"Oh, that old crocodile! How I wish I could have seen her when she woke up to find Sudha gone!"
For weeks afterwards, Anju would describe that afternoon for Prem, over and over, in the hushed tone one saves for legends.
The entire household has fallen into a stunned sleep, even the servants. The heavy front door, which is carved with fierce yakshas wielding swords, opens without a sound. Sudha slips out, carrying only a small handbag. She wears her cotton house-sari and forces herself not to hurry so passers-by will not be suspicious. The air inside her chest is viscous with fear. Her slippers slide on the gravelly road. Mango leaves hang dispiritedly in the heat, like small, tired hands. She walks carefully, she mustn't fall, she presses her hand against a belly that will start to show in a few weeks. At the crossroads she pulls the end of her sari over her head in a veil, a princess disguised as a servant-maid, so no one on the street will recognize her.
"What about Ramesh?" Sunil asked when Anju told him Sudha had gone back to her mother.
"What about him?" Anju said, her voice dangerously tight.
"Didn't he try to bring her back?"
"Him! That spineless jellyfish! That Momma's boy!" Anju's breath came in outraged puffs. "He did nothing--nothing he should have done, that is."
Excerpted from The Vine of Desire by Chitra Divakaruni Copyright 2002 by Chitra Divakaruni. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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