On an uncomfortably hot Saturday, Mrs. Patton persuades Arun into coming with her and Melanie to cool off at the swimming pond in the woods near their home. When they arrive, Arun feels very sweaty and overheated, and the water tempts him, but because of his timidity he hesitates. Melanie sits beside the pool, eating chocolate candy bars, while Mrs. Patton begins to shed the clothing over her bikini and prepares to sunbathe. The unsettling sight of Mrs. Patton’s near-nakedness motivates Arun to jump right into the water. He finds himself feeling peaceful and content, enjoying the freedom of swimming far and floating, for the water “removes him from his normal self.”
Because Arun seldom relaxes or lets go of himself, this moment at the swimming pond stands out. His “normal self” that he feels removed from while he swims far into the pond may not be his actual self at all—but rather, the role he has grown comfortable playing. Because Arun quietly bottles his feelings and maintains consistently the role of good son and good student, his capacity to feel free or to feel inclined to explore, to test the waters, may seem foreign even to him.
When Arun emerges from the water, he finds that Melanie is nowhere to be seen, a pile of candy wrappers left in her absence. He decides to explore the woods by himself to see what’s around. Unexpectedly, he stumbles upon Melanie, lying face down in the ground, her face covered in her own vomit. Arun thinks she might be dead, but she speaks, telling him to go away, before thrashing her body and lifting herself just enough to gag her finger in her throat once more, purging. Arun puts a hand on her shoulder. Looking upon Melanie, he wishes he could be the hero, like in movies, and save her. But he knows that he cannot, for here he sees “real pain and real hunger.” Mrs. Patton soon emerges, and when she sees Melanie, she says nothing but “Dear Lord, dear lord.”
Even as she is found thrashing, in a pile of her own vomit, Melanie continues to purge compulsively, ignoring Arun—the food is certainly out of her system by then, but the feelings that move her to this behavior cannot be purged. Arun wishes he could save Melanie—but stopping her purging won’t save her from her pain, or her hunger. Melanie acts as if she were completely alone, because she feels alone—and it isn’t Arun’s attention she wants. Still, his care shows his sense of humanity. Like Uma, Arun knows things others don’t, and sees things in people that others do not.