IT WAS A WIFE’S WORST NIGHTMARE. After nine years of marriage, Laxmi told Miranda, her
cousin’s husband had fallen in love with another woman. He sat next to her on a plane, on a flight from
Delhi to Montreal, and instead of flying home to his wife and son, he got off with the woman at Heathrow.
He called his wife, and told her he’d had a conversation that had changed his life, and that he needed time
to figure things out. Laxmi’s cousin had taken to her bed.
“Not that I blame her,” Laxmi said. She reached for the Hot Mix she munched throughout the day, which
looked to Miranda like dusty orange cereal. “Imagine. An English girl, half his age.” Laxmi was only a few
years older than Miranda, but she was already married, and kept a photo of herself and her husband, seated
on a white stone bench in front of the Taj Mahal, tacked to the inside of her cubicle, which was next to
Miranda’s. Laxmi had been on the phone for at least an hour, trying to calm her cousin down. No one
noticed; they worked for a public radio station, in the fund-raising department, and were surrounded by
people who spent all day on the phone, soliciting pledges.
“I feel worst for the boy,” Laxmi added. “He’s been at home for days. My cousin said she can’t even take
him to school.”
“It sounds awful,” Miranda said. Normally Laxmi’s phone conversations -mainly to her husband, about
what to cook for dinner-distracted Miranda as she typed letters, asking members of the radio station to
increase their annual pledge in exchange for a tote bag or an umbrella. She could hear Laxmi clearly, her
sentences peppered every now and then with an Indian word, through the laminated wall between their
desks. But that afternoon Miranda hadn’t been listening. She’d been on the phone herself, with Dev,
deciding where to meet later that evening.
“Then again, a few days at home won’t hurt him.” Laxmi ate some more Hot Mix, then put it away in a
drawer. “He’s something of a genius. He has a Punjabi mother and a Bengali father, and because he learns
French and English at school he already speaks four languages. I think he skipped two grades.”
Dev was Bengali, too. At first Miranda thought it was a religion. But then he pointed it out to her, a place
in India called Bengal, in a map printed in an issue of The Economist. He had brought the magazine
specially to her apartment, for she did not own an atlas, or any other books with maps in them. He’d
pointed to the city where he’d been born, and another city where his father had been born. One of the
cities had a box around it, intended to attract the reader’s eye. When Miranda asked what the box
indicated, Dev rolled up the magazine, and said, “Nothing you’ll ever need to worry about,” and he tapped
her playfully on the head.
Before leaving her apartment he’d tossed the magazine in the garbage, along with the ends of the three
cigarettes he always smoked in the course of his visits. But after she watched his car disappear down
Commonwealth Avenue, back to his house in the suburbs, where he lived with his wife, Miranda retrieved
it, and brushed the ashes off the cover, and tolled it in the opposite direction to get it to lie flat. She got
into bed, still rumpled from their lovemaking, and studied the borders of Bengal. There was a bay below
and mountains above. The map was connected to an article about something called the Gramin Bank. She
turned the page, hoping for a photograph of the city where Dev was born, but all she found were graphs
and grids. Still, she stared at them, thinking the whole while about Dev, about how only fifteen minutes ago
he’d propped her feet on top of his shoulders, and pressed her knees to her chest, and told her that he
couldn’t get enough of her.
She’d met him a week ago, at Filene’s. She was there on her lunch break, buying discounted pantyhose in
the Basement. Afterward she took the escalator to the main part of the store, to the cosmetics department,
where soaps and creams were displayed like jewels, and eye shadows and powders shimmered like butterflies
pinned behind protective glass. Though Miranda had never bought anything other than a lipstick, she liked
walking through the cramped, confined maze, which was familiar to her in a way the rest of Boston still was
not. She liked negotiating her way past the women planted at every turn, who sprayed cards with perfume
and waved them in the air: sometimes she would find a card days afterward, folded in her coat pocket, and
the rich aroma, still faintly preserved, would warm her as she waited on cold mornings for the T.
That day, stopping to smell one of the more pleasing cards, Miranda noticed a man standing at one of the
counters. He held a slip of paper covered in a precise, feminine hand. A saleswoman took one look at the
paper and began to open drawers. She produced an oblong cake of soap in a black case, a hydrating mask, a
vial of cell renewal drops, and two cubes of face cream. The man was tanned, with black hair that was
visible on his knuckles. He wore a flamingo pink shirt, a navy blue suit, a camel overcoat with gleaming
leather buttons. In order to pay he had taken off pigskin gloves. Crisp bills emerged from a burgundy wallet.
He didn’t wear a wedding ring.
“What can I get you, honey?” the saleswoman asked Miranda. She looked over the tops of her tortoiseshell
glasses, assessing Miranda’s complexion.
Miranda didn’t know what she wanted. All she knew was that she didn’t want the man to walk away. He
seemed to be lingering, waiting, along with the saleswoman, for her to say something. She stared at some
bottles, some short, others tall, arranged on an oval tray, like a family posing for a photograph.
“A cream,” Miranda said eventually.
“How old are you?”
The saleswoman nodded, opening a frosted bottle. “This may seem a bit heavier than what you’re used to,
but I’d start now. All your wrinkles are going to form by twenty-five. After that they just start showing.”
While the saleswoman dabbed the cream on Miranda’s face, the man stood and watched. While Miranda
was told the proper way to apply it, in swift upward strokes beginning at the base of her throat, he spun the
lipstick carousel. He pressed a pump that dispensed cellulite gel and massaged it into the back of his
ungloved band. He opened a jar, leaned over, and drew so close that a drop of cream flecked his nose.
Miranda smiled, but her mouth was obscured by a large brush that the saleswoman was sweeping over her
face “This is blusher Number Two,” the woman said. “Gives you some color.”
Miranda nodded, glancing at her reflection in one of the angled minors that lined the counter. She had
silver eyes and skin as pale as paper, and the contrast with her hair, as dark and glossy as an espresso bean,
caused people to describe her as striking, if not pretty. She had a narrow, egg-shaped head that rose to a
prominent point. Her features, too, were narrow, with nostrils so slim that they appeared to have been
pinched with a clothespin. Now her face glowed, rosy at the cheeks, smoky below the brow bone. Her lips
The man was glancing in a mirror, too, quickly wiping the cream from his nose. Miranda wondered where
he was from. She thought he might be Spanish, or Lebanese. When he opened another jar, and said, to no
one in particular, “This one smells like pineapple,” she detected only the hint of an accent.
“Anything else for you today?” the saleswoman asked, accepting Miranda’s credit card.
The woman wrapped the cream in several layers of red tissue. “You’ll be very happy with this product,”
Miranda’s hand was unsteady as she signed the receipt. The man hadn’t budged.
“I threw in a sample of our new eye gel,” the saleswoman added, handing Miranda a small shopping bag.
She looked at Miranda’s credit card before sliding it across the counter. “Bye-bye, Miranda.”
Miranda began walking. At first she sped up. Then, noticing the doors that led to Downtown Crossing,
she slowed down.
“Part of your name is Indian,” the man said, pacing his steps with hers.
She stopped, as did he, at a circular table piled with sweaters, flanked with pinecones and velvet bows.
“Mira. I have an aunt named Mira.”
His name was Dev. He worked in an investment bank back that way, he said, tilting his head in the
direction of South Station. He was the first man with a mustache, Miranda decided, she found handsome.
They walked together toward Park Street station, past the kiosks that sold cheap belts and handbags. A
fierce January wind spoiled the part in her hair. As she fished for a token in her coat pocket, her eyes fell to
his shopping bag. “And those are for her?”
“Your Aunt Mira.”
“They’re for my wife.” He uttered the words slowly, holding Miranda’s gaze. “She’s going to India for a few
weeks.” He rolled his eyes. “She’s addicted to this stuff.”
Somehow, without the wife there, it didn’t seem so wrong. At first Miranda and Dev spent every night
together, almost. He explained that he couldn’t spend the whole night at her place, because his wife called
every day at six in the morning, from India, where it was four in the afternoon. And so he left her
apartment at two, three, often as late as four in the morning, driving back to his house in the suburbs.
During the day he called her every hour, it seemed, from work, or from his cell phone. Once he learned
Miranda’s schedule he left her a message each evening at five-thirty, when she was on the T coming back to
her apartment, just so, he said, she could hear his voice as soon as she walked through the door. “I’m
thinking about you,” he’d say on the tape. “I can’t wait to see you.” He told her he liked spending time in
her apartment, with its kitchen counter no wider than a breadbox, and scratchy floors that sloped, and a
buzzer in the lobby that always made a slightly embarrassing sound when he pressed it. He said he admired
her for moving to Boston, where she knew no one, instead of remaining in Michigan, where she’d grown up
and gone to college. When Miranda told him it was nothing to admire, that she’d moved to Boston
precisely for that reason, he shook his head. “I know what it’s like to be lonely,” he said, suddenly serious,
and at that moment Miranda felt that he understood her -understood how she felt some nights on the T,
after seeing a movie on her own, or going to a bookstore to read magazines, or having drinks with Laxmi,
who always had to meet her husband at Alewife station in an hour or two. In less serious moments Dev said
he liked that her legs were longer than her torso, something he’d observed the first time she walked across a
room naked. “You’re the first,” he told her, admiring her from the bed. “The first woman I’ve known with
legs this long.”
Dev was the first to tell her that. Unlike the boys she dated in college, who were simply taller, heavier
versions of the ones she dated in high school, Dev was the first always to pay for things, and hold doors
open, and reach across a table in a restaurant to kiss her hand. He was the first to bring her a bouquet of
flowers so immense she’d had to split it up into all six of her drinking glasses, and the first to whisper her
name again and again when they made love. Within days of meeting him, when she was at work, Miranda
began to wish that there were a picture of her and Dev tacked to the inside of her cubicle, like the one of
Laxmi and her husband in front of the Taj Mahal. She didn’t tell Laxmi about Dev. She didn’t tell anyone.
Part of her wanted to tell Laxmi, if only because Laxmi was Indian, too. But Laxmi was always on the phone
with her cousin these days, who was still in bed, whose husband was still in London, and whose son still
wasn’t going to school. “You must eat something,” Laxmi would urge. “You mustn’t lose your health.” When
she wasn’t speaking to her cousin, she spoke to her husband, shorter conversations, in which she ended up
arguing about whether to have chicken or lamb for dinner. “I’m sorry,” Miranda heard her apologize at one
point. “This whole thing just makes me a little paranoid.”
Miranda and Dev didn’t argue. They went to movies at the Nickelodeon and kissed the whole time. They
ate pulled pork and cornbread in Davis Square, a paper napkin tucked like a cravat into the collar of Dev’s
shirt. They sipped sangria at the bar of a Spanish restaurant, a grinning pig’s head presiding over their
conversation. They went to the MFA and picked out a poster of water lilies for her bedroom. One Saturday,
following an afternoon concert at Symphony Hall, he showed her his favorite place in the city, the
Mapparium at the Christian Science center, where they stood inside a room made of glowing stained-glass
panels, which was shaped like the inside of a globe, but looked like the outside of one. In the middle of the
room was a transparent bridge, so that they felt as if they were standing in the center of the world. Dev
pointed to India, which was red, and far more detailed than the map in The Economist. He explained that
many of the countries, like Siam and Italian Somaliland, no longer existed in the same way; the names had
changed by now. The ocean, as blue as a peacock’s breast, appeared in two shades, depending on the depth
of the water. He showed her the deepest spot on earth, seven miles deep, above the Mariana Islands. They
peered over the bridge and saw the Antarctic archipelago at their feet, craned their necks and saw a giant
metal star overhead. As Dev spoke, his voice bounced wildly off the glass, sometimes loud, sometimes soft,
sometimes seeming to land in Miranda’s chest, sometimes eluding her ear altogether. When a group of
tourists walked onto the bridge, she could hear them clearing their throats, as if through microphones, Dev
explained that it was because of the acoustics.
Miranda found London, where Laxmi’s cousin’s husband was, with the woman he’d met on the plane. She
wondered which of the cities in India Dev’s wife was in. The farthest Miranda had ever been was to the
Bahamas once when she was a child. She searched but couldn’t find it on the glass panels. When the
tourists left and she and Dev were alone again, he told her to stand at one end of the bridge. Even though
they were thirty feet apart, Dev said, they’d be able to hear each other whisper.
“I don’t believe you,” Miranda said. It was the first time she’d spoken since they’d entered. She felt as if
speakers were embedded in her ears.
“Go ahead,” he urged, walking backward to his end of the bridge. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Say
something.” She watched his lips forming the words; at the same time she heard them so clearly that she felt
them under her skin, under her winter coat, so near and full of warmth that she felt herself go hot.
“Hi,” she whispered, unsure of what else to say.
“You’re sexy,” he whispered back.
At work the following week, Laxmi told Miranda that it wasn’t the first time her cousin’s husband had had
an affair. “She’s decided to let him come to his senses,” Laxmi said one evening as they were getting ready to
leave the office. “She says it’s for the boy. She’s willing to forgive him for the boy.” Miranda waited as Laxmi
shut off her computer. “He’ll come crawling back, and she’ll let him,” Laxmi said, shaking her head. “Not
me. If my husband so much as looked at another woman I’d change the locks.” She studied the picture
tacked to her cubicle. Laxmi’s husband had his arm draped over her shoulder, his knees leaning in toward
her on the bench. She turned to Miranda, “Wouldn’t you?”
She nodded. Dev’s wife was coming back from India the next day. That afternoon he’d called Miranda at
work, to say he had to go to the airport to pick her up. He promised he’d call as soon as he could.
“What’s the Taj Mahal like?” she asked Laxmi.
“The most romantic spot on earth.” Laxmi’s face brightened at the memory. “An everlasting monument to
While Dev was at the airport, Miranda went to Filene’s Basement to buy herself things she thought a
mistress should have. She found a pair of black high heels with buckles smaller than a baby’s teeth. She
found a satin slip with scalloped edges and a knee-length silk robe. Instead of the pantyhose she normally
wore to work, she found sheer stockings with a seam. She searched through piles and wandered through
racks, pressing back hanger after hanger, until she found a cocktail dress made of a slinky silvery material
that matched her eyes, with little chains for straps. As she shopped she thought about Dev, and about what
he’d told her in the Mapparium. It was the first time a man had called her sexy, and when she closed her
eyes she could still feel his whisper drifting through her body, under her skin. In the fitting room, which
was just one big room with mirrors on the walls, she found a spot next to an older woman with a shiny face
and coarse frosted hair. The woman stood barefoot in her underwear, pulling the black net of a body
stocking taut between her fingers.
“Always check for snags,” the woman advised.
Miranda pulled out the satin slip with scalloped edges. She held it to her chest. The woman nodded with
approval. “Oh yes.”
“And this?” She held up the silver cocktail dress.
“Absolutely,” the woman said “He’ll want to rip it right off you.”
Miranda pictured the two of them at a restaurant in the South End they’d been to, where Dev had ordered
foie gras and a soup made with champagne and raspberries. She pictured herself in the cocktail dress, and
Dev in one of his suits, kissing her hand across the table. Only the next time Dev came to visit her, on a
Sunday afternoon several days since the last time they’d seen each other, he was in gym clothes. After his
wife came back, that was his excuse: on Sundays he drove into Boston and went running along the Charles.
The first Sunday she opened the door in the knee-length robe, but Dev didn’t even notice it; he carried her
over to the bed, wearing sweatpants and sneakers, and entered her without a word. Later, she slipped on the
robe when she walked across the room to get him a saucer for his cigarette ashes, but he complained that
she was depriving him of the sight of her long legs, and demanded that she remove it. So the next Sunday
she didn’t bother. She wore jeans. She kept the lingerie at the back of a drawer, behind her socks and
everyday underwear. The silver cocktail dress hung in her closet, the tag dangling from the seam. Often, in
the morning, the dress would be in a heap on the floor; the chain straps always slipped off the metal
Still, Miranda looked forward to Sundays. In the mornings she went to a deli and bought a baguette and
little containers of things Dev liked to eat, like pickled herring, and potato salad, and tortes of pesto and
mascarpone cheese. They ate in bed, picking up the herring with their fingers and ripping the baguette with
their hands. Dev told her stories about his childhood, when he would come home from school and drink
mango juice served to him on a tray, and then play cricket by a lake, dressed all in white. He told her about
how, at eighteen, he’d been sent to a college in upstate New York during something called the Emergency,
and about how it took him years to be able to follow American accents in movies, in spite of the fact that
he’d had an English-medium education. As he talked he smoked three cigarettes, crushing them in a saucer
by the side of her bed. Sometimes he asked her questions, like how many lovers she’d had (three) and how
old she’d been the first time (nineteen). After lunch they made love, on sheets covered with crumbs, and
then Dev took a nap for twelve minutes. Miranda had never known an adult who took naps, but Dev said it
was something he’d grown up doing in India, where it was so hot that people didn’t leave their homes until
the sun went down. “Plus it allows us to sleep together,” he murmured mischievously, curving his arm like a
big bracelet around her body.
Only Miranda never slept. She watched the clock on her bedside table, or pressed her face against Dev’s
fingers, intertwined with hers, each with its half-dozen hairs at the knuckle. After six minutes she turned to
face him, sighing and stretching, to test if he was really sleeping. He always was. His ribs were visible
through his skin as he breathed, and yet he was beginning to develop a paunch. He complained about the
hair on his shoulders, but Miranda thought him perfect, and refused to imagine him any other way.
At the end of twelve minutes Dev would open his eyes as if he’d been awake all along, smiling at her, full
of a contentment she wished she felt herself. “The best twelve minutes of the week.” He’d sigh, running a
hand along the backs of her calves. Then he’d spring out of bed, pulling on his sweatpants and lacing up his
sneakers. He would go to the bathroom and brush his teeth with his index finger, something he told her all
Indians knew how to do, to get rid of the smoke in his mouth. When she kissed him good-bye she smelled
herself sometimes in his hair. But she knew that his excuse, that he’d spent the afternoon jogging, allowed
him to take a shower when he got home, first thing.
Apart from Laxmi and Dev, the only Indians whom Miranda had known were a family in the
neighborhood where she’d grown up, named the Dixits. Much to the amusement of the neighborhood
children, including Miranda, but not including the Dixit children, Mr. Dixit would jog each evening along
the flat winding streets of their development in his everyday shirt and trousers, his only concession to
athletic apparel a pair of cheap Keds. Every weekend, the family—mother, father, two boys, and a girl—piled
into their car and went away, to where nobody knew. The fathers complained that Mr. Dixit did not
fertilize his lawn properly, did not rake his leaves on time, and agreed that the Dixits’ house, the only one
with vinyl siding, detracted from the neighborhood’s charm. The mothers never invited Mrs. Dixit to join
them around the Armstrongs’ swimming pool. Waiting for the school bus with the Dixit children standing
to one side, the other children would say “The Dixits dig shit,” under their breath, and then burst into
One year, all the neighborhood children were invited to the birthday party of the Dixit girl. Miranda
remembered a heavy aroma of incense and onions in the house, and a pile of shoes heaped by the front
door. But most of all she remembered a piece of fabric, about the size of a pillowcase, which hung from a
wooden dowel at the bottom of the stairs. It was a painting of a naked woman with a red face shaped like a
knight’s shield. She had enormous white eyes that tilted toward her temples, and mere dots for pupils. Two
circles, with the same dots at their centers, indicated her breasts. In one hand she brandished a dagger.
With one foot she crushed a struggling man on the ground. Around her body was a necklace composed of
bleeding heads, strung together like a popcorn chain. She stuck her tongue out at Miranda.
“It is the goddess Kali,” Mrs. Dixit explained brightly, shifting the dowel slightly in order to straighten the
image. Mrs. Dixit’s hands were painted with henna, an intricate pattern of zigzags and stars. “Come please,
time for cake.”
Miranda, then nine years old, had been too frightened to eat the cake. For months afterward she’d been
too frightened even to walk on the same side of the street as the Dixits’ house, which she had to pass twice
daily, once to get to the bus stop, and once again to come home. For a while she even held her breath until
she reached the next lawn, just as she did when the school bus passed a cemetery.
It shamed her now. Now, when she and Dev made love, Miranda closed her eyes and saw deserts and
elephants, and marble pavilions floating on lakes beneath a full moon. One Saturday, having nothing else
to do, she walked to Central Square, to an Indian restaurant, and ordered a plate of tandoori chicken. As
she ate she tried to memorize phrases printed at the bottom of the menu, for things like “delicious” and
“water” and “check, please.” The phrases didn’t stick in her mind, and so she began to stop from time to
time in the foreign language section of a bookstore in Kenmore Square, where she studied the Bengali
alphabet in the Teach Yourself series. Once she went so far as to try to transcribe the Indian part of her
name, “Mira,” into her Filofax, her hand moving in unfamiliar directions, stopping and turning and picking
up her pen when she least expected to. Following the arrows in the book, she drew a bar from left to right
from which the letters hung; one looked more like a number than a letter, another looked like a triangle on
its side. It had taken her several tries to get the letters of her name to resemble the sample letters in the
book, and even then she wasn’t sure if she’d written Mira or Mara. It was a scribble to her, but somewhere
in the world, she realized with a shock, it meant something.
During the week it wasn’t so bad. Work kept her busy, and she and Laxmi had begun having lunch
together at a new Indian restaurant around the corner, during which Laxmi reported the latest status of her
cousin’s marriage. Sometimes Miranda tried to change the topic; it made her feel the way she once felt in
college when she and her boyfriend at the time had walked away from a crowded house of pancakes without
paying for their food, just to see if they could get away with it. But Laxmi spoke of nothing else. “If I were
her I’d fly straight to London and shoot them both,” she announced one day. She snapped a papadum in
half and dipped it into chutney. “I don’t know how she can just wait this way.”
Miranda knew how to wait. In the evenings she sat at her dining table and coated her nails with clear nail
polish, and ate salad straight from the salad bowl, and watched television, and waited for Sunday. Saturdays
were the worst, because by Saturday it seemed that Sunday would never come. One Saturday when Dev
called, late at night, she heard people laughing and talking in the background, so many that she asked him
if he was at a concert hall. But he was only calling from his house in the suburbs. “I can’t hear you that
well,” he said. “We have guests. Miss me?” She looked at the television screen, a sitcom that she’d muted
with the remote control when the phone rang. She pictured him whispering into his cell phone, in a room
upstairs, a hand on the doorknob, the hallway filled with guests. “Miranda, do you miss me?” he asked
again. She told him that she did.
The next day, when Dev came to visit, Miranda asked him what his wife looked like. She was nervous to
ask, waiting until he’d smoked the last of his cigarettes, crushing it with a firm twist into the saucer. She
wondered if they’d quarrel. But Dev wasn’t surprised by the question. He told her, spreading some smoked
whitefish on a cracker, that his wife resembled an actress in Bombay named Madhuri Dixit.
For an instant Miranda’s heart stopped. But no, the Dixit girl had been named something else, something
that began with P. Still, she wondered if the actress and the Dixit girl were related. She’d been plain,
wearing her hair in two braids all through high school.
A few days later Miranda went to an Indian grocery in Central Square that also rented videos. The door
opened to a complicated tinkling of bells. It was dinnertime and she was the only customer. A video was
playing on a television hooked up in a corner of the store: a row of young women in harem pants were
thrusting their hips in synchrony on a beach.
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