Picking Scabs

Radha looked at the new scab, through the green-tinted glass of the half-empty beer bottle. It looked, she decided, a little like an island. Or maybe a smallish continent. A pear-shaped continent on her arm, where the rock had scraped as she scrambled back up, after her fall. She smiled at the thought.

She had always liked to pick at scabs. Right from the time she was a little girl. She loved to pick at them, slowly, patiently… until she drew blood. Then she’d press the scab back quickly, wincing at the pain that replaced the itching sensation of healing flesh.

She would first examine each new scab. Carefully run her fingers over it, to understand its texture, thickness and weak points. Once she found the most likely border, she would gently edge her nail between the scab and her skin. Ever so slowly, she would begin to peel. She’d stop every time it seemed like it was going to hurt, and then keep going cautiously. It was an achievement if she could pull off the scab, without drawing blood. There was, however, a familiar pleasure even to the sharp indrawn breath and sting of fresh drawn blood.

She had been out on a walk. Exploring a new path she hadn’t seen before. It turned out to be a shortcut to the lake. It lead over the large rocks, that the main path circled around. She’d lost her footing, hopping from one rock to the other, underestimating the distance between them. And she’d slipped into the crevice between them. It wasn’t deep, so she’d scrambled up quite easily, but she’d scraped her arm rather hard against the edge of one of the rocks, and earned herself a new scab to pick in the process.

Radha took another swig from the bottle. She wondered if there was a streak of masochism in her. She could see it as clearly as if she had witnessed it, herself. Every detail that Nafisa had related with shame, at Radha’s insistence, played out with vivid detail to her dispassionate mind’s eye. The worst part was that she couldn’t even blame her partner.

A droplet of beer slid slowly down the side of the bottle. Radha watched it trace its way down the smooth greenness. Like a tear. Or a bead of sweat. Someone else’s sweat. Sliding its way over Nafisa’s elegant collar bone. Someone else’s sweat, marking her with someone else’s smell. She smiled, through blurring eyes at how territorial and animal that thought had sounded.

Radha caught the droplet, just before it fell to the ground. She held the partially peeled bruise right under it. She winced slightly as the alcohol stung the raw area, where she’d worried the scab off the pink healing flesh.

Every time she closed her eyes, she saw them. Images Radha had conjured for herself, from Nafisa’s flat descriptions. Karan’s smooth dark skin and lightly muscled body, sliding against Nafisa. His deep black eyes enticing and mysterious, as Radha’s all too familiar ones could never be. Nafisa’s slim graceful form arching sensually against Karan’s. Her long wavy tresses, that Radha loved to run her fingers through, thrown back… for Karan. The magic of skin against skin made that much more magical with the newness of discovery, a novelty hard to compete with.

Strangely these images did not evoke any feelings in Radha. She watched them as dispassionately as she fingered her scab. If her eyes blurred, it was more because she felt she had to react, than from any spontaneous feeling. She longed to feel, again. And so she played it over in her head.

Fingers sliding over skin. Lips meeting, melding with a slight ‘pop’ of wet suction. A warmth and wetness that had always been hers and Nafisa’s alone… until now. The gasping, panting and wet slapping of naked skins. A part of Nafisa she could never share.

She’d asked Radha for permission. Nafisa had asked, in the certainity of shared convictions that came from challenging norms together all their lives. And Radha had given her permission readily, in the greed of reciprocity.

Reciprocity and the reluctance to set boundaries on another that came with pretensions of intellectualism. A middle-class idealism about a love that transcended all boundaries and challenged all structures. A love that was patient and kind, that knew no limits, set no boundaries and was not fed by jealousy. Radha didn’t know what kind of love that was. The love she knew was savage, greedy and possessive.

The worst part was, to be completely honest, if she’d had the opportunity, she’d have done the same.

She’d thought she could handle it, and to be fair, she had handled it. It just hadn’t been the way she would have liked to. She wondered now, how she had imagined it would feel. Certainly it hadn’t been so bleak and emotionless. She’d only seen the logic of it. And the excitement of novelty, the furtive meeting of eyes, the uncertainty, the strange new chemistry, the glamour of the leap into the unknown… a new path to explore.

But something in Radha had made her stumble as she took the new path. She hadn’t been able to make the leap from one rock to another. The crevice was small, but she’d fallen and scraped herself. She’d clambered back up, but she couldn’t try the leap again. Not now that she knew how it felt on the other side. At least she hoped she couldn’t.

It was one thing to make the leap unknowingly, as Nafisa had done. It was quite another to knowingly make her feel the bleakness and impassivity that Radha had herself felt. Perhaps that was the scariest thing. Not knowing whether, with the hindsight of experience she would still be selfish enough to take the leap, should the opportunity arise. Not knowing whether she was capable of that or not.

The fleeting brush she’d had with opportunity had backfired because of other consequences. Shobhana was a good friend of Nafisa’s, and she hadn’t wanted to endanger that. But was that all that had stopped her?

And something in her rebelled at being the wronged one. She did not want to play that part. Nor did she want the part of being in the wrong.

As destiny diced in her head, the scenes played themselves out over and over in a never ending loop in her mind’s eye.

Her fingers worried the alcohol-moist scab, peeling it easily off the bruise, exposing the raw pink flesh.

And somewhere inarticulable, there was a pain and an emptiness. A pain and an emptiness that Radha hoped she would never cause.

Radha took another swig of beer and considered the dramatic import of her thought. She grinned at the bottle through blurry eyes, and wondered who she could be. She could be kind and forgiving and faithful, and keep the moral high ground forever. Or she could equalize the score and take revenge in one sweep.

She watched her reflection sway slightly as she stood up from her corner of the floor, leaning against the head of the bed. She walked to the mirror. Her eyes narrowed critically, taking in her slight frame with its little protruding belly. She was short. And her hair was thick and straight. On the whole, she reflected, hating herself as she did so, for being clichéd enough to consider her looks as a factor in the equation, she didn’t look that bad. If you took away the dark circles, which admittedly had been less pronounced before their little experiment with bisexuality and open relationships, and sucked in the protruding belly, she looked quite attractive in a cute school-girl way. Thankfully her dark skin lent a tinge of adultness to her image. On the other hand, Karan… Oh, Karan was exquisitely handsome. Tall and muscled with dark eyes and skin the colour and smoothness of chocolate. Radha sighed. She knew that it wasn’t a competition. She knew that there had never been any comparison between them as far as Nafisa was concerned. She knew she should not feel threatened. She knew that monogamy was just a social construct… but perhaps she was too well socialized into monogamy. Or perhaps having broken so many boundaries in her inter-religious lesbian relationship, this was one step too far for her.

In the background, her mind re-played the scene where Nafisa rode Karan. Something in her tightened. That was her place, with Nafisa. Her territory.

She waited for the anger to come. For the wave to build up. This was it. She was finally reacting.

It was like a failed masturbation. Nothing happened. All she felt, was tired.

Radha held the cold beer bottle to her forehead and took a deep breath. Sometimes you keep picking at the same scab till it bleeds. Then you let it scab over, and start again.

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