26. temple bay

“You have to get your fortune read!” Nikasha pulls me down, and I sink into the hot pink cushions as modestly as I can in a sundress. I almost protest– this totters on the line of “almost too Eat Pray Love” for me–but the pandit tips the sun-bleached cowrie shells in his hands before I have a chance.

His eyes are filter coffee spilled into the creases of his face. The shells roll and scatter. “Super,” he tells me with a head bobble, forefinger and thumb in an OK sign; Yatin’s uncle translates like a librarian pulling from the shelves. “He says you will continue to travel, but you will return always to Madras.”

I see these swirling in the pandit’s eyes, without language, in sips. “That you will get a new car and be a wonderful mother, and that your husband will be very smart and you will love him very much.”

His eyes flash for a moment, milk stirring, and his voice stills. He considers me, studies my dress, turns to Uncle, and pours husky Tamil forth seriously, checking to make sure he understands.

“He says to always remember, you may look like a woman, but you have the strength of one hundred men.”

Nikasha laughs knowingly and leans to tell the others. Uncle smiles, reaching for lime juice behind him, but the pandit nods solemnly, presses scarlet kumkum above my brows. With a swipe of his hand he clears the shells. I bow my head. I am dismissed.

That night, I sleep in desperate wondering– the strength of a hundred men, but still I am made weak by a single omission, the fall of a cowrie shell; I will love my husband very much, but will he love me?

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