She Spoke in Tongues - 7

Glory Sasikala

Serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

painted with dark clouds, too much too soon 
give it time to grow… it’s still New Moon

Ramesh knocked on the door and waited. It was Yamini who opened the door. She moved back to let him in. Tharani came out of the bedroom and closed the door. She came over to Ramesh. "You have to go," she said.
"What happened?" he asked, looking from Yamini to Tharani, a little alarmed.
Yamini blushed and left the room. "Sitara has come of age," said Tharani, matter of factly.
"Oh! That's good news!" he smiled. "Coming of age" was not a new term to him. It just meant that the girl had got her first period. In quite a few communities in South India, it is considered a life event and celebrated as a fact that the girl was now eligible for marriage. A function was generally held and relatives and friends were invited over to bless the girl. Before all that began, the girl would first be quarantined for five days to a week, given special food and beauty care and allowed to rest.
Ramesh was familiar with all this. He was from a village and was used to village customs and he had seen young girls in his own family go through it. And somehow, perhaps because of the rest and the beauty treatment with turmeric and other natural ingredients, the girl invariably glowed and seemed to grow up overnight. Mostly, after this, the girl would be treated as a young lady and not as a child anymore.
"Okay, I'll leave," he said. "Let me know if you need anything."
Tharani would have loved to hold a big function, but they did not know anyone, and those who knew her and her family did not want to associate with them. So at the end of the seven days, she just called in Shanthi and she got the priest to come in too and perform the puja.
The gossip mills worked full time. By now, everyone in the neighbourhood knew what was going on. Association meetings had been held to discuss whether this family should be allowed to continue to live in the apartments. All rulings were stayed because there was no evidence, apart from the fact that Sushanth seemed to have no objection to Ramesh. The fact that Ramesh was the son of a Zamindar also weighed in. Surely the Zamindar would know how to control his son? They decided that it was now just a matter of time and left it at that.
"This is such rubbish," said Sitara, as her mother broke an egg and poured the contents into her mouth. This was followed by a ladle full of gingelly oil. "What are these things supposed to do? They taste so yucky!"
"Stop fussing," said Tharani, "These things will strengthen your hip and help you during childbirth."
"Then I won't take them for sure. I'm not going to get married or have children."
"That's what you'll say now."
"Who'll marry me? Daughter of a courtesan! Sister of a courtesan!"
Tharani did not answer, which somehow provoked Sitara to continue to taunt.
"No answer haan? Or maybe it's not marriage we're talking here. Maybe I'm just ready to be sold to the highest bidder? What would be my price? I won't settle for anything less than a house and a car and holidays.”
"It's possible you will have to settle for much less," said Tharani, busily laying out the food on the plate.
Shocked silence seemed to stretch to eternity. Then a small voice said, "Ma? You wouldn't do that, would you?"
Tharani looked up into eyes so like her own. Huge gold flecked tawny eyes full of fire... Sitara’s uncertain and terrified, and hers....merciless.
"Eat your food."
And Tharani turned to leave. "Ma!"
But her mother was gone.
Tharani closed the door. "She is being difficult?" asked Shanthi.
"Very difficult. She knows too much."
"That's not good!"
Tharani looked at Shanthi seriously, "Actually, I think it's for the best. It's time she grew up. It's time she faced facts."
Shanthi looked at her wide-eyed. "Knowing is fine. But you wouldn' know....would you?"
"Why not?"
Both of them turned to see Yamini standing in the hall. She had heard them talk. She looked furiously at her mother, “You will do no such thing! Leave Sitara alone! You can't do this!"
Tharani came into the hall, "Your father hasn’t sent money these past two months. I haven't heard from him. Shanthi Aunty says they're investing in something and the money is going into that. But he hasn't called."
Yamini's lips trembled, "So go back to your tailoring job. I can work too. Just leave Sitara alone. Please!"
Tharani turned and looked at the statue that Ramesh had gifted her, now kept in a corner of the showcase. The artist had played with the senses. The white sari stuck to the body, showing tantalizing bits of brown here and there. It seemed like one could almost see the woman's nipples, and one tended to move the statue all around in the hope of being able to do so, but, well, they weren’t visible.
She turned then to look straight into Yamini's eyes and said firmly, "Sitara is just like me. She will be alright."
And she turned and left for the kitchen.
It was well past nine when Sitara woke up. Her sisters had left for school, and they would be going to stay with Shanthi after school. She opened her eyes and looked out the window. A crow sat on a tree outside and cawed. She stared at it, yet unseeing, allowing the pain in her mind to grow to a proportion where tears rolled out her eyes and wet her pillow. She lay motionless, allowing them to flow. Time had become meaningless. Life had become meaningless. From this day on, anything and everything would be meaningless. Except death…
She reached over and pulled her mother’s sari that was lying on the chair nearby and examined it. She turned and lay flat on her back and stared at the ceiling fan. She was crying in earnest now. “This makes sense. Only this makes sense now. The ceiling fan and mother’s sari as a rope… By the end of the day for sure! Maybe now is the right time, before anything happens…”
Tharani walked into the room and over to her. She saw the tears. She sat down on the bed and bent her head in deep thought. Then she looked up, “Okay.”
Sitara looked at her. “What do you mean, “okay?”
“You need not do it. We’ll manage somehow.”
And suddenly the tigress pounced, “Ohhhhh!! So gracious! Tharani the Gracious!! She can concede defeat with grace! Now you can go and tell Shanthi Aunty, “I did not do it. I resisted. I needed money but I resisted.” And Shanthi Aunty will say, “I’m glad you did. She’s too young for this.” Isn’t that what she’ll say? That I’m too young for this? Not “thank God you decided not to. Let her go. Never do this to her again!” Just “too young for this.” Isn’t that what she’ll say?”
“I don’t want your stupid charity!” she continued, “I’m not that special that you should spare me. You didn’t spare yourself. You didn’t spare Yamini. So why should you spare me? But listen!” she clutched Tharani’s blouse fiercely and pulled her close, “If you take one step towards Sheila, I swear by every God I worship and by every spell that you have ever cast that I’ll kill you, and then I’ll kill myself.”
Tharani did not flinch. She just stared stolidly back at Sitara, her face a wooden mask, “I promise.”
Sitare let go of her blouse, “So stop trying to be noble when you don’t know what noble means. Help me get through this.”
Tharani nodded, then turned and left the room.
The day passed slowly and gradually. Soon, it was time. She stood by the door next to her mother, barefoot, a head taller than her, a graceful, slim, beautiful figure clad in a white chiffon long skirt that flowed to the floor with a matching pure white short blouse. Long danglers hung from her ears, her kohl-marked eyes were big and wide. She wore no other makeup, no other ornaments. She wore no scent.
Her mother took her by the arm, led her into the room, and closed the door firmly, locking it from outside. She heard the click and lowered her head.
“Amma!” she cried, the one last frantic terror-filled cry of a dying person, and then her voice trailed... It was a child that had entered the room filled with fear, but it was a woman’s eyes that lifted and surveyed the room, taking in the bed with its velvet covers scattered with red rose petals, the candles that burned here and there, throwing dancing shadows, her own reflection in the mirror across, showing a stranger in white, a beautiful sensuous girl she had never met before. There were no tears as she walked across and threw off the covers on the bed. Some more rose petals. “Why would someone want to love a dead body?” Why?” And then, the tears came flowing down, crying for what was lost forever. But she wiped her face hurriedly with the back of her hand, composed herself, and sat down on the floor, raising her knees so her skirt spread around her, and she hugged her knees and sat there waiting.
The door opened and he came in. He shut the door, and turned to look at her. Their eyes met, and he backed towards the wall, away from her. He looked across the room at her, never once moving his eyes away. He saw fear and anger in those tawny golden eyes. They burned with hatred and fierce anger. They dared him to come closer. His mind wavered and his eyes flickered with uncertainty. Did he really want this? And then his mind went back to his encounters with her mother and her sister, and he knew for sure then that it would alright. This was a courtesan: a natural in the art of lovemaking; yet to bloom...
And he was a courtesan too, a man who knew what a woman wanted, sometimes better than she herself did.
He smiled at her and noted the flicker of confusion in hers. He moved over to the cot and sat on the edge, her side, just above her.
He looked down at her and said gently, “Do you not want this?”
She looked up at him, “I have my whole life to live.”
He was listening to her intently, “Your life will be there.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“There can only be one reason.”
Her eyes grew wide in disbelief. “You desire me?”
“Just like you “desired” my mother and my sister?”
He did not flinch. “Is that wrong? Do you not desire me?”
She looked at him then, sitting there, young and handsome…and weak, and was filled with hatred so overwhelming that it consumed her.
 “Touch me,” he said.
He leaned over and touched her cheek, and trailed his hand over to her lips. She cringed away from his hand.
“Listen, Sitara, I will not do anything if you don’t want me to. We…we can just pretend something happened, and then go out there. Don’t think or feel like you don’t have a choice. You do.”
She looked at him, wide-eyed, “Really? I have choices? So why did you do this in the first place? Why are we here if all you wanted to do was give me choices? Why not just leave me alone?”
He shook his head, “I desire you. Have no doubts about that. But I can’t be with a woman against her will. I…I don’t want it that way.”
“Huh! So you have a conscience! You have principles! The woman must consent! I am a child. I’m 13. You shouldn’t even be here!”
He sighed, “Okay, if that’s how you feel.”
He got up to go.
He turned towards her. She blushed, “How much…how much….??”
“I gave your mother a gold necklace and a couple of gold bangles, a total worth of three lakhs.”
Her eyes widened, “And you will take it back now?”
He looked at her and his eyes softened, “No, I won’t.”
Sitara looked at him and suddenly remembered Yamini’s words, “It could have been worse…”
“Don’t go out yet. Sit and talk to me,”
He came back and sat on the bed, same as before, just above her.
He was speaking, “Yes? You want something from me…”
“I…Will you be gentle?”
“I don’t know otherwise, Sitara,” his hand was on her face and he caressed her cheek with his thumb, “You want something from me. And I want something from you.”
She would not lift her eyes.
“Come here,” he said, gently, “And holding her hands, he helped her to her feet and sat her next to him.
“You look beautiful tonight.”
“You would know, wouldn’t you?”
He smiled.
“I fell down from my bike while coming here. There’s a bruise.”
“Oh!” she said, “Where?”
He lifted his shirt a little and showed her the angry red bruise on his waist.
“Have you applied anything?”
“I will. It’s not hurting so much now. It did though.”
She reached out a hand to tentatively touch the bruise. “Ouch!” he cried.
She smiled into his eyes and said with a return of some of her arrogance, “I am glad you hurt. You deserve it.”
He looked deeply into her eyes and he wasn’t smiling back. His eyes were filled with desire. He raised his eyes to take in her hair, taking in their glossiness, then moved slowly to her ears, her cheek, her nose, her mouth…lingering there before looking deeply into her eyes again. He gently put his hand on her arm. She was a young and healthy girl and her body had been readied to expect love since that morning, but her mind had held back. But now, she looked mesmerized. She could not take her eyes off his. Pinpoint sensations of pleasure awakened in her wherever he touched and she felt a strange pain in the pit of her stomach that was far from unpleasant. Ramesh did nothing to step up the pace. He continued to look into her eyes, continued to show her how much he desired her, knowing full well that with the slightest of wrong gestures, she would take flight like a frightened young colt. And all of a sudden the fear in her was gone. There was nothing to fear here. This was an old friend who knew her well. He was gentle, always had been.
She did not stop his hand as he pushed back her hair, even while tracing a line down to her lips and lingering there. He bent his head and his lips barely touched hers, and she felt his hot breath in her mouth. The male scent of his body engulfed her and she felt drunk with desire. He moved his head back to look intensely into her beautiful golden eyes. They looked back at him then, mesmerized, burning now with desire. His own were searching, seeking to understand her needs, allowing her take the lead… She reached out and wound her arms around his neck and pulled him close, till their lips locked and they fell back on the bed together.
The candles burned merrily on…

[To be continued ...]

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