No one talks about what Nana keeps in the basement. You get used to the hollow thumping in the mornings, how she removes one worn chappal and bangs on the kitchen wall. You learn to put your whole focus, your whole being into the food you make together. Her appas are perfect, densely textured on the outside, hiding their sweetly slippery coconut centre.
Wriggling on your hard, narrow bed, sometimes you dream of twisting around frantically until you can hold your tail in your mouth. Rough ropes bind you because of your destructiveness, but you will cause your own ending. This is comforting, when the silence in the house makes you want to shed your skin. You scratch less at the pulse that jumps in your elbow, and the burning line between your budding breasts.
In history you learn of Ragnarok, the end of days. The walls of the classroom are full of tall, blonde heroes astride flaming boats and monstrous horses. Your drawing of Jormungandr, a black-haired, brown-eyed sinuous beauty who grows too big for the earth, lies in a drawer.
No one talks about why Nana has a basement. Apartment buildings flourish like palm fronds in Mumbai, fringed by corrugated iron shacks that people pass over. She looked out over toiling fishermen and angled trees, in broiling sun and roiling rain. In Kent, gardens are the treasure, the excuse to feel watery sun on parched skin. Your tired father and your ceaseless mother looked for eight months to find a house that Nana tolerated. One of her suitcases, tied up with blue string, was dripping. She never goes outside.
You fall asleep on the bus to sixth-form college, and imagine shattering earthquakes and virulent winds. Sometimes, at home, you awake from your internal vortex to a tremoring floor that stretches you out and relieves internal pressures. The bed vibrates, the walls shake, the oval box on top of the cupboard where you keep your secrets rocks from side-to-side. At the edge of sound, there are chipping noises, tiny hammers or a persistent chappal.
You read a book about the Bakunawa, the dragons who cause earthquakes and eclipses. You loop yourself in bedsheets and stare down the moon. It can only ignore you, and you’re used to that. You draw craters and shadows, dark streaks of volcanic crust. Nana helps you make the roundest idlis from pounded rice, they shine like pearls. You suck them down slowly as if you can swallow all your problems.
No-one talks about why Nana needs her basement, or why you need Nana. The days you wrap up in blankets and can’t get out of bed, the squeezing headaches, the time your mother had to leave the office as you’d wedged yourself under a sink in the girl’s toilets. The itch, itch, itch along your spine as if your skin will fissure.
You have visions of tangled limbs in the bath, as warm liquid saturates you, holds you down along your fault-lines. You’re wrapped around the precious core of yourself, revealing this would bring untold disasters. There is a trial approaching, you can’t hide from it but you can prepare.
You find a picture of a Naga, the serpent race, in your Nana’s handbag. It’s speckled with droplets, forgotten raindrops or ancient tears. You remember, from a time before, that treasure can be protected with weapons like venomous knowledge and fierce belief in unbreakable connections. You draw Nana making sweet crescent-shaped almond cookies. You smile with your eyes as you draw in their tails.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Spelk, Lost Balloon, and Terse. She is part of the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, is a reader for Bare Fiction and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer