I move the pupils toward the bridge of my nose, go cross-eyed.
Not because Ma instructs me to keep my head down, as behooves the prospective daughter-in-law of a prominent family such as yours, or because I like—or dislike—what little I can see of you: your foot, wide on the instep, with uneven, serrated toenails and a thick, hairy ankle above which your bell-bottomed pants dance; or because the song and dance program, Chitragaan, is on in the next room—the television set an expense my parents incurred to impress you—and you tap your ugly foot to playback singer Ravi’s song as he croons, Tum anupam ho, declaring that the recipient of his love is beyond compare. Not because Pa announces I’ve cooked the snacks, the halva and the pakoras, while your mother reaches for my hands, turns my baby-soft palms up, then down; or because she pretend-studies the fragrant jasmine string looped around my braid, giving my plait a tug, noting my wince, after which she asks me to offer you the cardamom-laced masala chai so she can watch my gait as I walk across the room; nor is it because my one-second glance at you reveals long hair covering your ears, the sideburns like river deltas on your cheeks, and your cigarette-stained lips. It’s not even because your mother suggests I could go on a diet, or stipulates that I cannot wear high-heeled footwear, for then, I’d appear taller than you.
It’s because while your family examines my physical body, as if I were a melon in a vendor’s cart, you don’t say a word, leaving me no choice but to look at your mother cross-eyed.
Sudha Balagopal’s short fiction appears in JMWW Journal, The Nottingham Review, Jellyfish Review and Meniscus among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions and is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50, 2019.
Artwork by: Yogendra Singh