“Why did you burn yourself, Ana?” Sister Clara, the nurse at St. Mary’s girls’ Secondary School asked me, as two matrons tightly restrained me to a bed in the school infirmary.
”Babu told me to set him on fire,” I whispered with a shaking voice. “He said he wanted to feel the flames lick the folds of his wrinkled skin like orange tongues. This morning, when I looked at myself in the mirror I saw him again, the elderly neighbor with wrinkled skin and no front teeth, wrapped in a blue quilt.”
Sister Clara, with a big cross hanging on her chest, peered at me from above her wire rimmed glasses as if her gaze would burn Babu’s soul inside me. I told her that Babu hated the cold, but I could tell that she didn’t believe me. She thinks I am crazy.
My mind drifted to a time when Babu found me in the outside kitchen house stoking the fire. I was ten years old. The house was a round brick hut with a single window, a door and a thatched grass roof. The inside was mostly empty, with a single wooden hearth made of three bricks and firewood that was sloppily arranged between the bricks. The walls were covered with black soot, and the smell of smoke stung my eyes. Babu said he was cold, and forced me to lick the folds of his wrinkled skin until he was warm. He said to touch him until his skin was on fire. When he touched me, I burned.
A sharp needle startled me as it pierced through my scorched skin. “Noooo!” I cried frantically as Sister Clara injected more liquid inside my veins.
”Relaaax!” She cooed, and my eyes slowly dropped as I drifted off to a blazing oblivion.
These Words I Do Not Speak
The air shuddered in the overbearing silence.
“I know you’re probably thinking it’s your fault, Gare, but mommy left because she wanted to, okay?”
Gare sat quietly on the edge of her bed. She was a most peculiar child. Her class teacher had remarked on her last report card: She does not mingle with other students, and when her parents had read it, they had shared a hearty laugh.
“Of course, she didn’t mingle. She’s Gare!” her father had laughed.
And he had laughed a little at first when he broke the news to her. When he sat by her bedside and said, “Your mommy’s run away, Gare. She didn’t even leave a note.” It had been a most peculiar laugh, too. Gare hadn’t thought it an appropriate thing to do, laugh while telling her that, but she was not given to words. In fact, she hadn’t said a word since she had been born seven years ago.
“Drink your juice, Gare,” her father cooed and he rubbed her hair affectionately. She took a sip, then a gulp. Soon the cup was empty, and sleep wrapped pervasively around her like a bristly shawl.
“Go to bed,” he said, and he turned off the bedroom light.
What Gare didn’t know was that daddy had been under a lot of stress lately, and that a long time ago, since before she was born, daddy had burned down his foster home. What she knew, however, was that her mother hadn’t run away.
She knew her mother was under a pile of earth in the backyard.
But she was not given to words.
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