“Why can’t I come with you?” Wen Ling asked, staring at the waters of a nearby reservoir. It sparkled as if the night sky had emptied all its stars into it.
Kumar held her face in his hands. “Next time,” he said. “I haven’t told anyone about us. My mother will freak out if she knows.”
“Am I that bad?” she asked. The breeze outside pushed the wooden chimes behind her. They went tock-tock-tock, as if they were laughing at her plight.
“She expects me to marry an Indian girl,” Kumar said. “I’ll tell her soon.” He weaved his fingers through her thick curly hair and looked away.
Wen Ling spun around and marched into the kitchen. She made two steaming bowls of soup. “Where’s the salt?” she asked, opening and shutting cabinets. Kumar closed the balcony door and walked to where she stood facing him. He put his arms around her. She smelled of basil leaves.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll tell her soon, okay?”
Wen Ling pushed him away. “We have been together for the last five years, Kooma.” His name slipped off her tongue like a loose anklet. Kumar loved the way Wen Ling uttered his name. She made it sound so melodic, as if she were humming a song. He carried her in his arms and whirled around on the kitchen floor. She laughed with her mouth wide open.
“If I lose you, I’ll kill myself,” she said, wiping her eyes.
“How will you kill yourself?”
Kumar let her go and stirred the soup with a long ladle. She pointed at the reservoir. Kumar raised his eyebrows and sprinkled some salt on the soup.
He led her out of the kitchen, balancing the bowls on a tray. They sat at the table outside where a few sheets of the day’s newspaper fluttered. Kumar tapped a cigarette on his thigh, lit a match and inhaled. “I’ll talk to them this time,” he said, some smoke escaping his mouth.
Kumar’s phone rang. “Mom,”he said, and brought his forefinger to his lips. Wen Ling pretended to read the newspaper while Kumar spoke to his mother.
“No, ma, at home,” he said.
‘Tell her about me NOW!’ Wen Ling mouthed. Kumar closed his eyes and shook his head. She crumpled the sheet of newspaper and threw it at his face. He ended the call and stood up.
“What happened?” she asked. “You didn’t speak much.”
“She keeps talking about some girl… her friend’s daughter… she wants me to get married. It’s bloody annoying.”
Kumar disappeared into the bathroom.
“Why didn’t you tell her about me?”
Wen Ling leaned against the bathroom door and waited for Kumar to reply, but he didn’t. She heard his phone ring again. It beeped in a few messages. She walked towards the phone and picked it up. There were a few attachments from Kumar’s mother. She opened them to see a tall Indian girl with eyes that shone like solitaires.
Wen Ling bit her lip and put on her jacket.
When Kumar came out of the bath, he couldn’t find Wen Ling anywhere in the house. The phone rang before he could call her. It was his mother. He waited until it stopped ringing and checked all his messages. His fingers worked fast to delete the pictures. Had Wen Ling seen them?
Kumar ran out in search of Wen Ling. She lived a few stops away and usually took the train. His phone rang again. “Yes, ma?” he said, catching his breath. Wen Ling wasn’t at the train station. Where could she go?
If I lose you, I’ll kill myself…
She had said these words. What if…?
Kumar’s heart beat against his chest like a trapped bird. Wen Ling had pointed at the reservoir. He wiped the sweat off his face and turned towards the reservoir as his mother rambled on.
“Kumar, just meet her once. If you don’t like her, we will drop it.”
“Ma, I am not interested…”
“I am not ready.”
“Nonsense! You will grow old like this and then we won’t find good women.”
The night grew darker. Kumar panted as he ran along the stretch of water where many couples walked hand in hand. His head pounded as if it sheltered a beast inside. His mother was still on the line.
“She is from Mumbai, son…if all goes well…we will…”
“Can she sing my name?”he asked.
“Will she be able to sing my name?”
“What do you mean…sing your name…why should she?”
Kumar didn’t say anything for a while. He spotted Wen Ling under the light of a full moon. Her fingers uprooted blades of wet grass and her eyes scanned the hissing waters. Kumar squatted and breathed hard.
He sensed the panic in his mother’s voice.
“Because the girl I love can sing my name,”he said. “She is Chinese…with soft black eyes and straight brown hair…and she can sing my name, ma.”