Author: Guede Mazaka
The Bharmas still think he’s going to marry Jess someday. It’s a convenient stall, so Jess hasn’t ever mentioned different and Tony isn’t going to if she doesn’t. His mother pressures him every time he gets a long-distance call, coyly asking how America is for a Punjabi girl and whether the Americans’ bad habits are corrupting his friend yet. She’s already made one comment about that girl needing a good strong husband with a…good strong will…to straighten her out, and…
Well, normally he’d just nod and smile, because that’s his mother, who cooks delicious curry and who drops off a pot of coffee beside him at midnight when he’s studying for an exam, who shudders at the bare legs of storefront mannequins and who pounces on the slightest deviation from the norm with all the glee of a cat with a mouse. But that time maybe he was tired, maybe he forgot and he didn’t smile. He might have glared. Tony can’t exactly remember because luckily he had an exam and he had to run out the door, but he does know that afterwards there wasn’t a peep out of her. At least, not more than a small disapproving noise whenever the Bharmas pass, and a sly look whenever Tony answers the phone with “Jess! Hey!”
Funny how she didn’t bat an eye the few times she’s caught him talking to Joe on the streetcorner, but then, boys are supposed to push boundaries. At least it makes it easier on Joe, who is wary of Tony’s mother in a way that’s almost painful to watch.
Nobody tells the man anything, not even Jules’ parents—or maybe it’s that Jules’ mother gives Joe weird looks; Tony never got the story straight in between Joe’s embarrassed muttering and the noise of the lorry going by—so he’s reduced to loitering around, hoping to catch Tony on the way to somewhere. Once in a while Tony invites Joe in, or asks if he just wants to set up a regular beer, but Joe’s keeping busy with his new team and he always says no, just after a long discussion of his latest woes and just before he blinks, looks confused, and asks after Jess.
He used to ask about Jess first, but not too seriously because they both knew there was something going on over the phone lines. Then it was Joe being desperate and even more uncomfortable at the same time as he tried to casually sneak in a query; that stopped when Tony finally figured it out and told him there weren’t any issues with Jess having a white boyfriend from Tony’s view. But by then they’d already gotten into the habit of talking footie to get Joe calmed down, to give him an opening, and after Joe relaxed it was just easy to keep on doing the same time.
It’s like everything else, Tony guesses. Like the Bharmas pretending their daughter’s going to stop her changing at the footie and be the same with everything else. Like Tony’s mother thinking he’s got a girl—a little Americanized, maybe, but workable—and he’ll give her those button-eyed grandchildren she wants. Like Joe drifting further and further from Jess, like Jess talking more about Jules than about classes or family or yeah, Joe. Even like Tony, who enjoys footie in the park with the guys not just because it’s fun but also because then he’s got an excuse to stare. Who agreed with Jess that Joe was a dream, and then got to know him even better, which only strengthens his agreement in ways that are going to start tripping him up if he doesn’t watch it.
They’re all coasting along on top, looking straight ahead. But there’s too many of them, Tony thinks. Someday someone’s going to trip, and then everyone’s going to have to look down.