By Laksmi Pamuntjak

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Chapter 7: Precipice

When Bhisma bent down and whispered, “Would you like to go back outside? Get some fresh air?” she offered no resistance.

She followed him wordlessly, not really noticing which way they were going until she saw the banyan tree they had sheltered under only the night before last. They ducked under the curtains of aerial roots and entered dense shade. They found the buttress root in no time, the one they’d perched themselves on previously. They sat and stretched their legs, breathing, grabbing for something solid to hold on to.

A mild wind rustled. Bhisma found his voice again, but this time it was not as sturdy as before. He said something about how hard it was to know if the situation called for sadness or for fear. Or what was meant by a revolutionary situation. He looked at her, stripping her with those eyes. “Don’t you think,” he said unsteadily, “that the world is on the brink of change?”

“The brink of change?” she repeated, her head reeling.

A rush of silken air, like the scent after a downpour. Bhisma gently took her hand, cupping it palm up before bringing it softly to his lips. A whiff of musk, some kind of flower, iron. I’m not dreaming, she told herself. I’m not . . .

Then there was warmth on her lips, a sweet wetness—so sad, so long, so blue, and into her mind swam the words of Turgenev’s Elena, before she vanished into the ether, something about being brought to the edge of the precipice and falling over.


Only an old black dog that had followed Amba and Bhisma to their refuge under the banyan tree knew where the couple had been. He saw everything, and later he carried his knowledge calmly back to the hospital, where the nurses and doctors in the common room attacked the snacks heaped on plates while avoiding every mention of politics, and the cooks and cleaners itched to be released early from duty because the streets weren’t safe and they hadn’t received their paychecks in two months. The old dog settled, dozing behind a door, his nose pressed to where years of footsteps had grazed the floor.


They had said good-bye guiltily, walking separately back to the hospital. When Amba saw Bhisma an hour later she greeted him calmly, her face a well-behaved mask.

But once back in the office, all she could think of was that kiss. Her first kiss! So long and yet so brief. Why did he have to stop? Why not kiss her forever?


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