There is no woman who looks like you on Bumble. All the women on Bumble have eyelashes, you convince yourself. You can’t see profiles of women because you have opted to see only male profiles, but you know it! You know that every woman has thick, long and dark eyelashes except you. Just like the ones you’ve seen in the cartoons that you grew up watching. You have very carefully picked the photos to display on your profile. You have selected three photos. In one, you are wearing comfortable home wear. In another, you are wearing a sari. And in the last one, a dress that reaches your knees. You think these photos are enough for a guy to decide if he wants to date you. In the About section, you’ve written whatever you could about yourself. The guy would have to talk to you to discover more. What if he doesn’t like what you have to say apart from what’s in the About section?
It’s been months since you are indoors now and the loneliness is getting to you. On your social media feed, you see photos of couples who are expecting their first child and you realise you are nowhere close. You joined Bumble so that you could make the first move but now, you regret it. You have connected with someone. His profile has regular photos. Selfies, groupies with friends and one at his office desk (pre-pandemic, of course). His profile is unlike other profiles you have come across. Most follow a typical pattern. A photo with a pet, an adventure sport or at a party or a pub. You didn’t expect to connect with someone who opted for ‘relationship’ too. Would he be interested in a relationship when he actually gets to know you? You are relieved to have found his profile because most of the profiles you came across were ‘something casual’ or ‘Don’t know’.
You think, ‘Women are getting fake boobs and I’m getting fake eyelashes.’ This thought makes you scrutinise your own breasts in the mirror. You lift them in your hands. You haven’t been wearing a bra during all these months of staying at home. Your breasts look saggy. What would he think of your breasts? A man hasn’t seen your breasts in a very long time. Men like perky breasts. You don’t have perky breasts. You Google fake boobs and half an hour passes this way until your mind reminds you of what you really want to Google. You shut your laptop and lie down on your bed. You open your phone camera, switch it to selfie mode and stare back at your bald eyelids. You have plucked all your eyelashes in a matter of ten minutes. It has been long since you did this. You hate yourself. You had promised yourself you would not do this again, especially, if you want to be dating material. Men don’t like women with issues, they’d rather be the ones having them and turning towards women for resolution. Sugar, spice, and everything nice are the ingredients for perfect girls.
Your eyelids look swollen without hair. You thought you are past this childhood habit of yours. You had dismissed it like every other kid’s quirk like nail-biting. As you grew up, you realised your habit is not common like nail-biting. People haven’t even heard of this condition before. You applied kajal and went to school, praying no one would notice the lack of eyelashes but they did. Everyone did. You could tell. But no one said anything about it which made it worse. You wished someone had asked you so you could talk about it. Your parents ignored it just the way they ignored other things they couldn’t fathom. They said they had bigger things to think about like bringing food to the table. You want to know about his parents. Does he have a good relationship with them?
You had swiped right after very careful consideration. You had scanned all his Instagram photos before deciding. He looked like someone who could be taken seriously and would probably be long-term boyfriend material. You only sent a ‘Hi’. He had replied instantly with, ‘Hi, how are you? May I know your name?’ and that was it. That was the trigger. A well-written reply. You’ve never been great at relationships. You have always evaded them. This time you are willing to give this a try. You want to date despite the pandemic. You know you can’t go out. You manage a reply.
He replies back, ‘Wow, love your name. What’s up? I just had lunch.’
The conversation keeps going. You want to be honest with him. You want to tell him that you used to apply olive oil on your eyelids when you were in school. And then after some time, your eyelashes would grow back. And when you looked at the grown eyelashes in the mirror, you felt the way a gardener feels when she’s been waiting for the flowers to grow and finally they have. Now, what would a sane gardener do? Would she then pluck the petals, one by one? No, she wouldn’t. But you did. In the same way that The Little Mermaid decides whether the man of her dreams loves her or not. No one knows the temptation of an eyelid full of lashes other than you. The numerous prayers you’ve said to Jesus haven’t helped you resist temptation.
Your conversations progress to voice calls. His voice reminds you of a childhood memory. It was your birthday and your parents didn’t think it necessary to send a box of chocolates with you to school and the whole class had laughed at you. A boy from your class had bought a KitKat for you from the school canteen with his pocket money. That gesture never left you.
Soon, you start sharing important things with each other on messages and calls. You have given him your Whatsapp number. You browse Insta, Facebook, and Twitter in quick succession, out of habit, when his Whatsapp message pops up on your screen, ‘Tell me something you learnt recently.’
You want to say, ‘Trichotillomania’ just to see the way he reacts but instead you say, ‘You go first.’ to delay the moment.
‘Um…Okay. So I didn’t know that you’re not supposed to wish ‘Happy’ Good Friday to a Christian, as it’s a sad day.’
This makes you laugh.
You say, ‘Many don’t know that. Glad you do and the funny thing is, despite being a Catholic, I didn’t know that Adam’s first wife was a woman named Lilith! I found out recently.’
And then you send a follow-up, ‘That’s mine. That’s what I learnt recently.’
‘Whoa, what??? You’re kidding, right? Who was Eve then?’
‘Second wife. The Bible has totally erased her.’
‘Apparently, she wanted to be on top, during sex,’ you send this after a moment of hesitation.
He sends a shocked smiley. Then he adds, ‘So?’
‘Well, Adam didn’t want that,’ you play it cool.
‘So cool. Okay…so while we are on the topic…how do you like it?’
You are stunned by his forwardness. You wish you hadn’t brought it up. You wonder if you can switch the topic to trichotillomania.
When he doesn’t get a reply from you, he messages, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I was kidding. I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable…’
You send a smiley and add, ‘It’s okay.’
‘Btw can I see you? Let me know if you want to video chat sometime,’ he Whatsapps after a while.
You instantly reply, ‘Sure. Soon,’ because you feel guilty. You know that another girl would have instantly replied to his sex position question.
The next day, you click a photo of what you’re reading and send it to him. Esme Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias. You tell him that you admire the author and that her motivational newsletter makes your day. He asks you to forward the newsletter but doesn’t comment on the book. You curse yourself for sending two messages. When he still doesn’t respond to the image, you ask, ‘Have you heard of this book?’
‘No, I haven’t. My reading is very limited. I read business stuff mostly. How’s it?’
‘It’s good. She’s a fantastic writer.’
He sends a smiley and that’s it. End of conversation.
Maybe you are overthinking it. Men don’t care about such things.
For the rest of the day, both of you exchange memes and that’s it.
In a few days, your fake eyelashes arrive. You apply it with the help of a Youtube video. You set up the video call casually as if it’s something you do every day. It goes well. He tells you that he thinks you both are connecting well. Would you like to meet up sometime? He brings this up on video and you say, ‘Of course, next weekend?’
After you end the call, you curse yourself when you realise you will be wearing a mask. And all he would see are your eyes. Women who wear the burqa only communicate through their eyes. Eyes are windows to the soul. These thoughts don’t let you sleep at night. You think of telling him you are on your periods and that you can’t meet. But for how long will you run away? You can meet him when your eyelashes grow back, you tell yourself. By then, the pandemic should be over too.
The weekend has arrived. You feel like a bald man with a wig or toupee who is always conscious of being exposed. You are wearing the false eyelashes, a crop top and jeans. You have agreed to meet him near your house. A café near your house has recently opened up after months of being shut. When he arrives, you almost don’t recognise him when he takes his mask off.
He acknowledges this, ‘I look different, right? I shaved. I thought I had scared you with my caveman beard! On our video chat.’ He laughs.
‘Ha…no…way. Yea you do look different.’
You order a cup of tea and a sandwich, he orders coffee.
He tells you about his commute, the Uber ride, about how he can’t recognise the streets anymore because they are deserted. His hands move about animatedly, when you blurt out, ‘I have to tell you something.’
He is so busy talking that he doesn’t hear you.
You repeat it, more loudly than you intend because you are nervous.
He listens and so does the waiter who is not discreet. He listens, too.
Michelle D’costa is a Mangalorean from Mumbai. She was born and raised in Bahrain. She works at Bound, a literary company. Her poetry and prose have been published in journals like Out Of Print, Eclectica, Litro UK, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Coldnoon, Vayavya, Guftugu and more. She loves to interview writers.