Sangita Gopalsingh paced back and forth before the wrought iron gates of her home, her white nightie swishing in the late evening breeze. The moon looked like a fat dull thumbprint in the sky, smudged between heavy clouds on either side. She thought of the god that had pressed the moon into the sky that way, trapping it, allowing it to languish among the moving and swelling clouds.
Sangita clasped her hands around the bars of the gate and peered into the shadows hoping to catch a glimpse of Dr. Mohan riding his bicycle home after a late day at the office. She wanted him to ring his bell and wave at her. She wanted him to see her in her transparent nightie, and tell her how spicy she looked. She hoped Dr. Mohan would bicycle by when her hair was still wet from her bath; he’d liked the damp black waves snaking down her back and coiling at her waist the last time. Sangita traced a slender finger over her hairline, down the side of her smooth face and hovered over her full mouth, the way Dr. Mohan had once done with his lips. A frisson of longing whirled through her body. She rested her head against the gate and sighed into the night.
Flambeaux bounded from a pile of bricks stacked against the fence that divided the Gopalsingh’s property from their neighbours’, Faizal Mohammed, and landed in a silent crouch just inches from the frilly hem of Sangita’s nightgown. She caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and watched as Flambeaux uncurled his spine one vertebra at a time, until he was sitting tall on his haunches, his two front paws perched lightly on the ground.
“Shoo!” Sangita waved her hands at the cat.
Flambeaux gave the three sleeping mutts sprawled across the floor a cursory glance and then fixed Sangita with his glowing hazel eyes, sweeping his bushy orange tail back and forth across the concrete like a coconut broom.
Sangita frowned. “Don’t watch me so, Flambeaux. I does get lonely.” She floated to her husband’s hammock and collapsed inside, careful not to upset the cup of Ovaltine she’d placed on the ground earlier, now cold and unappetizing.
Flambeaux narrowed his gaze.
“Humph! You no better. You does have this Mrs. Cat and that Mrs. Cat coming to my house to make kittens with you. My house look like a cat motel, Flambeaux?”
Flambeaux yawned and squinted his eyes.
Sangita was just about to pull herself out of the hammock and make her way to her bedroom where Rajesh was fast asleep, when she heard a rustle in the darkness. Flambeaux started, flicking his gaze from Sangita to somewhere beyond the gates. He took one tentative step forward, creeping low to the ground like a prowling tiger.
Sangita shook her head. “Don’t go and scrap with a next cat, Flambeaux. Keep your tail home.” But as Sangita picked up her small oil lamp and made for the stairs, she heard it: the distinctive sound of a girlish giggle muffled by…a hand? A kiss? She pivoted on her heel and flew back to the gate like a frantic ghost moving through the night. Who was there? Was it Dr. Mohan with Shantie Ramdeen? She held the lamp high flooding the dark road and the bushes beyond in pale yellow light. Flambeaux took off in a flash, squeezing his sleek body through the bars of the gate and disappearing in the direction from which the sound had come.
Sangita gasped when her eyes fell on the pair. They were darting towards the ravine, hand in hand, trying to escape the lamplight. They hovered low, covering their faces, but Sangita had gotten a good look and there was no mistaking who she’d seen. When finally their silhouettes – so close, they were almost one – disappeared into a forest of leafy mangrove trees, Sangita felt the injustice of her dull marriage rise and gorge itself on the last of her commonsense.
“Jammette!” she shrieked. “Jaaaammmeeettteee!”
The sound of Sangita’s sharp insults roused the dogs from their sleep. They sat up, startled, and began to bark wildly, gnashing their teeth at the darkness and joining in a harmony of guttural growls and distressed barks. They pawed at the gate to be let out, paced back and forth at the prospect of tackling an intruder. They made such a commotion, somewhere down the road, a neighbour yelled: “Allyou shut your dogs up, nuh? A man trying to catch some blasted sleep here!” Other neighbours began lighting lamps and peering out of their homes. “Rajesh! Sangita! Minty! Allyou alright?” Faizal Mohammed hollered from next door. Sangita saw him push an empty Coca-Cola crate up against the window and perch himself on top to get a better look at the fuss below. She tried to hush the panicked dogs and hurry back to bed before Rajesh awoke, but he met her on the steps, shirtless, cutlass in hand.
“What happened?!” He pushed past her, the dogs barked at his heels.
Sangita whisked her heavy hair out of her face and plaited it skillfully. She never hesitated, “I see Vimla Narine go in the ravine.” She crossed her arms over her heaving bosom, hoping Rajesh wouldn’t notice her bare body trembling beneath the nightgown.
“Vimla? What she gone there for at this hour?”
“Rajesh, I look like a seer-woman to you?” Sangita shoved the lamp at her husband and steered him round the back of the house where he’d abandoned his bike after a night of rum and card-playing. “I ain’t know why she run away, but I know I see she and I know who I see she with.”
Rajesh, wheeling his bike toward the gate, stopped and held the lamp up so that the glow of light fell directly on Sangita’s face. “What you mean? Who she with?”
Sangita fixed her husband with a grave stare. “Krishna,” she said, “the pundit’s son!”
“Krishna?” Confusion tugged at Rajesh’s square face. “The two of them alone?”
Sangita nodded, a terse incline of her chin. She bit down on the tip of her tongue, waiting for her husband to process the severity of the situation. The seconds dragged on. Sangita tasted coppery blood in her mouth.
“Shits, man!” Rajesh fitted the sharp cutlass into the elastic waist of his shorts so that it jutted out the bottom. He climbed on his bicycle and shifted the flat blade onto his thigh before pushing off the ground with his foot. “Open the gate, Sangita, I going to fetch them.”
When her husband had pedaled away, Sangita wrung the end of her braid in her hands and shuffled up the stairs to change into something more appropriate, grateful Vimla’s scandal had eclipsed her own unsavory intentions. She mounted the steps and peeked into Minty’s room where she found her daughter sitting upright in bed. Sangita moved closer, suddenly wanting to touch the youthful skin on Minty’s face, to climb into bed with her and be a good respectable mother; the sort of mother who soothes her child from the din of angry dogs, not the sort who steals from her husband’s bed in search of passion.
Minty sat with her knees pulled up to her chest and Sangita could see she was quivering. “The dogs frighten you, beti?” She moved to the bed, stroked a tendril of damp hair from her daughter’s forehead. As Minty flinched, a cloud scudded past the moon allowing a few beams of light to slice through the window and cut across her face. Reproach sparkled in her eyes. “Who you call a jammette, Ma?” Minty asked.
Sangita pressed her full lips together in a firm line; she didn’t like her daughter using such crude language.
Minty sprang from bed and dashed barefoot to the window. In the distance, torch lights blazed bright against an inky sky and five figures trudged from the underbrush by the ravine. Sangita looked over her daughter’s shoulder. She recognized Rajesh’s strong, stocky build, Om Narine’s protruding gut, Faizal Mohammed’s tall lean gate, and the stooped shoulders of a disgraced young man – Krishna. The fifth figure was slighter than the rest. She walked at Om Narine’s side, hugging herself as she went, a crumpled curtain of black wayward hair hiding her down-turned face.
Minty wheeled on her mother, eyes flashing. “Ma, you go get Vimla in real big trouble!”
Sangita turned to her daughter, her nightie now clinging with perspiration to her chest and hips. “Minty, Vimla is seventeen years old! What business she have rollicking with the pundit’s son in the bush? She is a loose little jammette!”
Minty’s expression grew stony. “As much business as you had rollicking with Dr. Mohan. And Faizal Mohammed. And –
Sangita cuffed Minty across her mouth before the rest of her paramours tumbled out into the night.