In the heat and calm of their summer holidays, Ariya and Daya met again like they do every afternoon. After negotiating with their mothers by promising to gaze mindlessly at new textbooks in the mornings, they had the afternoons and evenings to themselves before their fathers came home from work. They would find a place in the shade to spend their afternoons, till the kulfi bhaiya passed by at 5:15 PM every day. Sometimes it was baraf gola drenched in purple, orange, yellow, or red. This signaled that the time had passed from afternoon to evening.

This day, Ariya was all alone. Ma and didi were out to look at gehne for didi’s shaadi. When Daya entered Ariya’s room, Ariya shouted “Let’s play Dulhan-Dulhan!!” and they both giggled. They were young, and always excluded from marriage talks. One day Daya had exclaimed “Isn’t it something all young well-mannered flowers look forward to?” and bua, having heard Daya, quickly let out a shush. All around them there was a faint excitement over marriages, even when a very distant relative got married. And now that Ariya’s didi was to be married soon, it was even more apparent. That afternoon, owing to all the preparations, there were a lot of fabrics scattered about in the home. Both of them selected one of their liking but oh! they were missing something! Ariya quickly went to didi’s room and pulled out a box full of bangles and rings, all too big for both Ariya and Daya. They used the red from a lipstick as sindoor and quickly found a bright red saree to throw on their heads as ghungat. Daya said “wait I want to make you look beautiful” as Ariya was pretending to be shy under the ghungat, imitating the brides both of them had seen in weddings they had attended.

Ariya giggled as Daya inched closer towards the ghungat, and lifted it a little. The lipstick that was to become sindoor first had to go on Ariya’s lips. Both of them never having any experience putting on the lipstick themselves before, were thrilled to do it. They both, however, often had kajal on them. Daya put a hand on Ariya’s chest to steady both of them, and inched even closer to the face, towards the lips.

“Stop letting out such strong breaths, now I know your lunch had pyaaz in it as well” Daya giggled.

Ariya blushed a little, and as the lips curved into a small smile, the lipstick was now on the tanned skin. Daya blamed it on Ariya for ruining the masterful stroke, but Ariya also knew that Daya’s focus was to blame as it shifted from the lipstick to the smile. There were little hairs sprouting on the upper lips, more around the eyebrows, and Ariya looked at Daya looking intently at the skin. There was a flooding sensation of warmth, Ariya couldn’t figure out why. But it came along with a strong want to get rid of the hairs to make the skin as smooth as possible, so that it can look like how a beautiful desirable flower should, the same way that they convey in those facial cream advertisements that come on the radio in between songs. Ariya thought about how they always end the ads with how looking desirable benefits, and then looked at Daya who was still smiling a little looking at the impolite lipstick venturing to skin it was not invited on. Ariya felt a sense of relief. To Daya, everything about Ariya will always be desirable. “Acha, now we need to find an earring to put on your nose and then my Dulhan is ready for sindoor!” Daya said going to the dresser, having a green fabric wrapped around the waist that was draped along the skinny neck.

Once the earring was on the nose, a stone strung on silver on the head near the parting of the hair, bangles on the wrists, and the red draped on the head, Ariya imitated the meek and shy bride who blushed as the ghungat was lifted for the sindoor. As soon as the sindoor was on the forehead and both of them looked at the mirror in front of them, Daya shouted “it is my turn now! my turn!!” and Ariya giggled at the excitement but also felt a small reluctance to remove the jewelry and the fabric.

Daya was moving around trying to find a new fabric to drape as they heard the small ring of the kulfi bhaiya outside. This was more than an end to just their pretend-play. Ariya looked at Daya as he frowned. “But I really wanted to be the Dulhan” he said.

Ariya, slipping out the bangles from his hand, said “ma and didi will be out next Wednesday too.”

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