"They have arrived," Maya panted from the door and left off without waiting for the reply. However, Trupti needed no announcement on that. Her room was on the front side of the house; there was no way she could have missed the screech the car made as it stopped by the door.
Preeti slowly crept from Trupti's side to the window. Trupti watched her sister's face lightened up in excitement.
"Di, come you need to take a look at this." Trupti slowly raised herself from her bed. "Soon or they will go."
Trupti went over to her sister's side. Four people were entering their house: one bald man, one stout woman, a girl and a young man. Trupti moved her body sideways to get a better look at her suitor but only caught a glimpse of his spectacle. She noticed those were not the same as in the photograph that she had been shown.
Maya returned back to the door. ”Auntie is calling for you two."
Trupti turned back and nodded to the maid. She grabbed Preeti's hand. "You will get plenty of time to look at them downstairs."
"But I couldn't stare at their face then," Preeti blurted out but let Trupti lead her.
As she passed the mirror, she paused to look at herself one more time. The image of a beautiful girl stared back at her. This girl seemed so different, so unlike herself.
A sudden chill ran down her spine and she stopped in her tracks. The sudden realization of what was going on hit her. For a moment, she thought she had forgotten to breathe.
"What is it, Di? You think you need a touch up." Preeti raised her eyebrows at the reflection.
"I need to use the bathroom,"
"Di, we are already late," Preeti sighed. "Ma will be mad at us."
Trupti knew her sister was right. As she let Preeti lead her, she tried to console herself that everything would be alright.
They walked together to the hall, where the servants had just finished installing the snacks on the table. Their mother was sitting on the sofa, head held high. She was wearing a bright sari and some heavy jewelry. Being able to walk on those dresses without tripping down was a characteristic of Ma that had amused Trupti since she was a child.
When she noticed her daughters climbing down the stairs, Ma turned to face them. Trupti could sense her mother's scrutiny even when her eyes were on her feet. Ma let out a grunt, which Trupti couldn't recognize as one of satisfaction or disappointment, and gave her a curt nod.
Trupti rolled her eyes. It was a moment which Trupti had expected since her childhood. A family was coming to meet her. And Trupti should be able to impress them so that they would accept her as a bride to their son. This was how marriages worked in her family. This was how Ma got married and probably she and Preeti, too. And besides, her parents didn’t want their eldest daughter to get rejected by a family.
Trupti was about to take a seat at the far end of the couch when her mother called out, "What are you doing over there? They are coming to look at you. Come over here."
Trupti stared in disbelief. Reluctantly, she went to the centre of the couch and sat beside Ma. Ma let out an angry sound and stretched her hand to Trupti's shoulder and adjusted her shawl. How could her mother be so inconsiderate about her feelings?
An unfamiliar male voice rang from the corridor to the hall and Ma quickly pulled back her hand and replaced it back to its original position: on top of her lap. The man stopped talking and the corridor was filled with laughter. This time there were two voices and the loudest one was of her father. His laughter sounded unusually loud to Trupti and she felt the familiar chill again. Slowly, she turned to face her sister who shot a bright smile in her direction. Slowly, Trupti released some air. There was something about Preeti's face that reminded Trupti to breathe every time she forgot.
Pa entered the hall still laughing that unusual laughter. Following him were the people they had viewed from their room minutes before.
Pa cut his laughter short as he paused across the table and spoke in a methodical manner, "That's my wife Renu, my older daughter Trupti and that is Preeti. And this is Mr. Acharya, his wife, their daughter Rajani and he is Sumer." Trupti glanced up at the last word. To her embarrassment, Sumer also had his eyes fixed on her and she quickly glanced away.
Pa took a seat beside her and she glanced up. To her astonishment, all of the strangers were facing her and all had their eyes on her. Anxiously, she became aware of the sudden rush of hot blood in her face.
"So, Trupti what do you do?" Mrs. Acharya spoke with an accent so haughty that it even made Ma and Pa seem modest.
"I am a final year student of BBA. I am going to graduate soon"
"I think you didn’t understand me properly," Mrs. Acharya interrupted, with a smirk in her face. Trupti lowered her gaze and started fiddling with the end of her shawl. "I meant household works. Of course, we had got enough servants to do all the jobs but a daughter-in-law," she stressed at the last word, "should know how to do them. Otherwise, it would be a shame for the family. Do you know anything?"
Trupti still stared down at her lap wondering what would be the correct thing to say.
"Don’t worry Mrs. Acharya. She knows lots of them and within months she will be perfect." It was the first time Trupti felt grateful when Ma said something.
"We'll see then."
Trupti glanced at Preeti who was staring wide-eyed at Mrs. Acharya. Finally, Trupti mustered enough courage to say something. "Can I get you some tea?"
"Oh yes, dear. That would be fine." Mr. Acharya said giving her an unusually warm smile.
She forced a smile and politely left the hall. She turned a corner, walked past the kitchen and rushed to the toilet. Two minutes with the woman and she had to make excuses to get to the bathroom in her own house. And she was thinking of spending the rest of her life living under her shadow.