Walk out. The fluorescent lights warm the stage in green, blue, red, pink. A little roar, a little raucous. There’s a thing for Indian girls here. So I play the role well.
It was four years ago, I had used eyelash glue to stick bindi’s over my brow, slipped off my dress robe, and slipped on a Mata Hari bra. It was exotic enough. It was awkward, purposeful in the slow reveal. He’d once said to me that my face only glimpsed a different expression when I tried to take it off. He’d asked why. I answered money. He tried to steer the conversation back, psychoanalyse me. He told me, sometime after, that it had revealed the girl in me that needed saving – the girl in me that was ashamed of what was coming. I’d stared at him, pressed my lips together, and swallowed. My eyes glistened, and filled up as I got up and retreated to the bathroom. It was the power.
Dadima was my mother’s aunt. She started to lose it near the end. She’d begin to shake, grab me, cover my eyes, start talking fast in the old language. This was twelve years ago.
She was a small woman, with thin hair scraped back and tied into a long plait. You could see her skull. She wore sarees with trainers, and walked with a wooden walking stick. Still, people cut in front of her in the bus queue, and no-one ever helped her with her grocery bags.
She was fifteen when she picked up my mother in her arms, and covered her eyes and spoke to her in the old language. She was fifteen when her sister was burnt alive.
She had been living with the other Dadima – the one that burnt – and that one’s husband. He had never resented her, or hurt her. He loved her as if she was his own little sister. He was different, and she’d loved her new brother back. She’d fallen into tears with an old Hindi film playing in the background, when I was a teenager and spilt a lot.
The men had clothed his body in white out in the open village, and the women had invaded their home to rub off her sister’s tika. She had taken a five year old Maya and hidden in the closet. The women waited and ripped her sister’s clothes, and then they tried to take her outside. She resisted.
The women held the widow down, pulling her hair back, holding her nostrils closed, forcing her to swallow the thick drink they’d bought with them. She’d gotten delirious, and they had led her out with ease.
Dadima kept Maya’s head close to her chest as she left their home, smelling of the pressed cannabis juice, followed them discreetly out to the village and down to the river. The men had moved the body down already and enclosed it in a pyre of wood.
Her sister had begun to scream as the torch was passed along the men. The women held onto her tight. Dadima had begun to shake.