Along the mud seam of the pond, our friend Babua and my sister Tombur
are lining up the fish bones. A fistful of earth inside my left palm, a fistful
of salt in my right: I am counting the silver glint of the dead. Three hundred
and fifty, and we know these fish are just like us: refugees. Family trees
with dug up roots, torn and burnt. Inside my ears, the sound of water
rippling in the crevices of the mangrove. The swollen belly of the koi,
the shadows of the late evening sun on my sister’s brows, Babua’s
chisel-sharp fingers. In between the moss and the duckling’s feather,
the broken pieces of wine bottles—a bloated green, impossible
in nature. Our older cousins had dared us to break those glass-shards open.
There is a girl as small as your thumb, they said. Building a magic town
with her older brother, who himself is not bigger than an index finger.
We do: inside, a dead city, every creek made up of human spittle.
Every pond, swallowed up—rusted pesticide cans, mosquito
eggs, discarded plastic bags. Every neighborhood
plagued by yearlong
floods. Every home, haunted by the specter of water that smells like piss.
Shut this show down, Tombur shouts. Babua does.
Who needs a legend
that resembles too closely the turf that we live in? A scratch on my knee,
an itch in between the toes: the pond-water, in which we learn to touch
the syllables left open by the streetlamps, smells like my armpit. Smells
like my armpit at the end of a long summer day. What has been learnt
cannot be unlearnt. This knowledge that the jasmine petals are sculpted
out of kingfisher’s bones. Inside the belly of every dead fish, a story
too stubborn to be effaced. Of a burning village etherized on a scorched table.
Smaller fish eggs, dead before birth. My open palm, and my sister claps.
Then Babua. We share an ease about genocide, knowing it resides
in our marrows. But that’s who we are—children whose hands will remain
forever small to draw this bone atlas, that scorched sun. Every river, heavy
with its own untold story of massacre. Children inside whose bellies
nestle the same ghosts. A poke into each other’s skin, an ear into each other’s
chest. Inside rattle villages without nomenclatures. Skin falling off flesh,
smoke, excrement, ash. Here, within these creation stories, that can loom
only beneath the skin of our thighs, we burrow into the cracks of the upturned
hyacinth roots and leaves. Crouched inside are the brother and sister
of our older cousins’ stories: legs broken, fingers bleeding. Crippled. Tossing
and turning on a bed made of body parts: fish eyes, bones, scales, and fins.