Fiction by Mandira Pattnaik
In our parts, the crab-girls wear skirts a little above their knees, twist their arms to look like unfurled bright petals. They glaze porcelain bodies to resemble a trap, a floret blooming.
In times such as ours, the crab-girls lie to their mothers, use swear words, race their cycles with boys who are not their brothers.
For a laugh, they write secrets on blackboards for the class to see, and when everyone rolls their eyes, fancies the thrill of notoriety.
In the torrent of monsoons, they make a chain, holding onto each other, to scale the grey slippery tide walls. Come down, behave — their mothers shout, words they ignore with a subtle nod to each other. They pose under the hee-haw raindrops as little czarinas while the town changes to something else. The hills become tree stumps; their schoolhouse, some imaginative kid’s sandcastle. Their little sisters skipping on the spill of muddied paths become bees with golden helmets, and the truant boys from their class? Mongrels?
When the estuaries get flooded, and the surge rises furious, threatens to swallow their homes, they get rid of their crab-shells, swim back to sea, defiant on the saline waters, never looking back, and then away, away, away, following the rules of flowing water.
When our times pass, which is in every crab-girls’ lives, and if we survive, someone sees them claw their way back, like an act of divination. Ah! They’ve come back! They’re back!
The crab-girls are more delicate now. Compacted, flattened bodies, adapted to living and hiding under rocks on the sea bed. They listen to the stranger’s chants; neither nod nor answer back.
Shortly after coming home, they, the new crab-women, shed their limbs to escape predators. On moon nights, when the tides beckon, they, like little wilted weird flowers, stay harmless on the soft slushy path that once led to their freedoms.
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