Half-kissed Girlfriend

It seems the oranges are hollow, sun-weathered cliffs. The morning nothing but washed laundry, the sounds of birds, cacophony. I loosen the segments of the last of the oranges, arrange in a green porcelain plate, take it to him. Shavar loves color. Orange against green is something he’ll notice, have an appetite for. Somedays, he’s fussier than a kid.

When I hold the plate to him, he picks one, licks it.

‘Orange, Shavar!’

‘Is it?’

I show him the peels.

‘Oh, I thought,’ he pauses, ‘lime.’

On the best of days, I lose my patience. Feel guilty for hours. For patience is my armor against our fortunes, my sail against the wind. Today is different. As sweat beads on my forehead, it is holding. A fascination for seeing oneself consumed, and marvel at the towers of smoke rising.

I drape the shawl over his shoulder. North wind blades through the pines, annexes the verandah. The hanging pots sway, petals fly off the flowers, hold themselves in beauty for the moments it takes to land.

‘I’ll get myself some coffee.’

Shavar nods. Takes another orange segment like precious, gently brings it to his lips, keeping eyes fixated on a lonely Himalayan bulbul pirouetting on the dew-bejeweled lawn outside.

Inside, I unload the rush of tears in the sink, leave the tap running to drown out my sobs.

Friday. Seventeen. April. A regular sortie from Base. MIG-21. Several of the fighter planes already grounded due to faulty parts. Not this one. Shavar took the controls at half-past eight in the morning. Clear weather, perfect conditions.

The call came mid-afternoon, while I was scraping the last of the mix into tiny molds, in my baking class. I remember the oven hot, but not hotter than my eyes.

It’d only been six months we were engaged. We had been waiting, understood that race is a thing no matter what said. And wedding, a finality. We did not want to hurt either family. Not yet.

Monday. Seventeen. March. Nearly two years on. I fiddle with the cup, not sure if I should tell him.


I lunge and stand at the door from where I can see him.


His voice is a hiss, crawling out of the woods.


I know by his look. Push the wheelchair to the bathroom. It is squeaking rather terribly today; hope Sam can get it replaced when he comes on his weekly visit.

I retreat to the hallway; lean on the bag I’ve packed with difficulty. Get the papers from the other room, dial the cab. Flight is in two hours.

On second thoughts, I call Nikhil. We get married in a week. He is the man my parents have chosen for me — You can’t spend all your life looking after an invalid, can you? My mother wasn’t sorry when she said that.

‘It’s me, Nikhil!’

He mumbles something, evidently busy.

‘You’ll be there, won’t you?’

There’s some kind of long story, told hurriedly, culminating in, ‘You can surely manage.’

Before I can say anything, drone hits me from the other end.

‘Amaira! Amaira!’

I get to Shavar, wheel him out again to the verandah.

His eyes keep studying my face, convinced something is miserably awry. Trying to revive some of his lost memories from the spinal injury in the crash, I hold both his hands in mine. They are cold. I rub them vigorously, rub in heat and passion, instill desire.

He kisses the top of my palms, lingering his look on the ring that wasn’t there until a month ago. I know what he wants to know.

I take it off, kiss him on cheeks that are frigid, though my lips sear, my heart burns.

I pick the phone lying on the table, type a quick message, cancel the cab.

Following Shavar’s eyes, I discover the bulbul on the lawn has flown to the nearest pine branch, to join its mate. Their song is a beautiful four-piece whistle, like accelerated jubilation for finding love.


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