Fair Trade

9.9.2009

By Rakesh Satyal

There was a slight pause, then Arun walked up to Ashok and hugged him the way he always did, with his hands drumming Ashok's back. He was drenched in Acqua di Gi' cologne. 'Still love you, chotu. And at least gay guys are good at making friends with girls. To that end, let's go find me some pussy.'

His plump mother, Manju, whose delicate, round face he shared, cried for 12 hours after he told her in a crowded Indian restaurant back home. (His father had been at a cardiologists' conference, thank God.) At midnight, after hearing her sob into a cushion all evening, Ashok went to the bathroom and had to exhale the smooth, crimson mush of his chicken tikka into the toilet bowl, wondering if she'd ever stop. The next morning, a Saturday, she baked two dozen blueberry muffins laced with masala, whose delicious aroma filled every crevice of the house. She did this every few weeks, and when Ashok awoke to the smell, he knew his mother had healed.

When he walked into the kitchen, she said, 'I guess I'll take my profile for you off Shaadi.com,' referring to the Indian matchmaking site. Then she hugged him with oven-mitted hands. 'And I love you.' Scene.

*

'Bhaita, vhat did you vant to talk about?' his father asked, raising his glass to clink Ashok's. Ashok didn't raise his, however. He was too busy looking around to see if the people around them knew his father was tanked. They did.

'Well, Dad, I'have something that I need to tell you.' His heartbeat felt like a throbbing choker around his throat. He wished he were on the Hollywood Hills tour with the rest of the family right now.

His father's eyes had glazed over entirely, vodka-rimmed, and the copious sunlight made them sparkle. Ashok had never seen him like this; his father had two beers tops when he spent time with other Indian men, but he had evidently seen this lunch as an opportunity to throw alcoholic caution to the wind.

It dawned on Ashok for just a moment that this might be the best condition in which to come out. His father would hear the words but wouldn't have the faculties to give them their due spanking. And from then on, it could be acknowledged that Ashok had made the effort to tell his father but his father had been at fault for not being in the state to do the confession justice. It would be relatively painless for both of them, a win-win situation.

'Really?' his father said. 'You've met the right voman?' He cackled, swished more red-orange fluid down his hatch, and ran a hand through the gray tufts of hair he had left.

'Not exactly,' Ashok said. Would this have been easier, he thought, if he had met the right guy? He was 25 and perpetually single and was still working his first 'real' job as a banker.

And then his father's eyes cleared. It was like a magician's trick, the way the clouds disappeared from his irises and left them black and stern.

'Don't vorry. You vill meet the right voman.'

Slowly, he had taken Ashok's wrist and was squeezing it tightly.

Ashok realized in this instant that, subconsciously, he had always expected his father to take the news as simply as the rest of them. Of course Ashok had envisioned several scenarios in which his father smashed things and screamed until the veins in his neck popped out. He had even envisioned this very restaurant and his father overturning this tiny table in fury. He saw now that deep-down he had foolishly expected the torrid events of this day to stay confined to this day. Yet the consternation in his father's eyes, this stare smacking of a surgeon's precision, told Ashok that there are revelations that should never be made, transactions that are incomplete. Rekha had shown him how to dance. Arun had drummed on his back. His mother had baked muffins. But what had his father -- what had this one-track carnivore -- done?

Ashok pulled his hand away and took a sip of his drink.

'Vell, vhat is it?' his father said.

'I just wanted to say that I love you,' Ashok said.

'I love you, too, bhaita.'

They both ordered steak sandwiches, which they proceeded to eat steadily, and silently.

Rakesh Satyal is the author of the novel Blue Boy (Kensington, 2009) and has been published in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including the Lambda Award'winning collection The Man I Might Become. He is a graduate of Princeton University and an editor at HarperCollins, where he works with such authors as Paulo Coelho, Clive Barker, and Armistead Maupin. He lives in New York City.

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