Sport 14: Autumn 1995
Lalita peeped out through the lace curtains at the lounge window. Sanjay was just getting out of the car. He was gorgeous in his dark green suit. His parents were with him.
‘Quick, get away from the window,’ hissed Priya, her older sister. The door bell rang. Lalita’s father was opening the door, her mother was close behind him and behind her was Priya. Lalita felt overwhelmingly shy. It was most unusual for her. She liked Sanjay. The first she had seen him was at Priya’s wedding last year. All her friends thought he was a real hunk. Lalita told Priya. Priya told her mother. Her mother had talked to old Mausi who had talked to Sanjay’s mother. Now here he was.
Lalita never told her mother that Sanjay called her last week.
‘I noticed you way before Priya’s wedding,’ he said, ‘at the Diwali function. You are so beautiful.’
Lalita felt her face flush. No one had ever called her beautiful before.
He said he was looking forward to seeing her today. Lalita floated through the rest of the day.
Mum was cooking sweets all day yesterday, jalebi, gulabjamun and barfi. Ever since Mausi came back with the news of Sanjay’s definite interest, Lalita’s mother began to think about Lalita’s glory box and to plan for the wedding. ‘These things take time,’ she told Lalita, ‘it is best to start early.’ They had to buy saris and fabrics, not just for Lalita but for just about everyone else in the family too. Mum was making up wedding lists so that they could send out invitations to family members in Canada, Australia and of course Fiji. They should be told in plenty of time so they could plan a special trip.
This morning, Lalita had got into a pillow fight with Vinesh, her eleven year old brother. He was six years younger than her but such a baby—he was teasing her about Sanjay and she’d attacked him with her pillow. Although her shabby old T-shirt was torn further in the process, she’d claimed victory. She’d been wandering around the house in the T-shirt all day until Priya arrived and nagged her to change into her new yellow and green ghargra chholi which they had bought specially for the occasion. She must have tried it on ten times already. ‘You wouldn’t recognise me for the same person,’ page 100 she thought to herself as she looked in the hall mirror.
Papa was calling her now. She remembered her mother’s and Priya’s instructions on how to look demure which wasn’t difficult. She felt incredibly shy.
‘Namaste,’ she said, as she came into the lounge. Sanjay stood up and smiled at her. She was so aware of him. He kept looking at her. When she saw him engrossed in talking to her mother, she peeped at him quickly. She looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Vinesh winked at her and grinned. She knew she would get teased unmercifully later. He was looking reasonably clean and tidy for once, she thought. With his hair gelled back on one side and falling over his eye on the other he was very cute. He copied the hairstyle from the Tom Cruise poster he had up in his room.
Priya was just bringing in some masala tea and some of the sweets they had been barred from eating before this. Everyone looked more relaxed now and Papa and Sanjay’s mother were discussing someone they both knew in Fiji. Sanjay accepted a cup of tea from Priya and Lalita got up to help her sister pass the sweets around. Sanjay smiled at her and Lalita’s hand shook slightly as she offered him some sweets. She noticed his hand was shaking too. She felt his hand brush against hers under the saucer as he steadied it for her.
She really wanted him to come to her eighteenth birthday party. It would be such a rage. And she could show him off to her friends. Wow. She wanted him to ring her again soon. Was the arrangement reasonably official now? Could she go out with him or not? Maybe he would ask her out. She’d like that. She couldn’t wait to tell Rina, her best friend, about him.
They hadn’t even discussed marriage but everyone looked very pleased with themselves. Papa laughed loudly at something Sanjay’s father said. Lalita followed Priya into the kitchen, using the empty gulab jamun plate as an excuse.
‘What do you think?’ she asked Priya.
‘Oh they definitely like you,’ Priya crowed excitedly. ‘I know just by the way they are talking to Mum and Papa. Now Sanjay will get in touch with you.’ She giggled wickedly, ‘It will probably be this evening. You watch. He can’t keep his eyes off you.’
‘Lalita? Priya!’ Mum was calling them. The guests were just leaving. Sanjay was smiling at her while her parents were saying how sorry they were that the Punjas couldn’t stay for dinner.
She wished they had stayed, she wanted Sanjay to be around a little while longer.
Her eyes dance at me out of their kohl-ringed sockets. Her hair, thickly braided, lies carefully, carelessly flung over her left shoulder. She had copied Juhi Chawla’s hairstyle from the Hindi film she watched last weekend. I had watched it with her when she insisted, not because I wanted to but because I was biding my time. I wasn’t ready to talk to her.
She smiles at me now, her teeth are white and even, as perfect as in a toothpaste advertisement. Her bright green and pink shalwar kameez clashes with the colours of the dam, the lake, the pines, even the gorse. I had tried to get her into jeans once—it had merely drawn a fit of giggles. I look away from her towards the lake. Jenny looks great in jeans.
The water is very still today. Hard to imagine that less than three meters below, enormous turbines are churning out gallons of water into the Waikato. From where I stand I can almost hear the machines, loud, intense, so much power under my feet.
She runs from side to side along the dam walkway, she gazes in awe at the ravine on the left, than runs back to look at the lake lapping close to her feet on the right. She calls out to me. I pretend I haven’t heard. When she gets to the chute, she stops and looks back at me. I know the chute well.
When we passed through here last year on our first (and only) skiing trip Jenny teased me. She said that if I married the chosen Riaqat, she would kill us both and throw the bodies down the chute. No one would ever find us down there. Who would care about two missing immigrants anyway? We had both laughed out loud then.
She reaches the chute now, it clearly fascinates her as it did us that day. I remember the length of that solid concrete tunnel, slimy with the green kai that forms after each overflow. She climbs onto the fence that surrounds it to take a closer look. She’s curious about everything. She found my letters once in my old suitcase. I had to almost wrest them from her hand. Then she made a silly joke about me not telling her about my gori girlfriends. We were married now, she didn’t care, she said. But what can I tell her that she will understand? She with her sheltered existence waiting for the eligible match. What can she know about this ache? I walk towards her slowly. She page 102 is still peering into the chute, her face completely absorbed. Just as I reach her, she turns around excitedly, she is saying something.
A bird rises over the damp slopes, gaining speed with every flap of its wings. The glassy peace of the lake is shattering. Yellow flowering gorse lines both sides of the lake. The Tokoroa pines tower over the gorse and are starkly reflected in the lake, stretching to meet across the depths in the middle. The lake shifts against the concrete of the dam, laps, soothes. The dam itself is grey, cold, empty. There is power here and peace.