ETWA | Ch4b: One Goddess, Maybe More

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“Let’s check your BP quickly”, Papa looked at Mama for the BP machine. Mama was the one who cared for Achams. “It’s in the cupboard to your left”, said Mama still revving for a fight. She knew perfectly well that Papa would fumble with the machine. “Could you get it for me, please?” Papa said in an appeasing tone.

“Ammu, why don’t you get it for him? I am a useless housewife, what if I break it? I’ll get some water for Achams”, said Mama, leaving the room without waiting for a response.

Mole, Achams called after Mama. “If you are going to the kitchen, could you make me some black coffee, please.” 

Seeing Papa take the manual out of the BP monitor to read the instructions, Achams added, “Or, Sreeja, why dont you check my BP so we can get done with this today?” 

“Mon, why don’t you get me some black coffee? It’s really simple to make. Add half a spoon of coffee powder and one spoon of sugar to boiling water. Go. Sreeja will manage here.” Achams was laying it on thick.

Halfway through the BP check, Mama remembered, “I’ve switched off the gas cylinder. He won’t know to turn it on. Let me just…”

In a heartbeat Papa was heard from the kitchen. “Sreeja, have we run out of gas? The stove is not working.” All three of us giggled.

…she ventures into emotional territory, where she knows he will stumble. 

When he finally gets Achams the coffee, she sends him back for more sugar. She says to no one in particular, “Sreeja usually gets me a slice of bread to dip in the coffee. If you don’t mind… it’s becoming harder to break these habits as I grow older.” When he brings her a cold slice from the fridge she turns to Mama and says, “Mole, is it okay for me to eat cold bread?” Mama is ready to receive this ammunition. “In this weather? Definitely not! What were you thinking?” she snubs Papa, fully aware that Achams approves.  

As we wait for Papa to toast the bread, Mama cools down the coffee by passing it from one glass to another. Achams portions the coffee into the two glasses, takes a sip from one, “Here, you drink the rest”, she offers the other one to me as Papa returns. 

Achams puts her game face back on, “Mone, I think my days are numbered now. My feet feels unusually cold”, she ventures into emotional territory, where she knows he will stumble. 

“Sreeja, you go to sleep. I’ll sit with Amma for a bit,” says Papa as he sits down by the edge of Achams’ bed. Don’t wait up for me,” he adds. It’s nearly midnight when Papa finally leaves our room. He fusses over Achams, fixing her pillow, covering her with a blanket just so and leaving the night light on just in case.

As Achams’ long-winded ruse to diffuse the argument plays out, I feel extremely relieved that the focus is off me. I feel grateful to Achams for this brief moment of normalcy as Papa banters with her at the end of his day. 

Now that my leaden secret was out in the open, I felt overwhelming relief. With the secret cut loose, all the fear, doubt, guilt, anger, shame and frustration that I felt settled, giving way to a sense of calm. 

As I stared into the darkness beyond my pillow, I thought back to the first time I knew that I liked women. Long before I could articulate it, there had been an incident when I was ten. During my annual trip to Kerala, Achams always organised a Chuttuvilakku, an offering to the goddess Bhagavathy. In the evening at the temple, Registrar Kurupettan made these elaborate powder drawings of the goddess on the floor before the offering began. He mixed turmeric and limestone to create a deep radiating red colour. As the drawing progressed, he filled in two circles on either side of the chest with deep red powder to indicate the goddesses’ breasts. He shaped them till they were two-three inches off the floor. In an instant, those two perfectly curved inanimate spheres that leapt off the drawing, made me blush. 

Quickly, I looked around to see how the adults were reacting. No one seemed to notice except me. They were all busy exchanging yearly pleasantries. I shut my eyes quickly but they were already imprinted in my mind. Each time I thought about it, I felt a peculiar sensation; something akin to firecrackers lighting up my body. I didn’t know what that sensation was called back then. 

Of course, I told the Zassies as soon as I knew for sure how to put those feelings in words. But by then I also knew better than to tell my parents that I was once aroused by a drawing of a goddess.

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Next Chapter | Chapter 5a: What’s Happening Here?

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