Sunday 17 June 2012
Following is an excerpt from Jhumpa Lahiri's short story Sexy, from the book Interpreter of Maladies. It is not a continuous excerpt (for the sake of brevity), but narrative continuity and comprehension have been preserved.
* Rohin is a seven year old child.
Rohin fastened the zipper to the top, and then Miranda stood up and twirled. Rohin put down the almanac. “You’re sexy,” he declared.
“What did you say?”
Miranda sat down again. Though she knew it meant nothing, her heart skipped a beat. Rohin probably referred to all women as sexy. He’d probably heard the word on television, or seen it on the cover of a magazine. She remembered the day in the Mapparium standing across the bridge from Dev. At the time she thought she knew what his words meant. At the time they made sense.
Miranda folded her arms across her chest and looked Rohin in the eyes. “Tell me something.”
He was silent.
“What does it mean?”
“That word. ‘Sexy.’ What does it mean?”
He looked down, suddenly shy. “I can’t tell you.”
“It’s a secret.” He pressed his lips together, so hard that a bit of them went white.
“Tell me the secret. I want to know.”
He cupped his hands around his mouth, and then he whispered, “It means loving someone you don’t know.”
“That’s what my father did,” Rohin continued. “He sat next to someone he didn’t know, someone sexy, and now he loves her instead of my mother.”
He took off his shoes and placed them side by side on the floor. Then he peeled back the comforter and crawled into Miranda’s bed with the almanac. A minute later the book dropped from his hands, and he closed his eyes. Miranda watched him sleep, [...] she imagined the quarrels Rohin had overheard in his house in Montreal. “Is she pretty?” his mother would have asked his father, wearing the same bathrobe she’d worn for weeks, her own pretty face turning spiteful. “Is she sexy?” His father would deny it at first, try to change the subject. “Tell me,” Rohin’s mother would shriek, “tell me if she’s sexy.” In the end his father would admit that she was, and his mother would cry and cry, in a bed surrounded by a tangle of clothes, her eyes puffing up like bullfrogs. “How could you,” she’d ask sobbing, “how could you love a woman you don’t even know?”