Out of Character

Elaborate. If he had been asked to describe Chandralekha in one word that’s the one he would have picked. It did not strike him that she might be offended by his choice. He was not an elaborate man. Everything he uttered originated off the top of his head. Some found this an endearing, even relaxing quality. Others had stopped speaking to him years ago.

Everything Chandralekha uttered, on the other hand, welled up with scarlet urgency from subcutaneous layers of her being, like blood to the surface of a wound. She was a woman given to curlicues. Living in loops and swirls that would have dizzied anyone but a dervish. When she signed her name, the C distended like a sail in high winds, the stalk of the d blew backwards, the foot of the l dipped below the plane of the other letters like a toe in a tidal pool. Not to be left behind the k kicked up its heels like a Russian dancer and the tail of the final a defied gravity springing into the air and rainbowing over the completed name in an extravagant arch that ended in a complex series of pen-tip pirouettes. A miniature performance unto itself, and one not easily forged.

Of the two he was the more ethical, and she the more kind-hearted. He never broke a traffic rule or fell behind on his bills and he donated an exact percentage of his income to charity every year, never a penny more or less. She treated stop signs as suggestions, borrowed copious amounts of money, books, clothes and jewelry from friends and returned them haphazardly and not always to the person they came from. But there wasn’t a single thing she owned that she would not give away if she came across someone she thought could use it more than she. None of her umbrellas had ever lasted longer than the first rainy day after purchase.

When he asked her to marry him they were at a stoplight walking home with a group of friends after dinner at a local diner. A block earlier Chandralekha had bought an impulsive armful of sunflowers from a flower stand, “because there are just too many people in this city walking around with mournful faces when they have no business to.” Then she’d proceeded in her usual modus operandi (reckless abandon), to give all the sunflowers away, delighting some strangers and alarming others. It occurred to him then, standing at the red stoplight, that in a million years it would never occur to him to do what she had just done, or anything in the same or even neighboring zipcode of what she had just done. Unless they were married. In which case given enough time, her verve, passion and spontaneity might possibly rub off on him. And even if it didn’t, it would still be accessible. Like a window that he could look out on the world through, and lean his forehead against when the view grew too puzzling.

“Will you marry me Chandralekha?” he asked with unusual feeling, and she opened her mouth to say laughingly, “When cows do cartwheels!” So she was as surprised as any of the others when as the Walk sign flashed on, she said instead simply: “Yes.” And taking his arm crossed to the other side with no further elaboration.

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