By Damyanti Biswas
Omi remembered the summer he turned six for different reasons. He lost his first tooth, Grandpa died in a faraway Indian village, and Grandma came to live with them in their tiny apartment in Florida.
But of that summer, he remembered best the stories Grandma told him, speaking in a firm, clear voice over the sputtering of the air-cooler in her curtained alcove. Tales from myth, fables of wisdom, and the legends of the lump in her stomach.
Some days, it was the peanut she had swallowed as a child, that now wanted to grow into a watermelon. On others, it became a cask in which the frightened rabbit had taken shelter to hide from the cruel fox, or the beating heart of a princess kept safe from demons in her palace as she lay dreaming. Mingled with the adventures of the moving lump, she told him stories about souls that didn’t die, but floated off to rest on the clouds for a while before dressing up in new bodies and returning to earth.
When she died, Omi didn’t grieve. He missed touching the lump, the way it moved beneath his fingers in Grandma’s swollen stomach, but he had known that the lump lived inside her for only a while, and would one day go on its own journey. She had gone to rest on the clouds, and would return soon, wearing a new body.
Over the years, Omi thought often of Grandma, and the lump, of how those stories had taken him away from the humid, cramped rooms, the sweltering heat, and the poverty of his family that could only afford headache medicine to fight his Grandma’s pain.
Today he sat again in a darkened room, with the latest, most silent air-conditioner keeping him cool, near a bed he could crank up five different ways to keep his little daughter comfortable, and clear liquid flowing down a tube and into a cannula to keep her pain-free. He thought of the princess’s heart kept safe, the casket that protected the rabbit, wished for the same refuge for his daughter, and his wife who had fallen asleep, crumpled opposite him at the foot of the bed.
He would find that place for his family. He would make it for them, so that he, his daughter, her mother could curl up together, far away from this hospital room with its beeps, hum and swoosh, its smell of disinfectant, dried blood, room freshener.
When they woke up, he would take them there, with winding yarns about fairies changing bodies like people change clothes. He would tell them the truth, through tales of soldiers revolting against their own king, of battles lost and kingdoms won in small spaces. He would take them far away, like his Grandma.
He just had to get past the lump in his throat, get started on the stories.
Damyanti Biswas’s short fiction has been commended at the Bath Flash Fiction award. She’s published at Bluestem magazine, Griffith Review Australia, Lunch Ticket magazine, and other journals and anthologies in the USA, Malaysia and Singapore. Her debut novel in progress is longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, 2015.