Vasantha sat up, manipulating words in the air, imagining a night of good reading. Illiteracy was on generations of wills. The nightly wick fizzled into a pool of rancid hot wax, into another day. The government had stolen back her electricity with one tug of the hand; and off came her makeshift day-at-night, the wire and bulb and all. She tried a random count at an attempt to place when she would move into the safety of two walls, two thatches and a bulb. It had been twenty days? No? Thirty three, maybe.
She let her eyes fight a sleep of tire. The unforgettable hot-wetness drenched her again. She woke. Seventy. The blaze burned her eyes again and singed the tips of her sea-side hair, as she fought the kerosene flames that licked and drowned a distant cry.
She woke again.
He had come to her with the quietness of the day-after. And he had lifted her with two strong arms that were strangely hot. He had carried her away, as the heat burned her lungs and split her consciousness. She had woken. He was still carrying her.
“Where are you taking me?” Vasantha mumbled hot.
“The sea” said he. It was a wonderful voice that sung to her. It lullabied her to a burnt slumber. Maybe it was twenty after all.
When she woke again, there was the moon, buttered on the sea. The lazy waves slapped frothily against her heels.
The salt still smarted in a burn somewhere distant.
She had never seen him again. A distant humming of embers. A distant cry.
In a subsequent retort to Mariam’s shattering calls of hunger, Vasantha woke up again.
She let her left breast slide beneath her green-blue blouse. It burned, as she let the hot-wet trickle waste by. The same distant burn.
“Mariam!” she called into the night. “Amma, da!”
And she rocked her back to a distant sleep. Of hot-wet tears.