On Fantasy Flights

Flash
Mandira Pattnaik


Photo Credit: The Children of War/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

We sew-girls can read minds. People don’t believe us. We don’t care about the negation.

So, when Dallapuri crumples the paper into a ball and throws it at Azma, and Azma reads the note in the shadow of her palm, nods twice, then hides it within the folds of the brocade skirt she had been embroidering, we know one of us has read a mind.

Eighth ball that has got thrown today in the six hours we have been pigeonholed in our Ma’am quarters, ensconced in frigid soundlessness. Only the fourth correct reading.

We girls aren’t happy compatible spouses. Or claim to be Gods.

I wrote one to Gudi,

Sewaiyyan, tonight?’

I was sorry I was wrong, more because her eyes remained downcast for long. We can hardly afford it, unless it’s payday.

We sew-girls play this game away from Ma’am’s eagle-gaze every day. Observe eyes, shoulders drooping or upright, hands nimble or sloth, and then throw a guess, stopping our busy fingers sewing in a fold or the hemline of a petticoat. If the girl nods twice, we giggle and sway like trees in monsoon until Ma’am cranes her neck from her place shoo-shooing us.

We girls pat ourselves—we can read minds.

We tuck our lips in. Go back to attending to the uniformity of the stitches.

Presently, our curiosities rise when Dallapuri winks. And we catch the slipping sun etch a blush on Azma’s face.

Azma pulls the paper out and fashions it into an origami bird which she holds by its belly to imitate a flight on giant wings.

How we girls want to fly! How we stow away dreams in our heads, readily embark on flights of fantasy.

Rashid asked me to elope seven times. Said he’d abduct me the next time he was here if I didn’t agree. We could set up home with dusk-colored curtains, and windowsill plants in Mumbai, where he worked a mason’s help. What’d be the color of my wedding sharara?

No more paper balls acquire plumes.

When the hour gets over, we ignore Dallapuri and crowd around Azma, letting our eyes do the talking.

‘Muku’s left her cage again and I’m afraid, she’ll marry Kalua’s ugly partridge.’

There is a collective gasp before she continues,

‘All that’s left are her parrot-green feathers from her struggle with the cage. What color will their nestlings be?’

She blushes again—faint rust.

We don’t wait to answer her, for we’d miss the boat taking us back to our homes in the riverine delta.

Picking up our rickety bicycles fallen in a heap by the roadside, and fussing over the knots of our dupattas, we pedal hard so we can make a dash to the jetty.

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Mandira Pattnaik’s work has appeared or is shortly due in Watershed Review, Splonk, Citron Review, Gasher, Heavy Feather, Lunate, Spelk, FlashFlood, Night&Sparrow and Star 82, among others. She was recently shortlisted at NFFD NZ 2020 and RetreatWest Microfiction Contest. Her tweets are @MandiraPattnaik Email: mandira.pattnaik[at]hotmail.com

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