Today's Reading

Looking around, Pival realized that the maids had started unpacking the carefully sorted trunks and boxes. At her gasp, Sarya looked up, her large eyes wide.

"It's bad business. Best not to do it. What will people say?" Tanvi shook her head in agreement, clucking like a chicken.

"Going to such places? Begging old relatives to take you in? You will lower yourself, madam. What would sir think? Who does such a thing?"

"And what are you saying, either of you? How would you know what people do? Living in the same ten streets all your life, what do you know but the tread of your shoes? Close your drooling mouths and pack my things!"

Tanvi stared at Pival, her mouth wide in surprise. Sarya had already begun to cry, her childish wails filling the air between them. Pival had shocked even herself. She was never so articulate in Bengali, and she never got angry. While Ram Sengupta might have raised his voice at the servants, Pival rarely spoke above a soft tone, making most people strain toward her when she talked. It was one of her husband's many criticisms of her. He had called her with disdain a little squeaky mouse.

Pival had tried to speak louder. She had gone to a breathing seminar taught by a prestigious doctor turned guru to improve her lung capacity and diaphragm control. She had even seen a throat and larynx specialist, who informed her that what she lacked was not strength of voice but strength of confidence. Pival had known then that it was a lost cause. Whatever confidence she had once had was now a withered thing, dead on the vine.

A cacophony of wailing, like a funeral procession, brought Pival back to the present. She gazed dispassionately at the faces of her sobbing maids. She said nothing as Sarya and then Tanvi left her room. Sarya fled like a deer, but Tanvi made a more leisurely departure, waiting for Pival to call her back and apologize. As the older maid waddled away, Pival couldn't help but think of the thin child she'd met all those years ago and looked for her in Tanvi's plump frame. She couldn't find her, couldn't see that girl who had pressed her lips together with happiness when she first ate a piece of chocolate, trying to keep it in her mouth forever.

Pival turned, shaking her head. Why should she care what Tanvi and Sarya and all the rest of them thought? Pival looked at herself in the mirror. She had been avoiding mirrors since Ram's death, afraid she would look too old, too unhappy, or worse, too happy. She couldn't find her younger self in her own face anymore either. The room around her was richly appointed, filled with beautiful and expensive things. They reflected behind her in the mirror, overwhelming her thin, faded face, leaving her feeling ugly next to their glow. She had been overwhelmed and buried by her own life. And now, unable to dig herself out, she was going to leave it all behind.

Pival rubbed at her wrists gently, an old habit to comfort herself. She didn't like that she had yelled at the servants. She may not have liked the maids but that was no excuse for cruelty. Since Ram had died, all their help had been so devastated, mourning much more deeply than Pival could herself. She should have had sympathy for those who loved her husband more than she had.

She rubbed her wrist again, looking at it. She had always been fascinated by the skin on her wrists, the thinness of it, the way she could see blue veins popping up through it like tunnels. She had thought of ending her life this way, with a shard of glass to the wrist, the way women did in the Bollywood movies she would sneak off to watch alone when Ram was at work. Other women in the theaters cried and sighed at every twist and turn, but for her, the only parts that interested her were the mothers, the ones who martyred themselves for their sons. As a young woman she had found this ridiculous. Now she found it shaming. She watched them slice through their veins with a kind of envy, but she hadn't thought she could bear cutting through her own skin. She had tried it once, when Ram had told Rahi he could never come home again, and there was a small dip in the skin of her left wrist as evidence of her failure. She had cleaned up and bandaged her wrist and hid it from Ram under her bangles. Besides, after Rahi was banished Ram stopped looking at her at all. She checked now for that little dent, rubbing at it gently, pressing her pinkie into the pucker as her thumb caressed the rest of her wrist.

"This is not done, madam." Tanvi's formal declaration interrupted Pival's thoughts and she hid her hands behind her quickly, like a little girl. It was always this way with Tanvi, like Pival was the servant and the maid the master. She forced herself to bring her hands back to her sides, pressing her sweaty palms into the skirts of her white sari. "You have hurt Sarya. She is threatening to leave."

"She should, then. It's time for her to marry, anyway. Soon she will be too old."

Pival was amazed by how quickly the words sprang to her lips. Tanvi had never married. The maid looked like she had been slapped. "This is not doing what sahib would have wanted. Leaving home like this."

"I have no home, Tanvi," Pival said, looking toward the wall at a large family photo of the Senguptas taken thirty years ago, at Rahi's first birthday.

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