Contest #179 shortlist ⭐️

Dawn-lit, Forever

Submitted into Contest #179 in response to: End your story with a kiss at midnight.... view prompt

46 comments

Indigenous Romance Desi

Like a camphor box closed with a cracked lid. That’s how I feel right now. An amorphous lump at the core.

There are strangers in the living room. They have not stopped coming since morning. Brother is dealing with them. All I care about is our baby in my arms.

“Men from the plains are nothing but trouble,” Ma had warned me while she combed my hair.

“Even the ones in uniform, like Brother?” I had countered.

Especially the ones in uniform,” she had pulled my hair tight and tied it into a bun.

It didn’t stop me from offering you red tea when my brother brought you home. He said you were posted to Daporijo with him. I knew you were classmates at school and coursemates at the academy.

You looked nothing like trouble.

Ma and Pa will not be able to make it. Your parents are long gone. Thank God.

My brother comes in. Your commanding officer’s wife who is sitting next to me moves out. Kind lady. But I don’t need kindness now. All I need are answers.

“It’s time,” he says. His eyes are red-rimmed; His shoulders a downward arc.

I pick up our three-month-old girl, swaddled like a bunny, too young to ask questions. I should be brave, for her sake, I tell myself, again.

I come to the living room of this 2-bedroom captain’s quarters. From the corner of my swollen eyes, I can see it is packed with people. My other senses have stopped working.

It was not a bullet. It was a motor bike.

A single blow of fate that sends me back to the hills.

I came to the plains in your arms with our daughter in my womb. I return with our daughter in my arms with you in my spirit.

***

There are grounds sheltered by bamboo near my village. That is where my ancestors lie. Their life energies, once walking on this soil are the ones that feed the bountiful crops now.

I work in the paddy fields with our daughter tied to my jig-jiro. I sing lullabies to her as the streams gurgle through the irrigation canal.

She grows, with the milk from me and my sisters. She has your eyes and smile. Her feet toddle along the length and breadth of the beaten bamboo floor; In a zig-zag, like the patterns my mother weaves into her shawls.

And soon, she runs with the strong lungs of my people and the long stride of yours. The hills have everything to give, but they challenge the ones taking without giving. Too many from the plains don’t know that. I wonder if our daughter knows.

Brother comes home during holidays. Without his city wife. Thin air doesn’t suit her. Ma and Pa say both their children have lost their way. They rue the day they sent him to boarding school. I don’t.

Our daughter plays at his knees and laughs. He looks into her eyes and cries.

“She needs more than hills,” he says as I fetch him a mugful of rice beer. The sun bleeds down on Kile Pakho.

“She grows up where I stay,” I rebut.

“Have you found no one yet?”

“She is all I need.”

He looks into my eyes, dreading the tears. There are none. Why should there be? It may be my ancestors’ energies that keep the food on the table, but it is yours that keep me alive.

My brother takes me and our daughter to his cantonment quarters. He enrolls her in a playschool and me in a baking school.

I wish Ma and Pa made an effort to meet their daughter-in-law. She adores the weaves I wear, puts them on the designs she makes, and speaks a smattering of tani that makes my brother blush.

The way you made me blush when you went down on your knee, took my hand, and asked, “Will you make me a hungry man?”

***

Dawn-Lit has made a name for itself in this part of the town. It took me years to make this patisserie what it is today. The years that threw me in a whirlwind of peoples, languages, failures, and betrayals.

You will be happy to know we made it. Our daughter will be home on her winter break from college today.

I leave the shop early to my young assistants. They hand me a chocolate-orange stollen on my way out. Her favourite. See, I have learned to pick my people well.

Popcorn runs to the porch even before the car reaches the kerb. Brother doesn’t come in; he has to go someplace. She gets down and lets out a peal of laughter as Popcorn jumps at her. Do you hear that?

Throughout the years she has brought you alive in a million ways. But her laughter is the one that used to be mine, so loved by you. I could never laugh the same way after that day.

She polishes off the stollen after a hearty dinner of bamboo rice and fish with a dash of tapyo. Brother says she got the best of both of us. I couldn’t agree more.

However, I find her slipping through my fingers; not alarmingly, but in the most natural way. She is at least ten times smarter than I was at her age and twice as charming as you were. Well, I just said that to make you sit up. No one can be as charming as you.

After watching our favourite rerun of Tom and Jerry, she doesn’t stay back on the couch to browse through the old albums. She thumbs through her cell instead. Her eyes twinkle and the corners of her mouth spread in a smile.

I fear she has met her trouble.

She kisses me goodnight early and goes into her room.

I try to watch television for some more time, then turn it off.

I reach for the light switch, stop and pull out an album. I flip through it backward and stop at the first picture. My favourite one, shot by Brother on the day of Myko. My cheeks look redder than my skirt and your eyes hold the sky reflected by my blue beads. I close my eyes.

My mind throws up images held together like slats of a freshly woven cane basket. Me leaving Ma and Pa seething behind to be with you- You making me feel like a queen when I carried our baby in me- Our little fights when our girl kept us up at nights-and me crying over the news you gave me on the night of our first anniversary.

You had to go to the hills the next day. Not to my parents’ home. But to the outpost close to the border.

It was nearly midnight. You said it will be all right. You will be back soon. Your palms cupped my face as you looked into my watery eyes.

I was upset. I don’t remember the kiss.

I wish I did. It was our first anniversary.


January 03, 2023 08:24

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46 comments

Delbert Griffith
13:40 Jan 05, 2023

So, I've noticed that you comment on many of the same stories that I comment on, and I felt like it would be a good idea to read at least one of your stories. I am so glad I did. The lyrical, evocative texture of your writing is undeniable. This beautiful, heartbreaking tale is infused with hope and power. The prose is extended poetry, and I could feel the MC's pain, anguish, and resolve throughout the tale. This is what heroism really is, and you did a masterful job of showing us that heroes are quiet and strong, despite their terrible los...

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Suma Jayachandar
02:51 Jan 06, 2023

Hi Delbert, Thank you so much for taking time to read and leave such a wonderful comment!

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Michał Przywara
22:01 Jan 04, 2023

There's a line that summarizes the story for me: "It may be my ancestors’ energies that keep the food on the table, but it is yours that keep me alive." The husband is dead but never forgotten, and because of the narrator he really does remain present. She has no interest in remarrying because for her, he's not really gone. But the line plays double duty, because the daughter is a sum of those energies too. It's not just the narrator that sees that, but Brother too sees his friend in her. But then, the line does *triple* duty, because t...

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Suma Jayachandar
07:42 Jan 05, 2023

Thanks Michal! You have analysed and summarised beautifully. I'm relieved you found it touching. I'm usually 'have an outline in mind and hit the keyboard to see where it takes you' kind of writer. And that makes me a bit insecure when I end up with a story heavy on emotions. Thanks for highlighting missing word too. I've made the correction.

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Michał Przywara
21:49 Jan 13, 2023

Congrats, Suma! I'm sure many of us here will relate to that insecurity, but the risk definitely paid off here :)

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Suma Jayachandar
00:49 Jan 15, 2023

Thanks :-)

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Jarrel Jefferson
00:21 May 30, 2023

Both sad and romantic. Beautiful use of 2nd person narrative. I really enjoyed reading this.

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Suma Jayachandar
13:12 May 30, 2023

Thank you for the read and kind words.

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Sophia Gavasheli
00:12 Jan 19, 2023

This is so intricate and subtle, the perfect way to portray a grief-stricken widow. I love the figurative language in the piece: -"Like a camphor box closed with a cracked lid" - "My mind throws up images held together like slats of a freshly woven cane basket." This is great as well: "I came to the plains in your arms with our daughter in my womb. I return with our daughter in my arms with you in my spirit." Your command of language is masterful, every word and pause intentional. I also like how the sentences are broken up, giving a feeli...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:10 Jan 19, 2023

Aww, I’m so grateful to know a few of my favourite lines struck a chord with you. The generosity with which you have heaped praises on my work has left me humbled. Thank you so much, Sophia!

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Story Time
18:38 Jan 18, 2023

I thought the opening line was so perfect. It helped set the transportive tone of the piece. The line breaks were also well done. It felt like walking along the narrative. Great job.

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Suma Jayachandar
05:05 Jan 19, 2023

Kevin! You already how much your words of appreciation mean to me. Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment.

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Tara Leigh Parks
05:49 Jan 18, 2023

"Ma and Pa will not be able to make it. Your parents are long gone. Thank God." Heart emoji. Well, pretend I put one on this advanced site. :)

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Suma Jayachandar
14:25 Jan 18, 2023

Thank you so much for your kind words.

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Philip Ebuluofor
19:57 Jan 14, 2023

Congrats.

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Suma Jayachandar
00:49 Jan 15, 2023

Thank you.

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:12 Jan 15, 2023

Welcome.

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Jyotsna Atre
03:55 Jan 14, 2023

I liked the delicately woven descriptions very much.

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Suma Jayachandar
06:01 Jan 14, 2023

Thank you for the read and comment, Jyotsna. I'm glad you liked it.😊

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Susan Catucci
22:34 Jan 13, 2023

Dear Suma, what a beautiful love letter this is. You present such a rich beautiful world to us with words, your words, and in a way I appreciate is distinctly yours. I feel honored when I read your stories. I feel I've received a special invitation to experience a very special place - which, of course, it is and I have. You have a beautiful gift that should be shared. Even the deep sadness and longing that you express is much too beautiful to miss. Congratulations to you, but even more, I send you thanks.

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Suma Jayachandar
02:25 Jan 14, 2023

Dear Susan, I am overwhelmed with gratitude by such a heartfelt and beautiful comment. Thank you so much!

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Laurel Hanson
20:42 Jan 11, 2023

Poignant, touching, a lifetime in a beautifully embroidered fabric. Can't add to the comprehensive comments below, but this is gentle, lovely, and simultaneously sad and uplifting. Well done.

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Suma Jayachandar
03:54 Jan 13, 2023

Thank you so much for such a generous and thoughtful comment, Laurel!

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Daniel Allen
19:42 Jan 08, 2023

Such a powerful, haunting tale. I love the way you've styled this as a love letter to the departed. It's absolutely packed with emotion and colourful characters. Fantastic work!

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Suma Jayachandar
05:24 Jan 09, 2023

Thank you so much for the reading and commenting, Daniel. I truly appreciate it. I'm thrilled you found it powerful. I absolutely loved the story posted by you this week!

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Rama Shaar
18:05 Jan 08, 2023

This is just beautiful! This kind of love, calm yet passionate, sweet yet leaves you gasping for air... you captured it so, so well. One of the things I love about your stories is that there's open-mindedness and tolerance of all Indians. Very inspiring and admirable. Needless to say, my favourite thing about this story is the poetic prose. Well done you!

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Suma Jayachandar
05:20 Jan 09, 2023

What a lovely way to put it, open- mindedness and tolerance, that's the best take away from my work I could ever hope for. Thank you! Thank you!! Rama for such a thoughtful and fabulous comment.

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Rama Shaar
05:29 Jan 09, 2023

My pleasure! It comes through very clearly and consciously, and it's admirable to me! I love that you don't only promote this as a writer but also by being a teacher who influences young people's minds :-)

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Wally Schmidt
19:19 Jan 07, 2023

The arms of your prose have wrapped themselves tightly around me once again. I am not sure how you do it, but I am so glad you do. Amazing really doesn't describe it.

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Suma Jayachandar
10:36 Jan 08, 2023

Aww. Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment Wally. I truly appreciate you taking time to read and comment.

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Zack Powell
08:52 Jan 06, 2023

Big mistake on my part to read this story right before going to bed, because now I'm going to be awake all night thinking about it. Well, live and learn, right? 😅 Really, though, the prose for this one ranks among your best, Suma. There's a poeticism, a musicality, to the language (see: the opening sentence). Feels like every word was deliberately chosen, like you stripped every unnecessary bit of narrative fat possible to create this. And the thing is: That made this seem like it was almost a Creative Nonfiction piece. There's so much hone...

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Suma Jayachandar
12:39 Jan 06, 2023

Zack, Receiving such high praise from you means so much. I can't express in words.😌 A fragment of this did happen in real life. When I was very young, a young mother from a tribe married to an army officer lost her husband tragically. They lived just across the road and it did affect me deeply though at that time I was too busy to be friends with her. But her image with a young baby strapped to her shawl as she treaded her garden during sunrise is imprinted in my mind. Thank you Zack. One day I hope to find suitable words to express my grati...

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Zack Powell
17:44 Jan 13, 2023

Was hoping to see this get its recognition today. Glad to see that's the case. Congrats, Suma! Another very well-deserved shortlist.

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Suma Jayachandar
17:49 Jan 13, 2023

Hey Zack, Thank you so much. Honoured to stand alongside you😊

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Aeris Walker
18:48 Jan 04, 2023

I really enjoyed the creative structure of this one, this woman's almost dreamlike, from-the-heart soliloquy to her dead husband. The narrator seems sad and a bit distant, but also strong and resilient. Your descriptions are so immersive and beautiful. Especially loved these lines: "I came to the plains in your arms with our daughter in my womb. I return with our daughter in my arms with you in my spirit." "My mind throws up images held together like slats of a freshly woven cane basket." Lovely writing as usual. Ps. And love the new pic...

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Suma Jayachandar
07:47 Jan 05, 2023

Aeris! Thank you, twice, for your wonderful comment and compliment 😊 I'm glad you liked the structure and the descriptions. I shall keep experimenting with different genres and structures. Hope to catch your story this week!

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Rebecca Miles
16:24 Jan 04, 2023

Ahh bittersweet, my favourite! There are some beautifil parallel structures here Suma that help the writing to really sing. These are two of my favourites: I came to the plains in your arms with our daughter in my womb. I return with our daughter in my arms with you in my spirit. "And soon, she runs with the strong lungs of my people and the long stride of yours." It gives the piece a lovely lilting ebb and flow effect, like a tide, with the emotion and the tug of the past always breaking. Just so moving. Well done.

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Suma Jayachandar
07:51 Jan 05, 2023

Hi Rebecca! Thank you so much for such heartfelt and high praise. It really made my day 😊

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Rebecca Miles
21:07 Jan 13, 2023

Well done on the shortlist Suma; I loved this lyrical piece. More please!

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Suma Jayachandar
01:08 Jan 14, 2023

Thank you, Rebecca. Proud to be sharing the podium with you!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:49 Jan 03, 2023

Whew this one gave me chills, Suma! What incredible an evocative storytelling. Your language is so descriptive and the non-linear storytelling is effective, leaving us heartbroken in the end. You use a wonderful voice here. It is beautiful.

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Suma Jayachandar
08:13 Jan 04, 2023

Gosh, such a lovely comment! I'm glad you found it touching and the non-linear narrative worked. Thank you so much, Anne!

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Wendy Kaminski
13:39 Jan 03, 2023

This is incredible! Such a descriptive look at the beauty and life of what I believe is the Apatani culture? I didn't know that organically, but I was so interested while reading the story, that I had to look it up right away. As a love story, and a story of grief and family, it completely stands on its own as a masterful work. However, the glances into the life of one of the world's oldest cultures make it marvelously compelling. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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Suma Jayachandar
15:27 Jan 03, 2023

Thank you so much for such high praise. It's truly humbling. Yes you are correct. It's the Apatani tribe.

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Wendy Kaminski
17:57 Jan 13, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist - the judges were so right about this one!

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Suma Jayachandar
01:12 Jan 14, 2023

Thank you so much for your kindness and warmth, Wendy.

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