Fiction: Noni

Tejaswinee Roychowdhury

 by Tejaswinee Roychowdhury

 

Noni sits on the porch eating oranges.

Noni, how did you escape death?

She holds up an orange peel, folds it hard, and says, “I squirted this in his eyes.”

She says she’s been escaping death since she was little. Hiding behind curtains when her father broke furniture. Breaking falls on soft grass. Balancing on planks over rivers carrying crocodiles. Dancing on tiptoes around hypnotised cobras.

“The trick is to best him,” she trails off, her dancing eyes scanning patchy noon skies.

Noni, what are you looking for?

“Bees.”

She says they’ll fly in with a great big buzz and muffle the sound of my mum and dad screaming at each other. She says she invited the bees from the hives in the cemetery because she’s run out of stories.

I wish she didn’t invite the bees. Her stories were more than a mere protective cocoon. The story where a dog was cursed never to bark. The story where the ghost of an unwed woman sat atop the branches of a sandpaper tree looking for lovers. The story where a mama bear searched for her cub in magical Himalayan woods. Her stories were home on a sultry afternoon.

“If you like stories so much, you can write your own.”

But I don’t know how to write stories. Even if I did learn, I wouldn’t know how to escape into their folds for they’d be stories without mystery, stories I knew the endings to. And they’d be boring. Unlike Noni, I knew nothing about ghosts or fairy magic. She could spin fantasies out of candy floss.

Fireflies, for instance. For a whole year, I was convinced if I touched them, I’d be siphoned off into another world where mushrooms grew as tall as banyan trees and heroic witches carried poisonous poppy seeds into their annual war against the evil queen for hiking milk prices on Christmas.

Perhaps, I can regurgitate Noni’s stories till I grow sick of them. It’s a plan.

Noni, did you miss me?

“Foolish girl,” she says. “There’s nothing about you I wouldn’t miss.”

She says she missed ink stains on my little palms, the way I tongue around my full mouth to fish out sly bones of the steam-cooked hilsa, and my head on her lap while she combed for lice that were never there.

Will you now stay?

Quiet hangs in the evening air that smells of mum’s eggplant-besan fries.

Noni, how did you escape death again?

“I didn’t,” she says, her eyes suddenly hollow like caves.

She did though. And she will stay. I buried the sandal she’d lost behind the wild hibiscus that grew on unclaimed land. It tethers Noni to the backyard of our house.


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