Throwing Rocks At Dogs by Kuzhali Manickavel
Adhi got up, walked over to the boy and sat beside him. Kalaiselvi looked at his empty chair, her forefinger tapping against her lips.
"Are you though?" said Kalaiselvi. "Because it's okay if you are. It's okay if your name is really Adhinarayanan."
Once upon a time, Adhi had brought up the question of marriage. He wasn't sure if they would be happy, but he thought it was a good idea nonetheless. Kalaiselvi thought it was a good idea too but said no, because she had already decided to kill herself when she turned 35.
"Why?" asked Adhi.
"You can't say that. People aren't supposed to talk about dying like that."
"I'm not talking about killing you, I'm talking about killing me. Why do people think it's criminal to end your own life when you feel like it?"
"Because life is a gift," said Adhi. "And people with cancer don't have that choice."
"But what does that have to do with me? I don't have cancer."
"You have every reason to live."
"That's the most retarded thing I ever heard in my life."
"I don't think you're supposed to say retarded either."
Kalaiselvi dug her knuckles into Adhi's arm.
"Do you have some special reason to be alive? Are you going to be the Prime Minister of India? Are you going to eradicate poverty? What are you going to do?"
After this conversation, Adhi had gone home, taken a razor and practiced running it across his wrists. He made a series of thin, red welts but could not bring himself to break the skin. He felt nauseous, then elated that life could make it so hard to die. He went to Kalaiselvi's house in the middle of the night and showed her his wrists.
"So you have a reason," she said, tracing the welts with her forefinger. Adhi watched her, looking at the first thin wisps of grey hair that were racing down the top of her head, disappearing into the brownish black tangles of her hair.
"You're really going to kill yourself," he said.
"Yes. Are you going to try and stop me?"
Adhi sighed and put his hands in his pocket.
"No," he said.
The late afternoon sun had made the room hot and stuffy. Tiny beads of sweat appeared on the slum boy's upper lip and forehead. He seemed to glow a little and Kalaiselvi understood, for a fraction of a second, what it was like to see a slum boy as something beautiful and small. She got up and made her way to the kitchen.
"Where are you going?" asked Adhi.
"Lime juice. You want some lime juice? It will be warm though. And not much sugar, I don't have much left."
"No sugar for me then."
"What do you mean? How can you have lime juice without sugar?"
Kalaiselvi's kitchen was cramped and smelled like a furnace so Adhi waited in the doorway. When she handed him his tumbler the juice was swirling slightly, the sediment from the sugar collecting at the bottom like speckles of salt and pepper.
"You don't want to marry me anymore, do you," she said suddenly. It wasn't a question, it was more of a statement and Adhi let it hang there, above the warm, murky tumbler of juice.
"Why not? What's your reason?" said Kalaiselvi. She drank her juice out of the mixing pot, holding it high over her mouth.
"You're selfish. Self-absorbed. And suicidal," said Adhi.
"Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss," said Kalaiselvi.
"And you're silly."
"That's it? Those are your reasons?" Kalaiselvi rolled her eyes. He held his empty tumbler out to her and she looked at him.
"Would you like to fuck me Adhi? Would you like to have sssssssex? With someone who's ssssssssssssuicidal?"
She took the tumbler from him and wrapped one arm around his neck, her head resting on his shoulder. Adhi could see the thin, dusty legs of the slum boy in the other room. He thought they twitched for a second but he couldn't be sure.
"Yen kangal rendum pallandu paadi****," said Kalaiselvi. "Sing the rest."
"I don't know that song."
"Yes you do."
"I don't know the words."
"Don't lie. You always lie to me. You think I don't know but I do."
Adhi could feel the tumbler in her hand, gently bumping against his back.
"Sevaanamalai, unnai thedi thedi*****," said Adhi.
Slants of thick, yellow light were pouring across the slum boy's legs. Adhi couldn't tell if they were trembling in the sunlight or whether they were lying perfectly still. He closed his eyes and heard the line Sevaanamalai, unnai thedi thedi play in a staticy loop inside his head. He tried to think of another song but he couldn't.
The slum boy was gone.
Kalaiselvi saw the empty space on the floor and laughed; then she quickly covered her mouth. Adhi stormed through the two rooms, his head turning swiftly from left and right.
"He's here somewhere," he muttered, peering out the window. He kicked the wall and strode quickly into the kitchen. Then he checked the cupboard under her sink.
"Oh please," said Kalaiselvi.
"Boys don't just disappear like that; he has to be here somewhere."
Kalaiselvi sat in one of the plastic chairs and listened to Adhi moving around.
"He must have snuck out. He must have woken up and jumped your fence. I thought I saw his legs move," said Adhi from the kitchen. Kalaiselvi heard things rattle and thump but she couldn't picture what he was doing. Soon he came into the front room, his face streaked with dust and sweat.
"Where are my keys, I'm going to look for him," he said. "He must still be hanging around outside somewhere. Or maybe he went home, in which case there'll be a crowd here soon, breaking down your door. I'll just see, do one round on the bike and come."
She watched him unlock the front door; then she followed him out and watched him unlock the gate.
"I'll be back in five minutes, ok? Keep the gate unlocked," he said.
Kalaiselvi nodded and watched as he started his bike.
"You can lock the door though," he said suddenly.
"Lock the door."
"But keep the gate open. I'll be back in five minutes. Ten minutes."
He sped down the street in a cloud of hot, brown dust and petrol fumes. Kalaiselvi went back inside and sat down on the ground, where the boy had lain. She touched the floor and felt a thin layer of dust gently bite into the tips of her fingers. She suddenly remembered the tiny cuts around his mouth - how does a boy get cuts like that, she thought. Does he repeatedly fall face-first on sharp things? Does somebody scratch his mouth before he sleeps?
She leaned against the wall and slipped her chappals on, just to be ready. A slum mob was going to come, armed with women who would cry loudly and stick bleeding children in her face. They were going to swarm around her gate and demand she give them everything she had. I have nothing, Kalaiselvi would say and they wouldn't believe her.
The floor slowly became a long, dark smudge of gray. She leaned her head against the window, watching the fruit bats skitter across the sky as harsh fluorescent lights flickered to life in houses across the street. Kalaiselvi watched the front gate and waited.
But nobody came.
*mannvasanai- The scent that comes up from the soil prior to or after the first few drops of rain (very rough translation from Tamil)
*** Thevadipaya- son of a prostitute (rough translation from Tamil)
****Yen kangal rendum pallandu paadi- My eyes sang for years and years
*****Sevaanamalai, unnai thedi thedi- searching for you in the setting sun
© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
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