THE CROSS EXAMINATION:
The women stare at you. Your mom has strategically placed you in front of the women so you have to meet their gaze directly. Now this isn’t working out for you. Because not only is this your worst angle but it’s also making it difficult to wipe the snot that is trying to make its way out of your nose, which by the way, has decided that today would be a good day to appear bulbous and stuffed.
But you keep getting distracted from your own nose to the eyes of one of the aunties. The boy’s mom is cross eyed and boy! Is that inconvenient! You try to smile to create some familiarity but she stoically looks at you and appears to have an opinion of you already. She commands for you to come and sit next to her. You quickly scan the place that’s vacant next to her. If truth be told, there is little space left after the two aunties have made themselves comfortable in the breadth of the couch. However because you want to make a good impression, you scout a spot that’s right between the boy’s mom’s left butt cheek and the couch handle. You gingerly get up and make your way to the couch.
Now here’s the problem. Because your dad renovated the living room himself a few years ago as he doesn’t let anyone rip him off (in his own words) he forgot that he had to stop adding bricks to the wall once the space in the room had actually become smaller than the width of the walls. He continued to add bricks in hopes of making a strong living room that could withstand weather changes and his wife’s temper and totally neglected the functionality of this room. By the time he realized that he had accidentally, single-handedly become the first person in history who had ripped his own self off by doing a screw job, he stopped and declared this as a one of a kind living room. Well, no one could argue with that. As a result of his shoddy job there never is room to move in this room when people are occupying couches on both sides of the room. To your right is the boy’s sister who has chunky thighs and has taken up a lot of space. To your left is your own mother who is known as a baby hippo for a reason. You look miserably at your sisters for help but they’re busy stuffing their faces with the samosas and cookies. You realize this situation requires a leap of faith. Or a leap. So …………you leap.
You leap over the table that’s in the middle of your living room. This table has a glass top and very intricately made wooden legs. As you leap you go through a momentary out-of-body experience and feel something like an Olympic athlete would feel when they’ve had no practice for a particular event and still winged it and aced it. You are flying in the air and can stop yourself any minute, you know everyone’s mouth is dropping, you know these aunties are getting more entertainment that they’d counted on, you know this is a performance they won’t forget ever. But…but…. oh gosh! It’s like a paratrooper who forgets to open the parachute. You can’t stop. And not only can you not stop but due to your exceptionally long legs you look absolutely puppet-like and uncoordinated while doing this and flail your arms to break the motion. You break the motion and land into the boy’s mom’s lap.
Embarrassment as you’ve never known comes over you. You don’t know whether you should smile or laugh, cry or run, explain or plead the fifth. There are so many emotions that you’re feeling right now, you just wanna take a minute. But here’s the problem! Because you landed face down in her lap and she is probably wearing clothes that should only be seen and not touched or smelled, you have a parchment-like material in your face and it smells like body odor. You don’t have a minute. You immediately get up and try to smooth her clothes out. She is dumbfounded at what just happened. You steal a look at your mom who has a fixed smile on her face. You try to engage your mom by asking for help but no help is coming from her. You step away from the Aunty only to land into the tray (the tray that your mom said was accident-free) and have a few samosas squelch miserably under your butt.
Aunty helps you up. She helps you sit. And then sits herself. Now this isn’t an exaggeration but this couch wasn’t made for two elephants and a lizard. As she ensconces herself between you and the Rishta Aunty, you feel yourself getting squished against the wooden handle of the couch and Aunty’s elbow finding a comfortable nook in your ribs.
Aunty turns around and asks you your name. Tears of pain flowing down your face you tell her your name.
Aunty then asks you if you have been to school. Now that’s a strange question because didn’t she just see you climb that table? That whole act should tell her that you’ve been to school and have had the opportunity to jump the cafeteria line too many times.
She next asks you if you know how to cook. You know the answer to that one. That’s always a yes. She next asks what you can cook. You weren’t prepared for it so you decide to distract her by saying how much you enjoy eating out too. But she won’t let this one go. She again asks you if you can cook. You again say yes. She again asks what. This time you say “everything”. This seems to puzzle her. She declares that no one can cook everything. You declare that you can. She pounds her fist on the table and swears that the best cook in the world couldn’t say that. You pound your fist harder and profess your expertise unmatched hitherto by the best cook in the world. She looks scared at your sudden passion. You start to feel in control.
Next she asks you if you could just smile a little for her. Now this seems more like what you had prepared for. You see you’ve been to so many of these things when your older sister was getting prospective husbands that you’ve almost memorized the script. And the smile was a very frequent part of the step. Right up there with ” can you walk” and “how many teeth you have”.
You decide to smile for her. Now even though your best friend who has had braces her whole life swears by your smile and its power and how it could be compared to the smile that won the Beast over for Beauty, you have retained your modesty about your looks. You don’t like to look in the mirror too much or you might end up being too arrogant. You also don’t take too many selfies as they’re a stupid and pretty self-absorbed thing to do. The last time you had truly taken a critical look at yourself in a picture was when you were four and had peed in your pants in front of your teachers and your mom had taken a picture thinking it was “so cute”. You have no idea what your modern day face looks like but since you have been assured about your smile so much, you decide to smile on cue.
But when most of your smile inspirations have been various actresses and anime characters, of course it is hard to make a beautiful smile under pressure.
Aunty looks mortified. Your mom looks aghast. Your sisters are looking at you and wondering where you lost your marbles. The boy’s alleged sister has her eyes narrowed and is looking at you suspiciously as a police officer might look at a pickpocket who’s trying to weasel his way out of a felony.
You like the attention but have a queasy feeling about it. The look in their eyes is one of anger, frustration, fear of losing the money that they’ve extorted from your mother, humor and pity.
You break your pose and try to adopt another one to decrease the unease in the room. As you’re wondering what the next pose would be that would top the one that you’ve already done, your body contorts itself into a pose of its own volition. You’re immensely proud of your body and can’t be happier at how your goals for this meeting are now completely understood by your mind, body and soul. This is how models fall into one effortless pose after another. This is how things probably happen seamlessly for them.
That’s it. The show is over. The aunties and the sister look like they’ve seen enough. Your mom looks like she is going to pass out. Your sisters are stumped at how little you’ve picked up in all these years of training and endurance testing.
But to you, the interview, well it wasn’t an interview because they didn’t ask you much about you at all or the meeting, well hardly a meeting, you had just sat. Or a rendezvous, no no, that’s very salacious sounding. Or a conversation except no one talked. Or a light brunch together except this wasn’t the elaborate brunch that your mom had made at all. Then what was this? You were preparing for it feverishly for three days, had waited for it longingly your whole life, then what was it? Is this it? This is what the whole furore is about? Really?
The Rishta Aunty looks disappointed. Your mom looks cool and disconnected from the whole experience. The boy’s mom and sister quietly get up and say some final words that are inaudible and leave.
You think this was overall a success. You’re quite proud of yourself. May be it was a good thing that they didn’t stay for dinner because the tofu chicken was starting to smell bad after it was left out for a few minutes. Plus, you didn’t like the fact that your dad didn’t have enough space to sit in the living room while everyone was here. He has been sitting outside with a solemn look on his face and trying to steal a samosa from under the cook’s watch. But hasn’t been successful so far.
Your mom gives you a withering look. Your sisters look sympathetic for a moment but then busy themselves with emptying the tray. You stand like a criminal and then quietly leave the living room.
You know who’d understand. As you make your way to the kitchen you realize that the only person who has truly had your back throughout this process is your cook. Yes the cook! The guy whom you’ve just met but who has imparted a world of knowledge to you.