Ved and Disha kept up steady conversation for the rest of dinner without any more awkward silences. Soon, Ved began to feel more at ease. The pain currently burying itself deeper and deeper into Ved’s heart, desperately trying to dig its way out of him, was not forgotten. Rather, Disha was able to distract Ved, to make Ved smile more times than he had in the last month combined.
He learned that she loved hot yoga and made sure to do it every single evening. He learned that she loved dogs and had always wanted a puppy, but that her parents had never let her have one. He learned that she had dreams of designing Western-style wedding outfits as well as Indian ones. He learned that she designed wedding outfits because she loved to make people happy on the most special day of their lives. That, and she was a big romantic.
By the time they’d finished eating their profiteroles for dessert and had scraped the rich chocolate sauce off the plate, Ved couldn’t stop himself from asking the question that had been nagging him in the back of his head all night. “Disha . . .”
She met his gaze, seeming to sense the shift in his demeanor. A crease of concern formed between her brows. “Yes?”
“I just . . .” Ved took a deep breath. “What made you choose to go out on a date with me? Out of all the other guys I’m sure have asked you?”
Disha took a long sip of her espresso, as if not sure how to word her answer. “I have to be honest, Ved, you were the guy my parents chose. They are eager for me to get married soon, and they view you as ideal marriage material.”
“Oh.” Ved pushed his cup of espresso away, suddenly worried. Talking with Disha that night, he’d afforded himself the luxury of for- getting how he was deceiving her. He had no serious intention of get- ting engaged to her, much less marrying her. Yet here she was saying that she had every intention of marrying him. Marrying him. The nausea was back with a vengeance.
Disha tried for a tentative smile. “I hope I didn’t offend you. I really didn’t mean to. In fact, when I saw your picture and heard about how successful you’ve been at Mehra Electronics, I couldn’t believe you were still available.”
“Yeah, well,” Ved mumbled, staring at his shoes. “Do you mind if I ask you the same question?” Ved met her eyes. “Honestly?”
She nodded. “Honestly.”
Ved sighed. “Same reason as you. My mother liked you and said you were perfect.”
Disha started laughing. Ved was confused. “What’s so funny about that?”
Disha wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “We really are quite bechara, aren’t we? Sitting here, as grown adults, still listening to our parents like children?”
Ved’s posture relaxed—just a little. “You’d think that by now we would have the judgment to pick our life partners, but no. Our parents do know best.”
“I really hope you’re being sarcastic, Ved.”
Ved was incredulous. “Of course I’m being sarcastic!”
“Ved. Listen. You have to change your tone. You need to exag- gerate. Follow my lead. You’d think that by now we’d have the judgment to pick our own life partners, but noooo. Our parents really do know best.”
“Okay, that’s fair. I see your point.”
Disha laughed again. Ved couldn’t fathom why.
Her expression then became more serious. “I really shouldn’t be the one to say that, though. When I was still at Parsons, I met this guy who had gone to Columbia, Hemant. He was twenty-five and I was nineteen. He didn’t have a job. All he wanted to do was go out partying every night. For some reason, I was completely head over heels for him. When my parents found out, they were furious and threatened to bring me back to India for good if I didn’t break up with him. They said all they wanted was the best for me.”
“I was in a similar sort of situation. Years ago. Except, I was the one being broken up with.”
“I’m sorry that had to happen to you, Ved.”
Ved shook his head and raised his half-full cup of espresso. “Let’s forget about the past and cheers to the happy times ahead.”
Disha raised her own espresso cup. “Here’s to the future.”
When Ved got home after dropping off Disha, he went straight to bed, lying down in his fleece blanket with Fubu, who curled against him, licking his arm. This “date” had been different. The other girls he’d taken out were sheltered or spoiled or stupid. Never had a girl been worldly and grounded and intelligent. As much as Ved hated to admit it, he’d had a good time with Disha, talking and laughing with an ease that had become unfamiliar in recent years. He truly didn’t want to hurt her. But he knew he would have to, and that made him feel worse. Ved hugged Fubu closer.
And seeing Akshay had shaken Ved. Of course, the first time Ved sees him, after all their years apart, is when Ved is on a date with another woman. Of course. Akshay can get his sick satisfaction that he was right to submit to his parents, that Ved was going to do the exact same thing. Ved’s phone beeped. Even at 11:00 p.m., Mum couldn’t wait to hear how the date had gone. Ved didn’t have it in him to speak with her tonight. She would have to wait. What was worse, Ved knew deep down that Dolly had been right. Disha was as perfect as possible, everything that would make a great wife for Ved. He didn’t know what he could possibly tell Mum that would get her to forget Disha and give up on marriage for him. How could he avoid making Akshay’s mistake?
Ved had true hell to pay on Wednesday morning after ignoring his mother’s calls the previous night. Not only did she call at 6:00 a.m. sharp, right when she knew Ved’s alarm would be going off, but she demanded that he come over for tea and dinner to make it up to her. Being that he was still half-asleep, Ved had agreed before later realizing as the pit in his stomach rapidly expanded that he hadn’t come up with a way to avoid getting engaged to Disha yet. All day at work he was distracted, unable to complete the most menial of tasks. He ran through scenario after scenario in his head. Just like he’d done after every single one of those dates Mum had sent him on.
Ved: “Hello, Mum.”
Dolly: “Vedu! I’m so glad you’re finally here for dinner. I prepared all your favorites.”
Dolly: “So, I spoke to Disha’s parents, beta, and since the date went so well, we have already started preparations for the party!”
Ved: “What party?”
Dolly: “Your engagement party, silly! You’re engaged to Disha.”
Ved: “Don’t I have any say in this?”
Dolly: “No, don’t be silly.”
Ved: “Mum, how are you?”
Dolly: “Fine, fine.”
Ved: “So . . .”
Dolly: “No, Vedu. Listen to me. You don’t need to get married to Disha. I don’t want to force anything onto you. Be free.”
Ved: “Mum, I can’t get engaged to Disha.”
Dolly: “What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can.”
Ved: “No, Mum, I can’t. I’m gay.”
Ved: “I’m gay!”
Excerpted with permission from ‘The Other Man’ by Farhad J. Dadyburjor, published by Lake Union (APUB).