We sit on stools in the new science block alongside pinewood benches where the copper taps, shaped like swans’ necks, slope into sinks below the bench line.
‘Take a glass, girls,’ Mrs Raj says. She has put out a line of tall glasses along each bench top, one per girl. Mrs Raj wears a red sari over a cropped bodice. I can see the line of her dark flesh between the waist of her sari and the edge of her top and I wonder two things: Why isn’t she cold and what do the nuns think?
‘I want you to spit into your glass,’ Mrs Raj says.
Murmurs bounce off the walls.
‘Spit into your glass, girls, as much saliva as you can get.’
We look at her face, the set of her jaw. I hesitate. My mouth is dry but I pucker up enough saliva to collect a series of tiny dams on the end of my tongue. I shoot them out from behind my lips.
‘Now set the glass in front of you and wait.’
The puddle in the bottom of my glass is thick and sticky. My stomach roils.
‘Now,’ the teacher says. ‘I want you to drink it back up. Do as I say, girls. It won’t hurt.’
The saliva is cold on my tongue, worse to swallow than cough syrup but I get it down.
‘Now can you see the difference between inside and outside?’ Mrs Raj’s voice does not falter against our bemused stares. ‘When the saliva is in your mouth, as it is every minute of every day, you don’t notice it. Your saliva is you.’ The red henna spot on Mrs Raj’s forehead jogs up and down as she speaks. ‘Spit it out and it becomes not you. Drink it back and it’s like something completely foreign to you, when only minutes ago it was you.’
Mrs Raj beams a smile that shows her straight teeth, white against the gleam of her skin. The red smudge on her forehead matches the redness of her lips and the faint blush in her cheeks.
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