I would find myself with a different guy at night. Sometimes short and sometimes tall. Some would have hair just starting to grey. It was comforting to be petted by men, because I was new to the game.

My mother cries quietly. As if she is underwater, in a pool of her own tears. They would fill the entire house making it hot and wet like a tropical summer. I would look everywhere for her, in the house we have been living in for 20 years, yet I could never find her. If I touch the walls, I would know something is wrong, but never what. She once told me that she disappears into the walls to hide.

You would find my father in one of the rooms. Perched on his bed with an ear to the window and another in the house. He is deaf in one of them. We would knock into each other on our way to the kitchen and sometimes the bathroom. He would wake up before the dawn breaks and play music so it fills the entire house. He talks to us, in all his grief, happiness, and fears.

I pay for your education and all the clothes you have on. How dare you talk back to me?

We see each other only during meals, circling around our dining table. It is a circular table with a glass slab as black as a moonless night on top. It would let a cool reflection of our faces bounce off of it, but if you stare too long, it dissolves you. It only pretends to embrace you. My father and I are served on a plate white like porcelain and a bowl for each dish.My mother has her food in a kadai which she used to fry the vegetables. A heap of rice at the centre, dug out in the middle for dalma. Burnt spices and leftover oil stick to the edges of the walls of the utensil. She would do this to have less dishes to clean later.

When I was young, I used to help my mother clean the dishes. I used to like it so much I would often do it alone, creating a bigger mess. My father once came home early from work and caught me in the kitchen. In a fit of rage, he started to scream at me. I threw a knife at him.


That night, I picked up a crayon and wrote the letters F A G on every inch of the walls of my room. I did not know what it meant, but the next morning when he saw those words burning scarlet under sunlight, I knew, this time I did not miss the mark.

I look at his reflection on the black glass. His hair sits the same way on his head, thick and sparse only at the top. But it has since turned silver. He looks younger than I can ever remember him. He is talking about the time he lived alone. How he would cook and clean all by himself. His eyes would let out a rare sparkle. My mother’s reflection is nodding to his stories as she continues to eat. It has short hair tied up in a bun, wet with sweat. There used to be less streaks of white on her hair, when did they become so many?

My grandmother had hair like hers when I was still a boy. She would tell stories to all my cousins and not me. But on my birthday, she bought me a story book. So, my mother would take me in her arms and tell me stories. They were better than any that my cousins were listening to. Because the stories were about her and I. She told me stories of how she stopped buying lipsticks shortly after I was born, because I would always take them and run them on paper. Also, the story of how my father held her neck until she agreed to have me. One of her favourite stories to tell was about the day I was born. She told me I used to sing as a baby. In the crib right next to the window of the hospital, under the full moon’s light, I would coo different melodies.

My father mentions how he never hired a maid in his life. He used to live in a one bedroom and fed only himself. I see my mother’s reflection, nodding with a practiced patience.

She was briefly a teacher at a primary school. Once one of her students was fighting with a girl on the last bench. When she went over, she saw under his desk a book of fairy tales. In a reflex the boy pushed his chair to stand up. My mom slapped him. The boy just stared back at her, which scared her. She quit teaching after.

The reflection of my father and mother continue to talk to each other, while my own stares at me. The black glass has swallowed my eyes to a shadow. How do I describe my face, except that it is so usual? The soft features of my mother and a sharp nose like my father’s. I am everything they are, a Russian doll with no surprises.

I had moved out briefly, a year ago, to a city like honey. Dense and sweet, for even the tiniest drop would pull a hundred ants. A small flat with only two windows, which faced another. In the evenings it would be filled with the smell of cigarettes. I would open the windows sometimes to let out the smoke, but the panes would crash into my neighbour’s. I can see my reflection on the clear glass of the window, delicate, like it would float away if I looked away even for a second.

My mother has not called me in weeks.

I liked playing house, to fret about buying vegetables and finding out how expensive fruits are. Tired after a couple days of breakfast from a box, I started cooking. Cooking is a lot like writing. Getting yourself to the desk is the most difficult step. It gets easier once you start.

I have grown to like drinking as well. Everyone is helpful and listens when drunk. Everyone is holding each other’s hair over the toilet, cheering each other on and fencing strangers from your friends. Someone would order lemons for one and more beer for another. By midnight, everyone crawls out of the bar into their cabs.

My father has not called me in weeks.

I started to take the bus to work. You can see everyone and everything that goes on in a bus. In the evening the buses would be jam packed, everyone’s head bobbing up and down like a fish in a bowl. Men would stand close to you, very close. There is no way of knowing if you are the only one, so you play along the speed of the bus and find excuses to bump into him. I looked out the window. The lights inside the bus were so bright that I only saw my reflection staring back at me. He was looking at me too. With his hands tight round the rail and his elbow gently resting on my shoulder. He stared back.

My mother has not called me in weeks.

I would find myself with a different guy at night. Sometimes short and sometimes tall. Some would have hair just starting to grey. It was comforting to be petted by men, because I was new to the game. Even if they stayed only for a short while, it was delicious. Love is like empty calories. For a brief moment we pretended we were each other’s notebook. Over-sharing because you know you will never see them again.

My father has not called me in weeks.

He was older and would hug me as if I were his pet. He played along with my game of house. Not for each other but because we missed having someone beside us. Someone even if you cannot fully connect to, you can physically feel the presence of. It’s a hug. It’s love that lasts a few seconds. We would settle down, sometimes tell each other stories and cry together. There are never any fights, because we just did not care about each other. We were each other’s whiteboard and would perfectly play the role when it was another’s turn to write.

On a particular evening, I saw his eyes for the first time. Round, black and shiny. I could see my face consumed in the shadows. The soft features of my mother and a sharp nose like my father’s. It was threatening to consume me. Maybe it has.

My mother has not called me in weeks.

I cook dalma like my mother does. Dalma is the most forgiving dish. You can put any vegetable, cut in any shape or size and you put it together with dal and just have to boil it.

I take my food in the same utensil I cooked in. Heap of rice with a pool of dalma in the middle. There would be less utensils to clean. I look out the window, there is nothing to see except light leaking through the curtains of my neighbor. But I crane my neck to look at the sky, and through the tiny slant of open sky squeezed between the buildings, I can see it is a full moon night. I finish my meal quickly and clean the utensils.

Once on the terrace, the moon does not seem as bright as the lights of the city. But fantasizing about city lights is a compromised hope. My mom told me I used to sing under the moonlight. So, I sing.

This story was about: Gender Identities Parenting Sexuality

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Lalit is a copywriter and occasionally a writer. Constantly swimming in the world of marketing, to him, writing about personal experiences is like a big gasp of air. He likes to read high-brow books as a challenge. And just like how people watch sports, he cheers his favourite team on the Real Housewives.
Lalit Samantray

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