Poor Thing – KM Vaghela

The sun blazes, soaks into the delicate skin of my neck.  My lips are charred.  My eyes squint upwards at the destination:  the Temple.  How majestically it stands.  Its white, carved walls incandescent.  Silence made its presence so loud.  Oh, to be in its shelter! To dip my feet into the ocean of cold marble.  To fold my hot, red hands in respect, if only to feel the cool air caressing through my fingers.  I have been there before, as a little six year old.  Six years past and I am almost there again.  This temple was the same one Gandhi-ji visited forty-three years ago.  But my family has been going for longer.  Each year, my father makes a pilgrimage up this very mountain, following or leading a whole trail of others.  My mother goes most years, and sometimes the youngest brother gets a turn.  But this time, it’s only us three, with a crowd of worshippers.  A fly buzzes.  I ride on a mule.

The dust from his hooves sprinkle the air, making me sneeze every so often.  I never sneeze.  Or if I once did, I don’t remember doing it.  But today, I can’t stop.  My mother peers back at me, her eyes as dry as mine, blinking rapidly to keep them from getting too red.  A smile plays at her lips, as if she had some secret crawling under them, making them ticklish, but giving no way to come out.  I frown, reminding her of this morning.  She did not let me ride at the head of the line like my father promised I could.  He could only shake his head at me behind my mother when she reasoned with me that I was too young.  She insisted that I be nestled between my father’s mule and hers.  There was nothing left for me to say.  So I had said nothing all morning.  She sighs, and shrugs her shoulders, as if to shove off the accumulated dust from them.  I only sneeze again.  The mule is getting used to the sneezing.

I close my eyes, just to savour the black that reflects back.  Only, it’s not black.  Not really.  It’s a paint dish swirling oranges and yellows.  And reds.  Always reds.  I feel my hat slipping off, and without depriving my eyes the muted colours, I grab for it, catching it just before it skids off my neck.  Placing it back on, I turn my face up.  If only it would rain.  But of course it won’t.  I can feel the blue of the sky, and not a trace of cloud spots it.  I smell my own sweat.  I feel the beads rolling down my bent back.  Falling and falling, until the cotton of my dress provides them their soft ending.  I sigh.  My mule tries to sigh too, the blubber of his lips flapping.  Poor thing.  I wonder how heavy the droplets are to him. 

read the entire story in Pulp Literature Issue No. 2, Spring 2014.