an old woman sits panting by the side of the bed, talking to herself. her hair unkempt. wheeze. talk. babble. wheeze. cough. wipe spittle. sigh. wheeze. talk…
in the kitchen, her daughter murmers (again, to herself), stirring a pot of hot kanji. scrape. stir. murmur. wipe sweat from brow. scrape. murmur. taste. stir. murmur. when will she die?
i shrink in the shadows, ashamed that i’d heard her laments. my own grandmother, suffering this not-wantedness…
another murmur, from another corner. another aunt. when will we be free?
i run to the gods. surely they can hear me…please, please don’t take my achchamma away yet. i want her to live…
a noise. slither. i tiptoe towards the sound. who is it?
a lizard. bright magenta. chrome yellow. white spots. slithers across the brown wood floor. fascinated, i watch.
i look around. nothing. just a black and white shoelace. twined together. it reminds me of something.
i brush the thought aside.
i turn around again. it is the shoelace. with the head of a snake. a toy snake. with jagged teeth.
i freeze. the snake twists. the lace unentangles. two heads. they open their jagged mouths. they snap shut. i scream.
darkness. i’m falling. no, floating. so gently. i can see bits of light. soft light. the side of a chiselled marble statue. smooth. the smell of marigold. the end of a flute. krishna!
soft voices. floating again. spiralling down. round and round. finally at rest. something warm and soft. new bedsheet. flowers, glittering streamers above me. a balloon.
gasp! i choke. i cry. a baby’s wail. i stop. i cry again. a baby’s wail. i frown. it can’t be…
i bawl now. realisation strikes. i died. i am born again. my whole life has gone away. another waits ahead. i bawl again. louder.
wait. whose house is this? i wonder. am i in india? i wonder.
then i remember. what happened to my achchamma?? i bawl again. i want my achchamma!!! the baby wails.
noises again. cooing? i shudder. i am awake.
no, it’s not cooing. it’s snoring. praveen is by my side. athri whimpers in his bed. i’m still frozen. stuck to the thick mattress. i breathe. i’m alive. i’m not dead. it was a dream. i pick myself up slowly, pat athri back to sleep. i wonder what his past life must have been like. i drink some water. phew. i let out a breath. then i laugh. i know that snake. and i say to myself:
i will not watch the rubbadubbers again.