Selection from “Culling Mynahs and Crows”
Sally ought to have returned from her jog. Agnirekha’s head was buzzing again. She was not sure how long she had been staring at the pane. Had she been talking to herself? Listening to the voice? Or had there been more than one voice? She got up deliberately to make herself a cup of coffee. She stumbled on the way to the sink. Sally should have been there. Agnirekha tried not to panic. But something was rising, and it was not only the steam from the whistling kettle.
When Sally returned, she knew instantly that something was wrong, and giving the hall and kitchen a quick look, which took in everything, she raced upstairs. Agnirekha was in the bathtub, shivering in the water, a Smokey rope of blood curled away from her wrist. As the breathless seconds passed, Sally hauled Agnirekha up and out of the water. She unplugged the tub and let the water gurgle away, taking the blood with it. She grabbed the T-shirt that Agnirekha had discarded and tied it tightly around her wrist. “Sugar,” she mumbled, rememberingan old Indian remedy for stopping blood that Agnirekha had taught her on a warm day, a holiday when both of them had had too much beer and were giggling as they tried to cut a salad together. Sally had cut her finger and Agnirekha had swabbed it with sugar grains. The bleeding soon stopped, but Agnirekha, suddenly more sober, had insisted on finishing the salad by herself. Afterwards Agnirekha had washed the sugar off, and put medicated tape on the wound. She did other things to the wound, turning the day into the soft colours of an old sun warmed patchwork quilt. The day had turned out to be beautiful. So beautiful, that it wrung Sally’s heart, just to think of it, as she now raced into the kitchen, returning with a handful of sugar spilling from her fist, and untied Agnirekha’s wrist. She poured sugar over the cut and retied the shirt. And, then Sally half dragged, half carried Agnirekha to the bedroom. She dried the rest of her there on the bed, turned the heater up and put a blanket on the still girl. When Agnirekha woke up she found Sally sitting away from her, on the armchair, eyes blazing with tears, grief, anger and betrayal. She knew instantly that the worst word she could say was “sorry.” She hoisted herself up, shivering a little as the blanket slipped off.
“Look outside your head Aggie! What do you see? Me? D’you see me?”
Agnirekha nodded. “I did not… I was not… I don’t know how it happened…”
“Voices coming for you again? I thought you were cured.”
And it was true. Agnirekha had not heard the voices for a long time. “Tell me,” said Sally.
Soon Sally was holding her, making her repeat the words that she was reluctant to utter. Agnirekha spoke, and when she could not, Sally did not let go. Agnirekha had to tell her everything, all over again.
“You know, we need to make that trip to your city Aggie,” said Sally at last. “We have to. And then you have to let go.”
“You come here now Sal,” said Agnirekha sinking back into the pillows.
But Sally was not done yet. “You know you have to tell your folks. The sooner the better.”
Agnirekha said nothing. Sally rolled a joint, took a long drag before passing it to Agnirekha, who took it with fingers that shook ever so slightly. They lay side by side sharing the joint. When it was finished Sally slid her hands under Agnirekha, half lifting her, as she positioned herself above, careful not to let her full weight bear down on the smaller girl. She brought her mouth down on Agnirekha, who responded, full throated. She lowered the rest of herself on Agnirekha, until they were like a single body. This was not the first time that their vaginas had met, touched and kissed, but today was special; it held a final release. They made love, slowly, lingering over each other’s skin, savouring the touch, the intimacy that was now so regular and felt so natural. The day was growing outside, but they remained in bed, exhausted. Soon sleep also joined them, loosening the arms they had flung across each other. For Agnirekha it was a fitful sleep.
Sally woke up sooner, and lit another joint. She glanced at the sleeping woman next to her and her heart twisted painfully. And still she wondered how long she would have to go, how much she would have to endure before Aggie became herself, healed and became whole. Would she, Sally, be able to make it together with her that far? But Agnirekha stirred again, and Sally was once more overcome by that strange mix of emotions that she knew was more than love. It was an emotion that had grown from their slow conversations, after the inevitable smoke post love-making. Bit by bit she and Agnirekha had allowed each other into their past lives. Not just the events and people, but their inner selves, the paths their minds had taken. But Agnirekha, in the past, had pulled thorns out of her head and impaled people, who were so often harmless and helpless, genuinely in need of compassion; people she could have, and should have helped. Agnirekha had cut herself on those thorns too. Such rage, such viciousness, and such tender helplessness. Sally involuntarily put her hand on Agnirekha’s buttock and stroked it, lower and lower until she reached the small wet and tender part, and let her hand rest there.
She would make Aggie take that trip back to India, to Calcutta, next year. Yes, they would make plans for next year, definitely. She would go with her, all the way. And, she would finally get the opportunity to meet Malathi. Agnirekha had not emphasized Malathi in her conversations, holding back, but Sally had guessed nonetheless, what the woman had meant. Oh yes, she definitely had to see Malathi. How could she not see the woman who was Aggie’s first, but unrequited love? The woman who was unreachable, like a living goddess? And Agnirekha would have to be there right beside her. Sally wondered what Malathi would think of them, their relationship, and would it matter to Aggie. Would it change their relationship? What would Malathi think of her? Sally shook off the doubts. She would take it as it came and she would deal with it. Then, there was another person they had to meet as well, perhaps not they, perhaps only Aggie, whether
she wanted it or not. But Sally was curious, and she wanted to be there in any case. They would have to go to Delhi, and see her, whose name featured every now and then in newspapers, whose speeches rallied crowds, and who had a growing vote bank in Bengal. Sally suspected that Aggie probably would not want to meet Agnishikha. But that made no difference. Sally would take her.
“You can’t run away from your past. Not all the time,” thought Sally as she inhaled. Like it or not she would make sure Agnirekha met Agnishikha. Mirrors, however imperfect, distorted into a grotesque fair grounds show, and no matter how often shattered by vindictive hands, had to tell the truth. That was their job, even though real life was no fairytale. And Aggie would have to confront her alter ego, image for image. And then a thought struck Sally, and it made her laugh silently. When, and if, they really met, would she too lust after Agnishikha, her incredible beauty, her sensuousness that cut both men and women? And if Sally did want to sleep with Agnishikha, how would Aggie react? Would she be jealous? That was a delicious thought; Sally grinned mischievously. But now her Aggie was stirring. And, looking at her Sally had an irresistible urge to give Aggie her breast, and suckle her tenderly, like a new born baby.
RK Biswas is the author of “Culling Mynahs and Crows” published by Lifi Publications, New Delhi. Two short story collections by her are slated for publication later in 2014; one by Lifi and the other by Authorspress. Her short fiction and poetry have been widely published across the globe, in print and online, in journals as well as anthologies. Notably in Per Contra, Eclectica, The Paumanok Review, Markings, Etchings, Mascara Literary Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Pratilipi, Nth Position, Stony Thursday, Crannog, Mobius, Reading Hour, to name a few. Her poetry has also been featured in an anthology – Ten – published by Nirala Publications and edited by Jayant Mahapatra. In 2012 she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat Short Story Competition, Ireland. In 2006 her poem “Cleavage” was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize and was also a finalist in the 2010 Aesthetica Creative Arts Contest. Her poem “Bones” was nominated for a Pushcart as well as a Best of the Net by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010. Her story “Ahalya’s Valhalla” was among Story South’s Million Writer’s Notable Stories of 2007. She has participated in poetry and literary festivals in India and abroad, and being a past member of theatre groups, she enjoys performing her poetry on stage. An erstwhile ad person, she prefers to spend a quiet life focussed on her fiction and poetry, and is working on her second and third novels concurrently. She blogs at Writers & Writerisms.
Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.