It was something so small no one had even noticed it . . .
Gingerly she runs her tongue over her lower lip, tasting the buttery Lakme Fuschia Fury lipstick Mummy had generously slathered on her thirty minutes ago. Now she can hear her brother’s raspy voice calling her from their drawing-room. The bride viewing party must have arrived.
It was her cue to go into the kitchen and pick up the plastic tray sitting on the Formica counter with its prepared pot of tea, and four Wedgewood China teacups. Next, walk in on dainty toes, docile eyes swept downwards and carefully set the tray on the coffee table. Never looking anyone fully in the face—specially not the prospective groom—and ask them in dulcet tones, “How many spoons of sugar would you like?’ Then, stir the tea with gently moving fingers and hand it over, always with obedient, downswept lashes to signify the perfect wife, the perfect daughter-in-law, the perfect mother-to-be.
They appraise her impassively from all angles, forward and sideways. They inspect her bowed head as she sits with decorous hands folded in the lap of Mummy’s one good Kanjeeveram silk sari examining for any imperfections or blemishes.
When none’s looking, she pulls out a trembling hand from under the pallav covering her right arm and pinches the delicate skin of her left forearm.
“Ramesh Babu is an engineer at Mitsubishi Motors in Calcutta city,” Mummy hissed at her as she braided her plait this morning. “If he likes you,” Mamma paused, then continued in a low warning tone, “if his mother likes you, think what he could do for your Dad, for your brothers.”
She peeks a glance at him when everybody’s laughing uproariously at a joke that Uncle Tripathi—the go-between—is regaling them with. Ramesh Babu is short with a balding forehead, small squinty eyes, and a cleft lip. She knows she’s not supposed to, but she can’t help staring at the jagged flap of skin where there should have been an upper lip. She averts her eyes from the hole he has for a mouth, squeezing again the skin of her forearm tightly.
Later, much later, when he undresses her on their wedding night, he mumbles to her as he gently parts her legs, “I knew you were the one for me when I noticed you pinch your arm at the bride viewing. I used to do that when the bullies at school taunted me. When they threw stones at me and called me ‘deformed.’”
She closes her eyes and prays it won’t last too long.