Monday, June 26, 2006

The Perfect Suitor

Alejandro Soares was convinced that he would never get Constanza Diaz to marry him. Not that he hadn't tried. For close to three years now he had been wooing her using every technique he could imagine. He brought her flowers and chocolate. He took her for walks in the park when the weather was fine, and to the town's one air-conditioned movie hall when it wasn't; and every time the University troupe put on a new play, which it did every quarter, he would buy front-row seats for the two of them. He visited her diligently every Friday night, shaving and putting on a fresh shirt for the occasion, and on Sundays he sat two pews behind her in church and stared devoutly at her back. In the three years since they had got to know each other at a friend's wedding, he had done her taxes for her, helped her move when she shifted house and gone with her to the dentist when she needed a tooth extracted and was scared to go alone. He had been romantic. He had taken her twice to the big New Year's Eve ball at the Grand Hotel, and once for a picnic by the river. One night, early in his courtship, he had even hired a street band and tried to serenade her, though this was a move he now regretted, because of the sorry figure he had cut (the street urchins had gathered to snigger at him). All in all, he felt he had done everything a lover could reasonably be expected to do.

Yet none of this seemed to make the slightest impression on Constanza. She smiled whenever she saw him, true, and seemed happy to be in his company, but every time he mentioned love, or marriage, a spark of panic would flicker in her eyes, and she would grow strangely reluctant to talk. At first, she just thanked him when he made these protestations, then, when he pressed her for an answer (disregarding all the rules of chivalry so dear to him) she replied only that she was "flattered", without saying yes or no. There was, in her air to him at these times, a sort of amused benevolence - she seemed like a mother comforting her child for some foolish tantrum, incapable of taking his cries seriously, but reluctant to hurt him by dismissing them outright.

This reaction of her's puzzled Alejandro. Why would she not accept his suit? What was he doing wrong? His mirror told him that he was good-looking, and the balance in his account proved that he was successful, if only in a modest way. He was serious, well-informed and capable, had varied interests, and lived a clean, pious existence. He was a good dancer. He had never suffered a day of serious illness in his life. And God knows he had always been faithful to her, never, in the last three years so much as looking at another women, though there were plenty of others in this small provincial town who would have been happy to have him. Why just the other day his landlord's doe-eyed daughter had been throwing herself at him, with her silly laugh and her dress cut low to show off her white, firm breasts which he'd barely noticed because he was so devoted to his Constanza. And still the woman refused to say yes to him.

Rumour in town had it that Constanza had her heart set on one Felipe and had repeatedly been seen offering him encouragement. Alejandro couldn't fathom this. That little runt Felipe, with his shabby coat and dissheveled hair, a clerk in a store to boot, always wandering about with that distracted air of his as if trying to do sums in his head. What could Constanza possibly see in him? Didn't she see how he always seemed out of place at parties, how the only place he ever fit in was the library? Hadn't she noticed his scuffed shoes, his mismatched socks? How could she even consider choosing such a man over him?

Of course, perhaps it was not true at all. It was just the kind of gossip these idle townspeople would have made up. At any rate, either because Constanza had offered no favours, or because that imbecile Felipe wasn't smart enough to see that they had been offered, the two of them remained little more than acquaintances, and Alejandro's position as Constanza's suitor remained unchallenged.

Yet three years of unavailing courtship had taken their toll on Alejandro's confidence, and his dreams, once crisp and freshly minted, had now begun to seem like so much creased paper. The first time he heard the rumour about Constanza's interest in Felipe, he had gone straight to her house in high dudgeon, even though it was a Thursday and not the day he normally visited, and had asked her, with barely controlled anger, whether it was true that she had gone to a movie with the man on Wednesday night. She admitted the factual truth of it at once, but denied that it had any significance greater than their being 'friends', except that the blush in her cheeks as she said this told him a different story. He was indignant. Was this how his loyalty of so many months was to be rewarded? Did she think she was the only girl in town? He'd show her. Two could play at this game. What if he took out that buck-toothed Lamaraz girl next Friday? How would she like that?

Slowly it dawned on him that maybe that was exactly what she wanted. What a beautiful opportunity that would be to get rid of him! How easy it would be to convince herself, and others, that he was the one who had never truly loved her. That he was the unfaithful one. "How can you expect me to marry you when you go around taking other women to the movies!" she would say to him, the next time he broached the subject of his love. And one week later, after she had dismissed his suit once and for all, she would tell her girlfriends, "Oh, Alejandro! He was always the fickle one. Always flitting from one girl to the other." Or perhaps even: "What a coward, that Alejandro. The minute I started paying attention to Felipe, Alejandro saw instantly that he wasn't good enough for me, and gave up without even a murmur." The very thought of these lines being spoken about him made Alejandro, lying awake in bed that night, groan with misery.

No, he would not make it that easy for her. He would give her no opportunity to fault him, no excuse to run him off. Had he been neglectful? First thing tomorrow morning he would go and buy her a big bouquet of flowers. Was he being too demanding? How would stop asking her to marry him, stop assailing her with his entreaties, rather he would continue to woo her in silence, as a gentleman should. Was he not supportive enough? He would double his efforts to help her. He would meet her at the store and help her carry back her groceries. He would spend evenings reading to her mother. He would even assist her be better friends with that worm Felipe if that was what she wanted. Let her find fault with him then.

Yes, he would be the perfect suitor - impossibly charming, immaculately correct. When she finally rejected him, as he no longer had any doubt she would, she would be unable to point to any flaw in him that would justify her choice. All the town would mock her, all the women who sighed for devotion such as his would condemn her for being a fool. She would be forced to admit that she was being utterly unreasonable, would be able to give no explanation but her own caprice for such manifest and monstrous unfairness. She would have to break his heart, knowing, without possibility of doubt, that he deserved much better. That would be her punishment.

It had been a year since Alejandro had come to this decision. In those twelve months he had stuck diligently to his resolve, proving himself, again and again, the most impeccable of suitors. Soon the rumours of his incredible courtship has spread beyond the boundaries of their quiet little township. A regional radio talk-show had aired a ten minute interview with him, in which he had talked about how yes, he really loved his Constanza more than anything in the world, but no, he was content to wait patiently till she felt ready to make up her mind. A small article about his quest, with a picture of him from his college days, had appeared in the national daily. People recognised him in the street, and a few had even accosted Constanza while she was out shopping and asked her why she wouldn't marry him. Every day letters from heiresses and rich widows poured in for him, promising him all sorts of pecuniary and sexual delights if he would only transfer his affections from "that worthless whore" to them. And yet through it all, while secretly rejoicing to see his plan working so well, he remained outwardly unmoved - always soft-spoken, always devoted, never letting slip the suggestion that he considered this courtship of his anything out of the ordinary.

The one day, as they were coming to the end of another Friday evening visit, the bouquet of lilacs he had brought still fresh in their vase, the expensive liquer chocolates open on the table, Constanza looked him straight in the eye and told him she was going to marry Felipe. "How can you do this to me?", he asked, feeling the shock of the event, however expected, spread through him. "I'm sorry", she said, "it would seem I have been very unfair to you.". A small glimmer of satisfaction began to glow inside him. "But why? What is wrong with me, that you choose him?". "It's...nothing, really" "There must be something" "No. Look, can't we just accept that I love him and love is not rational and leave it at that?" Not so fast, my dear, I'm not going to let you get away so easily, he thought to himself. This is where he got his revenge. "No, I can't accept that. I've been courting you night and day, week upon week, season upon season for three years now. I've done everything a man can do to win a woman and more. I think I'm owed some explanation at least." Admit it. Admit you don't have a leg to stand on.

She sighed. "Oh, all right", she said, "if you insist. It's this self-obsession of yours, this insecurity. It's like you're always out to prove something, always try too hard. It wears me down. Look, I really like you. For a while after we first met, before you started 'courting me', as you like to put it, I may have even been in love with you. But then you went and became this other person, this actor, and suddenly it was like everything was melodramatic and fake between us. It was never about what I wanted or what you wanted anymore, it was always about what was proper. And then this last year - the newspaper report, the program on the radio - I'd never dreamed you'd be so much of an exhibitionist. I hate it. It's such an invasion of my privacy. I feel so stifled, knowing that wherever I go people are judging me. I'm a very private person, you know. Felipe understands that. Felipe understands me. And Felipe understands that he doesn't need a good suit or polished shoes to win my heart - he just needs to be himself and if that's good enough then we have a marriage. Which is why I'm choosing him over you. I'm sorry. I didn't want to bring all this up. I know you meant well. And I do wish it had turned out differently between us. But you have only yourself to blame."

Late that night, Alejandro's friends found him in a local bar, madly drunk. Having heard the news about Constanza and Felipe they tried to console him, offering him their sympathy, telling him he would get over it and that she wasn't worth it, anyway; that there were other fish in the sea. All the usual lines. To their surprise, he reacted by banging his fist on the counter and shouting "She beat me, Goddammit! She beat me!". And then he broke down and began to cry.

12 comments:

Supremus said...

BRILLIANT!

Any less compliment would be understating this piece of writing. And the ending - awesome.

You writing seemed like a continuation, straight out of "Love in the time of Cholera" - this one had gabriel garcia written all over it :) - were you thinking of him while writing this?? Hehe.

Excellent - encore please!

drifting leaf said...

oh awesome fal...
love is a game to too many... beautifully written...

pseudonym said...

jeez you get better everyday! :)

The Man Who Wasnt There said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Man Who Wasnt There said...

Even I had the feeling it was a chapter/passage left out of "Love in the time of cholera" (or for that matter even 'One hundred years of solitude" (but then maybe it has all to do with the names..'Felipe','Cadenza' etc etc :p..)

But a brilliant denouement nonetheless....

Kudos!

Anonymous said...

I guess the Indian air is bringing out the best in you...naah just kidding...but an amazingly beautiful piece of writing 2x3x7.

n said...

remarkable! influences of marquez, like someone else also said.
And often, phrases, that are very uniquely yours.
and these lines. "and his dreams, once crisp and freshly minted, had now begun to seem like so much creased paper"

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Very enjoyable.

Falstaff said...

supremus: Thanks. Yes, I was channelling Marquez a little (hence the names) - mostly because the plot required a fictional setting where long romantic courtships would be considered normal.

leaf: Thanks

pseudonym: Thanks

man who wasn't there: Thanks. Looking back, I may have got a little carried away with the whole Marquez deal.

anon: Thanks.

n: Gracias.

shoe-fiend: Thanks.

-Mahjabeen said...

Great piece!

I like that you didnt leave the audience hanging this time...

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