“K.R. Lochan,” Indu exclaimed, leaning toward her friend. The flower she’d tucked behind her ear fell into the dirt. “When did you find out?”
Mala, looking at her small hands, spoke softly. “I’ve known since I was six.”
“How come you never said anything? We’re best friends.”
“We were children. I never much thought about it. Now that you are getting married, it’s becoming so real.”
Dusk was approaching over Bangalore. Many people were at home preparing for the next day, a typical Shukravar. Others walked the streets discussing the recent visit of the Mahatma. Two girls, Indu and Mala, sat along a dusty road oblivious to the conversations and actions of those passing.
“You’re so lucky to know,” said Indu. “The suspense is too much for me.”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
“Not until tomorrow. And what if the boy’s parents are not pleased?” “You are the most beautiful girl in India. Of course they will be pleased.”
Indu blushed slightly at her friend’s compliment. “If I were beautiful, I would have been engaged before now. I am twelve. It has been too long.”
“That has to do with circumstances. You are rich in beauty. That is all they will notice tomorrow.”
“Lochan will be a good husband for you. I hope to be so lucky.”
The evening became lost in thoughts of matrimony. Mala was subdued, turning a rock in her hands, while Indu pondered the possibilities. Many questions were started, but few were finished. Finally, Indu announced that she had promised her mother that she wouldn’t stay late and that she must return. The two girls, their childhood between them, embraced. When they parted, Indu and Mala both felt that the path that took them home was somehow different than the one they had journeyed only hours before.
Unable to sleep, Indu watched the hare of the moon as it rode in the chariot led by Makara’s white horses. The heavens that once seemed so close and real, were now distant lights that provided little solace. Yet she watched intently.
Hours passed and the young girl could not close her eyes. Her mother’s speeches earlier that night still rang through her ears—speeches of duty and honor. Her father’s look had brushed her skin with goose bumps that refused to leave. Questions plagued her, resisting Indu’s attempts to turn them away.
What will he be like, she thought. She thought about Mala and how she was to marry Lochan, an attractive boy destined to be a better merchant than his lazy father. As the wife of Lochan, Mala will have a future. Lochan will be strong; Mala will radiate love.
Indu’s parents were similar. Her mother had been the firm one in the marriage, showing love through fortitude. Her father was a sensitive man and supported the family with the strength of an embrace. Although they had been only a few blocks from one another, they didn’t meet until the day they became engaged.
Would Indu know the boy that tomorrow would stand opposite of her, scrutinizing her stance as she shifted uncomfortably in heavy clothing? Why must this be kept from her?
She thought of Abhinav. He was always watching her—had been watching her for years. He was a clumsy boy, always falling over his feet. When he was younger he would sometimes cry about it. Now he brushed the dirt from his churidars and kurta, continuing unashamed.
“Why do you fall so much?” others asked.
“I guess I get lost in my thoughts. I forget where I am.”
Once Indu asked him, “What do you think about?”
“I think about what I look like to a mosquito. Whether someday someone will catch a star. What kind of man I will be. Those kind of things.”
So Abhinav was a worthless dreamer. Everyone saw he would never amount to anything. His walk amongst the clouds and his falls would bring down anyone linked with him.
Yet Indu was flattered with his gaze. She liked to believe he was thinking of his future, imagining her as a part of it. Perhaps he was just studying her in the same light that he examined the world.
Indu thought of others who gazed at her with longing. She remembered Vinay who often stared at her; yet, his eyes did not betray hopes of marriage. Vinay was a much older boy and his glare bit into her skin like the tip of a flame. He made other girls nervous with his penetrating stare and yellow teeth, but none more so than Indu.
Indu reassured herself. Vinay did not have family; there was no way he could afford even a girl as poor as herself. Yet she couldn’t help but question. What if her parents were worse off than she’d known and they couldn’t afford much dowry? What would she do to survive those eyes every day for the rest of her life? Was this why the engagement was being kept secret?
Forcing herself to think positively, she closed her eyes and thought of Ravindra’s face; suddenly, Vinay was a long-forgotten tinge of another life’s trial. Ravindra was gorgeous. He was successful in everything he’d done and would love any woman with his endearing heart and soft hands.
Yet Ravindra was meant to be more than the husband of a poor girl. Besides, she’d heard he was promised to Arundahti. Though this would be an ideal match, Arundahti being the daughter of a lucrative grocer and possessing looks that rivaled Indu’s, Indu pretended it would never work. Arundahti was too young.
She wondered if she were too. Was she ready to be a wife? She wanted nothing more than to be married, having dreamed of such since she was a girl. Was it the right time?
As the first stars of Makara fell below the horizon, Indu slept. Her dreams, though brief, were playful, perhaps childish. Never again would she dream she could walk among the stars.
Chris Blocker holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska. His stories have appeared in the Magical anthology, the Dia de los Muertos anthology, and Inscape. He is currently seeking a home for his debut novel. He lives in Topeka, Kansas, and is a librarian by day. http://www.chrisblocker.com