Pooja shut the door behind her and faced the standing full-length oval mirror in the bedroom. Her home, silent now that Ajay had sprinted off with his friends, became a charterhouse again, a place where belongings lay everywhere but nobody but herself seemed to reside anymore. Without the pandemonium of TV, or a soundtrack of music, you could hear the ghosts, their phantom sounds marking past moments of shared laughter.
She began to unwind her sari, keeping her eyes on her reflection. Folds of chiffon fell without protest on the carpeted floor, a pond of gold paisleys in an ocean of saffron. She continued to shed endless yards of it, thinking of Draupadi, whose honor Krishna had defended when her five husbands, the Pandava brothers, had gambled her away to their Machiavellian half-brothers. She unhooked her blouse, stepped out of her gagra and stood naked with only the gold bangles on her slender wrist, the voluptuous earrings dangling against the velvety mane of her black hair, the almost glowing bindi on her forehead.
She stepped closer to the mirror and looked at herself, drawing her uncertain hand over her skin. Her flesh broke out in little goose pimples. By all accounts, she was still a beautiful woman, able to turn heads wherever she went. She should have seen that her skin was still smooth and soft. The few wrinkles that traced through her tea-colored skin were more like beautiful rills racing across a seastrand, the curves in her body like sensual dunes in which to lie.
But she could see none of this.
Instead she saw Rahul’s rejection, how time had carried out its careless dalliance with her body. She saw the brackets etched permanently around her full mouth, no longer just an indention from the smiles she had reserved for Rahul. She saw – not the ampleness of her breasts or the tamarind in her nipples – but their weight and slump. She ran her hand over her belly, no longer the taught landscape of a young girl but that of a mother, soft and fleshy. Is that when it stopped? She wondered. Did he stop wanting me, looking at me the same way after I gave him his son? Or did it begin before that, after the nightmare back home?
She summoned more strength and let her fingers traverse further, into the thatch of hair where she wanted him again, recalling the last time he had come to her, angry, grueling, backbreaking. Yes, she would take him any way he would come to her, especially if he was suffering. He was her husband, her lord, and the years had done nothing to dissipate her desire for him. After all this time, she still burned for Rahul.