I look like Ghandi, Tarun thinks, taking off his new glasses. Of course Father, bald since puberty, would think shaving his head was a good idea. Three seconds after he had finished putting down the shears, Father set the camera and wrapped his arm around his son, beaming proudly for a picture that would be hung above the fireplace. Now Tarun was announcing himself to the world, not just as someone follicly impaired, but in vision, too. Staring at the blurry sight of himself in the bathroom mirror, Tarun frowns as he washes his face.
Did he really need the glasses? His eyes weren’t that bad, how hard could it be to socialize? Surely, he didn’t need visual acuity to recognize the handful of people he knew at the party. Looking around the room, a white tiled floor whose squares seem to melt together, a wastebasket overflowing with papers. Three half-empty bottles and a bar of soap by the sink. He puts his glasses back on and scrutinizes himself. Turning his head from ear to ear, noting every detail of his misshapen head, he tries to arrange his features in a way that make him look sharp, like an Indian James Bond or something, but the glasses seem to sag from his face.
“You look just like a real doctor!” Mother had said, glowing. How could he expect a girl like her- his untouchable blonde coworker- would go for a look like this? She’d invited him here tonight, he’d been looking forward to it all week, yet here he was, hiding in the bathroom again, trying to deduce how to impress her. Still frowning, Tarun grabs the soap and washes his hands twice. Brown, bald, and beautiful, he says aloud, taking off his new glasses.
A line has formed outside of the bathroom. Tarun smiles at no one in particular and sticks his hands into his pockets. Double glass-screen doors to his left and to his right the party. Ajay and Benny would be posted out back, surely, but he hadn’t come to hide outside and drink. He had come to party.
The buzz of conversation in a dimly lit space. Figures with bottles and cups scattered in the shadows of the room. “Tarun, my man, looking good,” someone large says, slapping him on the back and then disappearing in the haze. Maybe his eyes weren’t quite as sharp as he’d counted on. The final note in the word “good” had sounded flat, was it meant sarcastically? Ajay and Benny would be out back, right outside on the porch, Benny would have cigarettes and Ajay always brings alcohol. A blonde waves and makes her way towards Tarun, wiping his hands on his khakis.
“You made it,” say lips that look like they are smiling.
“Hey! Thanks for inviting me.”
“I was starting to worry you’d never come. I like your new haircut.” Was she being sarcastic, too?
“I figure if I’m going bald, might as well embrace it.” He scratches at his scalp, letting his fingers splay out to cover the back of his head.
“That’s what I keep telling my brother! He’s been balding forever, it runs in our family. Sex-linked genes or something, but you know already know all that.”
“All I know is this bald head and I are still getting used to each other.”
“Well I think it looks good on you.”
“Thanks.” Caressing his palms, he looks around the room. A pair in the corner turns away when he looks in their direction. “Did you come by yourself?”
“No, I came with Marc over there. Just a friend from college. He’s going to spend all night talking DJs with those guys. Somehow he always seems to find control over the music at these things.”
“I remember him.” What was he doing with his hands? “Do you like music?”
“Who doesn’t like music?”
“I usually don’t like the music at these things. Guess I have your friend Marc to blame.”
Is she smiling? “Guess so. Tell me what you like and I’ll put in a request for you.”
“Oh no, no, I couldn’t possibly impose.”
“Stuff you wouldn’t have heard of.”
“Well if you want to shy about it-”
“You wouldn’t like my music.” The glasses feel awkward in his pocket. “I heard something funny this week that made me think of you.”
“Did you know that the average single British man only changes his sheets four times a year?”
“That’s interesting. Why’d that make you think of me?”
“Well- no, it didn’t make me think of you, I just I thought you’d find it funny.”
“Thanks. I guess that isn’t that weird. You don’t think four is enough?”
“I mean…no, not really. Do you?”
“I don’t change my sheets that often.”
“Do you always shower before you get into bed?”
“Of course not.”
“Surely you get dirty over the course of the day? Not you, personally, but people in general. Mothe- my mom used to wash my brother and I before we got into bed. Guess it’s a habit I never grew out of.”
Her lips twitch. “I think it’s cute that your mom used to bathe you every night.”
“Forgive me if I like to be clean before I go to sleep. If I’m going to lie in the same bed every night, I prefer it not to be dirty.”
“So people who don’t shower every night before getting into bed are dirty?”
Tarun offers a smile. “Most of the girls I know like to clean themselves before we go to bed.”
“So you’re calling my vagina dirty.”
His brown face flushes red. “No! No, I mean- that’s not what I meant at all…” She does that twitching thing with her lips again. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m being an idiot. Do you remember my friends Ajay and Benny?”
“Yeah, you introduced me to them last time you were here.”
“Oh. Well, I should probably go find them. Cya.”
Before she has a chance to respond, he’s out of there. What a stupid joke! Any of the other approaches he’d been scheming would have worked better. She’d invited him here, he’d been looking forward to it all week, and he’d just gone and blown it! He retreats towards the double glass-screen doors, the radiance of the raw February starlight lying ahead like a beacon. Idiot, idiot, idiot, he thinks to himself, beating his palms against his head.
It is cold, cold, and there they are, sitting on the porch, with half a bottle of Goldshläger between them. Perched like gargoyles on the top of the wooden stairs, unaware of the soft snow blanketing the night. Tarun sinks besides Benny, who is smoking. Ajay offers the bottle. Tarun shakes his head.
“My friend, white girls don’t like Indian guys.”
“How would you know?”
“Natural selection. They’re programed to pop out little Aryan babies.”
“That’s not what natural selection is.”
“Genetics, whatever, you know what I mean.”
Benny, still silent, takes the Goldshläger from Ajay. He draws from his cigarette, chugs from the bottle, and then blows three smoke rings.
“Give it up, guy,” Ajay says, watching the fumes dance before fading.
Sitting, the glasses feel uncomfortable in his pocket, so Tarun places them at his feet. A handful of butts scatter the stairs, dulled shades of yellow and gray, growing buried in snow. It is cold, cold.
“Why are you guys outside?”
“We’re happy here.”
Benny lights a second cigarette from his first. “Keep drinking and you stop noticing it.”
“How long have you been out here?”
Benny raises the ¾ empty bottle.
“Are you guys going to be out here all night?”
“Maybe.” Ajay takes the bottle back. “What’s so great inside?”
Benny blows another two smoke rings then coughs a misshapen third. “I’ve got all I need right here.”
On the stairs beside him, Tarun notices his glasses. They had almost been lost in the snow, but there they are, lying on the stairs, the full moon echoed in a sliver of frame. “You look just like a real doctor,” Mother had said.
“Don’t you ever tire of spending your weekends on back porches?”
Ajay looks up, Benny doesn’t. “What do you mean?”
“I mean you know exactly where this night is headed. Home for pizza and late night TV. I bet you even know what show is playing.”
Ajay looks back at the bottle. “When you are done with your carpe diem, you can join us.”
“You mean carpe noctem.”
Tarun picks up his glasses and walks away. “You guys are the worst friends I could ask for.”
Ajay says, “Love you too, buddy.”
Benny just smiles, pensive or drunk, gaze lost in the distance.
It is warm inside, and Tarun heads straight for the bathroom. Alone, a white tiled floor and a wastebasket littered with feminine things. Three beers, half-full, and a bar of soap by the sink. A mirror. Habitually, he turns on the faucet and grabs the soap. Pausing, letting the water run through his fingers, allowing it to warm, he realizes that his hand is trembling. He puts the soap down and turns the faucet off. Tarun puts his glasses back on and sees himself. There he is, brown, bald, and beautiful.
A line has formed outside and there she is, smiling, the radiance of the raw February starlight illuminating her face like a flame. Tarun steps forward and wraps his arms around her waist. He kisses her, and as his hand climbs over her shoulders and through her blonde hair, Lisa kisses him back.