Matters of the Heart

By Victor Rangel-Ribeiro

Your letter today, Shakuntala, I did not need. I look forward daily to hearing from you, hurry to the table where the mail is kept when I see your tiny pale blue envelope waiting for me. A whiff of your perfume greets me each time I open one, and it did so again today; but you now write to say things are going sour? That we may not get married this year, after all? And because of what? Money? The number of bridesmaids? Where the wedding will be celebrated, and by whom?

Yet, why am I angry with you? I know you better than that. Our times are still out of joint, if you and I have to be side-lined while our elders quibble over matters that do not matter at all. Tonight, I must write you a letter, a long, calm, unloverlike letter, analysing the situation we find ourselves in, and exploring our options.

If I were to write to you now, at this moment, instead of just sitting by my desk at the office thinking things out, what I inwardly feel and say would upset you no end. For I see nothing ahead of me — nothing. Behind me lie 23 years of loneliness and frustration, the years before I met you. And yet, my failure is surely not due to a lack of direction; for years now I have known exactly where I want to go, what I want to do. I want stability, and I want it soon. I want a home of my own. A wife. A wife and family. Plenty of children. Do you realize what would happen if you were to write to me tomorrow, saying it’s all over, finished? Can you see me tearing open that envelope with anxious fingers, and the look on my face as the news gets to me? How do you think I will react? Will I think back to lost opportunities, even to casual flings I might have had, if I had wanted to? What if you had written me such a letter a few weeks ago — would I then have gone off on the rebound, chasing after Grace? I am, after all, susceptible. But enough of these thoughts; now I must focus on my work — that, at least, will be bring me some peace of mind, until my shift is over.

Within the hour I get an unexpected call; I think it might be my editor, but it’s from Grace, and she sounds depressed.

‘Grace? You all right? How did the evening go?’

‘Not well at all.’

‘What!’ I say, quite unfeelingly. ‘Did you turn down the latest marriage proposal? What happened to the nights in Paris they promised you, the trip to the Silk Road, the moonlit camel ride to Samarkhand?’

‘I spat on the camel driver,’ she says.

‘Oh,’ I say, not knowing what else to say.

‘Forget about that foolishness,’ she says. “I want to move on.

There’s a poetry reading this evening. Seven o’clock. I’ll be going.

Care to come?’

‘I’d love to, but …’

‘I thought you wanted to go to a reading.’ She sounds more than a little disappointed. ‘Now I hear a ‘but.’ What’s going on in your mind?’

I have to think of what’s going wrong with Shakuntala, that’s what’s going through my mind. And I’m thinking I should not be going out with you, much as I’d like to, because I’m in love with Shakuntala and yet I find you so attractive, I do not trust myself.

How can I tell you that?


Read the full story in our print anthology The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018. Buy the anthology here.

Victor Rangel-Ribeiro is among the 136 authors listed in South Asian Literature in English, and the 53 in South Asian Novelists in English. Rangel-Ribeiro’s debut novel Tivolem (Milkweed Editions, 1998) was named one of the twenty notable first novels to be published in America in 1998 and won him the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. The New York Foundation for the Arts awarded him its Fiction Fellowship in 1991.