“Right! Left! Now your right leg! And left!”
Why am I listening to an over enthusiastic Zumba instructor instead of stuffing myself with that packet of Lays I’ve been saving up?
Why is my ex-boyfriend’s current wife on my screen as well?
Why did I sign up for this lesson five minutes before it started?
Because I wanted to run away. From what, you ask?
A video call.
Remember all the things you wished you could be doing when you were sitting behind a desk? Instead of doing all those things people are using this lockdown to build back burnt bridges and host Netflix parties and god knows what else because that’s the real pandemic — following social media trends. And it’s easier to video call your friends, make faces, take screenshots and upload them instead of sweating over the stove for three hours making things like Mexican bean Fajitas.
And why did I have to run away from the video call? Because there are some exes you can be friends with. And some exes you’d rather not be friends with. And some exes who are unbearable but are friends with your friends. They are the absolute worst. I slip into a reverie, dreaming of the good old days where you could use running to the laundry as an excuse. This one time, his parents were hosting a Diwali party, just a few weeks after we’d started dating. I told him I had to stay home to take care of my cat and stop her from freaking out at the crackers. I didn’t have a cat, and he found out a few days later. But instead of arguing and getting into a fight, he bought me a cat. The bastard. It ran away in a week.
That’s the kind of boyfriend he was. Most girls would define him as perfect. He always remembered anniversaries. It’s a normal thing to do, but because he’s a guy he gets credit for having a memory. Wild. He always gave the most perfect gifts money could buy, because that’s another thing he was good at — making money and doing the right things with it. He was great at his job, spent time with family, with friends, made friends with my friends, and is now going to be on this group video call.
Nobody could understand why we broke up. But that’s also because they spent a few hours with him every week, and it’s impossible to get bored of someone in a few hours. You don’t have to pretend to know things about the stock market, or look up the features of the brand new iPhone when he goes to the loo so you won’t run out of ammunition for a discussion when he’s back. I tired myself out for two whole years doing things like this, because I started it.
I join the call five minutes late and there’s a loud cheer and a “Hey!” and a “Yay we’re all here now!” and “It’s been so long!”. And then I look at his screen. Perfect, as always. He’s wearing a neatly pressed shirt, and is sitting with a bookshelf in the background. It has all these beautiful hard bound books, and I spot an indoor plant in the corner. I hope it’s dying, because come on, there’s got to be something he cannot do right. It looks completely green, though. I know. It’s a fake! It has to be!
In the three years since we’ve broken up, he has been promoted at work, dated, proposed to and married a girl who is just as perfect as he is. She enters the screen to say hi, with perfectly set hair and a spatula in her hand, and asks him if he wants some coffee and tells him she’s making Pasta for dinner. My friends like her too. Bleargh. All it took was some home-made wine and some cookies. My friends are easy. They now live in Luxembourg, and have a puppy that has its own Instagram handle. No, I’m not jealous of his perfect life. I only regret the fact that he was so mature about our break-up and I didn’t get to fight. That has got to be the most dissatisfying break-up ever. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. Not even the girl who looked me up and down last week when I walked up to the grocery store in my pajamas and my eight year old ‘Platform 9 ¾’ T-shirt. There’s a goddamn pandemic going around, woman! I have more important things to think about!
But I should’ve learnt from my mistake and not worn the same damn t-shirt on this video call. Or at least avoided spilling coffee on myself five minutes into the call. I cannot deal with this pressure right now! Soon everyone’s going to be talking about how productive they’ve been during the lockdown, and how their kids have moved on from Baby Shark and can now sing French rhymes and how the real estate sector must be doing and how their investments must be faring. Yeah, last week the same people spoke about Sex Education and whether Virat Kohli’s marriage to Anushka Sharma was a massive PR scam. That’s when it hits me — everybody pretends around this guy! I wonder if his wife has faked orgasms. Okay, focus!
I need to get out of this. And quickly. Oh, I know. I’ll just tell them I need to take a dump. But no, that might imply I ordered food from outside. Or that I can’t cook well. Could I just say I need to water my plants? Or is it too late in the evening? Think. Quick. What do perfectly organised people do in the evenings? Exercise. Yes!
“Hey guys”, I say, “I’m so sorry, I signed up for these online Zumba classes on Cult and they start in about five minutes, I should probably go change. This was fun!” He looks at me and his eyes light up and I know it’s a bad sign. “Hey, Smitha has signed up for them too! I’ll let her know, she’d love some company!” And before I can protest, he’s looking away, and she’s walking toward the camera with her puppy and waving at me and saying something that sounds like how wonderful it would be to work out together. I’m in shock. Why did I not think of a better excuse? My mouth is open. I don’t know what to say.
“Are you there?” She’s saying. “Sweetie, has her screen frozen?” She’s asking him. My heart starts beating faster than it would after twenty minutes of Zumba. Yes! This is it! They think my screen is frozen. Now how do I leave the call without them noticing my hand moving? I try my best not to change my face one bit. My hand inches slowly towards the touchpad. Will they notice if my eyeballs move to guide my fingers over the right button? God please, keep them distracted! I’m almost there. Just an inch more. “Don’t rush. Keep your face in check,” I tell myself. Oh god. They can hear my heart beating over the call, can’t they? Come on. Focus. You can do this! Oh no. Is my TV on? Can they see it from the angle I’m sitting in? Will they notice it?
I see him furrow his brows. “You know what guys? Let me call you right back, I think my connection is weak” he says. This is it! I’ve done it! It’s going to be over in a second!
He reaches his hand out to cut the call, and I move my hand the last few inches in a hurry to end it. “Oh!” I hear him say. “She’s back!”
“And a twist! A jump! A twist! And a jump!”