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3 minute read.
The child revved herself up and sprinted full tilt down the corridor.
She sped past:
the macramé plant hanger with its resident money plant
one, two, three, four paces
the old black-and-white photograph of Madhubala with her lambent smile
the celery-green air cooler with its sides packed with vetiver mats, which made her voice sound funny if she stood in front of its rotator fan and talked to it, as she often did
the old glass bookcase through which peeked the carefully saved birthday cards the child had made over the years for her grandparents
one, two, three
the sunlight filtering in through the window that looked out on the Ashoka tree outside
Half way down the corridor’s cool terrazzo tiles, she leaped into the air. Suspended, just as this was in her memory. If only there was a photograph!
Her hand brushed lightly across her grandmother’s sari that was drying overhead. Giggling, she slowed down, her mission accomplished, and trotted more decorously the rest of the way towards the dining room.
What’s for tea, she asked peremptorily, though she knew the answer already.
Shrewsbury biscuits that would crumble into the weak tea she insisted on drinking with the grown-ups, and if she was lucky, nankhatai, her favorite shortbread biscuits flecked with chopped pistachios.
When the child was a woman, and there were no more saris drying in the corridor, a shudder would go through her like Proust whenever she encountered biscuit crumbs in tea. She was grateful for it, even if a tear or two crept down her cheek on occasion.
Today, the woman was about to board a plane to go to her own home. Boarding now. I’ll text you when I land, she messaged her mother, as was her habit.
I’m so relieved your travels went safely, her mother said each time she would text after landing. Her mother imagined the worst. Illness, death, bad luck, accidents. The woman imagined herself going through a life of near-misses. Perhaps that is what all lives are, but constantly imagining near-misses made her anxious; perhaps just as anxious as her mother. This too, a bequest, like biscuits.
She was glad she had landed in any case, because home is where her dog was.
The dog did not know his name.
There was no need to teach him anything as prosaic as his name. He followed her everywhere she went, lay at her feet as she worked, slept on her bed, pattered into the bathroom with her, and screamed bloody murder if she didn’t lift him up to sit next to her on the upholstered cream bench she sat on to work sometimes, so what was the point of trying to teach the creature something he didn’t need?
He was a breeder dog who had been rescued. The vet had told the woman he wasn’t sure how old he was, meaning that he wasn’t sure how much time the little creature had left.
For all that, now that safety finally cloaked him, he knew how to love. And love he did, furiously, with every fiber of his little body, as if to make up for all the time he had nobody to love.
She was especially glad to be home from her brief holiday, because she had just learned her grandmother’s home, the one without saris drying in it any more, was going to be demolished soon.
The woman had used that home as a method of loci for years, retaining large quantities of information for her work and life by visualizing it in that old beloved space. She didn’t have to be present at a deathly banquet like Simonides to put her memory palace into practice; instead of identifying corpses as he supposedly did, she used it for less morbid mundanities like remembering quotes, facts, numbers, and names. She also dreamt of it; everything from the pattern of the cushion covers to the smell of an old teak cupboard mixed with her grandmother’s perfume would be strung together and replayed by her neurons.
In doing so, she replenished her own store of memories of the home itself. Or did she embellish or misremember?
The low settee to the left (or had it been moved towards the windows that looked out over the jamun tree with the bat dangling off it whom she mentally referred to as Baudelaire?)
The loudly trilling blue rotary telephone in the living room (or was it in the third bedroom?)
The painting in the style of a Mughal miniature (or was it a tapestry?) on the center wall
The shells from the Andamans in a cabinet (or were they from the Nicobars?)
Her piggy bank which was actually a doggy bank in the shape of a Basset hound (or was it a beagle?)
The jewelry box that opened to play an unknown tune (or had the musical component never worked?) to its right
The blue Danish cookie tins with their second lives as containers for sewing supplies (or were there photographs in one of them?) tucked into the lowest cabinet shelves
She knew exactly where they were. What she thought they were. Where they used to be. Where she thought they used to be.
She did not plan to visit her grandmother’s home before the demolition.
The home was now simply a reliquary with nothing but remembrances inside its dusty carapace. Nothing is as it was. Nothing ever is. Memory might birth muses and lend itself to forming identity, but it might also be the reason for not paying full attention to the present, if one agrees with Alan Watts whose books stood in the old glass bookcase in the corridor.
The woman patted her dog’s silken head fondly. Despite his history and his unknown future, he was now simply present. She reveled in his being.
Sai Pradhan is an Indian American writer and artist who lives in Hong Kong. Sai used to write opinions for the Hong Kong Free Press, and restaurant reviews for a now defunct Los Angeles publication. She has recently published pieces of fiction in Ligeia magazine, Litro, and Calamari Archives' Sleepingfish, and a personal essay forthcoming in The Iowa Review. Her art will be featured in an upcoming issue of Sublunary Review, Door is a Jar, and Pithead Chapel. It was shown in the Hong Kong Arts Collective’s Summer Exhibition in Hong Kong, and will also participate in the Winter Exhibition.