She craves a fresh egg, clear and warm and slippery. One that she has picked from a clutch in the hen house, a feather still clinging to its shell, the sharp stench of bird emanating from it. She craves sitting in the courtyard. Her fingers encircling this egg, salivating as she anticipates the moment she will crack the shell over her mouth, the liquid slipping in and the golden yolk coating the roof of her mouth.
But she can have neither. The courtyard is now in a different country, a few miles to the west but a million miles away. The hens are lost along with her grandmother and everything she holds dear. She joins the hundreds like her, making their way to a new country, where they must begin again. On the way she loses the things she carried along with her. Her trinket box. Her embroidered handkerchief. Her silver necklace. And the ribbon in her braid. She hopes that one day she can follow the trail back and like in the fairy tale, find her house studded with almonds, shakal-padi and pomegranates, welcoming her back into its familiar embrace.
At night, when the blackness pins her down to the bed, she imagines herself on that train. She is crushed in the wretched space, the smell of sweat and urine and fear gagging her. She has to crouch and squeeze her body into the crevice under the seat so that when they come to butcher them, she may have a chance of escape. And always, she sees the glint of the sword making its way to her throat. But before the scream escapes from her lips, another scream stops her. It goes on and on, until (and she knows this is how it is) her father shakes her mother out of her nightmare, where she too is on that train, fearing for the worst, her daughter’s hair braid in her steely grip.
She loves the crunch of the sand under her feet. Feels brave to dip her toes in the warm sea and eat roasted peanuts. She learns to adjust to closed spaces. To sleep through the night. She learns to keep the past hidden in the twists and bends of her memories. She writes poetry, paints pictures of sunshine, rivers and cracked earth, finds love, has children. She knows she will never return.
Decades later, on another continent, she will open those rusty doors into the past. She will wonder why people are talking about her journey, her loss, when at the time nobody cared. She will speak of it to her grandchildren and watch on television the village that she had left. She will recognise the village well where they washed and they will cry together. But there is promise in her grandchildren’s tears that they will not forget.
And in the depths of sleep, she will return to that courtyard, in her red slippers chasing the hens, collecting the eggs and laughing with her grandmother – finally laughing.
About the Contributor
Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Mumbai. She is a lecturer at Winchester University and is the lead facilitator for the SO:Write Young Writers project in Southampton. Her debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian), was published in 2015. Her short stories, essays and poems have been widely published and also broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She won the Winchester Writers Festival Memoir prize in 2016. Her collection of short stories will be published in 2018
Riot - Shashi Tharoor
It is a love story set in times of religious unrest in India. A murder brings to light a secret affair. ' The death of an American woman in India serves as the pretext for a thoughtful, sociologically precise novel about the religious tensions racking the subcontinent.' - Publishers Weekly.
More from Issue Nine:
- The Place That He Can Never Return To
- The Cyclops
- The Girl with Many Names by Kristin LaFollette
- Three by Deb Scudder
- The Mourner by Louise Burgess
- Margot by Marni Appleton
- Pebbles on a Shore by Lynne E Blackwood
- blindfolded minds by Rachel Hawkins
- Phantom habits by Blakeley Bartee
- Dementia’s Mantra by Mike Ferguson
- Pack Animals