For my grandmother, Snehalatha Reddy
It is always 3 o’clock in the morning, day after day. Breathe. Let’s talk about dissent, I fucking loathe you – I had only known her by the lace curtain windows she left hanging in the bedroom and the pink chiffon glaze she coated my life in. Breathe. Ravage me, tear off the tattered ends of my veins. I had only known her as the goddess we lit the lamps for, outlining the pathway back home. It is always 3 o’clock in the morning because when I arrived she was gone but the flowers still sat in their vases … please, breathe … I had only known her by my grandfather’s handwriting on the fronts of old books: let’s dance our way back into those halcyon days … breathe …
I dreamed her up in this way, with less cursing, moulding her from memories that were clung to like nobody’s business, I tried to gather every single detail so that I could be the perfect reincarnation of this whirlwind of chiming ankles and fairy dust who only just passed me by. I am told that it happened like this … somewhere in Masinagudi, while we sat under a sky broken to bits by green leaves and silly conversation, I asked my grandfather, Paabi … did Sneha wear a brassiere? At four I had wanted to be two people: Parvati meditating in icy cold Manasarovar waiting for her man to wake the fuck up, (I would sit in a freezing bucket with my eyes glued shut), and Sneha.
#1: Part truth part fiction she’s a walking contradiction
#2: a prophet and a pusher… a riddler and a fiddler
June 25th 1975
Whispers of a coup had scared everyone shitless. The alarm bells turned to massive gongs that had been clanging together all year, it was apocalypse now all you can eat. Lay your cards on the table. Let me be the rose petal milk that bathes your feet. Soon it would turn into a flash flood, they’d have us like hoards of ants flocking together to be whizzed into beetroot juice, as easy as that, a whisper, some fear and bubble gum laws, silly putty in the wrong hands. At the end of the day what could one want but to Breathe? Yes, exactly, let us crumble into our foetal positions and retreat to our soiled pits where we can breathe when we are told to, speak like you want us to, write out our lives as prescribed, bleeping out all the shit that scares you ... we think it’s better this way, that it’s taking less out of us, but it’s gutting our insides like a fish out of water on a sweaty sidewalk and we don’t feel anything because we’re just screaming – Breathe.
Years ago I had crossed paths with a dreamer from up north, an idealist, yes an idealist, and why not an idealist, for if we weren’t put here to attain our ultimate glow in the dark, swords ablaze, white horse running free, ideal, godlike forms, then what’s the point of living and dying?
loving you, holding you, knowing you.
He stood against it all. He had hope for humanity to culminate in its purest form. He saw his life as a means to seek out a higher truth, freedom, justice. He was a kind man, gentle in every way, brave like you wouldn’t believe; he once stood in front of the evening tide sharing some of these ideals that unsurprisingly shook everyone into a rabid and resentful froth that soon had them pelting him with rocks and boulders and an innate fear of questioning … see, we have to shake things up, to avoid complacency, and to stay focussed on glowing in the dark, a few rocks here and there never hurt anything …
But he was gone fast, there was an illness and a hospital and then that was it. I often wonder whether death stopped by on its own accord or was a plus one to that upsurge of froth … all those rocks.
He left behind him a yearning for something greater, an army of insatiable youth, questioning everything, full on, non stop ... but filled with just enough post-pubescent arrogance to aggregate into a maniacal gang of fire breathers. Simultaneously enraged and on a quest for the immortal, they set themselves forth and ablaze with these poorly measured values, to change the world, urgently, it was an emergency.
Motherfucking breathe. Not as easy as that. It was one disease devouring me from two ends. Rusting my insides while tightening its chokehold. But you brew the sickness, watch it fester and corrode my skin, I’ll sit here in my fifteen by twenty pool of light questioning every little thing you were taught to believe in.
Because see … yes, you caught me red handed, there I was unabashedly disagreeing with you. Screaming dissent, defiance. There I was waving a flag of a socialist dream, injecting its ink deep into my skin, more late nights and needles and deep breaths. MISA. Guilty. Withholding information. Right? Guilty. There I was dreaming up my old friend and his wide eyes that gleamed for truth and hope and justice. Guilty. as. fuck. And here I sit now, gasping for breath, breathing for my life, pitying the shit out of a pitiless, power pusher, prime sinister, primeval, prime evil, prime minister. In terms of fear, I’m a far stretch from you, my dear. All that I am is safe in knowing that when I scoot on out of this here I will have ingrained on every inch of my tired body, as if they were the map of my life, the ideals that make you burn and blister. It will be the very essence of humanity and goodness that will flood over me and soak my hollow bones, and it will having nothing to do with you and nothing to do with this box you’ve locked me in. It is not an emergency. Take your time. I breathe still.
And if you did breathe still, my dearest, what would I say to you? That I yearn for it to be your voice that guides me from here into your arms? Or that I was six inches away from blowing the head off the warden, that I dreamed him dead every time I prayed for your life.
But before you know it, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning again. They treat me like scum. Level two. One up from the prostitutes whom they treat like human waste. Level two, a political prisoner with lunch privileges. A chronic asthmatic with a countdown timer. A death wish and a poorly ventilated jail cell. And you know it too. Don’t you? How much longer can you hold out, how far does your inhumanity stretch before it turns to liability? Take your time, kick me to the curb with my last three pulses and no one will remember you had anything to do with it. Forget it all and forget it now, wipe your slates squeaky clean and begin again! Renew, erase ... forget all the prisoners ... in circular motions ... forget the changing of the laws ... bleach it dead ... forget the torture ... shave your head ... forget about the man who had six cops drag him out of the sewer he was cleaning, forget that he was beaten to a pulp while being asked how many children he had, forget that he was beaten till he passed out and had his balls cut off … forget that shit. It was all government mandated anyway.
So instead, at 3 o’clock in the morning I have taken to thinking of a honeydew summer that I spent crossing kingdoms with the love of my life in the back of a raggedy ann caravan ... I think these things as I wait for the warden to answer my calls. I think of pomegranates, Granada, rubies that dance in the sun, I want him to remember me when he eats pomegranates. I have bloody wrists that are banging on a forgotten door. I think of goodbyes, the simple kind like sending your baby away to school … this does not help the breathing ... I think of my love’s face, of how in these past years I had managed to draw our lives out in the small space allowed by his dimples ... a hundred times over. I think these things as I wait for the warden to answer my screams. I think of muscle memory, muscle machinery, practice that will turn my fingers into robots, retracing the same life and the same face into eternity. I think of the ocean as I hear a bell ring, meaning the gates were opened and someone was sent to fetch a doctor. I think of how the dark, wet sand lights up when you squeeze your toes into it, tricking you into believing your footsteps are made of light. And I think that they must be, made of light, at least they must have the capacity to be, to leave behind them these little pools of luminescence and that it must be this which is the essence of humanity, this which makes us glow in the dark.
It was no longer 3 o’clock in the morning. You were making tea and setting out flowers. We thought our fight was over, but I had not one week to breath beside you, to practice memorizing the outline of your face, your fingers, your aching body, protruding bones, your toes. You were gone like that, a jail sentence, an illness and a quick fix dodging of liability. You spun out like a whirlwind, glowing in the dark. ‘We won’t forget’ the crowds cried in the streets, playing it on repeat, machines, robots, infallible; with practice we perfect ourselves. But how little we know, and how far we have to go, and how long must I hold onto the ideals that cost me you? ‘We won’t forget’ they yelled as they walked into the future, ready to take it on, haughty and hopeful they entered the corral, outraged they lay down to have it all sucked out of them, infuriated they gasped for breathe. How little we know.
Zui Kumar Reddy is a senior at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. She hopes to graduate with a degree in Biology so that she can move back to India and write a lot. With her story, Anagrams and Barbed Wire Jesus, she was the winner of the 2015 Out of Print-DNA short fiction contest and was published in DNA and on the Out of Print blog. She has also been published in The Legendary and The Peal. She was selected to be a part of Sandbox Collective and the Goethe Institut’s Gender Bender 2016 where she screened her music video on the subject of female sexual desire in India, GOEF JOSEF. She is currently working on her thesis on the efficiency of Toxoplasma gondii detection using different methods of PCR.