1 min read

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

mixie repair 

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

disconnected moments, 

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.

* The email will not be published on the website.