Prose by Samhita Shanker
Art by Luiza Ortiz
“Are you ready? We can’t be late for our anniversary!”
“Two minutes!” Dilip calls, pushing through loose coins and memories in his closet searching for his cufflinks. His fingers brush aside some dust and instead, find gold glittering in the corner. He reaches in, clasping an errant fragment of summer 1972.
It was the year before he got married, at a time when Navi occupied his every waking moment. The heatwave flooded their houses and ran in rivulets down their spines, giving them no reprieve. Instead, he found it in the river flowing behind their homes and in Navi, a steady presence grabbing his hand when the muddied banks gave out. They threw their clothes on the flat rocks by the shore and floated, fingers tangling under the water and drifting closer. Dilip blinked against the glinting gold necklace pooling in the hollow of Navi’s throat and wondered how it would feel to drown in it.
A voice fragments the memory. “The children will be here soon!”
Shaking his head, Dilip reaches deeper into the closet, brushing against soft crushed velvet. He holds it in his palm and glimpses the month before his marriage. He spent every waking moment, and then some, with Navi. Their childhood was filled with Dilip pulling Navi away from whoever he pissed off that day, heart pounding and breath heavy, hands fisted in his shirt. Their adulthood was similar; Dilip pulled him around corners with the same pounding heart and heavy breath, but this time, they ran from something entirely intangible. Navi held him closer and he let himself forget everything, lost in the crevices of time, the blink of an eye, the curve of his mouth. He found that if he put his hand in the hollow of Navi’s throat, the gold did overwhelm him but he yielded himself to it each time.
There is a knock on the door. His wife steps in, shoes on and arms crossed.
“I can’t find my cufflinks,” he interjects before she can say anything.
Neither their formal Hindi, nor their relationship, has softened over time. They talk clumsily, struggling to speak over their wedding garlands tightening like a noose around their necks for the past thirty-five years. Thirty-six today.
“Here,” she picks up a box near their bedside table and hands it to him.
Inside was the week before he got married, when his father came to collect his debts, and Dilip had to pay the price of being the first-born son. The neighbourhood watched as his mother pushed sweets into his mouth and he swallowed the bitterness of marriage, dowry, and stifling silence. He smiled, an odd tug of his mouth. His bride-to-be was beside him but he was only looking for one person, the only home he had felt safe in, unburdened by anything for those moments except for their stolen moments. Even those seemed lighter when their shoulders pressed together. Lost in the sea of clapping hands, the same shoulder brushed his and quietly pressed a little box into his palm.
“Cufflinks,” Navi said. “Bought them for the special occasion.”
The shining gold that was Navi had painfully dulled, tarnishing with every moment pulling them closer to the wedding. Dilip searched for any glimpse of the necklace at his throat, any little spark, but it was gone.
“We’ll manage. We’ll figure it out.”
Dilip wasn’t sure who was comforting who at that point, but he clasped Navi’s hand for just a moment longer before he had to let go.
“I said, is that what you wanted?” his wife repeats.
He looks inside the box and finds straight silver lines blinking at him. They weren’t the cufflinks he was looking for, but he nods anyway. He puts the cufflinks on, tightening the circles around his wrist, and leaves the closet.