They exchange secrets; two strangers on the bus.
Scented candles ignite into life, filling the air with wisps of an ambiguous flower aroma as she holds the lit match to the wick. The label proclaims “Rose”, but it’s enigmatic enough to be mistaken for any flower. Red rose petals scatter across the white linened bed, and march neatly, crocodile-file into the bathroom. Malika rises from the corner of the bed, feels the pinch of her new $150 lace bra and knickers as they nip at her body, and shrugs on her thin looks-like-silk-but-isn’t robe. She strides, out of practice, in her black stiletto heels, dug up from a forgotten corner of her closet, part of her armour from a past life, well worn and permanently misshapen, to turn off the bath. He’s clearly not coming.
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.
The cacophony of clamouring cars, inching and nudging slowly forward assaults my ears. Poised pluming tendrils of dust and diesel fumes lurk in wait for any exposed airways. I pull the edge of my sari tighter across my nose and mouth, then flick it over my head to cover my ears. An arm snatches out, grabs my elbow, and yanks me sharply backwards away from the barrelling lorry, horn blaring, tattooed in garish yellow-red-blue paisley prints, sign in three foot letters announcing its ownership.
The old woman smacks her now toothless gums. It is her anniversary today. Forty years have elapsed since that fateful day when she left her family, left all she had known, for the man she loved. He had been kind to her, and loved her in his way. He had been patient with her, holding her as she burst into wailing, keening tears, her whole body quaking, as they made love.
Was it only ten years ago that he thoughtlessly died, leaving her childless and alone?
The rain falls unceasingly. Corpulent drops, ponderous with the weight of their watery load, tumble and roll from the heavens. They pound on the roof tiles dampening all other sounds, creating an impenetrable blanketing silence. A world devoid of look-here distractions.
I sit on the stone bench surrounding the central courtyard, hugging my knees close to my chest. Delinquent droplets ricochet off the pillars and walls, and pock my face. The beads band together at the peak of my cheeks, then streak their way down my face. Tears are hidden in their tracks.
Brazen wisps of tandoori chicken snake sinously from the oven to duel with the tangy sassiness of makhani sauce on the stove. They will marry soon, overcoming the quarrels and barriers that have separated them so long, combining their finest qualities. Dressed in their wedding garb of carmine, like all good Indian brides, they will unite to the trumpet call of bubbling ghee.