This story first appeared in Aqua Erotica, 2000,
packaged by Melcher Media, published by Three Rivers Press; it
in Erotic Travel Tales 2, 2003.
Seven Cups of Water
My brother’s wedding day. The feasting lasted long past dark, and I went
to bed exhausted. I first peeled off my sweat-soaked sari, rinsing my
body with cool well water before changing into the white sari I wore to
sleep. The old women had consulted the horoscopes of my brother and his
young bride, had pronounced that this day, in this month, would be
luckiest, in fact the only day that would not bring down a thousand curses
on the young couple — never mind that it was also one of the hottest
days of the year. There was no flesh left on the old women’s bones,
nothing that could drip sweat; I am sure they enjoyed making the young
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
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
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
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
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. ÊEveryone
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
“I’m sorry, but I’m really very thirsty tonight. I need to drink it
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
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
“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
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
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
“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,
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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.