“a quivering sensation in the right arm was supposed to prognosticate union with a beautiful woman” – monier monier williams
Menaka, my mother, was parentless but beautiful. They pulled at their hair,
in dreams, pretending it was someone else’s: hers. They didn’t have to ask –
she appeared in the churning. Full grown and looking – daddy? – but no takers, risk
too great. Better to wait and see if anything was wrong with a girl stuck in heaven with
too many uncles.
They think they are so different here: wise and unused
to luxury. Fresh air is free and the costs of their presence invisible and when Kanva
needs to feel beloved by smarter faces he leaves me amongst them and their staid
advice. The big joke? He says he can’t remember his past, nada until he got to the woods
and looked to the stars and understood himself to be nothing more or less than.
The uncles love my Real Dad: they chant his mantra as though it will bring them literally
into the light. He knows what there is to know. Still, he is starving himself in case there is
more he might need to know, later, and so is too busy for visitors. Durvasas asked. What a
fanboy. Fan Uncle.
You can’t live here unless you are a million years old. Forty, at the very
least: sons educated, daughters married off, wives tired. But no one says no to Real Dad, plus
Kanva had enjoyed the part where I mewled and then, later, when I broke my nose jumping
off the scarecrow. I’d thought I was a blue jay, mostly, until my body pulled at me and I
recognized myself in the statues of women lapping at one another, ignoring all
surrounding uncles. It wasn’t as though I didn’t understand about Menaka, who while not
exactly human was by no means a bird. I just. Well. What if we were the first family to give
birth to beings in the form that suited them best, that was beautiful to whoever was doing
the most beholding? They’d tried to christian me (hm) Gayatri, after Real Dad’s Greatest Hit.
So when I saw a boy by the fire I introduced myself before anyone else could get a word in:
Unforgettable, he said. I raised my left eyebrow: are you planning to forget
me? There are verses about bent eyebrows: you’d think they’d be more abstract, similes
rooted in geometry, fractals, but quite a bit of it is bent eyebrows and the way no one can
quite figure out where the wind is going to end up when it leaves the ashram. Dusyanta, he
called himself, like the crown prince: there was a lot of energy around that fire. His bow’d
been snapped clean in two and he told me all about his lack of desire to eat our animals and
offend the surrounding uncles. I liked our animals and I liked the efficiency of the break. I
have a hut to myself, I told him. Kanva, who fathers me, is off being congratulated for his
hymns elsewhere. The thing is, he said, I’m not supposed to – Jesus, kid. Are you set to
inherit your father’s bow factory or something furiously banal? I know all about good
families and I promise not to bring a kid into yours. It was a teeth-bared lie (I knew nothing
about good families save the uncles’ regrets), but:
Don’t you want, he asked, to marry
I don’t want to get married after! Dusyanta, so-called (self-called), was beautiful
the way my mother was beautiful: the lines of his face were so simple I thought I might have
traced them into the earth with a snapped twig, the plane of his chest broader than prayer
can bring about. I had something of my father in me, or else the birds had given me form,
all knobs and bones and if I jumped again, I half thought, I might really take flight. Every
memory I’d been passed about village life repelled me. Kanva had done it properly, pukka.
Later I’d find out he’d had two daughters before me but I never once knew their names.
I took my pallu off my shoulder and bared my breasts and kept going with the unwinding
until the boy’s jaw was at his balls and I tied the end of the pallu to his wrist. Wait – he said –
and since I’m not my tragic mother I did. He untied his loincloth – o! – and tied one end to
my wrist. After the fourth rounding of the bases I figured it out, refused to switch direction,
Come on, he said. Actually I’m really the prince. For real, for real. I was just
playing it cool before. If we get married you could come raise our kid in a huge castle and we
could make things fresh: fuck caste, fuck colonialism – we could divest the place from
everything, make the whole thing like this forest.
So he’s nuts, I thought, but we were
already naked, and after all: I liked the forest and if he had shown himself to be not in the
least efficient at least he had good taste. After the third homer I veered off and he began
to follow – should we douse the fire? Nah, an uncle will be by soon enough, probably – and
wow. It was fast, and he got redder-faced after, so I took down my hair and let it fall across
his shoulders like a pet shadow and explained that it had been great and should he be
interested in taking a fake hunting trip to this part of the woods again I would be interested.
Aren’t you coming with? he asked. This is the part where I rescue you.
For real, for real?
He nodded. So then I know when you live, I said, in farewell. After my Real Dad found out my
mother had motives of her own for stopping by he cursed her so she could never see him
again, but I had no motives, so I was safe. I wasn’t going to give it all up for a man.
Rashi Rohatgi is an Indian American in Arctic Norway. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in, amongst other venues, Best Small Fictions 2021, Midnight Breakfast, and Crossing Borders. Jaggery Lit called her novella, Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow, “fearless and breathtaking.” She is currently at work on a novel. Formerly a reader for The Rumpus, she has been an intern for Ayesha Pande Literary, Reviews Editor for Africa in Words, and Fiction Editor for Boston Accent Lit, where she convened the Accent Prize. Rashi is also a former AWP and Binders mentee and a Bread Loaf, VONA, and Tin House alumna.