The Calm Before (43.4)

This scene contains mild sexual content and emotional distress.

At Parinita’s wicked suggestion, Madiha spent much of the night rampaging across the skill games set up across Ocean Road. She had defeated two tests of strength, solved a cube puzzle, shot up three shooting galleries, and scooped up a few fish. Parinita kept a giant drake plush from one of the stands, but the rest of the prizes she gave away to children.

Holding hands, they forgot to fear the bursting of fireworks in the sky or the potential presence of invisible men, too enthralled by the music and the laughter and the din of the crowd as thousands of people spoke among themselves. Parinita, however, lamented that they had to spend the night exclusively out on the street after the film.

“I wish we could have a nice dinner. But I couldn’t really swing a co-op seat reservation on the festival night. They have so little space, so it’s too expensive.” She said.

“I can pick up more kulfi or some puri for us if you want.” Madiha said.

“No, it’s not really about eating, but being in a place, together, you know?”

“We could go back to our building and eat them in one of our rooms.” Madiha said.

Parinita looked her over, feeling a mixture of delight and confusion. Had she barreled over this suggestion, not knowing how bold it was to ask? Or had she suggested because she had lusty motives in mind? Knowing Madiha it was obviously the former, but she liked to indulge the latter fantasy. She put on a coquettish smile for her partner, and acted flighty.

Clinging to her arm, she pulled on Madiha, urging her back.

“That sounds lovely. We can skip the food; let’s just go back home.” Parinita said.

Madiha blinked and stared, rubbing her lips with a fidgeting hand.

The hour was close to midnight. Around Ocean Road the floats began their journeys back to the workshops that designed them, and the storefronts began to clean up. One last round of fireworks, more concentrated and bright than ever before, briefly lit the sky. Aside from the real night owls in the bars and dance halls, the people celebrating the festival began to vanish under the moon that they had come out to revere that night. Crowds dispersed, and the noise died down, leaving only the silence and empty space of a cool evening.

Parinita and Madiha walked to their temporary home under growing shadows.

Through the building door they walked, holding hands and rubbing shoulders.

Madiha fumbled with her keys. When she opened her door, they found an aggravated little face waiting for them on the bed. Kali raised its head, blowing out a little smoke.

“We brought you a friend!” Parinita cheered.

She thrust the drake plush forward. Kali stared skeptically at the object.

The drake leaped down from the bed, approached, turned its rear on Parinita and slapped the plush to the floor with its tail. Kali proceeded to ignore the toy and stare at Madiha and her companion with no particular expression discernible on its reptilian face.

“Is it mad because you left it behind?” Parinita asked.

“It’s always mad at something or other.” Madiha said.

Kali turned its head from Parinita to Madiha and back, her eyes traveling up and down their clothing, across their faces, and settling on their hands, holding one another.

She huffed smoke into the air and bolted past them down the hallway, grumbling loudly.

Both women stared out the door for a moment, contemplating the little beast.

“I always wonder whether it’s antisocial or jealous.” Parinita said, watching it go.

“It would be just my luck to have a jilted lover for a pet.” Madiha groaned.

She shut the door behind them. Parinita went to sit by the side of the bed, while Madiha undid her tie, put her fedora on the hat rack, and wandered into the bathroom, looking at her face in the mirror. Parinita watched her. She was brimming with excitement, like electric discharges just under the skin, and it was hard to keep herself from standing up and throwing herself in the woman’s arms. She smothered her lusts with a growing curiosity as to what Madiha would decide to do now that they were both here together.

When Madiha returned from the bathroom, her face wore a bashful, gentle expression.

“Parinita, I think we ought to share what we both know.” She said.

Just like her to open with such a clumsy line. Parinita smiled.

“I was planning to tell you everything I know about yourself, and me, and all of this mystical mess tomorrow. Right now, I think we’re both too tired for all of that.”

Madiha nodded her head. “Tomorrow is fine then.”

“I owe you the truth.” Parinita said. “I want to tell you the truth. I long for it.”

Madiha averted her eyes a little, perhaps embarrassed by Parinita’s impassioned tone.

“I must confess, I’ve not much more to say.” She mumbled under her breath.

Just like her to get choked up in this situation. No matter.

Parinita was quite ready to be the bold one.

She stood, and she walked step by step until she stood face to face with Madiha.

“I love you.” She said. “Madiha, I want to be honest with you. I want my truth out. I’m tired of holding things back, and I am tired of feeling like I am crazy for the ways I have felt about you. I want this, even if it sounds foolish, even if it’s reckless!”

Without a word more she thrust toward Madiha and laid her lips on the taller woman’s own. Almost immediately and without additional prompting Madiha reciprocated the embrace, spreading her own lips and actively taking Parinita’s kiss into her own. Tongues threaded together, lips pressed and sucked lustily, as if fighting for control of the kiss; when they separated, a thin string of spittle connected their mouths.

“Do you love me?” Parinita asked, severing the thread.

She felt her heart pump faster as the words rolled off her tongue.

She felt a mix of adrenaline and fear as she made her feelings blunt.

Everything was rising to the surface. She wanted it to. She wanted out of the shadows.

Madiha seemed shaken by the demand.

“Parinita, I just, I–”

That was not what she wanted, but she was ready to accept it too.

“Do you?”

“I– I want to.” Madiha stammered.

Parinita felt a cold fear creeping down her chest and into her gut. She fought it.

“What does that mean?” She asked gently.

Madiha averted her eyes. “I haven’t received affection in years.”


Those words hung painfully in the air.

“I don’t know whether my feelings are genuine or impulsive.” Madiha said.

Now Parinita felt something snap, and the desperation rising to her throat.

“What is genuine to you? We spent this whole night– I’m so confused!”

“I’m confused too– that’s the problem. I need to sort myself out.” Madiha said.

“I can wait. I just want you to know. I want you to be aware of me.”

“You deserve better.” Madiha finally said.

Her hands were trembling. She stared at the floor. Everything else had perhaps been vacillation. This felt closer to the truth. A real reason for Madiha’s stammering and avoidance.

Parinita almost couldn’t believe it. “Was it the movie? Listen, I’m sorry–”

Madiha pressed her. “No! Parinita, I’m not, I’m not normal. I’m afraid I might–”

“Are my kisses that repulsive?” Parinita said, averting her own eyes momentarily.

Her interjections were growing much less controlled and much more impassioned.

She hated the words she was saying but her heart was tearing in a dozen directions.

Madiha blinked hard and gasped. “Of course not! Parinita I adore–”

Parinita suddenly pulled her again into a kiss, hoping, praying, that it would draw her out.

Again they separated, breaking the translucent thread between their tongues.

She took Madiha’s hands into her own and felt her warmth, her pulse.

“You’re being so stupid! Who cares what I deserve? I want you, Madiha!” She said.

Madiha raised a hand to her forehead, pressing over her eyes.

“I am being stupid. I’m sorry. It’s just–I’m so afraid I’ll ruin everything again. Tonight was so incredible. I felt so happy; you were happy too. But I don’t know– I don’t know!”

Parinita knew that Madiha was haunted by so many things. She had seen it before, she had experienced it. But each time she had tackled it not by abandoning Madiha or giving up by pressing on. Despite the helplessness she felt, she pressed on. Her words started to sound accusatory, and it was the last thing that she wanted to sound like.

But she could not let this go. Her heart was flooding out of her mouth for better or worse.

“I thought you said you were better after Bada Aso, but here you go again Madiha, throwing everything onto yourself. It’s unfair! Let me share some of that burden for once! Let me hurt too! Let me take the world off those shoulders already! Let me feel like I mean something to you! No matter what form those feelings take, I’ll accept them. I don’t want to be alone, in the way that I know I’ll be alone if we part ways here! So please, Madiha, if you’re afraid, then be afraid with me, instead of fearing alone!”

Parinita’s voice rose to a shout, just a drawing of breath away from Madiha’s lips.

Those breaths rose and fell between them, belabored, silent, painfully so.

Madiha raised her eyes from the floor to meet Parinita’s again.

“Parinita, the reason I’m afraid is– it’s because–”

Those sad eyes that Parinita had been so stricken by, before she knew anything concrete about Madiha, before she knew the self-sacrificing kindness, the anxious, almost self-loathing vacillation that tormented her mind, perhaps every moment of her existence. Before she fell in love with anything she knew she had fallen in love with those eyes, those eyes that knew pain and that silently promised to try to spare the world any more pain.

Eyes that would give anything for a kindred soul; Parinita wanted to drown in them.

She was stricken again by those tragic eyes, drawn into Madiha’s voice by her gaze.

“Deep down in my heart, I know want to mean something to you too, Parinita. No matter how anxious I get, no matter how confused. I can stifle those feelings, I can try to hide them, I can fear them. But they are real. A very real part of me wants you so much, Parinita. And this is not something I’ve ever experienced before. It’s just– so new.”

Madiha’s voice was trembling. Parinita thought she would weep from the sentiment.

Warmth again washed over the cold in her breast. She felt a great, purifying relief.

“You spend so much effort to say such simple things! Here: I love you, Madiha!”

“I’m sorry.” Madiha said. “I’m sorry. I love you. I know I do. I can’t deny it.”

Parinita smiled. She ran a mischievous finger down Madiha’s lip, quieting her.

“Please. One more time, with my name, and without the cruft.”

She lifted her finger.

Madiha slowly smiled back, her face reddening. “Parinita, I love you.”

Their hands entwined, fingers interlocking, squeezing. Their gazes locked together.

As if drawn in by gravity, they hovered slowly closer.

Gently, Madiha dipped her head forward, leaning into a kiss.

Parinita drove forward, kissing Madiha with such force that she pushed her to the wall.

Madiha’s hands traveled down to Parinita’s hips. Her own caught on Madiha’s belt.

They separated briefly enough to exchange heavy, breathy words.

“Are you scared?” Parinita asked.

“I am scared for us, but I can overcome it.” Madiha replied.

“Don’t be scared for me. I– I want to hold you, Madiha. Do you want me to?”

Madiha struggled for breath amid the passion of the moment. “I want to.”

“Don’t be scared for me.” Parinita said again. “I’m stronger than you think.”

Without response, Madiha eased into another kiss, her eyes closed, her hands seeking.

Parinita reciprocated the attention immediately and naturally, as if an instinct.

Fingers flicked opened buttons, zippers, clasps; cloth slid off shoulders and backs.

Hands sought warmth, moisture, softness; between legs, over buttocks, across breasts.

Smothering their fear with shared heat, Madiha and Parinita fell together into bed.

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