Bindi

In the summer of 1982, when she was 16, Padma's parents sat her down in the living room, painted a red bindi on her forehead, and sent her off to be married. Padma left the scenery of her childhood quietly, unnoticed, while her brothers and sisters entertained dreams of becoming doctors and lawyers.

Her husband Vinesh she did not know personally, but everyone knew of him and his success. Vinesh always had to have the best of everything: the best home, the best car, the best wife. Padma's friends all giggled and swooned at her wedding and told her how lucky she was. Padma didn't think she was lucky, and she wished that she did not have the dark coffee beauty that had attracted Vinesh to her in the first place.

Before Vinesh whisked Padma away to their marriage bed, he took her aside and spoke quietly into her ear.

"Beloved, I will love you forever; everything I have, all my riches, are yours," he said in his silky sweet, hungry tiger voice. "All I ask, all I want in return, is your obedience."

Padma bowed her head in response because her mouth didn't know how to form the words she wanted to say. So Vinesh brought her inside and took from her what she was supposed to give, and when he was done, he rolled over and fell asleep. The moon on his dark back made him sleek and predatory and Padma stayed awake all night and cried.

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Padma became Sita in the circle; Vinesh did not allow her to leave their home if he was not by her side, and when they did venture out, he required that she wear a sari over her face. The other women, Padma knew, were envious. Their husbands did not do the shopping with them. But the other women's husbands didn't monitor their every move. The other women were allowed to leave their homes and expose their faces.

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One of Padma's roles as the wife of Vinesh was trophy. He dressed her up, adorned her in the finest jewels, and painted her face like a fine porcelain doll. And then they would go out; out to the theatre, the opera, the fanciest restaurants and posh dinner parties. Padma stood on Vinesh's arm, a sheer golden sari shielding her face and liquid brown eyes glazed.

It was at one of the dinner parties that Padma met Rohan. Rohan was not as handsome as Vinesh. His skin was darker, thicker with color, and his black hair more coarse, less lustrous. He was shorter than Vinesh, and thin rather than muscled.

But his eyes were warmer and his laugh more genuine.

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Rohan slowly became integrated into the world that Vinesh was king of. He was an aspiring musician, and if he had nothing else to offer, his skill with the violin earned him invitations to all the same parties that Vinesh's prestige afforded him.

When Padma saw him, he saw her. Saw through the golden sari over her face and past the bindi on her forehead. When he spoke to her, he did not speak to her jewels or to her beauty, or to her husband's reputation. He spoke to the woman behind all that, and there he discovered a delightfully sharp young woman with passions and interests to rival his own.

How could Padma do anything but fall in love?

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One thing, one little perk about being married to Vinesh that kept Padma sane was that Vinesh very frequently went out of town on business trips. During this time, Padma was virtually locked inside their home. All the groceries were delivered, and the house was large enough and well enough stocked that Padma could, and did, entertain herself for months at a time. Vinesh, on their first anniversary, had built her an exquisite library, with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and an overstuffed leather chair. The best times of Padma's married life was spent buried in that room while Vinesh was away.

It was during one of these trips that Rohan first showed up at Padma's doorstep. He played his violin for her, and she invited him in for dinner. After they ate, he played once more for her, and then he left.

The next night, he brought Chinese take-out and they watched Cabaret curled up together on the sofa. When it was over, Padma was fast asleep. Rohan put her to bed and quietly left.

He continued his visits like that. Sometime he brought dinner; sometimes she cooked. After the first week, Rohan took to sleeping on the couch and leaving after breakfast, but before the housekeeper came.

The week after that, he slept in the bedroom, and Padma was washing her own bed sheets.

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Vinesh returned home after a month and a half in Japan to a town full of rumors. Vinesh tore Padma's library apart and locked her in the house for a month.

When she reemerged, Rohan had stopped coming to parties.

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When the rumors died down, and Padma's friends had almost stopped whispering behind their saris when Padma walked by, Vinesh once again left on business.

This time it was Padma who went to Rohan's doorstep, and she had a suitcase in one hand. They booked passage on the next flight to America, and by midnight they were thirty thousand feet above the ocean.

Padma was terrified. She clutched the armrest with one hand and Rohan with the other. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought of her parents, of the red-hot anger of her father and the tight-lipped tension of her mother.

Padma laughed.

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They couldn't get married. Padma couldn't file for divorce without sending Vinesh her new address, and she didn't want to change her name. But they were happy together in their cramped little apartment in New York City.

Padma let her bindi fade.

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They had been together for a year. Rohan was a superb violinist, the star of an up-and-coming sextet of strings. Padma was expecting their first child.

One night in the fall, while Padma was in the kitchen preparing their supper, there was a knock on the door. Rohan set aside his violin and went to answer it.

Padma tipped a pan of boiling water when she heard the first thud. Then there was an angry shout: Rohan's. Padma clutched at a knife and crept into the front room.

Rohan was on the floor, and Vinesh was standing over him. Padma froze, and Rohan yelled for her to run, leave him and get help. Padma did, dropping the knife, but Vinesh had not lost his feline speed. If anything, his agility had only increased. He was truly a tiger on the hunt. In one slick, oil spill movement, Vinesh had Padma pinned to his chest and the knife against her throat. She cried out, and Rohan came running. All Vinesh had to do was hold his arm out.

They were on a plane overseas before Rohan's body had cooled.

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Back home in England, Vinesh made Padma abort Rohan's child.

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In the end, Vinesh was still a god-king. Rohan's memory was reduced to vague rumors of abduction and blackmail.

This time, Padma imprisoned herself.

THE END.