The girl next door has no friends.
She talks to herself, cycling in small circles
occasionally screaming, Appa push me
push me Appa, push me
while her Amma arranges their phone on a plastic chair.
I’m window watching.
Ayyo vaa di, her mother calls, come, fast-fast come
as a jumble of children shout
Hello ma’am Good morning ma’am How you ma’am Do we need pencil ma’am
at a teacher who is trying to sound cheerful.
In the background, I receive my fortnightly offering:
You know, sometimes trauma work is about healing an inner child
and immediately I shrink at the thought of such a child, wondering briefly –
only briefly – where she lives.
Today, like yesterday, like tomorrow,
another neighbour plays Punjabi raps that seep through our walls
the girl sings two-two-zaa-four, two-three-zaa-six, two-four-zaa-eight to perfection
and I nod when I’m told, why don’t you watch for the moments when you freeze?
The girl’s mother sweeps outside their house
her father considers the clouds from a corner of their cluttered terrace
downstairs two men announce into their loudspeakers
Gas stove repair Meen meen meen meen meen
cooker repair fish fish fish fish fish
inner child repair
At noon, the men come outside to play cricket.
On Zoom, Leya says, I don’t think I can write. My room
is filled with the thwack of wood to rubber that slices each shriek
of abbe laude ke baal into a clutter of whistles and car alarms.
We chatter. Before our meeting ends, Leya mumbles, I can only write about
and I’m quiet.
I want to carry my laptop to the window
point at the two boys being chased by puppies,
tell her how last week, just as a batsman had shouted thu ninn amman
his designated runner, a little boy, had run, ran, kept running
past the crease neem tree broken gate up a wall and disappeared.
I want to say that today too, the girl will cycle alone,
that her Amma will work at her sewing machine,
and that I will think of my mother and wonder where she is.
Or perhaps I should have asked, but what is whole?
When my father calls, I say I’m writing a poem for this house I’m leaving behind. From my window,
I watch the rain arrive and the girl rush forward to meet it,
standing on her toes, bending her umbrella, pretending it’s being blown away.
I wave, she smiles.
I’m terrified the wind will carry her away and leave the umbrella behind.
Ila Ananya is a writer and student based in Bengaluru, India, and Cambridge, UK. Her reportage has appeared in The Ladies Finger, The Wire, Firstpost, Newslaundry, and Kafila, and her fiction in Himal Southasian, Out of Print Magazine, and The Bombay Literary Magazine. She occasionally blogs on Trial Pieces.