Author – Lakshmy Das
Amma went back to the house we were staying in; the workers had asked for more drinking water. The construction works of the new house was progressing well. The roof was yet to be done, but the structure stood awe-inspiring already. The house would be gigantic on completion, a symbol of Appa’s legacy- years of sacrifice made into a fine piece of building; to be remembered, by us.
The masons were on the other side of the building as I and my brother play hide-and-seek in the unfinished rooms. They couldn’t hear our giggles, not even our screams.
He gets bored very easily. And hide-and-seek could entertain his twelve year old soul only for half an hour.
“Change of game; let’s play James Bond,” he declared.
That was his favourite detective game. Me, the forever obedient one, agreed as usual. We found a safety pin from the scrap, the item to be detected upon one of us hiding it. It was a small one; a bit rusted. Surely, it was one Amma had lost.
As always, I was the first to seek. And by some faint luck I found it under a torn carpet. Next, it was my turn to hide the pin. I had hidden it safely, but as always he found it in a few seconds. Now it was again my turn to seek the rusted pin, which, by then, I had named Rusty.
He had hidden it well. It was nowhere to be found with my naked eyes. Before my slow brain started working, Amma came in with her usual announcement.
“That’s enough! Go, take your baths both of you. It’s time for tea.”
We nodded in agreement. And she nodded approving of our agreement. Amma left, as was the usual custom.
My humble brain slowly detected a signal from the bathroom of the building. I ran. And he ran behind me. But like always, he didn’t push me out of the way to prevent him from losing the game. The way he stood there calmed me a bit. I was searching, full-fledged and vigorously; and he stood there, observing the smallness of the space. The bathroom was small and clearly private in a bedroom like that.
“Munnu, here is your clue,” he says, “it is nowhere below.”
Eyebrows raised and half-smiling, he stood by the door. I hunt every brick hole, every small corner and to reach the ventilation hole, I even hopped onto a brick beside the wall. I was desperate to find Rusty.
His being near was never a thing to be sensed; he was always near. But his hands, the slow unusual movement of them heading towards my ‘not-to-be-touched-by-others’ part of the body was something I could sense. And that was an unexpected thing. No one had ever taught a ten year old how to stop her brother from clearing his doubts on how the other gender’s body felt like. No one!
As it felt then, even today’s shower feels painful. Now I cry, for I allowed the man I love to feel the woman in me, letting him know the wound I bear. I cry, for I finally let it go. I am washing away a lot of things.
I bath twice, or he would sense the change. The smell of this skin is way too familiar to him, my brother by blood.
In a week, it is his marriage and that too with the girl of his dreams. Fearless, bold, daring – the manly attributes that made a woman more beautiful; Neeta was all of it. And on every note of comparison he makes, I scream within, “It is you who shattered the faith I had in this world.” His mocks bring spit to my mouth, for it was he who instilled this kind of a fear in me, rendering me incapable. Sometimes I can’t help but smile, wondering about the meaning of life. He could have been forgiven if it was a mistake and it was never repeated! But he deserves punishment. And I know, he will be punished somewhere.
A week after the wedding ceremony, my sister-in-law enquired, “What does he like the most?”
“Leg!” I reply and in a second I add, “of lamb.”
And I smiled.
An adult I have become, burying inside a thousand secrets that shall die with me!
This story submitted as part of our Short Story Contest