Balli Kaur Jaswal


an excerpt from Inheritance

EVERY evening, he called. Father always picked up the phone, but Amrit was right by his side, expecting the call. He and Father exchanged pleasantries and then Father handed the receiver over to Amrit. Father was courteous enough to leave her alone in the living room while she spoke to her future husband.

On the first phone call, there were many awkward silences, which were then hastily filled with polite questions confirming the biographical sketches they had been provided. She knew his name was Jaspal and that he worked for an insurance company in Toronto. He had a younger brother. On weekends, he went to the movies with friends, and he was helping his family renovate their home in a suburb of Toronto. His voice was deep and gentle and his accent curled around his words like somebody from a television show.

What he knew about her: aged twenty-three, born on 18 August; completed secondary school exams; learnt some skills at secretarial school; pursued work afterwards. Even those facts were padded. She did not so much complete her exams as scrape through with two passes, which did not grant her admission into any pre-university program. Secretarial school had been the only option. On some days at secretarial school, she had felt that the world was hers; there was nothing she could learn that she didn’t already know. Thoughts shot through her mind, convincing her that she was too clever, tearing her away from dull routine. Then, when she sank, the last place she wanted to be was at a desk, learning the proper typing hand placements and how to address letters. She wanted to be in bed or trapped inside it somehow, woven into the thick linings of her sheets.

When Father had informed her of the arrangement, he made it very clear that she was to give Jaspal the best impression of herself, so she pretended that everything he knew about her was accurate. This was her only chance to change. 

In their second conversation, he asked her tentatively if she liked to cook. “I do actually,” she said. “Curries and things.”

There was a laugh of relief on the other end. “You never know if you can ask that question nowadays,” Jaspal said. “Some girls get offended.”

“You don’t expect me to cook for you, do you?” she asked. A pause, and then she added, “I’m joking.”

He laughed again. “That’s cheeky of you,” he said, and she smiled to herself, warm in recognition. Father had not told him that she had a sense of humour. It occurred to her that Father knew little about her beyond her behaviour and failed accomplishments. During the conversation she cracked a few more jokes, noticing with triumph the laughter that tumbled down the line. The next day she spent an entire afternoon daydreaming about her new life in Canada. Jaspal featured infrequently in her fantasies but she told herself this was because she had not met him yet. She had only seen a photograph; he was pleasant-looking, with light skin and greyish-brown eyes. 

“Does it snow a lot?” she asked, during their third conversation. “Is it very cold?”

“You’ll get used to it,” he said. “Driving on icy roads can be dangerous, though. Can you drive?”

© Epigram Books

by Balli Kaur Jaswal
from Inheritance (2013)
published by Epigram Books