It was light outside. The streetlights blurred in the sun. Someone had forgotten to switch them off as usual. Chhotu’s school bus had departed a while ago, leaving a blanket of darkened soot. Tiny particles of auto-emitted dust crept in from a discoloured window that overlooked a cramped by-lane flanked by an open drain. Like yesterday and the day before, and all the days before that, the early morning stench was steadily on the rise.
There was no other sound.
Madhubala, the neighbour’s parrot, slept soundly in her cheap wrought-iron cage, its edges as worn out as her voice – supposed once to have been saccharine-coated. Asha Tai, the old, raspy-voiced flower-seller whose neck veins turned bluish-green as she pleaded in her peculiarly nasal tone, with dishevelled housewives in their crumpled early morning saris, to purchase her flowers for their morning prayers, had also fallen silent.
Maybe all her flowers had wilted.
Tiny flies buzzed in and out of the surrounding stillness.
Not a single cloud shaded the sky.
Her arms flung over her head, Meera sprawled out on her hard wooden bed, twitching on her bare back as a faded green, mirror-work cushion callously chafed her inner thighs. Biting her lower lip, she clamped her eyes tighter, filtering out the persistent light; knowing it was raining, somewhere, still.
A slight breeze rose and fell, warm in parts.
Meera moved restlessly as the first power cut of the day kicked in and the ceiling fan ground sluggishly to a halt. A faint line of moisture trickled down the centre of her fulsome breasts, pausing for just a few seconds above her navel, before plummeting downward. And then another…
With a deep sigh, she began to loosen the tight folds of her sari. She’d forgotten to unfasten the safety-pin tucked into its pleats last night. The skin around it felt sore, suffocated from the dull heat. The pleats fell sideways in a slow motion of sorts. The smooth skin of her midriff tingled slightly as a stab of damp breeze blew on the moist spot.
‘Ram Ram, Ram Ram,’ Madhubala, the parrot cackled all of a sudden, dispelling the quiet.
Meera turned languidly on her side, causing her anklets to make a soft clamour… shuddering at the sensation they always caused.
The fan had come to a complete halt.
Propping herself up on one elbow, Meera shifted her heavy, loosely plaited hair to the side, off the nape of her mildly perspiring neck and pulled the confining fabric of her tight blouse off her shoulders to expose her breasts. She always took off her bra at night. A sharp sunbeam shimmered over her arched frame at that moment – like an old longing, reignited. With her left index finger, Meera dreamily began to caress her nipples, one by one. Her head lolled backward. With every passing second, this morning was growing more intimate, feeling grown-up all of a sudden. Or maybe it was the way she always felt at the beginning of things. She fell back among the pillows once again. Oh, to let go… to not look back; making that one last bid, before everything was washed asunder… like a boat leaving the tranquil shores on a stormy night.
Meera kicked off the block-printed chaddar – a gift from Mrs Deshmukh downstairs – her breath suddenly roughish; a collision of callous cravings. Drawing up her knees, she clumsily positioned the
cushion under her hips. As her fingers gathered momentum on her breasts, she pressed the cushion tighter between her thighs, moaning softly as its rough edges abraded her insides. Turning her defences to liquid dust; her nipples ripe.
Like Asha Tai inspecting a garland before she quoted a price, Meera dreamily opened her eyes and studied her hand before she sucked gently on her right thumb, stroking herself below her navel with her left… at the same time. A part of her was already floating by then… lithe… like the paper boats Chhotu drifted in the drain below. From time to time, she dragged the cushion upwards; rubbing herself against it… faster, more frantically… her lips throbbing in the slow heat trapped between these four walls. Somewhere in Mumbai, the rains were coming down hard. Meera could smell the saltiness of them up close; her eyes rolled back slowly, like a blind man smiling serenely at a fading sun; reaching out from a place inside. Lifting up her petticoat she peeled away the layers, her sari cascading off the crumpled bedsheet like a riverine tributary – dark, dense, desolate.
Moving her right thumb in copious circles, Meera plunged in and out of her deeper hideaways, her hips thrusting, her cheeks flushed with the wanton abandon of an adolescent awakening… as if she’d just turned seventeen or something and was spinning round and round on a brightly lit merry-go-round; a merry-go-round in a village fair… one decorated with bright, yellow lights and garish, purple streamers… the one that made her feel as if she was flying.
Flying without wings… flying without the fear of falling… flying, just flying.
‘Meera Ben!’ a familiar voice cried out. ‘Open the door, or should we call for Dr Batliwala again?’ The voice grew more insistent.
Outside, it was still.
‘Meera, what are you doing? And why the hell is the bedroom door bolted? Do you know what time it is, huh? The breakfast paranthas have to be made… and what about Ba’s pooja thali? Goddammit woman,’ a harsher voice thundered, urgently banging on the door.
Meera hung her head over the edge of the bed. It was some minutes past nine, she sluggishly calculated, her eyelids opening and closing. Soon, her husband Mohan would depart for work – clutching a cloth folder and a small leather bag, his car key-chain dangling from his front trouser pocket.
Meera ignored his rants as she shivered lusciously, shoving in her entire right hand, drenched in dampness… rewarded by the rites of passage… at the ease with which it was transferred to her. She was soaring. It was the most alone she’d ever felt and yet she needed nothing else… not even her own fingers after a while… as she swayed at the furthermost edge of her dreams, in a place more intimate than the G spot – the playground of pleasure. Folding her legs like Goddess Lakshmi seated on a half open lotus, she clenched one corner of the chaddar with her teeth – to hold on when the descent finally began… when it would…
‘I’m kicking this door right now!’ someone screamed hoarsely as soon as Meera had pulled the sheet over her face, her limbs lost to lust. Turning weightless.
The banging was turning louder.
But Meera was past caring. Her body in raptures, her lips quivering as the cushion dropped from between her legs. Carelessly – sans a centre of gravity.
‘Mar gayi manhoos,’ the tirade outside resumed.
Meera finally opened her eyes. The hazy sunlight greeting her guilt-free gaze, almost alien to begin with. For the first few minutes, she remained motionless… naked, sprawled, spent… not moving, her petticoat ridden up to her waist.
‘Ram Ram, Ram Ram,’ Madhubala screeched again.
Meera smiled, slowly wiping her eyes…
Everything was a blur. The way her tongue tasted, the iciness of the mattress, the cracks in the ceiling above… the moth-eaten calendar that now confronted her… most of the dates discoloured. One of her glass bangles had shattered leaving a fine line of blood along her right wrist.
What if it was true? Meera asked herself, taking a deep breath, running her fingers along the thin sliver. What if she’d died a long time ago? What if she’d never been alive? What if she’d breathed her last in Ward 3, Bed 22? Or even before that? Back home in Sinor? What if everything was a lie? she mused as her attention drifted outside – to the throbbing tumultuousness of another pre-monsoon day.
What if Yosuf had been right? What if he’d been right all along? What if there was really another world… beyond this one? Beyond all this? This bed – this body – this rain – this road – this longing – this light – this speed – this stench – this desire – this debauchery – this morning – last night – the afternoon before – the months in between – the year to which it all belonged… before…