I just got back from walking the dog and am seated at the long wooden table on the balcony with my second espresso, reflecting on my family talent for collecting strangers. We’ve always done it. Some of the collections have been more successful than others.
She thought her mother was a vampire. It was my fault.
Priya, how will MummyDaddy react?
Radha, do you want me to go through with this arranged marriage and spend my life in misery? You’re my cousin-sister. I thought you’d understand.
We have maintained the lie till now, but we both know that by morning, I will be gone.
Larni’s fingers grip the steering wheel, knuckles whitening. Nanna didn’t sound well on the phone. She sounded old and tired.
A large shape on the road catches her eye. A full-grown wedge-tailed eagle picks at the bones of a mangled carcass, the latest road-kill victim of a hurtling road-train. She doesn’t have time for this.
The old woman smacks her now toothless gums. It is her anniversary today. Forty years have elapsed since that fateful day when she left her family, left all she had known, for the man she loved. He had been kind to her, and loved her in his way. He had been patient with her, holding her as she burst into wailing, keening tears, her whole body quaking, as they made love.
Was it only ten years ago that he thoughtlessly died, leaving her childless and alone?
The rain falls unceasingly. Corpulent drops, ponderous with the weight of their watery load, tumble and roll from the heavens. They pound on the roof tiles dampening all other sounds, creating an impenetrable blanketing silence. A world devoid of look-here distractions.
I sit on the stone bench surrounding the central courtyard, hugging my knees close to my chest. Delinquent droplets ricochet off the pillars and walls, and pock my face. The beads band together at the peak of my cheeks, then streak their way down my face. Tears are hidden in their tracks.
Carelessly tossed emeralds and rubies lie strewn across an ornately carved teak table, blinking their arrogance in the dawning light. A once opulent landscape, an abundance of crystal and silver pots filled to brimming with the most succulent foods, is lain waste. Bodies are scattered across the floor in various stages of undress, like dolls abandoned by a petulant toddler.
The removalists scour Mama’s house, wiping away any traces of her. It has taken me the better part of the day to pack the picked over bones of her home, and I have left her bedroom till last.
This is the most difficult room, the one in which she disappeared so frequently into her own world, and then eventually disappeared into the darkness of her illness. There are too many memories here.
Alice stands facing the door, her hand quivering the key to the lock. The weighty shawl of barely acknowledged memories shifts uncomfortably across her shoulders. Were her white linen and lace wish-memories usurping the real events that occurred in this place?
Her mind tumbles, stumbles, hurtles backwards through blurred images, pitching and tilting through her own chequered history, until it finds a mere wisp of childhood. The little girl, clad in her red velvet dress adorned with a giant yellow ribbon around the waist, tied into a bow at the back, comes slowly into focus.
Like rotting fruit she hung from the branches of the tree. Arms aching, tear-stained face, knees scraped.
How long had she hung there? She had run, the gang of kids behind her, laughing, taunting, cruel adult-child voices rising in derision.