Fuck Marry Kill by Riddhi Dastidar
Wasafiri is proud to publish the shortlisted works of the 2021 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. These poems, essays, and short stories detail a range of emotions and experiences, produced by skilled emerging writers from all over the globe. In this immersive and sharp short story, Riddhi Dastidar explores themes of intimacy, love, and disconnection in the digital age.
The 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open until 30 June. You can enter the prize and read more about it here.
Come over at night, I texted A the day he stopped responding. I will kiss your face. I liked to be alone. I liked the idea of a long day full of work at the end of which lingered the promise of seeing A — it was better than him having been there all along.
A and I were having problems, it’s true. The time we spent together had been dotted with terse arguments. He wanted me to be angrier, more energetic, politically active, enthusiastic in bed. I wanted that too, but I found myself derailed by the effort it took.
I adopted a dog who was very gassy and often frightened herself awake with a fart. Her tongue poked outside her mouth when she slept, which was all the time. She was missing her front teeth — it wasn’t clear whether she had just never grown them, or if they’d been knocked out. I couldn’t imagine her in a fight. I had never even heard her bark. She whimpered when I brought the food bowl, and lay with her ugly patchy belly up when she felt hot. She was more cat than dog, meaning she liked it when you stroked her softly between her eyes, but she wouldn’t come looking for you.
A and I were supposed to name her together, but we never landed on one. She smelled like a biscuit no matter how many baths I gave her, and made all my blankets smell like biscuits, and when you lay in them for a while you would also begin to smell like damp biscuit. A didn’t appreciate this. His visits petered out that winter.
At first he came over less because of the dog. And then. We would recycle the same fight. Perhaps every relationship is like this, or some partners are better at keeping the peace — more generous, or more afraid. When we first started seeing each other, I was so insecure he wouldn’t hang around that it made me easy to love.
Sometimes I feel this has all been a blip. You know the type of awful nightmare you wake from, terrified, and then you see your partner asleep beside you just fine, in your normal life. I guess in some ways I’m still waiting for that sigh of relief.
Why are you here? I asked every single person on the Prime app. We’re lonely, they all said, even when they said something else.
On Election Day, instead of voting I went to meet a guy from Prime. He was quite good looking but he had a butt-chin and chest hair that poked out of his kurta. I found myself completely out of small talk at the small cafe with its Rs 500 slices of red velvet cake. I kept staring at the cleft in his chin, wanting to stick my pinky in it and dig so hard that his face would open up symmetrically on either side.
He was a lawyer too. I had recognised his face from a protest, or someone’s party pictures. He took the bill when it came and didn’t seem to notice my staring. So when he asked ‘Want to come home for a joint?’, I did.
The joint was better than the date. It was fresh and I had a reason not to make chit-chat. We sat beside each other, shoulders touching. ‘Please,’ he said, suddenly remarkably ugly in his striped pants. ‘You’re the first person who’s come home with me.’ ‘You’re getting me wrong,’ I said. ‘I’m not that kind of girl.’
Then he cried, and I sat beside him on his optimistically king-sized bed, under a halogen lamp. It would have looked posh in a bar but turned his room, with its pale pink walls, orange and seedy as the sun dipped outside his window.
I didn’t want to touch him. I held my breath, counting as he cried noisily. He buried his face in his hands and when he finally removed one hand, a string of translucent snot dangled from it. I left.
What kind of great love just gets tired? Isn’t that something that only happens in movies and bad poetry? Men saying you’re too much. Or it’s those one-note guys you pick up at bars — not a real person you loved, who loved you back for years and years. Three years.
When three months had passed since A stopped responding to my messages, my friend Hannah insisted I meet her for Valentine’s Day. It was Ladies Night at a bar with desperately weepy dance music; the genre featuring people who’ve fucked up their lives and are now partying to forget about it, or telling you what lovable fuck-ups they are. Hannah smiled at me fondly over jalapeño poppers and told me what to do with my life, a mush of cheese and breadcrumbs glistening on her tongue.
She looked like your run-of-the-mill fashion-type, someone you’d hate on Instagram. She always ate with her mouth open. Hannah hated being told to do anything, so I usually just winced at her when she ate until she relented. Like a number of other small things on my list, seeing someone chew made me anxious and furious.
‘You should just click on it!’ she told me now. ‘The algorithm is so accurate. It really knows,’ — she waved over the waitress with a ‘Happy Galentines’ headband carrying a tray of LIITs in frosted pink Martini glasses — ‘what you need.’
Hannah had met her husband on Prime. She liked to talk about how they could have been a ‘missed connection’. Just imagine! she liked to say. She had seen his boring old profile on Tinder during her ‘wild’ phase, but had swiped left for a lot of hot sex with two reliable standard-issue ‘Delhi-boys’ on rotation instead. They would drink and fuck and Hannah would cure her headaches in the office with very strong, very bad instant coffee. Then she got a persistent case of thrush and an alarming ulcer in her stomach.
Now she ‘ate clean’, drank rarely, and was married to Lijo from the merchant navy with a house he owned in Jangpura. He had popped up as a suggestion on Prime. After she married Lijo she became a Prime evangelist. She was terrifyingly happy. She didn’t even cheat while he was away.
The funny thing was, I had actually known Lijo in college. I was cool-adjacent and Lijo was Lijo, only not as rich yet. I ignored his tedious overtures at flirting and friendship. I remember he had dated this equally tedious girl for a bit. They always referred to each other as ‘baby’. Not in private. As in, they’d ask: Have you seen Baby? So naturally when Lijo tried to become DJ L-Joint, we called him DJ Baby instead.
Now he said Hello ladies good-naturedly and always refreshed my drink. I suspect he thought I was a little stupid because I always said, …what? at pauses in our conversation where I was supposed to answer or laugh. I just could not focus on him for over a minute. Anyway, I was the stupid one — the one with loans, a job at a nonprofit slowly being drained of funding, and an ex-boyfriend I still masturbated to three months after he’d stopped answering my calls, messages, and photographs of my dog.
The dog dragged her bum round and round on the carpet. The vet said it was called ‘anal scooting’ and charged me Rs 2000. No matter how many times I dewormed her, or paid to get her anal glands cleaned, she continued to do it. Eventually I gave up and just sang anal scooting, ANAL scooting, anal SCOOTING! at her in a flat two-note song when she did it.
In the final two hours, when the turnout was only 10%, my phone lit up with calls from the [redacted] Party every 30 minutes. It was a pre-recorded message from the Chief Minister. Namashkar this is [redacted] speaking, he said. Please go vote. Vote for whomever you want, but do vote. Your vote has the power to decide that your taxes are utilised with honesty. That they go towards good schools, good roads. Please vote. Take your neighbours. Your vote holds a lot of power.
He sounded so earnest it made me want to cry. But I no longer believed any of this. So I didn’t vote. That was the last election.
I took to Prime with a ferocity in the months afterwards. It was an addiction, like with many others. People turned up on dates with a disguised hunger in their eyes. It wasn’t sex they were hungry for; it was harbour.
The app suggested the person, it suggested wearing red lipstick (Berry Red in C253 from Maybeqween, with whom it had a partnership that week. Red had a 25% higher success rate). It suggested convenient spaces you both frequented. At my usual Karaoke Thursday at TC, I agreed to meet another regular. Muscular, with a groomed beard and thick eyebrows, a chiselled jaw. A bro with a penchant for singing Wolfmother and Avial. Later in the night the space turned into a dance floor and people would get close.
I got stupid-drunk, dancing with the muscleman, and he got real close, his arm holding my waist tight. He pushed his erection against my ass and breathed into my neck. He pulled me in and ran his hand over my chest, and came right there on the dance floor. He whispered that into my ear, and pulled me into the ladies’ loo and pushed his hands into my underwear. His fingers were calloused. It hurt and he didn’t ask my permission, but I came. I told him I needed a moment, then left without paying the bill. I still don’t know how I feel about it but once in a while I touch myself to the memory of someone wanting me again. Then I feel sick. Worse things have happened to me.
I haven’t been to a Karaoke Thursday since. I told Hannah we hooked up and left it at that. She was relieved. It was a sign of recovery to her mind, I knew. I clicked ‘yes’ on the men that popped up on Prime more and more. We had the same taste in books, politics, StudyTube videos. Whatever.
If I had to make a list of things that upset me, some wouldn’t be very feminist. Chest hair, any kind of body hair. I have always lucked out into dating men with conspicuously little body hair, and an inability to grow beards and mustaches. Sometimes I feel like a bad person.
Once on a New Year’s Eve in college, we were sprawled on our friend Ila’s bed, drinking vodka straight from the bottle — the kind of idiotic thing you do when you haven’t had your first really bad drinking-vomit yet. We were looking at pictures of girls with belly-button piercings on the internet; someone was considering getting one. And we came across a picture of a real person with body hair on their stomach and I said Ew, gross. Ila looked really hurt and said, I have a hairy stomach. And everyone looked uncomfortable and I think maybe this is one reason Ila and I never really became as close as we could have been.
Even later, when I grew more comfortable telling people what bothered me, how I didn’t mean anything by it, it’s just my bloody brain — but they woudn’t always believe it. Oh yeah, we all have our things they say. But they don’t. They don’t all have these things.
Some things are undignified no matter how much you know. Yes, everything is a social construct, but — armpits. Do you understand how petty it feels to fight over armpits?
A would take it really personally when I insisted that he put his arms down when he slept. Once, his armpit touched a spot on my pillowcase. I looked at his face, took a breath, and went into the loo, rubbing my wet hands on the pillowcase, and then dabbing it with sanitiser. Then I went back into the loo and washed my hands. When I climbed back into bed, he was looking at me like he hated me a little. ‘You’re making me feel like I’m dirty,’ he said.
‘Don’t make me feel bad,’ I said, my voice losing its moral high ground as it jumped an octave. ‘You know it’s not about that! You remember when my laptop stopped working because I had to spray water on it!’
‘You make me feel bad,’ he said.
And even though I didn’t mean to, even though he knew I didn’t mean to, and had woken me up and propped me up in bed with a cup of coffee while I was on the medication that left me loopy and let entire chunks of my day slip through my memory — I still watched him lose patience with me a month and then a day at a time. I pretended it wasn’t happening without realising I was pretending.
The last time we spoke on the phone, we were making plans to meet for dinner the next day. I didn’t know he wouldn’t come. I thought we were having an honest conversation about how to work things out. I thought it would be ongoing. He was telling me how I was a different person than when we’d met. And I like this person, A said sadly before he hung up, but it’s tiring.
The premise of Prime was that they knew everything. The playlists you listened to during cardio; whether you could afford Vogmask or a basic ten rupee mask from the chemist; how you really felt about Lolita; whether you knew what Lolita was; if you drank Amul double-toned milk and had Chocos, or drank almond milk and googled its water consumption; where you went to college; what you said to your friends and your therapist; who broke your heart last, and why; what was wrong with you; if you suspected your flatmate of leaving abnormally large orange turds in the shared loo every afternoon only to discover it was you all along; where you lived and the job postings you refreshed on your lunch break. How you left your last workplace partly out of boredom, but also because your drunk boss once cornered you at a festival you were coordinating, and demanded to see your phone as proof that you had done the things he was accusing you of not doing. When you told HR, they said you were a family. And fuck, it knew you had left your family years ago, exactly because they called you a lunatic and tried to beat the crazy out of you.
Prime matched you up with someone who should have ticked your boxes in all the right ways. They marketed it like ‘what if your therapist set you up?’ (A and I had met on Tinder. On our first date it was raining. We were broke. We hung around in a small DDA park. Held hands and smiled like fools at each other.)
People were already heartsick. Trying to overthrow an old system with so many heads was no work for amateurs. Of course they took to it. There were weddings and sighs of relief as they gave in. Mummies and daddies had always insisted on like-marrying-like; Prime disguised it better. It sponsored some weddings, hashtag #InOurPrime.
All said, it had to be admitted, Prime worked remarkably well. It consulted your calendar. You didn’t have to spend your time scrolling or swiping because you’d get an advertisement for the person. We let them tell us everything — including whom to fuck, marry, kill.
Couples became a little more similar. They seemed a little more bored but you couldn’t be sure. I went on so many dates that year. Some I met thrice. Tell me, is love really ineffable? Or do I just want it to be?
After Valentine’s with Hannah, I watched a movie like I did most nights before Prime. There were two people on a sleeper train talking to each other in whispers. They were lying on the top berths, opposite each other in the compartment. As the train lurched and the moon shone on their faces, you could see them lean in eagerly. They reached their fingertips out to each other like a painting I once saw.
Once, I remembered, A and I were returning from our first trip. Everything was new and important. It was late at night. The mountains outside were rock-cut and inky blue. They seemed to leap into the distance as the train shook us like sardines in a tin — comfortingly, rhythmically.
A and I had two berths on the same side. He put his bag on the top one, and we crouched together on my berth, discussing what our mothers had been like as children. Mine used to climb trees and frighten everyone by disappearing. We didn’t speak anymore. A had a perfectly boring and happy relationship with his own.
I wanted A to stay down with me. It was cramped and we were falling asleep. He had been pragmatic. Checked to see that everyone around us was asleep, dropped a kiss on my mouth, and climbed up the rail to his bunk. I lay awake for some time, watching the moon skip along beside me as the trees rushed by. I don’t know why I am always a little afraid to let myself fall asleep alone. I looked out. There she was still. A silver storybook moon.
Like when I was little and kept checking out the window, from the backseat of our car in wonder, whether she was still there. Even when that building had passed, and the telephone wire, and then this new building was speeding by. And now? Still? She always was.
Riddhi Dastidar is a Delhi-based writer and reporter who writes on gender, disability, climate, and rights. They have been featured in Foreign Policy Magazine, The Baffler, Himal Southasian, and elsewhere. Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Himal Short Story Prize, they won the 2020 TFA Award. They are writing their first book, a queer climate-fiction novel in stories.