That Arun was an average boy, and she knew that boys were humans too; she knew that he was a Brahmin, and she knew that it meant nothing, that being a Brahmin was just a foul trick played by some people on others. She knew all this; she knew and had read it in American novels, that women had to assert their equality.
In Mary's uncle's home she was expected to serve as her younger cousin's maid; if her uncle's wife and Mary's not married aunt served him, how could she do otherwise?
Mary would like to talk with a boy at length, to find out what was different in being a boy, but it was impossible, whenever she had the chance to talk with a male it was in a predefined setting, where real topics could not be addressed.
About Arun Mary knew a lot from her friends. He was a preferred subject. His beauty, his being, probably, a future Carnatic music star, his relationship with the foreigner which smacked of the illicit, the base desires allowed to men, expected of them. Was he interested in women, too much, or not at all?
Mary wanted Arun to be different, she knew not from what; different from an arranged marriage, different from that trivial foreground sympathy which made the unavoidable easier, based on thankfulness that it wasn't worse. She didn't know what she wanted, what she dreamed of, she only knew what she didn't want, that lonely prison of a life without one single person whom you could bare your heart to, nobody who would understand her. Husbands, children, schools, houses, servants would be all to talk about, she would read novels like she was reading novels now, about women who lived differently, who were not satisfied to fill out the space left by a husband; women who had a life of their own.
When Arun told her that he was thinking of her day and night, Mary was happy for a few days, until she understood that his love, if it existed, if it wasn't just a way of expressing desire, didn't mean that he agreed with her secret thoughts, which he couldn't know; it merely meant that the boy whom she thought she loved, liked her.
Would Mary be strong enough to ask him questions? Would she be strong enough to say, "no", if all he was interested in was the usual university affair? To be his wife seemed extremely desirable to her, but what in his behavior indicated that he was ready to rebel against his family and society? The truth was, she knew, that he was a sensuous young man, a good artist maybe, but of rather dubious moral standards.
When Mary saw him with the watch, she guessed to be true, what everybody was hinting at, Arun was poor, Ernest was rich, the invisible explained the visible.
What Mary feared, and what she asked her friend Shanti about, was her own heart; would it accept a life of submission to an ordinary husband, who expected his wife to serve him according to custom, in exchange for being Arun's wife. Did she love him enough?
Mary thought about the alternative, becoming an artist vocalist, like Miss Ojha, with her students as her family, being somebody in the university and on the Music Academy rostrum, but nobody in ordinary life, a spinster, "madam", everyday made to feel that men only respected the money possible to extract from her, while they despised her insubmission.
Singing with Arun sitting next to her, Mary felt that she should feel her dream had come true, but there was his pushiness, instead of simply accompanying her, he was leading, guiding, directing. She liked it, and hated it, it wasn't asked for, she didn't need it. She liked that he seemed to know and disliked that he didn't think of asking her. His intonation was pure and full of his character, his flawed purity, what she read from his eyes, what his lips seemed to indicate, that though he was the best kind of young man it wouldn't be possible for the two of them to spend five minutes alone in a room without physical entanglements. His heart was pure but impatient.
From Shanti Mary knew what Arun's home looked like, his parents would never receive her. Her father would probably relent if Arun managed to secure a job abroad but would never forgive her for throwing away her chance to marry a doctor, a dentist, an engineer or scientist employed abroad and assuring her family's future.
Money Mary had none, her chances of getting a job were slim, and of getting one without her father's paying for it nil. Miss Ojha said Mary was a good singer, and Professor Pillai treated her with an inkling of respect; she felt that in her case his usual frivolous compliments which he made to both girl and boy students, gave way to a genuine interest and concern.
Mary would have liked to talk about this with Arun, but probably it would frighten him, he would think she was complicated; there was no reason to suspect that he expected anything else from a woman than satisfaction, service, and male offspring.
No other student interested Mary, the caste boys' glances seemed to say, "if you wouldn't be so ugly, I would make you strip" and those few, to whom as a Christian she felt superior, insisted on treating her as an equal, refusing to use with her the modern, not caste-specific pronouns.
Not for a second had Mary believed that Ramnath would marry her. She liked that he looked and smelled of upper class, his way of talking. As long as she was with him, she felt like she had jumped on-screen in a film. She knew that he wasn't afraid of going round with her exactly because nobody would take his affair with her serious, he was right to enjoy, she was wrong to shame her teachers, her classmates, her religion and her family.
To write a letter was extremely foolish of her. Mary knew now that if men say talk, they mean kiss, kiss means embrace, embrace the worst. What would she say? At night she talked to Arun in her mind, afraid that her thoughts would miraculously pass through the walls into the mind of her aunt, who seemed to guess more about Mary than Mary herself knew.
What would she say? "I feel," she would begin, but then what next, "when you play," or, "there is no other student in the university," and he would say, "and what about Ramnath?"
"Forget Ramnath, I don't love him."
"Yes," and he would want to kiss her, probably, she would want him to want to kiss her. If she let him, her chance of talking with him would be gone, and if she didn't let him, he would probably sulk, and go on about Ramnath. And wouldn't he think that since she had let Ramnath kiss her, whom she didn't love, she would have to let him too, that since she had allowed Ramnath to abandon her, he was expected to abandon her also, later, to marry whom he was supposed to marry.
In Madras Mary's family of course knew, and while on TV actors joked about far worse affairs, her family all but poured kerosene over her and set her on fire. That she had strayed from the proper path meant that in the future she would have to accept without getting asked whatever her father managed to arrange for her marriagewise. She had ruined her chances. Now if an old man, or best case a widower or divorcee with encumbrances came forward, she was supposed to welcome her good fortune.
Everybody said that Arun was a fool, a gifted fool, maybe even a genius fool, but a fool. His ways with Ernest were what musicians today don't want to be reminded of, that music is a sensual art, more connected with dance, and dancers, and dancers' patrons than with poetry and the respectable, Western, arts.
Arun’s brother Hari told her, "don't tell him, he is in love with you, you must love him."
"Because there is nobody else like him."
Mary knew it was true, at least for her, there was nobody else like him. But what was she for him? In her heart there was that sentence, which seemed to her to mean what she meant, 'will he respect me?', "will he respect me?"
"He will do whatever you say!"
"He is an artist."
Hari was right, Arun would never care for her, or for their children, if his music fed them, well and good, if not it would fall to her to feed them all. He would write operas like Rani where whatever is inside a woman's heart is turned into music, and forget that he had a wife. It was hopeless, she felt like crying, that there was only this one chance of happiness for her, the freedom to become Arun's slave wife.
Sitting in the dark with Hari Mary knew without thinking it, that Hari wasn't interested in women, that Hari understood her because he was like her in his heart, and she repeated, "will he respect me?"
Hari took her hand, and played with her fingers like a small boy, or a baby would, and said, "what else can you do?" He got up and pulled her up, unceremoniously like a mischievous younger brother, saying, "come sister-in-law! Shall I tell him?"
"What will happen?"
"You will have to wait until he has an income."
Mary felt like when Ramnath had kissed her, it was a big mistake, the wrong street, but this time she felt, that the catastrophe was right, that Hari was on her side, and she said, "and you, what are you going to do?"
"Who knows? If at all possible, I'll go abroad."
He had to go abroad, here his kind was not welcome. If only she too, could go abroad, and then she feared that Arun too would go abroad, leaving her, who could never get together the money and the courage, what should she do abroad? Sing, teach, what sense would it make without him?
"Yes, tell him!"
"What, sister, what?"
Mary began to cry, "tell him!"
It was Mary's good fortune to know a woman like Sheila, who had a car and a driver, who owned enough properties to be respected. Mary's father didn't like to see her go out with Sheila, but Sheila was a big shot, it wasn't possible to deny her anything.
At the beach Sheila sat down with Ernest, asking, laughing, ordering food and drinks, inviting Ernest to her house, treating Hari like he was her kid brother, to joke with, and Arun like she had come to give him good advice, which was, "Mary hasn't yet seen the beach, I think it would be polite of you to show her around!"
Mary and Arun went down to the beach, which in the delightful hour before sunset was full of foreigners and city couples who had come here to behave like foreigners, young men and young woman enjoying being forced by the waves to hold hands, to tumble against each other, to see each others bodies revealed by the wet clothes.
Arun said in English, "I'm sorry!"
"May I ask you a question?"
Mary began to cry, "I'm sorry, I'm too stupid!"
"You're not stupid at all, I'm the stupid!"
This seemed like an occasion to laugh, and they both laughed, and then Arun said, "Hari said, you want to know whether I will respect you?"
"He shouldn't have told you!"
"I'm too stupid."
"What do you mean, brother?"
"Whatever I say, what will my heart do tomorrow? I'm stupid. I love you, that's all."
They walked on in the dark, and suddenly her question will you respect me? changed him from the shadowy answer to her hopes into another half, like he was the solid earth extending to her left, and she was the shore licking ocean to their right, a giant this half, that half world. Imitating Hari's clowning voice, Arun repeated "will you respect me?"
Mary understood that he thought of the many films where a strong and practical wife dominates a weak Brahmin artist, it wasn't necessary to answer.
When they returned to the table on the terrace Sheila insisted on asking all the questions one shouldn't ask, pulling the frightful later into the now, so to say, marrying them on the spot. Which was what Mary wanted and feared. Suddenly telling Fathers and Mothers, renting a Mandapam was discussed, maybe it was right to talk like this.
Later, at the beach once more, at night, Arun asked her, "are you afraid?"
In the dark Arun took her hand. Mary said, "I'm a Christian!"
Mary thought of his family, what they would think about her family, whether she would ever be allowed to meet his mother.
In her heart, for a moment, Mary felt hat it was part of her destiny never to feel at home again, as she had not felt at home since her mother died, not in the Music College, not with Ramnath, and though she was afraid of the thought, she felt that to be Arun's wife, maybe, would be easier abroad than here, where everybody knew. Again, the sadness was strangling her, that she lacked the strength her voice deserved.
Listening to Sheila's breathing Mary was thankful that she wasn't alone. The real problem was her weakness, that whatever chances presented themselves, her heart dragged her towards disaster, she would always depend on others liking her.
Mary turned to Sheila, if only she were like Sheila! To see in front of oneself a life which makes sense, where oneself could be depended upon to choose and act reasonably, respectably, rather than her haphazard existence, which was at best incomprehensible moments of joy, a sudden flash of hope that Arun would love her rending the black night above that seemed to her like a vast black shark-invested ocean of despair with a few moonlit pieces of driftwood, not worth clinging to, her foolish hopes.
Mary put her arm around Sheila's shoulder, thinking of Arun, falling asleep gradually while she tried to remember his words, without intentionally thinking anything coarse, offensive to her love, hoping that destiny would intervene on her side.
In her dreams Arun was present, or not Arun, the regret that she hadn't let him touch her, or that he hadn't touched her, which didn't vanish while Arun's voice led her to that joy she was bound to forget.
When she woke up Sheila's body had mingled with the dream into a precious nostalgia, as if Arun's touch would have absolved her.
Mary smelled breakfast, Arun would be there! Before getting up Mary allowed herself to imagine for a moment, how being married to Arun would be, to wake up, and where now Sheila was Arun would be, she pulled Sheila closer and kissed her playfully, not expecting, what Sheila did, to pounce on her laughing, biting her neck, whispering the same choice compliments she was shouting at Sheila through the cotton of the pillow.
Later at the breakfast table Sheila was talking with Ernest, and Mary was watching Arun who played with his teacup. Hari and Madhu were listening to the witty things Sheila was saying. Mary looked at Arun, and suddenly understood that he was listening too, but not to Sheila, to the sounds around them, the birds in the palm-trees, the waves crashing onto the beach, Sheila's laughing, distant ikka bells and riksha drivers' shouts, his eyes were half-closed, he must be listening. Without thinking she nudged Hari and whispered to him, "do you remember the queen's song?
The squirrels are chasing each other
My pet doves are making love…
Hari began to sing with a high Bollywood lip-sync voice, and then Sheila asked him, "what film is this from?"
"Is it new?"
Ernest asked, "is the music by Ilayaraja?"
"No, A.S. Arun!"
Arun was grinning stupidly, ashamed that all could see how happy he was, and Mary looked at him, and taking the song from Hari, sang the line which had been censored at the Youth Festival
Monkeys do what monkeys like
And monkeys like what monkeys do.
That Arun was ashamed to be happy, and how happy Hari and Madhu were to see Arun happy, made Mary feel that probably, if only she could keep these people together, it would be alright. She looked at Ernest, at Hari, at Madhu, and at Sheila, and then back at Arun, who tapped the rhythm on the table, brilliantly hitting the off-beats, and in his eyes she could see that he loved her, 'he loves me and I love him' this is
What Mary knew