I remember meeting my wife for the first time, we were 25 and I was in love the minute I laid eyes on her. She resembled a female protagonist right out of a Russian novel – demure, smart and alluring. I knew that instant that she was the one, even got mentally married to her. Now, this was a time and place when you cannot give your heart to someone unless your father agreed to it. You cannot see the face of a woman until you had coloured her partition vermillion. These restrictions, generally futile, never applied to my heart. And so I let Nida have it that year since mid-July.
We were neighbours and the only time I could properly get a glimpse of her was when she would walk out of her house to get water. The jadi found a perfect spot on the curve of her hips like they were made for each other. Most days my sun salutations would never be complete without her arrival – she lit up my entire street as she walked by, her tantalising eyes gleamed with love from underneath her hijab, almost like an invitation, calling out to me to whisk her away from there.
“You think you are the first woman this has happened to?” my mother’s voice interrupted my reverie.
“Now, get up and go wash your face,” she said. “The time has finally come,” she whispered to herself.
Nida was wearing a beautiful white sari, her pallu dripping with soul-shattering grief, leaving a trace behind her as she walked into our room. It almost felt like she left it loose so that she didn’t forget her way back to me. Even in sadness, her face shone like the sun, bright, as it always has since I met her 5 years ago. She walked up to the vanity and stared at herself in the mirror.
I could see my Nida, suddenly in a different light. With a blank expression on her face, she began tracing her fingers from her head towards her bodice. She touched her hair that always smelt of jasmines, tuberoses and pinkish Neriums, thorny red roses from our garden pinned to the side of her braid, bright purple Decembers adorning her shiny, dark hair.
I wished I could touch its wet ends, run my fingers through them and tell her that I never left.
Her fingers found their way to her face, down her cheeks which were once rosy with laughter and happiness, now pale with her tears forming a snow path that led to her lips. I could almost feel myself running my thumb across them, telling her I still love her.
Finally, they reached her sweet bosom, shiny with tears, sweat and water. Her heart pounding halfway against her soggy pallu. And then stopped at her stomach. As if on cue, her eyes started glimmering with tears again – tears of fear, loss and indignation.
I almost brought the curtain down when my mother brushed past me into our bedroom and placed a red sari, glass bangles and a box full of sindoor on the bed.
Nida turned around, I left.
“Wear this, beta. Wear all of this. Do not forget to colour your partition too,” recited my mother, leaving her alone again.
It was her wedding sari.
As if a new force was shot into her soul, Nida ran towards the bed, took the sari and embraced it towards her body, her face buried into it. She cried a little more soaking her sari in the sadness, as it began losing its sheen and significance. After a minute, she got up and threw it aside, like it was lifeless and meaningless, untying her wet white sari.
She picked up the bangles loudly clanking against one another – they always reminded me of our wedding day, when children and elders were equally unhappy with our union. They were glass, deep blood red and they made my Nida look more enticing than ever. The brass sindoor holder was sitting next to the sari, ajar as if it was grieving too, screaming out emotions of its uselessness after today. She dipped her index finger and thumb, pinched a little bit of vermilion, slathered it across her partition, one last time and called out my name.
I couldn’t watch my Nida anymore. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her either. I stood there motionless, watching her drape the sari one last time and looked at the mirror. Her bridal ensemble looked as stunning as it did five years ago. She looked into the mirror, straight at me as I was standing beside our bedroom door. She turned around as if she caught me looking. A wash of puzzled hope ran across her face for a minute but she brushed the feeling off and walked out of our bedroom.
Her sisters hurried towards her as she pulled her red, nuptial pallu across her head and covered her face. There was a sudden gloominess to the room. It felt like the sun decided to dim his light for the afternoon, unable to bear witness of the happening. They held her by her shoulders and arms and walked her towards the chair kept in the middle of our house. I was walking right behind her.
The three of them wept quietly, her in her bridal red, the sisters covered in religiousness. Nida was made to sit on a chair with its arms covered in beautiful, white jasmine - pure, innocent of the atrocity that is to come.
She wiped her tears and lifted her head. Her eyes fell on a man dressed in all white, his beard a shade whiter than all else. He covered himself with a shawl and threw it upon his shoulder letting out a sigh of relief.
The tails of the shawl barely sat on his shoulder when Nida banged her left hand against the arm of the chair and took a broken piece of the bangle, ran towards him and slashed his face.
“You will never be forgiven, you vile man!” she screamed repeatedly and broke down into a loud wail on the floor.
Warm water was poured onto a bawling Nida, as she screamed my name into the air, washing away the final traces of vermillion on her head, her sari falling off of her body to the ground, limp like her face now.
As the last piece of bangle was shattered to pieces stripping her of her bridal appearance, she reached out, put her hand in mine and held onto it tight.
That night I finally lay in bed forever and cried myself to sleep - bruised, cut open, burnt to heaven.