85 comments

Dec 01, 2020

Desi Romance Sad

I like to be cold. It reminds me of you and your cold hands -- you and what you’ve done to me. You always liked winter, and now I do too. Summers are cluttered and hot, but winters are high and lonely and crystalline, like you. 

When we first met I did not like you. You were stubborn and sometimes cruel, but that wasn’t it. It was because I felt myself falling in love with you -- your auburn hair, your sly, slow smile, your winking eyes and unexpected laughter. 

When we first met, we shook hands and smiled. Lindsey Gupta, head of accounting, introduced us at a conference, when we were both new to the company. I remember your strong handshake, powerful, like a cabinet minister’s -- your hand was strong but so cold. I was surprised. 

You wore a grey skirt hemmed just above the knee. I liked that skirt but I never saw you wear it ever again. 

When you left, I knew it was because of me. It was my fault. I hurt you. I hurt us both. 

I’m sorry. 

You said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Malhotra,” and then told me I was too short to work in marketing. I was caught by your cruel bluntness, and by my inability to disagree. 

I said, “Call me Pradeep,” as Lindsey walked away, smiling. 

When we parted, my face was hot, and my heart had left me. You walked out of the crowded conference room that warm October evening and my heart followed. I like to be cold, because it reminds me of your cold hands, how we touched, and how I was never the same. 

I like to be afraid. It reminds me of your childhood -- that day when a monsoon flood roared through Chennai and we were trapped inside and so afraid, and you told stories. When we first got the warning it was too late; Lindsey Gupta locked the doors downstairs and those who were not atheist prayed for any in the flood’s path. 

You took your shoes off and we all watched you. When you took off your jacket and put your feet on your desk and said, “Might as well get comfortable -- might be a while,” we all relaxed. I studied you. You were totally at ease, ready to meet death if it were death that came, ready to calm anyone who panicked. Your cold hands folded in your lap and you closed your eyes. 

Then you opened your mouth and we all listened as you told stories of your childhood in Oklahoma and Texas -- so far away. You told us about the time the cattle panicked and a flash flood came through and you saved your older brother from drowning. You told us about the droughts and tornadoes and flash floods that made you strong. You talked about fear and how it was a beautiful thing. You said you were always afraid, and was grateful for it. I was afraid. I was afraid of you and for you. You were Indian like us but so far from home. 

Watching you speak about being afraid made me forget I was afraid. 

I’m afraid now. I’m afraid I’ll never see you again. 

Will you come back to me? 

When they gave the all-clear we went home, but I remember that moment. That afternoon you picked your way barefoot through the wet streets toward the metro station, shoulders back and head high. I like to be afraid, for it reminds me of you, always afraid and never afraid. 

I like to be tired. It reminds me of our love six months after our wedding. Ours was a quick and intense love, full of zest and passion and pain and when it was gone it was something very easy to miss. 

When you left it was like a small supernova, contained in my heart. When you left, you took my heart with you forever. The office feels so small without you, so warm without your cold, beautiful hands, so unfriendly without your crystalline smile. 

In the evenings I ride the metro home. It used to be our apartment; now it’s mine. I open the door, smell the good spicy smell of your mother’s garam masala recipe, and put away my shoes and bag and keys. 

I eat at our wooden table, always garam masala, because it’s your mother’s recipe and you made it when I turned thirty-one and it was the best thing I'd ever tasted. I like it with strawberry yogurt, to balance out the curry powder. I eat opposite an empty chair. 

I merely rinse my dish because I’ll use it again tomorrow. I change to pajamas, an old shirt, and watch TV on our creaky couch until I’m too tired to absorb the gaudy flashing changing screens. You used to wake me up and push me into bed by you. But the bed is cold and frightening without you. I am afraid of the monsters you teased me about. 

The first night you left, I didn’t sleep at all. I lay rigid on the couch, wanting you next to me so badly my whole body was sore the next morning. I pushed you to leaving. It was my fault. 

I can’t fix this. I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of loving someone I’ll never see again. But I can’t help it -- it’s impossible to stop loving you. I’m trying. I’m trying. Please come back to me.

Please.

I fall asleep on our creaky couch instead. I wake up pressed against the lined upholstery and go to work still tired, with sleep-scars on my face. You were a morning person. You’d laugh at me stumbling out of bed on a cool Chennai morning needing coffee, and I’d laugh back. It wasn’t too long before our laughter grew tired and we discovered that we had nothing in common besides the cold, fear, and our mutual exhaustion. 

It was a mistake to let you go. It was a mistake to love you in the first place. 

I couldn’t have helped either, but now I’m trying to make it up to you. Can you hear me? Can you, so far away? Come home. 

Won’t you? Please?

Sometimes, half-asleep and half-dead as Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai blares, I wonder where you are, if you dance among the supernovas as tired as I am. But I like to be tired. It reminds me of you and the tireless, dying, tired love we had for so short, so perfect a time. 

I like to be lonely. It reminds me of the few months where neither of us were lonely, or cold, or afraid, or tired. We had ourselves, our wood table, all the garam masala we could eat, the splintered apartment windows, your grey skirt, everything. We had the world in our hands. But now I’m lonely. I do not think you are -- you have a mother who loves you, your grey skirt, and Mr. Shenoy’s sunflower seeds. I have only a recipe, a memory, and dry potting soil that you left behind. 

But I don’t feel envious. You brought things into my life I’d never had before -- love, garam masala, cold handshakes, fear. I had nothing to give you in return, just my heart. I’m afraid I’ll never get that back. 

The thing I do not like to be is unhappy. The office is unhappy without you. All of Chennai is unhappy without you. You always had to duck under the doorway to enter and each time you’d nearly miss and have to catch yourself before you hit your head. We’d see and smile and be relieved with you. 

We loved your stories of America. None of us have ever left Chennai, much less India. You brought color to the office. Without you, we are silent and unhappy. A fat white man has taken your desk and he eats Pringles all day. Your desk smells like Pringles now, where you put your sunflower seeds and your lamps shaped like flowers and the pictures of your mother making garam masala. I watch him eat tubes of chips and miss you until it aches. I wonder where you are now?

Are you dancing, as you and I danced around the wood table?

Are you splashing through foaming water, barefoot?

Are you walking through dry, tall doorways, meeting people who do not love you?

Please come back to me. I need you. I’m sorry. 

Now that you are gone, I am alone again, but still tired, and cold, and afraid. Lonely. 

But I like to be lonely, for it reminds me of what I’ve lost, and I smile when I think of you. 

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85 comments

04:53 Dec 01, 2020

Brilliant. Absolutely, positively brilliant. I found myself laughing at his despair countless times while reading this. Is that weird? This definitely deserves a shortlist. Critiques: It was because I felt myself falling in love with you -- your auburn hair, your sly, slow smile, your winking eyes and unexpected laughter. ~ Missing comma. "It was because I felt myself falling in love with you -- your auburn hair, your sly, slow smile, your winking eyes, and unexpected laughter." When we first met, we shook hands and smiled. Lindse...

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Zilla Babbitt
22:30 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you so much! I'll fix most of those :) On of my title ideas was Love and Garam Masala but I'm not sure. What do you think?

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00:42 Dec 05, 2020

Of course! I like that title more than the one you have now, though it’s your choice in the end. :)

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Sia Sharma
15:39 Dec 01, 2020

If this doesn't win or, at minimum, get a shortlist, the judges are crazy. One of my favourites by you. You wove the words so carefully, o could feel every single thing.

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Zilla Babbitt
22:29 Dec 04, 2020

Aw thanks, Sia!

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Sia Sharma
02:40 Dec 05, 2020

:)

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R. K.
03:32 Dec 01, 2020

I think the reason I like this so much is because it has reflections of your past writing voice and the one you are currently exploring. I can describe your past style as wistful and the current as straightforward. This is a mix of both, but I also see pinches of Abi, Scout and Amy's writing in this, all prodigious writers like yourself. I'm so happy you are getting over that slump, because step back and just look at this! Aaah, if this doesn't WIN I don't know what the world has come to.

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Zilla Babbitt
21:43 Dec 03, 2020

THAT'S why. That makes sense. A mix of my styles. Thank you so much, Ru!

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Avani ☾
03:24 Dec 01, 2020

I love this so much. You know why? Not because it had my surname, though I appreciate you putting it in there ;) Because my hands are always cold. After reading, I realized the warmth the story gave me and how my hands were hot for the first time in a while. The story was short and silent, but much more. It was beautiful, to say the least. A masterpiece in my book.

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Zilla Babbitt
22:29 Dec 04, 2020

Yay! I'm so glad you like it :)

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Avani ☾
23:04 Dec 04, 2020

Me too!

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Zilla Babbitt
02:01 Dec 01, 2020

Possibly my favourite story of mine ever, though I love Wolf Aaron and the Wild Sceptre. I wrote this on paper on a cold kitchen table as my cousins watched Bewitched, and I'm very pleased with it. Avani, I stole your surname for this. If you'd like me to change it I'll gladly do so but I'll need ideas for alternatives!🥰

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03:04 Dec 08, 2020

Title ideas: Lonely Winter, Currying Favor, Tundrai, and That Itty Bitty thing Called Love. In that list, you have a serious suggestion, a pun, a random fantasy sounding suggestion, and one that reminds me of the Beatles. 😂

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Maggie Deese
01:54 Dec 02, 2020

I've been off Reedsy for about a month, and I just started getting caught up on stories. I'm so glad this is the first one I read! This was so sad and beautiful with heartfelt descriptions. I loved the format of this story with its meaningful repetition. Wonderful job, Zilla. Also, it means so much to me that you included me in your bio. That was an incredible thing to come back to :)

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Zilla Babbitt
22:33 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you so much, Maggie! Glad to have you back. And of course :)

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Amaya Macaulay
00:49 Dec 02, 2020

Most definitely my favorite story ever written by you. ever. hands down. I haven't even read all of your stories, but I already know this will be the winner anyway. How could a story be better than this? Im in awe. SO MANY EMOTIONS. it was written so beautifully and...just *sigh* I love this so much

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Zilla Babbitt
01:59 Dec 02, 2020

Glad you love it! I hope it's accurate to India. Do monsoon rains even come that fast? That was my main question.

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Amaya Macaulay
02:00 Dec 02, 2020

i have no idea, i don't live there lol. I've only visited a few times to see my relatives. sorry i can't give any good info :(

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Zilla Babbitt
13:15 Dec 02, 2020

I'll Google it :) My friend, who's half Indian, has visited a couple times when she was little. I just remember her saying that her mom had to tape her mouth shut when giving her a bath because the water was so bad.

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Amaya Macaulay
15:46 Dec 02, 2020

oh she definitely lived in a different place than my relatives do. In my grandma's house, im lucky enough that she has a shower head and clean water and everything. She has her own driver and cleaner lol. She's...something. I think it's different parts of India.

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Zilla Babbitt
21:39 Dec 02, 2020

Sort of like Venezuela. That's definitely true in regards to the then-current ruling Indian class, the rajahs and all that. Pre-colonialism India had a huge class divide; the really wealthy and the really poor. The arrival of the East India Company pushed the rich to the poor class and took their place as the tyrants of India's poor (I used to read history books for FUN. Then I discovered things like Harry Potter and Narnia 🤣).

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This is one of my favorites from you. I love this, and I like how you included Avani's surname. The questions in the near-end, they're very comforting, especially this one, 'Are you splashing through foaming water, barefoot?' The fat man who eats Pringles, I can definitely relate, I love Pringles. But if the girl's (I don't recall the story stating her name) desk smells like Pringles, that's pretty gross. The small details make this story come to life. Amazing! Also, your next submission will make 200! Congrats! :)

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Zilla Babbitt
22:30 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you! I love Pringles too, but they can be gross. I never stated her name. You can decide :)

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No problem! Yeah, if you eat too much of them, your fingers get covered in the powder. Oh, alright! :)

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Maya W.
02:57 Dec 01, 2020

Wow, Zilla. Wow. This made me feel a ton of emotions. I know this wasn't supposed to be taken as a platonic relationship, but recently one of my closest friends ever left the internet for good after (but not related to) a fight between us. He just so happened to be from Chennai. I might have even almost cried after reading the line "I can’t fix this. I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of loving someone I’ll never see again. But I can’t help it -- it’s impossible to stop loving you. I’m trying. I’m trying. Please come back to me." I know it had n...

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Zilla Babbitt
16:08 Dec 01, 2020

Oh, Maya. I'm so sorry about your friend. I hope this story has helped you work through that issue, not made it worse. God works in mysterious ways. The best ways. Originally I was going to set it in New Delhi, but it felt so clique. Every Indian story I've ever read is set either in New Delhi or the backroads of some tiny primitive town in tiger-infested jungles. No in-between. So I picked Chennai and now I'm so glad I did. I look forward to your next story, hopefully set in India :) Thank you for reading.

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Maya W.
17:45 Dec 01, 2020

Thank you! I really appreciate that. And there are plenty of Indian myths out there, so we'll see!

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Amaya Macaulay
00:45 Dec 02, 2020

great choice! i love that as an Indian person lol

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Zilla Babbitt
01:53 Dec 02, 2020

Well, yay!

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18:31 Dec 10, 2020

So I know I'm late, but still. This was in the Desi section so I HAD to check it out! This was great! Also...mmm garam masala!!!! I skimmed this (which is a crime, I know I'm sorry) but I WILL be back to read it through, after I submit my 20 assignments. :D

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Zilla Babbitt
19:01 Dec 10, 2020

I think this is my first Desi submission and I absolutely loved it. I usually can't handle spicy foods but I love garam masala and tiki masala. Thanks, Sapphire :)

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19:39 Dec 10, 2020

Haha yessss me too! And for your first Desi submission, it was great! Mmmm...all this "masala" talk is making me hungry....

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Kim Morgan
08:45 Dec 03, 2020

And, would you mind checking out my latest story? Thanks!

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Zilla Babbitt
21:42 Dec 03, 2020

Hi, Angelina. I'd love to but I'm busy right now on a story and a few last things I'm tying up regarding my novella. I think I'll be able to do it this weekend, though.

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Kim Morgan
03:29 Dec 04, 2020

Oh sure! Good luck!

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Kim Morgan
08:44 Dec 03, 2020

Wow! Zilla, I particularly loved this piece of work because it was remarkably amazing. I can't possibly think of any critiques to give on this cause it was that good. But I specially liked the last six lines. It was so touching. Stay safe.

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Zilla Babbitt
21:42 Dec 03, 2020

Thank you!

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Kim Morgan
03:30 Dec 04, 2020

Anytime!

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00:25 Dec 03, 2020

Aww... So sad and yet it lit a match in my heart. :D

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Zilla Babbitt
21:42 Dec 03, 2020

Exactly. Thanks :)

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21:52 Dec 03, 2020

:D Happy to talk!

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Laiba M
02:28 Dec 02, 2020

Hi, Zilla! I loved your new bio, and even more so loved this new story :) As someone who's a part of desi culture, I really connected with this story!~ It was so nice to see a wonderfully written story by the ideal author on something I'm so familiar with. Great job~~

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Zilla Babbitt
22:33 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you! Both were fun to write. I'm glad you connected with it!

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Laiba M
23:28 Dec 04, 2020

No problem :D I just posted a story called "The Dollmaker", if you don't mind, could you check it out? Thank you!~

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Kate M
15:26 Dec 01, 2020

I love this beautiful, touching story. You have a gift for weaving words and making them meaningful. Beautiful, beautiful work. ❤️

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Zilla Babbitt
21:41 Dec 03, 2020

Thank you :)

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Scout Tahoe
03:23 Dec 01, 2020

Oh. My. God. It's beautiful and I was waiting. I was waiting for the repetition and the cold hands and the dancing. I was waiting and you delivered. So inspirational. But not like the category, the writing. Speaking of category, why did you put 'Desi'? I think it means local or indigenous and unless you live in India (which you so possibly could) I'm confused. (^I'm sorry for this very stupid question. Two people now have answered it, so I just want to let you know that the category fits and this story is still wonderful.) I love this...

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Amaya Macaulay
00:48 Dec 02, 2020

Desi are the people, cultures, and products from India! Your definitions are correct, too, but that's what she meant here :) Being an Indian love this Indian representation, haha. This is the first reedsy story I've seen with Indian characters lol

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Zilla Babbitt
22:32 Dec 04, 2020

Oh, thank you so much. I chose the category while trying to think of an idea because I was tired of writing American stories, and I'd not written a Desi one yet. And thank you for that beautiful, wicked 200 story idea, and congrats again on a second shortlist!

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Scout Tahoe
23:47 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you and you're welcome!

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Amaya Macaulay
00:21 Dec 09, 2020

i love the new title! but tbh i sorta liked I Like To Be Cold better, i feel like it invoked more curiosity and made me sadder. just my opinion though, i like both!

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Zilla Babbitt
02:07 Dec 09, 2020

That is true. And I liked that it was just the first line, nothing special. I wanted the word Love up there, though, because it's what the story's all about. I may change it again.

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Amaya Macaulay
03:05 Dec 09, 2020

true.....

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Ashley Fortier
19:15 Dec 08, 2020

Wow, the repetition really worked to drive home the emotion in this piece. Amazing how you transferred those feelings to the reader so masterfully and yet so simply. Great work!

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V Nyx
23:08 Dec 07, 2020

Beautiful!

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