This story first appeared in Aqua Erotica, 2000, packaged by Melcher Media, published by Three Rivers Press; it was reprinted in Erotic Travel Tales 2, 2003.
I thought that for once, I would be able to sleep. I'd been allowed a little of my father's whiskey, to celebrate Suneel's wedding; I had danced with the other unmarried girls. My sisters' friends giggled and preened as they danced, flashing their dark eyes and slim brown bellies at the young men who lounged by the door, drinking. I just danced; I had no interest in catching a man. Not that any would have spared a glance for me, too-tall, dark Medha with coarse hair and flat chest. I danced for myself, not for them. I danced until my feet were aching, until my arms and legs were lead weights. I danced until Suneel and his lovely Sushila were escorted to his bedroom, until the last piece of rich wedding cake was eaten, and the last guest had gone. Only then did I bathe and change, only then did I lie down on my bamboo mat, a few feet from my peacefully sleeping sisters. And still I could not sleep.
It might have been the heat. Our house is near the ocean, and usually cool breezes fill the small rooms, but that night it was so hot that it was hard to breathe. I kept thinking it would get cooler, but instead it got hotter and hotter. Sweat dripped in uncomfortable trickles from my neck to my throat, from my breasts to the hollow between them, pooling in my navel. My mouth was dry as dead leaves, and I finally rose to get some water.
The house was silent. I left my sisters sleeping, passed my parents' room, and my brother's. I passed the main room, where dying flowers and bits of colored foil testified to the day's happy event, and finally entered my mother's huge kitchen. We weren't rich, but we did have one of the largest houses in the village. We needed it; I was the youngest of eight, and cooking enough food for all us took many hands and pots in the kitchen. The moonlight streamed in the window, illuminating the rickety table where my mother chopped, the baskets of onions and garlic and ginger and chilies, the pitcher of water that was always kept filled. It was one of my mother's rules -- if you drank from the pitcher, you refilled it from the well. With five daughters and three sons, she needed many rules to keep peace in the house. Not that we always obeyed them.
I stepped over to the pitcher, took a tin cup from the shelf and poured myself a cupful. Then I saw her. Sushila huddled in the far corner of the kitchen, her back pressed flat against the baked mud walls, her red wedding sari pulled tight around her, so tight that the heavy silk seemed to cut into her fair skin. Folds of fabric were wrapped around her fists, and those in turn were pressed tight against her open mouth. She looked as if she were trying not to scream, but she didn't move, or make a single sound.
I stepped towards her. "Sushila?" I knelt at her feet. Her knees were pulled up tight against her chest, and I rested a hand on one. "Are you all right?" It was a silly question, and after a moment I understood that I didn't deserve an answer. The cup was still in my other hand; at last I stretched it out to her. "Would you like a cup of water?"
She nodded, and slowly lowered her fists. I raised the cup to her lips, and tilted it so that she could drink. Sushila took a deep gulp, draining half the cup. Her whole body shivered then, though the water couldn't have been cooler than lukewarm, after sitting all night. She shivered again, and again, her arms now hanging loose at her sides, her eyes wide.
I didn't want to ask my next question, but I had to. "Did Suneel...did he hurt you?" The words almost choked in my throat. My second sister had married a brute who beat her; she came crying home every week to show us the bruises, and then turned right around and went back to him. I knew that there were men like that in the world; it was part of the reason I never wanted to marry. But Suneel -- he had always been the gentlest of us all. He had converted to Buddhism a year ago, had turned vegetarian and mourned every time he accidentally stepped on an insect. He never teased me like the others had; he'd protected me from the worst of my oldest sister's rages. My favorite brother -- I didn't want to believe that he could have hurt Sushila, but there she was, shaking before me...
Sushila shook her head. No. After a moment, the word came up and out of her throat -- "No." I was almost as glad to hear the sound of the word as the sense of them; there was a crippled child who lived in the alley nearby who could not speak at all. I raised the cup again, and she drained it in another gulp. I put it down, not sure what to do next.
She was still shaking. I leaned forward, pulled her into my arms. When she was completely enclosed in my arms, the white of my sari covering the red of hers, she turned her head, so that her mouth was against my ear. Her breath was hot against my neck as she whispered, "I'm bleeding..." Before I could speak, she reached up and took my right arm, her fingers sliding down to my hand, pulling it down between us, under the sari to the space between her thighs. Her legs were wet, and when I brought my hand up, the tips of my fingers were stained red. When Sushila saw the blood, she started to cry.
I wrapped my arms around her and held her tightly, letting her cry against me. My second sister had shared every detail of her wedding night with us; she seemed to enjoy our shock and fascination. I knew that Sushila was the oldest daughter in her family, that her mother had died years ago of a fever. But didn't she have any aunts? I stroked her hair, so soft and fine, and told her softly, "It's all right...shhh...." Her shaking eased, slowly, though the tears still fell hot against my neck, sliding down my chest and mixing with my sweat, an indistinguishable mix of salty waters. I held her, and rubbed her smooth back, and whispered the words, over and over, until she understood.
I asked her at breakfast the next day if she had slept well. ╩Everyone laughed, and Suneel's face reddened. He had inherited my mother's pale skin, and every emotion showed through. Sushila smiled demurely, and assured me that she had. I was glad for her, but I hadn't slept at all.
I had drunk cup after cup of water after she'd left, then refilled the pitcher from the well. A breeze had finally picked up, and the ocean's salt air filled the rooms, caressing my body stretched out on its mat -- but still, I couldn't sleep. I kept remembering how she had felt, her small body huddled in my arms, remembering the sweet trembling, the softness of her cheek against mine. I had held my sisters and countless cousins, of course, but this had been different. And at breakfast and lunch and dinner, throughout the day, I watched Sushila. She was slender and fair, a perfect foil to tall Suneel, and she moved as if she were dancing. She was clever too, telling small jokes that made everyone laugh. If I could only look like her, talk like her...well. Might as well wish for Krishna to come down and carry me off.
That night, I dozed for a few hours, but in the deepest hours I woke, sweaty and damp. I wanted some water. I got up and walked down the hall.
She was standing near the kitchen window, drenched in moonlight.
"I thought you might be awake," she said, turning as I came in.
My tongue stumbled, but I managed to say, "I just woke up."
"Thank you for last night." She was blushing, but her voice was firm and clear. There was no sign of the trembling girl I'd held in my arms; Sushila held herself straight and poised. "You must think I'm very silly."
"You're welcome. I don't think you're silly." The moonlight shaded the planes of her face, the delicate curves; it was almost like looking at a statue. I could have stood there, watching her, for hours. "Shouldn't you be in bed...with your husband?" My brother.
"I was thirsty. I often get thirsty at night." She was wearing white; a thin gauze sari that barely covered her limbs. Sushila's small arms and legs made her look almost like a child, but I knew she was sixteen, almost as old as me. "I came for some water, but I couldn't find a cup."
The cups were in plain sight; perhaps the shelf was a little high for her. I reached up, pulling down the same one I'd used the night before. It had a small notch in one side, and you had to drink carefully or you might scratch yourself. It was different from all the others, and my favorite. I lifted the pitcher, and found that it was almost empty. Someone hadn't refilled it. I poured what water was left into the cup, and held it out to her. As she stepped forward to take it from me, she stumbled, and her outstretched hand knocked against mine, spilling the water over both our hands, splashing onto the dirt floor.
"Sorry!" She seemed frightened for a moment, though it was only water.
"It's all right. But that was all the water." I could draw some more from the well, of course.
Sushila sighed. I could see her breasts move under the thin fabric of her blouse. "I'm really very thirsty." She lifted her dripping hand to her mouth then and started to lick the water from it. Her tongue was small, too, and licked very delicately, with determination. She licked away every drop, slowly, as I watched.
"Still thirsty?" I asked. Sushila hesitated, and then nodded. I could have drawn more water, but instead I took a small step forward, bringing up my wet hand, up to her slowly opening mouth. She reached out a hand and gripped my wrist, surprisingly tight. She took the cup out of my hand and set it on the table. And then she brought my hand to her mouth and started to lick.
I started shivering then.
When she finished, having carefully licked first the back of my hand, then the palm, and then taken each finger into her mouth, she let go of my wrist. My arm dropped limply to my side. Sushila's eyes were wide and still, her head cocked to its side like a little startled bird. She bit her lip, and then said, "Thank you. That's much better."
I didn't know what to say. The wrong thing, and I knew this would be destroyed, might as well not have happened. I wanted to take her damp fingers in mine, and lick them, but when I opened my mouth, these were the words that came out: "Suneel might miss you."
Sushila took a quick breath, then nodded. "Now that I've finished my cup of water, I'd better go back to bed." Sushila turned away and stepped quickly and quietly down the hall. I heard her pushing aside the curtain that covered their doorway, and then it fell back into place behind her. I picked up the pitcher and went out to the well.
The third night, I didn't even try to sleep. I had napped a little during the day, and my mother had called me a lazybones. It didn't matter. They were only staying a few more days, just three more days and then they were getting on a train, leaving the north, going down to the capitol where Suneel had secured a government job. The tickets were bought; plans had been made. This night, and then three more -- that was all.
After everyone else had gone to bed, I went to the kitchen and waited. I watched the moonlight travel across the room. I counted the cracks in the ceiling, and the lizards that lived in the cracks. I listened to the wind moving through the coconut palms, and when I couldn't sit still any longer I went outside and picked shoeflowers from the garden. Their soft crimson would look lovely in her hair. I arranged them in circles on the table, and in the center of the circle, I placed the filled tin cup. I was bent over them, straightening a crooked flower, when I heard her step behind me. I stood up straight, but didn't turn around. Her arms slid around my waist, and Sushila rested her head against my back. She started to whisper: "It's dry in that room. It's so dry. My mouth and skin are dry. The air is like breathing chalk. The heat is outside and inside and burning. It hurts to breathe."
Did she know what she was doing to me? She must have known. I said nothing, just listening, just feeling her slim arms around my too-solid waist, the unbearable warmth of her against my sweating back. My blouse covered so little, and her cheek lay against my naked skin, her belly was hot against my lower back.
"Medha," she whispered, "I'm thirsty."
I took the cup of water from the table, and turned to face her, still enclosed in the circle of her arms, so that now her belly pressed against mine. I raised the cup to her lips, but Sushila shook her head, keeping her lips tightly closed until I lowered the cup, confused.
She smiled. "Aren't you thirsty?" she asked.
Oh. Of course I was. Desperately thirsty. My hands, curved around the cup, had turned to ice, but my mouth was burning. I raised the cup to my lips.
I filled my mouth with water, soaking the dry roof of my mouth, my parched tongue. Then she raised up on her toes and opened her mouth; I bent down, and placing my lips on hers, I gave her water to drink. Sushila took it from me, sucking the water deep down her throat. She swallowed, and I felt the motion in my own lips. Then she pulled back, and for a moment my chest tightened with fear...but she only said, "More."
I fed her the water from my lips, making each mouthful smaller and smaller, each transfer taking longer and longer. Finally, the cup was empty, and not just empty, but dry. She released me then, and stepped back. She said the words, formally, the ones I knew she was about to say.
"Thank you for the cup of water. I should return to my husband."
I nodded, and Sushila disappeared down the hall. Of course she had to return. This was impossible, so impossible that it wasn't even explicitly forbidden -- but if I didn't think about it too hard, maybe it would be all right.
Three more nights.
On the fourth night, as I poured her cup, I pointed out that the well was full of water. If we left the kitchen, if we went behind the house, to where the well stood, shaded by a large banyan tree -- there were many shadows near the well, and there was much water within it.
"I shouldn't be away that long," she said. "Just long enough for a cup of water."
I wanted to protest, but didn't. If I did, she might decide she wasn't that thirsty after all; she might simply go back to Suneel. It would be so much safer that way.
I have always loved my sweet brother.
The fourth night, she took the cup away from me. Sushila dipped her small finger into it, and then traced a line along my arm. She bent down and licked up the water. Then it was a line from my throat to the top hook of my blouse, and her tongue dipped briefly beneath the line of fabric to chase a drop of water. Then she knelt to draw a circle on my belly, a spiral ending in my navel, where she lingered, sucking gently, then not so gently.
I tried to take the cup, to at least dip a finger in myself, but she pulled it back. Her eyes were laughing, though her voice was clear and firm.
"I'm sorry, but I'm really very thirsty tonight. I need to drink it all."
Sushila pulled me down to my knees and turned me, to drip water along my back. She seemed especially fond of the back of my neck, and I brought my hand to my mouth to stifle the moans that I could not keep down. Thank the gods that my father snores so loudly. You can hear him from the kitchen, his snores regular as the ticking of his prized gold watch. If he found us like this...
Half a cup gone when she turned me back around, and she paused a moment, staring at me. Her eyes were large and wide and dark, her lips so full they seemed bruised, bitten. I leaned forward, my own mouth slightly open, hoping that she might choose to put her wet finger inside it, and then follow it with her mouth, but instead she reached up and pulled down my sari, so that the sheer fabric fell to my waist, leaving my upper body dressed only in my blouse. The blouse fabric was thicker than the sari, but I felt naked. She smiled then, and scooping up fully half the remaining water in her palm, she drenched my left breast.
She put her mouth to the fabric, sucking the moisture from it, the water mixed with my own sweat. I raised my hand to my mouth again, teeth closing down on flesh. Sushila started with the underside of my small breast, and then circled up and around. Spirals again, circling closer and closer until finally her mouth closed on the center and I bit down hard on the web of skin between thumb and forefinger, breaking the skin, drawing bitter blood. She sucked harder and harder, pausing at times to lick or bite, sucking as if she meant to draw milk out of my breasts, enough milk to finally quench her thirst. Eventually, she gave up the attempt. She released my sore breast, lifted her mouth away, and smiled when she saw my bleeding hand. Her eyes danced, daring me to let her continue. I could stop this at any time. I could smother the fire and walk away.
What would she think of me if I backed away? I could guess, and could not bear the thought of it. If I backed away, she would only return to her husband. He would have her for the rest of his life. Her body would lie under his, and he would bend to taste her breast.
I nodded acquiesence. She poured the rest of the cup's water onto my right breast and lowered her head again.
Fifth night, and one more to go. When Sushila came into the kitchen, I opened my mouth to speak, but she laid a soft finger against my lips.
"You seem very thirsty," she said. "You should drink the water." She filled my tin cup, filled it to the brim, and then handed it carefully to me.
"I am thirsty," I answered. "I'm burning up." I waited, but she just smiled. The next move was entirely mine. I hadn't slept -- I'd been thinking all day and all night of how to make Sushila burn. I needed to match her ingenuity, her ideas, to push the game forward. I needed her to understand that this was more than just a game. We couldn't stop here, or even slow down.
I put my hand on her shoulder and pushed down gently; she obediently sank to sit cross-legged on the floor. She seemed so patient; Sushila could wait forever, unmoved. I needed to move her. The words pulsed through me -- one more night one more night. I didn't have time to be patient. I needed her burning, the way I was, a burn that spread from her center to her heart and tongue and brain; a fever that kept her from thinking, from playing, from leaving. I pushed down again; her eyes widened, but Sushila obediently lay down, stretching her legs out straight, with arms at her sides, her sari stark and white in the moonlight, against the dark dirt floor.
I touched her eyelids, and she closed them. I stood and picked up my mother's chopping knife, cold and heavy in my hand. I had always been clumsy; I had dropped it many times, and had cut myself as I chopped. But tonight I would be careful.
I pulled over a basket and, lifting out a handful of chilies, began to chop, as quietly as I could. The wind whistled through the palm trees, and my father snored, but still... I chopped the chilies finely, minced them the way my mother could never get me to do when it was only for cooking. I minced them until they were oil and ground bits, almost paste. Then I scooped them into a tin bowl, my fingers covered in hot oil and slowly starting to burn.
I knelt beside Sushila and placed the bowl and cup by her still body. I pulled loose the sari fabric, pulled it down so that her upper body was only covered by her blouse, as mine had been the night before. Then I started to unhook her blouse.
I expected her to protest, but she said nothing, didn't move. I don't know what I would have done if she had tried to stop me; stopped, I suppose. But she didn't, and so I unhooked each clasp. I peeled back the fabric, baring her breasts. They were ripe and perfect, large dark mangoes bursting with juice. I was so thirsty. I let down my sari and undid my own blouse, freeing my small breasts. If we were interrupted now, there could be no innocent excuse...and yet it wasn't enough. One more night. I smeared the chili paste in a weaving line, starting with her navel, curving up over her belly, looping and swirling until I reached her breasts, then circling in as she had done, circling to the centers.
Chilies don't burn at once, on the skin. They take time. To Sushila it must have just felt like some slightly gritty jam. Perhaps she thought I planned to lick it off -- but there was a whole cup of water to use up, and first, I wanted her burning. When I finished drawing my patterns, I put down the bowl. I sat back on my heels, and waited.
She felt it first on her belly, the slight, growing burn. Sushila shifted a little, uncomfortably. I watched. Her eyes started to open, and I placed a hand, the clean one, over them. She kept her arms at her sides, but her body began to twist, to raise up from the floor, to arch. It was useless. Her belly was heated, her breasts. They were getting hotter and hotter. Soon it would be unbearable.
"Please..." The word broke from her lips. I took the tin cup. I started with her navel, started rinsing the chili paste away, caressing the skin with wet fingers, relieving the pain. But there wasn't very much water in the cup. I could only dilute the chili essence, soften the intensity, and by the time I reached her breasts, the water was more than half gone. And there just wasn't enough water left to do her nipples, their darkness crowned by fiery red paste. I let Sushila open her eyes then, raised the cup and showed her its emptiness.
There were tears in her eyes, but her arms stayed perfectly still at her sides. I smiled down at her.
"Do you want to go back to your husband now?" The water was gone.
"I'm burning, Medha. I'm burning up."
My heart thumped. I lay down beside her, moved my head to her breast and took the fire into my mouth. I have never been able to eat very hot food. I swirled the chili paste on my tongue; I savored the burning flavor of it, mixed with her sweat. My tongue had been stabbed by millions of tiny pins. I wanted to suffer for her.
I suckled at her right breast, feeling her body shifting against mine, hearing her whimpers. I was afraid we would be heard. I moved to the left breast, and her hand came up to tangle in my hair, to keep me there. Her leg slid between mine, and I began to suckle again, rocking our bodies together as I did. Her breath left her in a tiny sigh, and at the sound, my chest exploded.
I went to bed that night knowing that small traces of oil undoubtedly lingered on her body, that she lay beside Suneel still burning for me.
One more night.
They planned to leave the next morning. I had been thinking all day, and when she came to me that night, I was ready with my arguments.
I took her hands in mine, caressing her soft skin under my rough fingers. When she smiled, I spoke. "Come away with me."
"What?" Sushila tried to pull away, but I held on tight. Her eyes were suddenly wide and frightened, and I held her fingers as tight as I could, trying to reassure her.
"Come away. Take the tickets; we can trade them for another day and then leave together. We can go to the city; I can find work." I was whispering, but I willed her to hear how much I meant what I was saying.
Her mouth twisted in a way I had never seen before. "Work? Doing what? What can we do?" Her voice was low as well, but scornful. "Should we end up washing someone's filthy clothes? Lose caste, lose family -- lose the future?" She did pull away then, sharply.
I wrapped my arms tightly around my body, trying to slow my thumping heart.
"You are my future!" I wanted to shout the words, and keeping them quiet was almost more than I could stand. "It doesn't matter what we do to survive. Nothing matters but that you come away with me. I'm burning, Sushila."
"You're being foolish." Her eyes were disgusted, and my chest hurt. "I can't leave Suneel -- you have nothing and I have nothing. I have the jewelry your family gave me; would you have me sell that so that we can buy rice and lentils?"
"Yes!" I was passionate; I was convinced. "It's not fair that we should be separated. It's not right, Sushila!" I reached for her hand, but she pulled away. She walked to the window and stared out as she spoke. Her voice had grown so soft that I could barely hear her.
"It's not right to leave, Medha. The jewelry, even my saris, belong to him, not to me. I belong to him. Would you have me abandon Suneel, leave him alone and shamed, without wife or the hope of children? Does he deserve that? Is that fair? It's not right to leave him. I have to go with Suneel."
What had happened to my Sushila, who had burned for me last night? She sounded so calm, so cold.
"It doesn't matter what's right or wrong. What's really wrong is that you should leave with him, that you should leave me here, alone." I didn't know if I was making any sense -- I just knew that I was desperate to say something, anything that would keep her. But she wasn't listening to me.
Sushila turned back to face me. "It won't work. I'm sorry." She sounded like the statue I had once thought her, as if she was built of stone.
"But I love you! I love you!" My heart was breaking. It had broken and she was crushing the pieces under her heel. "Don't you care for me at all?"
Sushila's voice gentled, a little. "I do care for you. But if they found us, they'd drag us back in shame. They might do worse. I had a friend -- her husband died and they said she'd poisoned him with bad cooking...they burned her. They burned her alive."
I sucked in my breath, shocked that she would think... "My family wouldn't..." She cut me off before I could finish.
"No, you're probably right. They probably wouldn't. But Medha, it won't work. You know it won't. My place is with Suneel. There's no place for us out there. Just here, in the kitchen, without words. Just for these six nights. Just you, and me, and the cup full of water." Her voice had turned soft, persuasive, but I would not be persuaded. I wanted to surrender to her, but there was no time for that now.
"The cup! Is that what matters to you? The cup is nothing, Sushila. The cup is just a game, it's your game. It doesn't matter. You just want to play your game and then go off, safe in the arms of your husband, leaving me here." Leaving me alone.
"Safe? You think I'm safe with Suneel?" Passion was finally in her voice -- but not the kind I'd wanted.
"He'd never hurt you." I was sure of that, at least.
She closed her eyes, squeezed them tight for a long moment, then opened them again. "Oh no. He's sweet, and gentle, and kind. He will try to be a good husband to me, and I will try to be a good wife to him. We will have children, if the gods are kind." There was the pain I felt, there in her voice. But it wasn't for me. "And after ten or twenty or thirty years of that, I will have all the juices sucked out of me; I will be dry as dust. I will die of my thirst and blow away on the wind. And that's the way it is; that's the way it always is. You're the lucky one, Medha." Sushila meant it, I could hear it, but I didn't know why.
"Lucky?" I didn't understand her, didn't know her. Who was this woman with flat eyes, speaking of dust?
"At least you are still free, for a little longer. Take what pleasure you can of it. That's all we can do, Medha. Take a little pleasure when we can."
Sushila fell silent, and I did too, still thinking that there must be some other argument, some persuasion I could offer. I didn't believe what she was saying -- I couldn't believe that was all there was for us. But I thought for too long.
"Come," she said softly, "take up the cup." It waited, full, on the table. I knew that she was trying to save what she could; it was our last night, the very last. But I couldn't do it. I grabbed the cup, held it in my shaking hands.
Then I turned it over, spilling every drop of water to the floor.
I didn't know what she'd do, if she'd rage and shout, if she'd drag me to the ground. But Sushila just turned, and walked away.
I let her go, let her walk down the hall and disappear into his room. I had lost her entirely, and lost our last night too. I had wasted a cup of water, for nothing.
I slept like the dead that night. Perhaps I didn't want to face the morning, hoped that she would just slip away without my having to face her again. My mother shook me awake.
"What, are you sick too? Get up, Medha -- I need your help. Sushila's sick and they can't leave today. I need you to take care of her today."
I dressed quickly. Not gone yet! Not leaving today! I rushed to Suneel's room, to find him standing over his wife, his cheeks pulled in. Sushila's eyes were closed, and she did look pale.
"Medha, she's nauseated. She's been throwing up all morning. Stay with her, will you? I need to go change our tickets."
I nodded, and he bent to give her a kiss and then left the room. Once he'd gone, her eyes opened, and she motioned for me to bend down. I did, and she whispered in my ear, "I made myself throw up. I decided to give you one more chance." When I pulled back, Sushila was smiling, and I was too. Perhaps I looked too happy, because all too soon she was saying, "Just one more night. Suneel and I will leave tomorrow."
"But..." I had visions of persuading her, if only she would stay a few more nights, a week, two....
"No, Medha. It's too dangerous."
My eyes were stinging, but I knew she was right. Each night we'd gone further, each night we'd taken more risks. If we kept this up, we would be caught, and if she wouldn't leave with me...then it was this, or nothing. I finally nodded agreement. Just tonight.
I stayed with her through the day; we didn't touch. We could perhaps have held hands, or stolen a few kisses...but that would have been going outside the game, and the game had kept us safe so far.
It was an eternity until nightfall.
When I arrived in the kitchen, she was waiting. Something was different. The tin cup sat on the table, and the pitcher, but something else as well -- a stone. It was my mother's sharpening stone that she used for her knives.
"Help me," she said. She picked up the cup and ran the stone along the jagged edge. I thought at first she was dulling it, making it safer -- but after a few strokes, I realized she was making it sharper. Sushila handed it to me, and I stroked it to greater sharpness. We passed the two items back and forth, the cup and stone, sharpening the edge to match that of a blade...and still I didn't know why. It didn't matter, though. I trusted her. Finally, she put down the stone and called the cup done. Three-quarters of the rim was still that of a cup, safe and dull. But one quarter had a sheen of sharpness to it, and it seemed more than just a cup.
"Pull up your sari," she said. I was startled, but obeyed, pulling it up past my ankle, my calf, my knee until almost all of my thigh was visible -- "Stop." I stopped, obediently, and watched her do the same with her sari. Her legs were so smooth and fragile; for a moment, I felt like a great, hairy cow. But the moment passed. We were past that now.
"Cut me." She pointed to her thigh, and, suddenly understanding, I took the cup in my hand. I reached out, pressed it against her soft flesh, bit my lip, and sliced down. A short, sharp cut, barely half the length of my palm. She had exhaled once, sharply, but made no other sound. She took the cup from my hand and, with a swift motion, made an identical cut in my thigh. The beads of blood welled bright, shining in the moonlight, and for a moment I was so dizzy I thought I would faint. But then I steadied, and when she leaned forward and pressed the cuts together, blending our blood, I held firm. She kissed me then, and the world spun around us.
"Pour the water." I poured the water into the cup with my left hand, spilling some onto the table. It didn't matter. I poured until the cup was full. She took it then, and carefully sluiced some onto our joined legs, pulling away as she did. The bright blood ran down, mixing with the water, diluting.
"Don't pour it all!" I trusted her, but I couldn't keep the words from coming out. When the water was finished, so were we...
"I haven't. See?" She showed me the water left in the cup, barely a mouthful.
"Good." I looked at our legs, at the cuts that would turn into scars that we would carry forever. Forever! She wouldn't forget me, and I would never forget her. But we had a problem. "If we let the fabric go, the saris will be stained. People will wonder."
She nodded, smiling. "We'd better just take them off, then."
It was so risky; it was the last time.
We carefully removed our clothes, holding them away from the now trickling blood. We piled the fabric on the table and then, carefully, eased to the floor. My leg hurt, but as she bent her head to kiss me, the pain mingled with pleasure.
My hand found her breast, and hers wrapped around me. We lingered over our pleasure until the sky began to lighten, and then we shared the last mouthful of water. By the time the household wakened I was back in my room, embracing the ache in my leg, trying very hard to remember everything.
When she left, she reached up to my ear one last time. In full sight of everyone, she whispered, "It's for the best, Medha. You'll be married soon, and you must try to be happy. I will always care for you."
I didn't say anything out loud, but I knew that I would never marry, and I swore in my heart that I would never love anyone as I had loved her.
The scar faded into nothing within a year, and I cried when the last trace of it disappeared.