Karan came to visit them once, Meera and her husband, soon after the wedding. She had cracked open the door with quiet trepidation, for he had told only her he was coming. Even after having seen innumerable pictures of him in her husband’s old, milky photo albums, she was unprepared for his beauty, and, for a moment, she cupped her cheek in astonishment as she gazed at him. She was wearing her favorite patterned frock and trousers, and knew she looked pleasant. To her, his eyes were pools of chocolate kindness, his voice lilting. She couldn’t possibly imagine how her husband had given him up – a younger, even lovelier, even more unsettling iteration of him. He folded his slender hands in greeting; she slowly unlatched the door and led him inside, feeling the corners of her vision contract to focus on Karan.
In the kitchen, stirring thick tea into her prettiest cups for her guest, Meera mused about what to tell her husband. She needn’t have worried, though, because as she set out two teacups in the next room – for herself and Karan – her husband emerged from the shower and, smiling, limped over to Karan, arms outstretched. The surge of envy she expected never came; instead, Meera found herself observing Karan with a fascination that uncoiled and coiled deep in her belly, as he stretched his palm out to catch a spill from her cup, sharing meandering stories about his life with his father in the hills, laughing quietly with a finger across his lips. Her husband treated Karan with the camaraderie and machismo of a former colleague, slapping him on the back when he made a humorous remark, clinking his little teacup with his as though it were a mug of sudsy beer.
After tea, Karan jogged back to his car to fetch a box of sweets for Meera and her husband as congratulations – crinkly, silver-wrapped balls of dough. You could suck the silver coating right off, Karan told them; oh, you could feel its grainy crystals coat your lips. Meera’s husband, chuckling, ate three sweets right out of the box, while Meera tittered, shaking her head. Then, in a sudden burst of energy, the pit in her stomach still throbbing, she reached into the container, unwrapping the silver layer to eat herself, and breaking off a piece of the chewy, now-bald sphere, which she pushed softly into Karan’s mouth. He smiled at her, returning the gesture. Her husband laughed louder than he usually laughed, and ate another sweet.
Craving some corroboration of their past intimacy, Meera leaned against her husband, whispering fervent encouragements. She wanted so much to hear about her husband’s youth with Karan, long afternoons spent in the sun in the gardens outside their university, her husband reading to his then-lover, hurried conversations on phones covered with one hand as suspicious mothers loomed close, mosquito-infested evenings passed while stirring pots upon pots of the stew that had made Karan famous in his village.
Her husband looked at Karan with a twinkle in his eye. Meera loved it when he got like that, when he appeared as though he had just the anecdote to share, to brighten the air around them – just the two of them – a tiny little bit. She felt an urgent anticipation building in her throat and her veins, heightened by Karan’s languid presence on their – her and her husband’s – dull gold sofa. As she leaned forward, her teacup trembling in her fingers, the eagerness burnishing her husband’s face, he started to talk. The words danced, strong and wild, and Meera’s eyelids slowly, so slowly, grew iron-like, thudding to a pin-point. She saw Karan cross and then uncross those lithe, neverending legs.
By the time Meera stirred, Karan was gone. A half-eaten sweet sat on the coffee table, still moist from his bite.