Scrubbing the kitchen top she looked at her hands. Through the soap suds clinging to her skin, she noticed the brittle serrated nails that were stained yellow from the turmeric. The inside of her palm felt rough as wet sandpaper. The dry skin around the nails was peeling off like corn husk. Her finger tips were rough from the cuts left by the use of the kitchen knife in inept hands. She did use the baby lotion sometime but on most days between cooking, cleaning and caring for the baby she either forgot or was too tired to make the effort.
In the quietness of the night a voice from another world came alive. Your hands are so soft, Mo. I would never let you use them for anything except to caress me. IK said. And they had laughed before disappearing in each others arms. And knowing him he would never have let her. But her parents were vociferous in their resentment. It was a matter of family honour. She couldn’t marry someone of another faith. She gave up the fight when a family crisis took up everyone’s attention. She went back to offer IK her friendship. He had shrunk back as if she had struck him. No never. He had said. I can never be your friend you fool. I love you too much for that. And he had gone without looking back leaving her with dead guilt and a dull ache somewhere between her ribs.
Soon after, she moved with her family to a new city. She met AD. A bright eyed, pony-tailed bohemian type who listened to jazz and painted abstract expressionist illusions. AD, who on the second day had told her, I like your ass man, while he was teaching her how to develop a photographic plate in the dark photolab of the office. She had joined this advertising agency right after university. He was her only friend in the new office and the new city. A fresh freedom beckoned and they hung around together after work on most days. Galleries, exhibition, music festivals, an odd movie. Their stipends didn’t allow any extravagance. Once sitting at Casa Piccola, he had held her wrist lightly, keeping her from taking her lit cigarette to her lips. You have beautiful hands. Just looking at you holding the cigarette turns me on, he said winking naughtily. And she had sat still, holding the burning cigarette in her fingers till the ash scattered all over the table from a sudden gust. It would have been easy to lose herself with him. But her grandmother’s words echoed. All a girl has is her honour. Never lose it over foolish hedonism. So she held back. Partly because of her still healing heart and partly seduced by the idea of this illusive ‘honour’. AD and she had remained friends till she got married to Sanjeev. Infact, AD was there as guest at her wedding, all dressed up in formals and slicked back hair. I am happy for you he had said with a boyishly charming smile. She knew he meant it.
Sanjeev and she had an arranged marriage, initiated by a common family friend. Her father wasn’t particularly happy. Think again, he had told her before they printed the wedding card. But the hurt and guilt of losing her love had made her determined to marry the first man who agreed to their proposal. And Sanjeev was ok. She knew he didn’t love her, forced as he was to give up his relationship with a woman his family disapproved. But she believed she could spend their life together in a new city with compromise and companionship. She was wrong again. Just like the softly rupturing soap bubbles on her now soaked skin, her happiness too has disintegrated leaving a coarse dryness in her heart.