In a few days, is Ramila’s wedding but today she must do as her mother says.
Don’t drink an ounce of what you fetch. Remember, water is your liquid dowry. She doesn’t. At the village well, she jostles in a queue of women, exhausted like heads crucified on poles. The well is a whale washed up dead, on sand, its gangrenous mouth agape and encrusted with salt and slime. There are garbage balls in its belly. Ramila draws water by hand, watching her rope-strung bucket like the bull’s eye. The last time a drop of water went astray, the women howled, tore off braids, lunged to the ground, ungracefully sprawled, flanking and canoodling the orphaned drop, until it wobbled and vanished.
Tomorrow is Ramila’s wedding but today will she do as her mother says?
It’s an arduous trek back home from the well. Ramila veers towards the village stream. Perhaps, the drunken lullaby of her copper anklets numbs her feet to the tyranny of sand. The stream is a stagnating meander in bubblegum pink and blue. Baby colors, that in water, kill babies. Ramila’s lamb was her little child. She drops down on the hot acid bombed soil pressing her temples, thirsty. She scrapes away the hounding memory of water yet petty shards remain, twist-bleeding her tongue into a wounded serpent. The serpent slips into a tectonic tremble, shifting…shedding…things like inhibitions. Return home before sunset, mother had warned. She doesn’t.
Today is Ramila’s wedding but first she will do as her mother says.
Dress up quickly, and don’t utter a word. Ramila patches up a fatigued fuchsia lehenga, her teeth pulling threads like pruners deadheading spindly geraniums. Dry lip shards are glossed red. Hair, an ash and tan jungle, is dangled into a sticky braid. On a rutted road, she’s made to stand in a file with seventeen girls, all around seventeen, each flanked with an array of old Asian Paints’ buckets. The suitor arrives late in an open- topped jeep. The news is that a grotesque witch tried to eat him up last night. Necks crane to catch the red polka-dot punctures on his right arm, of brutal fangs. His roving eyes, already scrutinizing the girls, pause at a callipygian beauty. But even the most ravenous men in river-less times must make wise choices. The man nods at Ramila, smiling at the rose-tinted water in one of her vessels, one-fourth crimson of his bruises, as if thoughtfully enriched with herbs for his healing. However, the neuroscience of thirst says that unlubricated brains are too fogged to think. Ramila had been thirsty for way too long. Not for blood, just water. But then blood is ninety-two percent water. The night she didn’t return, she sipped some and stirred some.
Shweta Ravi is a writer based in India. She uncannily incarnates in unknown lives until her own ghost insists on claiming her back. She was shortlisted in the Strands International Flash Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction, Feral Poetry, Versification and elsewhere.