Wednesday 14 December 2016

Day 14: Peacocks by C. G. Menon

Even now, old enough to know better, I still tell it the same way. My grandmother had never lost a thing in her life, I say, not till the day I turned thirteen.
The rest of this is what I don’t say.

Because Ammuma didn’t really own much by then, of course; just one pair of ruby earrings and some white cotton saris which she stretched out to dry from a string across the bathroom. When I was tiny she would scoop me damp and soapy from the bath each night, resting me on her hip as her one gold tooth crunched down on some mint-soaked cloves. Together we’d watch streetlights crackle through the frosted glass and we’d pick at paint bubbles around the rackety sash window. The street curved away beneath us, mapped by swerving dabs of cigarettes and lonely fluorescent bus shelters.

“I haven’t lost anything, Sita,” Ammuma would whisper as my skin began to chill into gooseflesh. “I’ve left it behind, that’s all.”

It was black outside, a mud-bellied, gritty dawn that banged its teeth against the windows. Through my bedroom doorway I could see the hall clock looming solid and certain; six o’clock exactly, with a make-no-mistake air about its hands. It was my birthday, I was thirteen now, and in the bathroom Ammuma was calling for her mother.


I scrambled out of bed, pressing my face between the splintered banisters. My mother was already there, swooping downstairs in her faded flannel nightgown. That was no surprise; she had eyes in her spectacles case and ears in her discarded slippers, she slept in catnaps and would shake me awake from nightmares before they’d even come. I saw her pause, peer through the rainy drape of vests and tights, and then sweep them down into puddled clots on the floor. Ammuma crouched behind them, tipped over the greenish sink with a single red earring gleaming in the nest of her hair. She looked confused, with a queasy sort of misery that settled deeper at the sight of my mother’s sleepless eyes and lemon-juice mouth.


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