Dear Future Self by Komal Singh
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Pay attention when the boy from shaadi.com calls you late at night and asks if he should get a vegan burger or a tofu wrap for lunch. Never mind his American accent. The distance. The weak cell phone connection. Ask him to say it again. When he does, tell him a vegan burger sounds like a good choice. Stop trying to comprehend the doodles your three-year-old niece drew on the walls. Sit up. Listen. Especially when he is driving and tells you that the streets are covered with snow.

 

All you want to do is hang up the phone, write him a short email and end it. ‘This isn’t working out. You are too far away and it’s confusing for me.’

 

Okay. Not that short. ‘You’re a really nice guy, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel close to you because of the distance. I’m sorry.’

 

The problem isn’t the distance. It’s that you’re not physically attracted to him. You met him once for dinner when he had a seven-hour layover in Delhi on his way back to Michigan. He’s a sweet south Indian boy who lives with his parents. His mom cooks enough food for him and leaves it in the freezer every time she visits her sisters in Hyderabad. He’s 37 years old. You were talking to each other on the phone for two months before you met. You thought you knew him.

 

This is the year you turned 30. It’s also the year your best friend Gul moved to the US with her husband. She sends you pictures by the lake close to her apartment in Milwaukee. The bright blue summer sky, red and white checkered picnic blanket and her hand on her belly. She is seven months pregnant. Her new life is all about setting up the new apartment, going for long walks by the lake and hiding how much she misses home. Misses you.

 

She goes to meet-ups organised by the Indian community and connects with women her age who found their husbands through a matrimony site. Some of these guys are from India, working on an H1 visa; others are Indians who were born and raised in the US. 

‘Why don’t you try out one of these websites,’ she asks on one of your hour-long WhatsApp conversations. ‘You’ll love it here – it’s so clean and quiet. We can live close to each other again.’

 

She never mentions how bored and homesick most of these expat wives are, especially the ones who are on a spouse visa and can’t work.

 

You always fought with your mum when she suggested you put up a profile on a matrimony site. That seemed beneath you. You always thought you’d meet someone on your own. In your fantasies, you imagined it would be at a bookstore and you’d both end up talking about your favorite book. Franny and Zooey.

 

Two weeks after you sign up on the site, you get an invite from him. His message says, ‘I really liked what you wrote about yourself and even though your profile says you’re looking for someone younger, I still wanted to reach out and say hi.’ He looks like a nice guy. You think you could use a nice guy after a series of emotionally draining relationships all through your 20s with men who were distant and aloof.

 

When you hug him outside the restaurant, you realise that your bodies don’t fit. He is overjoyed to see you. He hands you a gift-wrapped bottle of body lotion. It’s jasmine-scented. He remembers that you once told him about your obsession with bath and body care products. You thank him and don’t tell him that you don’t use anything with parabens and SLS. You give the bottle to your mom that evening; it’s from a friend you tell her. The conversation is easy but you can’t stop thinking about the bald patch on his head and the gold ring with a big yellow sapphire on his middle finger.

 

‘My Guruji suggested I wear it,’ he tells you. ‘I think you’ll love him. We should go meet him together when I’m in India next,’ he adds.

 

He asks you about what kind of partner you want. If you want any kids. And what your idea of family is.

 

You tell him that you want someone you can call at two in the morning for help if your asthmatic mother ever needs to be taken to the hospital. You don’t want kids because you’ve been babysitting your nieces and nephews since you were twelve years old. He knows you’re the youngest of five girls. You tell him about your brother-in-law’s struggle with alcohol and he expresses empathy. He says something about not being judgmental about it because it might hurt you and his concern momentarily quietens the chatter in your mind.

 

He tells you about growing up as a brown kid in a black neighborhood. About moving to the US when he was seven years old and only spoke Telegu. After his mum and dad went to work and left him alone at home his first week, he spent hours playing with the toilet flush; he’d never heard that swoosh sound before. He tells you about how much he missed his grandma the first few months. The smell of rice and sambar that gave other kids a chance to tease him. So he told his mom to give him an allowance so he could buy a sandwich and a muffin at the school cafeteria. He wasn’t the brightest at school but he still managed to get a full scholarship at Michigan State University. He wanted to live close to his parents. He hesitates before expressing regret over not moving to a big city like New York or San Fransisco for college.

 

He leaves. You continue to chat with him for another two months, his face and body a blur. You hope you’d develop attraction for him if you just tried. He looked good in some of his pictures if he stood at a certain angle. You tell yourself how happy it’d make your mum. You tell yourself you’ll get used to the Michigan cold and his parents. His brother and adopted sister who live in cities close by. You could volunteer at the temple they go to every Sunday or work at the soup kitchen. You could take the bus to move around, buy the warmest pair of winter boots and uproot your whole world for a life that’s safe. You tell yourself that that life will be enough. Just like it’s enough for your best friend.

 

But who are we kidding, right?

 

When Gul asks you what’s happening with the Shaadi boy, you tell her that you stopped talking to him because he was too much. Too attentive. Too annoying. Too far away. Not what you were looking for. And the chase begins again.

 

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Komal Singh is a fiction writer and her short stories have been published by Indireads, Gratis and Gaysi. She’s worked with First City Magazine and Greenpeace in the past.