Do you ask to be married to a dress by Mandira Pattnaik
I heard the woman who pastes little rounded discs to sun-dry into cow dung cakes on the backyard brick wall, mislaid a basket of ripened yellow bananas this morning, left it at your door, the equivalent of a marriage proposal, and that you, unemployed and useless, took the basket in, took to eating-with-a-vengeance, stacking the peels like a mini ragged mountain, or like a still abstract painting, though the woman comes round and tells us, and we neighbors are all ears and have all the time for gossips like this, that she had no intention, was merely following divine orders, or perhaps devilish schemas, she suspected sorcery or the handiwork of the dress-wallahs knowing her daughter was of marriageable age, and wedding season was up but there hardly were any sales: The zaris have been losing color, the shopkeeper had casually said when they’d happened to meet at the market. How would there be? She adds, with signature contempt: The youth loiter, no good to marry, for there are no jobs — not army, not clerk, not even cooks — and nah, nah, not even sweepers, and the foren machine they hire with imported brooms — what a din, like gobbling more than dirt, morning and evening. Acting innocent and curious, mother asks: Mausi, and what of the girls? so her story got an ending. Oh, they make do with the dress that they bought three Summers ago, holding it against the mirror, a Bindi to finish, and when they can, they’ll tie a sacred thread with a pebble to the peepul, hoping to get a suitable husband in the Fall. With bulbous eyes the woman measures me, chewing some coarse betelnut, and remarking thus: Ah! Everything’s now up to chance! When she’s gone, I wait at the window, the curtain modestly drawn, until it’s night, the stillness of newly-transplanted paddy fields around us, the cows belching to interject the calm, our bodies loose from the exertion of toiling through the day finding weeds to uproot, and when your lights turned on, I’m watching the banana peels, the irregular mound loosening, curling and falling on each other, the silhouette of a water jar, your sweaty back reclining on the rope cot, chest rising slightly, and slipping to sleep, just out of reach.
Mandira Pattnaik is an Indian flash fiction writer. Her flash fiction has appeared most recently in Best Small Fictions 2021, The Penn Review, Contrary Magazine, The McNeese Review, and elsewhere. Visit her at mandirapattnaik.com