In the distance, along the hazy horizon, you see a settlement. That’s where the gypsies live, your wife says and curls her fingers on your arm. Her hand smells of cleaning agents―she’s a clean freak― rushes to shower and makes you change the sheets, after you make love to her. Every time. The gypsies kidnap children; steal husbands, your wife whispers―her chin resting on your shoulder. This is your second marriage and you aren’t sure if this’ll work too. Maybe you misread everything. Took all that organized shit as a sign of something proper. In any case, she hasn’t yet complained of lint-infested corners or dusty fan blades and you haven’t yet found an excuse to clear your throat to drown her words and walk away. You sip your tea, let the warmth stay in your mouth a bit longer than usual, and think of the gypsy girl you saw standing on the roadside. Her bare toes digging the dirt, her big forehead marked by sparkling dots, her dark curls escaping from the bun like baby snakes emerging from a hole.
When your wife is away, surfing on the coast of Andaman, she sends text messages to you. Miss you, Sweetie, followed by a sparkling, throbbing heart emoji. Your fingers fumble over the text and then close the app. Outside the window, the overgrown grass sways in full sun. You decide to visit the settlement the next day, look for the girl. In the thin strains of dawn, the smoke billows up from a circle of tents. A woman, dressed in black, is about to duck into one of the canvas structures. Hey, you call out, and she turns around, her kohl-rimmed eyes, little moons. You follow her into the dwelling with a wispy peach curtain. Inside, it feels as if you’ve entered another universe―broken dolls and ripped scarves, sea-shell necklaces, metal bangles and anklets on the scattered pieces of rugs. She points you to a wooden stool and asks you to remove your wedding ring, your wristwatch. Then she sits across from you, pulls out a deck of cards. You open your mouth to say you aren’t here for a tarot reading. Instead, you exhale and stare at her, completely still.
A few minutes later, the girl walks in―a raised pink in her cheeks and her neck, her gaze slippery. Maybe she saw you walking into the tent. You get up with a strong urge to touch her and she approaches you, a sly smile. Her fingers are dusted with soot, her chin tiny. She comes close, you can feel her breath on your nose: the loamy air that has left her and now wants to enter you. It’s still so early in the day and there is a violent flutter in your stomach as she places her hand on your crotch. Gaseous, explosive. You allow her to unbutton your khakis, push you towards the floor, her skirt hitched up, her tan, tattooed legs straddling your pelvis. You bring your lips closer to the girl’s mouth―it feels like the edge of a waterfall. The old woman shuffles the cards and starts cursing, her sharp voice dissecting the humidity. The curtain sways in a mild breeze and from the opening you catch a glimpse of a dipping clothesline touching the monsoon slick earth, the simmering coals on an angidhi cooking a bird― its feathers half-white, half-charred. And you continue to slow dance inside the girl, still trying to believe that this is happening−your hand moving away from the girl’s hips to her shoulders, reaching out to the dirty tassels of a nearby lamp, your palms laced in a shimmering cobweb, finding comfort. The air roils white. The dust rushes and settles on your skin, as if it has been waiting.