In the Convent of Little Flowers

Free In the Convent of Little Flowers by Indu Sundaresan

Book: In the Convent of Little Flowers by Indu Sundaresan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Indu Sundaresan
shut and some industrious spider has spun fanciful webs over the peacocks, capturing them in needle-thin nets. The room has not been painted in many years; the walls are chipped, some places showing a light pistachio green, some an antacid pink. Like all the other rooms in this house, it is small. The floor gleams, although the mosaic, brilliant chips dulled to blackness, has not been properly scrubbed for a long time. Perhaps not since the house was built a hundred and fifty years ago. But then, I don’t think this room has been used in a hundred and fifty years.
She lies in the center of the room on a small cot. A ceiling fan clanks directly over her, shuddering with every revolution. I look at it, wondering if it will fall on her. Wishing it would.
She is on her side, barely making a dent in the mattress. A strange yet familiar old-person smell rises over her, even though I know she is clean. She has always been clean, scouring her skin with a fanatic’s fervor, as though all her sins would slough away with the scrubbing. Her hair shines silver on the spotless pillow. The strands are sparse; I can see her skull through them. Everything is white around her: the sheet that covers her body; her blouse, through which gauntarms protrude like sticks; the pearls she always wore; and her sari, of course. White, pure, spotless. To show she is a widow. To show she is faithful to her husband’s memory, to show that she does not consider it worth her while to preen in gold and colored silks for another man. To show that since he died she keeps her legs closed.
I approach and draw back almost at once. Everything is white, but her skin, that creamy, rich, rose-tinted Brahmin skin, that heralder of high birth, is now a blistered ebony. As though someone stripped her of her white clothes and dipped her into a fire. Not enough to burn, but enough to scorch.
Her eyes open as I come near again. Even her pupils are white, clouded by cataract, milky white strands over once flashing eyes. But she knows I am here. She puts out her hand, and I take it.
It is a small hand, bony, the knuckles dried with age. The veins on the back are thick green lines, like rivers frozen under her skin.
Payal. Her voice is thin, reedy, like much of her body. Payal, look at my skin now. Look at the color of it.
I am still standing looking down at her. There is no chair in the room, and I will not sit on the floor so she can look down at me. But after so many years of not seeing me, so many years when she must have thought about me, wondered where I was and how I was doing, she talks of her skin.
Laughter bubbles inside me, forcing its way through the lump in my throat. Look at the color of my skin, she says.
So I look. And I see the dark withered brown of chocolate gone bad. I see flecks of skin peeling from her arms. Deep lines furrow her thin face. I see her lips, dry and drawn over teeth that did not stand the test of time. These are her sins. She now wears them for everyone to see. They have come up from inside her, where she has hidden them for years. She has gone bad from the inside.
But the expression in her near-opaque eyes has not changed. And from that comes a brief memory of a time long past when she was still young. From when I can remember she has worn this white. So I did not know him, the man she had married. But her pale skin always glowed, gold with sandalwood and turmeric, tinted pink on her cheeks with a dusting of the vermilion she would wear in the part of her hair. This last, defying the color ban on widows. Vermilion was a sign of marriage, married women wore it in their hair, but she, clad in white, ears bare of diamonds, fingers ringless and slender, wore vermilion in her hair and pearls around her neck.
Only she knew where to find me when I escaped from all of them. Under the staircase, behind an almirah, inside an almirah —the smell of mothballs and neem leaves swirling among the neatly folded silk saris—or hidden in a corner

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