Out With The Sun

Written by Kalli Azad
Art by Trini Rogando


Mary hates cowboys. All of them. She hates their guts.  

About every other Friday, she wakes up to the sound of their gunshots. There’s a crack, like the sound after lightning lights up the sky in the middle of a raging storm, and Mary thinks the roof above her head may collapse. For the four years that she’s lived in Texas, despite her best effort, Mary hasn’t found a way to block the noise. She’s tried earbuds, soundproofed walls, and sleeping pills. Once, she took double the recommended dosage. Instead, the sound of fired bullets grates at her eardrums, no matter how thick her walls are, no matter how many pillows she presses against her head. She can feel each bullet rattle her bedposts. The bullets are bad news, but the roof hasn’t fallen yet, so when the sun comes up, and everything has gone quiet, Mary slips out of bed every morning and gets the paint.

Mary’s mother loved painting. She was never more than a meter away from her watercolors. She painted intricate portraits of Mary yearly that decorated every corner of their home back on the East coast. Mary, despite her genetics, hates painting. She’s never had the talent. When she moved to Texas, she thought she’d never have to sit through etiquette and art lessons again. But painting followed her into the middle of the desert. 

The shed, all the way in the back of the inn, stores jars upon jars of white paint. They line the walls that were once stored with fresh sheets and fluffed pillows, back in the days when Mary was naive about owning an Inn in Texas. The paint is useful. It draws in customers, promising them shelter from the heat and the crime. The inside doesn’t matter, since no one sees inside an inn until they’ve already paid. It’s wisdom like this that keeps Mary in business. Alongside the paint, Mary keeps the junk materials, stored up over the years, for stuffing the holes in her walls. A few more years of lawlessness and the building will be made entirely of old rags and discarded metal. They’re convenient, but not as useful as the paint. Mary could take you from the shed to the front of the inn in her sleep. She rolls the wheelbarrow with her, rolling out an unopened jar, unscrewing the lid, and discarding it in favor of a large paint roller. She dips the roller into the jar, coating the edges in dripping white with practiced movements. She draws the roller out quickly, careful not to waste any paint and spill it on the floor. Then, she runs it against the newly battered walls, hiding each imperfection with sweeping strokes. 

There is truly nothing Mary hates more than repainting her beautiful walls. In her perfect world, there are no cowboys, no guns, and no paint. Her spare change would certainly go to better use then, like a new pair of shoes or a bookcase. For a week, the fresh paint glimmers in the heat of the desert, while Mary runs around catering to the wealthy family, who are covered in rouge and hide from the sun with parasols. They regale her with stories about their farm in California as Mary wipes down drinking glasses in the kitchen. She likes them as much as she can like any of her guests. They’re a nice family, she supposes, and they leave her in peace, and her paint intact. 

For a week, Mary has her peace. Then, this cowboy comes to check-in. His name, Mary learns, is Arthur. Arthur is a sun-bleached blonde, all too common for, with a certainly unhealthy amount of sunburn. He books a single room, for a month. He comes in and out, shooting straight past the bar, not stopping to flirt or chat or anything of the sort, and Mary is put off. She’s far too used to hearing the same line about how hot the weather is. There hasn’t been a cool day in Texas since Mary moved. 

But Arthur doesn’t use that line. Arthur stays out of her way, he doesn’t start fights, and he wears his gun out of sight. He doesn’t gamble. He doesn’t even drink. So Mary enjoys a peaceful few days. She reads one of the few books locked away in her dresser. She chats with one of the guests for an hour or so. She doesn’t paint. Still, she doesn’t let her guard down. The next week, cowboys ride in with the rain, washing away all the work she did the week earlier. 

There are gunshots all throughout the night, echoing around the town, and she can hear the screams of her guests, the little kids shrieking while some criminal in a hat shoots up her beautiful walls. The next morning, she’s out under the scorching sun, repainting her walls and bidding her wealthy guests farewell. She’s so sick of the Texas heat. But mostly, she’s sick of cowboys.

Until Arthur comes out, in a fresh linen t-shirt and grabs a paintbrush. Arthur, Mary determines, is not a practiced conversationalist. He mutters under his breath, apologizing for the mess, swearing it wasn’t his fault. He doesn’t use any social niceties. No questions about Mary, nothing about other guests, and certainly nothing about the weather.  Instead, they repaint her walls, fixing up the Inn until everything is perfectly intact. Mary makes a joke after the job is done, that her next couple of guests will just come back in and ruin it all again. Arthur doesn’t laugh at all, instead, offering a sympathetic grimace. 

The next few mornings, it’s Mary and Arthur out with paintbrushes. And Mary thinks, after a few days, that maybe Arthur will stay, and maybe having a cowboy for the company won’t be so bad after all. 

Until one night Mary lies awake to the sounds of curses, screams, and more gunshots. They ricochet off the walls, hurting Mary’s eardrums until she can still hear the bullets ringing long after the fighting has stopped. There’s an eerie chill in the air, with fog hanging over the town chapel.  

Mary heads out to the shed to grab the paint, not waiting for Arthur before she starts. Humming a light tune, she wheels her jar right outside of her door, until it catches on something in her usual path. Arthur lies dead, covered in bullet wounds and with someone else’s long trench coat over his head. Mary pauses and time stops with her, as she stares down at the man lying before her feet. It only takes a second to make her decision. With one shout, the undertaker is there with his cart as Mary heads back around to her shed. In a few minutes, all that remains is the outline of a body in blood.

She drags out the white jar, and Mary, for the last time, she promises herself, starts to paint. After a while, as the sun lights up the sky, another cowboy walks in, and Mary walks out.

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See Me In The Water

Written by Erica de Belen
Art by Javardh


On days when there is not enough of you to go around, when you have been emptied out, when you are not where you are supposed to be, I want you to take your heart, take off your shoes, and see me in the water. 

There, I will tell you that you are the sun in the east; the stars beating against the darkness; the red sunrise settling on a mountain. And as for me, I am a river that flows into the open sea. I am the ocean waters curling and uncurling against the shore, reaching and reaching so that it may kiss the sky. 

I will tell you that for as long as the sun is merciless, as long as the moon is unashamed, and as long as the stars have stories to tell, there will be nothing more reliable on Earth than the tides rising and falling each day. The tides breathe, not a day passes that they don’t. Not a day passes that they do not strain themselves to touch the sky, even a little. 

Remember me as the tides, and I will remember you as the sky. Even if there is an expanse between the sea and the sky, even when it seems hopeless, I will tell you to look at how the light glitters on the water’s surface, how it looks as if the night sky has come down to make its home in the sea. I will tell you to look at how the colors of the sunset, sunrise, smothers the ocean out of complete adoration. I will tell you to look at how the water is more determined than ever during the darkness. 

One day, it will happen. It seems impossible, but if it’s us, it will. The tide shall reach its sore arms up, and the whole sky will plunge its body into the very sea.

violet milk

Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Merve Safa


You can try it once; I promise, nothing bad will happen. It’s the form of the thought. I know exactly what you’re afraid of (because I was afraid of it once, too). I know they’re like spectres, and they haunt like ghosts, but really, all ghosts become quiet if you shut your ears. All the things they’re saying on the news, too—it’s all rubbish. I don’t know anyone who has ever gone that far. Nobody ever died or anything like that. God, no. I wouldn’t make you do it if they had. If anything, I am looking out for you. If I could only describe it to you; if it only could be described. The purest of minds have been clouded by serendipity. There is a happiness beyond definition in – violet skies and violet rain, and most people are terrified to touch it. This happiness has been with us the entire time, but we’re so used to being unhappy that we’re content without it. Trust me, we’ve known each other since we were kids. I want this for you. 

I remember my first time. Don’t laugh. It was Angus who did it first; did I ever introduce you to Angus? Yeah, that’s the one, the ginger, hard to forget. Nora and I couldn’t believe the stories he was telling us about this violet milk. He said he’d felt it straight away, even after having only taken a sip. Felt every strand of hair on his skin stand up, and every hormone in his body was released at once. He said he’d heard the dopamine hit like fireworks. I can’t tell you where he got it from, but we’re friends, so you can trust me, I wouldn’t give you anything but the good stuff. He drank the whole glass in three gulps, and he was soaring. At first, it was unintelligible; he thought he saw Marilyn Monroe in his bedroom. But after a week or so, he said he’d never felt happier. He quit all the other crap—cigarettes, alcohol—and said he could survive purely on this, only two or three a week. A couple of months ago, his dad got him this minifridge, and he stores all of the milk in there, rows and rows of it. His parents would probably think he’d gone back to infancy if they looked inside. I already told you, I can’t tell you where he gets the capsules from; I can’t be ratting people out like that. Of course I trust you, but I can’t really trust you until you’ve tried it yourself. 

Oh, yeah, my first time. I did it with Nora, and we were both so gone by the end of it that I thought we’d end up in Vegas. I just remember seeing everything so clearly, you know? It was as if I’d been blind my whole life, and then suddenly the world had just opened up completely. At first, I won’t lie to you, I felt myself being swallowed up, but then, you realise that being overcome by it is the only way you’ll survive. The world is beautiful if you allow it to be brutal. The next time I did it, I got Soren and Sky involved. Soren was absolutely against it, but let me tell you, now he’s considering getting one of those small fridges that Angus has. You’ll believe me when you’ve tried it. It’s gotten to all of us, apart from you. And we know how you can be, so you can’t really blame us for not telling you until now. It was mostly my fault. I didn’t want to freak you out. Having friends that were doing drugs or whatever. But I don’t even think it is a drug, you know. It just feels so natural, so perfect. 

I want the best for you. Honest to God. Are you in?

Blurred Faces

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Florian Schneider


What am I going to do with all the blurred faces in my head? 

The physics research scholar who was blunt enough to tell me my circuit was wrong, but kind enough to teach me what was right. The other research scholar of the same lab, whose face I can no longer remember, but whose name I still remember and I’ll never know why.

The stranger who made space for me in the crowded bus; the government officer who spoke to me in broken Tamizh because I told him it was my native language, because it’d keep me comfortable; the receptionist who asked me if I could string jasmine flowers together, and upon me saying no, said: learn it, you young girls have to keep our tradition alive.

The uncle who passed by me in a wedding hall and then passed away three years later. Mother says he smiled at me, told me his daughter wanted long braids like mine. I want to know if the little girl still remembers her father’s face, his voice and the warmth of his palms atop her forehead. I want to tell her I met her father. And in silence, I want to braid her hair.

The relatives who love me enough to tell me so when they see me once a year but not enough to call me on birthdays. I don’t remember some of their names; I don’t know who is whose sister, and who is whose father. My father wants me to remember that they’re family—and that word, as loosely held together as phosphenes behind the eyes, is all I’ll ever remember of them.

The friend I made in 2nd grade, the one with no other friends. The people whose photos I’ve seen in newspapers with no land to call their own and no place to seek refuge, forced to dangle in the middle of nowhere, their hands firm, clutching a broken photo frame, a torn notebook, a destroyed canvas, a prayer book. 

Maybe my classmate from 8th grade, who always arrived at class late from football practice, remembers my face in a blur of shades of the same colour. Maybe the florist in Church Street remembers me as the girl who yearned for the flowers on display and left with empty hands. And what of this existence if I’m not a blurred face in someone else’s head?

I move my hands when I speak the same way the woman I met at a concert does. I tilt my head to the side in photographs the way my Biology teacher from 9th grade does. The blurs of the faces I have in my head, they’re strokes of paint over my neck, my arms, my limbs until it’s all I am draped in. I become every stranger I have ever met.

holy mother

Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Couleur


The sandwich will not go down. If they were to find her now, she would be digesting a handful of beef, slush tomatoes, cucumber, and a squished bread roll. It would be a massacre. Darcy holds the sandwich and thinks of each bite, every molar and incisor, canines and premolars working away in lieu of her tongue, slapping wet and stimulated against the cave of her mouth. She holds the sandwich and spots the focused eyes upon her, the ends of conversations lingering with grease and cheap surface cleaner. Elbows propped upright against the cafeteria table, she licks her lips and smiles, until the girls from the table in front have gone wide-eyed, skittered back and stumbled to face each other once more, those little elasticated tubes of meat. Darcy Moyes. Olivia Moyes was her mother. The one who poisoned those cancer patients. Darcy continues to eat, licking the extra mayonnaise from her pink fingers. 

What she would like to tell people about her mother, disregarding the mutters and shouts of the press that had managed half of the story wrong, was that it had not been a group of cancer patients but the gastroenterology ward: gas-tro-ent-e-ro-lo-gy. She doubted any of the idiots in her class could even spell it. Secondly, there was no poison involved, so asking Darcy if she liked arsenic in her sandwiches was not even a logical insult (and arsenic is a liquid, too, so what was that even about—how could you put liquid in a sandwich?). Lastly, and perhaps the part that irritated Darcy the most, was the past tense. Was her mother. Olivia Moyes, known as ‘Olive’ to her close friends, was a renowned serial killer. Her mother is somewhere, awaiting trial, not was. Yet, it was Darcy who was sent home from school that week for clapping loudly and telling her classmates to pay attention when their French teacher began teaching the present tense. 

Darcy rises now, half of the food left sprawling on her tray. As she walks, she feels a group of eyes following her, their whispers like knives swiping for blood. Finding her way back to the classroom, she thinks of all the food floating in her stomach; the acid at work; the churning of her intestines; the pumping pancreas. Her mother had liked talking about her job, even when they were eating at the dinner table and Darcy’s father tried to make her stop. She always loved how her mother would make eye contact with her from across the mashed potatoes and creamy cauliflower, a twinkle of delight in her eye as she said it. 

“Darcy isn’t squeamish like you boys. She doesn’t mind, do you, my love?” 

And it was true; Darcy was never phased by anything her mother said, not like her father or Josh, her younger brother. She could understand her mother better than anyone else. Can. It was this thought that clung to her when the police came to take her mother away, strapping her hands behind her back and leaving the spaghetti bolognese messy and half-eaten on her plate, tomato sauce lining her lips—she always did need a napkin nearby. Does, does. And later, seeing her through the glass, her face thinner and her eyes darkened within their sockets, when she said, “You know why I did it, don’t you, Darcy?” 

And she nodded and nodded, yes, of course she did. 

Leaving school and making her way home, Darcy can smell trees and petrol. She grips her stomach as she walks, gritting her teeth at the pressing and straining of her abdomen. Along the walk home she passes through the local park, with children still in their uniforms swinging past on monkey bars and jumping up and down on the seesaw. There is laughter and coldness in the air. Darcy takes a seat on the cold bench, holding her growling stomach as if it were a wild beast. A ball rolls past her feet. The mother who jogs over to pick it up does so tentatively, a smile of apology becoming that of crumpled eyebrows, at once recognising Darcy and wanting to get away, but also being unable to move. Eventually, her daughter calls her back and she stumbles, breaking into another jog and swooping her in one go, turning again to glare in Darcy’s direction. Not long after, all the other mothers were staring, and muttering curses to each other as they drew their kids away from the park. The parents who stay talk amongst themselves—her mother was a killer, killed all those people—and she fights the urge to scream, is, is, IS. 

Cold-lipped, she watches the frogs jitter along the frozen pond, imagining their legs dipped in batter and fried, like the chips her father makes. The ice shimmies, their small legs slimy and soft. She feels the crunch between her teeth, the bitter and wet taste that would splay along her tongue. She and her mother had been the only ones to try the snails in Paris, licking their lips to retain the aftertaste. Later, they’d gone back for seconds, just the two of them. Now, the frogs went still, eyes wide and skin silver. She watches them all there, some massacre, and her stomach eases. 

the extinction of the dodo

Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Andrea Piacquadio


The air had been singing in silence since the plates had been turned over and the meat had been brought in; the twelve men around the table found themselves completely occupied, chewing and swallowing, humming their approvals and scooping remnants as if the meal would be their last. They all sat in suit and tie, hair combed for the occasion and faces freshly shaven, skin buttered in the saffron of the setting sun. They sat, indeed, five against five apart from the two men who took positions at the head of the table, themselves brandished in gold and silver, and they shimmered like coins. Their dining room had not been decorated, other than the dining table replaced because of the damage, which the host had cursed immensely. 

Therefore, the dining room remained as true to itself as it had become. Wallpaper strewn and walls blasted through, leaving ashes of drywall and crumbling bricks about the floor. Red curtains torn like streams of blood, loose bullets and inactive grenades and old carcasses, birds and rabbits and men. Window glass littered and the beams of the roof hung loose, apart from a few that croaked with movement. The smell of smoke lingered in the air, along with metal and rotting flesh, and the meat—fresh, soaked in herbs and spices, wafted upward like an aftertaste. The men ate ravenously, despite. Littered the table with greasy skins and sticky bones, puckered their fingertips to their mouths and left handkerchiefs orange and scrunched on the table; laughing with their mouths open and scooping up more when their cheeks were already full. That had been, however, only the first two courses, the starters of soup crawling with prawns and then slices of chicken, beef, lamb, pork, duck and rabbit crushed between fresh bread or boiled potatoes and vegetables. 

Plates were cleared, conversations fizzled. The third course was to come imminently. Everyone sat in silence, although many held excitement on their expressions and quick whispers were even more quickly hushed. The final course was introduced, and then, it was presented by the large cage that was lowered down to sit just above the table, dangling from one of the more secure beams. Inside, there lay a woman, naked, shivering and sputtering, her skin pale and wrinkled like prunes, toes and fingers vaguely blue. Her hair was thin and straw-like, such that you could see the paleness of her scalp, eyes red rimmed and lips flaky. She whimpered, quietly in pain, for at her shoulder blades were two deep crimson gashes, which, although had been cleaned up (the men wouldn’t have wanted to look at such a thing whilst they tried to eat) still shone with newness. At the sight of her, the men glanced at each other and gazed in wonderment, moving into applause as the two large wings – juicy and battered, were placed in the middle of the table. 

They wasted no time in beginning to devour the meal. Forks and knives stabbed at the meat, dripping with its newness, and the men, so hungry were they, lapped it up like puppies. A few muttered and sung their approval, others clapped those at the head of the table on the back, for having secured such a new and rare sensation. As the woman wobbled, the cage rattled, but none of them ever looked completely upwards. Maybe they cast a small glance and quickly turned away, or nodded in approval at her trembling stance as they chewed and chewed. The foot of the cage was coated in blood. Eventually, her breaths became shallow, and one of the men made a joke that sent the rest of the table into hysterics. When she began to drip, however, through the bars, some of the men complained, their meat could not be stained with blood, they exclaimed. Their plates were replaced. The woman was moved, cleaned, and brought back out again. By the time she had been, the plates had been cleared and their spirits had returned. The scars on her back had started drying. 

The head of the table rang promptly for the next course. 

Bangalore’s Skies

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Kalman Kovats


07:15 AM and Bangalore is wiping its tears on its sleeves, smearing red and gold on its eyelids.

I’m sitting in my college bus. I know it stops at Kasavanahalli, but I don’t know where it’ll take me. When I reach the college, the security guard stops me at the gate to inspect me on grounds of discipline. This moment, it feels significant—to be stopped at the gates of a college I never wanted to enter in the first place.

In class, I watch professors through a white veil. Most of the time, I can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep. I hear words: eigenvectors and matrices and engineering is going to be the best four years of your life. 

Give me a good day and then we’ll talk years.

I’ve seen more tiles than buildings, my eyes always cast down, inspecting the grey and the dirt of the floors. I can’t bring myself to look at the college buildings because every time I do, it’s as though someone is screaming at me from the third floor asking me to leave. Where? I’ve been running all my life but I never know where I’m going. This is what I get for chasing a dream that was never mine.

On the way back home, I glance outside the dusty window with nothing else to do, an ache burgeoning its way through my brain. The sky is a silver canvas, streaks of bubblegum pink and Cornerhouse purple slashing through ebony cotton puffs. In a moment as short lived as a breath, the clouds turn into tufts of charcoal.

It rains until the bus’s windows drown in water.

And as always, after every downpour, the skies wipe its tears. It smears the same red and gold on its skin once again, this time in darker shades. The sun buries itself beneath the clouds, leaving its afterglow shining over pavements, treetops and streetlights. It feels almost like a silent warning.

Us Bangaloreans, we get our resilience from our skies. Countless times we’ve watched our city grieve and then pick itself up in fragments; resurrection is in the air we breathe. I wipe the tears I never knew I spilled, smearing red and gold from my sleeves—the colours of my city’s skies, the colours of war. I don’t know against whom I fight. 

But every battle I’ve fought, I’ve won.

an open letter to the monster under my bed

Written by l.a. kim
Art by cottonbro


you have been the only constant in my life, which is honestly pretty pathetic in every aspect. sorry you had to lurk under the bed because i took so much time hiding in the closet (a double entendre, fear of gods). but honestly, i have to admit, i was never afraid of you. even when i changed from girl to boy to boy to girl to neither and both and everything at once, you didn’t care. a kid is a kid is a kid to you, i guess. 

is there a quota, in your world? scare x kids y many times, get a promotion, life is good? or are you just an entity, chained under beds and like being the number one cause of bed wetting and gripes of parents everywhere? i’ll hope for your sake it’s the former. i should probably say sorry. if by any chance you were assigned to me by some higher(or in this case, lower) power, that promotion went straight out of the window. we both know i was never afraid of you, especially when i was the one who saw you first, crawling under (my? your?) space beneath the bed, begging you to make some room. in any case, you were my first roommate. 

it’s been a long time since i pushed back the dust from under my bed, since i thought of you. i guess in a way i sort of conjured you, considering you only exist to me (does this make me a god? i don’t feel like one). if anything, you should be asking me questions about yourself, perhaps if you had a mouth or were actually a sentient being and not a constellation of neurons in my brain. 

only you don’t exist until i think about you, isn’t that right? you are me but i am not you. i know this, i knew this. but it never stopped me from wishing you heard the cries above the bed (my fault for confining you under, constantly under). if only you were real. 

hey, every kid has a monster under their bed, right? and an angel and a devil on their shoulders, the weight of the world looming on the horizon. i think that as a kid, i needed a monster more than an imaginary friend, that by creating you i was creating a world so much more digestible than real life.

Shame

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Steven Arenas


I let myself relax in the hard plastic of the train seat as I opened my file to look at the piece of paper that I had won through five years of university education. I struggle not to fall asleep in this seat as the air-conditioner blows onto my sweaty body. I worked for a tech company part-time for the entire duration of university. I was a worker ant, a damn good one. But I am ashamed of that. 

Every one of my life decisions has been ruled by fear. 

I never stood up to the bullies in school because I was scared of fighting. I was scared of the pain. I was scared of the trouble I would get into. I was scared of getting yelled at by my teachers and my parents. If only I understood back then how it was the one who didn’t want to fight that got beaten up the most. 

I chose to work for that engineering diploma because of “job security” and because people around me say the money is great. I feared that I would be that poor guy starving on the streets if I went after my impractical dreams.

I remember vividly that I once told an acquaintance about my dreams of opening a cat cafe. The aroma of coffee beans, the presence of cats and the ambient atmosphere would make everyone happy. Cat lovers, young and old alike, would give the cats company, and the cats would have a joyful home with people taking care of them. 

I let him laugh and walk away from me, for I knew I did not have it in me to deal with the consequences I did not dare to face the possibility of him hitting back as well. Nevertheless, I stopped talking to him. 

Now, as I slump in my seat a little more, I bask in the light of the train’s ceiling as if I was sunbathing and let go of the tension I have been holding in my body. I lift my mask for a second to wipe the sweat that has condensed on my nose and cheeks before I shut my eyes. 

I let my mind reach beyond the traincarriage, to pretend that I am letting my soul travel the world. That I am no longer bound to the limitations of my neural-mechanisms of fear, the pandemic that has ravaged the world and the script of society that chains me to their demands. I saw the world in a minute without anything else other than my mind’s eye. 

Every one of my decisions I’ve made has led me up to this point- almost falling asleep in the seat, all alone. I’m still burning by my own cowardice in my soul.

I’m not getting any younger, I’m still afraid of what comes next.

Trance

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Suchita Senthil Kumar


There is blood on Mayil’s silk clothes.

The slash runs from her toe to the middle of her right sole. Just before the dance performance, she had slipped away from the rest of the dance troupe to drink a sip of water. Her Guru had permitted her to leave, albeit with a stern expression, asking her to make sure she returned on time. Mayil had been sprinting along the length of the temple’s stone corridors when her toe struck a sharp edge, which scratched through her flesh, and now there were splotches of blood staining her dance costume.

A voice from the temple speakers—her teacher’s voice—announces the beginning of the Padam. The juniors of the Isai Dance Troupe are scheduled to perform a slow-moving Krishna Padam right before the final performance of the seniors, a grand Thillana, which means that Mayil has roughly five minutes to report to her Guru backstage.

Mayil attempts to take larger steps to cover the sprawling floors of the temple, but each stride she makes applies force directly to the sole of her foot, sending a searing pain shooting through her limb. She doesn’t want to, and cannot afford to, damage the soles of her feet any more. Dancing will cause enough friction, and she needs to protect her feet for the main stage.

With caution, she makes the decision to stand on her tiptoes, and it’s immediately the wrong move. A section of the slit is situated right on the crease that allows her to push herself onto her toes, and it triggers a fresh wave of blood dripping onto the floor. She balances her right foot on the side away from her toe and limps to the backstage area, slipping into position amongst the rest of the dance group.

“If you were even two seconds late, I would’ve begun without you,” hisses Nandini Ma’am, her Guru, before stepping onto the stage. She announces the marvels of the Thillana and the achievements of her senior students in a clear and welcoming voice.

The stinging at Mayil’s foot and the subsequent pain that twists up her right leg softens with the knowledge that she is going to be on stage in less than a few seconds. A true dancer will dance despite blood and pain, despite sun or rain, her teacher always said. Mayil has an entire legacy clinging to the Bharatanatyam bells around her feet, and she has to live up to that name.

Despite the aching pain, she’s relieved about one thing, and it’s the fact that none of the audience would notice the blood unless they were exclusively looking at her toes. Even if they were, the stain would be camouflaged by the red alta painting her feet, making the injury almost impossible to notice. The same could be said for the blood on the edge of her Bharatanatyam pant—her grandmother’s red and blue silk.

This is Chidambaram, her grandmother’s birthplace. The town where legacies are carved on the gold plating of its temple’s gopuram, the town where secrets lie in the air that wafts amongst the temple walls, the town where Mayil’s grandmother had dreamed of seeing her dance. 

Paati, are you watching me from the skies? Are you blessing me? 

Mayil steps onto the stage, takes her position at the centre, and joins her hands together in the namaskaram. She greets the audience, her Guru, and the Almighty. The music from the violin and nadhaswaram begins the Mohanakalyani Thillana, accompanied by the mridangam and thavil. The sting in her feet numbs away with the music. She becomes one with the breeze, the waves, the stringing of the violin, and the rhythm of the mridangam. This is Bharatanatyam—Lord Nataraja’s cosmic dance.

The Mohanakalyani Thillana, one of Shri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman’s greatest compositions, reverberates off the temple walls. The Carnatic quartet of renowned musicians seem to speak in a mellifluous conversation with one another, letting their instruments converse in place of words. Mayil’s hands and feet move in practised grace with every mudra and every adavu ingrained in each atom of her bones. Her antique ornaments, the jasmine flowers in her hair, and the bells around her feet amalgamate with her skin—they dance with her to the praise of Lord Muruga.

Sundara Mohana Roopam
Vandita Muni Jananandam
Santatam Valli Kaantam
Chintaye Guruvaram Skandam

His beautiful and charming form
is worshipped by great sages to attain divine bliss.
Let us remember the husband of Valli
the magnificent guru, Skanda (Lord Muruga)

Suddenly, the dance ends without her knowledge, the audience’s applause breaking her from her Bharatanatyam trance. She bows down to them with folded hands and walks off the stage. All the dancers gather in a circle to discuss their post-performance joy. 

“I actually injured my leg before,” Mayil says to the rest of the group. “When I went to get some water. There was blood all over the place—it stained my costume too.”

A collective sound of sympathy resouds amidst the group, and everyone agrees that this is the worst thing that could happen to someone right before a performance.

“We should clean your wound or something,” Anitha, her closest friend in the troupe, notes, while the others continue to gush over the temple’s decorations. “Show me how bad it is.”

Mayil bends her right leg at the knee, balancing on her left, to display her feet under the temple light. No blood. She turns her foot around to view the side of her sole. No blood again. Anita shakes her head and returns to the conversation, saying something about the proficiency of the musicians and reminding everyone to take their blessings. 

Mayil continues to examine her feet, only to find no trace of a wound or any blood spilt. She checks her left leg just in case. Nothing. Her eyes follow the path she must’ve taken while walking towards the stage, and there is no blood there either. 

Her eyes rove over the stage, pausing at the sight of a series of crimson gleams strewn across the floor. At the centre of the stage, where she had recently danced, lay a few rubies. 

She looks down.

There is no blood on Mayil’s clothes.