Two girls sat under the shade of a banyan tree, separated by two feet and ten years. Bound solely by circumstance. Kavya, 17, buried her face in her knees. The sleeves of her grey sweatshirt were pulled to shelter her stiff, cold hands. She watched the lint gathered along her arms. A memory of fluorescent lights and curtained trial rooms. Of shopping with her mother and begging until her mother gave in. And then she was back staring at the weary walls that now held her mother. A dark shape played in the corner of her eyes, and she cocked her head slightly to see the younger girl had settled into a position that mimicked Kavya’s. The younger one was a nameless haze of a seven-year-old. She was… Spunky to say the least. Dressed in a magenta sequined jacket, her hair in pigtails and aquamarine shoes that dragged her frail shoulders down. Kavya smiled. The girl smiled back. Kavya noticed her bag. A soft pastel backpack with a sea horse on its front. The girl pulled the bag closer to her body, a protective arm shielding the sea horse. Kavya smiled at this as well. She wondered what twisted game of fate had brought somebody so lively to a place that overflowed with sorrow. On the little girl’s right, was a bouquet of a dozen white tuberoses. Their giddy sweetness entwined with the stench of lost hopes and broken families. The girls were drenched in silence as their eyes traced the cracks in the cement where a sapling had forced itself through, their steady gaze willing it to grow.
Kavya went inside the withering government hospital. She walked past the chalky walls and sputtering patients to find her mother asleep, within 4 curtained walls. She had not dared to wake her. It seemed to Kavya that time stood still under fluorescent lights. A balding pot-bellied man had told her that things weren’t looking too good. That they were stagnant. He mentioned charts, and medication, and how he hoped and how sorry he was. Kavya only half listened. She watched a transparent liquid drip. Drip. Drip. Into a pipe connected to her mother’s left wrist. She looked so small in the bed. So delicate. So in need for protection. She left the room not thinking of the words of the man but instead thinking of a small arm shielding a seahorse.
Once outside, Kavya resumed her seat. The younger girl pulled a plastic box out of her seahorse bag. She pushed a sandwich near Kavya. The air between them, dense and humid and lonely. Kavya ate slowly while the little girl guzzled her food down. The tuberoses sat near her. She had waited with them for hours only to be told by the staff that they weren’t allowed inside the sterilized rooms. So now the flowers wilted in the heat next to her. She would take them home and place them carefully in the crystal vase that was kept near the sink in the kitchen. Small hands carrying the weight of the world. She would place them by her mother’s bedside table. Together they would wait for her. Kavya wondered how so much hope could fit in a body so small.
Under the fading light Kavya watched the shadow of the Banyan tree. The younger girl swatted the mosquitoes that hummed near her ear. A nurse clad, in blue beckoned to Kavya. Instantly she was on her feet, racing to the glass doors. Her hopes rose as the nurse told her that her mother was calling for her. Kavya walked back to the 4 curtains where her mother had slept. Her mother’s eyes were open this time. She looked at Kavya with curiosity. When Kavya said a soft hello, her mother shook her head. This wasn’t her daughter. Her daughter was younger. Young enough to wear pigtails. Nobody believed the dying woman. Her mother continued to shake her head vigorously. Straining to make her point. Kavya left the room quietly. She went outside and again watched the shadows under the banyan tree. There was nobody there. Kavya leaned against the chalky walls of the hospital, watching the shadows appear and disappear under the tree. A good thing that the little girl was gone. She wouldn’t have liked to see the monsters that were forming there.
Kavya went back to a place that no longer resembled home. She would be at the hospital again in the morning. She had last rites and paperwork to take care of. She had never known a place could feel so empty. She wanted to cry. To be sprawled across the floor. To weep until her stomach ached. But instead, she felt empty. And old. And weary. So weary. As if the walls of the hospital had rubbed off on her. She lay down on the sofa, her legs dangling off the side. She remembered just how big it had felt once upon a time. She thought of the little girl who had vanished so quickly. She would have fit perfectly. Kavya fell asleep thinking of transparent liquids and tuberoses. She thought of the lone sapling in the concrete and the sweatshirt that had once been new. Of fluorescent lights and blue curtains. Of a memory of an entire life that was gone with a woman who had shrunk overnight. She thought of the magenta girl. How she wished she could have known her better. Kavya fell asleep oblivious to the soft pastel backpack with a seahorse on its front that lay dormant in a cupboard. Memorabilia of a girl who no longer existed.
Selected: March Short Story Contest
Published in Issue#28