I’ve been immersed in culling at home and just come across a story, a memory from my childhood, I had written down a long time ago. I read it and observed the child in me, the child who watched every thing around her. I realised, I am still that child today.
Eager feet race ahead of my thoughts, and out the backdoor towards the womb-like warmth of a world far from my own.
I break free from the rusty snags of the barbed wire fence, run back, kick the green gate that presumes to keep me safe, hear it creak shut and I am in the open field behind my home – the ownership of which is never questioned. It is my backyard, our backyard, belonging to us all … neighbours, drifters, pedlars, sheep, cows, stray dogs and water buffalo. I know every snake hole, every old and new cowpat, yet always virgin territory to this seven year old. I slip off my leather sandals and step mesmerised into the muddy swirls gifted by the monsoon rains. Across the gully are the mud homes, a neighbourhood hinged together like spare-ribs. Dusk does not hide the turmeric rivulets that had earlier streamed down like grief. The walls remain sullen. The homes all look alike but I know there is a different story behind each door. I wade across enjoying the sucking squelch between my pink brown toes as I lift each foot forward.
I scrape my dirty feet vigorously before entering the home. A habit. Bewildered eyes question my loud courtesy which has embarrassed me. It is just as muddy indoors. I skip in and in three steps I am in the kitchen inhaling the freshness of grass in the glowing dung chips. My eyes slowly adjust to the sepia glow. I look around the room, home to nine people. It, yet again, accommodates the tenth with the grace of a country manor. The torrential rain has left a mark indoors too. The interior walls mirror the exterior, the damp plaster shaved decoratively forms an abstract mural of yellow and grey. Ignored by all, a bundle of rags breathes noisily through a hookah. His opium-sodden authority permeates the room.
Squatting, crab like, I am seduced towards the open fire by smoke claws and join the chorus of dry coughs around it. I want to be closer to her. Her long black hair is coiled and rests comfortably on the nape of her neck. Her sari is old but clean, she has pleated and folded every ripped tear, with pride. She wafts coconut oil with every movement. Her skin, the colour of roasted hazelnuts. The tiny grimace at her consumed breast becomes agitated at the memory of succulence and she tries to comfort him. Two matched toddlers, her audience. The aroma of frying onions, chilli and green mango floods my mouth with the familiarity of piquant delight. Food to me more exotic than the usual Sunday roast chicken stuffed with bread, nuts and sultanas, which I know Cook has basted liberally with curses.
I watch as she slaps, bakes and then neatly stacks dry chappatis with ritualistic monotony. I am lulled by the comforting intimacy of her mothermovements. Does she know I am here, I wonder. My curiosity overwhelms me and I fracture her unspoken acceptance with small talk: “Is lunch ready?” She smiles unabashedly while stirring with increased vigour and flourish. I am convinced she is cooking for royalty. Wide gaps in her young mouth betray the despicable legacy of his opium-crave and her poverty. “Yes but only for the younger ones”. “What about the older children?” I ask with concern. She tries to soothe the child in me, a practice not new to her. “It’s not their turn today. They ate yesterday.”
I return home, older than when I left it.
May a memory today bring you closer to who you really are.
In response to Word of the Day Challenge – Watch