They sat on a purple sofa that was slightly askew. He didn't mind it as much as he would ordinarily have. After all, she was gracious enough to have invited him over. Wait. Not gracious. They had spoken on the phone a couple of times and she had seemed nice enough. She at least showed some interest in him and not his salary or whether he had a house…his 'own' house, that is. By that most women seemed to mean a house that she could share but his parents would have nothing to do with. It had been so long since he'd been on this matrimonial trail. He could actually trace the evolution of this conversation. There used to be a time when the woman and he'd be in the intimate darkness of a car. They'd have met a few times earlier and laughed and watched movies or gone for walks. Then just as he would re-arrange his biases such that it made space for a future, this conversation would come up. And he'd get this slightly bitter taste in the back of his throat. "No", he wanted to say. "It's not my 'own' house. I dragged myself into a dead-end job to pay for it. I didn't buy that great guitar because the EMI would cut into it. I swallowed my pride in the company of my 'entrepreneur' friends for being a conventional rug-rat and living with my parents while they lived out their dreams in rented apartments. All that made me angry and resentful. And I took it out on my parents every night when I'd shove the food and turn up the volume of the telly and not talk to them. No. It's not my "own" house and it certainly won't be yours."
Now, the 'own house' discussion would come up soon after "hello".
This girl hadn't asked him that, though. She'd asked him to come over to her house in the next city instead. At first, this did strike him to be a little forward. She lived by herself. And this match was arranged, so to speak. Somehow, in the way she'd said, "Come over then", he'd sensed escapism. He wasn't sure if they'd be compatible but he had driven four hours to find out. So far, it hadn't been a total disaster.
Her house had been a mess but the food had been excellent. Mushroom with haleem masala was a first for him. But it went excellently with the brown rice. Most of the furniture was tilted or skewed. Her clothes were weird. Or 'eclectic', as I think she called them. She was nice looking enough. But that strange, untamable scent that came off her body when they'd hugged that afternoon was funny. Actually, it was not. He doubted whether she'd ever have the maturity to stick to or commit to anything unpleasant. Although, why he thought marriage with him would be unpleasant, he didn't know. He was being eccentric. No, wait. Weird.
She had a tiny garden in front of her kitchen. "They're pretty weeds", she'd explained why she hadn't bothered with uprooting them. He got a little irritated. Sure. If you got ditzy, anything is 'pretty' enough to just leave it as it is. Maybe the garbage clearance staff should tell her once, "Oh but miss, look how your trash has all these primary colours. Let's leave it here."
But there were a few tiny bulbs strewn around and she'd also lit a half-used vanilla scented candle. There was a cup of whiskey for him (she didn't have the right glass) and a cup of green tea for her. They shared a wedge of carrot cake he'd brought over and after a long time, he felt a sense of something getting calm inside of him. A knot that stayed lodged in the middle of his chest…it seemed to be rounding off the edges a little. It was nice, he thought, looking around. Maybe he should have invested in a house with a garden.
Almost delicately she broached the subject of why they were meeting. What kind of girl was he looking out for? What kind of life did he want for him and his wife? Children? His take on fidelity? He liked that she was coaxing out his responses and not demanding them out of her. He liked that this conversation was happening without a timer.
It was close to midnight now. He really had to get back unless…unless she insisted he could stay. Her invitation was there, of course. Her insistence on the matter would make the difference.
They got up. She asked him if he'd like more cake for the road. Or a thermos of strong coffee maybe. They entered the living room again and he collected his things. As she filled a thermos with black coffee, she turned and asked him, "Do you really want to marry?" He looked in her eyes and saw her answer. No.
And there was that again.
That slight rise of bile. That irritation with free-floating types that had made a lifestyle of being lost, clueless, and irresponsible. She'd never ever take a home loan, he thought.
He tried to get the edge out of his voice when he said, "Yes. I'd like to."
Then, just before he left, he straightened the purple sofa.