He has never seen her naked. Three years of being lovers and she has always insisted that the curtains be drawn, that the lights be turned off; has always been awake and fully clothed by the time he wakes, her jeans and loose kurtas hiding any glimpse of her except her face and feet and hands.
As he walks into the morgue it occurs to him for the first time that this may be a problem. What was it the police officer said? That the face had been mutilated beyond recognition, that the rapist had made off with the clothes. Will he be able to tell whether it's her by the feet and hands alone? He's not sure.
The coroner's deputy hands him and the officer a mask each, then ushers them into the viewing room. It's a scene out of a nightmare. The steel table, the indifferent light. He watches in horror as the deputy draws back the sheet, revealing the body underneath, only the face still hidden. Quickly, guiltily he looks down, focuses on the toes. Did she wear that shade of nail polish? He doesn't know, doesn't remember. With rising panic, he realizes he's not going to be able to make an identification from the feet alone. He glances at her hands, trying not to look at the body in between. These too look familiar, but could belong to anyone. This will not do. There is no room for error, the officer has told him. He must know for certain, must be sure.
Reluctantly, he looks at the body itself, searching for some sign, some hint of the familiar. There is some kind of discoloration between the breasts. He looks closer. It is a tattoo. It says Vivek. For a moment he starts back in relief. So it is not her after all. Then it occurs to him that he doesn't know that, that it might be, that perhaps this is the reason she's never let him see her topless. But who is Vivek? She's never mentioned anyone by that name. When they first met, she said she'd only had two boyfriends before, and neither of them was called Vivek. Was there something, or someone, in her past she never told him about?
The officer is looking at him expectantly. She looks pointedly at the tattoo, then back at him. She's clearly assuming that a mark so distinctive has to be a giveaway. She's probably wondering why he's taking so long. How to explain to her that the tattoo is no help, that he has no idea what the breasts of the woman he's been living with for the last two and a half years look like? And yet, if he says he doesn't know whether it's her, the question is bound to come up.
"Is it okay if I touch the body?" he asks, knowing he has no other choice. The officer and the deputy seem taken aback. They exchange a quick glance, then the officer nods. The deputy steps away for a minute and comes back with a pair of latex gloves, but he brushes them aside. Slowly, methodically, he runs his hands along the body. At first the sensation of cold flesh beneath his fingers makes him hesitate. Surely this can't be her?
Then slowly, against their will, his fingers discover the familiar contours. He shuts his eyes and runs his hands over her, discovering the slightly crooked angle of the knee, the curve of the hip, the familiar sweep of her flank; feeling the exact dimensions of the breasts fitting his palm, the outlines of the nipples just as he's always known them; knowing with every touch that it's her, that she's dead, but unable to stop now, running his fingers all over her hoping for something out of place, some ground for doubt, feeling as though every part of her were disintegrating, coming apart in his hands even as he touched it, trying to hold on to all of her at once.
He opens his eyes. The deputy and the officer are standing to one side, appalled. They obviously think he's some kind of pervert. He doesn't care. Slowly, with every ounce of strength he can summon, he lifts his hands from her, takes a step back. "Is it her?", the officer asks, recovering herself. He nods, his eyes fixed on the floor. "Are you sure?" He nods again. Then, because the officer does not react, he raises his eyes to meet hers, offering her the misery in his face as confirmation. The officer studies him for a moment, then nods, gesturing to the deputy. The sheet is drawn over her again. As he watches it cover her he realizes he is seeing her body for the first and last time. That's when it hits him. That's when he starts to cry.