The fans circle, humming sonorously, making no difference in the dense hot air. My aunt and I sit surrounded by cascades of colourful, gold-embroidered silk as the small birdlike dark skinned shop assistant claws more saris from the shelves, fanning them out to their full glory, allowing the light to catch the subtle changes in hue, the double colours, the intricate embroidery. Motherless since the age of three, Amayi, unmarried, unencumbered by children of her own, has always been my substitute mother.
The old woman sits, stooped and wizened on a small wooden stool at the front door of her cottage. The skin at her throat sags and droops, as if two sizes too big for her. Her gnarled fingers trace shapes in the air and her lips move in their silent dance, forming words that will never be spoken. She beckons to me, chuckling knowingly, and my feet hasten to her command.
She wakes with a start. The air feels stale and cold. In the darkness, she fumbles for the bedside lamp, and jostles the bottle of whisky that stands vigil. Night must have fallen while she was asleep. The gentle click of the lamp reverberates in the silent room, but there’s no light. The power must be out. The sheets are crumpled from her thrashing body, a glass lies shattered on the floor, an empty pill bottle, the lone warrior, in the midst of the shards.
I am ancient now. Not so old as the land, but older by millennia than the fragile flesh that surrounds me. I have watched them from their fledgling youth, teetering on uncertain feet, coming to me for sustenance, never daring to venture far.
My bedroom door jangles, shaken to its hinges with the force of the slam.
“I hate you! You don’t understand anything!”
“One night the moon came galloping by
On a big horse right across the night sky
One night the moon came galloping by
Called all the dreamers to come for a ride”*
Blackness. Silence. Robbie scrunches further under his blankets, shores up the external pillow walls, and slaps his hands over his ears. He feels his stomach coiling in anxiety, sharp pains stretching out from its twisted centre. His ears, hot and sore from their fleshy earmuffs, still ring from the battle. Behind the door, an inferno of alcohol-fuelled rage and discontent contort his parents into vitriol spewing demons that pitch and claw at each other, shrieking their hatred, their unhappiness. Outside the window lies the Great Beyond.
His long slender fingers rake through his dirty blonde locks, and Randy wonders briefly why his hair always has that slightly greasy look about it, even when freshly washed. The first glimmers of daylight peek tentatively over the horizon. Clipped moments strobe in his mind, snippets of events. Bodies shimmering with a patina of glitter, breasts and buttocks, full, and on display.
Scented candles ignite into life, filling the air with wisps of an ambiguous flower aroma as she holds the lit match to the wick. The label proclaims “Rose”, but it’s enigmatic enough to be mistaken for any flower. Red rose petals scatter across the white linened bed, and march neatly, crocodile-file into the bathroom. Malika rises from the corner of the bed, feels the pinch of her new $150 lace bra and knickers as they nip at her body, and shrugs on her thin looks-like-silk-but-isn’t robe. She strides, out of practice, in her black stiletto heels, dug up from a forgotten corner of her closet, part of her armour from a past life, well worn and permanently misshapen, to turn off the bath. He’s clearly not coming.
We are Janus. We came into the world together, two faces one mind. I am she, and she is me. Our parents call us Jane and Jen, but they never know who they’re talking to. Jane and Jen born in June. We toy with them. We have played this game for as long as we can remember. We tried it first when we realised that they could not tell which of us was Jane and which Jen. Now, even they call us Janus.