weekend she could be seen taking the ECR on a Bullet. Up to Madras on Friday, back to Pondy on Sunday. And the highway cops couldn't figure out what the deal was, what it was she was smuggling. They stopped her many times, stripped the bike, never found anything.'


'Maybe she was visiting her boyfriend?'


'Much later, they worked it out – she had been smuggling Bullets.'


It takes a second too long for him to get it, but he laughs. I roll my eyes behind his back. Under my hands, his shoulders are supple and capable of jeopardising anyone's common sense.


But that isn't going to happen. We are meeting today in the interest of civility and skullduggery, both in the service of parties other than ourselves. His former roommate, the edentulate Swede, needs the vouching of respectable people in order to convince his landlady to extend his lease. He says he doesn't know any respectable people. For the sake of a little booze and a little bribery, I am riding sidesaddle in a saree, pretending to be married to this knave, this rapscallion, my former predilection and current accomplice, the Lucky Bastard.




I am, as the Lucky Bastard knows only far too well, alarmingly easy to persuade.


At a traffic light, I shout, 'I'm only doing this because you are a family friend and I am a loyal person.'


'Honour-bound as always,' he says, still looking straight ahead. 'Where would the Tamil kalaacharam be without you?'


'Married to you for reals, probably.'


'Did you remember to wear the metti?'


'Metti, kolusu, kaapu, pottu, podavai. What more do you want? I draw the line at thali.' I am a woman who wears altogether too much metal, on the interior as much as on the outside. I jangle like a poltergeist. Kavaca-kundalam ain't got nothing on a girl like a kuthu vilaku.


'Good girl,' he says. 'Such a sweetheart.'




When Erik sees us his eyes go large. 'You are both looking very very nice,' he says.


I thank him sincerely. The Lucky Bastard is too vain to acknowledge compliments; I am vain enough to assume they are actually only meant for me.


I adjust my saree – a chartreuse green with a red print, paired on this occasion with a high-backed Naidu Hall readymade – a little more than necessary and try to appear demure. The Lucky Bastard cocks an eyebrow, but only after an adorable, inadvertent grin.


The three of us take the stairs to the second floor and ring the doorbell. The woman who answers it is as dour-faced as cautioned, with a permanent wrinkle between her brows that divides her kunguma pottu in almost perfect halves. Her house keys are hooked to her waistband, as is the end of her saree. She gives off the distinct impression that we have interrupted some prayer that could have prevented the apocalypse.


'Maami,' Erik begins, and it's impossible to tell if she has bristled or blushed at the honorific. 'These are my friends, Mr and Mrs Kumar. I used to live with them before I came here.'




'K.K. Nagar,' says the Lucky Bastard.


'Family house?'


'Umm, no, it's a flat. Two bedrooms. We rented one to Erik.'




I keep my eyes firmly focused on the metti on my timid and wifely toes.


'Uh, for some time we thought the rent was high and so…' He's trailing off already. I can sense the panic. All Indian men are secretly terrified of women. It's the state of the nation.


'Your wife works?'






'No, no.'


I sneak a look at the boys' faces. The Lucky Bastard's expression is that of an emoticon. Erik wears the archetypal beam of all polite, linguistically impaired white people in India.






'Why no children? How long have you been married?'


'Just two years.'


'Immediately after marriage you rented out room-a?' she looks perplexed. I resist the temptation to tell her that my sex life is hardly in detriment. And neither is the Lucky Bastard's, I'm sure.


'Y-yes. Then Erik moved to your other apartment after one year.'


'And your spare room?'


I interject as quickly as I can. 'For our parents, when they visit. They are in Coimbatore.'


Her face softens for a split second. And then she turns all her attention on me. 'Have you seen a gynaecologist, ma? Maybe you are doing something wrong. You are taking any breast enhancement hormones?'


In the end, after a long and painful conversation about everything but his lease, Erik's landlady drops the news that her son is moving back to Chennai from abroad and would be taking up that apartment upon his return. We trudge down four flights of stairs, dejected, embarrassed and thoroughly pissed.


'Bitch,' snarls the Lucky Bastard. Erik nods gravely.


'She talks,' I say, 'like her tongue is all scratched up from drinking too much pineapple juice to induce a Tamil padam abortion.'


The Lucky Bastard snorts appreciatively. The cockles of my cold black heart warm slightly.


'Well I still owe you guys drinks,' offers Erik. 'And you look too nice to waste on going home. Unless, umm – ' his eyes shift quickly, suggestively.


'No,' we both say at once. I look at the Lucky Bastard and am not sure if I'm relieved or offended.


'We'll do drinks,' I concede. 'No sense wasting this saree, after all.'


And I make a show of asking for Erik's hand to climb into the high seats of his Endeavour, while the Lucky Bastard, smouldering behind his sex bomb sunglasses, remains perfectly unreadable. Like a Sphinx. Like Tamil letters on a billboard when I'm on a bike that's moving too fast.


The waiter wears a nametag that says '7 Hills'. 'Elumalai!' I screech in comprehension, and understand at the same instant that the boys do that this has to be my final drink of the night.


'When are you going back to Coimbatore?' I ask the Lucky Bastard, most needlessly.


'Next week, maybe.'


'Why are you even here?'


'Some work.'


'Did you come all the way here to help Erik?'


'No. I came for other reasons.'


'You break my heart when you're cryptic.'


'You break my heart all the time.'


I am dangerously happy. Something erupts at the next table, a woman shouting at a man, a spilled drink, a shattered glass. Erik snaps.


'Okay guys, it's time to call it a night.'


'Yes yes, watch him now as he forgets he's supposed to pay the bill,' says the Lucky Bastard, in Tamil.


'I don't have any money, do you?'


'Why should we? We did him a favour.'


'I'm sure he'll pay. Don't embarrass him.'


'This son of a whore really embarrassed us today. How quickly you forget.'


'Okay, you guys have to stop speaking a language I don't understand. It's rude. Good night.' Erik swiftly takes out his wallet, removes three crisp thousand rupee notes, places the edge of an empty martini glass over them, stands up, pushes his chair back in tidily, and walks toward the door.


'What the fuck was that?' exclaims the Lucky Bastard.


'Nordic anger,' I sigh. 'Whatte cool.'


He shakes his head in the direction of the door and watches it for a few moments, as though he expects an indignant return. Then he summons Mr. 7 Hills for the check, places the cash into the folder and smiles at me almost – almost – sadly. And then something happens.


'So it's just you and me, kannamma.'


It's like someone aimed a rubber band at my heart and didn't miss. I have waited my whole fucking life for someone to call me kannamma.


'I have waited my whole fucking life for someone to call me kannamma,' I say.


He looks at me. I look at him.


'I'll take you home.'


'Just put me in an auto, please.'


'No chance.' And then he takes my hands, both of them, and kisses them.


I like my fights dirty, my vodka neat and my romance anachronistic. He even carries my heels when I decide I can't walk in them, gets a plastic bag for them and hangs it on the handlebar. I rest my head on his back and watch the city as it zips by sideways. And then, of course, it starts to rain.




We take shelter under the flyover and share a cigarette.


'You're not coming home with me.' It isn't a question.




'You and I could be the culmination of centuries of human longing.'


'Don't tell me about longing.'


A strong gust of wind sends the tops of the trees at the park and the American consulate circling. How beautiful this city, or perhaps any in the world, is to a woman who knows her own bed awaits her even as she lingers, barefoot in the rain at midnight, pretending for just a few minutes that she doesn't know everything she already knows.


A part of me wishes I could still burst into tears at will, overflow with arsonist passion, say all the things I would say if I hadn't already come such a long way, such a long, long way.


And because I have nothing else to say and neither does he, he treats me to one of his signature moves – throwing back his hair, looking pensively into the middle distance, then training that heartbreak of a face right at mine only when he's sure he has me hooked. He has raindrops on his lips.


My cellphone rings. It's someone from far away. 'I'll see you on Gtalk in an hour,' I say. 'I'm just coming home from Zara. So I will be delightful.'


'You always are.' She laughs and hangs up.


The Lucky Bastard is waiting for me to finish what I started. Even Gemini Circle is as empty as a morning after at this hour, and I remember one night when we had hit every petrol bunk between Adyar and Nungambakkam, looking for one that was still open, kissing like fools all the way down Uthamar Gandhi Salai. Everything closes so quickly, before you know it, before you've even had a chance.


And then he gives up. 'Why are you always so damn cool and mysterious? Like an oracle. Like a high priestess.'


'The high priestess,' I start – and then I have to take a breath because I have said this line so many times but never have I said it this way and I want to do it right, do it the way the Lucky Bastard does it – stylish as cinema, sexy as smoke, unforgettable as trauma.


I look him dead in the eyes. 'The high priestess never marries.'


And then his chest heaves in something I recognise as pain but can no longer empathise with. He pulls me into a hug and before I know it, I feel him sob into my neck.


'I know, baby,' I say, and I hold him tight. 'I know.'




Sharanya Manivannan was born in India in 1985 and grew up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Her first book of poems was Witchcraft (Bullfighter Books, 2008); she is currently working on a novel, a collection of short fiction and two manuscripts of poetry. Her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in Drunken Boat, The Nervous Breakdown, Superstition Review, Killing The Buddha, Pratilipi, Dark Sky Magazine and elsewhere. Sharanya can be found online at '' .