The sun of late morning coloured Rehnoor’s eyelids red on the inside. She enjoyed the sun rays groping for the slightest taste of her skin that rested within layers of winter clothing. At the south of her neck a drop of sweat arose and tapered down to her chest before losing its way to gravity. She lay with her back on the grass, her eyes closed, and her still limbs waltzing to the symphony of the winter winds. She opened her eyes, glimpsed the bright sun and shut them tight again; now the red beneath her lids was speckled with black. In those formless black spots, she tried to envisage the face of her lover. She thought about his hair, the curve of his temple and the thickness of his brow, the depth in his eyes, perhaps a dimple on his left cheek and intensely desirable lips. Losing all sync with reality, Rehnoor nose-dived into fantasies of her first kiss.
In her head no more she lay in her neighbour’s garden, no more was she surrounded by her noisy cousins, no more were her eyes too small, her legs too spindly or her ankles too swollen; no, when she thought of her first kiss she felt liberated from the mundane, like a balloon bereft of its shackling thread. All the clamour of existence died down, it was only she and her lover and their first experience of divinity. Violins began to play at some distance, her back arched upwards and her lips parted and puckered up as if any moment now – with a thud something heavy landed on her chest.
It hurt. Rehnoor gasped for air. Her eyes flew wide open.
Only to be met by another pair of intensely black eyes staring right back at her. But they were not the eyes of any man or woman–covered with glossy grey hair was a face as black as a moonless night, and its eyes mirrored Rehnoor’s incredulity. It tilted its head from one side to another, dangerously close to Rehnoor’s face, its hands over her ears now and its tail in transverse over her abdomen. Half a moment passed in silence and observation; Rehnoor could only register how soft its hair felt on her chin and face, when her cousins seemed to have returned.
Gasps. Screams. Gasps, and then some more screams.
The monkey bared its teeth in irritation, or perhaps to scare the squealing human midgets away. When that didn’t work, it climbed off Rehnoor and leapt out of the scene, causing only more chaos in its wake.
Amma, Daddy, Rehnoor got kissed by a monkey! Kaki[i], Kakka[ii], a monkey was snogging our dear sister! Yes, we saw it. Yes, we were there. Amma, listen, a grey langur[iii] kissed her face. Daddy, Amma has fainted! Someone call the doctor. Someone… Rehnoor lay still on the grass, too dazed and too comfortable to move.
The next two days, in the Mistry household, were of carnivalesque ridiculousness. Phone calls rang from the length and breadth of the country. Monkey-kissed Rehnoor’s pictures were passed over all family groups on WhatsApp, for advice (and gossip). A distantly related uncle lamented over how disfigured her face looked since ‘the incident’. A hot-blooded cousin of Rehnoor’s mother vowed to murder monkeys at sight, to avenge his niece’s honour. Another aunt whispered to everyone who would listen, how the Patels had discreetly withdrawn their proposal for Rehnoor’s hand leaving the poor girl with no prospects at all. The palpitations this gave to Rehnoor’s mother shook the entire house. Hither and thither she ran, beating her chest in anxiety and grief, seeking advice from witch doctors and washerwomen, even zookeepers on how to ward the unholy repercussions of ‘the incident’ off her darling daughter. And of course there were some impish sixteen-year-old cousins who were dying of curiosity to know how it felt like to be kissed, so what if it was a monkey. Are they any different from men?
Rehnoor’s casually quiet countenance suddenly became a side effect of ‘the incident’; even her most regular habits became a point of overwrought conversation for everyone. Used to being ignored to the point of negligence, Rehnoor was overwhelmed by the attention being dealt to her. While some also alleged that monkey-kisses were harbingers of great good luck, others unhesitatingly declared the girl’s doom, the family’s doom, and the community’s doom in the same breath. Factions began to arise in the family. An antediluvian great-aunt was urgently beckoned from the village, for she was known to have the traditionally ‘right’ remedies for everything. And, of course, that is exactly what Rehnoor needed right now—some approved-by-tradition medicine.
With as much grace as she could possibly muster Rehnoor absorbed the harsh spotlight directed on her. She longed for two seconds of solitude, which she was absolutely denied by relatives who would’ve accompanied her inside toilets too had she not put her foot down. By the fifth night, Rehnoor had had her fill of the farcical drama. She was desperate for some fresh air. On cue as if, she was taken over by an urge to go up to the terrace. It was no mean task to escape from the hawk-like watch of her father (and all other relatives who had turned her house into a dharamshala[iv] of sorts).
The night was darker than most others. She could barely see a thing but switching on the lights wasn’t an option. She shut the door to the terrace as quietly as she could. The air smelled like a far-fetched dream of freedom. She shivered.
It was then that she saw it. A figure in the dark, its face just as black as she remembered. It sat on the parapet, its head slightly tilted to one side. Before she knew it Rehnoor had begun walking towards it. Like a sculpture, it sat rooted to its spot. Her lack of trepidation surprised her as she continued walking towards the monkey. The pitch black night seemed to have thrown a blanket over her anxiety and reason. In the back of her mind, she registered an increasing uproar downstairs over her absence. Her breath grew ragged, as she stood right in front of the monkey. The din from downstairs rang in sharp contrast with the stillness on the terrace. Rehnoor could feel her pulse racing everywhere in her body as she bent her knees and came face to face with the monkey. It tilted its head the other way, not budging an inch.
Inhaling what felt like her last breath of air, Rehnoor closed her eyes and leant forward. Her lips brushed against the monkey’s for the smallest unit of time.
The terrace door blew open. Within a blink of Rehnoor’s eyes, the monkey seemed to have vanished completely. Lights were switched on.
Somehow finding Rehnoor safe made her family noisier than before. An ocean of arms reached out to touch her, because seeing her alright wasn’t good enough. Holding both her hands, an entire procession brought her downstairs to her room again. Only after being made to swear about a dozen times that she wouldn’t go anywhere alone, was she allowed to sleep, in the company of the night-bodyguards (two young aunts).
The creature had stolen the fantasy of her first kiss. But come what may, Rehnoor had reclaimed it in the dark of the night. Her first kiss was still hers to give to whom she liked, or so she believed, smiling herself to sleep.
[i] Kaka is the Hindi equivalent of uncle
[ii] Kaki is the Hindi equivalent of aunt
[iii] Langurs are the most widespread species of monkeys in the Indian subcontinent. Their scientific name is Colobinae
[iv] Dharamshala is a rest house, especially for travellers.