Murzban F. Shroff

The Single Woman's Guide to Survival

They pulled away from each other reluctantly. The darkness closed around them like a life jacket, reminding them they were more souls than bodies. They were not expected to say anything. Not expected to violate the silence that hung between them. The male in him fought that silence. To accept it would be to accept an equality that just wasn’t there. He stroked her temples with the back of his fingers; then cupped her face gently. Could she be his universe, his heartbeat, his angel of mercy? He was feeling handsome. He was feeling tender. A surge of passion sprang from some place in his heart and he felt like a soldier carrying a child to safety while all around him bombs exploded. Yes, it was all about safety, he thought.

He now spoke and said, “At last a woman who can kiss.”

She did not look at him. Instead she smiled and circled with her fingers the hairs on his chest. She drew words and symbols she hoped he would understand. Maybe, once they knew each other better, they’d play at this game. And she was sure he would understand: with a little bit of time he would learn to read her. Meanwhile, she could tell by his strained neck muscles that he was waiting for an answer. Did there have to be an answer? Her love-softened breast rose and fell against his chest, in sync with his breath. Her fingers stopped their conversation. She cleared her throat and said softly, “At last a man who can fuck. Really.” The last word sounded like an afterthought. It was an afterthought. But then she wasn’t good at these things. Really.

She knew the conversation had ended because, later, when she called him, his phone rang and rang and rang. And then the voice from the phone company came tumbling with unnatural clarity: The number you have called is currently out of reach. Please try again later. The voice, unrepentant, in three different languages.

In the days that followed she would try out her grandmother’s recipes, call friends over, and post the pictures on Facebook and Instagram, hoping he would notice them. She would put up sayings like: “Women give to men the very gold of their lives, which men invariably return in loose change.”

Twice a week she would go to a Bollywood dance class where she would befriend women who were older than her. Women surviving bad marriages or bad affairs or divorced and eager to get back into shape.

Five nights a week she would get onto her bicycle and join a group of twenty-something boys who would pedal a three-kilometer stretch around Carter Road, Turner Road, Linking Road, and Union Park. When they reached the slope at Union Park she would raise her body off the seat and push extra hard to get a few feet ahead of the boys.

She also began a novel that opened like this: A man’s love is finite, a woman’s infinite. Which is why a woman can take more risks than a man. She can go where men cannot. But after a week she decided to pare it down to a Facebook post. More chance of it being read that way. More chance of it being discussed.

And once in a while, she would stand before the mirror admiring her gym-toned body, her dimpled smile, and her bright sparkling eyes, and would think, What the fuck am I grieving for? I am not yet ready for matrimony. Not yet ready to lose myself.


Murzban F. Shroff is a Mumbai-based writer. He has published his fiction with over fifty journals in the U.S. and UK. Six of the stories have won a Pushcart Prize nomination; one has been the recipient of the John Gilgun Fiction Award. Shroff’s debut short story collection, BREATHLESS IN BOMBAY, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the best debut category from Europe and South Asia. It was rated by the Guardian as among the ten best Mumbai books. His novel, WAITING FOR JONATHAN KOSHY, was a finalist for the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. Shroff is a contributing editor to Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, a UK-based travel magazine. He can be contacted at