There are times when I surprise myself with my memory. It springs on me at the most unexpected of days, when I wish I were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Living through times hasn’t always been easy, but to relive them when you least need them has been draining and killing, to say the least. I was with her that day, going over the designs for wedding cards. I could see the golden ring on her finger glisten, as she sifted through card after card, while the attendant pored over her trying to help her out, his eyes straying sometimes to the white of her cleavage, which peeked out from the translucent violet dupatta that she’d draped around her.
I followed his gaze, not attempting to tell her to sit up, but gazing at the little of what I had seen more of. I remembered the whiteness and the softness, the red marks that I’d left on them, the trail of my tongue as it had felt them, I also remembered the duskiness of breasts, a mole under her left breast, the scar on her lower belly from an appendicitis operation, the faded scars of abuse that her father pelted on her in his anger fits. I remembered the duskiness, I also remembered the whiteness.
It did not take me time to recall that white was different from the duskiness. The absence and presence of scars and the beautiful face and the scornful face. The glisten of the ring and her hand on my thighs as she held up a cared distracted me. But not completely. I remembered her now. The only one to wear sarees to college, when everyone else wore jeans and skirts and tried hard to make nothingness show out of measly Barbie doll dresses. I remember her cotton sarees as she walked in to classes with windblown and tied back black hair. I remember the big bindis, the tiny nose ring and the sandaks. I remember her sketches, as they fell out of her notebooks, sketches of tears, of blood, revenge and solitude. I could almost remember her smell, something which I hadn’t ever smelt before. Of Indian ink and tulsi, of whiskey and mustard, of wood sharpening and machine oil. I remember her smell the most.
I used to catch her eye quite often as we sat on opposite side of the gallery in our graphics classes. She stared back usually, a bored surprised look on her face. It did not occur to me the difference in equation. I turned my gaze away first, looking down hurriedly at the blank page in my notebook, or suddenly finding the professors talk amazing, while she still stared at me from the other corner. It did not strike me that with men, it usually happens the other way around.
It wasn’t until my then best friend, the one now I don’t even call up once in ten years, asked me if I had something for her. I did not know. I found her stare captivating. I knew it wasn’t reserved for me. It was for everyone. No one escaped her. I could see people squirm under her even casual gaze. I later remembered that she was the only one in our batch who hadn’t been ragged. While I was commanded to run naked with a pacifier in my mouth along the corridors of the ladies hostel, I remember her sitting on the verandah,one leg curled under her, a pencil in her hand. I caught a whiff of Indian ink as I raced away; suddenly feeling the sudden urge to cry. I felt her looking at me from behind, I remember feeling her gaze on me, I remember thinking that the corridor was too long.
I remember her bored laugh as I learnt for the first time that sex hurts men too. I remember her smile as she looked at me from the bed, as I took a bath in the shower. I remember the faded scars on her thighs only too well.
We walked out of the card shop, she held up our wedding card for me to see. I held back my memories from her.