Priya, how will MummyDaddy react?
Radha, do you want me to go through with this arranged marriage and spend my life in misery? You’re my cousin-sister. I thought you’d understand.
We have maintained the lie till now, but we both know that by morning, I will be gone.
I imagine Taufiq slipping silently through the inky night, into our yard. He climbs the jasmine covered trellis that clutches to the wall outside my bedroom window. The flowers ooze their lifeblood as they’re crushed under each grasp and foothold, filling the night air with their hypnotic scent. I see his broad shoulders silhouetted in the moonlight, I hear his sonorous voice hissing my name with an urgency that knots my stomach.
Understand what, Priya? That you’re prepared to hurt everyone, throw away everything; tradition, family, everything, just for this fleeting fling?
It’s not fleeting. I love Taufiq.
She turns to face me now, the full force of her concern, her disbelief, in her eyes and pursed lips.
Priya, be sensible. He’s Muslim, we’re Hindu. It can never work. Even if your parents agree, can you imagine what your lives will be? And what about the children? How will you raise them? You’ll teach them to sing bhajans in the mosque? You’ll teach them to say namas five times a day facing the temple?
Radha, how can you ask such questions? We’re not even married and already you’re concocting children to worry about.
But we’re family and I can ask.
I run to my room leaving Radha behind, greeting the aunties and ensconcing herself in that coven.
The sky sheds its lighter day cloak for its thick, rich night coat, and the house quiets till all that’s heard is the repetitive wiskwisk of the ceiling fans. I sit up in my bed, ears prickling for the slightest sound of Taufiq’s arrival. Tomorrow the cavalcade of family will begin, their harlequin finery shimmering and glinting in the sunlight. But tonight is for silence, and secrecy, and lovers stealing away.
My heart thrills at the thought of our tryst, and I allow myself a glimpse of life with Taufiq. He holds me so close I can feel his heart beating in time with mine. He turns his intense, black-eyed gaze on me. If he releases his grip I will fall. I lean into him, allowing him to take my weight. Our yet-to-be children, beautiful, dark-skinned, sparkle-eyed, mop-haired run around us, squealing and chortling. He reaches his hand to my face, gently cradling my cheek, he whispers my name. His voice is thick with sadness.
Priya. Priya. It’s morning.
I open my eyes and Radha is silhouetted against the morning light streaming through my window, her hand gently cradles my cheek, a tear streaks its way down her face.