The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
Ruchira is packing when she discovers the notebook in a dusty alcove of her apartment. It is sandwiched between a high school group photo in which she smiles tensely at the camera, her hair hacked short around her ears in a style that was popular that year, and a box of brittle letters, the sheets tinged with blue and smelling faintly of sweet betel nut, from her grandmother, who is now dead. For a moment she fingers the book's limp purple cover, its squished spiral binding, and wonders what's inside, it's been that long since she wrote in it. Then she remembers. Of course! It's her book of errors, from her midteens, a time she thinks back on now as her Earnest Period.
She imagines telling Biren about it. "I was a gawky girl with a mouth full of braces and a head full of ideas for self-improvement."
"And then?" he would ask.
"Then I turned twenty-six, and decided I was perfect just the way I was."
In response, Biren would laugh his silent laugh, which began at the upturned outer edges of his eyes and rippled through him like wind on water. He was the only person she knew who laughed like that, soundlessly, offering his whole body to the act. It made her heart feel like a popcorn popper where all the kernels have burst into neon yellow. She'd respond with a small smile, the kind she hoped made her appear alluring and secretive, but inside she'd be weak with gratitude that he found her so funny.
That, and the way he looked at her paintings. Because otherwise she doesn't think she could have agreed to marry him.
To think that none of this would have happened, that she wouldn't be sitting here this beautiful rainy morning, pale blue like jacarandas, packing, getting ready to move out of her Berkeley apartment into their newlywed condo in San Francisco in two weeks, if she hadn't mumbled an ungracious agreement when her mother said, "Why don't you meet him, Ru? Kamala Mashi writes so highly of him. Meet him once and see how you like each other." Ruchira shudders when she realizes how close she had come to saying No, she wasn't interested, she'd rather use the time to go to Lashay's and get her hair done. Just because Aunt Kamala had written, Not only is the boy just two years older than our Ruchira and handsome looking, 173 centimeters tall, and holds a fast-rising job in the renowned Charles Schwab financial company, he is also a nephew of the Boses of Tullygunge--you recall them, a fine, upright family--and to top it all he has intelligently decided to follow our time-tested traditions in his search for a bride. It would have been the worst error of her life, and she wouldn't even have known it. It saddens her to think of all the errors people make (she has been musing over such things lately)--the unknown errors of their lives, the ones they can never put down in a book and are therefore doomed to repeat.
But she had shown up at the Café Trieste, sullen in old blue jeans and a severe ponytail that yanked her eyebrows into a skeptic arch, and met Biren, and been charmed.
"It's because you were so wary, even more than me," she told him later. "You'd been reading--wasn't it one of those depressingly highminded Russians?"
"Dostoevski. Brought along for the precise purpose of impressing you."
"And for the first fifteen minutes of our conversation, you kept your finger in the book, marking your place, as though you couldn't wait to get back to it."
"You mean it wasn't my suave Johnny Depp looks that got you? I'm disappointed."
"Dream on," she said, and gave him a little push. Actually, she'd been rather taken by the stud he wore in his ear. Its small, beckoning glint in the smoke-fogged café had made him seem foreign and dangerous, set him apart from the Indian men she knew, at least the ones who would have agreed to meet a daughter-of-a-friend-of-a-distant-relative for late afternoon coffee with matrimony in mind. But most of all she liked that he admitted up front to feeling sheepish, sitting like this in a cafe after having declared, for all those arrogant years (just as she had), that he'd never have anything to do with an arranged marriage.
Copyright 2001 by Chitra Banjeree Divakaruni. This section first appeared in the publication Prairie Schooner in Spring 2001.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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