No.12 – The Covid Months

No. 12 – The Covid Months

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

I catch sight of a masked woman,

with wild hair and crazy eyes,

starting menacingly at me.

I realize it’s my reflection

in the shop window.

 

The dog cries for mercy,

as it has already been

on three-hour-long walks.

Now the neighbors

want to borrow her.

 

I look suspiciously at everyone,

at the store,

and wonder whether they have taken

the last pack of toilet paper.

 

I am an avid gardener now.

My backyard seems like

the great outdoors.

I go out 3-4 times a day to check

how much my vegetables have grown.

I call all the plants,

and even some weeds

by the personal names

I have given them.

 

I cut up all the bed sheets

and have enough material

for masks till

the next pandemic.

 

I notice the scar

on my husband’s face

for the first time.

I learn he has been clean-shaven

for the last six months.

 

Alcohol has made

the skin on my hands

like old shoes.

But I don’t care.

With my hair, my eyes

and my skin,

nobody recognizes me

anymore.

 

 

No. 11 – My Friend Janey

No. 11 – My Friend Janey

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

Of fourteen children,

my friend Janey is the twelfth.

Seven older brothers tell her

where to go, what to do.

Janey says yes,

and does what she wants.

 

She tells me that in college,

I have to party.

Inexperienced,

I completely agree.

I live in a strict dorm.

She tells me to lie

so I can be late.

Her brother Jerry,

the oldest and strictest says,

Do not stay long.

Returning, do not use the deserted fields

as a shortcut.

Janey does both.

I plead and beg,

I have a healthy fear of Jerry.

He is elsewhere, she assures me,

At another party.

 

We cross the field,

I am sure we will be murdered.

if not by someone in the fields,

definitely by her brother.

Suddenly Janey notices Jerry’s car

On the road, around the fields.

Run, she urges.

We hike our sarees

and run.

Jerry stops where he can

intercept us,

and turns on the high beams.

We can be clearly seen,

but panic-stricken

we continue running

and laughing

hysterically.

 

The next day, Jerry shows

their family

the pictures he took.

Fortunately, all that is visible

are the four legs

and two sets of teeth

in the dark.

No. 10 – The Jewelry Belt

 No. 10 – The Jewelry Belt

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

We dread moon-lit nights.

They always bring the bombers.

This is the third time tonight

we are running into the bomb shelter.

My skin around my stomach is chaffed

because of the heavy jewel belt.

It is bleeding in places.

 

When the war begins

The first thing I do

is protect the gold jewelry,

the only reliable security.

I stitch a sturdy belt with pockets

to hold the jewels.

During air-raids, it is easy to tie the belt

around my waist and

run into the air shelter

with my family.

 

Now I ask my husband

if he can wear the belt

during the next air raid.

It is still night when

the sirens sound

for the fourth time.

Wearily we get up

and trudge into the shelter.

 

The all-clear sounds, we crawl out.

Something is awry with my husband.

I look closely and am horrified.

My husband has slept with the belt

around his waist.

Half asleep,

he thinks he’s wearing the sarong.

He is standing stark naked

under the bright moonlight,

with only the jewelry belt.

 

Fortunately, the war ends soon after.

At every air raid,

our children look at their father

and collapse with laughter,

regardless of the falling bombs.

 

No. 9 – The Letter

No. 9 – The Letter

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

I saw the letter

you had written in secret,

night after night,

fueled by alcohol.

All the words I begged

to hear,

all the tenderness

I wanted.

Pages of it,

the outpouring.

Exactly the way

I remembered

thirty-three years ago.

I finally saw you again,

the one I thought

was lost.

And then

I saw the name.

It was not mine.

Someone else,

much younger.

How cliché.

 

No. 8 – The Prom Dress

No. 8 – The Prom Dress

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

It was a special joy,

a milestone for my high school

Downs Syndrome daughter.

She was going to the prom,

just like her sister, Anjali

the previous year.

Her Best Buddy was taking her.

 

(I wanted to adopt

the best buddy.

But her parents

refused.)

 

I pulled out all stops.

No dress was good enough

for this occasion.

I made a dark-pink satin gown

And got shoes to match.

 

Alas, there was an emergency

on that momentous day,

I would be out of town.

 

Anjali was cajoled

to come from college

and dress her sister for the day.

I was reassured on the

transatlantic call

that Piya looked

splendid.

 

I longed to see the pictures.

When I did, I wept.

Her father came over to point

out proudly.

I even put on her tights which Anjali had forgotten.

And there it was between the lovely satin dress,

and the lovely matching shoes.

A pair of pure white,

thick, woolen stockings.

 

No.7 – The injections

No. 7 – The Injections

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

The little girl contracted an infection

and needed daily injections

for a whole year.

Her aunt,

a doctor

brought the injections home.

 

Every evening,

the girl laid on her side scared,

and she whimpered.

But she stopped crying

when everyone said,

what a brave girl she was,

and she felt proud.

 

A game soon evolved

around the girl’s shots,

which she hated.

After she was injected,

Aunt would pretend

to inject her brother,

his eyes looked so big

when he was scared.

But he was quickly

reassured,

and embraced.

 

The little girl would stand

rubbing her butt.

She would cry.

Look at me; it hurts

 I’m so brave!

But no one heard.

Her scream was inside.

She was silent.

She was invisible.

 

 

 

 

The Rosary

No. 6 – The Rosary

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

I was four years old

when a visiting missionary

crossed my grandfather’s path

and he found religion.

Till then, he flouted his atheism,

to shame his wife, a devout Catholic.

 

Grandfather became

a humorless convert,

an instant authority on Christianity.

He acquired a three-foot rosary,

suspiciously like the one

the visiting priest

had worn around his waist.

It became a weapon

in grandfather’s hands.

 

Every evening, family members

were forced to their knees to

pray the rosary.

The children mumbled and stared

at the marble-sized beads.

I was always restless

Made faces, and others would laugh.

Grandfather would turn and glare

with fire in his eyes.

After the rosary,

namesake saints were solicited,

children blessed,

by the six-inch cross.

The miscreants

were knocked on the head

by the same cross.

 

One evening,

I leaned against my father’s knees,

a big knock on the head

was heading my way.

When I was blessed,

I pursed my lips

and blew the blessing

back into grandfather’s face.

He stared solemnly at me

and told my father.

She is possessed by the devil.

 

My father never forgave

his father-in-law.

My two girls

No. 5 – My two girls

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

I expected my girls to be loving sisters,

when I am gone.

Now, one will have to be a mother,

to the other one.

One is a mother of three beautiful children.

One will only be an aunt,

but that’s okay.

One took her education to the limit.

The other still pushes her boundaries

as much as she can.

My dreams for one are fulfilled.

My dreams for another took a different turn –

but is still full.

God answered my prayers,

gave two beautiful babies,

with two different normals.

And I am comfortable in both.

My body sometimes bursts

with the love

I have for them.

The Concert

No. 4 – The concert

By Nandhini G. Natarajan

 

Piya’s teacher could

not take it anymore.

I was upon her,

like Chinese torture,

drip, drip, drip.

So what if Piya couldn’t speak

couldn’t sing,

couldn’t play?

She could do something.

 

She was given

a triangle,

for one tinkle

at the end of the song.

 

Ecstatic,

I brought the camera

and a video

to capture Piya’s debut.

I stood squarely

in the aisle,

not a movement would I miss.

 

Piya came on stage

with the triangle.

Tears gushed into my eyes.

The tinkle was heard

but not seen.

By the time,

my eyes were clear,

the moment had passed

with nary a picture to show.

No. 3 – Ties

No. 3 – Ties

They were in the

silent phase,

for the last month,

the brother and sister,

after the fight.

Neither remembered

the cause, just the words.

 

Sister was older

and keeper of rules.

She decided when

to talk again.

Brother waited in

sullen, angry,

silence.

 

Sister got a letter,

an admission to college,

800 miles away.

She’d be gone

in two days.

Something cracked inside

brother.

 

He rode his cycle

for one hour.

100-degree heat,

on a summer Madras day.

Moore Market sold

second-hand books

all he could afford.

 

Pouring with sweat and breathless,

muttered for the train

and gave to sister.

She looked at the tattered book

her favorite author,

and muttered in turn.

Teenage siblings

do not hug.

 

On the 24-hour

train ride,

she cried each time,

she opened the book.