More little character bits from the novel-in-progress.
Later, when everything was terrible, Saila held the memory of that night to herself like a flame. Fire to warm her, fire to burn.
Arvind stood before her, so serious, after the pandit and his chanting, the three days and three nights, following her new husband demurely around the sacred fire, jasmine and roses in their garlands, blending with the incense to scent their clothes and hair.
When they finally were left alone, Saila could feel the tension crackling between them, lightning in her veins. She dipped her head as he stepped forward, the shyest of maidens, and Arvind’s fingers were gentle as he took the pallu from her shoulder, began unwrapping the sari itself.
Down across her breasts, baring the slight cleavage that her mother’s clever tailor had managed to create, setting darts in just the right places. Not that Arvind would be fooled; in the weeks leading up to the wedding, they had found more than one dark corner for the exchange of heated kisses, and fondlings the pandit and their parents would not have approved. But they had behaved themselves, more or less, and saved quite a bit for the wedding night. This was the first time Arvind had unwound her sari completely, pulling out the pleats until they fell, puddling to the floor.
“Oh! You have to help me fold it!” Saila found herself saying, dismayed. It was, after all, the most beautiful piece of clothing she’d ever owned, pure crimson silk with a gold border, and she still didn’t know how her beaming father had been able to afford it, but as he said, for his only daughter, he would give her the moon if he could. She couldn’t let it get dirty on the floor, and she was already bending down, gathering up the yards of it, stretching the fabric out, handing Arvind an end to hold.
Saila said sternly, “It’s much easier with two people, you know that. You must have helped your mother fold her saris, or your sister?”
Arvind protested, “Yes, but – “ He dutifully pulled the fabric taut, so Saila could reach out and fold it in the center, bringing her end in to meet his, so they stood barely an inch apart.
She shook her head, making her face as solemn as she could. “No buts. You are my husband now, aren’t you? This is a husband’s job. Why do you think I married you?” Saila frowned, taking on Aunty Manju’s habitual disapproving tone. “Best you learn what kind of woman you’ve chosen now, rather than later. Although, too bad for you, it’s too late to change your mind.”
Then Saila couldn’t keep it up anymore – the smile broke through. A moment later, she was laughing, and Arvind was bending down and kissing her, the fabric pressed between them, crumpling from the heat of their bodies combined.
After that kiss, though, she made him wait until she finished folding the sari before they continued.