At the café/bookstore/record-store
people recognize me. I have never belonged anywhere really, but here as I walk in, someone nods and smiles at me, someone else waves and says hi. They know my order already—a large iced coffee with 25% oat milk and 75% brew and sugar-free hazelnut. After spending an hour nursing my coffee, I order a veggie sandwich or a strawberry salad. The hours I spend here, reading and avoiding my house, have built up a cache. Being seen by all these people makes me heady.
Sometimes patrons walk up to me and ask where they could plug in their laptop chargers. I happily point out all the sockets in the walls that are working. Passersby comment “cool shirt” or “love that book” often. I just smile, playing my role of the mysterious yet approachable stranger.
I get here at eleven every morning. I work till four and then keep myself free for the rest of the day. I am infused with an energy that couldn’t have been created within me. The café is the source of this energy, and I try to use it for as long as it’s productive.
The food at the café has been making me sick lately. A few hours after eating here, I spend up to an hour on the toilet, my body expelling whatever it can’t keep inside. But I have to eat their food. I can’t occupy their tables, their cognition, their hospitality, and not pay for it. Paying is the least I can do.
In my bedroom
I bend my body in ungainly ways. I look ugly with all the folds spilling out and all my mass jiggling as I do jumping jacks. I breathe deeper and deeper until everything seems so empty that I buy another bookshelf online or another rug or another floor lamp. None of these stay for long in my room and eventually make their way into the basement.
The movement is perpetual. Nothing seems new anymore.
In my living room
I hang pictures of my dead parents and husband. An homage to all the people I have loved and lost. A woman sits on the sofa, she has come to inquire about the basement, if she could rent it for a work studio. You see, she makes these soft toys inspired by folklore and mythology. Ram, Sita, and Hanuman are teddy bears in bright orange dhotis and sari. All the figures have eyes shaped like almonds and lips curved to the left as if their embroidered features hold all the knowledge of the world.
I am not looking to sublet the space, but prospective renters have shown up at our doorstep ever since I was a child, asking if the shop was available to let. My parents never corrected the inquirers, instead they also began calling the basement a shop and asked prospective renters to check back in a few months. They thought it was a good idea to keep the people wanting—that way the price of their coveted property would never go down. I tell the woman that I have plans to use the space as my writing studio, and she smiles politely. I offer her tea, and when she refuses the offer, I am disappointed. Where could I buy some of your toys? I ask her, and she brings out more toys—Radha-Krishan, Laila-Majnu, Jai-Veeru. I fondle the duo from Sholay and they burst into ये दोस्ती हम नहीं तोड़ेंगे.
The woman is young, could definitely pass for early twenties. She says she makes all the toys on her own. Do you have a business plan, I ask her, and she pulls out a notebook and walks me through a six-month plan for the second phase of her business. She has a website through which she gets about a thousand monthly orders, and her projected annual profit for her first year is five lacs. Her father has invested all his savings in her business, and the last of the investment will help pay for the workspace which she intends to expand into a brick-and-mortar store. The business terminology is mine, but the ideas are all hers.
Why do you need a workspace? Where do you work now?
I live with my parents and two sisters, and our two-bedroom apartment is filled with my work material.
The baby Ganesh is actually cute, and now that I have looked at them long enough, Ram, Sita, and Hanuman also don’t seem that creepy.
But I am sorry, I say, I cannot help you. I get up from the sofa.
She collects the toys, thanks me, and leaves.
In the kitchen
the tea-storm brews on the stovetop as I stand looking over it. I imagine the girl who makes soft toys living with me in my house, and since she does not, and the tea is not to be drunk by her, I let it boil over onto the stove plates and the countertop.
In front of the mirror
the edges of my skin spill over no matter how hard I pull them up with my hands. If I were ever to go under a knife, I would ask them to begin with my throat, make their way down my body cutting away my breasts, my waist, my stomach, my thighs.
At the café/bookstore/record-store
I order the tomato and basil bisque. Do you know this café is out of space and time? This is an American café right in the middle of my hometown Rohtak. I moved to India with my American husband a couple of years ago. He died in a car accident a few months after that. A year later my parents perished from illness, and I moved back into the house I grew up in. The café appeared one day, sometime after all their deaths, at the end of the street on which I live, about 150 meters from my house. I don’t question its existence. I know it should not be here. No restaurants in Rohtak make bisque.
After the bisque I order a grilled cheese sandwich. I am too full even as I eat the bread and the cheese stringing from it. I know I am going to be sick later. But I cannot work, I do not want to work. The magic seems to be lost.
I wonder if I was supposed to be left alone this way. I am just forty-five. Do I exist out of place and time?
I give the young woman a phone call. Her name is Sakshi. I tell her that I have changed my mind. That I would be happy to sublet my basement space to her. I offer her a discount on the rent if she can sign a lease for a year, two years is even better.
She signs a lease for three. I like her confidence. The girl won’t give up on her business. She cannot, and she must not.
Her move into my house and my life is quick. The weekend before she is set to move in, I fill the empty rooms in my house with all the junk from the basement. I don’t want it to look like an abandoned house. Workers collect at the mandi chowk each morning for people to hire them for a daily wage rate. In the crowd of men, there are only four women. I load them in my car and bring them to do all the moving. Work is done in a few hours. I serve them chai and roti at the end. They sit on their haunches outside my house dipping the roti into their chai. My mother used to romanticize the working class. She used to say that these people don’t have worries. Because for my mother, struggling for survival each day was not a lot of worry, earning money much below the poverty line was not a matter of worry. Maybe she thought the working class didn’t have the higher intelligence to agonize over their financial condition the way she did. I miss my mother. I would do anything to bring her back. The workers finish their food and leave. I pay them a little over their ask to assuage my rich guilt.
I start spending more time at home, in the basement, writing alongside Sakshi. She is a deft young woman, taller than average, driven. The basement is not a basement anymore. It’s a studio, a workshop, a space where art takes over life.
I ask Sakshi one day, Why did you never leave this town?
Never thought of it. It’s not the town I want an out from, it’s the helplessness.
I have been bent over my laptop for two hours, so I stretch my arms and upper body a little and move to her workbench. It’s more like an assembly line.
Her process is fascinating. She first lays out the fabric that would be the body of her toys in a row. She cuts shapes of her toys from that fabric. At this point, it is just a lot of fur. Where I can see no shape, no features, she says she can see the entire toy. Her male toys have broader noses, jaws more heavily set than the female toys. She etches the details at the very last, when the toy is all stuffed and sewn up.
Her fingers move quick quick, yet they are steady. Even as I see the toys being made, I do not know how she gives them that precision—how she makes them look just like humans.
The toys are mostly small. Before their clothes and hairs are sewn onto their bodies, they all look the same. Their arms ending into paw-like hands, their noses tiny dots, the white shading in their eyes making them twinkle in perpetuity.
I say, Where did you learn to stitch?
She says, My mother. The expectedness of the answer disappoints me.
In my room
I look in the mirror wanting to be stuffed and sewed by Sakshi’s deft fingers. Who is the inspiration behind the toys’ faces? The face in the mirror is both recognizable and not recognizable, like that lost lyric that rattles inside one’s head for a long time. I hold the toy Radha next to my face. There’s a similarity, a resemblance. Yes.
Sakshi can lay me over her workbench, unstitch my skin, stuff me with fur, and then sew me. She can weave her magic into me. Make me not be myself anymore.
Today I decided to return to the
—it’s been a while. This space is preserved in time. Everything moves around it, sometimes lazily, sometimes a tornado. Oh, the people who talk to me and walk over to me are also preserved. They may have been stolen from time and deposited here. It is possible that the café just exists for me.
Back at home, Sakshi is in the kitchen, fixing herself some cold coffee. She uses the kitchen and the bathroom upstairs. The bathroom in the basement is the squatting kind. I ask her to come to the café with me tomorrow. Just for a bite.
Sakshi is in her studio before I wake up and until after I go to bed. I have told her not to go home alone at night, that she can sleep in the studio or in one of the spare bedrooms, but she says that she likes to walk on the empty roads.
Next day at the café/bookstore/record-store, Sakshi orders a veggie sandwich and an iced blondie. She checks out the books and the records.
I am standing behind her between the rows of books. I say, Yeah, it’s weird that this café exists. Even the people coming in here look American. All these books and records are English.
She nods, looks at me.
Did you already know about this place? I ask.
She shakes her head, holding in what she knows, for she seems to know a lot, she seems to be in on the joke all the time. It’s unsettling.
Sakshi, how old are you?
She deliberates the answer, seems to be weighing the question. She reaches a conclusion. Twenty-seven.
Oh, wow, you are young. That was over fifteen years ago for me.
We move to one of the many wooden tables set deep inside the café. Sakshi sips her coffee. This tastes interesting, she says.
It’s not cold coffee. Yeah.
She plays with the paper bits that covered the straw. Her nails are neat and tidy—a result of at-home manicures. Cuticles are well laminated, a healthy person. Each moon on the bed of her fingernail delicately drawn.
I take hold of her hand and slide my finger across her nails. One. Two. Three times.
She doesn’t stop me, doesn’t say it’s weird, doesn’t snatch her hand away.
The polished roundness of nails is satisfying. So satisfying.
I let go of her hand. How are you enjoying your workspace? I ask.
She nods. Yeah, I am liking it. It was the right choice for my business. What made you change your mind?
I’m not sure. Maybe I was too lonely. I laugh.
It’s okay to be lonely.
I look at her. A kind face, hair cut close to her scalp, eyebrows sculpted to perfection. She fills out the chair, the space around her. I inhale her atmosphere.
You’re very beautiful, I say, do you have someone?
I like girls. My parents can never understand it. So I don’t focus on that.
What do you mean by not focus?
It’s out of my hands, no? Not that there are many girls lining up in this town to date me, but it would almost be impossible to seriously love someone and then tell my parents that this is the woman I love, this is the woman I want to marry. I have just told them that this business is what I want to do, that I don’t want to marry anyone.
But you do want to be with someone, right?
Again, I choose not to focus on all that. If my business becomes big, then things might be different.
She plays with her straw some more. Do you miss your, she says, and then adds after a pause, husband? She looks at me to check if she is right. I nod. She continues, I’ve seen the pictures.
Yeah. Sometimes, I think moving here was a mistake. Somehow those two worlds were not supposed to mix. You know when I moved to the U.S., I always felt that my work and my life in the U.S. were all separate, across rifts, from my life with my parents here in India. And then I decided in one big sweep to slap the two together. I, like, tried to make this giant soft toy. Stitch all these very different people together.
How did they die?
Accidents and illnesses. Nothing anyone could have done anything about, but it does seem like a consequence of wanting what I couldn’t have, of wanting the impossible.
I feel self-conscious right then, and it’s embarrassing to be so plain, to be so unmagical.
Sakshi says, Wanting what you can’t have is a human condition.
I wonder how this young girl got to be so smart.
How did you start making the toys? I mean, is this your first business venture? I ask her.
I tried my hand at few other things, she says, I taught myself calligraphy and then started making online tutorials. Then I taught painting to little kids for a while, and a few other things. Nothing sustained my desires as well as these toys. It sounds a bit frightening, but the toys just need to be made.
At the toyshop
people come and go. It’s not set as a conventional store, and I first resisted when Sakshi proposed the idea of letting customers browse as she worked. But now I like the low thrum of energy that surrounds me. I can spend more time in the toyshop without it being awkward.
Kids and adults alike come in to look at the toys. And to watch Sakshi make them. It’s performance art. Her workbench a stage set for her to spit fire into these toys. These toys are just like any normal toys right until they are not. One moment, they are a furry animal, and the next moment they are straight out of myths and legends—alive in all our told stories, alive through art and literature. It’s no longer a dhoti-clad soft toy labeled Ram but now the prince, the warrior, who after living fourteen years of exile in the forest will doubt his wife’s loyalty. The Sita toy steps into her goddess self, becomes the one who can shake loose all the earth. The patrons don’t have the same initial fear that I had when I first saw the toys. They are hooked to the toys from the start. They love the toys, they have loved them even before they knew about the toys’ existence. What is it about these toys? These haunting toys.
In my room, I look up Sakshi’s calligraphy tutorials. They have views in the millions. The last comment is a day old. Most of the comments pleading with her (even though I am sure she has not read these comments in ages) to start posting the tutorials again.
I google her name. The act of typing out SAKSHI BOHRAL is sensual. My search is populated with links that all lead to my Sakshi, that all lead to her speaking into the camera about things that should not seem as important as they do in the moment you are watching her speak.
A deeper dive brings up a newspaper article about two girls, one of which was Sakshi. They were reported missing for a night back in 2006. Sakshi must have been thirteen, or even younger. They both returned to their houses, and it was later discovered that a local mad woman was also involved. But the girls claimed that they had run away to Delhi with some money they stole. The adventure story sounds more plausible than a mad woman who held them captive, especially because there was no ransom and no harm done to the girls. It all seemed intentional on the girls’ part. The interesting coincidence was that the mad woman also disappeared after the incident. I remember the mad woman. She lived in our town for generations. If Sakshi could be the reason for her disappearance—I push away the unease. But then, I close the laptop screen and question my lack of concern. The million thriller novels I have read say that she is dangerous, that she will murder me, that a lonely middle-aged woman would be the right prey—nobody would come looking for me, nobody would care that I am missing.
Yet I continue to spend time with her.
At the toyshop
I write about a witch who sees visions in brewing tea. The vision only occurs at the time when all the liquid is close to spilling over, but it never does. In the tea-storm, the witch sees two teenage girls, and even though in the picture they are just standing, a few inches apart, their arms extended, hands locked in the middle, the witch knows they are riding a scooter, fleeing the town. The girls hold many secrets, as does the witch.
I wish for some alone time with Sakshi. A crowd always surrounds her. A few of the faces are familiar. I have seen them in the café. They smile and nod at me. This is all unreal. No white people live in this small town.
Around afternoon, Sakshi closes the doors to the shop. All this time she has been working without a break. She eats standing, drinks from her thermos while gathering material to make a new set of toys. She doesn’t talk much to her customers either. They are just happy watching her. Who am I to question them? Most days I am here in the shop watching her work. My writing was stalled before Sakshi came into my life. Now I still struggle, yet some writing seems to happen.
Sakshi walks to me, puts her hand on my back. I forcefully shut the laptop. She stands very close to me. I am sitting on a tall chair—her face is just above my head. If I tilt my head up, I can close the space between us.
Hard at work? she says.
Where? Not really, I say.
Suddenly I am hit with an intense longing for my husband, and I fold into my body. She feels my body twitch and moves away. More sadness.
The only thing I can do is grab her hand and pull her closer. The distance between our lips disappears. My whole body fits inside hers, my hands on her head, inside her short hair, still sharp from the latest haircut. Her lips taste of vanilla, and desire takes laps inside me. Desire so thick that it stops all blood from flowing. My blood becomes desire.
She leads me up the stairs into my bedroom. Just don’t judge me, I say, my room is not the best. The old furniture, bad lighting, sad décor, all makes me too self-conscious. She kisses me and says this is just a physical space, not that important.
I unbutton her shirt, taking in her skin, her muscles with my eyes. I can’t touch her, not right now. I am extremely careful to not brush even the tips of my fingers against her body. I unzip her trousers, and she steps out of them one leg at a time. She watches me watch her. She is not delicate, that’s not why I can’t touch her. It’s me I am afraid of. I will crumble if I trace my fingerprints across her arms and her chest, through the goosebumps to her nipples. This beautiful woman is standing almost naked in my bedroom. I step a little closer. She is so patient. I twine my fingers with hers, walk them up her arms, slide the straps of her bra off her shoulders. She watches as I try to undress slowly, but I just stumble through it all, wanting to reach her. What comes next is confusion and pleasure. Sakshi teaches me how to love her body. I have never kneeled in front of a woman like that, never swam in the curves of a body so soft and luxurious. The limits of my body cease to exist; they expand through the universe. That’s what her toys are, a piece of universe, shaped into a toy. Her magic comes from the universe.
Afterward, I trace circles around her nipples and on her breasts as we lie in my bed in the dark. The world continued to move around us at its usual pace. I find that odd, impertinent. I say, I was expecting the world to have stopped. And she says, That’s the harsh truth. No magic can make the world stop, it goes too fast.
No, say something that’s not depressing, that doesn’t chill me to my bones.
She smiles and says, We should get some food.
I jump out of the bed and wonder at the ease of all this. We walk from my house to the café, our bodies very close to each other. Watching us, it wouldn’t be difficult to tell that we just had sex. The muscles contracting and expanding as I walk are almost too bizarre, as if newly born.
At the café/bookstore/record store
we share a piece of hot chocolate-chip brownie with vanilla ice cream running in ravines down its sides. I wish I could smoke a cigarette, but most Indian-brand cigarettes are too harsh. They remind me that I am smoking a cigarette, though I am an inconspicuous smoker, the kind who lies to herself that she is not smoking.
Sakshi places a pack of cloves on the table.
Okay, I say, so let me say it out loud. You have some sort of powers, right?
She laughs. It’s the first time I have ever seen her laugh. It is a light rumble that comes from deep inside her—it’s an old man laugh, a Santa Claus laugh, and I believe that she is a shapeshifter.
She says, no, I am not a witch or a mutant. I just know things. Know is not the right word. You asked me why I never wanted to leave this town, and I think it’s because this town is nothing, it’s just a name, a signifier. Everything is just a collection of vibrations. I can feel that.
Like read minds and shit?
You have read too much fantasy. No. I just feel things. The toys aren’t really humanlike. What you are getting at is the indescribable energy that’s within them. They’re miniature models of the interconnected energy inside and outside of us, and I, I’m able to feel that on a much larger scale.
Whatever attracts everybody to the toys, the whole world is like that to you?
No. Some things in the world are like that to me, and then I tune myself to their frequency. In the toys, I have pressed the volume button, made it attractive for everyone.
I get it, I say while nodding.
No. not at all.
You will after a while.
I like the idea.
The thing is, Sakshi says, when we think of powers, we think of a clearly defined power like reading someone’s mind, or being able to stop time, like on TV. There might be things like that, but most powers can’t be categorized that way. What if the thing you can wield, that thing is intangible? Some say it’s heightened intuition. It may be just that.
Intuition doesn’t get 200 million views on calligraphy tutorials.
Someone googled me.
When I don’t reply, she says, It’s not exactly intuition. I don’t know what to tell you.
I wonder if it would be appropriate to ask Sakshi about the news article, but I am not sure how she will react, so I decide against it. Sakshi’s enigma is both terrifying and delicious. I wonder about my mother’s reaction to Sakshi and her toys. My mother wouldn’t have liked me dating Sakshi because artists are unreliable, they don’t have a steady paycheck. My mother would also not have believed in Sakshi’s magic. I wonder if her powers can be transmitted. She gives a little bit of her powers to her toys. It’s not that big of a leap that she may have passed some to me.
I shake the thought—just my need to be extraordinary.
I am confounded by my happiness and need to question it. Any potential relationship also comes with potential danger. What if by feeding off Sakshi’s magic, I lessen it? What if I am incapable of holding her magic? When I married my husband, some relatives had said that marrying a white man from a strange country was a gamble. But in that gamble, I had won unconditional love that would uproot its entire life and move with me across seas. My husband said that he was happy living in India, but I could tell that he missed things like bacon and clean roads and effortless conversations with people. All those things that my husband missed sat heavy on my conscience.
At the toyshop
I write more stories. I have been fired with this need to create. Maybe I am sharing Sakshi’s energy, drinking from her pool, no crass puns intended. And since I cannot create soft toys with a piece of the universe in them, I write. I write about a woman who sometimes wakes up in her own bed, but sometimes she wakes up in a strange movie-set-town and there is no way to know when or where she will wake up. People notice her absence, her employer questions her mental capacity to work as a physician, her friends and family worry that her fugues have returned.
I write with urgency. And I fuck Sakshi with the same urgency. I never knew I wanted to be a top until one day I became one. Now we fuck whenever we can. We have also fucked in the tiny bathroom in the toyshop, and after a few seconds the white latrine in the floor with its gaping dark hole stopped bothering me. No, it reminded me of my passion, told me that I was still alive. Though we never fucked in that bathroom again. And I am okay with that.
In my bed
we lie next to one another—my feet near her head and her feet near mine. Her eyes are closed, but she is awake. Mohammad Rafi plays on the record player. My father loved music from the black-and-white Bollywood era, and I learned to love my father through these old tunes. I hum अकेले अकेले कहाँ जा रहे हो. Sakshi tap tap taps her foot to the beats, and I am reminded of the time when I wanted everything—me, the world around me, the world within me—to be still, very still. After my parents died, I needed rest, years and years of rest, rest from existing and being.
It was Rafi’s music that pulled me back into the living, that made me stir, that gave me a reason to wake up every day. I let it pull me back into this moment with my lover, this beautiful beautiful woman I love.
At the café/bookstore/record store
I order a large triple espresso.
The owner, Michael, brings over my coffee with a brownie on the house. Just a way for us to say we miss you here, he says and winks.
I thank him and say, Yeah, Sakshi and I have been busy with our art, you know, we are that kind of couple.
But when Sakshi takes some free time, you can always come here with her, Michael says and leaves.
I am taken aback with the revelation, or that it seems like such a revelation. I did not know that Sakshi came to the café/bookstore/record store without me. It’s not a big deal, but something about the situation feels like a betrayal. The magic of the café has been mine, long before Sakshi came into my life.
Back at the studio
I wonder when she even has time to go to the café. And Michael made it seem that she went there often. I want to ask her why she does not take me along with her, but I don’t.
Sakshi suggests the idea of her moving into the studio. I spend most of my waking and some sleeping hours here anyway, she says. And the logic of her suggestion seems right. I say that she should just move into my house. She can stay in a different room for the meantime, but she says she would love to move in with me. I meet her parents for the first time when they help her move in. I don’t ask Sakshi if they know about us; they might still think we are only roommates. But her family is extremely happy for her. Sakshi’s description of them doesn’t seem all true. They even brought up an ex of hers a couple times, as if they know that Sakshi is a lesbian.
I take Sakshi and her parents out to dinner to a non-magical restaurant. I order naan and kadhai chicken and butter paneer masala for all to share.
What would you miss the most now that Sakshi has moved out, I ask Sakshi’s parents.
Everything, her father says. She is the pillar of our family. He is a short, intentional man. I see where Sakshi gets her mannerisms from.
Sakshi’s mother mostly stays quiet. Her mother bothers me. Something about her that I can’t seem to place.
I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. While washing my hands at the sink, I look into the mirror and let out a tiny shriek. For an instance, it appeared as if the person in the mirror was Sakshi’s mother.
Sakshi sleeps right next to me. I turn away from her, slide into the comforter and open the front camera on my phone. Even with the flashlight, I can’t really see my face.
Over the next few months, I take over a lot of the company’s processes. Inventorying, purchasing, shipping, accounting. When I don’t get time to write, I remind myself that this is just temporary. The fourteen-hour days are brutal, but I see Sakshi work for eighteen, and I feel guilty.
We continue like this for months. Soon it’s a year of her moving into the basement.
I make bruschetta and spaghetti aglio olio for our date night. After the store is closed, we lay out in the back patio of the store. There was a time when smog filled the air and no stars could be seen—even the sun had been hidden. I saw that all on the news when I was in the U.S. But now stars are back again; they are quite bright.
I pop open the champagne and say, We are being fancy.
What’s the special occasion? Sakshi asks.
Today is the day you signed the lease last year and moved into this basement, I say.
It’s been a year already? Her question does not come with a tone of surprise.
Is linear time hard to keep a track of? I try to joke.
After we have eaten, I ask her, What is it that you want from your life?
She shrugs. Isn’t that a weird question? Who is life to want anything from?
Okay, then who do you want anything from?
She doesn’t say anything, just looks straight into my eyes, and I feel like a puddle.
She asks me why I moved back to India. I don’t want to answer her. I feel accused. Even my mother couldn’t understand my wish to come home. After my husband’s death, she said that it would have been better if I didn’t force him to come to India. But that was it, I had not forced him to do anything.
Living in exile had been making it impossible for me to build a life. And so I was living from day to day, just existing. But then we moved, and he became a fish out of water. Even as I thrived, the only way out for him maybe was to die.
I don’t tell her any of it. Instead, I ask Sakshi what happened to that madwoman all those years ago.
She says, What madwoman?
You know, the one you and your girlfriend eloped with to Delhi.
Why are you asking about that?
I don’t relent. Was the madwoman somebody you expected something from? To free you from this city? Because you are full of shit, you have wanted to escape this city since you were a child.
It was not me who wanted to escape, it was the madwoman who wanted to escape. I helped her. Sakshi says this with such force that my thoughts hurt. I mumble an apology, and she strokes my hair.
I start avoiding Sakshi and the toyshop. I rent an office-space, make it a room of my own. The off-white walls constrain me, restrict my creativity. I try to write but only worry about Sakshi’s needs. I still continue to do all the logistical tasks for the company.
At home, each night, she doesn’t ask me where I go for hours, she doesn’t ask me for anything. I worry that she wants nothing and too much from me at the same time.
I try to wake up before Sakshi, but each day she beats me to it. I eat a banana and drink black coffee and then leave the house to only come back later in the evening.
At the office
I walk on my walking pad for hours as I deal with all the numbers from the company. Now and then, I open a Word document on my desktop and stare at the white space. Words seem impossible. I wonder why I even write. I am not a professional by any means. I could live on the money left behind by my parents and my husband my entire life. Before Sakshi, writing filled a space, but now I don’t have any space in my life.
I keep the walls of the office bare. I vow that no extra furniture will enter that space, it would remain uncluttered.
I run into Sakshi during my lunch break at the café, one day. Even though my office is not in the same neighborhood as my house, the café is just 150 meters away from me. It’s more like, I think of the café, and I am transported to the road leading up to it.
I sit by Sakshi.
Did you order the material? she asks me. I drink my coffee loudly.
My salad arrives. Are you okay? She asks. Again, I don’t speak, only scratch my fork against the ceramic plate.
Displeasure colors Sakshi’s face. I finish my lunch, kiss her on her head, and leave. I stay in my office for hours. I move on the walking pad, my mind and body shut. Because the alternative is fear—fear that Sakshi’s magic is not all for the good. Something dark from deep within her might be grasping at me.
At nine in the night, I go to the café/bookstore/record-store. I am not surprised that it’s still open, full of people.
What would you like today? The clerk behind the counter is new. I am unable to find words to tell them what I want. I blink a little, shake my head, try to wake myself up out of whatever daze I have entered.
Are you all right? they ask. I hold up my finger, and they wait.
I run back to home. I point to my lips, my mouth, shake my head, try to mime that I am unable to speak. Sakshi dismisses me. I have never been so scared in my life. I say What did you do? But no voice comes out of my mouth. I reach out for my tongue. My fingers taste numb. I press my tongue to a mound of salt. The granules also taste of numb. I scream without noise. I slap my face, keep slapping it. At least I am capable of making some sort of noise. Sakshi comes to the kitchen, holds my hands.
You have just scared yourself too much. I do not hold any powers. I have not stolen your voice or put it into a doll. Speak.
She breathes voice into my lungs, and I gasp. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I say. Why are you punishing me?
I’m not. I swear, she says. Concern paints her face. Please don’t be scared of me, she says.
She asks me if it’s okay for her to hug me. My room is full of Sakshi’s dolls. When did all these dolls get here, I wonder. And how? But I don’t ask. I only give in.
Rumpus original art by Ian MacAllen