The cold water came as a shock, forcing Nadini to resurface and gasp for fresh air. She gulped a mouthful and dove again, plunging into the relative darkness with each stroke. But her lungs won’t let her go all the way. The cold water reigned at her arms and strangled her for air. She made her way back to the shore, empty-handed, and collapsed on to the dark, moist soil that wrapped her wet skin.
With each breath the scent of ripe guavas drifted through her inflated nostrils, overwhelming her with insatiable desire. The coarse yet soft texture of the guavas turned acrid in her mouth. The memory of the servant boy who moved like liquid gold over her sister’s milky skin had forever tarnished its taste for her.
Nandini slashed through the dense undergrowth, ripping apart the hammock of weeds that knitted the woods together. The machete’s rough edges—corroded black with years of neglect—made the task harder than it seemed.
With each swing, the pulse beneath her eyelids throbbed a second faster. With each cut, the woods echoed with her heaving breaths; the buzz of honeybees and the songs of mainas fading away into the stillness of the noon air.
Sweat streamed down her face—blinding her momentarily, choking her senses with its acrid taste. The silk shirt clung to her skin like a wet tissue paper. Her tiring nape, aching back and blistering hands made the agony of a hot Indian summer unbearable to her overworked arms.
She wasn’t used to labor in any form or sense of the word. But the thought of her family heirloom, resting at the bottom of the pond, willed her to action.