Her worn out flats slapped the pavement as she strode out across the street and into the bazaar. It was Tuesday, so as per convention all local craftsmen and farmers had displayed the best of this season’s harvest in the weekly market. Luscious rose-coloured apples, bulbous tomatoes, long swollen bottle gourds, fat sprawling pumpkins and a heap of muddied potatoes eyed Shahada as she looked upon them greedily, thinking of all that she could concoct out of these fresh bounties of the earth. Further along the path, she came across the long pile of handicrafts and clothes sitting by their parent artisans. Intricate wicker chairs and baskets adorned the floors as fine muslin, silk and cotton fell from the long stands lining the path along the pavilion. Their luxurious colours, in multitudes of shades, all shone out proudly in the glistening sunlight of July. Following the handicraft section were the long counters choked with faded silver junk jewelry encrusted with fake stones, which gleamed as if they were real diamonds.
The thought of that handsome stone sitting on the dainty pedestal that was a simple gold band. She imagined a sunbeam pierce the rock as it sat on her elongated finger, and gleamed at the thought of a million rainbows that would shoot out of its refractive surfaces.
That’s what marriage would bring. The grandeur that was an Indian wedding. How illustrious she would look in the arduous folds of a blood red silk sari, thick with heavy gold embroidery, looping in pearls and tiny crystals. How magnificent she would look as she would walk towards the altar under a flower-draped pergola, waltzing with feminine grace. The embodiment of all that a bride should be. Her generously lined doe eyes would look up from the kohl embracing her waterline and meet the eyes of all the guests— quietly staring with a suppressed smile, awestruck as if looking upon some form of divinity. And why wouldn’t they look awestruck? That day she would really ascend to the gods, even if only for a day.
Shahada wasn’t one to fantasize unabashedly in the open court of the marketplace. She wasn’t one to stand in the middle of a bustling street, lost in thought. But it was easier to float into her hopes for tomorrow with the prospect of a ring meandering in her near future. It all began when she went to a renowned fortune teller two Tuesdays ago. It wasn’t just any soothsayer or a smooth talker. He wasn’t a quack or a con artist. He had the vision. He had the gift. Meena’s cousin’s husband’s sister swore by him. He was never wrong. So one fine day she strode into his purple marquee and sat herself down on the plush cushion seated on the carpeted floor. The entire room was a royal shade violet and consisted of a sprawling teak table, a stack of tarot cards, an old parrot poised on a long wooden staff attached to the floor, an intimidating crystal globe and another cushion for the maestro himself. It was all very well thought out and professional, Shahada noted as she looked around with a piqued interest.
“Hmm… so, my child, you want to know about your future? Look into the mystical beyond? Flesh out the blurs of tomorrow? Have, for yourself, a fresh prediction?”
Shahada could only nod aggressively, now more enthusiastic than ever, animated with the magic of this fantastical situation, curious about the outcome.
Pleased at her easy submission to this façade of his glory, the fabled clairvoyant felt himself getting hard. There was an unsurpassed eroticism in this blind acceptance. This prostration of nubile young girls. Desperate for him, and just as gullible. Easy pickings.
Shahada was a young twenty-something middle-class girl with a good face and attractive figure. ‘Marriage’ was the typical prophecy he doled out to her type. Ask a nobody to guess the inevitable and he just might.
And so, back in character, he swung his head back and rolled his eyes into his skull. His bony and frail hand, heavy with the weight of fat colorful gem-laden rings, reached out to touch her chest. He hummed loudly, swung his head clockwise for a couple of seconds and then suddenly shot up straight.
“Two Tuesdays from now, in the blue darkness of the evening, a diamond glimmer will emerge from the dark and forever change the course of your life.”
It was decided. Diamond. Shimmer. Forever change. Two Tuesdays from now Shahada would be getting married.
Oh, how she rose and chirped and sang and squealed with happiness. It was everything and more. Never mind that she didn’t have a suitor as of yet. It will all fall into place.
“A hundred rupees should do it”
And so her life really was changed forever. Today was the fated day. And yes, there was no suitor yet. But who knows? He could be anybody. He could bump into her in this bazaar right now. He would fall in love with her immediately. Her slovenly appearance would look soft and meek and sweet. He would immediately propose. It was fated.
More than fated. It was a fact.
And so, she walked beyond the haggling women fighting for iridescent fish, beyond the sweet smell of freshly-spun dazzling sugar floss, beyond the kaleidoscopic display of clothes, dancing as if afloat on a cloud in a Bollywood chick flick. It was, after all, the best day of her life.
However, as the evening grew nearer, her faith in destiny became impatient. She paced across the house, manically running towards the balcony at the slightest sounds from the outside world— hoping for a Romeo on his knee with a red rose in his hand. Or a carnation. Or a lily. Yes. Lilies were nice. White? No, yellow. No white. Yes, holding a white lily, maddened with ardor as is suitable for a patient of unrequited one-sided love. But it was already six. Shahada was angry at his audacity. How dare he refuse her? Who does he think he is? Does he think she would come to his house and ask for his hand in marriage? And does he think she’d say yes after this pathetic display of laziness and/or arrogance? What gall!
Wait. What if he got lost. Her uncle always got lost in the park right across the street. In the evening, with the typical electricity shortages, the park can be as confusing as a jungle. The sheer amount of times she had to look for her uncle and guide him back home. What is her husband was lost? What if he was afraid of the dark? No, gross. She isn’t fated for a wimp. He’s just lost. He isn’t used to this, he comes from a big city will full-time electricity and well-illuminated and well-mapped parks. Yes.
So, she would obviously have to go out and look for him.
A sudden gusto possessed her as she sprang out of her salwar kameez, which was already the best pair she owned, and rolled on another— the one her mother wore at her engagement. She remembers looking at it as a child, as her mother dreamily dozed on about her mediocre meet-cute story. She knew then, that her meet-cute would be the stuff of classic cinema and literature. It would be devastatingly romantic and would put Romeo and Juliet to shame. And that salwar deserved more than her mother’s pathetic needlessly exaggerated tiresome story. So obviously, it was one of the few things she kept after her mother’s death.
Her chappals slapped the steep concrete stairs as she raced down the floors of her building and made her way into the park from across the street. It was dark, as expected. And the light was cut for the entire area. The stars, however, were out. As they are in all epic romances, thought Shahada as she strode across the darkness confidently, smiling to herself. Just then, she heard a faint rustle. In the loud silence that often takes over in power-shortages, even the hopping of crickets and the flopping of lizards creates a racket. The rustling grew, followed by the crunching of leaves. He’s here, she thought excitedly as she turned towards the sound, staring into oblivion expectantly, high with exhilaration and anticipation. The stride became quicker and turned into a run. She opened her arms in elation, ready for the last embrace. She only began to see the two shining lights moving towards her as she felt a huge body knock down her own. She could smell the blood on his breath and felt the weight of his paws pinning her shoulders to the ground. Shahada stared into the gleaming white eyes of the tiger as he snuck down to her neck and plunged his blunt teeth into her throat, tearing it out.
The stars disappeared from the darkness that seeped into her frozen eyes.