Open 2020, Short Stories - Nirushan Sivagnanasuntharam


American Movie Dates

By Nirushan Sivagnanasuntharam 


Nirmala had some notion about western dating culture from American movies and first hand accounts from her son. However, it didn’t occur to her that she might want to experience it for herself until her long-time pen pal Kurunathan or Kuru for short, wrote to her to tell her that he was coming to America, and would be stayingwith his daughter who apparently lived in Boston too.


In the old Indian movies she’d grown up watching, lovers never went on dates, at least not before marriage. And when they did go out for dinner or do other date-like outings, it wasn’t referred to as such as the term date had no equivalence as far as she knew in any South Asian language. She loved the whole idea of a date when men brought flowers for the woman they were dating, before taking them to a restaurant of his choosing.


There was a lot of opening doors, usually by the man and the date, if it went well which it more often than not did, the couple would continue the night at a bar or with a stroll through the city. Sometimes she didn’t even know or care to know the title of the movie she was watching. Some of her recent favorites were Hallmark romances which her son called “cheezy” whatever what meant.


Nirmala was already twenty-six and the eldest of five daughters when Sritharan a recently qualified CPA in America, put in his proposal to marry her. Years ago, she’d come to the conclusion that she’d have to take the first reasonable offer of marriage and so had been preparing herself a long time for it. She knew very few boys having attended an all-girls school all the way up to university.


Dating was not something that was in common practice back in India and although she was pretty, she was known to be standoffish and shy around men her age. When she finished university the only men she came in contact with outside of her father and brother were members of her family such as her uncles and cousins, street peddlers and her brother’s friends. She also knew that being the oldest of her siblings she would have to marry first.


Sritharan was eleven years older than her but that didn’t bother her – such age differences were common in those days. When the proposal came through, she immediately agreed to see the man. She would talk with him first and if he seemed nice and genuine enough, she would accept. It was the only thing to do.

Sitting on a leather chair across from the TV, watching her husband on the couch to her right, his middle finger on his bottom lip appearing to be lost in time and space, angered her. He was either like this or the opposite; talking almost non-stop it seemed about something she didn’t care about. Even when she asked him to stop, he only listened about half the time, sometimes insisting that he must be heard.


They had their first talk at her parent’s home where they were left alone at a table in the backyard. So many thoughts circled her mind. They each took a sip of the tea in front of them and smiled awkwardly at each other. It was he who spoke first, asking how she liked Jaffna.


“It’s nice here. All my friends are here and my family whom I love. I understand that you are living in America? How long have you been there and how is it like?”


“It’s nice there. My salary is more than twice than what it is here and my work is much more interesting. Would it be a problem for you to leave your beloved Jaffna?”


“No, not at all. I’ve always wanted to see the world anyway and with more money maybe we could travel around? I can always visit here or we could come back after a few years.”


She surprised herself, talking as if their marriage was a guarantee. Now that she thought about it, it pretty much was. He was ready to commit to marry her thus the proposal and she being the eldest daughter had to be to be married first. If she was to turn him down there was no guarantee that she would get another offer especially from such an accomplished man in America no less.


“What are your goals and aspirations for the future? Do you wish to work or be a homemaker?” The question, even then, made her roll her eyes, but it was important that she stayed calm and did not overreact. Sritharan was older, so it was understandable that he felt it necessary to ask this, especially as this was their first meeting.

“I might like to try teaching, but I also want to continue my painting.”

“What about children, how many children would you like?”

“Maybe two or three, but no more.”

“That is what I want too. Just two or three.” He looked at her a moment, something else seeming to have come to his mind.“You know you don’t have to work at all if you don’t want to. I make enough money to support the both of us and our children. But I want you to know whatever you decide to do – whether to teach or paint, I hear you’re a really good painter, or just do some classes at a college or university or maybe you just want to be a homemaker, I will always support you.”

She didn’t remember much else of that first conversation, which she was sure could not have lasted even ten minutes more. Most of their discussions from that moment on till their wedding the following month was about their wedding, like what food would be served and if her sari was ready. There was no emotion or feelings involved. It was all facts - that’s what she hated about it. But at the time she didn’t know any better, it was only after arriving in America and observing American culture,did she come to really understand what she had missed out on and never forgave her husband or her family for it.


From his first letter, when he included a photo of himself, she’d thought Kuru was a good-looking man. His face had a nice oval shape and not too much fat, although she wasn’t a fan of his moustache. At some point in his thirties he started balding, but this didn’t bother her too much as she was already married. What she appreciated most about him throughout her married life was his humor which in her mind justified her continuing to write to him.


While her husband knew of Kuru and had even ready a few of his letters, Nirmala knew better than to tell him about Kuru’s arrival in their city. This was something that had to be kept a secret, or else her husband might invite himself along. On that point, she made sure Kuru wasn’t bringing anybody himself.


She knew that his wife had died young, but maybe he was in a relationship with someone else. To this he answered in the negative. She wasn’t sure she believed him. As long as he came alone, she supposed she would be happy. She was a married woman anyway. Their outing could still resemble a date, like she had seen in American movies.

Although he was the one who was new to the city, it was Kuru who chose the restaurant and made the reservations, even offering to pick her up at her home which she naturally had to decline. Instead they agreed to meet in the lobby of the restaurant – one of the nicer Indian restaurantsin the city with proper square candlelit tables, waiters who wore button down shirts and old-time Bollywood love songs playing in the background. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to such a place. And the only time she sat at a white clothed candlelit table was at weddings while sharing the table with eight to ten others.

When she arrived a few minutes after their appointed time, dressed in black pants and orange blouse carrying and carrying her leather purse, he was already sitting at one of the white clothed tables, with just a couple of glasses and a jug of water on it. Immediately, he got to his feet, a wide grin on his face.

She was struck by how good he looked. His sparse silver hair was neatly combed back and he looked quite well put together with his polished shoes and pants and shirt that were exactly his size. While there was no denying his slight paunch, it was nothing like her husband’s excessively protruding one. And when he stood, he was erect and did not lean on one side like her husband with his aging legs.

When she came up to the table, it was he not the waiter who pulled her chair up for her. When the waiter asked what they would like to drink, he suggested they have wine. She had never had wine in her life, but was interested in trying it, besides it was the sort of thing people had on dates, so she accepted. Once the waiter was gone, Kuru asked if he could pour her water, which she again accepted.


They talked about Boston and their favourite movies and their now adult children. There was no mention of their respective spouses. Nirmala supposed that this was probably because the death of Kuru’s wife was still a painful memory for him. If he asked about her husband, the conversation may then eventually turn to his. Either that or she had given the impression that she was alone now too. Whatever it was she didn’t want to think about it because she wanted to enjoy this moment.

When the waiter returned, Kuru greeted the waiter with a smile and ordered for them both, not forgetting to say thank you when he was done. He spoke clearly and his tone of voice was just right, not condescending in anyway, as if the waiter was an equal with them. It was a welcomed contrast to her husband who was often awkward with strangers.It was just like how those American actors treated waiters in their movies. At the end of the evening, she found herself agreeing almost automatically to a second date on Wednesday.

After finishing work on Wednesday, Nirmala returned home late afternoon to prepare dinner for her husband and her sons, none of whom questioned or seemed to care why she wasn’t eating too. She took a short nap and dressed quickly in a white blouse and ankle length pants and put on her nicest earrings before slipping out of the house.


This time she told only her youngest son that she was going somewhere, but even then, did not offer any further details nor was she asked to provide them. She left without any of her family seeing what she was wearing – not the youngest son with whom she had spoken or even her husband who had been in the basement sorting through tax forms.

This time Kuru asked where she lived exactly and when she told him, he perked up, pointing out how she was not far from his daughter’s house where he was staying. “You should meet my daughter’s family. Her husband is so nice and you will love her two children. You should bring your family too!”

She continued to stare at him, as if he controlled her. Her lips parted, but nothing came out.

“What’s the matter? Our families should meet.”

“Stop!” she cried closing her eyes and throwing up her curry stained hands. American movie dates were not supposed to feel like this. Sure, when two people got along, they met each other’s families, but what about her husband who she had somehow not mentioned? Even if she hadn’t, this was no date. Kuru was only interested in her as a friend. That’s what pen pals were for. And dates were meant for lovers not friends. That was a simple fact that she could no longer ignore. She had been a fool for allowing herself to fall in like this. “Stop please.”

“Why – what’s the matter? Did I say something wrong?” He tilted his head.

She kept her eyes closed for several moments. Why wasn’t she better prepared for this moment when her fantasy reached its inevitable end? “No, you’re – you’re so nice,” she said, her eyes finally open. She felt a turning in her stomach seeing his kind and concerned look. She couldn’t believe that she was letting this man go for her ill-suited husband. “It is not you.”

“So, what is it?” He reflected a moment on what he’d said. “We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to. We can talk about something else.”

For the remainder of the evening Kuru did most of the talking. He spoke about how he was enjoying his time in Bostonand how he was looking forward to going on a road trip with his daughter’s family the following week. At the end of the night they waved quickly to each other before going their respective ways. There was no mention of a third meeting, nothing was even said about staying in touch.

She returned home and changed out of her blouse and pants and into her long nightdress that made her look almost figureless. This was her natural state. The sooner she accepted it, the happier she’d be.



Nirushan Sivagnanasuntharam is a graduate of York University and has his work published Cosmonauts Avenue and Maple Tree Literary Supplement. He lives in Toronto.


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