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Like most of them, he had always believed ‘love’ was overrated. He had been amazed to witness perfectly normal friends ready, and even willing, to make complete fools of themselves. Had looked on with mild surprise as periodic heartbreaks caused them to seek solace in ridiculous indulgences – sometimes even razor blades! As a disinterested observer it had been edifying, but not particularly exciting. That was of course until he met Her – and realised all the cliches were true. As is usual at that stage, everything about her pleased him – right from her huge jet black eyes to the tiny scale-like scab on her back. He had asked her about it the first time his fingers had unexpectedly encountered the smooth hard shell cover on the otherwise soft skin. She had proudly explained it had been there from birth and her grandmother called it her ‘lucky star’. Since it was anyway his ‘lucky day’, he had embraced the tiny scaly thing as his own and continued with his unfinished business.

Unfortunately for Romance, there hadn’t been any significant ‘hurdles’ to overcome. Nevertheless, he made do with reckless acts of skipping classes for movies, and once being told by the college guard that “sitting around in the garden was punishable”. Feeling suitably the lover who has braved the world and conquered all, they ended up together with everyone’s blessing. There was a 5-day celebration with a ‘theme’, and the menu was excellent. All the guests went home pleased, after burping loudly that it was a fine match.

The first few months passed blissfully. Each little incident was new and exciting. When they ran out of cooking gas the first time, they tried out the new Thai place. When her birthday coincided with his conference he boldly declared he would skip it, to which she obviously urged him not to (all the while secretly wishing he would!) Towards the end of the year he did feel Scaly was growing a little bigger, and felt rough to the touch. It was such a fleeting idea amidst the general euphoria that he didn’t even realise it was a conscious thought. Until one day his exploring hand encountered a second one, this time on the lower back. It was the same day he discovered that his brother, whom he adored, did not really like her although he put up a tolerable front. Her constant chatter, which had seemed so endearing to him, seemed to grate like chalk on a blackboard. The day it dawned on him that she had made quite a calculated decision to marry him after weighing all pros and cons, he was certain he felt the scaly-s multiple in size. To add to his horror, they started appearing everywhere – on her hands, neck, chest. Only one or two at a time, but hideous nevertheless. The only miracle was that her beautiful face was untouched.

As the months rolled by, he started avoiding her embraces. Even when he forgot about the scaly-s lying in wait, something would brush against them and his temporary haze would be at an end. He had tentatively suggested getting them checked by a doctor, but that discussion had not ended well. He had been accused of only caring about her external beauty and unaware of her emotional needs – and a severe outbreak of the scales. By now her whole back was covered in them, and the greater part of her hands, legs and body. Her daily clothes hid them well, but he could not escape from the knowledge. The grey-ish green hard scales, covering the soft skin he had glimpsed, what seemed like decades ago. He was repulsed and sometimes weirdly attracted to them. At times they were so sharp he bled – or she, in a rage, smashed them together on herself, adding to the gore. He helped silently wash away the traces of blood on the kitchen floor, the expensive rug, the sheets. The maids in these parts were nosy and talkative.

Matters came to a head. He realised this could not go on indefinitely and was tearing them apart – literally. On asking around he was relieved to discover it was quite a common problem. Unfortunately there was no cure, but in time the scales would appear to disappear i.e. they would settle into the skin in such a way that the edges did not cut, and the color would fade into an acceptable pink. As long as the face was untouched, there was nothing to worry. Fortified with the reassurance (there really wasn’t anything else to be done anyway) he made his way home. After a long time on an impulse he bought her some flowers.

This weekend he was leaving for a 3-day trip with his old school buddies whom he hadn’t met in years – it was one of those do-or-die promises made at the age of 15 which they were going to honour finally. He was not worried about leaving her alone since her parents were visiting. As he entered home he was met with general hilarity all around. It turned out that her younger brother had chosen this moment to inform them of the happy occasion of his ‘proposal’ being accepted by his long-standing girlfriend (which you would think wouldn’t be a surprise by now). The engagement had to take place that weekend itself since the girl was off for a year-long course to Belgium! They were sure he would understand and reschedule – after all this was just a trip, it could be postponed. And of course they could not have it without their only son-in-law present. She cleverly did not add her voice to the rest, but he was wise by now. As she turned her face towards him hopefully, he saw it was choc-a-bloc with the greenish, shiny, scabby scales. Even her jet-black eyes were covered in them. He heard himself screaming.

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