SEQUEL TO THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER SISTER OF MY HEART
Vine of Desire continues the story of Anju and Sudha, the two young women at the center of Divakaruni’s novel Sister of My Heart. Far from Calcutta, the city of their childhood, and after years of living separate lives, Anju and Sudha rekindle their friendship in America. The deep-seated love they feel for each other provides the support each of them needs. It gives Anju the strength to pick up the pieces of her life after a miscarriage, and Sudha the confidence to make a life for herself and her baby daughter, Dayita-without her husband. The women’s bond is shaken to the core when they must confront the deeply passionate feelings that Anju’s husband has for Sudha. Meanwhile, the unlikely relationships they form with men and women in the world outside the immigrant Indian community as well as with their families in India profoundly transform them, forcing them to question the central assumptions of their lives.
Praise for Vine of Desire:
“Divakaruni is gifted with dramatic inventiveness, lyrical, sensual language, the ability to interweave many points of view with ease…The Vine of Desire offers many delights.” ( Los Angeles Times )
“Sensitive and big-hearted…what makes this an engrossing and satisfying novel is the fullness of its characters, all managing without exception to be credible, likable, and fundamentally decent.” (Wendy Law-Yone, Washington Post)
“Divakaruni’s narrative in Vine of Desire is as gracefully structured as a piece of chamber music, with its interplay of themes and voices, ensemble and solo, working their way toward a final resolving chord…If you find yourself counting the pages left in the book, it’s likely to be because you wish there were many, many more.” (Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News)
“Part of the beauty of Divakaruni’s talent is her ability to capture the true complexity of the emotional landscape of her characters…Divakaruni is an incomparable storyteller. A tale of heart-wrenching power…A lovely read and a fully worthy addition to Divakaruni’s excellent body of work.” (Robin Vidimos, Denver Post)
“Divakaruni has always written well about the immigrant experience, and here, through Sudha and Anju, she draws a compelling contrast between the selflessness required of women in India and the sometimes bewildering freedoms offered in their adopted land…Vivid and lyrical.” ( San Francisco Chronicle )
“This is a potent, emotional book delivered by a writer who knows when to step back and take in the poetry.” (Chris Barsanti, Book Magazine)
“This exquisitely rendered tale of passion, jealousy and redemption continues the extraordinary relationship between Anju and Sudha, the two exceptional women at the heart of Divakaruni’s praised Sister of My Heart...Divakaruni combines a gift for absorbing narrative with the artistry of a painter. Her lyrical descriptions of the characters’ inner and outer worlds bring a rich emotional chiaroscuro to an uplifting story about two women who learn to make peace with the difficult choices circumstances have forced upon them.” ( Publishers Weekly )
“The plot twists, the characters are engaging, and Divakaruni’s vaunted style is evident…Evocative and emotionally charged.” (Robert E. Brown, Library Journal)
“Poetic and bewitching, observant and compassionate, Divakaruni has a remarkable gift for intertwining romance with trenchant insights into the harsh realities of women’s lives, whether they live in material comfort in Berkeley or in poverty in Calcutta, thus granting readers both visceral pleasure and clarifying aesthetic revelation.” (Donna Seman, Booklist)
The day Sudha stepped off the plane from India into Anju’s arms, leaving a ruined marriage behind, their lives changed forever. And not just Sudha’s and Anju’s. Sunil’s life changed, too. And baby Dayita’s. Like invisible sound waves that ripple out and out, the changes reached all the way to India, to Ashok waiting on his balcony for the wind to turn. To their mothers in the neat squareness of their flat, upsetting the balance of their household, causing the mango pickles to turn too-sour and the guava tree in the backyard to grow extra-large pink guavas. The changes multiplied the way vines might in a magical tale, their tendrils reaching for people whose names Sudha and Anju did not even know yet.
Were the changes good or bad?
Can we use such simple, childish terms in asking this question? Neither of the cousins were simple women, though there was much that was childlike about them when they were together alone, or with Dayita. When Sunil was away.
Sunil. Anju’s husband. Sudha’s cousin-in-law. A young executive with a bright future in a prestigious computer company. But no. None of this tells us who he really is. Because he wasn’t a simple man either.
It is not clear when Anju first sensed this. At their double wedding, when she stood beside Sunil, their bridal garments knotted, and watched him watch Sudha’s forehead being marked with the red powder of wifehood? Months back, when he told Anju that it was a bad idea to bring her cousin to America? The night before Sudha’s arrival, by which time it was too late? When did she first sense that though she loved him, she didn’t always trust him?
But lately Anju doesn’t trust the runaway roller-coaster of her own emotions either. The wild mood-swings after the miscarriage that would leave her weeping or laughing hysterically. The long bouts of depression, later, that immobilized her in bed, incapable of even answering the phone.
Guilt ate at her, a slow, pernicious rust. No matter how often Sunil assured her that the miscarriage could have been caused by any number of things, she didn’t believe him. When the blackness came upon her, her mind turned heavy and stubborn, like one of those cement mixing trucks you pass sometimes on the road. A sentence would catch in it and begin to rotate, If only I’d listened to the doctor and not overworked myself, until it broke down into a phrase, If only I hadn’t, If only I hadn’t. It ended, always, in the same anguished chant. Prem Prem Prem.
She would rock her body from side to side, her neglected, will-o-the-wisp hair spreading its static on the sofa, fingers digging rigidly into her arms until they left bruises shaped like tiny petals.
“I don’t know how to help you when you’re like this,” Sunil would say.
Afterwards, when the depression lifted, she would sometimes say, “You don’t need to do anything.”
Inside her head she added, Except love me.
Inside her head he replied, I do love you.
Inside her head she said, But not enough.
The night before Sudha arrives, Anju cannot sit still. Some of it is excitement, but mostly she is nervous. Why? Isn’t this her dear, dear cousin, sister of her heart? They’ve protected, advised, cajoled, bullied, and stood up for each other all their lives. Each has been madly jealous of the other at some point. Each has enraged the other, or made her weep. Each has been willing to give up her happiness for her cousin. In short: they’ve loved each other the way they’ve never loved anyone else. Why then does Sudha’s coming fill Anju with this unexpected dread?
If there are answers, she will not allow herself to think of them.
At dinner she is unable to eat. “But what if Sudha doesn’t like it here?” she keeps saying.
It is the year of dangerous movements. Two weeks back, a major earthquake hit Los Angeles, causing $7 billion in damage and leaving over 10,000 people homeless. Will Anju and Sunil read this as an omen? Or will they discount it in the belief that every year has its own disasters?
Anju, who is a terrible cook, has spent the day making lasagna because, she says, Sudha has never tasted any in India. The sink and their few dishtowels are all dyed the same stunning orange, a color which looks fearfully permanent.
Sunil doesn’t comment on this. He focuses instead on the gluey orange mass on his plate, at which he jabs half-heartedly from time to time. He is a meticulous man, a man who detests chaos. Who takes satisfaction each evening in shining his shoes with a clean rag and a tin of Esquire Boot Polish before putting them away on the closet shelf. But he makes an effort today and says nothing—both about the lasagna and about Anju’s question, which is not so much a question as a lament for something she fears has happened already. He is thinking of what she said a few weeks back, unthinkingly. The happiest memories of my life are of growing up with Sudha. He is thinking of what he didn’t say to her.
What about me, then? What about you and me?
“Let me tell you,” Sudha was fond of saying in the last months of her pregnancy, “who I used to be before the accident of America happened to me.”
She would be lounging in bed with a cup of hot milk and honey and a novel, one of those rare days when she didn’t have to go to class. She would knock on the curve of her stomach. “You, sir,” she would say. “I hope you’re paying attention.”
She loved speaking to Prem. In an illogical way, it was more satisfying than speaking to Sunil, even though Sunil was a careful listener and made the right comments at the right times. But Prem—the way he grew still at the sound of her voice, the way he butted her ribs with his head if she paused too long in the middle of a story—
She told Prem about the old house, that white elephant of a mansion that had been in the Chatterjee family for generations: its crumbling marble facade, its peeling walls, the dark knots of its corridors, the brick terrace where she and Sudha went secretly at night to watch for falling stars to wish on.
“It’s gone now. Demolished to make space for a high-rise apartment building. And I’m the one who kept at your grandmothers—do you know you have three grandmothers: my mom, Sudha’s mom, and Pishi, who’s my dad’s sister?— to sell it. I used to hate that house, how ancient it was, how it stood for everything ancient. I hated being cooped up in it and not allowed to go anywhere except school. But now I miss it! I think of my room with its cool, high ceilings, and my bedsheets which always smelled clean, like neem leaves—and which I never had to wash myself!— and the hundred year old peepal trees that grew outside my windows. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry to come to America. Sudha used to sneak into my room at night sometimes. We’d sit on the wide windowsill, telling each other stories. I’d tell her about characters in books I’d read that I liked, such as Jo in Little Women—and she’d tell me the folk-tales she’d heard from Pishi about women who would turn into demonesses at night and the monkey who was actually a bewitched prince. She was great at doing voices! You’ll see it for yourself when she gets here.”
Some days, after the doctor had scolded her for not getting enough exercise, Anju went to the park. She would make a desultory round of the play area, watching the children, whispering to Prem that he’d be better than them all—more handsome, more active, and of course more intelligent. She would tell him how prettily the maples were changing color and then, choosing one to sit under, she would go back to her childhood.
“My favorite place of all was the family bookstore. For the longest time all I wanted was to be allowed to run it when I grew up. Every weekend I’d beg mother to take me there. I loved its smell of new paper and printing ink, its rows and rows of books all the way to the ceiling, its little ladders that the clerks would scramble up when a customer wanted something that was stored on a high shelf. There was a special corner with an armchair, just for me, so I could sit and read all I wanted. It was funny, Gouri-Ma—that’s my mom—was strict about a lot of things, but she never stopped me from reading anything I wanted.
‘So in my teenage years, I read things like Anna Karennina and Sons and Lovers and The Great Gatsby and A Room of One’s Own. I’m glad I did, but maybe Aunt Nalini—that’s Sudha’s mom—was right. They were no good for me. They filled me with a dissatisfaction with my own life, and a longing for distant places. I believed that, if I could only get out of Calcutta to one of those exotic countries I read about, it would transform me. But transformation isn’t so easy, is it?”
What about the other places of her growing-up years? The ones she never spoke of, the ones you’d have to eavesdrop among her dreams to find? Such as: the banquet hall where she saw her new husband stoop to pick up a woman’s handkerchief that was not hers? But the rest of that scene is brittle and brown and unreadable, like the edge of a paper held to a flame, another of those memories Anju keeps hostage in the darkest cells of her mind.
“The bookstore was where I met your father. He had come dressed in an old-fashioned kurta and gold-rimmed glasses—a kind of disguise so that I wouldn’t guess that he was the computer whiz from America with whom Gouri Ma was trying to arrange my marriage.
‘He’d come to check me out! Can you imagine! People just didn’t do such things in Calcutta, at least not in traditional families like mine. When he confessed who he was, I was terribly impressed. But what made me fall in crazy love with him was that he bought a whole set of the novels of Virginia Woolf. She used to be my favorite author, you know. But he’d done it only to win me over.” She sighed. “Later I couldn’t get him to read even one of them!
‘Still—he’s going to be a wonderful father to you. I’m sure of that. He’ll love you more than anyone else does—except of course me and your Sudha-aunty!”
This evening, her dinner uneaten, Anju pushes back her chair and walks over to the old, discolored mirror that hangs in the small bathroom in the passage. She runs an uncertain hand through her hair and touches the dark circles under her eyes. She presses down on her jagged cheekbones—she’s lost a lot of weight since the miscarriage—as though she could push them in and hide them. “God, I look like such a witch!” she groans.
Last week she opened her India suitcase and took out a framed picture of herself and Sudha at their school graduation dinner. She examined it for a long moment before setting it on her dresser with a dissatisfied thunk. Even at that heedlessly happy time in her life, she hadn’t been pretty in the traditional way. She didn’t have her cousin’s rush of curly hair, or those wide, sooty eyes which always looked a little mysterious, a little tragic. But anyone could see (anyone except herself, that is) that she had spirit. In the photo, she stares out, a challenge in her eyes. She crooks her lean, stubborn mouth in a half-smile. There’s an irrepressible intelligence to her nose. Maybe that was what made Sunil choose her from among all the girls he could have had as an eminently eligible, foreign-returned, computer-whiz groom in Calcutta.
But somewhere along the way Anju’s eyes grew dull and muddy. Her mouth learned to twitch. And the expression on Sunil’s face when he watches her nowadays—he does this in bed, sometimes, after she has fallen asleep—is complicated. At times it is pity. At times, regret.
All through the fall of her pregnancy, while the leaves of the maple turned a crisper, brittler red until they were suddenly gone, Anju told Prem stories of Sudha. Beautiful Sudha, the dreamer, the best cook of them all, the magic-fingered girl who could embroider clothes fit for a queen. Luckless Sudha who worked so hard at being the perfect wife to Ramesh even though she didn’t love him. Until the day she walked out of the marriage.
“It was because of her witch of a mother-in-law. For years she’d been harassing Sudha because she couldn’t get pregnant. You’d think she’d be delighted when she found out that Sudha was having a baby. But no. She had to have an ultrasound done, and when she discovered that her first grandchild was going to be a girl, she insisted that Sudha should have an abortion. So Sudha ran away—how else could she save her daughter—though she knew they’d make her life hell afterwards.
‘Oh, that old crocodile! How I wish I could have seen her when she woke up to find Sudha gone!”
For weeks afterwards, Anju would describe that afternoon for Prem, over and over, in the hushed tone one saves for legends.
The entire household has fallen into a stunned sleep, even the servants. The heavy front door, which is carved with fierce yakshas wielding swords, opens without a sound. Sudha slips out, carrying only a small handbag. She wears her cotton house-sari and forces herself not to hurry so passers-by will not be suspicious. The air inside her chest is viscous with fear. Her slippers slide on the gravelly road. Mango leaves hang dispiritedly in the heat, like small, tired hands. She walks carefully, she mustn’t fall, she presses her hand against a belly that will start to show in a few weeks. At the crossroads she pulls the end of her sari over her head in a veil, a princess disguised as a servant-maid, so no one on the street will recognize her.
“What about Ramesh?” Sunil asked when Anju told him Sudha had gone back to her mother.
“What about him?” Anju said, her voice dangerously tight .
“Didn’t he try to bring her back?”
“Him! That spineless jellyfish! That Momma’s boy!” Anju’s breath came in outraged puffs. “He did nothing—nothing he should have done, that is.”
There was a doubtful look on Sunil’s face. Was he wondering if there was more to Ramesh than Anju saw? If Ramesh wept for Sudha and the baby daughter he would never hold—carefully and quietly, in the shower, under cover of running water so no one would hear? At night, did his hand reach across the bed from old habit? And when he startled awake, was the taste in his mouth like iron? But Sunil knew better than to share such thoughts with Anju.
The following week, when he came back from work, she handed him an aerogram, triumphant with outrage. “Look!” It was from Aunt Nalini, informing them that Sudha had been served with divorce papers. The papers had Ramesh’s signature on them and accused Sudha of desertion.
What a dastardly trick! Aunt Nalini wrote. Now the poor girl won’t get a single paisa from them. They’ve even refused to return the dowry I gave her at the wedding—a dowry for which I scrimped and saved and deprived myself of pleasure my entire life, as I’m sure you remember.
“Is it really as bad as she makes it out to be?” Sunil asked.
And Anju, who would usually sigh and roll her eyes after reading one of Aunt Nalini’s missives (“missiles,” she sometimes called them) snapped, “Of course it is. What makes you think otherwise?”
“Well, didn’t you yourself say that she was Drama Queen Number One?”
She ignored the comment. “If I could just get my hands on Ramesh! That jerk! You remember him at the wedding, his hair all glossed down with Brylcreem? He couldn’t take his eyes off Sudha. I remember thinking, he’s ugly, but at least he’ll be good to her. And now, just look!” She was pacing the room by now, panting a little.
“Please calm down,” Sunil said, his reasonable voice giving away nothing of what he might be feeling. “It’s not good for you to get so worked up at this time.”
“Isn’t that just like a man,” Anju said, kicking furiously at the doorjamb. “To stand up for other men, no matter what they’ve done.”
“When did I—?”
“Never mind,” said Anju. She didn’t speak to him the rest of the evening. The next day she said, “I want to bring Sudha to America.”
The words crashed into him like waves. He thought they might pull him out to sea. “And where’s the money for that going to come from?” he said. Though money wasn’t what he was worried about. But what he was worried about couldn’t be spoken.
They had their first fight that day. Others followed in the weeks after. Thunderclouds of colliding words. Sobs. A stiff silence. A door kicked shut.
She started working secretly at the university library. She put her earnings in the bank and hid the savings book between layers of her saris. Each night her spine ached, the pain like an electric current moving up and down it, stopping wherever it wanted. “As soon as I have a thousand dollars, I’ll send Sudha a ticket,” she whispered to Prem as she made herself a bed on the lumpy couch. Her smile carved the dark like a thin, defiant moon. “Men! It’s best not to count on them for anything important.”
She rubbed her stomach gently, forcing herself to relax. “Present company excepted, of course,” she added.
She didn’t know that he, too, would fail her. In the worst way of all.
Anju abandons the mirror to pace the tiny apartment. In old yellow socks, her feet make a padding, caged-animal sound on the linoleum. She ends up in the kitchen, where she takes several eggs from the refrigerator. She breaks them into a bowl and begins rummaging around for a fork. She is not a good housekeeper. In spite of the efforts she has been making to tidy up for Sudha, the kitchen counters are a shamble of dishes that haven’t been put away and propped-open books and spices still in their torn plastic packets. Finally she gives up and takes a dirty fork out of the dishwasher, holds it for a perfunctory moment under the tap, and begins to beat the eggs.
“Anju! What on earth are you doing?” Irritation ripples along Sunil’s voice like a sleeve of fire.
“I thought I’d bake something for Sudha,” she answers uncertainly. “Maybe a Devil’s Food cake—it’ll be something new for her—”
Sunil moves with an athlete’s grace, stepping lightly on the balls of his feet. How fast he is! Already he has reached her. There’s something frightening in the way he holds his hands, stiff and suppressed, close to his body. But she isn’t afraid. There’s a feverish exhilaration in her eyes. I dare you. But he merely pushes past her to swing the refrigerator open.
“Look!” The cords in his neck are tight with his need to shout, but he speaks softly. “Haven’t you done enough?”
She looks. The refrigerator is stuffed with dishes: spaghetti and meatballs, potato salad, tuna casserole, banana bread, vanilla pudding, apple pie. All the recipes she looked up painstakingly in her Good Housekeeping cookbook. It is the most Indian of ways, what the women of her family had done to show love through the years of her childhood, that simple time which she longs for more and more as her adult plans seem to collapse around her. There’s too much food, far more than Sudha can ever eat. Food that will spoil over the next week and have to be stuffed down the garbage disposal covertly, while Sunil is at work.
For a moment husband and wife glare at each other across the cold white spillage of refrigerator light, their faces too young, surely, to hold the tired rage stamped onto them. She grips the edge of the bowl as though she might fling it at him. Then, with a shaky laugh, she rubs her sticky knuckles across her eyes.
“I guess I did go a bit overboard,” she says.
“It’s only natural,” he says, his voice quickly, carefully kind. “After all, it’s the first time she’s visiting us, and you want it to be special.” There’s relief in the sag of his shoulders. The last months have been hard on him, too, not knowing when she might burst into racked weeping, or retreat to bed to wrap herself in one of her relentless silences. He puts an arm around her. “Come sleep now.” When she hesitates, he adds, “Don’t you want to be bright and fresh tomorrow, when your cousin gets here?” And she, a faraway look on her face, allows him to take the milky-yellow mess of eggs from her and lead her to their bedroom.
“Would you like me to comb your hair?” Sunil asks.
They are in their nightclothes, Anju sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the photograph. She seems not to have heard him, but she does not protest when he begins moving the comb through her hair with long, gentle strokes, nor when, after a little while, he lays it down to kiss her shoulders, then her throat, and finally, tentatively—for since the miscarriage nine months ago she hasn’t been able to stand him touching her in that way—her lips.
But today she kisses him back—or at least she holds still while he kisses her, while his fingers unbutton her nightdress. Then she asks him to turn off the light.
“But why? It’s only the night lamp—you’ve always liked it.”
She shudders in the lamp’s deep blue shadow, pulling the bedsheet up to her neck. “I hate how my body looks. Everything slumps. The bones push out in all the wrong places—”
“Oh, Anju! You’re exaggerating,” he protests, but he gets out of bed to turn off the light. She watches his lean back crisscrossed with shadows, the simple arrogance of his muscles, bending. Her eyes find the photograph once again.
He kisses her eyes shut with determination. She opens her lips obediently under his. She wants them to succeed as much as he does, to be back where they were before—but where was that? She’s losing her thoughts in a rainbow fog, the start of a headache at the base of her skull. Still, when he says, “Remember that afternoon at the Rabindra Sarobar when I kissed you for the first time, how shy you were,” she says yes. Although in truth she can’t remember it. She tries hard to pull up a detail from the crumbly quicksand of her memory: Was it sunny? Was the sky filled with clouds like puffed rice? Were children floating paper boats on the lake? Was there a Lalmohan bird, crying from a branch above? He’s waiting for her to add something. (What?) She says, “The palash flowers had dropped their crimson petals all across the water,” then realizes guiltily that it couldn’t have been so, she had been married in winter, he would have left for America long before the first buds opened.
So she presses her face against his, and holds herself beneath him the way he likes her to. But his weight on her is cold and enormous, a giant statue, made of concrete, except that it moves. His breath is like a furnace opening onto her face with its bitter coal smell. The ache at the base of her skull has grown into a voice, calling, even though calling is of no use. Prem Prem Prem, until she pushes him off and feels the failure, thick as slush, settle in his bones. She opens her mouth to tell him she’s sorry, she knows how hard he tried. She tried hard too. But she just can’t. And remembering how it had been once was no good, it would never be that way again, even if they were able to stitch up this chasm of a wound that runs jagged between the length of their bodies now. But she must have said something quite different because he pulls back and looks at her, asking in an angry voice, “What do you mean, you’ve got to make it up to Sudha for what she’s sacrificing to come here to you?”
Anju doesn’t answer. He knows what she means, she knows that. But always, where Sudha is concerned, he likes to act obtuse, likes to force her to explain, to drag out the emotions inside of her, unclothed, so they look sentimental, or superstitious, or plain foolish. Well, this time she isn’t going to do it. She lies there mutinous, lips pressed together, thinking about Ashok. All those years he waited for Sudha when she was married to someone else. Was it out of love, or the fear of loving again? I told him no, Sudha had written. Anju twists a strand of hair around her finger distractedly until it snaps, wondering about that no. Could she have said it, in Sudha’s place? If she weighed a man’s devotion against a cousin’s need, the security he offered against uncertainty, which is all she has to give Sudha, which way would the scales tip? She needs to think it through, and she cannot do it here, with Sunil’s hand snaking from behind to cup her breast, his arm pulling her back against a chest that smells of Claiborne Sport, a tangy scent she once loved that now makes her feel slightly sick. But of course she can never tell him that. Does such consideration rise from caring, or merely habit? This too she needs to think about.
She can feel him now, grown hard against her. A nuclear heat radiates from his bones. Escape, escape. She gathers up her nightdress in alarmed handfuls. From the sudden stillness of his body, his hands falling away, she knows she has offended him. He won’t try to stop her. He’s too proud for that. She slips silently from the bed—what good are words now, even if she could come up with the right ones?—and gropes her way next door, where she lies down in the bed she has prepared for the cousin who’s like a breathlessness inside her.
And her husband, does she love him? She turns the question, hard as a nugget of iron, around and around in her head. Ultimately she cannot imagine a life without him—and what else is that but love? She keeps her eyes averted from the crib Sunil has set up for Dayita. Ah, there’s another problem, the child whom she doesn’t want in her house. She’s afraid she might start loving her, and that would be a betrayal of the dead. How is she to manage it, to pretend that the child does not exist? How is she to keep Dayita at arm’s length without hurting Sudha? When she finally stumbles into sleep, her dreams are a chiaroscuro of uneasy strategies.
It is the year of accounting, the year of pardons, the year of uneasy alliances. Somewhere in America, a man is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a black activist thirty years ago. Somewhere in India a bandit queen is released after eleven years in jail. Somewhere in Russia a cosmonaut is preparing to go into space, for the first time in the history of nations, on an American rocketship.
But here is Sunil, alone in his bedroom. Is he asleep, too? No. In the blue night-light he has turned back on, his eyes are chips of stone. They glitter with a strange resignation. Under the sheet, his hand moves as he stares at Anju’s graduation photograph. A rapid blur of movement until his body stiffens and arcs, then slumps down into itself, and he whispers a name into the pillow his wife has left empty. A moth-wing of a name.
It was her picture he’d been looking at, all this time.
But he whispered the name rather than calling it out in passion. Can we salvage a broken bit of hope from that? Out of consideration for Anju, he had whispered the name of the woman he’d been trying all this time to keep away. The woman he’d been mad for ever since he saw her in a garden tented with jasmine—too late, for by then he was already betrothed to her cousin.
But was it consideration, or was it fear? No, not fear. Not that. For there is one thing about Sunil that even Anju knows: he is not afraid of anyone—except perhaps himself.