I climbed the stairs, knocked on his office door and went inside. He turned around in his chair, in his white lab coat. He said, “What’s this?”
“I can’t get a picture taken in jeans and a skimpy top.”
“Is that a bindi?”
“And that’s a sa-la-war?”
“I have only fifteen minutes before I’ve to start home.” He grabbed the camera and brushed past me to the door. He was a big man, and quick, and abrupt. He was always filling the space I was in, and then leaving it suddenly, leaving me teetering on the edge of the space he had just encroached. He led me out of the office into the corridor.
“Against the blue background.”
I stood in front of an empty noticeboard.
“Not here,” I said. “There will be people walking up and down.”
Jan and a girl appeared around the end of the corridor.
“Photo for Sita’s arranged marriage,” he called out to them.
They chuckled and I said, “No no, it’s just to prove to my parents that I still exist.”
“When’s the baby due?” The girl asked him.
“Any time now. Probably as we speak,” he laughed.
He told me to tilt left and right while he clicked.
This boy with the ears walked by, and he told him to pose with me.
As we posed, I said, “If this picture comes out, my market value is going to plummet.”
The boy with the ears laughed and walked on, happy to have had his picture taken.
We went back to his office and loaded the pictures into his computer. I pulled my chair close to his. He took a sharp breath, and I didn’t hear him breathe out. Out of the corner of my eye, he was an amalgam of unfocused shapes. A sloping cone of white, a slab-zag of pink and a blunt, black-brown cliff. From the corner of my eye, he could have been near or far, a man or a mountain.
We had reached the last photo.
“May I see them again?” I asked. I hadn’t looked at any of them.
He ran the slideshow again. I had shadows under my eyes in all the photos.
“It is probably the blue background,” I said. “And the ceiling lights.”
“Come on, I know where we can take good pictures,” he said. “But I have to go in five minutes, so we have to do it chop chop.”
I followed him out of the office and we hurried along the corridor. He opened a ‘Restricted Access’ door, looked around it into the following corridor, looked at me and put a finger to his lips. We reached its end and quietly climbed up some unlit stairs and came to a landing.
“It’s too dark here,” I whispered.
We stood very still while some footsteps pounded downstairs along the corridor and faded away.
There was a fire door opening onto the roof.
He reached the door, lifted a hand as if he was going to open it, but then turned around and crushed me to him. We stumbled to the wall, and with his back to it, he slid down a little and splayed his legs so I could be closer and we could be face to face.
My kurta felt smooth on my back, under his hand, and his lab coat smelled unbearably crisp. It glowed in the dark.
He touched my bindi, and touched my sleeve.
We kissed as if our hearts might break, as if this might be our last embrace.
Anita Sivakumaran writes stories, has recently been published in Riptide vol.4 and vol.6 (forthcoming) and is also working on a novel about a model, a mafia don and a filmmaker, set in India.