The ola-taxi hurtles along the unevenly tarred road, jolting above random stones, and swerving suddenly to miss potholes.The driver had asked if we wanted the AC on, but before I could say yes, my husband declared that we would survive without—and that we would save money too.
But I can’t survive. I roll the window right the way down, and the wind hits my face, evaporating sweat that runs down the bridge of my nose. The air smells salty. I guess we’re almost there.
The parched landscape, speckled only with shrubs, slowly begins to form a village, and small houses along the road whip past. On terraced roofs, translucent saris, white banians, and faded under-pants are pegged to washing-lines, billowing in the briny evening breeze; harassed-looking women in nighties clutch half-naked babies to their breasts; walls painted with political symbols of lotuses pass by; the air becomes dustier and smells like fish.
Ahead, I see a few young men walking in the opposite direction. They all wear dirty shorts, some are wearing vests, and the others are bare-chested. Their bodies are dark by Indian standards, and sweaty from a day’s work. They’re sharing a single cigarette among themselves, laughing. We zoom past before I can get a look at their faces…then it’s a blur…then clear..then blurry again…
It’s dark when I wake up.
The taxi’s stopped. Nobody’s inside, so I stretch slowly. My upper-lip has collected droplets of sweat, so I mop it up with the corner of my top, then reluctantly open the door, and step out of the car. My kurta clings to my back, glued with perspiration. Why is it always so humid? I wipe my face with the back of my hand, and pinch the kurta off my back.
Illuminated by the single orange street-light, I see a run-down building right in front of me, white-washed but with a bluish tint. I look around, but it doesn’t look like there are any other buildings nearby. We’re completely isolated. I scratch my arm suddenly and a pinkish boil appears. Mosquitoes.
Hoisted on a rusty sheet of metal in the arch-way of the building, white neon-lights blink: ‘5-star hotel’.
The driver, dressed in a starched all-white set of clothes, takes out the suit-case from the boot, and gets back into the driver’s-seat once he’s been paid.
I watch him reverse, and then drive away into the distance. Even after the last wink of tail-light is gone, I still watch the dusty road.
I don’t look up, but hesitantly take my small suit-case by the handle, and wheel it into the hotel.
As soon as we enter the lobby, a young woman wearing a bottle-green blouse and too much mascara jumps up, like someone just pressed ‘play’ on a paused video-recording.
“Velcome to Mahabalipuram!” She says automatically, pressing her palms together in typical greeting. There’s lip-stick on her teeth.
As she checks the details of our reservation, I notice that a layer of fair-and-lovely is dripping off her face, revealing patches of her wheatish complexion.
She tells us where breakfast will be in the morning and hands us the key to the room: 301. The third floor. I didn’t even think this place would get enough business to fill one floor; and here we are being shoved to the third one. But the room we need is apparently on the third floor, so we go.
We’re about to head to the elevator, when we are politely informed that it’s out of order. Of course.
“Is there a porter or some…thing?” I ask. No, just green-blouse-mascara-girl.
He takes his huge shoulder-bag, the flaps open and zips broken, and buoyantly marches up the stairs.
I lug my suitcase up the first flight of steps. Then the next. And then the next. The room is open when I arrive. I hesitate, look up and down the dark corridor, then walk inside.
There’s a bed, a small cupboard in the corner of the room, and a bed-side table. That’s it. Four walls and a roof.
“I’m going to take a bath.” I announce to the walls. From my suitcase I pull out my shower stuff and a set of clothes, then I slip inside the bathroom and promptly lock the door.
The bathroom is what I expect it to be: chipped wet tiles and an Indian toilet. I strip, chuck my clothes into the dry wash basin because there are no hooks behind the door, and then stand over the hole like a man and relieve myself.
There’s no special shower area. You’re supposed to just use the floor. To spit. To pee. To shower. Everything. There’s a bucket under the two taps that are fitted in the wall. The taps are loose, and after turning and turning the knob until I’m sure the next turn will screw it undone, they spit out a thin, slow wire of water filling the bottom of the orange plastic bucket. It takes fifteen minutes for the bucket half fill. I turn the tap off (another fifteen twists in the opposite direction). There’s no mug around, so I just use my oblong soap-dish. After thirty minutes, I think I’m done. I don’t bother wiping; I just pull my clothes on.
I take a few deep breaths before I open the door.
He’s already unpacked. We’re staying for barely a few more hours, and he’s unpacked. His shirt and trousers are hanging in the cupboard, as well as another set of clothes, his wallet is placed sacredly on his white handkerchief, topped with his glasses on the bed-side table, and his mobile-phone is charging in the socket.
I pack all my things silently into my suit-case, while he looks out the window. When I’m done, I walk over to the bed, lie down, then swiftly pull the white sheet over myself, and breathe deeply with regular intervals. Maybe he’ll think I’m asleep.
After several minutes, the light turns off, and I hear him heave himself onto the bed. It creaks and groans on my behalf.
“Appa.” He says with a sigh as he lies down, drapes the sheet over himself, and makes himself comfortable, dragging more than half the sheet with him. I turn violently onto my side so that my back is facing him, yanking my half of the sheet towards me. I keep breathing, willing myself to sleep.
One minute goes by. Nothing happens. Two minutes. Three minutes…
It’s six minutes and fifteen seconds when his fingers slip into the dip of my hip.
I stop breathing.
And now he knows I’m awake.
My heart pounds in fear as he rolls me onto my back towards him, and clambers clumsily on top of me.
He’s already naked.
I feel nauseous. I can’t breathe.
It takes him several elongated minutes to drag my nightie upwards.
My legs feel cold and numb. Exposed.
Then, against my will, my under-pants come slithering down…
I do nothing as he presses his huge bulk on top of me, and his enormous belly smothers me. His pudgy fingers fondle my hair, and his nose rubs itself on my cheek. His face is bristly. Thorny.
I fix my wide eyes stonily on the fan that churns in the darkness above. There’s nothing else to do.
As he thrusts and heaves and groans in pleasure, I lie like a dead fish, my arms limp at my sides. Suffocated. I think I’m going to faint.
When he has finished he rolls over beside me and sighs, satisfied.
I can breathe again but I decide to wait. He begins to snore. I take in a gulp of air, and then lean out from the bed to find my under-clothes. I pull them on silently. I turn my back on him again, and allow my eyes to wet themselves. But only two tears fall to the pillow before I stop myself, and clamp my eye-lids shut for the night.
I want to take a bath early in the morning.
But he’s in there when I wake up.
There’s no ventilation-shaft in the bathroom, so the smell of faeces hangs pungently in the room. I open the window.
I hear gentle waves crashing and retreating on the shore, but I can’t see the beach because it’s on the other side.
The door unlocks and swings open. I withdraw into the bathroom. We don’t make eye-contact, but as I shut the door, he says:
“Come soon for breakfast.” I lock the door.
After breakfast, he tells me that he’ll hire a taxi and wait for me in the lobby.
“Pack our things and bring it down,” he says.
Back in the room, I pack his things wondering what would happen if I dared not to.
As I come down, dragging the suit-case behind me, and carrying the shoulder-bag, I see him sitting comfortably in one of the sofas in the lobby reading the newspaper. He checks us out. It’s the same concierge who was there last night. He pays up, and then the mascara-girl puts her hand out for the key. I place it on the counter. She looks at the label on the key as she picks it up, and then looks back at both of us.
“I hope you enjoyed your honey-moon.” She says with a smile. Honey-moon. After a whole year of being married this is our honey-moon.
Carolyn Singh is an undergraduate English Literature student.