Turning her head ever-so-slightly towards the camera, she curves her lips in a tiny smile. She lies listless, gift-wrapped in a blanket, covered up to her chest. Her hands display the miniature rose petals she has for fingernails.
You’ve seen her pictures before; but this isn’t how you expected her to look. You expected to see a baby, of course. But you didn’t expect her cheeks to be so wobbly, almost like jelly. Your heart pounds as you touch her – her skin is so tender she looks fragile; almost boneless.
You only desire that night is to hold her in your arms and cradle her to sleep. If you had known what you know now, you might have.
You see her again two months later. And this time, you get to hold her in your arms. She lies still. She is the exact size of a loaf of bread, and would totally fit in a small-sized oven. She seems pretty weightless. Her eyes are wide open, and it almost makes your heart stop when she raises her arm to touch your earring. I’m getting one of these, you announce almost immediately. And the wine has nothing to do with that.
As you go home that night, your heart aches to just hold your hand against her skin.
You meet her again. This time, she is larger and cuter. She is perhaps the calmest baby ever. There is none of the obviously irritating signs – the crying, the grunting or the smelly diapers, at least not until later. She speaks to you in a language only she can understand. Perhaps she is trying to tell you something you don’t remember. She smiles all afternoon; so do you. You kiss her only once, before you leave.
Months later, you wonder if it is weird for you to feel the loss of a love you never really had.
He drops his phone the moment he sees the number flash on his phone. Who is it, the wife inquires. Office, he says. Bloody morons can’t even breathe properly unless I tell them how.
Kissing the wife goodbye, he picks up his car keys and leaves. Minutes later, he parks his car outside Shashi Juice Corner and picks up his girlfriend and drives her to work. On some days, they skip work and stay home instead. She is apparently a tigress in bed and he can’t get enough of her.
Of course this is just speculation. Nobody has ever seen you in his car.
The conversation moves to politics. You don’t have much to add. You focus, instead, at the couple in the corner of the room. You focus on how animated she is in conversation. Her beautiful skin, her tanned arms, boobs the size of peaches. She has the body of a greek goddess, and she knows it. No wonder his hand is always resting on her waist. He says something witty. She laughs loudly. He blushes. She leans on him and kisses him on his cheek. He blushes some more.
You’re wondering if she’s any good in bed.
Hey you lovebirds, someone in their group calls out to you and your husband. Come and join us here. Let me introduce you to some of my other friends.
A short while later, you’re sitting across the table from him, flashing an evil smile.
A drop of sweat falls from his balding head as he sees your skirt ride up just a little as you cross your legs. Slowly. Deliberately.
She looks hurt. Your job here is done.
Let’s go, you say at two a.m. on a Friday night, almost pukish at the thought of spending another weekend in Delhi. Let’s get out. We never do anything impulsive, you say. Chalo, he says. Abhi? You can’t believe you’re actually doing this.
Five minutes later, you’re packing an overnight bag and dumping it in the boot of your one-year-old-highway-virgin car, double-checking to make sure you have all your papers in place, and driving off.
Where to, he asks. You name the first place that pops into your head at that moment. Kasauli it is.
Thirty minutes later, you stop over at a tiny little eatery on the road and announce do chai, ek aloo parantha. You fall asleep as you wait. When you wake up, he’s watching you intently.
Within seconds you are both smiling and holding hands, Hindi-picture style.
You finish your paranthas and chai and head home.
Me, or her? You scream at him, vaguely aware of all the eyes on you. You have to choose, you know! Me, or her?
He looks at you bewildered. For a while he is super quiet. You are sure he will pick you. He’s your brother and wouldn’t care if you suck at cricket.
But he doesn’t.
She does her stupid tilly-lilly dance. You stick your tongue out at her in response. They high-five. You look at him like a hurt kitten, but he doesn’t even pretend to look apologetic.
Confidence slowly leaks out as the crack in your heart widens.