Dev was asleep on an old straw mattress in the basement, the only cool place in the house. The electricity had been off for three days now and the air was slick and thick like old men’s hair pomade. The spill of humanity and heat surrounding them was overwhelming but it was far better than the smell of sweat and aftershave inside.
She walked outside, bought a pack of beedis with a 5 rupee note and smoked one of the tiny brown cigarettes under a wooden sign that read Quality Sweet Shop. A family in fancy dress gobbled up a box of brightly wrapped ladoos next to her. She smoked another cigarette and gave one to a bare-chested boy with no shoes who stared at her legs. He followed her on the road until she shouted Jao! Jao! in a loud and shrill voice, surely not her own. Her Hindi was poor; her accent weak and stilted like the runt of a litter that knew it was doomed. The boy ran down the road, a wounded look on his face.
Dev would sleep all afternoon, rise at dusk and they’d sit on the roof and watch the moon until it was time to go to bed. He wanted to go home––it’s time, it’s time, he’d say, but she liked it here; liked the pace and song, the slow sweeps of life on the lawn and the lazy crawls through the city. It was brilliant and lovely and the peacocks’ mewls hypnotized her. Everything was unfamiliar. And now it was wedding season and she went to every one, tagged along with his mother. Dev refused to go, preferring the mattress to spectacle but she liked the mayhem, loved watching the brides in that nubile, dewy state, just on the eve of life’s sad adventure.
And the old women followed her around, dancing in their silk saris, fat bulging from undersides of their blouses, always asking: Is our Dev happy? One wedding was so hot, the bride passed out, slipped off the back of the hired elephant and fell to the lawn. In the confusion, a bearer’s head was crushed flat; the elephant’s foot squashing it as if it were a ripe mango. A few men swiftly scooped him up, took him away and the party continued.
Sometimes, she’d picture herself away from Dev, moving to the cool hills above Delhi, living on a Neem tree lined avenue, dining on mutton curry and cracking the bones open with her teeth to suck out the marrow. And then she’d call out to the old women and tell them: I am happy, Dev’s girl is happy. Isn’t that enough?