An abstract image of a man on a boat

Rumpus Original Fiction: Storytellers


Not long after my daughter Kaveri turns five, she grows tired of my high-pitched, off-key lullabies. She demands a more melodious voice. When I can’t provide it, she insists I stop singing altogether.

“It hurts my ears, Amma,” she says. Her little mouth emits a voice so soft it genetically doesn’t make sense. When I rack my brain for stories that are not movies she may one day watch or books she may one day read, my inheritance makes its way to my tongue.

If you ask me later, I will say my daughter was too young to carry an heirloom—she could not fully understand what it means to inherit this story—but that is a woman of tomorrow, one with the gift of hindsight. The woman today—confronted with a daughter who wants a story and desires nothing more than to give her a story—that woman is eager to pass it on.

The story is my only remaining inheritance. Property, gold, cash—all of them slip through my hands, landing in disputes, in bank lockers, in mutual fund investments. The story stays. It is given to me at the age of five by Ammamma, who narrates it to me every time she visits—a story that, almost magically, stays the same with every iteration. When my grandmother leaves her role as the family’s primary storyteller and turns to singing instead, my mother takes on the role. She tells me the story all over again and the story grows like a pothos plant in the sun, branching into more characters, more water, more magic.

So while Ammamma turned singer from storyteller, I turn storyteller from singer. The first thing I learn is that storytelling is a strange art. Listening to stories all my life has not, in any way, prepared me to tell my own.

My five-year-old’s attention span is shorter than my power naps (which have never touched the seven-minute mark). She loses interest the moment it feels too much like real life, forcing me to build on my mother’s already magical version. It takes a couple of tries, but I eventually find my footing. I conjure images of the woman and the water I’ve carried all my life. Ammamma’s pond becomes Amma’s Lake, which eventually flows into my river. I turn them into words.

An abstract tree hanging over the river bank

Once upon a time, on a cloudy night, a woman stepped into a river to take a bath. She hung her clothes on the low-hanging branches of a banyan tree, one that stood majestically over the riverbank.

No one was around. She felt free and careless as she let the water move into all her crevices. Her wild hair fell across her shoulders like waterfalls. As she went deeper into the river, she found herself getting more uninhibited. She moved with the water, her limbs stretching in and out, dancing to the sounds of rustling leaves. She did no cleaning or scrubbing at all, choosing instead to let the moving water clean her.

She continued to stay in the river long after the skin on her toes and fingertips had wrinkled. In this deep, meditative state, she felt like someone was watching her. She was absolutely sure of it. She looked around, but the trees revealed nothing. It was no longer a moonless night. The clouds had parted to let the moon peak through the trees, into the river, flashing a spotlight on her. It watched her with the kind of lust that often foreshadows something vile.

The woman found herself suddenly aware of her nakedness, the movement of her body, and the distance between her and the Banyan tree holding her clothes. So she stayed still in the water, filled with rage, hurling curses at the moon.Do you have any shame at all? Watching a woman while she bathes!”

The moon seemed unperturbed, amused even. It stared on, as if daring her to stay in the river longer. “I’ve got all night,” it told her.

Now her toes and fingertips looked like they would curl into themselves. Her teeth began to chatter. Goosebumps erupted all over her body. She was cold, tired, and very, very wrinkled. With no choice but to make her way to the riverbank, she returned slowly, wading through the shallow waters. She felt the moon’s constant gaze on her back, waiting, like some pervert, for her to step out.

At the bank, she begged the banyan tree to move a little closer, to stretch its branches out a little lower. The banyan tree looked at her, its large roots and branches shrugging helplessly.

“I wish I could,” it told her, “but I’m rooted to the earth. Maybe you could ask the air to blow your clothes to you?”

So the woman beckoned to the wind. “Please! Just have them fall closer to the bank.”

But the air was merely a breeze that night and couldn’t muster the strength to help her. The moon, smug with victory, shone even brighter. The woman closed her eyes and whispered to herself that it was going to be okay. The moon would pay for its voyeurism.

She stepped out of the water, back to the moon and walked to the banyan tree at a measured pace. She wanted to run, but she also didn’t want to show her vulnerability. With all her grace, she walked the few short yards to the tree, hands folded tightly over the curve of her breasts. The moon continued to stare. The woman felt blood rushing to her face, to her feet, to her groin. She found that she suddenly resented her nakedness.

Seeing her approaching figure, the banyan tree bent low. The branches carrying her clothes were within reach. Extending her hands to grab the clothes, she heard the banyan tree whisper in her ear, “This is the way of the world, my dear, for you are a woman, and the moon is a god.”

The woman wrapped the thin, dry fabric around her cold, wet body, shaking her head. “I will not bathe in this river again. Or in any water that the moon watches over. I will only visit the river during the day.”

The breeze blew past her this time, its tingling voice tickling her ear. “The sun is a bigger god. A hundred times brighter. Its gaze so much sharper.”

Her eyes welled up with tears for the first time that night. If that’s how the gods want to work, so be it—I will never bathe in a river again.

And she didn’t. For the rest of her life, the woman stayed away from the river, bathing within four walls, no room for a window, using a preheated pail of water. She also stopped dancing. After that night, the muscles in her limbs had turned unnaturally stiff. Her movements lost their grace. She stayed away from the open sky on all nights except one: on the night of the new moon, she slept on the terrace and watched the stars—the smallest of the gods—with the softest gaze.


An abstract image of the moon

Kaveri has her Thinking Face on and I glance at the clock. It’s way past her bedtime, almost past mine too. Outside, I hear thunder but no rain. I yawn. Aren’t stories supposed to put her to sleep? Why is she wide awake? I wonder whether this makes me a bad storyteller or an extremely gifted one.

“Who is the woman? What’s her name?” Kaveri asks me.

In all the iterations of the story told over the years, no one had ever named the woman. I fumble, my brain suddenly empty of any name but mine and hers.

“Sarayu,” I say, regretting it immediately.

“But Amma! That’s your name!”

“That doesn’t mean it has to be me,” I try.

“How can you not be Sarayu? How many Sarayus are there?”

“Lots of them. But I’m not the one in the story—I’ve never bathed in a river.”

“Why not?”

“Maybe I’m scared of the moon watching me too.”

That’s the first mistake I make in a string of storytelling mistakes. I’ve drawn parallels between a fictional bedtime story and my very real life. My daughter is quick to latch onto it.

“So the moon really is watching all of us?” she asks, a note of panic in her voice.

“No, no. Of course not. The moon is so high up in the sky. How can it watch us?”

“Then why are you scared? Why was the Sarayu in the story scared?”

I’m stumped. I don’t know how to save myself from my first storytelling disaster. I want to call out to my husband, have his sweet voice lull her to sleep with wonderful dreams and no questions. But he’s already fast asleep. I don’t want to be the one waking him up to say, I messed up a story and need your help fixing it.

“Because . . . we just are.” My answer hangs in the air, limp and defeated.

Kaveri stares at me. I can feel her disappointment. I’ve ruined lullabies for her already. I can’t have her detest stories too. But I also can’t think of any way to salvage it.

“The moon loves you, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s looking at you.”

“But why are you scared? Does the moon not love you?”

I stare at my daughter for a whole minute before waking my husband up.


My storytelling has long-lasting effects on Kaveri. She wakes up with a new question about the story every morning that week. Why is she scared? What is she wearing? Do all banyan trees speak? Why isn’t the banyan tree near Ammamma’s house speaking to me? Is the sun looking at me when I’m swimming in the pool? Does the sun also like me? Should I be scared?

I nod at her endless stream, throwing in an occasional mmhmm to make sure she doesn’t start talking to herself. It becomes easier after a while. Kaveri has stopped expecting answers out of me. Her questions have turned rhetorical in nature. I admit, I’m proud to have taught my daughter the art of rhetoric as a toddler. My husband, on the other hand, isn’t as impressed.

Kaveri unleashes questions on him when she finds I’m a waste of her time. He has no history, context, or answers. But he has patience. So he asks me to tell him the story one night and I indulge him. I narrate the story of the woman and the voyeuristic moon. This time I incorporate some voice modulation, changing my words into performative motions. I feel pleased with myself afterwards. I look at him expectantly, elbow propped, waiting to be showered with praise, lauded for mastering the art of storytelling in such a short time. But he looks up at the ceiling instead.

“Well?” I venture.

“I can’t believe this is the story you chose to tell our daughter.”

“What’s wrong with it? I mean, I know there’s a naked woman and a moon watching her, but it’s like a fairytale! How much is she really going to understand?”

He shakes his head. “She understands it all.”

I slump back into my pillow. He is right.


My husband, a patient, honey-voiced man, tries to right my wrongs. “Don’t you want to hear a new story? I have so many,” he offers Kaveri over breakfast the following day.

“Do the stories have Sarayu in them?” she asks.

“No. No Sarayu. But lots of animals! And a king. And his kingdom.”

“Do the animals talk to the king?”

“Do you want to listen to the story to find out?”

“No—tell me first.”

“The king is also an animal. They all talk to each other.”

“What about the banyan tree? Can it talk to the king? To the animals?”

“What banyan tree?”

“The one from Amma’s story! The one with Sarayu and the moon!”

He sighs and looks at me as if to say, This is all your fault. I shrug but suppress a smile. The poor man has just tried to sell Kaveri on The Lion King and she still prefers my story. I briefly consider a career with Disney. My husband interrupts—

“Okay, let’s talk about Amma’s story. What do you want to know?”

Kaveri sits up straight, her breakfast forgotten. “Why does the moon scare Sarayu?”

I wonder which Sarayu she is talking about.

“The moon doesn’t really scare Sarayu. It just makes her self-conscious.” He looks at our daughter’s blank face and continues. “Self-conscious means . . . it makes her feel shame-shame because the moon is looking at her without her clothes on. You don’t go to school without clothes, do you? It’s like that.”

“So Sarayu’s scared of shame-shame?”

“Yes! Not the moon, really.”

Kaveri turns back to her breakfast. She takes a bite and chews slowly, contemplating this new piece of information. Has he done it? Has this man actually stopped the questions? He looks at me, smug. I’m suddenly reminded of the face of the moon. The association startles me. I rush to close that box in my head. It snaps shut.


Kaveri and I reach my mother’s house soaked.  The auto rickshaw did nothing to save us from the incoming rain. We now sit in the living room with towels wrapped around ourselves.

“Did she draw this today?” my mother asks, tracing an illustration on Kaveri’s right leg as she sleeps soundly in her lap.

I look at the squiggles on her skin. It’s a ballpoint pen masterpiece. Abstract art. “No,” I say. “She drew that a couple of days ago.”

My mother looks horrified. “Have you not been giving your daughter a bath? Have you not been scrubbing?”

I have sudden flashbacks of my mother scrubbing me down as a kid like I was one of her steel pots. She would use rice and gram flour, relying on their coarse texture to get rid of grime and dead skin.

When Kaveri was born, my mother insisted I learn the right way to scrub my daughter. “Otherwise you’re going to have to deal with grime and lice and all the bacteria that’s going to be coming your way,” she said.

At the time, it felt like a prophecy, a foreshadowing of everything to come with the responsibility of parenting. But Kaveri’s skin was so soft. I was terrified I’d tear it open if I scrubbed her like my mother did. I gave her gentle baths, hesitating to even use the loofah.

“She insists on taking her own baths,” I tell my mother, voice low.

“What! You don’t give her a bath? She can hardly talk, Sarayu!”

Not true. Kaveri learned to talk way before the average age. She talked before she walked. She talks in her sleep. She talks to strangers. She talks to banyan trees.

“She’s got a case of the shame-shame,” I tell my mother. “She doesn’t want anyone to watch her bathing.”

My mother raises an eyebrow. “What did you do?”

“Why would you assume I did something?”

“Because no five-year-old is ashamed of their body, Sarayu!”

My head falls into my hands. I say quietly, “I told her Ammamma’s story. Now she’s afraid of the moon, afraid of rivers and baths and her body. She doesn’t even let us into the bathroom anymore.”

My mother stares at me. “Why would you tell her that story? There are so many other stories to tell—the one with the king and his two wives, the one with the goat that falls down the roof onto a pumpkin, the one with—”

“I don’t know. This is the story I remember most from when you and Ammamma told it to me. I changed a couple of things—your lake became a river. I gave the breeze some dialogue—it was pretty good actually. But I didn’t think she’d take it so personally. I mean—you told me this story when I was a child and I never stopped taking baths!”

“Oh, but you nearly did! You were obsessed with this story. You think your Ammamma and I actually enjoyed telling you the story the number of times that we did?” She laughs and continues. “I’ve always found it amusing that you named your daughter Kaveri, you know.”

“Why?” I’m surprised to hear the defensiveness in my voice.

“I don’t know.” My mother’s voice trails off. I continue to watch her until she decides to give me an answer.

“Maybe because you are both named after rivers. I decided to name you Sarayu because I liked the way it sounds, but you chose to name her Kaveri so you can both keep water in your names. And this story you both love makes me think names really make us, you know?”

“What do you mean, make us?”

“Just that sometimes, saying something over and over makes it a part of our physical being. Like chanting.”

The statement makes me squeamish. I don’t think our names play that much of a part in our lives. I could’ve easily been named, I don’t know, Soumya? And I would’ve been the same person.

“I’m not saying they shape our lives, Sarayu. Our names hold our history, not our future.” There is nothing accusatory in my mother’s tone, but I take it like an accusation. My memory is prickling. The little box in the dark corner of my mind threatens to fall open.

“I didn’t think much about my name when thinking about her name,” I say.

My mother nods and adjusts the sleeping child on her lap. She strokes her soft, straight hair, and sighs. “I like that you were both named after rivers. And it looks like you both love that story, just in different ways.” Her hands slowly move back to the ballpoint illustration on Kaveri’s leg. “But this child needs to be scrubbed.”


I lie in bed at night and fiddle with the key to the box in my head. So what if I named my daughter after a river? So what if we both carry rivers in our name? I hear the answer emerge in another corner of my mind. You know what.

 There is a storyteller in my head and it is not me. She tells me a story. It begins to sound a lot like the one my mother told me, the one I’ve told Kaveri. Once upon a time, on a cloudy night, a woman stepped into a river to take a bath. . . . But no, something is different. The storyteller corrects herself, tells me a story that lies untouched in the box.

It is warm, cloudless, evening, and not night. The last rays of the sun still linger. A crescent moon hangs so low it almost feels reachable. You are fourteen, maybe fifteen—just beginning to discover your new body postpuberty. You have begun avoiding mirrors, constantly nudging your mother to buy you acne medication. She tells you you’re still a kid, zits and acne are normal for someone your age. She refuses to let you thread your eyebrows or wax the hairs sprouting on your upper lip. “But everyone else does it!” you say. She responds calmly with “So?”

You remember storming out of the room, coming back minutes later, asking in a low voice, “So I’m always going to look like this?”

She says with no effort at all, “Always going to look beautiful? Yes.”

You don’t believe her for one second, but you look at her with more optimism. You point at your eyebrows and say, “Really?”

She responds, “Yes, really.” Then she takes a second, longer look at you and says, “Maybe when you turn eighteen.”

That’s how you find yourself in the water on a warm evening, feeling beautiful and dreadful at the same time. You’re not thinking about your grandmother’s story until you’ve been there for a while. You are wading through the water, watching your mother on the bank. The dull light of dusk that spills onto her. You look up at the emerging moon. You become the woman in the river. You are fully clothed, but you move slowly, gathering grace, closing your eyes. You can see the appeal. The pool has never been this quiet, this clean, this beautiful. You know the moon is no god.

But there are other gods now. Ones closer than the moon. More accessible, even. A coracle drifts by so noiselessly you almost miss it. Inside sits a small god, a young man in gray clothing. You recognize the uniform from your visit to the dam that morning. So the god dabbles in waterworks. You avert your gaze, turning back and heading closer to where you can see your sleeping mother. But the coracle follows, catching up with you in a matter of seconds. Its swift, looming movements are alarmingly silent. You realize you can’t just swim away, but then another thought strikes you: maybe this god is trying to help you. Maybe he thinks you’re lost or drowning. Maybe he wants to help you get back to land. Of course, that has to be it. Why else chase a fifteen-year-old girl with overgrown eyebrows?

You turn and face him, grateful he is a gentle god. Smiling, you say, “I’m fine. Just here for a swim.” He continues to stare, unsmiling, unmoving. And then his hand moves down to his pants. Your eyes follow, grow wide, shift abruptly back to his unmoving eyes. His face is cratered, like the moon; lustful, like the moon.

You turn back and try to call for your mother, but your voice is gone. Your voice is in the coracle, in the hands of a god who continues to stare at you like you are a woman. But you are a girl, a girl, a girl.

Afterward, you swim back to your mother and wake her up, replying to her questions in grunts and nods. Back in the small hotel room, you stare at yourself for a long time in the bathroom mirror. I’m desirable. I’m worthy of lust. Beneath the acne and excess hair, he saw beauty. You think of his hands, his eyes, his face. You heave and throw up in the sink. You wash your face and dab it dry. In the mirror you see a woman. An uninvited smile finds its way to your mouth. On the way back home, you open a little corner of your mind and put the god, his hands, and the coracle inside. Then you lock it up.

A few weeks later, I’m back in school. My friends ask about my summer and I tell them proudly, “I swam in a river at sunset.”  I don’t tell them I’m a woman now.


I wake up with nausea the next morning. I throw up while brushing my teeth. I crawl back into bed and stay there a while. The sheets are still warm and I curl up in them. Outside the window, a steady downpour of rain.  Outside the room, Kaveri complains to her father about the toast being “too toasty.” I cover my ears with a pillow, slink deeper beneath the covers. I don’t want to be a mother today.

I wake up again an hour later with my stomach grumbling. I drag myself out of bed and into the hall, where my husband looks at me with concern. I dismiss it with a wave of the hand. He doesn’t question me. I don’t see our daughter anywhere.

“Where’s—” My throat dries up before I can finish the sentence. I don’t want to call my daughter by her name.


I try very hard to lock up that little box again, but the latch won’t close. It creaks constantly, inviting me to dive in. I liked his gaze. I enjoyed his lust. I desired his desire.

I develop a fever in the afternoon and I’m put back into bed with an antibiotic and a cold washcloth. Outside, the rain continues. The newscasters on television speak passionately about the floods this year. My dreams are vivid and waterlogged. I dream of a flood and wake up to find the water in my eyes.

I eat dinner in bed. My husband checks my temperature. When I don’t answer my phone, my mother calls him. He tells her about the fever. “Make sure she takes a warm bath,” I hear her say, but the idea of water makes me sick all over again.


Over the next couple of days, I move between waking and sleeping, the two steadily somersaulting into the other. By the end of the third day, I have mastered a state of semi-sleep. I walk close to walls, a stalker in my own home. The rain is a constant soundtrack, reminding me of water, of bodies, of water bodies. In my head, the coracle spins steadily. A strange voice chants, I’m a woman, a woman, a woman.

On the morning of the fourth day, we brave the pouring rain and visit the doctor. I turn on the radio in the car, listen to hosts discussing the storm. “Cyclone Urmi is only going to get worse,” they say.

At the doctor’s office, I stare at sick people in the waiting room, thinking their fevers aren’t caused by coracle-riding gods. When I’m called, I walk slowly toward my assigned door. A woman, a woman, a woman, a woman. My husband steers me, gently nudging to sit down. He sits on a chair at the opposite end of the room, examining a blank monitor intently. The doctor walks in and looks at us. “Name?” she asks.

There is something in my throat. I realize I can’t say my name either. My husband prods, but my mind slowly moves away. I think of my mother’s voice, over and over: my name makes me; my name lives in my body.

I hear my husband answer for me: “Sarayu Sridhar.”

The doctor is a young woman who doesn’t think much about my temporary muteness. She checks my height, weight, and temperature. She shoots a couple of standard questions in my direction. “How long? How much?” Too long. Too much.

I am diagnosed with a viral fever. I know there is absolutely nothing viral about it, but I can’t find the right words to say it. I accept the diagnosis and wait in the car while my husband picks up my prescription. Back home, I open my laptop and look for a more accurate diagnosis. The internet tells me I have a psychogenic fever. Treatment? Decrease stress. Remove triggers. Drink fluids. I drink a bottle of water and wait to be healed. I’m a woman, a woman, a woman.

Kaveri crawls into bed after dinner and I welcome her warmth. I bury my face in her hair and close my eyes. I can feel the sleep coming back when I hear her small voice.



She points at the squiggles on her leg and says, “I’m bored of this, but it won’t go.”

“You’ve got to scrub a little harder. Did you use enough soap?”

She nods. “Lots of it!”

“Then maybe the next time you’re feeling artistic, use paper and leave your legs alone?”

“Okay, Amma.” Then, after a pause, “Will you give me a bath tomorrow?”

I allow myself a smile and drift into an uninterrupted sleep. The next morning, I wake up with a song. And news of a flood.


Large parts of the city are in shambles by the end of the day. Schools shut until the cyclone passes. Kaveri sleeps through it all. I sit by my bedroom window and imagine the coracle spinning in the muddy water outside. The small god stares up at me. Nausea creeps into my skin. I look away, but the image refuses to leave. I turn back to the window and watch the water moving with increasing ferocity. I stare until my eyes begin to water, until I have managed to push the coracle deep into the water, until the small god washes away with the flood.


The ink has faded into a dull black but won’t completely go. Did my daughter get herself a permanent tattoo at age five? I leave her in the bathtub and open my laptop. I type: Getting ink stains out of skin. I return to the bathroom with a small bowl of oil mixed with salt. I rub this over Kaveri’s masterpiece and wash it off with warm water. The skin is a little red, but otherwise clean. She lets me scrub her down, only wincing three times and crying zero. I call my mother to boast of my new parenting achievement. She laughs and says it’s about time, then asks about the fever.

“I’m better,” I tell her.

“And you didn’t pass it on to anyone else? Kaveri didn’t catch it?”

“No. Maybe it wasn’t viral.”

“What was it then?”

“I don’t know. Stress?”

“You should also take a bath then. The stress will flow out through the drain.”

I listen to her. The water feels nice against my fevered skin and I continue to stay under the shower until the bathroom looks like a sauna.


A week in, the rain slows, returning to a drizzle. The flood waters begin to recede, leaving behind heaps of debris. They are taking stock of the living and tallying the losses of the state on TV. “Can we watch something else?” I ask. We switch to a documentary about movie stars and income tax frauds. For dinner, we eat what my husband calls “fever food.” It consists of bland soup, rice, and yogurt.

“I don’t have a fever anymore,” I tell him.

“This is all I’ve cooked. I didn’t know how long you’d take to recover.”

After dinner, I put Kaveri to bed and soak in the silence that comes after a week of persistent rain. She refuses to fall asleep. “Tell me the story,” she says.

“Not today. I’m very tired, Kaveri.” My voice cracks a little at her name. But it has found its way back to my tongue.

She pouts. “Tell it fast-fast and then go to sleep.”

“Why aren’t you bored with that story? How about a new one?”

“No—new story tomorrow! Last time. Please, Ammaaaaa.”

She stretches out the last syllable of Amma until I concede. The girl can hold a note. I pray to the storytelling gods and begin: “Once upon a time, a woman stepped into a river on a cloudy night to take a bath—”

But the chant begins. I’m a woman, a woman, a woman.  I choke on my words, stumbling somewhere deep inside my head. The coracle begins to spin again, but an Amma! makes it stop. I sharply change course.


At the riverbank, she asked the banyan tree to move a little closer, stretch its branch a little lower. The banyan tree nodded. Its large roots and branches moved towards her. “Here you go,” it said. “Pull them off the branch.” As the woman reached for her clothes, the banyan tree whispered in her ear. “Why are you scared? The moon is only a god, and you are a woman.”

The woman stopped, hands outstretched, eyes sparkling. The breeze, hearing the words of the big banyan tree, turned itself into a strong wind and blew the clothes away from the branch and the woman. She stared at her clothes lying on the ground a couple of yards away. The wind brushed past her, howling. “Why bow before the gaze you can meet?”

The moon continued to stare at the woman, confused. She stepped out of the water. Instead of walking toward her clothes a short distance away, she sat down at the edge of the riverbank, feet resting in the cool water. She let her hands drop to her sides and met the moon’s gaze. She did this with an intensity she hadn’t known before. She stared until her eyes began to water a little. Even then, she only paused to wipe away the tears before looking back up again.

The moon was embarrassed. It felt powerless like it had never felt before. It averted its gaze. Its light dulled. It begged for the clouds to come back to hide behind. The clouds refused, choosing to float further away. The woman fell asleep on the bank. Still, the moon refused to look at her. Dawn arrived. The woman awoke to the first rays of the sun. She smiled and the sun smiled back. It was getting hot. The woman picked up her clothes, wrapped herself, and walked home, thinking of the day that lay ahead.

The woman continued to bathe in the river every day and the gods never bothered her. She slept on a cot under the stars every night. Occasionally, the moon came by to greet her. It was still embarrassed, but it was more embarrassing to hide from her forever. She treated the moon with indifference, turning to her side, falling into a deep, comfortable slumber.


I think Kaveri is asleep, but when I begin to move away, I find she is not. Eyes closed, she mumbles, “Is the woman still Sarayu?”

I don’t hesitate before I answer, “Yes.”



Rumpus original art by Dmitry Samarov

Abhigna Mooraka is a reader, writer, and educator from Bangalore, currently based in New York City. She has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University and is a 2023 Kweli Emerging Writer Fellow. Her work and classes have appeared in AAWW’S The Margins, Electric Literature, Catapult, and The Adroit Journal, among others. More from this author →