09/26/2021

Radhika Kapoor ~ Fleeting

Junaid’s grip on her hand tight­ens; eyes pop open, and she eas­es her hair out of its bun, let­ting it rest at the base of her neck. They are watch­ing: the chil­dren have stopped kick­ing the deflat­ed lit­tle ball around and have gath­ered to stare at them. She feels a rash begin to devel­op on the inside of her elbow. He is look­ing up at her, knee above foot, thigh par­al­lel to the ground like she instructs her clients to do in Ardha Purvottanasana. He is wait­ing for an answer; she’s mak­ing it Awkward. Flexing the fin­gers on her free hand, eyes now slip shut.

She’d run into Tahir and Mahira a few days ago at the bak­ery, their sons wad­dling behind them. Mahira had informed her, cool, even-voiced, of a bar­be­cue they would host at their restau­rant the fol­low­ing week­end. Mahira quipped that there wouldn’t be any biryani, which they knew she hat­ed, because raisins do not belong in decent-peo­ple food. She had bare­ly reg­is­tered the infor­ma­tion; vague smile posi­tioned firm, she’d pro­ceed­ed to pur­chase five test­ing strips, invit­ing sym­pa­thet­ic cluck­ing nois­es from the cashier, a bux­om old lady who had sold count­less strips to her over the past two years. The time before this had been some time ago: in one moment of aban­don fueled by a bleary cock­tail of pot, stale cof­fee, and beer, she had crept on top of Junaid as he slept, silent­ly dis­card­ing her night­clothes. He’d awok­en imme­di­ate­ly and wrapped his arms around her. And when she looked into those eyes, she could see every­thing but Getting-It, so she shushed him with her mouth, kiss­ing him for the first time in so long she’d for­got­ten how he nev­er kissed back at first, and then she let him run his hands over her back. The next morn­ing, she awoke the way she used to in that very first year – cra­dled and cradling, four hands on two chests. She made break­fast – rice pud­ding and cream; he blew a kiss at her with vanil­la breath, laugh­ing in that way he hadn’t before, his chin dim­pling. He lift­ed her and spun her around the liv­ing room, her skirts swoosh­ing, knock­ing over a Buddha fig­urine that smashed on the floor, sound hard like ice. He paused, uncer­tain; she laughed and laughed. He laughed too; he was late for school because he returned to the front porch three times to hug her goodbye.

The fol­low­ing week, they went to the cap­i­tal to vis­it Sahana, who said they looked Joyful. Junaid squeezed her hand under the din­ner table. Her father seemed cheery too, and after din­ner he brought out his binder of wed­ding pic­tures, each old­er and fainter than the last. The four of them sat by the gar­den, sip­ping flat Pepsi that burned her esoph­a­gus. Junaid laughed at Sahana’s fright­en­ing bridal make­up. After she and Junaid returned home, Junaid stayed off work for five days; they redec­o­rat­ed the bed­room, lac­ing the walls with teal trim and buy­ing loveseats for the emp­ty space between her win­dow and the bed. She began cook­ing again; they ate raisin-free biryani with pecan pie, and sweet, fried balls of dough, and drank cof­fee on tiny saucers that Junaid had to grip between his thumb and fore­fin­ger. They slept togeth­er every night, her nude body curved towards his. In the back­ground of it all, there was, in her head, always a faint sense of some­thing loom­ing, approach­ing – grow­ing big­ger, like a rain­drop approach­ing a hazy window-screen.

Finally, she was Late. She bought a test, hit her­self when she saw the result, bought more, hit again. The day she bought the ninth test was the day she stopped cook­ing and moved into the spare bed­room; it was also the day she ran into Tahir at the beach, buy­ing fresh sea­weed for that week’s menu.

There is now a shud­der; it pass­es from one of their linked hands to the oth­er, she isn’t sure whose.  She real­izes that she hasn’t heard Junaid walk­ing away yet; he still kneels before her, his fore­head creas­ing with what she can only assume is Total Bewilderment. The ball-wield­ing chil­dren look a bit uncom­fort­able now, large man, small woman, a thick, warm-bod­ied silence. She reach­es out, touch­es his shoul­der, and his eye­lids flut­ter soft­ly as his knees give way.

~

Radhika Kapoor lives and writes in India and America, chas­ing rainy weath­er wher­ev­er she can find it. She is a lawyer by train­ing and holds degrees from the National Law School, Bangalore, and Harvard Law School. Among her recent achieve­ments is get­ting her first flash fic­tion cred­it, and learn­ing to love dogs, espe­cial­ly the large kind.