“How do you wash your hair?”
“Hmmm… just like you wash yours, Rashmi,” replied Nalina.
“Mine is thin and short. But yours! Everyone at the wedding said it touches your bum.”
“Well, it’s a little longer than that,” said Nalina, gathering her bags crammed with bridal essentials. Her long plait swung like a snake as she stood up and gestured once again at Ashok that Bangalore was approaching.
Tall, slim-waisted, long-haired, beautiful Nalina.
The train jerked forward, backward, and forward. Finally, stopped.
Rashmi waded her way through the crowd and waited until some men offloaded heavy milk cans and gunny bags stuffed with vegetables. One by one.
“Be careful Amma. Don’t bother about the bags. You just get off first,” Ashok relieved his mother of her bags and guided his father to the exit.
Rashmi jumped on to the platform kicking up plumes of dust. Ashok’s father put his right leg down slowly holding him in one arm while his mother grumbled about the low platform. “I have seen this since my birth. Why can’t they raise it by a foot?”
“Hold me Amma. Make it fast,” Ashok said.
As Nalina struggled with her bags, the train moved suddenly throwing her off-balance.
“Hurry!” Ashok screamed and started running towards Nalina.
Nalina held the handle tight with one hand and tried to put her right foot down. Her left sandal got stuck in her saree weaved in golden thread and colourful beads. The train picked up more speed pulling Nalina under its wheels and chuffed on its way.
“My legs! My legs!”
Somebody pulled the chain bringing the train to a screeching halt.
“My legs! My legs!”
A huge crowd gathered around her. The bride and her bridal dress were in a bloody mess with her legs flung a few feet off the rail track. Rashmi collapsed beside Ashok.
On a drizzly winter morning, Ashok lay wrapped up in his quilt.
The housemaid walked in with steaming-hot filter coffee – his early-morning indulgence. As she walked out leaving the door ajar, the aroma of incense sticks hit him. In the adjacent pooja room, his mother was chanting mantras.
Ashok dragged his groggy legs into the drawing-room with his mobile phone ringing incessantly flashing “Real Estate Agent” on the screen.
“No, I said a three-bedroom flat with a separate servant’s quarters.”
“Yes. Make sure that the lift works properly. No compromises. Okay? Great.”
“So? You haven’t changed your mind?”
Ashok turned off the phone staring at his mother blankly and continued sipping coffee.
“I am asking you.”
“What sort of life are you going to lead with her? You think she can become a mother? Run a family? Evil woman!”
Slim-waisted, long-haired, thigh-less, beautiful Nalina.
“What if it had happened to me?
The old man rolled up his newspaper and flung it at Ashok catching him unawares. Ashok stared at his father and bent down to pick up the broken pieces of his coffee cup.
“First you have to turn the key to your left and push the door,” Ashok guided the new help into the newly painted flat. He lifted Nalina from her wheelchair and put her down gently on the sofa as if she is a bale of freshly plucked jasmine.
Slim-waisted, long-haired, beautiful Nalina.