The Little House

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Livia Radman

Opposite my house is a little house, an austere little house—and there are so many of them. They live with their little dog and little bicycle. They have a little grill gate about the size of the door opening my wardrobe. They also have a little fence and anyone who sees this little house would agree with me when I say the thorns of the bougainvillea bushes around their house do a better job of protection than said fence. The tallest person I’ve ever seen, a close relative of a classmate, would be able to touch their roof and maybe place his palms squarely on top of it. Their roof, along with protecting their heads also is where they hang big blankets out to dry.

Opposite my house is a little house with little kids, all of whom are, I’m proud to say, my little friends. My first friend from among them was Ammu, the youngest of them all. While her other sisters play with a kitchen set on the window sill of their little house, this little girl flips her shawl around her neck and saunters to where the little boys play with their tops and tyres. She never forgets calling out Akka!(a term of endearment for an elder sister)every time she’s going over to play with her brothers and makes sure to keep calling until I come and wave to her. I’ve never seen her walk, always hopping or skipping about.

I remember quite faintly the day we became friends. She had called me Aunty and spent at least five minutes trying to tell her that I was Akka. I assumed she knew Kannada but soon learnt they spoke not Kannada, but Urdu. I’m still unsure if she knows what it means or if she thinks it’s my name, but either way, I’m happy if she doesn’t go around calling me an aunty when I’m at least a good fourteen years away from being one. Ever since then, it has become a routine. Every time she walks by to go and scare her brothers with her boisterous words, she makes sure to give a call, Akka! and I have to arrive at my balcony and wave to her until she can’t see me anymore.

A relative died one Wednesday and that was the day her brothers became my friends. I wasn’t close to him but to hear he was no longer in this world, leaving behind his young daughter alone made me sick. Everyone at home sat around sharing stories and memories they had with him, an attempt at keeping him alive in words and stories. I decided to walk to the balcony to breathe for the first time all day. A few moments later, I heard a collective shout of Akka! and saw 4 little boys dressed in dirty clothes wearing wide grins and waving at me. Their leader was Ammu who stood with her hands atop her hip, a proud smile on her face. She turned around and said something, nodding her head and pointing towards me. A final wave later, the five of them went back to their little house.

One call became five and I began hearing their collective shouting every day. They don’t speak the language I do, and I don’t speak theirs. And yet, we find our ways to communicate, flinging our hands and shaking our heads. On some days, they show me the toys they build themselves with the leftover wood and cement their parents leave behind. They then explain with wide smiles and flailing hands how they created their cricket bats from wooden twigs and threads.

The last of them to become my friend was the eldest of them all and she took her time. One day when Ammu and her brothers tried persuading her to come to say hello, she scrunched her face and looked over at me as though she disapproved of my existence. She gave me one stern look and marched back into her little house. Ammu and her brothers dropped their shoulders but gave me a wide smile and followed their elder sister. I don’t know what had changed but a few weeks later, the little ones seemed to have convinced her to be my friend and when I was least expecting it, I saw her waving to me along with her siblings.

She stood behind the others, but it was easy to spot her since she was the tallest among them all. She hoisted Ammu upon her waist and waved to me with crinkled eyes. Today, she’s my best friend among them all. She carries mud pots, one on her waist and one atop her head and walks to the public water tank to fill water for her entire family. On her way, she makes sure to call for me. On days when my heart feels heavy from hearing about the death of all those people around, from listening to my teacher go on about grades, from even so much as breathing, their calls give me the strength to go on. I cling onto their voices, their grinning faces and their waving hands and steer my way through my days, my weeks and these months. Opposite my house is a little house with little kids, all of whom are, I’m proud to say, my little friends.

Finding Friendship

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Karl Magnuson

“You’re a sadist,” she told me.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re always sad. So, you’re a sadist.”

I laughed, relief replacing the dread I first felt when I heard those words. I explained her context was wrong. I would’ve never been able to comprehend the various things Anjani declared if not for the explanations she gave. Dhana, her best friend, laughed along and both of us prodded her over this slip-up for many days to come. 

The moment I entered the classroom that day, my stomach plummeted. In the dim-lit corner of the classroom sat the group of boys howling as always, their voices echoing in the silence of the 3rd floor. Most of my classmates mentioned they wouldn’t be coming to school since the exams were over, but I didn’t expect all of them to back out. I hurried out into another classroom, this time an empty one, and watched the nearby trees and train track from the window. 

I didn’t enjoy the loneliness the way so many other people claimed to. I hated it and hated not having a best friend I could always count on. I couldn’t think of one person I could turn to if I needed a shoulder to cry on. The echoes of the laughter of those boys filled my head, rendering me feeling unpleasant all over, as though it were music from a ukulele and I was deaf. It sounded of happiness and togetherness—a sound only they could hear.

My watch beeped when it struck 9 o’clock and the solitude transitioned into an apprehension penetrating me. I walked across the familiar corridors, staring at the grey tiles and memorizing the narrow cracks upon them. I placed my feet at the center of each tile, a shiver running through my nerves every time I slipped and touched the lines in between two tiles. I did everything I could to delay entering the classroom again.

I took a deep breath, stepped inside the classroom and lifted my eyes from the floor. This time my stomach didn’t plummet and, instead, I felt elated. I don’t think I was ever so delighted to see anyone in all my life. Anjani and Dhana sat in their seats, a few spaces away from mine looking over at me with generous smiles playing on their faces.

“You came to school!” shouted Dhana, standing and pushing away her chair. Although I had been friends with Dhana only a few years earlier, Anjani and I spoke less. “We thought we’d be all alone. Thank God we have company!”

The happiness and relief when I first realized I wasn’t the sole girl in class was soon replaced with trepidation. It grew with each passing second as they both spoke in their native languages, Bengali, a language I didn’t comprehend a word of. I felt out of place when they made references from American shows I’d heard of before but never watched. They both attempted to have me participate, asking me what shows I watched, what songs I listened to. I answered their questions, giving replies if prompted, my voice sounding increasingly tepid with each passing second. I wasn’t supposed to be there.

They both either discerned my discomfort or grew bored with the conversation they were engrossed in and switched into a game of Antakshari. They allowed me to begin with a song and Anjani followed with another, beginning with the sound I ended with. Dhana continued until it came back to me. For the first time, in a long time, I felt like I belonged. We played the game until lunch, during which we shared our food, jokes, and tittle-tattles alike.

That day, I became friends with them both but specifically Anjani. She dubbed me a sadist, inquired about what I did to keep my hair long, and asserted that I owned a cottage cheese factory for how often I bought it for lunch. In the beginning, I felt out of place but with the passing hours, I felt at home. I laughed and laughed for a long time. I laughed until I fell off the chair when she called me violent for a frivolous reason I don’t remember. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe when Dhana and Anjani fought over who would eat the last piece of my cottage cheese, spewing silly insults at each other throughout. All the loneliness I had been experiencing over the last few months and years turned into resilience after that day.

It was what one would call a miracle, to see either one of them without the other; such was their friendship. I’ve known them for the last fourteen years and can count on one hand the instances I’ve seen them apart. All those quotes with fancy fonts atop waterfalls about friendship remind me of them. I wonder sometimes, not to pry, merely wonder, at how two people remain friends for so long. Seeing them banter, recollect stories from Kindergarten and accept me as a part of their day changed me. That day showed me that I didn’t need a Dhana to my Anjani to be happy. That day taught me to appreciate laughter, even if I couldn’t reciprocate it. That day taught me to appreciate the fingers stringing the ukulele, even if I couldn’t hear it.

Their Daughter

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Carlos Bobadilla

It had been ten years since Preeti encountered those black eyes twinkling back at her. While everyone in their family inherited brown irises, Nidhi alone had acquired black ones.

Preeti had known her sister was troubled, but she hadn’t expected her to run away. She’d noted Nidhi sobbing to her pet squirrel alone, begging to lie on Mother’s lap often and making sure she spent more time with Father after work. Nidhi had left a letter, her tear stains on the paper being the only part of her she left behind. They had searched the entire village, but couldn’t find her. 

Nidhi was missing and so was Devan; they must have eloped. But no one dared to say that aloud. Father had declared in front of the entire village that he’d kill her if she came back home and that he considered her dead. Devan’s parents simply said, our son’s happiness is ours and had continued on with their lives as though nothing had changed.

At their own house, everything had changed. Mother cried, her Sari cloth always covering her face as she hiccuped and sniffled in intervals. Father kept sharpening his aruval, the billhook, and gazing out the windows. All the photographs of Nidhi were thrown into a burning pile of her clothes and books. Preeti had hoped to hide the photograph they took last summer, an oddly timed photo with Nidhi pushing away her curly hair from her eyes and Preeti looking away from the camera. It had been the most recent photograph of her sister and she hadn’t wanted to lose it. But Father had noticed her trying to steal away the photo, and wrenched it from her, promptly thrashing it into the fire. He had been so desperate to remove every trace of Nidhi that he had even wanted to throw her squirrel into the fire. It slipped from his fingers and bolted into the forest never to appear again, maybe having found Nidhi by itself.

When Preeti had seen Devan’s parents at the Village Festival, they hadn’t looked like they had lost a son. His mother’s face wasn’t tear-stained—she had a broad smile plastered across her face. His father’s eyes weren’t searching the crowd, aruval hidden within his clothes, waiting for vengeance. When any prying neighbours mentioned their son’s elopement, they gave a kind smile and said our son’s happiness is ours and nothing more.

A few months later, Mother stopped crying, but Preeti decided she liked the crying Mother better; at least then she showed some sign of life. Father still sharpened his aruval every day. Preeti wed a man, Murali, whom she had chosen herself. Murali had the approval of everyone in the family since he wasn’t the son of the family they had feuded with for centuries. Father declared on her wedding day, with his head lifted high, that she was his sole daughter. She had yearned to be their only daughter—their favourite daughter—when younger. But hearing those words from Father after losing Nidhi stung like a slash onto a scar.

Over the years, Preeti caught glances of Devan’s parents every time they visited the temple in her street through the window. She wished to talk to them, ask them if they had encouraged the elopement and if they had heard anything about her sister. She wanted to meet them, see their gentle smiles up-close and take all the strength that she could from it. She had loved her sister; the only bitterness in their bond had been foolishly fighting over who got to eat more candies or whom Mother and Father loved more.

Now, by the door of her house stood Devan’s parents, a girl child hiding behind them. It had been ten years since Preeti had seen those black eyes looking at her. She pushed away her curly hair from her eyes to peek at Father, then Mother and then Preeti. Preeti waved and the little girl lowered her gaze to the floor with a smile. 

Preeti realised they had been standing with no one offering them chairs or water. She yearned to do so and walked towards the kitchen, but Father, who was the only one sitting, crossed his legs and gave her an intimidating look. Mother stood by the wall, determined to look anywhere but at the uninvited guests. Preeti didn’t dare move then and wished Murali wasn’t at work since he wouldn’t have been reluctant to be cordial towards them.

“Nidhi and Devan died,” said Devan’s mother after a moment. “This is their daughter. She had been asking to see her Amma’s parents. And so we’re here.”

The air in the room shifted. Father put his legs down and the intimidation on his face paled into the vulnerability she saw every time Nidhi’s favourite song played on the 9 AM Radio. Mother clutched the wall and her legs wobbled. Preeti couldn’t bring herself to glance at the little girl anymore. It had been obvious that she was Nidhi’s daughter upon first seeing her, but it suddenly hit her that this little girl was the only remaining proof of her sister’s existence. The bridge of her nose burned and the air in the room felt like it was closing in on her. 

No one inquired how. Devan’s parents said they’d come back later and walked out of the house after giving an encouraging smile. Father motioned for the little girl to come closer and she hopped a little and hugged him. Mother let out a strangled cry and rushed to where the girl stood. Preeti stumbled closer and they all took turns embracing her and searching her face and tiny hands for every sign of Nidhi they could. It was astonishing how similar they looked. Just like the day Nidhi was born, three brown irises filled with tears of joy met black orbs glistening in the daylight.

Mahogany Box

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Barbara Bumm

The mahogany box sat in the tree bark like a forcefully fitted puzzle piece. It reminded Adirai of a similar box lying in her mother’s dressing wardrobe. Mother had disagreed with Adirai’s pleas to open the box and that was all it took for her to make the new mahogany box hers.

There were intricate designs carved onto the lid of the box, flowers and leaves and stems, and a single ruby sat in the centre. A gentle clasp held the lid and the body together, which, when lifted off, revealed emptiness inside save for a crimson velvet sheath. 

After taking the box out from the tree bark, she took it home and placed it safely inside her wardrobe beneath her gowns and shawls. She left the door of the wardrobe open, walked a few steps back and scrutinised the place where she hid it. No one would realise. Satisfied with her results, she shut the door and hopped to the dining room. 

Over dinner, Mum and Dad spoke about stocks, shares, surges and other words she didn’t understand the meaning of but could recognise. She didn’t mind much because she got to eat her favourite chapatis and egg curry. Mum seemed to be in a great mood that day as she brought in some ice cream for dessert.

“—box,” she heard father say when she bit onto the cherry and froze.

Mother and father continued their conversation about whatever it was that elders speak about but father had mentioned a box. She dropped her ice cream onto the table, pushed her chair backwards, and stood.

“Finish your ice cream!” shouted Father.

“I’m not hungry,” she announced and sprinted to her room. 

She opened her wardrobe door and recoiled when the wood hit the cement walls, earning Father’s scream of apprehension from the dining room. After pushing away the gowns and shawls, she viewed the mahogany box. She let out a breath at its undisturbed presence and buried the box back into the wardrobe along with her worry

About an hour later, when she was done changing into her nightclothes and climbed onto bed, mother shrieked loudly. There was the constant thudding of feet and Mother’s constant complaints of my Uncle gifted that to me, he was so poor back then but he still gifted it to me, he struggled so hard to gift that to me, Oh my dear Uncle, and everything else along those lines. Adirai wasn’t bothered and fell asleep to those sounds as her lullaby.  Father barged open the door and demanded if she’d seen the necklace anywhere. Mother followed a while later and wanted to hear for herself that Adirai had not seen it. They both returned then, shoulders slumped and tucked themselves in the blanket of the night.

The next morning, Mother and Father kept getting irritated at even the smallest sounds, like her chair screeching, or the clanging of her spoons. They mirrored dark bags beneath their eyes and knit their brows.. She couldn’t think of anything that they would both be vexed over and, instead, busied herself by drawing leaves with the liquid on her plate.

After they both left for work, Adirai took this time to look at the mahogany box. She could contemplate what to put into it without having to fear anybody’s questions freely with Aunt Selvi, the caretaker, busy cleaning the house.

She threw aside the large gowns covering the mahogany box and picked it up. The metal of the clasp and the clicking-clacking sounds it made were her favourite part of ownership. She decided to open and close—and open and close—over and over again until a jingle and a shimmer inside caught her eye.

She unlocked the box again as though it would break if she was hasty. Inside, as she feared, was a necklace. White diamonds or platinum, she couldn’t care much about which one, glittered in the sunlight. She didn’t remember seeing any necklace inside the box yesterday.

Adirai felt her stomach plummet and it wholly came crashing down on her. The box wasn’t her own, to begin with. And currently had a necklace inside it. Maybe someone had placed the box with the expensive necklace inside the tree bark for safekeeping. And she had gone about and foolishly stolen it. 

Her heart hurt and so did her entire body, so she decided to drop the box back into the tree bark. After mumbling an excuse to Aunt Selvi, Adirai ran to the tree from where she had taken the box. The box hit her ribs hard at every step she took but she didn’t slacken her pace. Standing on her tiptoes, she settled the box back in the tree bark. Some serrated edges scratched the rear end of her palm and her ribs still hurt from where the box struck her, but she relaxed. She hadn’t stolen anything. And even if she had, she had returned it. It was no longer her fault.

That evening, when Adirai was painting the wheel of her wooden toy, Mother squealed.

“I’ve found it!” she shouted. “I’ve found the necklace. It’s over here in my mahogany box!”

The Ink Pen

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by David Pennington

The pen hadn’t been worth stealing.

The ink pen wrote well. Its body was the shade of dull green that reminded him of the olives he stole last week. Mani thought he’d weave a story, say the pen belonged to a political leader, or that the Constitution had been written with it, or that it was the first pen to have been made. He’d weave a story and some foolish person would believe him and buy it. He clutched the pen hard. He had never been more certain about selling away something before and the one time he was, he was deceived by his own mind.

Brown and sandal trains terminated at the Tambaram station, honked their departure and chugged away at intervals. Porters and almond milk vendors stood scattered across the platform, singing their chants. Mani stood at an ideal position, beside the State Map and in the eyesight of those who’d descend from the train. And yet, he hadn’t been able to sell the pen away.

The storytelling was his favourite part of the job. In all thirteen years of his experience, not once had his stories ever been questioned. He’d weave a story, whatever came to him upon looking at the artefact at hand, and he’d lose himself in it taking the listeners along with him. A guaranteed purchase. He prided himself over the fact that he hadn’t once been captured by the police either.

Other than that, he knew how to read and write having attended school for a few years and had profound respect among the other thieves. They stole jewellery and ornaments while he aimed for mundane objects that may sell as an antique with an eloquently told story. He wasn’t a thief; he was a mastermind. He’d steal things off the people who wore rich suits and sell them to anyone that bought his stories first.

A shrill whistle asked the train to leave and the train honked in approval. Upon seeing a man walking towards him, Mani straightened and was ready to begin when the man moved to observe the State Map behind. Mani didn’t bother trying since the man looked as though he’d buy the story but not the ink pen. A girl with two braids came next and the moment their eyes met, she looked at her shoes and scampered away. Another fail. He wiped his moist hands on his white shirt and decided it was time to get down to action.

“Hi, hello, and welcome!” he announced. “After B.R. Ambedkar wrote the constitution, he gave this pen to me.”

He grabbed their attention with that. Trying not to smirk at their immediate reaction, he continued.

“I worked for him when younger,” he said, bringing his hand to his heart. “I asked for a pen to write my school exam and forgot to return it.”

“Come here,” he called out when he saw a couple slip away from the group. “Come and have a look!”

Everyone huddled closer and some whispered to each other. The air wasn’t filled with the usual excitement his stories were met with. 

“I’m giving it away!” he announced as he broke through their conversation and a few people gasped. “I’m giving it away for only three thousand rupees.”

“Three thousand!” the crowd exclaimed before they all returned to wherever they were going before. 

“Of course, Sir and Madam. It belonged to the Great B.R. Ambedkar!”

“I was here just to have a look,” said one woman to the man next to her, who nodded. “I wouldn’t have bought it anyway.” 

“I’ve taken a picture,” said a man to no one in particular. “That’s sufficient for me.”

The remainder of the crowd dispersed and Mani called out a deduction in price too. He walked a few feet forward behind a man who looked rich enough to buy it but the man waved as though shooing a dog away. No one bothered about antiques in this place. He returned to his original spot by the State Map only to see an old man looking at him with his head tilted. 

“Sir!” said Mani with a wide smile, unable to contain his excitement. “Would you like to hold this ink pen in your own hands before you consider buying it?”

“I’ve seen you before,” the man said, stroking the white hairs of his beard. “You sold me a walking stick three years ago. Told me they belonged to Gandhi.”

“Oh, yes Sir,” Mani replied immediately. “I remember. I remember. How’ve you been sir?”

“Do you know how to write?” he asked instead of answering. 

“Ah yes,” Mani drew on, unsure of what to say. “Know the occasional few sentences, yes Sir. Like I mentioned, got this pen from the Great B.R. Ambedkar when I—”

“Good,” he said. He perked up and clapped. “I want you to find paper somewhere and write. Write about that day. Surely you didn’t just walk up to him and demand a pen, did you? Write it all and if I can believe that story, I’ll pay you then. Double the amount you’re asking for. Can you?”

“Uh,” he began, unsure of what to say. The man took a step back and turned. So, Mani said the only sensible word he could think of.


Six years later, Mani hadn’t changed significantly. He didn’t sport any grey hairs, still wore a white shirt, and he still did the same job. He still sold stories. He was still at Tambaram station with a crowd in front of him. Except, the ink pen was in his coat pocket and he wasn’t selling anything.

“Sir,” began a man, notepad in hand, breaking through the police line. “You prefer to take the train to your book launches. Why is that?”

“I’ll make sure to tell you,” said Mani as he walked through the crowd with the help of his assistants. “—in my next book.”

The Engraving on The Stone Wall

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Greg Willson

Indira had never heard of dead people being buried in walls before.

“You don’t have to believe me,” Meera said. “But it’s the truth.”

Every time someone mentioned that she didn’t have to believe them, Indira always found herself doing just that. 

The horrendous face of a man with a crooked smile and equally crooked teeth was carved on the stone wall of her school. Beside his sordid face was a heart with an arrow striking through it and the illegible names of two lovers. She remembers thinking the carving was the artwork of one of those children who decided to display their vast talents on walls and doors. She’d seen many such drawings on her school’s bathroom stalls, and it was no surprise that someone had drawn something so scandalous on the walls. Meera had a different theory about the origin of the drawing, however.

“They were lovers,” she said, her tone dropping an octave lower, picking up an uncomfortable flatness. “The school didn’t allow them to love, neither did their parents. They thought it would be better to die alongside each other than to live alone, and so they killed themselves.”

All the girls gasped. Indira did not want to believe what she was hearing, and looked away from the group. The Sun seemed to agree with Meera’s story and turned his head away from their classroom, allowing only an eerie amount of light to filter through the canopy of trees outside, through the window and onto the grey tiles of the classroom. The entire classroom seemed dull as though in commiseration of the lovers. 

“I don’t believe you,” Indira said defiantly. 

“You don’t have to believe me,” Meera said. “But it’s the truth.”

“Keep telling the story,” urged another girl. “Ignore her.”

Meera turned away from Indira with a huff and continued, picking up her eerie tone once more.

“They buried themselves between the walls of our school in revenge,” she said, and Indira forgot for a second that dead people couldn’t bury themselves. “The drawing that we can see—don’t go looking at it now, first listen to me.”

The girl that had left her seat to have a look at the drawing through the window silently sat back in her place.

“The drawing that we can see was formed on its own. No one knows when,” she said. “Be careful you all. Don’t even think about going near it or touching it. I heard, from my friend’s sister’s classmate’s friend’s elder brother’s friend who heard it from-”

Indira glared at her and Meera stopped promptly.

“Anway,” she continued, waving her hand. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I heard that someone touched the drawing to see what it would do and he was found dead the same day. It happened three times.”

Indira couldn’t keep herself from flinching at that. 

“You can look at it, I think,” she says, looking up at the ceiling. “But I’d be careful around it.”

That had been the last time the horrendous drawing was spoken about. It has been nine years since then and Indira has never even so much as glanced at that cursed stone wall. She doesn’t need to anyway, for the image of the man—his crooked teeth and the heart beside it—was forever etched in her mind. She didn’t want to admit it back then, but she’s a grown-up girl now, and it doesn’t hurt to be a little vulnerable now and then: she is afraid.

She is terrorized by the carving. She is scared of stone walls with engravings on it, she is scared of stones, she is scared of people in love and she is scared of her school’s throwball court. She can’t bring herself to draw hearts after hearing that story, can’t bring herself to play throwball, or even stay on the grounds for too long. She thinks of Meera, the girl behind this all, who left school a year ago. She wonders if she still remembers the story she told everyone that day, when they were only little children.

Indira has a sudden desire to fight her fears, to touch the drawing and see once and for all what happens. In the worst scenario, she may die. As a sixteen-year-old, she finds herself unafraid of this prospect. If it is her against death in order to fend off her fear, she’d face it.

Muttering a few excuses here and there to her classmates, Indira walks away from the group to the ground floor, towards the throwball court—a place she has avoided all these years. The stone wall slowly comes to view, the drawing exactly as she remembered it. She is about a furlong away from the wall when she can’t bring herself to move any further. The image seems to have become scarier, the face uglier and the names were more smudged than ever. 

Indira no longer wants to face her fears anymore. The eyes of the man seem to bore through her, and she feels a chill through her spine. Facing fears could happen some other day—for now she had to turn and leave. And so she does.On her way to the classroom, she continuously looks back, even though she doesn’t want to. Not at the wall, but just behind her in fear—now of something new, of someone walking behind her. Indira walks back to class, painfully aware of the sounds of crunching leaves following behind her.

The Other Side

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Rowan Aldib

Ravi left. He left and never came back.

Shriya tried not to feel guilty; it wasn’t her fault. But she remembered the moments  before he left.

“Leave,” she had shouted. “Now!”

He threw a look of mock annoyance at the group and disappeared.To be precise, he jumped across the wall fence, and then he disappeared. The soft thud of his landing told her he’d reached the other side, and it was that sound, that muffled thud from across the cement wall, that continued to fill  up her ears and head and heart. Even now.

That was the last anyone’d heard of him.

She waited, cursing at him for taking so long as the rest of their friends grumbled about the interruption to their Sunday game of cricket. None of them had any kind words to say about Ravi.  Maybe he’d heard them all and decided it was better if he never came back. 

Rhea, his younger sister, wondered if he found another world on the other side, some Narnia or one of those fictional places from his video games. Maybe in search of the cricket ball, he ended up finding a world he decided he liked better than his current one. Maybe it was a land with neon-coloured street lights, and professional video-gamers, rich off of playing Poptropica. A land where parliament and office employees wore punk jackets to work. We found it funny.

The others, Shriya included, thought Ravi was less important in comparison to the touch-me-nots and spent time touching, watching the leaves droop, and doing the same all over again. Darkness enveloped the sky, turning it into a canvas of orange and pink, then blue followed by a slight purple hue. When sunset-gazing  became boring, they turned their attention to a little snail they found.

It was dark by the time Hari had come to a brazen conclusion. 

“I think he’s kidnapped,” Hari said, looking forlorn. 

The moment the words left his mouth, everyone stood transfixed. Shriya hadn’t realised the time that had passed, only noticing the universe spread its black blanket onto the earth slowly, invitingly. It seemed as though it was telling her that, with each spread of darkness,  Ravi too, was in the dark. 

They ran back to Shriya’s house, which was the closest from the play-area and Ravis’ disappearance. His parents were called, the situation explained. It was a pandemonium of words spoken, accusations directed and police officers notified. It became late, that Shriya knew, with many stars adorning the sky—blinking, trying to keep themselves awake to watch what would happen to Ravi.

People climbed over the cement wall in khaki uniforms, blinding white and yellow lights in their hands and around their heads. This time, when they crossed the wall, there were several loud thuds followed by the crunching of leaves and the sound of footsteps on mud. Shriya sat still in the grass with a sleeping Rhea on her lap, counting the footsteps.

After some time, the men had not returned and the five children were rounded up by Shriya’s grandparents, ready to take them back home. The grandparents were of the opinion that naughty Ravi, with his lopsided grin and silly pranks, was probably hiding in some bush. Hari exclaimed it was the best thing he had heard all day and called his mother’s phone to say just that. Grandmother cooked food for all of them, her usual chapatis and potato curry. Despite it being her favourite, Shriya couldn’t bring herself to eat much. It all tasted bitter like the tears she had accidentally swallowed the last time she cried. Rhea pointed out that Ravi never liked potatoes and maybe he’ll come a little late after they’re done eating. Shriya didn’t have the heart to think otherwise.

The five of them had fallen asleep somewhere in between scolding Ravi for his stupidity and whispering encouraging words to each other. Shriya woke up to the sounds of her parents talking in hushed voices and strained her ears to hear.

“Let the kids all sleep here today,” her father said. “It’s completely okay with us.”

“I hope it’s not trouble,” came the voice of Anu’s mother, one of the five who was now fast asleep. Or maybe she was listening while pretending to sleep too.

They obviously found Ravi and he was going to be sleeping at his place. She’d see him tomorrow and give him an earful doing whatever he did. Like her grandparents said, he probably was hiding in a bush. After a few more moments of hushed voices, she watched with eyes half-open, her parents walking into the house.She couldn’t hear anyone else and assumed the other parents had gone back home. She let out a content sigh, Ravi was safe. She said that to herself a few more times and thought her parents would be feeling the same sense of peace in them too. Except, she kept hearing their hushed conversations throughout the night. 

The next morning was a blur of men in khaki uniforms, phone calls and the distraught cries of Ravi’s mother. Little Rhea seemed to realise what the elders were too hesitant to say and sobbed quietly. Though little, she was clever enough to understand what the feral cries of her parents and silence in the others meant. Anu and Varun looked determinantly towards the window that overlooked the play area as though their sharp gaze would bring him back. They’d furrow their eyebrows together in concentration whilst their eyes and noses twitched, keeping intact the tears that threatened to fall.

Shriya saw the image of herself screaming at Ravi to go get the ball and her heart sank. It dropped and it plummeted, she couldn’t feel it anymore. And so she watched everyone else, memorising the dolour in each face and the lost look in each eye to tell Ravi when he came back. 

She couldn’t though, for as Ravi left. He left and never came back.

Ephemeral Felicity

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Octavio J. Garcia N.

It feels wrong that the world didn’t stop back then. The sky should’ve split into two, the seas should’ve stopped mid-wave, the trees should’ve stood transfixed. It does my heart no good to think that none of this happened that day when Uncle died.

“Elder Uncle is dead” is how the news reached me.

No beating around the bush, no emotional phrases, just four blunt words. And yet they pierced through my heart.

It all started one fine Wednesday afternoon. Wednesdays were always my favourite. An event such as this should’ve changed that liking I had, but it didn’t. And that is what bothers me so much.

I was in my Language class, the only mediocre part of my Wednesdays. I vaguely remember shifting seats and sitting next to my friend Shreya to make the class slightly more bearable. I remember doodling tic-tac-toe boxes on the last page of our notebooks and playing to see who won, most of which ended up as a tie. We then shifted to a game of Dots and Boxes, Guess Who, and finally Hangman when the teacher called out my name.

Flipping the notebook back to the page I was supposed to be writing spellings on, I stood up with what I thought was an expression of innocence. In front of the class stood the peon of our school looking down at the floor and a slight hope began replacing the fear bubbling in my stomach.

“Go to the office room. Take your bag with you. Your parents are taking you home,” the teacher said softly.

It feels like a slap on the face when I think about it today, but the joy that came over me in that one second is a feeling that will never leave me. All the happiness that I could have ever known entered my body – I was being excused from Language class. I picked up my bag, put random notebooks inside for the show of packing my things, and took pleasure in being the sole focus of everyone’s wistful gaze. It was everyone’s dream to skive off that ridiculous class, and I was doing just that.

I bid my goodbyes and relished the way many said ‘lucky girl’ enviously. I walked to the front of the classroom and said ‘thank you ma’am’ for the sake of it and she nodded in acknowledgement. I waved my hands to my classmates, feeling as though I was one of those celebrities in the many Award Functions that I had watched. After thanking the teacher for the sake of it, I waved my hands to Outside the windows, I could see the students of the other classes turning their heads to look at me with a longing to be going wherever I was going. I felt empowered as I walked through the empty corridors; the only thing missing was a red carpet.

I reached the ground floor of my school, away from the envious glances and whispers of the other students, before I remembered I was going home. Having never been picked up from school before, my mind wandered with the possibilities of what laid ahead. The students that had gone home like this had all told me stories of going out of town, of visiting some foreign city or going to a resort. The very prospect of doing any of those excited me and I couldn’t keep away the smile on my face.

I moved behind the peon obediently until I faced the woman at the reception. She looked at me kindly — something not customary of her – and ushered me through the door to meet my mother. I was very excited to see my mother, and smiled widely and waved my hands. She did not return my gestures. I often think of how insensitive I was as an eight-year-old having not understood what silence meant. I simply thought, well, nothing. I was far too happy to be skiving off my Language class to think of anything else. We walked in silence until the main gate, and then to the parking area where our scooter stood.

“Where are we going?” I asked, sitting atop the seat and expecting the name of some resort or nearby town.

“Chennai,” came the reply, and once again, in that one word, I found so much glee.

“Why?” I asked. I should’ve let the matter be, let my innocent happiness last longer.

“Elder Uncle is dead.”

It fills me with immense guilt now to think of how sadness filled me back then, not because my uncle had died, but because every little dream that I had made in those few moments before these four words hit my ears were now suddenly tarnished. All the images of riding the roller coaster in the newly opened Theme Park and playing Virtual Basketball were replaced with a sense of emptiness. The world that had placed me above everybody else only mere seconds before seemed to have dropped me with the weight of every emotion that I felt and stamped me for good measure.

I think back to that day, today, when Mother sits crying with Grandmother, the picture of Uncle resting between them both. It feels wrong that the world didn’t stop that day, and make an announcement that he had died. It feels wrong that I had been laughing at Shreya when she lost our third round of Dots and Boxes while Uncle’s heart hurt so much, until it suddenly couldn’t hurt any more. 

After all these years, Mother tells me stories of him and I hungrily try to remember each detail she mentions. I take pride in all the wonderful things he has done for the people of his town, for the Earth and for our family. The tears that I should’ve shed that day never fell but maybe that is how one remembers people such as him. 

Singing Eyes

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Vicasso Destiny

After expecting the hurling of a stick or a medicine box, the pain from the red purse hitting her ankle doesn’t hurt as much as it should have. She knew Grandmother’s anger but was never one to experience it. Pavithra takes the hurling of the purse as permission to enter the room and picks it up from the floor. The soft fabric of the red purse feels familiar in her fingers having carried it several times before. The memory of buying Milk Pedas with the money inside flashes across her eyes and leaves as the room comes into focus. There are people inside whose faces she remembers but names she doesn’t. She gives a slight smile to the girl who she thinks is the Granddaughter. When responded with a grimace, she knows it is her. Next to the girl who has now grown taller than expected in six years, stands the Son.

Grandmother isn’t too different from the woman in Pavithra’s memory. Everything about her was the same except for the new paleness that wafted from within her. Her body was now adorning more wrinkles than plain skin. There was a paleness in the whites and blacks of Grandmother’s eyes that were stubbornly turned away from Pavithra. A thickness fills the room with the ghost of the woman she once was hovering around.

This was the moment Pavithra had yearned for and it wasn’t anything like she had imagined it to be. She was expecting the old woman to be sitting on her plastic chair with hands crossed across her chest. It had been six years since she heard Grandmother’s voice, but it was the only sound she could hear amidst the silence.

She wants to speak, say something. Apologise. Grandmother didn’t speak anymore; she didn’t sing anymore. It felt wrong to be speaking or singing in a world where the Music Teacher didn’t sing anymore. Pavithra places a hand over the wrinkled hand that had given her sweets, gifts, books, and music. Grandmother doesn’t wrench her hand away like she expects her to and it hurts more than her anger.

I’m sorry, Pavithra wants to say. She wants to cry and then maybe Grandmother will realise how genuine the apologies for not staying in touch all these years are. She tries to bring the emotions out either through her eyes or with her mouth but neither happens.  She wants to say it wasn’t her fault that the phone number was lost, but then again, it was. She couldn’t lie to Grandmother. She never could.

Her son places a yellow-coloured plate on a stool beside the bed. It has chips, one samosa, and a few ladoos. No one asks Pavithra to eat but it is implied. Just as she was about to pick up the samosa, Grandmother moves her hands wildly motioning to her son who nods and leaves the room. Pavithra doesn’t reach for the plate again. She looks over at Grandmother whose hands having left hers now are fiddling with each other. The footsteps of her son entering the room are loud in the silence that consumes the room. Pavithra doesn’t turn to look over, her gaze never leaving Grandmother’s face. From the corner of her eye, she sees the Son remove the yellow plate only to replace it with another. Pavithra looks at the stool with the plate out of nothing to do and her heart leaps a little in her ribcage. On the plate haphazardly arranged are a few Milk Pedas.

She doesn’t reach for the Pedas and instead reaches back for Grandmother’s hands. She’s crying now, she’s crying with no tears. Grandmother senses something as she turns and for the first time that day, she looks at her. Pavithra’s apologies seem to make their way through her eyes more eloquently than words ever could have and Grandmother’s face is now kind. Forgiving.

They sit so for a while. Pavithra eats the Pedas from the plate as Grandmother simply smiles at her. It is almost like those days when she’d attend music classes. Except now, Grandmother isn’t sitting on her plastic chair that Pavithra notices has long since been cast away in the corner of the room. It looks older than Grandmother herself from bearing her weight for years.

Grandmother doesn’t speak. She doesn’t tell her stories of how she might have joined the film industry as a singer if her father had permitted it. She doesn’t tell her stories of how she might have been in London now if her son had allowed it. She moves her hands again, a good one hour later, and her Son asks Pavithra if she still learns music. Pavithra tells Grandmother that she doesn’t and the disappointment that flashes across Grandmother’s face isn’t missed and she hastens to explain that she still sings. She is met with a silence that blared with disbelief. Pavithra sings to prove her point.

Grandmother listens. She closes her eyes at the right moments and shakes her head along with the tune of the song from the black and white movie. Once the song is over, she clamps her limp hands together and taps them against each other. It takes Pavithra a second or two to realise that she was clapping and the happiness she gains from the sounds that Grandmother’s hands make is irrevocable. Grandmother smiles back, and it reaches her eyes, crinkling the corners and Pavithra decides there is nothing more beautiful than an old person smiling from their heart.

She stays smiling for a while longer and Pavithra watches as the smile from her face slowly falls and her eyes stop blinking. Her son rushes from where he stands, his face dead while people fill in the room not bothering to pretend to cry. Her chest doesn’t move and the unsaid is said. There lingers a twinkle in her eyes as they lie open until the singing of her eyes is the only sound that fills the room.

The Photograph

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar

The first thing she notices in the photograph is that two braids suited her two years ago. The second thing she notices in the photograph is that there were two things in the air behind her, that definitely did not belong in the air. She wonders how she hadn’t noticed this before despite all those times she glanced at the photograph hanging from across her desk. She wonders if maybe, she had noticed it but forgotten it over the course of these two years, and that thought scared her so she did not linger on it for too long.

Two years since she changed her school and this was one of the few pictures that she’d taken on her last day there that she decided to keep. She remembered her last day quite faintly. A blur of cameras flashing, hugs, and a recess in which she didn’t eat anything too busy clicking pictures. The girl in the photograph whose name she didn’t remember had a slight smile as opposed to the toothy grin Krithi herself wore, both girls oblivious to the scene behind them.

Krithi sat down on her bed, photograph in hand. Three boys, whose names she remembered as though it were only yesterday that they were introducing themselves to the classroom, whose names she reckoned no one who met them would ever forget. The three boys were right behind the girl in the photograph, outside the classroom and the camera had captured their antics through the glass window. The glare from the sunlight hitting the glass hid most of what was happening, but just enough for one to realise what they had been doing.

Arjun, the sanest of them all, had an expression of bits of both exasperation and nonchalance at the scene unfolding in front of him. Everyone knew him to be the mastermind behind all the trouble the boys created in the school for as he had his way with the teachers, a charm that allowed people to buy any story that the boys had woven. Varun, the boy that never wore his school uniform right, had a box full of food in his hand. To be a little more specific, it was only the box in his hands as the food was midway in the air. Maaran, their Gang Leader as they endearingly called him, had a plastic cup in his hand, orange juice also in the air.

There were other students in the photograph who watched the scene in horror, a teacher who clutched onto the wall with a look of amusement in her eyes, and a little child who seemed to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time with his eyes closed firmly and the orange liquid threatening to spill atop his head.

The photograph was a piece of art by itself and brought peals of laughter in her again and again, and every time. It was in that moment, legs folded upon her bed and photograph in hand that a surge of memories hit her hard in the head as they ricocheted in her brain. These three boys, she reckoned, had made themselves a part of the lives of everyone that ever had the fortune to even chance upon them.

A sudden resolution came over her and she stood up quickly, putting the photograph aside, to pick up her photo album from inside the wardrobe. She pushed through the pile of clothes, her books, stopping to remove a few until the hard cardboard of the book hit her hand. She pulled the album out the same time she opened it and quickly flicked to the pages that held her memories from school, memories that she hadn’t dwelled on too much, memories that she hadn’t cared about too much.

In the first photograph that sits firmly behind the film, the first thing she notices is that she remembers the name of the girl that stands beside her. The second thing she notices is that there were two things in the air behind her, that definitely did not belong in the air.